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STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS

SYNOPSIS: The saga continues, set 30 years after Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has not been seen and his whereabouts have remained a mystery for 30 years, but the First Order intends to find him and so extinguish the Jedi. Rebel stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and feisty scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) are drawn into an adventure to protect a droid, the companion of Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) who is hiding the secret map with a clue to Skywalker’s hideaway. They are joined by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his loyal partner, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), in the battle against the First Order, reuniting with Princess – now General – Leia (Carrie Fisher). '

Review by Louise Keller:
The old and the new are seamlessly interwoven in J.J. Abrams’ spectacular Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a swashbuckling intergalactic adventure that satisfies on every level with its superb storytelling, endearing characters, splashy visual effects and a masterful score by John Williams. Big, bold and bountiful, it’s a film with scale, whose universal themes of good versus evil always remain the focus, buoyed by the potent undertones of loyalties, family dysfunctions and connections. J. J. Abrams skillfully brings together all these elements with an appealing freshness and innocence, allowing the film to soar as high as the infamous Millennium Falcon, enabling this new adventure to weave its own special magic for fans new and old. The Force is alive and well, complete with tension, thrills, chuckles and an emotional wallop that feels like a knife in the heart.

There are nearly as many names in the end credits (for visual effects) as there are stars in the galaxy, and I admit to having goose bumps from the outset, as we become immersed again in that sparkling far-far-away galaxy with its familiar text scroll that graces the screen by way of introduction. Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams’ smart screenplay quickly establishes the film’s reality as we are introduced to its key new characters.

The film steps up a notch when Han Solo and his hairy wookie side-kick, Chewie arrive onscreen – it’s like being in a time warp. Harrison Ford is in fine form and looks as though he is enjoying every second in a role that has been beautifully recreated and scripted. There is no shortage of nostalgia with Carrie Fisher as Leia (now a General) and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, the only remaining Jedi. Other old friends also pop in. There are plenty of priceless moments, but this is not the place to list them. They are all better experienced first hand. I love the way the film changes pace with drama, comic asides, thrilling chases and colourful scenes like the one in which digitally enhanced Lupita Nyong'o plays a yellow-faced, goggle-wearing ancient pirate.

Daisy Ridley is a formidable choice as Rey, the feisty scavenger from the planet Jakku; she has a natural screen grace in the vein of an athletic Natalie Portman. John Boyega, the rogue storm trooper who defects from the First Order to join the Resistance is a welcome combo of bravado and courage. Adam Driver, as the sabre-toting Darth Vader-esque general with temper tantrums and a dark secret is wonderful, bringing complexity to the character of Kylo-Ren. Oscar Isaac is also terrific as the Resistance pilot who can fly anything and Domhnall Gleeson is all class as General Hux. The little orange and white droid BB-8 is a cute presence, but can’t compete with old favourites C-3PO and R-2D-2.

From the extremes of the desert to the snow, the settings are striking, while the production detail is faultless. As for Williams’ score, it is operatic in scale, carrying the narrative with its oomphy melodic orchestrations, adding ballast to what is a major cinematic event.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Well, was it worth the wait and the anticipation? In my book, yes. Knowing that some of the original cast playing the original characters were involved heightened the sense of continuity as well as the sense of ownership of the Star Wars world by those who have followed the films from the beginning (whether on the big screen or small). As well as the cast, other familiar elements make a welcome return, including the eccentricity of an intergalactic bar ‘peopled’ by fantastic creatures listening to a jazz band (where the wonderful creation Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) rules, several recognisable craft, notably Han Solo’s veteran freighter, the Millennium Falcon.

But nostalgia could not by itself keep the film afloat, and the new characters are a terrific asset: top of the list is Daisy Ridley as Rey, who completes the gender equation as a combat-ready scavenger; John Boyega as Finn the rebel stromtrooper, Oscar Isaac as the pilot Poe, whose quick thinking saves the digital map that might help locate Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill in a crucial cameo); Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux of the nasty First Order and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who carries the film’s emotional driver. Max von Sydow makes a brief but powerful appearance, and Anthony Daniels as the voice of old faithful C-3PO. Must mention Andy Serkis, who once again takes on a fantasy figure, First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a distorted, disfigured hologram we see in half light as he plans the destruction of the Resistance.

One could easily imagine this film as a metaphor for World War II, complete with the industrial-strength designs of First Order’s uniforms, architecture, behavioural mannerisms and brutality of spirit that marked the Nazi war machine. For most of its audience, though, I suspect it will slot into their list of favourite sci-fi films, not war movies. Doesn’t matter, except that seeing it as a war movie adds resonance, given we can expand the weight of ‘right’ as the being the opposite of ‘dark’ where the force is concerned.

The mise en scene details are meticulously crafted, creating a visceral sensation through our eyes, and the occasional jab of humour is fun. My only reservation is the slightly overdone characterisation of Han Solo as the flawed, clunky ‘mere male’ to Carrie Fisher’s wise, world weary Leia.

The battle scenes are superbly realised (by a massive army of digital artists and visual effects specialists) and the film’s major offscreen co-star is John Williams’ galaxy sized score, stunningly delivered by the orchestra. It is ever present and ever powerful.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS (M)
(US, 2015)

CAST: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and Max Von Sydow

PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk

DIRECTOR: J. J. Abrams

SCRIPT: J.J. Abrams & Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt (characters by George Lucas)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Daniel Mindel

EDITOR: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey

MUSIC: John Williams

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter, Darren Gilford

RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 17, 2015







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