Title: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Major Players: Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher
Out Of Five: 4
If 2015 is remembered for anything cinematic, one of the contenders must be the The Year The Hype Went Hyper. Towards the end of October we nearly suffocated under the marketing deluge for Spectre but, in the case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the campaign seems to have lasted all year, reaching a full onslaught as tomorrow’s opening approaches. It’s a risky strategy. Yes, it attracts lots of media attention and yes, it puts bums on seats. But it also turns off more people who might otherwise have gone along to see it.
And I’ll be honest: the only reason I wanted to see it was so that I could write about it here and elsewhere. All the pre-publicity had reached such a pitch that it was starting to put me off the idea of the film altogether. But now I am one of the chosen few who squeezed into every available seat at Empire Leicester Square for the one and only press screening. It doesn’t change my opinion of the publicity campaign, but at least I can now decide if it was all worth it.
Of course, if you’re a Star Wars fan, that’s a rhetorical question and there were clearly quite a few of them at yesterday’s screening: whooping, cheering and clapping aren’t something you necessarily associate with a group of film hacks watching a movie. But if you didn’t grow up with Star Wars, isn’t it going to leave you stone cold?
Not necessarily. After all, we’re in the hands of J J Abrams, the director who resurrected the Star Trek film series. Now he’s doing the same for Star Wars and doing it in a way that’s sensitive to the expectations of the fans and respectful of the franchise. So the opening got a massive cheer, the catch phrases are all there – “may The Force be with you” etc – and some of the familiar faces from previous instalments make a welcome return. Han Solo and Chewie primarily, but also Leia (now a General) and the two droids R2-D2 and C3-PO. As the events of the film are set 30 years after Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi, Solo is looking a lot older, as is Leia, and the droids are a bit rusty around the edges. But essentially they haven’t changed. Nor has the throwaway humour and one-liners: Han’s observation that Leia’s changed her hair is one of the best.
As the series is moving forwards, there have to be some new faces to carry the torch into future episodes. Now we have the strong willed Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), a one-time Stormtrooper turned member of the resistance. And there’s Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac thoroughly enjoying himself), the resistance pilot, who can fly any craft going and who is followed around by rotund droid BB-8. There’s a new villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and, if you think he’s bad, you should meet his master. And you do.
The action is more or less non-stop – and when it does stop, you know there’s more just around the corner. Some of it is spectacular and, better still, Star Wars now has the special effects that it was always crying out for: crisp, clean, convincing and even better on an IMAX screen.
What’s not to like? Very little, even if, to coin the title of the radio show, you’ve never seen Star Wars. There’s enough of an explanation for it to make sense and, if one or two references go over your head, it won’t spoil things. Just sit back and enjoy what is essentially an old fashioned adventure yarn, set in outer space and told with energy, humour and a sense of fun.
The marketing campaign for the next instalment starts now ……..
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released in cinemas on Thursday, 17 December and reviewed on Talking Pictures on the same day.