A ravishing portrayal of those bygone days in a galaxy far, far away just fails to hit the mark, but the shot flies so spectacularly and with such haste, it’s hard to be too pedantic about the missed bulls-eye.
The first point of praise in this fresh inter-galactic outing and, what has also proved a trapping of this movie, is that this is very much Star Wars you are watching. Specifically, the original trilogy. Specifically, more often than not, episode IV: A New Hope. Those familiar with the original movies will be playing match the plot points from the early stages of the film, until you realize a game of spot the difference would perhaps prove more of a challenge. The fruits of J. J. Abrams efforts to stay close to the source material produces just the kind of shots you would hope for. The new additions of aliens and droids fit in seamlessly across the flurry of worlds we visit with the characters of old, which is the films most remarkable achievement. There is nobody jarringly out of place in this trilogy. Stylistically the production is spot on and beautiful. I can’t say this enough: the love, care and attention to detail in bringing back this world to the big screen is a stunning achievement. It feels every bit the continuation of what has come before, it’s just a shame this mentality came to influence the plot so much.
One can certainly understand wanting to distance these new movies from the prequels, but to do so by sheltering in the protection of well trodden plot territory from the originals, instead of seeking to expand beyond them, does clip the shows wings. It’s a framing too that’s fine for the first half of the movie. Looks like some of these new folks are on paths that slightly mirror the old crowd, we get it. Super. And I do mean that. It gets the excitable endorphins of your inner-child flowing in anticipation. It’s later plot indulgences though, like the rather large element of the enemy’s arsenal that becomes pretty central for one, that readorned the hat of critic onto this born-again youth in the cinema. Counter to all these blasts from the pasts is the fantastic new villain Kylo Ren who is most definitely not Vader 2.0, a fact he is quite aware of, and boy does this make him mad! There’s a particular moment where he force chokes an underling only to pull him in to get all the more hands on with the brief torture session that I loved. It was a simple yet powerfully affecting choice. Sadly, as I’ve said, other self-referential elements of the move don’t shine so bright.
Such a trapping wouldn’t prove so steep a pitfall either, were it not for the rushed feeling of this whole movie. J.J Abrams is a gardener throwing the seeds of promising story elements left, right and centre but without coming back to ensure they germinate. In his quest to guide us through the galaxy 30 years on at such blistering speeds, the magic of it all can’t quite keep a-pace. This leads to problems primarily in regards to the development of the movie’s characters. Recent relations are later dressed up as deeper than feels natural, given the time they’ve been allowed, and even the treatment of older friendships don’t quite have the weight they should. This is in part due to the weakness of Carrie Fisher’s performance who is every bit as fatally flat as Harrison Ford is fantastic. Another late moment, in what should be, and is, the the pinnacle of the episode, just seems to lose out on a bit of necessary mood change in its early build up. A loss that seems so out of place amongst the fine acting displays that fill the scene it’s rather plausible the distortion of this high note comes purely from a moment of poor editing. As we jump from planet to planet and each nostalgia-infused skirmish to the next, the film does seem a bit skittish, cautious not to stay in one place too long.
Now I know, dear reader, this is a Star Wars movie. It’s an action packed adventure through space and, is not, nor should it be, similar in depth to say, the English Patient. This is a point you may doubt my conviction in after my next criticism but one that I’ll make regardless. You see friend, I think the movie would have benefitted from being a bit more like that ol’ black and white French classic La Haine. Specifically in respect to its middle section. You see, in La Haine, after the world and main characters have been established, the pace of the movie is slowed and it’s allowed to breath. We are brought so much closer to those in the story when it decides to largely brush aside all remnants of plot for a while. It’s this part of the movie that ultimately gives the ending such gravity. This isn’t a unique element to La Haine, it’s simply the most brilliant example that comes to mind. The concept is mentioned in, and then enacted in the far sillier movie Seven Psychopaths for instance. Even the recent Avengers movie had its own slow down with the visit to Hawk-Eye’s house. I’m merely arguing, in a pretentious, roundabout fashion, that it would have gratifying to spend more time with our main trio of heroes after they get together, and before the flurry of activity that encompasses this movie’s end starts unfolding.
Not to leave a stone unturned then in this ballooning review, It’s worth doing a brief round-up of some of the other performances. John Boyega’s performance is a fun and confident one. The high energy and fun he displayed in Attack the Block is channeled well here and it makes for exciting viewing. Daisy Ridley also puts in a great show, particularly at the start acting only alongside the new droid of the franchise BB-8. Later on, as Rey’s rushed through massive character progression, she doesn’t shine quite so bright but that’s no real fault of hers and she copes incredibly well considering. Finally our other main newcomer is Oscar Isaac who is sadly one of the few to fall a little short. The inclusion of his character in the main narrative is a great idea as it properly fleshes out a fighter pilot for a change in star wars, but it wasn’t the most convincing of portrayals. A few of his earlier lines had me cringing and left me feeling like Poe was just a bland Han Solo.
Though I’ve focused a fair bit on points for improvement this is definitely a roaring success of a production. It didn’t quite stir up in me the fervour I hoped for given its casual treatment of some prominent developments but you cannot accuse this movie of abusing the canon. Instead it glorifies what has come before in a manner that will surely go down swimmingly with fans. It’ll even be pleasing to newcomers too and act as a good base for the future on which to build. Hats off to everyone involved in breathing new life into this world. The aforementioned seeds gardener Abrams has flung across space aren’t so malnourished as to keep them from flowering in the sequels, and I still await the next installment with neotenic eagerness.