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Star Wars - episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: J.J. Abrams

review by J.C. Hartley
Spoiler alert!
Reaction to this latest episode in what must be described as the all-consuming Star Wars franchise took a curious path: delight that it wasn't crap, followed almost simultaneously by the realisation that The Force Awakens is basically A New Hope revisited, and then the criticism consequent on that. As for my own reaction, I found the opening episodic, which is fine as it's supposed to be some sort of serial, during the middle I got a bit bored and 'ho-hum' pretty much describes how I felt, and then by the end I was back on side and had quite enjoyed it.

I remember reading a review of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) which expressed initial surprise that, despite the blow struck against the Empire by the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope, here was the Rebel Alliance still on the back-foot on the ice-planet of Hoth during the opening of the new film. Well, despite the defeat of the Empire and its Sith Emperor in Return Of The Jedi (1983), here we are in The Force Awakens with a new Empire, the same old storm-troopers, another enforcer on the lines of Darth Vader and his enthroned giant holographic mentor. What's been going on?

The Republic is in exile fighting a war with the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), son of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), the General formerly known as Princess. Ren has gone bad, drawn to the dark side like his granddad before him. The First Order has grown up out of the ruins of the old Empire in the way that removing bad stuff just allows new bad stuff to take its place, a fact already observed in Aleksei German's Hard To Be A God, and succinctly put by The Who in 1971 - "Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss." The Republic is searching for legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has dropped out of sight, presumably disappointed by his failure to prevent Ren from embracing the dark side.

Ace pilot Poe Decameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB-8 have information about Skywalker but fall into the hands of the First Order storm-troopers. Decameron is rescued by storm-trooper FN-2187, who Decameron dubs Finn (John Boyega), and Decameron is recaptured but Finn and BB-8 escape and meet scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey and Finn find the Millennium Falcon and team up with Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Later finding Luke Skywalker's lightsabre, Rey is disturbed by visions and flees leaving her to be captured by Ren. The remaining team are tasked with destroying the First Order's new weapon, the Starkiller base, which they do, although it results in Solo confronting his wayward son and dying at his hand. Rey fights Ren and discovers she can command the Force. Rey is then given a mission to find Skywalker, which she does as the film ends.

And that's pretty much it, and the resemblance to the earlier film is obvious and the reason for the poor rating above; don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it was in no way the event we'd been promised. I was wondering recently why I didn't see the original Star Wars film in 1977. I didn't see Star Wars until 1981 in a double-bill with The Empire Strikes Back. I thought maybe I wasn't much of a film-goer in 1977 but I was. I'd spent the previous year at college watching releases like Carrie, The Sentinel, and The Sweeney!

When I moved to Manchester, in 1977, all my friends were full of their recent chemical-fuelled trips to see Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but I never bothered to see either film on release despite my long-standing interest in science fiction. Star Wars was the sort of film I had always hoped could be made when I used to watch classics like Forbidden Planet on TV, but when it arrived I was strangely unmoved. Unmoved hardly describes the reaction to George Lucas' follow-ups to the original trilogy, and it remains to be seen whether Episodes VIII and IX of this reboot find writers to inject some originality and verve into what at the moment seems to be a likeable, and workmanlike, but ultimately uninspired addition.

There obviously are interesting plot angles to be explored, Finn's desertion of First Order still needs some explanation, aren't storm-troopers just cloned warriors driven by blind obedience? Rey's command of the Force suggests an inheritance in the mythos of the series, and who or what is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis)?

A word on the DVD release of this film; there were complaints that extras were limited to the blu-ray release. I'm fine with this, as anyone who has ever read one of my reviews would suspect. Deleted scenes: if they're not in the final movie why would I want to see them? Blooper reels - actor forgets lines, swears, everybody laughs; commentaries, etc. It's bad enough people talking in the cinema without it happening in your own home; I rest my case.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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