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By Tom Glasson
December 18, 2015
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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

We danced around spoilers (sort of).
By Tom Glasson
December 18, 2015
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Of all the ingenuity and creativity that helped make the original Star Wars films some of the most iconic sci-fi pictures of all time, one characteristic deserves credit above all others: it was a universe that had been lived in. Compared to the pristine, almost sterile visions of space portrayed by every other film of its kind, Lucas showed us something that felt entirely ‘real’, thanks to its grimy establishments, malfunctioning droids and a Millennium Falcon that only worked after a sturdy thump from its captain.

Director J.J. Abrams has done well to remember this lesson. Things that were new at the close of Return of the Jedi are now old, and those that were old are now ancient, forgotten or gone entirely. Such is not just the feel, but indeed the very plot, of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

As the opening title crawl explains (yes, it's still there), Luke Skywalker has vanished and in his absence a sinister adjunct of the former Empire has arisen under the banner of ‘The First Order’. Led by a Sith-esque figure known as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Order is scouring the galaxy for any information as to Luke’s whereabouts so as to finally erase all vestiges of the very last Jedi. In its way (and also seeking Skywalker) stands the small yet unshakeable Rebel Alliance, now marshalled by General Leia Organa. Each side has part of a map, but neither can yet complete the full picture, and time is of the essence.

There can be few things more intimidating than embarking upon the production of a new Star Wars movie. So steeped is the series in lore, so fanatical its supporters, that even the tiniest of missteps will attract the most merciless and unceasing fury the galaxy has ever seen (i.e: sternly worded blog posts). Thankfully, via his Star Trek reboot, Abrams has already proven his extraordinary deftness when it comes to blockbuster space operas, and The Force Awakens is no exception.

It is riddled with allusions to the past, yet few are accorded more than a glance (you will find no stormtroopers sporting ‘vintage death star t-shirts’ here, for example, unlike the indelicate homages of Jurassic World). Instead we are made to feel right at home amongst our new heroes (the exceptional Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) thanks to familiar musical flourishes from John Williams, the spine-tingling sound and visual effects from Industrial Light and Magic, and the return of our beloved Han and Chewie. New planets and old faces, original characters and veterans to guide them – this is a franchise reborn but not reinvented.

If criticisms are to be levelled, they fall mainly upon the villains. Few cinema foes will ever match the menace of Darth Vader and his Emperor mentor, however here the film’s antagonists feel particularly thin. Andy Serkis’ CGI overlord Snoke is more distracting than daunting, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux is surprisingly hammy and Kylo Ren, whilst evil, is underscored by a petulance that borders on comedic. Thankfully, despite being masked and heavily synthesised, his voice does remain entirely comprehensible, as distinct from the recent broken PA system that was Tom Hardy’s Bane. Not to mention that his force grip is dead-set spectacular.

Given the choice between normal and 3D, the latter does actually add that little bit extra here, and whilst parents will doubtless be eager to introduce their younglings to the franchise, be warned – Abrams shies not away from the ‘wars’ in Star Wars. Gritty, intelligent and utterly electrifying, buckle yourselves in folks, because we’ve got a damned good feeling about this.

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