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More plaudits for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Matthew N. Donovan gives a spoiler-free review of the latest intergalactic blockbuster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

LIKE MANY millions of Star Wars fans around the world, I have been hanging out to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII).

Thankfully, I had the foresight to book my ticket to the first midnight showing a few months ago.

A search of my wardrobe for Star Wars related clothing yielded better results than I expected. Who knew I had three Darth Vader tees? For those interested, I settled on ‘Darth Side of the Moon’.

When it comes to spoilers, nobody loathes them more than me. So relax, there won’t be any in this review.

I avoid social media like the plague (to the point of obsession) at times of delayed sport telecasts, Oscar results, Eurovision results and numerous other annoyingly delayed event telecasts.

I have to say I was particularly proud of my effort to avoid any spoilers of the Harry Potter series, even as the books were released years ahead of their movies. I still haven’t read those books by the way. Hmmm?

My spoiler credentials proven, I begin.

I was unsure what to expect from this chapter of the famous and beloved saga.

There were mixed feelings about Episodes I, II and III, obviously. I didn’t mind Episode II and Episode III and I endure Episode I, as it reminds me of the excitement I felt, as a 13 year old at the time, to be witnessing Star Wars at the cinemas.

I was concerned that a major company like Disney was in the driver’s seat and it appeared George Lucas having sold the rights – including the lucrative merchandising rights that made him most of his $5.1billion – was keen to vacate the space and have a hands off approach to the project.

Would it be the same without the Star Wars creator there every step of the way, making sure everything fit in with his original vision and previous chapters?

Essentially, would it keep its Star Wars-iness or would it be commercialised and Disney-fied beyond recognition to the horror of millions?

I’m very pleased to report that J. J. Abrams has delivered in spades.

It fits seamlessly into the Star Wars universe. However, you do need to take your mind back to 1983 and Return of the Jedi and remind yourself this movie slots in 30 years after that — all the while forgetting Episodes I, II and III.

Once you’ve made that mind shift you’re able to fully enjoy what unfolds. All the original Star Wars characters that appear are 32 years older than they were in Episode VI, so it’s no drastic mental jump to accept it is 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi.

There are a new generation of heroes that step up for the light side in Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). Like all Star Wars movies, Episode VII is based around a small cast of heroes. These two form the core of the movie — and probably will for the rest of the sequels.

 

Daisy and John provide strong compelling performances that hold the movie and cast together and work in perfectly with the beloved characters of Princess (General) Leia, Han Solo as well as C-3PO and a few other throwbacks.

There are many moments that elicit audible responses from the audience. Aspects that connect back to some of the more memorable moments in the first three movies. And these are a nice touch to bed it down in the Star Wars universe.

The graphics, as expected, are flawless but there is an awkward kind of aspect to some design elements and the level of computer graphics given the quality of both from Return of the Jedi 32 years ago — but this is obviously unavoidable.

The relationship between Han and Leia is handled brilliantly and there is great on screen chemistry. There is a sense of a lot of time having passed and a lot having gone under the bridge with these two.

Harrison Ford makes what I think is an awkward first appearance but given he’s now a much older, battle hardened character it doesn’t detract too much. Perhaps it was intended?

He warms into it and is “Han” in no time.

Carrie Fisher gives a stellar performance and her first appearance in this movie is well delivered and dealt with. She’s entirely believable as a general of the rebels.

Her scenes with Han probably provide the best moments and this should be welcoming news to old school Star Wars fans. No shortage of nostalgic tear-jerker moments with these two.

A lot has happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It doesn’t explain all that has happened between then and now but it goes a long way to starting on the journey. Much like The Phantom Menace’s plot line did for the lead up to A New Hope.

There’s a new generation of dark side villains to become familiar with. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the new Sith apprentice and Driver inhabits the character completely.

The soundtrack from the lauded composer John Williams is top notch as expected. A lot of the Star Wars “feel” has been created by him and his masterpiece scores and he doesn’t let the team down.

The script is fast paced and full of detail, almost to the point of being overwhelming, as there is so much to pick up. But this is typical Star Wars and it’s a case of strap in and catch up.

The script isn’t clichéd, kitsch or derivative, which I thought could be a major issue.

Humour changes over time. It’s hard to maintain a tone when creating movies that are supposed to fit in seamlessly after one another over such a long time span. Many will want to watch all seven in order and they all need to feel like they belong. The Force Awakens does this brilliantly but with a slightly modern, edgy aspect. There are plenty of jokes that die-hard fans will get and enjoy.

There is, rightly so, a romanticism around Star Wars like no other series in movie history, with many having grown up with this genre-creating saga. The bar is set very high and people will run a very critical eye over every detail.

In my opinion, it reaches the heights we all hoped it would and fits in with the rest of the vast Star Wars universe. I will have to see it a few more times to fully appreciate it but I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

This is undoubtedly the movie of the year and it really lives up to its high expectations. I expect it to smash worldwide box office records — more than the previous six combined and towards double that of Avatar.

I give it 4 out of 5. Episode VIII is due out on 26 May 2017. Only 18 months away!

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