Thursday, 17 December 2015

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015).

The line "Chewie, we're home" perfectly sums up our return to the galaxy far far away with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This epic space opera film, and the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, co-written, co-produced and directed by J. J. Abrams, and created by George Lucas. The movie is a continuation of the saga and is set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).

Ever since Lucas sold his production company Lucasfilm, and with it the Star Wars franchise, to Disney in October 2012, the prospect of a return to the galaxy far far away had every die-hard Star Wars fan excited. Lucas would serve as creative consultant on the film, attending early story meetings and advising on the details of the Star Wars universe. Among the materials he turned over to the production team were his rough story treatments for Episodes VII–IX. However, he later stated that Disney had discarded his story ideas and that he had had no further involvement with the film. Episode VII's first screenplay was written by Michael Arndt. Several of Hollywood’s top directors were considered to helm the project. J. J. Abrams was also among them. Ironically, Abrams, like others, passed on the project. After publicly declining to direct the film, Abrams was visited at his Bad Robot office by the new President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy. Their negotiations lasted over a month, during which time, Abrams' central concern was the vast magnitude and cultural significance of the project. In January 2013, he was finally announced as the director of Episode VII, with Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg as project consultants. In October, 2013, Arndt departed from the project, and Kasdan and Abrams took over script duties. Abrams cited time concerns over the change of writers, and expressed relief that the release date was announced for December 2015 instead of a previously discussed summer release, which Star Wars films are known for. The first draft was completed in six weeks. Abrams said that the key for the film was to return to the roots of the first Star Wars film and be based more on emotion than explanation. In January 2014, Abrams confirmed that the script was complete. In April 2014, Lucasfilm clarified that Episodes VII–IX would not feature storylines from the expanded universe, though other elements could be included as with the TV series Star Wars Rebels.

In May 2013, confirmation was revealed that Episode VII would be filmed in the United Kingdom. Beginning in September 2013, production spaces at the Bad Robot facility were converted for shooting of Episode VII for the benefit of shooting a minor portion of the film in the United States. In August 2013, it was announced by Abrams' cinematographer Daniel Mindel that the movie will be shot on 35 mm film (specifically Kodak 5219). Casting commenced in August 2013, with Abrams meeting with potential actors for script readings and screen tests. Open auditions were held in the UK, Ireland, and the United States in November 2013. Screen tests with actors continued until at least three weeks before the official announcement on April 29, 2014, with final casting decisions being made only a few weeks prior. Actors testing had strict non-disclosure agreements, preventing them, their agents or publicists from commenting on their potential involvement. Though Lucas intimated that previous cast members Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill would return for the new film as early as March 2013, their casting was not confirmed until over a year later. Several known actors auditioned for the three leads. Also among them were newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Adam Driver also auditioned for an unnamed villain. By March 2014, talks with Andy Serkis and Oscar Isaac began and continued into April 2014. Because of the secretive nature surrounding the film, several cast members found out that they had gotten parts in the film with very short notice. On April 29, 2014, the cast was announced with a photo of the first table read of the script at Pinewood Studios near London, picturing Abrams with Ford, Ridley, Fisher, Peter Mayhew, producer Bryan Burk, Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Hamill, Serkis, Isaac, Boyega, Driver, and Kasdan. Not pictured but included in the cast were Max von Sydow and Kenny Baker. The announcement was originally planned for May 4 (Star Wars Day), but was announced early due to fears of media leaks. In June 2014, Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie were announced in the cast. Like Lucas, Abrams decided to cast newcomers to mimic the same type of selections made by Lucas. In 1976 Lucas chose Fisher, Ford and Hamill, who themselves were unknowns, for their respective roles.

In February 2014, Abrams said filming would begin in May and last about three months. The official announcement came on March 18, when Disney and Lucasfilm announced that principal photography would commence in May and be based at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. In March, it was revealed that pre-production filming would be taking place in Iceland prior to the start of official filming in May, consisting of landscape shots which would be used for scenery in the film. On April 2, Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn confirmed that filming had begun in Abu Dhabi by a second-unit crew. Later that month, it was revealed that in addition to 35mm film, segments of the film were being shot in the 65mm IMAX format. On July 8, Bad Robot reported on Twitter that the film would be at least partially shot on IMAX cameras. Principal photography began in Abu Dhabi on May 16, 2014. Abrams and members of the cast went to Abu Dhabi in early May, where large sets were built at the location, including a shuttle-like spacecraft, a large tower and a big market, and explosives were used to create a "blast crater". Cast members were spotted practicing driving vehicles that would be used during filming. Production moved to Pinewood Studios in June. How exciting it must Like Episode IV, the project did not come without its setbacks, On June 12, Harrison Ford broke his ankle after the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon fell on him. He was taken to a hospital. Production was suspended for two weeks to accommodate Ford's injury. About a year later, Abrams revealed that he broke his back while trying to help get Ford out from under the door. He kept this to himself and did not tell anyone about it for over a month. On July 29, 2014, filming took place over three days at Skellig Michael Island off the coast of County Kerry in Ireland with a cast including Hamill and Ridley. Production was halted for two weeks in early August 2014 so Abrams could rework shooting in Ford's absence and resumed with a fully healed Ford during mid-August. In September 2014, the former RAF Greenham Common military base in Berkshire, near Pinewood Studios, was used as a filming location and featured set constructions of several spaceships from the Star Wars Universe. Principal photography ended on November 3, 2014.

