by Agent Nur Hussein (a.k.a. The Robot Whisperer)
Are you a Star Wars fan?
Go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, right now. Drop whatever you’re doing and go right now. It is essential that you go in the movie knowing nothing about it, other than this fact:
This is the Star Wars you’re looking for.
It is brilliant, not just visually or plot-wise, but it also packs an emotional wallop. Some of our beloved characters return. We fall in love with all the brand new ones, too. Spaceships race across the screen, roll and flip in space and through the skies of distant planets. The Millennium Falcon roars. TIE fighters scream. The Star Wars you remembered, the one you missed, is back.
There are no spoilers in this review, I am going to talk about it in the broadest of strokes possible. Still, you really shouldn’t even be reading this, just stop and go see it.
Still with me? Do you still need some convincing? Did the prequels let you down?
The thing that made the classic trilogy great wasn’t really the fantastic visuals or the special effects, although that was icing on the cake. The classic trilogy was great because it had heart. It had characters we could root for and relate to. The space war was epic but the characters and their interpersonal conflicts kept it grounded despite the fantastic things that were happening around them. George Lucas lost sight of this when he made the prequels, and decided to concentrate on spectacle. In The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams delivers the spectacle in droves, but he never loses sight of the characters. As a result, as soon as we’re introduced to the new heroes and villains, we love the good guys instantly, and the bad guys repluse us with their evil and cruelty. The story of Star Wars was always good against evil, and while there isn’t a lot of subtlety here, a back-to-basics approach definitely helps the narrative this time around.
To write a story with a punch is no mean feat, and joining Abrams for screenwriting duties are Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, the latter being the person who originally wrote The Empire Strikes Back, regarded by fans as the best in the series. However, the movie doesn’t (just) ride on the coat-tails of nostalgia. It builds a mythology of its own; as mysteries are revealed, more questions pop up, and the cluttered galaxy we’ve got to know from the original Star Wars movies, prequels, and countless (now non-canonical) spin off media has been pared down, yet contain new surprises of its own.
The production of this movie is utterly gorgeous. Abrams and company spared no expense, and the heavy use of practical effects pays off big time, as we feel pulled into the magical world of Star Wars, yet again. Most of the sets and creatures look like they belong in the physical realm, and interact with the actors in the real world, thus bringing out nuances in performances that were utterly missing in the prequels.
The returning cast members will make audiences cheer: It’s like meeting old friends again. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are the primary returning heroes, and we see they are now aged and battle-weary, yet still carry the same sparkle in their eyes as we remembered them from years ago. However, this movie belongs to the new generation of heroes; the new actors really, really shine. The film’s weight is carried on the three new leads: John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, and Oscar Isaacs as Poe Dameron. Boyega, Ridley and Isaacs all have their own unique wit and charm, the missing ingredient from the prequels that show up in spades here. Up to this point, Boyega and Ridley were obscure actors but this film may catapult them to superstardom (perhaps, boosting Isaacs’ visibility even more too).
If there is a fault to this movie, it’s that, in making a loving tribute to the original Star Wars trilogy (while also continuing it), there’s a certain lack of originality to it. Some story elements go from familiar to too-familiar; some key plot points have a somewhat derivative feel to them. However, the director and screenwriters make very bold choices too, and you are going to be at the edge of your seat throughout.
I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens four out of five stars, and it is quite possibly the best genre movie of the year.