Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Music by John Williams
Finn and Rey on poster
We had to sneak the 10 and 12 year old grandkids out of the house. The two year old brother would have been devastated to know he’d been left behind and missed it. He has often been present while his older brother watches the older ones. He can say Star Wars, Ewok, light sabre, the dark side, Darth Vader, and At-At. Oh, and treetopper, by which he means stormtrooper. We reckon that’s derived from the Ewoks fighting stormtroopers in the trees. When he does get to see it on DVD in a few months, he will be worried by the absence of Ewoks and At-Ats.
Their uncle, in the party for his second viewing, had prepared by watching the first three again (i.e. Episodes IV, V and VI). I hadn’t seen any since the sixth one (Episode III) in the cinema. Yes, the numbering is annoying. The excitement of Episode VII, The Force Awakens is that it necessitates the return of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess (now General) Leia.
Most interesting was the decision to cast completely new faces in the principle roles, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega): a woman and an Afro-Caribbean British man. Daisy Ridley retains her British accent, while John Boyega, from South London, does American. He is an ex-stormtrooper, and stormtroopers apparently have American accents. There are a LOT of women in major roles; fighter pilots, soldiers, officers. The stormtrooper officer in full helmet is Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie from The Game of Thrones. In the cinema lobby, several little girls were in Rey costumes. One fondly hopes it was a PC broadening, though one suspects that it’s a “Hey! We could double our market base here!’ They probably thought the same when they cast Natalie Portman as Padme in Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace in 1999. However the costume and figurine drive on Padme was definitely pretty Disney princess. Rey in this one is feisty, funny, tough and a “scavenger” living by taking the huge crashed Star Destroyer apart on the planet Jakku … hang on. I’m not going to explain the plot here. If you’re reading this, you’ve seen it.
Rey and Finn on the desert junkyard planet Jakku
Rey’s expertise in dismantling Star Destroyers for scrap allows her to solve major mechanical problems in a jiffy. “There’s a problem with the hyperdrive!” says Hans Solo. “OK, I’ll bypass the oscillator.” And she does and it works. She is in direct line of descent from Scotty in Star Trek. A spanner and a screwdriver will mend any hyperdrive. A great character. She is also a natural space pilot of phenomenal skill, without ever having left the planet Jakku, and proves adept with a light sabre. She’s also good looking. My thought was what this sort of global fame is going to do to her career … Mark Hamill reckoned Luke Skywalker wrecked his.
Rey, Finn and Han Solo on The Millennium Falcon
Finn is the stormtrooper, FN-2187, who deserts the dark side for the light. Actually, there’s a major change here. While the stormtroopers are massacring innocent villagers, a colleague gets killed and smears blood with his fingers down FN-2187’s helmet. That’s important – we now know it’s him. The same technique of three lines of blood was used to identify in the last Planet of The Apes as well as the doors in Exodus. But isn’t that against the original Star Wars idea? Stormtroopers were faceless, semi-mechanical. Slaughtered in their hundreds. Nothing upsetting for children. But now we know they’ve got BLOOD inside? The ethic has changed since 1977. Episode II: Attack of The Clones and III Revenge of The Sith have the original stormtroopers as clones. The clones were phased out, and FN-2187 was a captured orphan. A quick Wiki search indicates that the cartoon spin offs and games had natural humans recruited as stormtroopers. Given the vast array of sentient beings in the Star Wars universe, it’s odd they didn’t recruit any non-humans into this elite force. We must assume that The First Order (heirs to The Galactic Empire) are a racist lot, and the New Republic more inclusive.
FN-2187 aka Finn (John Boyega)
Anyway, FN-2187 teams up with the Resistance’s best pilot, Poe (Oscar Isaac), who christens him Finn. They escape to Jakku, but are shot down and crash. Finn thinks Poe is dead. The hidden map with the mysterious secret to life, the universe and everything (i.e. the location of Luke Skywalker in solitary Jedi retirement) is in BB-8, Poe’s lovable spherical robot who replaces R2-D2 and C-3PO, though both will appear later.
What about the old guard? Harrison Ford is just in this one as Hans Solo. Maybe it was too risky gambling on him being fit, available and willing for Episodes VIII and IX. As ever, Harrison swashbuckles with aplomb. Mark Hamill has already grumbled about his brief appearance, but no doubt will be back for VIII, as will Carrie Fisher. Leia has been demoted from Princess to General, or maybe in a republic, promoted. In her touching reunion with Harrison Ford as Han Solo, there is a line about being crazy about each other. I don’t know how the scriptwriters avoided her saying “Still crazy after all these years …” but I was probably the only ageing Paul Simon fan in the audience who would have got the reference.
Han Solo: Still with Chewie after all these years
I thought that leaving both Finn and Kylo Ren (the Darth Vader replacement) potentially (but almost certainly not) dead at the end was a powerful piece of contract negotiation for VIII and IX, but I’m sure the contracts for all three films, like those for Lord of The Rings were watertight, cast in iron, before anyone got on the set for this one.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)
Adam Driver is an interestingly Byronic Kylo Ren, and he gets his helmet off. Much more experienced than his fellow young stars, though not as well known as Oscar Isaac playing super-pilot Poe Dameron (see Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis on this blog). Maz is a sort of female bartender / Yoda, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o … a great addition, even if I’d guessed wrongly that she was based facially on Sheila Reid, the granny in Benidorm (see Pericles review). Andy “Gollum” Serkis gets the computer makeover again to play Supreme Leader Snoke. When you read the official synopsis, laden with named characters you see fleetingly, but never hear named (Teedo, Tekka, Kanjiklub, the Guavian Death Gang, Sidon Ithano, Quiggoid) , you realise the importance of names. They are needed as labels for the figurines which will be available in your local toy store.
Customer with tart / First Order spy in Maz’s bar. The figurines will have names
Overall? We came out chatting happily. It was exciting. I laughed out loud several times at excellent quips and exchanges. There’s a ton of detail which will add enjoyment in further viewings. We argued over the inevitable family relationships waiting to be explained in the next two. We found out that baddie Kylo Ren was the offspring of Princess Leia and Han Solo. We know that Rey was abandoned on Jakku by her parents, who we never see. Leia greets her with a long hug and a look of recognition. Someone pointed out that Rey saw Han Solo as a father figure. So my bet was that Rey and Ren are twins, separated at birth. We know from Luke and Leia that twins run in the family. On the other hand, my companions thought that far too obvious and repetitive, and pointed out Luke Skywalker as the obvious dad, as Rey manages to invoke the power of the Jedi, and knows how to fight like one without training. Inherited? Could still be from Leia. I am 100% sure, given the family audience, that both Luke and Leia cannot be her parents. As I won’t amend this December 2015 review, you may find these suppostions hilariously wrong in the future. I’ll just wait and see. I will go to watch this one again while it’s in 3D on a big screen.
Two of us thought it was the best of the seven. The more dedicated fans thought it too closely followed the trajectory of the original 1977 film, and listed the number of equivalent scenes. They still thought it five star. I enjoyed it far more than any of the second batch, but it’s impossible to equate it with the original impact of the first batch.
P.S. I thought the scrolling text at the beginning was too long, and that Empire Cinemas had the volume just a notch too low. I think the opening credit music should pin you to your seat.