Harrison Ford is the real force in a welcome return for the epic ‘Star Wars’ franchise, says Peter Dunne.
Director J.J. Abrams is better prepared than most for the pressures involved in rebooting a classic franchise, after all he’s done it before with the massively successful Star Trek in 2009. While others would coast on the acclaim of that huge undertaking, using the momentum to create less intensely scrutinised projects, Abrams has instead taken not just a small step further into dangerous territory, but a giant leap by tackling this, the greatest sci-fi series of all time. And for the most part, he’s pulled it off again.
Trickier than just creating a sequel, a new chapter entails bringing something fresh to the table, usually a whole new cast to attract the next legion of viewers without alienating the existing hardcore fanbase. Something that The Force Awakens has in it’s favour is that, rather than being negative after the bad taste left by The Phantom Menace led trilogy, people genuinely want this film to be good. And it is good, at times it’s very good, promising great things for the chapters that lie ahead.
Like any journey into new lands, the pleasure and promise of The Force Awakens is in the mystery. To reveal too much would rob viewers of the joy of discovery, so plot details will be kept to a minimum. The story involves Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger on a desert planet forced to team up with Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper gone rogue to protect a secret that could have huge consequences if revealed. Joined by the legendary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the crew race across the galaxy pursued by the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), leader of The First Order.
Crammed with moments sure to send hardcore fans into explosions of joy, this is certainly made with them in mind. On the flipside however, viewers without a prior knowledge of certain characters and events may find themselves at times unmoved by the goings on. The unifying element of this new chapter is the sheer energy and excitement the creators bring to proceedings. Abrams manages to inspire a sense of childlike wonder at these new planets, new creatures, new dangers. The audience is rushed from one thrilling set piece to the next as lightsabers blur and x-wings zoom across the screen. At times, sadly, it becomes apparent that a lot of the zooming around is being used to mask the fact that the story itself is very slight.
If all the nods to past movies were taken out, there’s actually not that much here. This is surprising considering it was co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, the man behind previous entries The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, as well as Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
If the story is at times over-referential to the point of detriment, the decision to keep to the visual style of the original trilogy, bypassing the CGI nightmare of the middle series, is hugely welcome. The film, bluntly, looks great. Every location, costume and creature is so solidly realised rather than obviously green-screened it feels like we’re right back in that original galaxy far far away.
The decision to pass the baton on to a younger, mostly unknown cast to carry the franchise is a bit hit or miss. While Oscar Isaacs is terrific as resistance fighter, Poe Dameron, the less experienced members struggle. Ridley, who bears an uncanny similarity to a young Keira Knightley, and Boyega are fine but uninspiring, probably needing another film to settle into their roles. Domhnall Gleeson is very weak, mistaking pursed lips and flared nostrils for an actual performance. Adam Driver excels when wearing his helmet but doesn’t inspire enough terror to be the main villain the story needs. It’s left to old pro Harrison Ford to lift the film and that he does. His agelessly charming performance is so terrific, he could lead this new trilogy Solo (pun intended).
Despite a few niggles, this first installment lives up to expectations, mostly, assuring devotees the future of their beloved Star Wars has not gone to the dark side.
‘STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS’ HITS CINEMAS ON DECEMBER 17.
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