December 19, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens

It is finally here. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been in theaters nationwide for barely 24-hours and it is already decimating box office records. I know the movie has its detractors, those who never got the fuss over the franchise, or just those who have grown tired of the marketing blitz. I get it. Really, I do. There are things that got insane hype and whatnot from various sectors that I don’t get. Honestly, I am not sure how to explain it without some serious research into the film’s history, which I am not likely to do right now. Just know that I get it. I love the Star Wars films and can even defend the prequels (the Holiday Special is another story). This new entry is one that gets it.

I have seen it described as a $200 million fan film. In a way it is accurate. This is the first film to be made without George Lucas’s involvement and as seriously flawed as the prequels were, it still feels a little weird to say that. It was weird not starting things off with the Fox fanfare, whenever I hear that I think of Star Wars. Still, when I saw “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away…” appear on the screen, I was a child again, and I am pretty sure a tear of joy began to well up only to spill over when the classic John Williams theme came blaring from the speakers and the title crawl began.

I had an idea when the first teaser came out that the franchise was in good hands with JJ Abrams, who I was already a fan of with his Star Trek films, Super 8, and Alias. When I saw the screen crawl I knew I that the correct decisions had been made. It was simple, straightforward and was reminiscent of the original crawl, as opposed to those that were with the prequels.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie we have been waiting decades for. Well, maybe not this one, exactly, but one like this one. It looks and feels like a Star Wars movie and it hits all the right beats. The humor, the surprises, the action, the characters, it all makes me feel home. I know fully believe that Han Solo is Harrison Ford’s defining role (yes, an argument can be made for Indiana Jones, but for it is Solo and this movie seals it).

The story has a lot of fan service elements and it references the first film a lot, but it works for me, it makes sense. I also feel like it is a great way to comfortably introduce us to this world 30 years down the road. I am sure that the next films will expand the world in new and interesting ways that are less about fan service and more about new adventures. Not that I am complaining about it here.

There is something about how this movie works and references the old films that is perfectly effective for me. I know I have complained about some of this throwback type stuff in other movies (such as Jurassic World), and I feel my mind is working a double standard here. My experience has made me who I am and who would I be if I ignored it?

I am purposefully avoiding saying much about what happens in the movie. It is a movie that could easily be spoiled. I would not want to do that to you and I would hope you wouldn’t do it to me. As it stands, I am not sure I even really want to get into the plot.

The performances are quite good. I like the new good guys Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega, who previously starred in the excellent Attack the Block). They have an enthusiasm that fits the series and really capture that difficult to grasp sense of wonder, while not trying to be what Luke was in the first movie. On the side of the bad guys Adam Driver paints an interesting figure as Kylo Ren, he is no Darth Vader, but he is a complex individual and I look forward to more of him. It is also great seeing all the old cast members back. Oh, BB-8 is a great new droid to add to the mix.

The blend of practical and CG effects is pretty spectacular. Yes, there are a couple of CG creatures that are less than stellar, but I can forgive them because the vast majority look fantastic. This is what happens when you get practical effects in the mix, everything looks more tangible. everything is that much more real.

JJ Abrams really knocked it out of the park. It also doesn’t hurt that Lawrence Kasdan was brought back into the fold to work on the screenplay. For those who don’t know, he was involved in the writing of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Of course, there is also John Williams and his great score, bringing back some great elements and creating some new ones.

All I can really do is gush about this movie, I am clearly not objective. I will need to revisit it way down the road and see if any perspective has entered the mix. Right now, flawed as it is, works so well for me and I think I really just need to go with that. No movie will ever be perfect, despite what our tastes and experience make our brain believe. Right now you can’t take me off this high.

Highly Recommended.

If you are interested in a more spoilery post, check this out from Dinosaur Dracula.

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