Back in 2012, when Disney bought the rights for Star Wars from Lucas Film, they immediately announced a new movie for 2015. It was met with fear, trepidation and excitement which is understandable, due to the previous trilogy having been a huge disappointment to all Star Wars fans. It’s hard to believe that Episodes I through III came from the same universe as Han Solo, the Millennium Falcon, and the Death Star. J.J. Abrams understands the legacy the original trilogy still has and he knows first, how to play on the nostalgia without going over the top and second how to create a brand new story whilst linking it to the initial movies.
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing and there are a lot of people looking for him. The First Order, who have risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire, are on the hunt for a map that will lead them to Skywalker. During a reconnaissance mission they capture Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), a pilot for the Resistance, who has hidden the map in the impossibly adorable BB-8, a one of a kind droid. Not unlike Leia using R2D2 to send a message to Obi Wan Kenobi. After meeting Poe, we are introduced to Finn (John Boyega) a Stormtrooper who has a crisis of identity and defects onto the side of the Resistance after the village they are searching in is put to death. The droid makes his way (BB-8’s gender was confirmed back in November) to the planet Jakku where he finds Rey, a scavenger who makes a living by hunting through old wreckages for parts to sell. She’s unwillingly dragged into the story after a moment of sympathy from the hard-shelled outcast.
Finn and Rey are a couple of brave new characters who fit into the Stars Wars world well. She’s rough, tough and knowledgeable. He is a part brave, part nervous hero who comes to the aide of Rey after spotting BB-8. Finn is unsure of who he is exactly whilst he wants to leave The First Order, he’s a reluctant hero, initially. His nervous and ever so slightly awkward manner holds him back and creates some funny moments. Rey has been alone for a long time and manages to form an attachment to BB-8 and an unwanted one to Finn. The two immediately have on-screen chemistry that’s hard to fake with their lines bouncing off of one another and gelling so well, especially during a sequence when they are being chased.
Amongst the newcomers we have Poe Dameron, a Resistance pilot with a confident cocky personality, but not so much that you hate him. Think of a young Han Solo with a bit more attitude. Clearly a born leader, his dry sense of humour is consistent through any situation he finds himself in. He shares some early and enjoyable screen time with Finn, who he seems to take under his wing. Then there’s the Yoda-like Maz Kanata voiced by Lupita Nyong’o, who offers her wisdom and guidance to those looking to fight against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It’s difficult to believe that some of her scenes were allegedly cut as this was a note perfect performance from one of the best characters in the entire film.
With Star Wars, comes a certain amount of nostalgia, but it’s not too heavy handed. Han Solo along with Chewie (who hasn’t aged at all!) make a welcome return when they appear on the Millennium Falcon. Solo still has his confident cockiness and whilst he’s still a culprit for trouble, he’s mellowed ever so slightly with age. Whilst BB-8 is impossibly cute, we will always have a special place in our hearts for R2D2 and C3PO, who both have relatively brief but important roles to play. And of course the renamed Princess Leia who goes by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) shows off her leadership skills when leading the Resistance into battle and doing what she needs to do in order to protect the galaxy.
The atmosphere of the original trilogy can be felt throughout, with the TIE fighters battling against X-Wing Fighters, the simplified yet beautiful lightsaber battles and the story of good vs. evil, being told in a way that relates back to friendship and family. They have also involved the Stormtroopers more than ever before which was a stroke of genius, getting them to interact in scenes when, in previous films, they have mostly been in the background. Even their suits have had a modern upgrade.
The primary antagonist is Kylo Ren, a man in dark clothing and a mask which disguises his voice as much as it does his face. He idolises Darth Vader, at one point speaking to his extremely damaged helmet. He’s in charge of locating a piece of evidence that will lead him to Skywalker, killing all those who come in his way. His techniques are brutal; slaughtering an entire village, using the Force to torture his victims and pulling out his lightsaber sword for the smallest provocation. He is comparable to Vader however Driver has brought an emotion to this role that makes it feel even more personal. With his emotion, comes naivety, you get the sense that he still has much to learn. He is joined by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), whom he butts heads with several times. It seems these two are on the same level when addressing Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the less said about him the better. Gleeson’s performance comes across as a fearless and ruthless dictator, there is almost something of the Third Reich in his delivery, perfect to put the fear of The First Order in you.
The final lightsaber battle is one we have been wanting to see ever since the disappointing over the top versions in the prequel trilogies. Gone are the unnecessary flips and various somersaults, replaced by a duel that can easily be compared to those in Episodes IV, V and VI. With its use of the force, a sword-like lightsaber and brutal scars, the magic of an old school lightsaber duel is back.
The very first spoken words are “This will start to make things right” and you get the sense that this is more for the audience. As if this film is an apology for what fans had to endure from 1999 to 2005, that this will restore the faith in all Star Wars fans everywhere and take away the memory of the much hated prequels. J.J. Abrams has managed to bring back what we really loved about these films and he has created a galaxy that no longer feels far far away, it’s right here and it’s now.
5 out of 5
Keep. It. Reel.