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December 17, 2015

Movie Review || Star Wars - The Force Awakens

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It has finally arrived. The moment that all 'Star Wars' fans and self-appointed geeks have been waiting 10 years for: the film meant to redeem the childish and disappointing prequels to the legendary trilogy.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is truly the signalling of the end of an era. Not only has the franchise been taken over and refreshed by Disney, but a star director has taken the helm. Not only will there be all-new characters to develop, but our old favourites from the original series are to return. While I was not lucky enough to receive tickets to the premiere on Tuesday night, I was amongst the first to watch the first official screening at 11am on Reconciliation Day. Beware, spoilers to follow.
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The original 'Star Wars' trilogy is practically a cornerstone of my childhood. As soon as I was old enough to keep still long enough to watch the film with my dad, it was a regular re-occurrence. I was a teen when the prequels were out, and though already cynical about the word 'prequel', wanted to enjoy them so much that I did. Only after years of watching and rewatching, comparing and critiquing, did I have the the ability to recognise retrospectively that the movies were quite terrible, barring 'Revenge of the Sith' because this film had something the first two lacked: tragedy and character development, although just barely.

While geekdom groaned a collective objection of concern that the franchise would be ruined nine years after 'Revenge of the Sith' when the gigantic conglomerate that is Disney purchased the franchise, the hope mounted that the series would recieve the respectful creation it deserved, especially after the original cast members were enlisted for the film. This hope was clasped to the heart of every fan that entered cinemas showing the film yesterday.

The question remains, was this hope served well by 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'? Expectations were high and the cinema was filled with entire families, couples, friends, all eavesdropping on each other's conversations, which were all inevitably about 'Star Wars', the failure of the last three films, and the legend of the first three, and the hope and eagerness was almost stifling.

The audience whooped and clapped when the Lucasfilm logo eventually alighted on the screen, just as they did when 'Revenge of the Sith' screened, and a hush fell over us as everyone's hope focused straight ahead of them.

So what did I think of the film? I am pleased to say I was not disappointed. Nostalgia goes a long way in making a follow-up film popular. The first three films lacked this, with all-new worlds, all-new characters, all-new planets, and all-new technology. 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is chock-a-block full of nostalgia, from lonely desert scenes, sunset silhouettes, blown-up planets, a masked Sith, original characters, the Millennium Falcon, aliens drinking in taverns, crashed starships...

Overall, the film had an excellent balance of dialogue and humour, action, and character development, something I believe is most important in a good film. It also had tragedy (there is nothing like watching a character whom you have invested your emotions, interests, and conversation in follow a path they are likely never to return from) and mystery.

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These things were starkly missing from at least the first two prequels, while 'Revenge of the Sith' improved in this department. 'The Phantom Menace' and 'Attack of the Clones' was filled with absurd statements meant to be witty and humorous but seemed to target the humor of children. The proliferation of CGI was an insult to the original franchise, which achieved so much with scale models and great filming and direction. They also failed in terms of character development (Anakin Skywalker, for example, always remained 'the little boy on Tattooine', throwing tempers because he could not have his way) and tragedy. And of course every mystery was explained away with too much detail about such things as midichlorians and the proliferation of political 'intrigue' was altogether too much for a fandom saturated with the war on terror.

In 'The Force Awakens', all these necessities occur in abundance. There is the tragic backstory of a young woman left on Jakku, of a stormtrooper pulled away from a family he will never see and forced into a life he never wanted. Families and lovers are torn apart by disappointment and murder, entire planets are destroyed, legends make way for new ones. There are the mysteries of Luke Skywalker's whereabouts, of the thirty years that has come between the last film ('The Return of the Jedi') and this one, of Rey's past and ancestry, of the new Sith leader, of the place Finn has in the story. Every major character grows through the film and we are left with a sense of the reality of the world we see on screen.

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Meanwhile, the film did disappoint a little in terms of representation and diversity. While I think it is absolutely amazing that Rey is probably about to become Luke's apprentice and that a co-lead is a man of colour, there is still not enough representation, in my opinion. I know director JJ Abrams said he planned for girls to enjoy the film as much as the boys, and while there are many women seen in the film (such as freedom fighters and cockpit workers), the presence of Princess Leia is a given since she's not a new character and Rey is the only lead female. Maz Kanata's role is minor in comparison to Captain Phasma, and I really don't understand the hype around Gwendoline Christie's character being 'genderswapped' at all, since she could just as well have been a droid. I suppose that's the point though, that men and women are represented the same... That being said, not a single woman was objectified and sexualised, and that is a win!

Finn is the only man of colour throughout the entire film (that I saw), although I suppose you could throw the one set of smugglers chasing Han Solo into the mix to make the film seem more representative. I also enjoyed the fact that Finn and Rey's relationship is platonic (at least thus far - altogether too much film time is spent on building love relationships between men and women instead of friendships in the first trilogies).

Aside from this, I really, really enjoyed the film. Apart from appearances by the original cast members seeming a little 'cameo-ey', the story has come together very well, the humour resembled that of the original trilogy, the action was well-balanced with the quiet moments, and enough mystery has been thrown into the mix to inspire many a debate about how the story will progress from here on in.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is the film fans have been waiting for for thirty-two years. Now I look forward to reading all the books that detail the happenings of the last thirty years - they must have been interesting!

PS I really want one of those little BB-8 droids!

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