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  • Post last modified:August 22, 2022

The Force Awakens: Saving Another Franchise


Harrison Ford. Photo: Lucasfilm

There are some people out there who call themselves fans of Star Wars but still pretend like the trilogy of prequels that George Lucas created in 1999-2005 never happened, even though they were as excited about them before the premiere as they are now when the saga continues with Episode VII. The good news is that The Force Awakens, the biggest cinematic “event” in years, is a little stronger than the prequels and on par with Return of the Jedi (1983). Director J.J. Abrams’s greatest achievement is making this film look like a natural continuation of an adventure that ended 32 years ago. 

Rise of the First Order
30 years after the fall of the Empire, everything is not hunky-dory. The remnants of the Empire have created the First Order, a new faction aiming to take control of the galaxy. They are fought by the Resistance, consisting of the old Rebel Alliance. When we first meet Finn (John Boyega), he’s a stormtrooper emotionally unable to carry on with his deadly mission. After bolting, along with a Resistance fighter pilot (Oscar Isaac), he ends up on a desert planet where he runs into a scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a droid, which Finn realizes carries an all-important map showing the whereabouts of the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who disappeared mysteriously years ago. After being tracked down by the First Order, Finn, Rey and the droid escape and stumble onto a very familiar ship… 

Almost erasing his personal touch
By now we’ll have to designate J.J. Abrams Hollywood’s premier franchise-saver. We all know what script doctors do, but this is a guy who mends entire franchises. Abrams made both Mission: Impossible and Star Trek look good again. We all had our qualms about the same guy also doing Star Wars, but for this film he has become so adept at imitating and recreating a style that he’s almost erased his personal touch; this movie looks like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg went back in time and found their inner twentysomethings again.

Abrams finds the right tone, combining humor and charm with darkness and surprisingly emotional moments. 

The story was based on original ideas by Lucas, which were first turned into a script by Michael Arndt. The final result, after periods of rewriting, has me somewhat conflicted. What I think they could have done more work on is a number of ideas that seem a bit lazy – such as a variation on the original Death Star, as if the Empire didn’t learn the lesson the first time round. Still, the film pays homage to the original films while also building tension. Locations are very well varied, from a new desert planet to a showdown in a wintry forest with the new Darth Vader, another masked villain called Kylo Ren. The visual effects, in 3D, make the most out of the chases in space. There are no silly ingredients threatening to kill the entire movie, as in The Phantom Menace (1999). Abrams finds the right tone, combining humor and charm with darkness and surprisingly emotional moments. 

Watching Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Hamill again is awe-inspiring, but the new cast also deliver, especially Ridley and Driver. As for John Williams’s score, it’s so old-fashioned it’s actually a breath of fresh air. 

The one overwhelming sequence of the film is perhaps the franchise’s most heartbreaking moment. The fact that we accept Abrams doing this, and are moved, is about the finest praise for his work here that we can bestow on him.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015-U.S. 135 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt. Music: John Williams. Cast: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega… Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Simon Pegg, Warwick Davis. Cameos: Daniel Craig, Kevin Smith, Judah Friedlander.

Trivia: Bill Hader helped create the “voice” of the droid BB-8. Ewan McGregor contributed his voice for a sequence. Brad Bird, Matthew Vaughn and Ben Affleck were considered for directing duties; Michael Fassbender, Michael B. Jordan, Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving for roles. Followed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.

Last word: “We knew we weren’t just casting one movie – we were casting at least three. That, to me, was the biggest challenge. When we met Daisy Ridley, when we found John Boyega, and then Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver came aboard, we got really excited. And yes, Daisy and John could work together, but what happens when Harrison’s in the mix? What will that feel like? If it doesn’t spark, it’s a fucking disaster. Yes, BB-8 is a great character, amazingly puppeteered, but what will happen when he’s suddenly in a scene with C-3P0 or R2-D2? Will it feel bizarre? Will it feel wrong? Somehow it didn’t. When Anthony Daniels told me, ‘Oh my God, I love BB-8!’ I said, ‘We’re going to be OK.’ Because if he’s OK, it’s working.” (Abrams, Wired)

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