Thursday, January 7, 2016

movie review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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Over thirty years has passed since the epic battle around the Moon of Endor. Since then, the Dark Side has regained power with a new secret weapon which is designed to bring the Republic to its knees.

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It’s safe to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the most anticipated film to hit the silver screen in quite some time.

In all honesty, I wasn’t necessarily as eager to run out and see this film, as I had been of the previous six. With the exception of Star Wars: A New Hope, I had seen them all on opening day.

Part of the reason was that ever since the announcement that J.J. Abrams would be helming the latest installment of the franchise I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was never a big fan of Lost, and I think it’s an abomination what he’s done to the Star Trek universe.

I am happy to say that Abrams pretty much stuck with the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality with SW:TFA, and didn’t try to rewrite canon. Had he done so, I think he’d have been mercilessly crucified by the fan base, as opposed to the Star Trek fanbase, which seems to have embraced the overused crutch of time travel to get rid of things he didn’t like.

But, with all that said, perhaps Abrams embraced that safe comfort zone a little too tightly.

SW:ANH started out with a battle in space around a desert world, where the forces of evil are looking for some stolen plans. The good guys escape the planet to deliver the plans to the Rebel Alliance where they launch a last ditch mission to destroy the ultimate weapon.

Flash forward 38 years later to SW:TFA. Forces of the Sith have come to a desert world to find some lost plans, and attack a defenseless world. Good guys go on a quest to bring a droid, which has the plans in its memory, to the latest incarnation of the Alliance, where an epic battle is waged to destroy an ultimate weapon. Along the way they stop by a cantina loaded with all sorts of creatures, and later someone dies.

Sound familiar?

This film was neither a remake, nor a reboot. It was supposed to be a continuation of the saga, so they could have stretched their creative minds a bit more with little damage to the franchise.

Right after the show’s familiar credits scrolled into the distance we were greeted with by Star Wars – the Next Generation.

Relatively little known John Boyega and Daisy Ridley easily step into the shoes of the new franchise standard-bearers. When Lucas cast SW:ANH he made the conscious effort to hire little known actors for Luke and Leia. I’m glad to see Abrams followed suit with Finn and Rey. Both characters have a genuine innocence to them, and I look forward to watching them grow as I did Luke and Leia three decades ago.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the new bad boy on the block, dressed all in black, with an odd helmet and faceplate which reminded me more of Shredder, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, than Darth Vader, though we are force-fed an homage to Vader in case we didn’t already figure it out. Ren’s major trademark is his red lightsabre equipped with two small guards reminiscent of a pirate’s broadsword. I guess they felt the need to make it unique. But, it looked cheesy compared to Darth Maul’s double-bladed weapon.

Of the major players, I think Driver is going to really need to grow. Not necessarily his acting. But, the character itself. Throughout the film I kept looking for a break out moment. Frankly, I was more interested in the danced around back-story of the character than what actually took place on the screen. The penultimate encounter with Han Solo was predictable, though I’m not sure it could have been written any other way to further the plot along.

I have to admit at being disappointed at the lack of screen time and dialog for Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones, Wizards vs. Aliens). If Captain Phasma doesn’t have a major part down the road she’s going to be remembered as this trilogy’s Jar Jar Binks.

Six of the major cast members are reprising their roles. A cheer went up within the theater as we got our first glimpse of a graying Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the silky haired Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Despite the hair color and wrinkles, Ford hadn’t lost a step.

The banter between Solo and Rey was nicely done, and I became quickly comfortable with watching them, and I never really thought about it being newcomer and veteran, nor a passing of the baton, so to speak.

Mark Hamill’s screen time was extremely limited, at times seeming like a spinoff off Where’s Waldo? When we finally encounter Hamill he looks more like Santa Claus than the nimble Jedi we all knew and loved. I can only imagine he’s going to have a much more integral part.

Leia (Carrie Fisher) has dropped her royal, in favor or the rank of general.  Reluctantly, I’ll admit that the first time she appeared on screen I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said, “Boy, she didn’t age well.” I wasn’t expecting her to come out in the little leather number from Return of the Jedi. But, I wasn’t expecting the frumpy dressed woman I saw, who looked at times like she might have forgotten to stop by the makeup trailer that day.

Adding insult to injury, she seemed to be going through the motions when delivering her lines. She’s definitely been relegated to a supporting role this time around.

Last, and not least, the Laurel and Hardy of the droid world, C3-PO and R2-D2 are back. Joined by a small round BB-8, which must’ve made the toy makers happy.

So did I like the film? Yes, though I didn’t have that familiar shiver flashing up and down my spine as I do when I really enjoy a film.

What’s important to remember is that this was a foundation for Star Wars by Disney. We’ve got two years to go before we see which direction the Mouse is taking it.

In the meantime, they’re already gambling by bringing us a prequel next December. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will takes us back to a time when many Bothans died bringing the Death Star plans to the Rebels. Not sure what to think of that.

RATED: 6.75 out of 10 STARS

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is currently showing in nationwide release. A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

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