Review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray)"

published 09/05/2016 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
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Super
Pro Fun and exciting movie
Cons Unambitious film, if that matters. Poor extras.
exceptional
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"Some things never change"

This blu-ray is about £15. It comes with either a white or a black slipcase or without a slipcase at all, all for the same price. The slipcases are unimpressive. I daresay there are also more lavishly packaged special editions. I went for a black slipcase one, as that’s all they had in HMV when I bought it.

I managed to miss this when it was in the cinemas due to flu over Christmas, so I now finally get to stop telling my colleagues to stop spoilering stuff for me. And it’s an enjoyable film, which is a plus!

I was a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy as a kid – it dominated the cultural landscape for me and my friends, and evidently a whole generation of boys. The films themselves have a cultural pre-eminence far in excess of their actual quality, but they’re still fun movies that hold up pretty well. George Lucas re-released them with a load of crappy digital effects slathered all over them, but they can survive that.

Then came the prequel trilogy, three films that are basically video game cutscenes presented without wit or human interest, and riddled with plot holes you could drive a sandcrawler through. It was clear that Lucas had lost the ability to connect with his audience, and while the films did well, even the franchise’s most ardent fans have surely now realised just how poor they are.

So a lot was riding on this reboot, but it had some crucial advantages. Disney has bought Lucasfilm, and Lucas himself isn’t involved in the series anymore. Disney also owns Marvel (probably the other biggest cultural influence on me as a child), and has proven adept at milking that property for all its worth, while still keeping the films fresh and enjoyable. They hired JJ Abrams to direct, after his sterling work in making the first watchable Star Trek film since the mid-80s.

Year: 2015
Director: JJ Abrams
Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2488496
IMDB user rating: 8.3

Set some decades after Return of the Jedi, a new bunch of bad guys, the First Order, has built a new planet-destroying weapon, and are led by a new dark lord who can wield the Force. There are a new bunch of rebels, too, now calling themselves The Resistance, who are at war with them. A Stormtrooper, Finn, deserts and allies with a desert scavenger, Rey. They have to deliver a droid with some important plans to the Resistance before it’s too late.

As many people have observed, at length, the plot is basically a re-run of the original Star Wars. And it’s not just the plot – pretty much every scene, every situation, even lines of dialogue, are very obviously inspired by Star Wars (with a smidgen of Empire and a dash of Return thrown in for good measure). My favourite example is that, just like Porkins in the first film, the final spaceship battle includes a heavy-set pilot with a beard. He’s probably called something like Ham Lardins (I expect he has a whole spin-off comic book series by now).

This is apparently a problem for some people, with many angry nerds on the internet turning on their self-righteous Comic Book Guy sarcasm. I can’t say it bothers me that much. The film is hugely fun, just like the original Star Wars. Disney spent an enormous amount of money acquiring the franchise, so they were obviously going to make the film as commercially viable as possible. It had to reassure old fans that Lucas really is gone, and set out the series’ stall to new fans – what better way than by effectively remaking the first film? And why is that even a problem? It’s Star Wars, not Three Colours: White. Surely no one goes into a Star Wars film expecting anything other than a Star Wars film. Yes, it feels cynical to release something that takes so few risks, but in spite of it being crushingly obvious how derivative it was, it still made me laugh out loud repeatedly.

The success of Star Wars was always at least as much about the incidentals as the plot – the innovation of the original was all about special effects and design, not plot and characterisation. This film gets the look and feel absolutely spot on, with the crashed Star Destroyer in the desert looking particularly amazing. It looks and (more importantly) sounds like a Star Wars film. John Williams provides another terrific soundtrack, plenty of old characters return, and even the font in the closing credits is right (there are more than ten minutes of closing credits, which is ridiculous). The film constructs a series of genuinely lived-in looking locations – world building was one of the great strengths of the original, and one of the reasons it got its hooks so deep into young imaginations.

It’s obviously a modern film, though. The Stormtroopers are a lot more brutal, and the battle scenes feel far more like something from Marvel than a previous Star Wars movie. The laser bolts smack into people and ships with a crunching physicality that was lacking in the old films. There are CGI moments, and while they’re not as terrible as the flat, lifeless vistas offered in the prequels, there are still problems when, for instance, Rey has to interact with the motion captured/computer generated Maz Kanata. It’s very obvious one of them is a real, physical person and the other is not.

The cast is generally very good. In Finn and Rey the film has come up with a pair of new protagonists every bit as fun and engaging and Luke and Leia in the originals (although like Luke, it does seem a bit unlikely that Rey can fly spaceships so well considering she’s apparently never been off her home world). Depressingly, internet misogynists have taken against Rey, believing she’s ‘too powerful’ (needless to say, this wouldn’t be an issue if she were a man doing exactly the same things). I think she’s great, personally (I loved the line “I know how to run without you holding my hand!”). I hope she doesn’t do what Luke did and go all gloomy and boring when the Jedi training starts.

It’s sad, though, that some fans feel that women in the Star Wars universe should know their place – being rescued, dying in childbirth, or pouring Uncle Owen’s blue milk – and leave the fun stuff to the boys. The original trilogy has a grand total of six speaking parts for female characters (and one of those is Sy Snootles). The Force Awakens comfortably beats that number. This feels like progress, as does the fact that Finn is not white (another thing that has annoyed a certain type of internet commenter).

Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is also an enjoyable character, with a welcome touch of Han Solo-style cynicism. The new round droid is quite sweet, if obviously designed with toy sales in mind. Even Maz, the CGI character, is OK (at least compared to Yoda or Jar Jar Binks). All of the main heroes are played well, although Daisy Ridley’s voice and line deliveries sound identical to those of the ultra-annoying Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones. Speaking of GoT, the main villain, Kylo Ren, must surely owe something to the bonkers boy-king Joffrey. I was wary about the idea of a young dark lord given to tantrums – I worried he might be a bit Stewie Griffin – but it works, more or less, and Adam Driver is very good. And it was great to hear GoT’s Gwendoline Christie as the chief Stormtrooper; I hope she’ll be back in the next film.

I guess a major attraction is the return of the original Star Wars cast. (but why no Lando? Come on, everyone loves Lando…). Harrison Ford is fantastic as an older but not-much-wiser Han Solo. He’s world weary with flashes of the old charm. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have much smaller roles, and Fisher seems to be basically just playing herself, but I guess that’s OK. The droids and Chewbacca are back too, although Peter Mayhew needs a stunt double for Chewie in some scenes due to problems with his knees. Kenny Baker is now listed as ‘R2D2 consultant’, being too old to sit in the prop and wobble it around. (I wonder what he consulted on. ‘No, Artoo wouldn’t do that.’ ‘But Kenny…’ ‘I said no!’) Anthony Daniels is still playing C3P0, and I was surprised to actually find some of his lines funny.

We even get Admiral Akbar and Nien Nunb, which is rather nice, if a little pointless. (No Wedge, sadly – apparently Denis Lawson turned them down, the big killjoy.) It ticks boxes for the long-term fans without alienating the new ones, which is pretty much all it had to do to make a shedload of money.

There are issues with the film, of course. Andy Serkis’s Emperor-alike big baddie is unimpressive, and goes by the catastrophic name ‘Snoke’ (a bit too Harry Potter). Why, if the Resistance are backed by the galactic Republic, did they fail to snuff out the First Order when it first started? Why do the bad guys never think of looking for droids when they’ve lost their secret plans? And having both heroes decide they were going to turn their backs on the Resistance within five minutes of each other was a bit tiresome, especially since they were obviously both going to change their minds.

But it’s hard to find much else to dislike. I actually find myself vaguely looking forward to the next film. That said, Disney are planning on swamping us with Star Wars films, scheduling backstory movies and solo adventures between main episode releases. As with their superhero movies, I can’t help but feel that they’re making a lot of assumptions about how long they can keep the series going. They predict that they’ll still be making Star Wars films long after all the fans of the original trilogy are dead, which is both vaguely sinister and astonishingly hubristic. Oh well, who am I to tell them their business?

(Although if they want my advice, I’d like to see a film in which some of my favourite obscure Star Wars characters, based on the old figures I had when I was a kid – let’s say IG-88, Lobot, the Rancor Keeper and a couple of Ugnaughts – try to rob a casino. Also, re-release the originals without the special edition crap. And release the Holiday Special. On Blu-ray.)

Blu-ray

Unsurprisingly, this looks and sounds great. For a modern film to look otherwise would be unforgivable, especially one with the resources of Disney behind it. It’s one of the few films that makes me wish I had a bigger telly, as I think it would look better the bigger the image is.

Controversially, the DVD release lacks any extras. You have to buy the Blu-ray if you want any making-of stuff (it comes on a second disk). Whilst I’m happy enough that they haven’t imposed a dual-format release on us, this does seem like a smack in the face for DVD buyers. Not everyone wants to upgrade to Blu-ray.

Anyway, the main extra is a 1 hour 10 minutes ‘making of’ covering everything from Lucas’s retirement to the completion of the film. Everyone gamely pretends that the Force Awakens was a story that just had to be told, rather than an exercise in franchise-reboot box-ticking. And you’ll be amazed to learn that the young cast members were in awe of the older cast members, but blown away by how generous they were; while the old actors in their turn were delighted with how exciting and committed the new actors were. I suppose it would be too much to ask for anyone to express any misgivings in an official ‘making of’ documentary, but while bits of it are mildly interesting, it feels too corporate. There’s nothing about Harrison Ford breaking his ankle, for instance. And amusingly, almost no one mentions Star Trek, which is surely the reason Abrams was hired. (The exception is the ghastly Simon Pegg, who it turns out was in one of the monster costumes. I was happier before I knew that.)

Then there are a few shorter (less than ten minutes) documentaries about various aspects of the film – the monsters, the round droid, the music etc. And a small handful of deleted scenes, none of which are more than a minute long. The extras don’t really add up to much, to be honest.

It’s an odd film in that it’s a very cynical reboot, but the lack of artistic ambition doesn’t hurt it. It’s enjoyable despite the lack of innovation. I suppose it has that in common with the Marvel films – the spectacle of the effects and the charm of the actors make you not mind how empty it all is. No one complains about the Bond films sticking to a rigid formula, so I don’t see why it’s such a sin when Star Wars does it.

Expect two hours of unchallenging entertainment and you’ll enjoy this.

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Comments on this review

  • gazhack published 03/06/2016
    Terrific review
  • Mauri published 28/05/2016
    Excellent, I agree.
  • Dentolux published 17/05/2016
    Superb review
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Product Information : Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Ford, Harrison

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Abrams, J.J.

Video Category: Feature Film

Actor(s): Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac

Classification: 12 years and over

EAN: 8717418480882

Production Year: 2015

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