Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2015. Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, Truenorth Productions. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, based on characters created by George Lucas. Cinematography by Daniel Mindel. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy. Music by John Williams. Production Design by Rick Carter, Darren Gilford. Costume Design by Michael Kaplan. Film Editing by Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey. Academy Awards 2015. AFI Film of the Year 2015.
You destroy an evil empire twice, then years later you’re still having to disable their shields and look for the one weak spot in their giant planet-shaped weapon. It’s enough to induce an existential crisis: what’s it all for? To save the lives of puppet riffraff in yet another grungy bar in a corner of the galaxy? To watch good people dressed like Whole Foods employees live near forests, while bad guys wear sleek black robes and sit on glinty lacquered furniture but neither side really does much beyond committing to an ideal? Perhaps, but, by this point, the thirty-eight year old franchise begun by George Lucas’s 1977 blockbuster is impressive for how spritely it still feels and how it has never stopped capturing the imagination of its audiences. J.J. Abrams has taken over from Lucas for the seventh chapter in the series, taking place well after the events of Return Of The Jedi and bringing back beloved characters from the original trilogy for a plot that is essentially a rehashing of the first film. Daisy Ridley is delightful as a young woman abandoned by her family and scavenging for survival on a Mad Max planet before a series of adventures unite her with a Storm Trooper (John Boyega) who has abandoned his post due to a crisis of conscience. The two of them take to the skies in an old piece of junk they find called the Millennium Falcon, their goal to take an adorable Care Bear of a droid to its rightful owner to reveal the whereabouts of the Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who due to family drama disappeared many years earlier. We get to see Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca, still rich in their sassy chumminess, and a welcome reunion with Princess (now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher in a welcome return to the screen), who is haunted by the past but still the picture of regal grace. Most memorable is Adam Driver as the villain who wears a dark mask but has far less control over his actions, his terrible knack for throwing temper tantrums with his crucifix of a light sabre as richly enjoyable as the shots of his face emotionally warring between power and loyalty. Abrams has brought back much of the humour that was sorely missing from the self-important prequels, and even if the narrative features a few too many callbacks that suggest its being more a fan convention than a movie (right down to the light sabre in the snow), he manages to keep it moving fast enough to always feel plucky and fresh. All the elements that inspired Lucas from the beginning, from science-fiction serials to John Ford to Japanese samurai dramas, are still saturating the images that appear here, an impressively nostalgic but never too sentimental experience.