Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor
It was the film most people often speculated about or wished would get made someday, following in the steps of a glorified classic trilogy of films which had been tarnished by a less-than-stellar batch of prequels.
Now, three decades after Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm released the most anticipated film of the 21st century to date over the 2015 Christmas holidays, offering light saber battles, TIE Fighter and X-Wing dogfights, characters new and old and adventure from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, all to the roaring success of an entire modern grouping of generation hungry for more epic filmmaking up in the stars.
Was it worth the wait? For the most part, you bet your vicious Rathtars it was.
(Note: This review may contain some spoilers, then again if you’re reading this four months after release and are still worried about spoilers, you need professional help. Or Yoda.)
Thirty years have passed since the Resistance foiled the plans of Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader, following the destruction of the Second Death Star.
Now, a new military power called The First Order has risen from the Empire’s ashes and is looking to destroy the Republic once and for all.
A key element in repelling the Order’s ominous advances through all star systems is for the Rebels to locate the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the Jedi Knight who’d vanquished Darth Vader and the Emperor decades earlier.
As a means to find him, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) dispatches a gifted pilot (Oscar Isaac) to the planet Jakku to secure star maps to her brother’s location. Along the way, a gifted young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a noble stormtrooper deserter (John Boyega) will cross paths with the pilot and his robot BB-8, as they realize the importance of getting the map in Rebel hands before the Order’s ruthless taskmaster Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his legion of troopers kill everyone in search of the map.
How do they manage this? Why, with an opportunistic chance encounter with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), of course! Together, this group of resourceful rebel-friendly adventurers will do what it takes to save lives, combat the Order and find Skywalker, at all costs.
Though I found that there were several remarkable script gaps in this much awaited sequel, none of it seems important when faced with a masterful and respectful approach to the material, thanks to the brilliant direction by JJ Abrams, who performed a similar sci-fi miracle by rebooting the Star Trek franchise six years ago while still retaining the original elements from beloved classics.
Here, much is revealed despite a thirty year absence, with a story that reintroduces important characters as needed, rather than throw a bunch of CGI and extraneous tertiary roles for the sake of a few new collectible toys for Christmas. Many veiled parallels with the original trilogy pop up here and there, but are so organic and fluid in their development that it only furthers the story in the cleverest of ways.
Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega hold their own despite co-starring alongside living sci-fi icons, while Girls‘ Adam Driver offers a refreshing new take on the archetypical black-robed villain, playing Kylo Ren as a short-tempered, volatile new disciple of the Dark Side of the Force.
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew appear effortless in their reprisal of their legendary roles, while Oscar Isaac brings some attitude as ace pilot Poe Dameron, infusing the hothead with some humor, sarcasm and good heart. A number of other notable actors pop up here and there, but their limited screen time isn’t a source for worry given that two more sequels are on the way.
As you can tell from the blu-ray preview clips above, there’s tons of goodies on the bonus disc, from the hour long look inside production to snippets about visual effects, around to the creation of BB-8, the saga’s latest robotic icon, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
My one regret is that they didn’t include a full-length sequence of the famous “table read”, the gathering of cast and crew where Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker) read the entire script as narrator while actors read their parts. A pity, as that would have been a revelatory treat for legions of rabid fans.
Kudos to the producers for throwing in a nod to John Williams’ involvement; at 83, the veteran composer is slowing down but would never refuse another go at the Star Wars musical legacy he created.
Any bloopers? Sadly, no, but expect some to pop up once further episodic installments make for a larger box set years from now.
I’ve made sure there were plenty of good reveals left in the movie without listing them all off in this review; suffice it to say that the TLC by Abrams and the gang is apparent here, from the decision to approximate the look and feel of the original trilogy through use of actual film rather than digital, to the lack of self-awareness a mighty sequel might otherwise have ruined, mood-wise.
Does this film worthily compare to the original series? While I won’t readily say it’s better, it’s certainly earned a spot among them, though many moments felt rough and incomplete.
Rest assured that there’ll be tons of standalone fillers to plug any chronological holes in the three decades of history leading up to this film, including this upcoming piece called Star Wars: Rogue One, hitting theatres in December 2016:
And like a patient Jedi master living in the shadows, we’ll be waiting, and we’ll be ready. For each single new film.
May the Force be with us all.
4 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.