********* 9 out of 10 *********
Director: J.J. Abrams
Actors: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford
The conventional thinking is that it would be easier to make a sequel rather than an original movie since you are benefiting from the goodwill created by the original and you have a fixed perimeter to work within. That might be true for most movies. It cannot hold true when it comes to one of the greatest franchises of Hollywood. Star Wars. George Lucas, the man whose vision brought this epic saga on the big screen, himself could not entirely meet fans’ expectations with his prequel trilogy. So one can only imagine how hard it must have been for an outsider. Getting a director onboard was such a big challenge for Walt Disney Studios, many hesitant to take on this big task, until they finally managed to convince J.J. Abrams. Months of toil and hardwork have been compressed into a 135-minute movie for your viewing and judgement. And what a 135-minute period this one is! I wish it would not have ended so soon. Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings back all that was great about the original trilogy, with a lean storyline focused on its newer characters’ story arcs, interspaced with the return of the veterans of the past, along with sizzling battles in space and on land. There are quite a few similarities to the original Star Wars of 1977, which ain’t bad at all, since nostalgia is a powerful tool. And yet Star Wars: The Force Awakens makes a strong impression of its own in this massive Star Wars universe, which will only get bigger and hopefully brighter as we go along.
The plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was kept tightly under wraps and rightly so. From the initial text that crawls up with a slant (nostalgia!), we are made aware of the important events that have happened in this thirty year period since the defeat of the Galactic Empire (in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi). It makes for greater viewing, if you learn of these details in the cinema hall itself. Without giving away any spoilers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduces us to a Stormtrooper (John Boyega) who wants to escape from the evil First Order and a scavenger called Rey (Daisy Ridley) who lives on the planet Jakku. Their paths intertwine which leads them into a massive adventure across the galaxy that will test who they really are. Enroute they are about to meet our old heroes, and be chased by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who is mastering the dark side of the Force.
The story behind the movie comes mainly from the creative minds of J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (who had worked on Episodes V & VI), apart from Michael Arndt who wrote the first screenplay but could not continue due to tight timelines for the project. The essence of the story comes from the original Star Wars, a rag-tag team coming together to take on a battle that is much bigger than they would have imagined. While exploring the Star Wars universe from the new characters’ perspective, J.J. Abrams ensures that the movie feels like a sequel to Return of the Jedi. For that, he brings back not only the original trio of Luke, Leia and Han, but gives them roles befitting the stature they have achieved. They are not relics left in the background only for nostalgia value, but key players in the direction the story moves. Han Solo has the most screen time amongst them, but we should be seeing more of Leia and Luke in the coming movies.
We have come far from 1977 when George Lucas had to put together an ambitious project without the help of computers and graphics of the kind available now. Star Wars: The Force Awakens excels in the visual effects that are so integral to a movie of such scale. But J.J. Abrams, a believer in using props and sets to CGI wherever possible, keeps a ruggedness of the original movies. Most of the innumerable alien creatures that fill up the background carry that sluggish and unpleasant look which gave a sense of realism to Lucas’ trilogy in the past. When it comes to the space battles though, things are crisp and done with finesse, moving at a rapid pace with high level of intensity. John Williams returns to provide the music for the movie, having composed the scores for all the past six movies, and in the latest film, he brings a refreshing mix of his original work along with newer music. Cinematography by Dan Mindel is terrific and the production design is once again gorgeous; it just had to be!
The eternal question for movies of such scale is whether these movies create great actors or the actors help to create such great movies. Nevertheless, Star Wars: The Force Awakens would not have been half as exciting had it not been for the terrific performances by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. You may have heard little of them before, but these are names that are close to being immortalised if the upcoming two movies turn out as terrific as this one. Daisy Ridley is an absolute delight to watch on screen. She is lively, charismatic, and exudes such confidence that makes her character Rey memorable. It’s a brilliantly written role which allows Rey to grow stronger as the movie builds, and Ridley has done complete justice to it. John Boyega had to go through his character arc in a different way, from someone who is looking to run from the First Order to someone who eventually has to face it. Boyega is convincing in both these personalities. He is funny, quite adorable, and has a spark in his eyes that shows his hunger to do well.
Harrison Ford returns along with Peter Mayhew in the Chewbecca costume in some style which would have led to hoots and shrieks in theatres across the world. The legendary duo of cinema work again as a terrific team, bringing back memories of their friendship from the original movies. Harrison Ford is so comfortable in this role, that it feels he never stopped being Han Solo. There is that characteristic cockiness, though now we get a measure of maturity too. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill return as Leia and Luke Skywalker, roles that cannot be offered to any other actor, and even though their screen time is lesser, they make us feel familiar with this wide Star Wars universe. The same goes for the returning C-3PO with Anthony Daniels behind the suit again and R2-D2 with Kenny Baker as the consultant for the role.
In the list of newcomers to this universe, Oscar Issac plays the pilot Poe who is part of the Resistance fighting the First Order. An extremely talented actor, Issac brings a level of confidence and style to the part of Poe that reminds you a bit of young Han Solo. Adam Driver dons the cloak of the evil Kylo Ren, playing a disturbed soul, not exactly invoking terror the way Darth Vader did, but unraveling a more complex personality than we initially would have thought. Domnhall Gleeson does well as General Hux of the First Order, clashing in ideas with Kylo Ren, and appearing stronger in personality than Gleeson’s previous movies would suggest. Lupita Nyong’o brings a soothing voice to the alien creature Maz Kanata, an old and experienced being. It was terrific to see veteran Max von Sydow early in the movie in a brief role, charming and commanding as always. Andy Serkis once more delivers a thorough performance through motion capture, though you have to see Supreme Leader Snoke to see what Serkis brings to the movie. And yes, get ready to fall in love with the new droid, BB-8; such a rolling bundle of energy!
For some movies, we wait with bated breath right when the initial rumours start circulating, our heartbeat increases when the rumours and confirmed, and we are salivating when we enter the theatre. To then walk out, with such joy, pleasure, satisfaction and excitement, it’s a feeling that becomes difficult to describe. J.J. Abrams has accomplished with aplomb one of the toughest tasks of this decade. That, along with Disney’s marketing skills, ensured that the movie broke all kinds of box-office records. We are now entering a period of more Star Wars movies, as continuation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and as spin-offs, and it will be upto Disney to ensure that the quality does not dip and the audience does not hit a saturation point. This is the beginning of a long saga, but hell yeah, what a way to start!