December 25, 2015 10:25:58 am
The good news first : this start to a new trilogy, which harks back to the most famous trilogy in Hollywood movie history ( Star Wars ( 1977), The Empire Strikes Back ( 1980), Return Of The Jedi ( 1983)) is not half bad.
It is much better than the middle three film, which came out between 1999 and 2005 ( `The Phantom Menace’, `The Attack Of The Clones’ ,’ Revenge Of The Sith’) which were, not to put too fine a point on it, a dull disaster.
I’m not a fan of the franchise, but have seen them all as they came out, right from the first, whose chief USP was that it was cracklingly fresh : those crawl-credits which swept across the screen accompanied by that swelling score, those chatty charming robots, those strange furry creatures, those shiny sabers, that masked Dark Lord, and that galaxy so far, far away.
We hadn’t seen anything like it before ( this was a time, please remember, which pre-dated the masked superheroes turning alarmingly high-tech, and aeons before hobbits became the slayers of dragons, and toy cars turned into humungously popular movies) , and just the novelty was enough to lure us back in. But those middle three never felt anything other than emptily superfluous, cynically created just to mine our memories, and attack our wallets. By comparison, ‘The Force Awakens’ is a bona-fide film, referencing the original pop-culture behemoth, and renewing it, with some energy and vim.
And now for the bad news : fanboy JJ Abrams, who helms this reboot-cum-tribute, has succeeded in getting us back to the spirit of adventure of the original, bungs in People Of Colour ( ooh, imagine that, a Black character in all-White enterprise) and some fun, but stops well short of delivering any startling surprises. Abrams’ vision is not new. The mission is to stay safe, well in the comfort zone. The result : ‘The Force Awakens’ will not rile the die-hard fans ( check), hold out a welcome sign to those who had abandoned it in disgust ( check), and be enough of a ride to first timers who want to know what all the fuss is about ( check, check).
It’s not as if it is all drab, though. ‘ The Force Awakens’ gives us a gutsy new leading lady ( imagine that in an almost all- Boys story, and so much feistier than the wishy-washy Hamill ), and a couple of brand-new companions, and a kinetic beginning. Everything is a –whirl, and in rapid movement, and that’s the way we like it. Rey (Ridley) is a softly-swathed scavenger in an outpost which seems buried away from everything else, full of sand dunes, and storms and empty skies. Poe ( Isaac) is a pilot accompanied by BB8, a cute orange-and-white roly poly robot. Finn ( Boyega) is an agent-gone-rogue, from the stables of the evil Kylo Ren, who is a protégé of Snoke, the leader of the Third Reich-like First Order, which arose from the ruins more than thirty years back, and which wants to rule the galaxies, stamping out all opposition.
If that last sentence sounds like gobbledygook to you, ignore it. All it means is that bad guys in this film appear like Hitler’s massed armies, only dressed in clanking ceramic white suits-and-helmets. And that Kylo Ren is a straight lift of the mesmerizing Darth Vader character, black mask and all. Forgive me for being a nostalgist, but though Rider does manage to channel some badness, he is not a patch on dear Darth, who generated pure hissy venom.
The three newbies, the girl, the lost pilot, and the renegade Stormtrooper scurry about, either fleeing from Ren’s armed fellas, or running into some old friends of ours—Han Solo ( Harrison looking deliciously shaggy-weary, Carrie Fisher minus those ear-muff hairpieces, and Chewbacca, and a couple of others whom we won’t mention). Till about an hour or so, Abrams keeps the pace up, and our interest in : a great interlude, starring a female wise one, a throwback to Obi Wan the Jedi, voiced by Luipta Nyong’o, gives us some of the best moments of the film. Abrams is good at capturing the intimate, human-to-droid –to-human exchanges, set against the endless expanse of space and whizzing ships, making us feel for the characters, whether human or alien.
The original hook was simple, and therefore effective : a young man, with the help of a few friends, goes in search of a lost princess, and runs into some really bad guys in the process. It was a fairytale set in space, whose message was never overwhelmed by technology, staggering for its time : and what was not to like about a youthful adventure, sky-walkers discovering their latent powers, sabre-wielding villains, and wisdom that kept us safe. The seventh film in what can best be termed a series, never mind all this talk of prequels and sequels, gets us back to the simplicity of that tale. A new quest has begun. The new troubadors are looking for the one who will save them all. And that keeps us going, even when ‘The Force Awakens’ dips : there are patches when the film starts to feel long.
But, overall, hallelujah. Because we finally have the worthy successor of the film that we saw in 1983 ; Lucas’s empire, via Abrams, has struck back.
The Force is back with us.
Star Cast of Star Wars, The Force Awakens: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill
Director : J J Abrams
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