Star Wars: The Force Awakens - The RNZ review

7:47 am on 17 December 2015

REVIEW: The new Star Wars film should satisfy most audiences - whether fans or neutrals, writes Dan Slevin from Widescreen.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega escape an attack in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015).

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega escape an attack in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015). Photo:

George Lucas must be feeling pretty happy right now. He sold his company to Disney for $US4 billion and now he can see the most perfect realisation of his science-fiction dream: voodoo samurai combined with laser cannon WWII dogfights and soap opera emotions.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a better film than any of the previous six Star Wars films, but almost all of its success relies on the fact that the other six (or at least the first three) exist in the first place. This is a paradox, but a happy one.

For context, this reviewer is fond of the Star Wars films, but is not a fan. Tonight, at the first Wellington public screening of the film, I was surrounded by people in various costume options, including R2-D2 onesies and a brave soul in a Star Trek uniform who managed to survive his own unique 'first contact'.

These were true believers and it is a testament to the success of the film that after the first quarter of an hour the crowd forgot to cheer at the dedicated cheering moments. Story was the winner on the day.

Captain Phasma, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Captain Phasma, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens Photo:

And Lucas should also be happy because most of the story - a good 75 percent in my estimation - is the same one he came up with in 1977. Attractive young blonde person lives on a remote sand planet and dreams of something better. Cute robot carrying secret plans is abandoned on said planet and befriends said attractive young person in order to get off the planet and deliver the plans to a rebellion fighting against a totalitarian dictatorship with an army of masked soldiers.

I thought the soldiers were clones (hence Attack of the Clones) but in this film they are conscripts, plucked as children from remote villages from around the galaxy, and trained to be ruthless wreakers of destruction. When they appear early in The Force Awakens you see stormtroopers actually storming for the first time - a devastating and terrifying fighting force.

Except for one.

A stormtrooper with a conscience, played by John Boyega, remarkably decides to opt out and meets aforementioned blonde (Daisy Ridley) and cute robot (JB Hi-FI), and instead of escaping the conflict he is embroiled ever deeper, aiding his personal, professional and - potentially - Force development.

Cunningly, characters from the earlier films start to appear at this point, and we learn that despite the decisive victory in the Return of the Jedi, all is not rosy in the republic. Luke, specifically, has had a rough time and gone bush, with the only map to finding him hidden in the aforementioned roly-poly droid.

The heavy lifting in terms of franchise history is done by a very game Harrison Ford, more relaxed and entertaining than at any time since he last played Han Solo, while almost all of the original cast get a chance to be sentimental or comedic or both.

Patricide is never very far away from any Star Wars discussion and screenwriters Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), Lawrence Kasdan (Return of the Jedi) and director J.J. Abrams don't let us down. The neat thing is that because you don't know who is father to who, unless you watch the film, that isn't a spoiler!

A big box office year is about to get even bigger as fans and rubberneckers give The Force Awakens one, two or more goes in order to pick up all the clues - and this reviewer will be among them.

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