Star Wars The Force Awakens – a trip down memory lane
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away … It’s 1980 and I’m coming out of the old Odeon Cinema on The Headrow as an excited seven year old with my mother. My mind is full of lightsabers, exciting space battles, Jedi knights and dark villains. I’d just seen The Empire Strikes Back – and I was hooked as a Star Wars fan forever.
Flash forward some 35 years and I’m coming out of the new IMAX screen at Vue on Kirkstall Road with my own eight year old son. We were both pretty much blown away with director JJ Abrams’ seventh installment of George Lucas’s space saga.
It’s time to believe the hype – The Force Awakens affectionately recalls the franchise’s best moments and promises bright new future.
It follows 30-something years after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi and focusses on the rise of the remnants of the deposed Empire, now called the First Order, and their battle against the Resistance (formerly known as the rebellion).
The film’s greatest strength is its nostalgia factor for old fans like me (it’s also its greatest weakness, but more on that a little later). I cried happy tears. I cried sad tears. It was just so good to see Star Wars back – and done well – it was almost like a homecoming.
There are liberal doses of genuine humour in the film – Abrams has made Star Wars fun again. And exciting. It’s a romp featuring a succession of fantastic action-packed set pieces. Just sit back, relax and enjoy, the adventure is back.
I’m not one of those people who mercilessly bash the prequel trilogy – I don’t they’re terrible films by any stretch and would take Revenge of the Sith over Jedi if I had to choose. But there were mistakes made in those films – bogged down with terrible acting, dialogue and political nonsense about trade blockades.
The Force Awakens avoids most of these pitfalls with ease.
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammill are back as Han, Leia and Luke, with old faves Chewie, 3P) and R2 thrown in for good measure. Ford’s the pick of the bunch, nailing the sardonic Corellian smuggler with a knowing glint in his eye. It’s like spending time with old, dear friends who you haven’t seen in years.
In terms of the new cast, the star of the show is newcomer Daisy Ridley as tough athletic scavenger Rey. She manages to convey her character as a brittle yet independent kick-ass heroine – her star will definitely burn brightly in the future. John Boyega is likeable and charismatic as Finn, a former stormtrooper who betrays his evil masters.
Adam Driver gives chief baddie Kylo Ren a depth the role of Anakin Skywalker in the prequels was crying out for. Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader close – he’s much more erratic and petulant in his behaviour. But there are times when he seems conflicted between the light and the dark side – there’s definitely a lot of conflict and pain in this mixed up villian.
As you’d expect, the special effects are spectacular, without lapsing into CGI overdose. The ever-dependable John Williams returns as composer. It really wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without Williams’ music. I spent far too many hours as a boy listening to his soundtracks and imagining what was happening in the films in lieu of videos and DVDs.
So do I have any reservations about The Force Awakens? Well yes, it’s slightly derivative. Echoes of the Death Star runs from two previous films abound when a fleet of X-Wings descend on Starkiller Base.
Abrams, while drawing on the original 77 film as an inspiration, tends to use it as a crutch to lean on a little too often. I won’t give specifics in case you haven’t seen the film yet, but let’s just say future installments need to be a little bolder in their approach. I do wonder how the film will hold up to multiple viewings. If it disappoints at all it’s only in its conformity.
In all, though, Abrams has delivered a near perfect re-introduction to the Star Wars universe. Its nostalgia appeals to older fans while pulling in new blood through a fun story that sets up the next two films in the trilogy perfectly.
As for the new IMAX screen at Vue on Kirkstall Road … it’s not as big as the one as the one in Bradford, but watching big blockbuster space operas like this warrants your extra outlay on an IMAX screen. It’s an immersive experience and one that’s hard to beat.