Friday, December 25, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

So, in case you've been living under a rock for the past several months, there is a new Star Wars movie out! Being respectful of all my fellow geeks on the internet who have begged the rest of the internet to avoid spoilers, I will avoid being too specific here and describe my impressions. Apart from a broad synopsis in the following paragraph, I won't reveal anything you haven't seen in the trailers you've probably seen 147 times. Of course, if you want to go in to the movie fresh with nothing but the trailers on your mind, I wouldn't read beyond this paragraph. I will say here, though, that this Star Wars movie feels more like Star Wars than all the prequel trilogy movies combined. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is a good, solid film.
Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn (John Boyega) crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence that could potentially turn the course of the ongoing fight against the First Order.
There, see? That wasn't too spoilery, was it? Honestly, I'm doing my best not to tarnish your experience seeing this movie.
I was legitimately worried about this movie when it was announced; the last time I got excited about a new Star Wars release it SUCKED. That abominable prequel trilogy tarnished Star Wars with abysmal storytelling, insulting characters, flimsy plots, blatant self-promotion for merchandise, twisting established rules of the setting, too much CGI and poor green screen execution, iconic characters (like Yoda) behaving in completely contrary to how they were previously established, a lack of impacting significant scenes, and too much unrealistic lightsaber madness. If any of that had appeared in this new Star Wars movie, director J.J. Abrams would forever after by referred to as "Jar-Jar Abrams" and lost his credibility as a director. Thankfully, gratefully, The Force Awakens makes genuine effort to shake Star Wars from its slumber, and reconnect the series with it's much pined for past. The Force Awakens is what we were hoping for when The Phantom Menace was announced, and it is good.
I loved this new cast. We've got new a great set of characters who are interesting and dynamic as well as some solid actors playing them. I'm glad we're getting some more diversity in the cast; the original trilogy featured two female characters and one token black guy. Here, we've got a couple of new female characters and a black lead character who isn't just there to be a token support cast member. Rey is a spunky, self-reliant young woman with a charming accent who both wants to leave her situation, but is determined to stay and stick it out. Finn has a disquieting past and a sheltered upbringing; a lot of the universe is new to him and we get to experience the unfamiliarity of this new story along with him. Kylo Ren is a complex antagonist; he is an intimidating force to be reckoned with. He is dangerous and unpredictable, but clearly feels morally justified in his motives. You very quickly enjoy disliking him, but the more we learn about him the more empathy we feel for Kylo Ren. I loved these characters and am truly looking forward to seeing them in action in the future!
It was a sheer joy to see Han Solo again. I've seen several of Harrison Ford's more recent films and much as I love the guy, he is showing his age. However, it's been awhile since I've seen Ford look this energetic and spry in a movie. This 73-year-old actor not only takes on the mantle of his legendary, iconic role again, he very clearly enjoyed doing it! There are a couple other appearances of some familiar faces, but Han Solo as a major character (rather than a cameo) genuinely gave this movie a fun and deeply nostalgic aspect.
Vague as my synopsis above was, I'm sure it sounds familiar if you are a fan of Star Wars. The Force Awakens seemed to borrow several elements from A New Hope. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, structurally, The Force Awakens almost seems like we're repeating the past on some level. But on the other hand, there are enough new locations, events, and characters, that the two movies don't quite compare. It almost seems like a remake of A New Hope with so many creative liberties taken that it's effectively a completely different movie, but still rings true to the original enough that it fits perfectly in to the franchise's chronology without repeating itself.
Star Wars has notoriously challenged itself in fight scenes in the past. For example, take the battle on Hoth in at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back against the Empire's AT-ATs or the battle on the verdant moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi with the high speed chases through the trees. The Force Awakens does this as well. In one scene (shown in the trailer; not a spoiler) there is an aerial dogfight between TIE fighters and X-Wings close enough to the ground that the ships reflections are seen in the lake nearby, while in close proximity our heroes fight off stormtroopers on the ground. This was amazingly choreographed and was fascinating to watch. There are other dogfights in space between the First Order and the Resistance toward the end of the movie which are intense, creative, and exciting!
The prequel trilogy had basically nothing but lightsaber fights when two characters were going head-to-head. Sure, we all love lightsabers but having every fight involve lightsabers cheapens their impact. In The Force Awakens we have some lightsaber fights, but they are reserved for the major, climactic fights. They are easily among the best lightsaber fight scenes. In A New Hope, choreography wasn't well established and looked more like two people waving glowsticks at each other, even when it was an iconic confrontation. In the prequel trilogy it was over choreographed to the point that it looked like dancing with glow sticks that rarely even hit one another. In this movie, the lightsaber fights strongly resembled real sword fights. Kylo Ren's lightsaber resembled a heavy broadsword and he moved like it had a lot of weight. His opponents clearly lacked experience fighting with lightsabers and it showed in their technique. They end up being some of the most realistic-looking lightsaber fights in the franchise.
There is a beautiful subtlety to new material and to the references of previous films in The Force Awakens. In the Prequel trilogy the movie practically asks, "Okay, stop everything. This is where we are going to find out where C-3P0 came from. Just look at how much effort went into the puppet for this character." The original trilogy didn't stop everything to tell you how important a new character will be; it didn't stop to tell you who Obi-Wan Kanobi is or what a lightsaber does. It just shows you the amazing new concept or character, and if it's important it shows you what it does along the way. There are new crazy weapons that stormtroopers use (again, we see this in the trailer; not a spoiler) and we see it in action just long enough for that one fight to occur. Characters develop gradually along with the story over the span of the movie, giving them depth. We don't stop everything merely to show off something new, it's just part of the movie and we watch in awe as we take it in. It's beautifully subtle and makes for a smooth-flowing story.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a good, solid movie. It's everything we had hoped and dreamed of back in 1999 before getting the rug pulled out from under us by The Phantom Menace. It's got a good story packed with action and populated by both familiar faces and fresh blood. This movie successfully recalls the series' former glory while injecting it with renewed energy. It has a solid beginning, middle, and end but leaves some questions unanswered which will inevitably be addressed in future installments. The Force Awakens begins another epic chapter in the Star Wars Saga in the best possible way. This is absolutely worth seeing in theaters, and I urge you to do so. This is the quality of Star Wars movie we want to see in the future, so please help make sure it does well in the box office. This is also well worth the investment to own when it is available on home video.

What were your impressions of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Comment below and tell me about it, but kindly avoid spoilers for anyone who may not have seen it yet.

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