On November 6, 2014, the film's title was announced as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In July 2013, John Williams was confirmed to compose the score. He began writing working on the film in December 2014, and by June 2015 had been through most of the film reels, working on a daily basis. Recording sessions for The Force Awakens began in June 2015 at the Sony Pictures Studios' Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage in Culver City, with William Ross conducting most of the music. And was completed in mid-November 2015, on November 14. In August 2015, Abrams gave the estimated running time of the film as 124–125 minutes. On November 28, 2014, Lucasfilm released a 90-second teaser trailer to promote The Force Awakens. It was screened in selected cinemas across the United States and Canada and in theaters worldwide in December 2014. It generated a record 58.2 million views on YouTube in its first week. On April 16, 2015, a second teaser trailer, this one lasting two minutes, was shown at the opening panel at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California. The trailer was viewed over 88 million times within the first 24 hours of release, breaking the record of 62 million held by Furious 7 (2015) in November 2014. Advance ticket sales for the film began on October 19, 2015, and were in strong demand, resulting in online movie ticket sites crashing. In total it sold over $50 million in pre-sales breaking the record previously held by the 2012 films The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises ($25 million). This number was raised to $100 million including $50–60 million in advance ticket sales by December 14. Now on the eve of the release for the most anticipated movie of the decade, Abrams and his cast and crew braced themselves, because one way or another December 18th 2015 will live in cinematic history and will change their lives forever.

The Force Awakens stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow. The entire cast gave equally strong performances. As for the heroes, Ridley, Boyega and Isaac emulated the same connection and screen connection as Luke, Leia and Han. The movie charts their relationship in a nicely oblique way. Boyega and Isaac make fine, brash male heroes, but Ridley is something special – an eerily calm figure freighted with a heavier mystery than expected. The three ground each other and point toward all the stories yet to come. The story of Finn, Rey and Dameron is brought thrillingly to life by a new generation, who give inspired, utterly unselfconscious and lovable performances, with power, passion and some cracking comic timing. As for the villains, Driver, Gleeson and Christie gave equally powerful performances. Like the three new heroes, Driver, Gleeson and Christie brought their villains thrillingly to life, and gave inspired and powerful appeal to the unsympathetic villains. Driver gave so emotional dimension to a character that could easily have been a one-dimensional villain, and was the Anakin Skywalker that Hayden Christensen never was. Gleeson gave his own unique spin on the General Tarkin-esque archetype. He exerts the cold, tyrannical leader portrayal so perfectly. Christie gave an amazingly badass performance as Star Wars' first onscreen female villain. Even though one can feel she was underused. As for the original cast, they fit into the film so perfectly. It was as though, the old glove still fits. It has been over 30 years we last saw them. But they have not changed a bit.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens reignites a classic franchise with action, humor, story, and brilliant visuals, and will please traditional fans and new fans alike. Emotionally, it hits every one of its marks, functioning as a family reunion that extends across decades, entertainment mediums, even blurring the line between audience and show. It is an out-of-body experience. Trading on affections sustained over 30 years of popular culture, the film does what a franchise reboot rarely does. It reminds us why we loved these characters in the first place. It's also a testament to cinema's power as mythmaker, as a source for some of the fundamental stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and where we came from. It is a gift to those of us who loved the original trilogy, that epic, fantastic, idealistic body of work that screened to critical acclaim and immense commercial success, and has since become a science fiction archetype and object of fanatic cult adoration. Star Wars ' timeless appeal lies in its easily identified, universal archetypes—goodies to root for, baddies to boo, a damsel-in-distress to be rescued and so on. It might be the biggest possible reboot ever. A new classic in a rousing blockbuster era of reboots, sequels and remakes. The film is an epic expansive and ambitious continuation to the legendary sci-fi saga.

Simon says Star Wars: The Force Awakens receives:

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