Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Synopsis:

From the ashes of the Empire, the villainous First Order has risen, led by the last of the Knights of Ren, Kylo Ren. They are searching for the missing piece of a map, which will lead them to Luke Skywalker, who disappeared sometime in the last thirty years. Also searching for the map are the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, hoping to find Luke before the First Order does.

The most anticipated movie of the year was released this past week, and thankfully fans of all ages can take a collective sigh of relief. The Force Awakens is a success. In ten years’ time it may not be regarded as a classic, like A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, but it will certainly be remembered as a formidable return to form for the franchise. After a lacklustre prequel trilogy, we finally have a movie that sits well with the original trilogy. From the very beginning the audience is sucked into this beautifully imagined universe. The different planets, the practical effects and costumes, and of course the wonderful John Williams’ score transport the viewer. Han Solo you are correct, we are indeed “home”.

This time round, we are following both the evil First Order, and our good guys, the Resistance as they search for a map to the missing last Jedi, Luke Skywalker. The story is simple enough, which is a great choice by Abrams and Kasdan, after the convoluted mess of the prequels. It takes us back to the pure entertainment of the originals whilst offering something fresh. It builds from the beginning and doesn’t let go, in many ways Mad Max in space. Whilst there may be an over-repetition of space battles, and a few too many quips for the hardcore fan, the Force Awakens delivers the best lightsaber battles of the series so far, and some truly emotional moments.

Han is by far the most prominent character from the original series in this movie. He and Chewbacca enter early and are vital to the plot of the movie, whilst Leia and Luke play but minor roles. Director J.J. Abrams found the perfect mix here, between old and new. Whilst at times, it does feel like A New Hope 2.0, it never becomes overwhelmed by nostalgia. The old-timers are present, but it is not their movie. The new cast members are simply stunning, and for the most part are given the time to shine. Rey and Finn are the most obvious examples, played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega respectively. They are our protagonists, Rey a scavenger left on the desert planet of Jakku by her parents, and Finn a Stormtrooper with a conscience, who cannot simply accept the atrocities he witnesses. Thankfully, whilst the new leads have hints of the original trio, they are not merely carbon copies. To give away too much of their characteristics may constitute spoilers, but let’s just say they are well developed, complex characters who are not necessarily your prototypical heroes. Poe Dameron, the greatest pilot in the Resistance, has less of a developed story arc, but is still a welcome, charming addition, who will hopefully enjoy a more prominent role in the sequel.

On the darker side of the force we find Kylo Ren. Played by Adam Driver, he is on paper this trilogy’s Darth Vader. In reality he is much more than that, in many ways in fact, an anti-Vader. It becomes clear early on that he is much younger than Vader and markedly more immature. Driver plays it perfectly, a mix between spoilt brat and dangerous psychopath. We fear him, his tantrums spectacularly destructive, but under the mask he is a lost, afraid young man. The rest of the villains unfortunately fair much worse. Domnhall Gleeson is nothing more than solid as the generic dictator-esque General Hux, whilst Gwendoline Christie’s wonderfully designed Captain Phasma is virtually absent throughout. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is a fully CGI character, this trilogy’s Emperor, who has little to do.

Snoke’s CGI is rather good but not anything extraordinary, and there is a certain breed of space monster which also suffers slightly from a cartoonish look. It appears ripped straight from the Star Trek reboot rather than a Star Wars movie. However, Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata is quite simply stunning. An eccentric thousand year old pirate she feels as real as Han, Rey and Finn despite being completely CGI. The background and the extras are equally as brilliant. Gone is the almost sole reliance on green/blue-screen favoured by George Lucas in the prequel trilogy, replaced instead by wonderful practical effects and real settings. Each character jumps off the screen, and every planet feels wonderfully unique and real.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nothing short of a triumph. The pressure on the shoulders of the cast and crew was surely crippling, but they managed to do almost everything right. It is a fun ride, perfect as a stand-alone movie, and the beginning of a new trilogy. It never overstays its welcome, and leaves enough questions unanswered to keep us speculating for the next two years. With the incredible directors signed on for the next few movies, audiences are sure to be in for a treat. We could be looking at the beginning of the perfect Star Wars trilogy.

Verdict: 8.5/10.

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Master of None: Season 1 Review

Aziz Ansari’s new show exclusive to Netflix is a real gem which appears to have flown under the radar for many comedy fans. It is a heart-warming, funny and genuine show, a combination not often encountered these days. Ansari is Dev, a thirty year old actor in New York. He does commercials mainly, a regular joe with a pretty ordinary life. He has a group of friends as well as parents with whom he interacts constantly, and each character is fleshed out, and most importantly is very, very funny. The main regular though is Noel Wells’ Rachel, an offbeat friend whom we meet at the beginning of the pilot when Dev’s condom breaks in bed. She’s charming, and quirky but is never in danger of straying into Manic Dream Pixie Girl status.

We follow Dev through the trials and tribulations of everyday life, but Ansari makes sure this is not merely a one-note show about becoming a man. He hits on numerous important topics: racism, sexism, and the elderly; but in such a soft-handed approach that it never feels forced. Despite some of these issues receiving an episode to themselves, they often overlap. Just because the episode about parents has finished does not mean the relationships have. The same with racism, sexism and most integrally here: relationships. It flows, things appear at one point, disappear for a while, then re-emerge, but it never feels stilted or jarring. Ansari, particularly as the season draws to a close, takes a closer look at love and relationships, but once more it feels natural. We see the progression of a relationship, the same one we all experience, and unlike a sitcom, issues aren’t magically fixed in half an hour.

What Ansari achieves with this show seems to have been under-appreciated. It’s witty and completely endearing without ever being near sickening. It’s love and life represented brilliantly.

Verdict: 9/10