So with The Last Jedi only a few days away we decided to write another couple of reviews for the latest additions to the Star Wars filmography. As before we are going to do 5 good points and 5 bad points, unless you are Lewis and cop out and only do 4. So, enough with all the preamble you are here for some strong opinions and a witty banter (Lewis, make sure you make it witty while you’re editing). Here it is- my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA for convenience, I don’t want to write more than I have to).
We’ll start with the good shall we?
A good start to a new trilogy – Ok, so I know that this film is essentially A New Hope 2.0 (I’ll get round to this later) but this film has got to cover 30 years of Star Wars history, appease returning fans, and introduce new film goers to the Star Wars Universe, and you know what, TFA does a bloody good job. The film is funny and rooted in Star Wars law for returning fans (there are some questionable decisions but hold your horse I’ll get round to them) while being accessible enough for your Nan to watch and have a good idea what’s going on. The film tells you what you need to know, leaves hidden what needs to be hidden, and asked questions that left me wanting more and has led to some truly fantastic theories.
Practical Effects – After the CGI disaster that was the prequel trilogy, a decision was made to bypass CGI wherever possible making use of practical effects, animatronics, puppets and actors in costumes. This was one of the most welcome things about TFA. I know CGI has come a very long way since 2005, but even in films today average CGI looks awful, see Justice League and parts of Thor: Ragnarok. Obviously practical effects can’t do everything but the blend of puppets, make up, and costume with green screen and motion capture was truly brilliant here.
The Rey/Kylo duel – Right, so, the climactic duel of TFA definitely doesn’t have the emotion of the duels seen in the original trilogy; however, the duel was able to find and almost perfect balance between the stylised, over choreographed performances seen in the prequels, the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel on Mustafa in particular, and the wood chopping heavy swinging style seen in the originals. This balanced fighting style makes the duel a fast-paced spectacle without all the unnecessary twirling around.
Casting and performance – The film introduced three new heroes to the Star Wars world and all of them were great, I really, really enjoy Oscar Isaac and John Boyega in this film, their shared screen time, although brief, is funny, engaging, and believable. Daisy Ridley really grows into the film (more later) and by the end she gives a really terrific performance, you would hardly know she was a relatively inexperienced actor at the time of filming. We also see some returning favourites, Han Solo is back playing (spoilers) the Ben Kenobi role, and Ford does it well. Probably only because he knew it was a one off return and that he would finally get the character killed off, something he has been after since The Empire Strikes Back.
Writing – This is my last ‘Good point’ and it very much echoes my first; the film, for the most part, is well written, it is quick, slick, funny, and most importantly accessible. The movie re-introduces a lost world enabling people that have never seen Star War before to sit in a screening and understand and hopefully enjoy what is unfolding on screen.
Daisy Ridley – I said there would be more later, there have been stories from the set of TFA that JJ Abrams wasn’t particularly happy with Daisy Ridley during the early days of filming, and if the film was shot from beginning to end (starting on Jakku, then moving to Maz’s, before finishing on Starkiller) I can see why. Ridley’s performance is by no means Christensen bad, but it is wooden and it did take me out of the film a bit. After about 20 minutes of screen time I could feel the difference in the performance, and after finishing the film strongly as well as coming off the back of Murder on the Orient Express I expect a big performance in The Last Jedi.
Derivative – Ok, so this is the big one, the “it’s just A New Hope 2.0” argument, that the films’ success is based on nostalgia and so on. I don’t really buy into this but ok yeah I’ll take your point and run with it. There are similarities, the big weapon that can destroy planets and the resistance (which I always thought was a stupid name for the army of the government), the use of a desert planet, and the main character wanting to leave it to name a few, and yes TFA does run very much like A New Hope, but I think the characters are different and interesting, the story takes different twists along the way and despite being set a long time ago in a galaxy far away there is only a certain amount of things you can do with a Star Wars film. When re-watching TFA there are definite similarities to A New Hope, but I don’t buy into the idea that the film’s similarity to one of its predecessors was entirely a bad thing- perhaps just a little disappointing. The similarities didn’t ruin my experience, because you know what I was too bloody busy enjoying myself. That being said the X-wing attack on Starkiller isn’t great, it is really only a means of showing us that the base was destroyed.
Toying with the lore – This is a bit more of a fan complaint than a proper film criticism, there are a lot of liberties taken with the Star Wars lore. You know how Luke seems to become a capable Jedi after what seems like 2 days in The Empire Strikes back, well in this film it takes Rey about half an hour to develop her abilities enough to beat Kylo Ren. There are many counter arguments to this, Kylo was shot, he wasn’t trying to kill her etc. but I think the film would have taken a much more interesting turn if she got her arse handed to her and perhaps Han dies saving her. There are also some bizarre new abilities including Kylo’s mind-walk trick and blaster-freezing abilities. These will probably be explained away in The Last Jedi.
Maz – I spoke about the practical effects earlier, now it is time for the CGI stuff, Maz in particular, because Snoke is only seen through a fuzzy hologram thing. Maz does look out of place in this film, I am not really sure why the choice was made to have a computer generated orange alien wandering round an almost entirely practical set but there we go.
The last point(s) –This isn’t a cop out, if anything it is a cop in, I am just putting a few smaller points in together. Firstly C3PO, the walking exposition machine strikes again. Can we please stop putting C3PO in every Star Wars film, to be honest I didn’t recognise him at first because of the red arm… see what I did there? But really the character is just an annoyance, he doesn’t serve a purpose- STOP PUTTING HIM IN THE FILMS.
Secondly, the miracle of R2D2 waking up exactly when needed. R2 could have been functioning with half the map, the droid didn’t need to be in low power mode, it was a strange choice to have him in low power mode, I can’t really figure out why it was done, it didn’t add anything to the story, and, much like this point, dragged the film out unnecessarily. Lastly, bin the Rathtar sequence, it didn’t add anything to the film, find another, quicker, way for Han to accept Rey and Finn. By binning the Rathtars some of the irritating hanging questions, like the Luke lightsaber one, can be answered.
Alrighty, that’s it, my 5 good and a few more than 5 bad points about TFA. You are probably all still shouting at how I glossed over the derivative point, but hey, if it pisses you off that much you go ahead and have a shout- it’s really good for our stats. Boycott The Last Jedi for all I care… but I know you won’t because deep down you do like this film.
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Thanks for reading guys,