Mark Hamill

REVIEW: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

I reviewed The Force Awakens when it was released. You can read my original review here. As a good chunk of time has passed and I’m rewatching the sequel films on the run up to The Rise of Skywalker’s release, there may be more spoilers here than in a normal review – you’ve been warned.

Three decades after the Empire’s defeat, a new evil threatens the galaxy – the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). After meeting Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), defector Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) gets caught up in the fight against the First Order along with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and they struggle to find the Resistance and help in the search for the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

I love The Force Awakens. I didn’t grow up watching Star Wars (I first watched all previous six films when I was at university) so there wasn’t the nostalgia or added fear and excitement that came with seeing a new Star Wars film when I went to see The Force Awakens. Still, I was blown away by the spectacle, the magic and the characters in this story that simultaneously felt new and exciting, and comforting because of how familiar the themes and the score were – because even if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan, some of those motifs are a part of popular culture.

The Force Awakens juggles the old and the new really well. It gives space for the original characters who everyone knows to be a part of this story, while also introducing us to new heroes and villains. The new trio of heroes; Rey, Finn and Poe are all wonderful. The immediate chemistry between Isaac and Boyega is palpable and how Poe and Finn meet and immediately put their lives in each other’s hands make their relationship so strong. With Rey and Finn, it takes them longer to really trust and understand one another, with each of them running away from different things. For Finn it’s his past while for Rey it’s the future and the unknown. It’s when the two of them start letting the other in that they relationship goes from annoying siblings to firm friends. Finn is the first person who ever came back for Rey, while for Finn, Rey is someone who makes him want to be brave.

The action in The Force Awakens is exciting and fun. The sound effects, the way things are shot, along with the score makes it all come together into these wonderful fun sequences. The aerial battles between the Millennium Flacon and TIE Fighters or between X-Wings and TIE Fighters are almost awe-inspiring to watch. It’s fun to see Finn and Rey or Finn and Poe work together to take down the bad guys. And it’s always great when after hearing a character is really talented at something, you actually see them do it. In this case it’s Poe being the Resistance’s best pilot. It’s even mentioned in the opening title crawl and you see how good he is multiple times.

Kylo Ren is an interesting character. He’s still feeling like he’s being pulled towards the light and he prays to a Darth Vader helmet to keep him on what he perceives to be the right track, but he’s also kind of scared and inexperienced. I love that he looks like such a normal guy when he takes off his helmet for the first time. Due to his costume and his actions, torturing Poe and killing villagers, he seems like such an imposing figure, but beneath it all he’s just pretending to be stronger and more in control than he is.

The lightsaber fights between Finn and Kylo Ren, and Rey and Kylo Ren are absolutely brutal. They tear chunks out of each other and cut down trees as they go at it. Finn is wholly unprepared and while he does get one hit in against Kylo Ren, ultimately, he is bested. It’s when Rey steps up, the lightsaber flies to her hand and the music swells that it’s really impactful, and once she lets the Force in, she is just as strong, if not stronger than Kylo Ren and it is beautiful to see her absolutely wreck him.

The thing I love the most about The Force Awakens is the characters – both the old ones and the new ones. The whole cast give such great performances (quick shout out to Harrison Ford for playing a believably world-weary Han Solo but still retaining that attitude) and their chemistry is wonderful. Even though you don’t see a lot of some characters or their relationships with one another, there’s enough hinted through the script and the actor’s performances that you can see the history between them. One such example is Poe and Leia (Carrie Fisher). It’s clear he’s told her all about Finn, that she trusts his judgement on Finn and his tactics, and that Poe is clearly relatively high up in the Resistance due to how easily he can talk to Leia and in a relatively familiar way.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just brilliant. It’s funny, thrilling, emotional and just a joy to watch. There’s so much to fit in but there’s never a dull moment or a moment wasted. The quieter, character driven moments are just as important and as engaging as the dogfights and action sequences. The Force Awakens is truly something special and I’ll always love it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

While Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to learn the way of the Force with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) leads the Resistance as the First Order threatens them all.

All the characters we met before in The Force Awakens (2015) have returned, plus some new ones. Two of the key new characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who befriends Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes with.

A lot of the film focusses on Rey’s training as she learns more about the Force and what made Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turn to the Dark Side. Rey and Kylo are often portrayed as equals or two sides of the same coin and their interactions are often tense and fascinating. These two are the main focus of the film, which then means characters like Finn are side-lined which is unfortunate. To be honest, the Finn and Rose’s whole plot could’ve been much more condensed so they get back to the main group of heroes sooner. That being said, all of the cast give excellent performances and Hamill and Fisher add so much more to their iconic characters.

The Last Jedi is an action-packed sequel with a lot of humour, some of which doesn’t always hit the mark. There’s a lot going on in this film with characters splitting off and going on their own missions, but at the same time, all of this stuff doesn’t do much in terms of progressing the overarching plot. This film seems to focus more of character development, which is not a bad thing at all, though it is sometimes heavy handed and by focusing on this there doesn’t seem to be any form of resolution in the battle of good vs evil. Naturally this is the second film in a trilogy, so there’s time for things to be resolved in a satisfactory way.

The action is well shot, and the blend of CGI and practical affect is once again to the highest quality. The Last Jedi is also a good-looking film, with some stunning locations and interesting new worlds and creatures to meet.

The Last Jedi combines the family fun with dark themes, to varied affect. Sometimes these opposites are too extreme while in other cases it allows for a moments rest before these characters we know and love are in peril once more. There’s a lot of twists and turns in The Last Jedi, taking the franchise to places it may not have gone to before and it’s an unsettling thing. This makes The Last Jedi a fun ride but it’s not a flawless one. 3/5.

*Side note* I will be seeing this film again next week so I’m interested to see what I make of it after I’ve had time to think about it – will the flaws be more noticeable, or will I find more things I like? Who knows?

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-elenasquareeyesThirty years on from the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises in the form of the First Order. When former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) meets desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) they get caught up in the fight against the First Order as they struggle to find the Resistance.

The Force Awakens is a really fun movie. While there are some quieter character moments, it starts with a bang and never really lets up. It is wonderful to be in space and to see different planets and creatures. One thing that The Force Awakens does so incredibly well is merge CGI and practical effects, whether it’s BB-8, the most adorable droid ever and a great sidekick, which really did roll around after everyone or the deserts of Jakku which was a real location – it just makes the whole thing feel more real and lived in.

The cinematography coupled with the score that has a lot of nostalgia beats make The Force Awakens a beautiful film. The aerial dog fights between TIE fighters, X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon are easy to follow and thrilling. When there’s a lightsaber duel (it’s Star Wars, there’s going to be at least one of them here) it is well-shot and brutal. (more…)