Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
I've seen "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" twice now, I have seen it twice in one day. I won't be going into spoiler territory at all, because I am probably just about the last person to see it at this point, and I don't want to spoil anything for the few stranglers out there who have not had the chance to see it yet. But I did see the movie twice, all the events of the movie are pretty fresh in my head. 

We are, for better or for worse, living in pop culture period that relies heavily on nostalgia. Nostalgia has been creeping into the corners of everything in our popular culture and has affected it one way or the other. Some find that to be good and some find that to be bad. The limits of nostalgia have been tested in a mighty way throughout the year. Sometimes its exciting to see something nostalgic in a original way ("Creed") and sometimes its hard to sit through something that is just nostalgia for its own sake. I think J.J. Abrams really indulges in the idea of nostalgia, and that can be good or bad. I think the worst parts of his two "Star Trek" movies are those that deal in Trekkie nostalgia, and if he just trusted himself to make a good movie, but especially when it comes to the sequel, it seems Abrams relies a little too heavily on Trekkie nostalgia to keep the movie going. Where it feels too much like a retread and not a remake. To a minimal degree, the same thing can be said about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Where the film fails is when Abrams delves a little too far into nostalgia. Some will argue that its for the whole movie, and I get it. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" feels like a remake of "A New Hope" with greater special effects. Yes, a droid gets something important at the very beginning of the movie. Yes, he's sent to a desert planet. Yes, there is family drama surrounding the characters. Yes, there is a Death Star type weapon that the bad guys have, and our heroes fly into a whole to save the world. There is even a  bar scene. "The Force Awakens" is full of nostalgia.

If you can get passed all the callbacks to the other movies, I think you will enjoy the movie more. While I see where people are coming from when they say "The Force Awakens" is a retread of "A New Hope." But the new characters and the new stakes feel so original that it feels like a different experience completely. Yes, Harrison Ford shows up as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher shows up as Leia, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Mark Hamill makes a brief appearance as Luke Skywalker, whose whereabouts are a total mystery all movie long. But our beloved heroes from the original trilogy are supporting characters this time out, and the story pushes its new characters to the forefront. We have Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is a dark Force user working for The First Order, a group who rose from the remnants of the Empire. The First Order wants to destroy the Republic, and they know one of the keys to that plan is killing Luke Skywalker. Luke has gone into hiding after a catastrophe involving the formation of a new Jedi Order, which failed. 

There is a map which leads to Skywalker, and that map belongs to the Resistance, a force from the Republic trying to combat the reign of The First Order. There is a Resistance pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac), who gives the map to a driod called B-88, who runs away with the map after Poe is attacked by First Order stormtroopers. B-88 runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger whose just trying to get by, dreaming of the day her family comes back for her. Rey takes B-88 into town on her planet, and there they meet Finn (John Boyega), an ex-storm trooper who had a crisis of conscience after a particularly brutal mission which starts the movie. Finn and Rey decide to bring B-88 back to the Resistance so that they have the map which leads to Skywalker.

Kylo Ren is will go down in history as one of the coolest bad guys in "Star Wars" history. He's got wicked voice, an equally wicked demeanor and his control of the Force is unlike anything we have ever seen in the movies before. Adam Driver brings him to life splendidly. But I have seen Driver in movies before, and I figured he'd be great. Boyega is wonderful as Finn. He has great scenes with everyone, with Han Solo, with Rey, with Chewbacca, with Poe. Everyone. And Boyega nails each scene perfectly. But Boyega was spectacular in 2011's "Attack The Block," I knew he'd be great here. Daisy Ridley was the big discovery for me in this movie. You could argue that she's the main character here, and Ridley does absolutely captivating work as Rey. I love that she isn't a damsel in distress, at anytime in the movie. There is a moment in the movie where two thieves try to take B-88 away from her, and Finn watches from afar. He wants to help her, but he doesn't have to, Rey successfully beats the crap out of the thieves, and he's absolutely impressed by it. The women in this movie are strong and independent and that is still sorely missed in big blockbusters these days. 

As cool as Kylo Ren is, all of the bad guys are worthy of a good "Star Wars" movie. The First Order is a thousand times more evil than The Empire was, without question. Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, in charge of the Stormtroopers, and Andy Serkis plays Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke is, with no surprise given he's played by Andy Serkis, a CGI alien. Even though Snoke only has a couple scenes, he's a powerful presence. Gleeson gets a little hammy with his portrayal of Hux, but works for the movie, not against it. I love that this group of bad guys is an uneasy alliance, and it seems the trio is using each other to further their own agendas rather than those of the First Order. They are some of the most interesting bad guys we have ever seen in "Star Wars" movies, and these actors really step up to make them matter.

I have to say that I feel very invested in these characters simply because they are written so well. George Lucas, God love him, he's supremely creative, but he can't write a screenplay worth a damn. That was true for both the prequels and the original trilogy. Lucas just couldn't find the words to make his characters translate onto screen, and it didn't matter that he had actors like Harrison Ford, Alec Guinnes, Ewan McGregor, or Samuel L. Jackson playing them. Here, with a screenplay written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt, these character feel much more believable. The stakes feel higher in this movie simply because we identify with the characters better than ever before. These characters feel like people, not just wooden figures Lucas cobbled together. Its amazing just what a difference a well-written script makes.

I could write this review all day. I could discuss every perimeter of each scene of this movie. I could discuss the character Lupita Nyong'o gives voice too and how she helps our heroes at a crucial moment. I could discuss how Rey and Finn meet Han and Chewbacca, and how that sets up one of the film's funnest moments. I could discuss how excited I got when I saw that Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian made an appearance in this movie. Or how I loved seeing Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb from "Return of the Jedi" show up in this movie. I could talk about Captain Phasma, and how one scene involving her, Finn and Han made me laugh out loud. I could talk about how Rey and Finn happen upon the Millennium Falcon and all the jokes made about it by Rey and Finn to Han. I could even push into spoiler territory and reveal a lot of the big secrets the movie possesses. But I'd be writing all night. This movie is so rich in detail, each corner of the screen so full of life that it was hard for me not to love it. I am the guy who adores the original trilogy, I loved both versions of the "Clone Wars" cartoon, I loved the video games, I loved the books and comics, and I am even one of those weirdos who liked the prequels. I figured I would like the movie, and anything more would be a bonus. While, J.J. Abrams can be his own worst enemy when it comes to movies, he crafted a wonderful, wonderful "Star Wars" movie. Now I need episodes VIII and IX. I want the anthology movies, and I think obsessive need for what's ahead is the biggest compliment I could give this movie. 

I am still in love with this story from long ago and from a galaxy far, far away. I think Abrams reminded me why I fell so deeply in love with it in the first place.

FINAL GRADE: A

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