Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: JJ Abrams
Notable Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Max Von Sydow

For the record, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. Outside of growing up with the original trilogy and suffering through the prequel trilogy for the sake of nostalgia, I can’t say I was wholly sold on the entire thing. They are a fun film experience, sure, but not necessarily the great film making that others seem intent on telling me they are. (For further reading, feel free to jump over to my reviews of the other films on this site). So the hype for Episode VII: The Force Awakens didn’t quite resonate with me like it did for so many of those around me and thus, I took my sweet time seeing it in theaters. I have to admit though, despite my hesitations, The Force Awakens is easily my favorite film in the franchise. It’s not perfect, we’ll get to that in a second, but the amount of fun in the spectacle is matched with some shockingly heartfelt moments to make it one of the better blockbusters this year.

With Luke Skywalker missing, the Resistance has had its hands full fighting against the First Order, a core piece of the now crumbling evil Empire. When a Stormtrooper (Boyega) goes rogue and frees a Resistance pilot (Isaac) they end up chasing a droid with a map and discovering a young and talented woman named Rey (Ridley) in the process. From there, they are swept quickly into a full scale war with each of their own roles to play in stopping the evil Kylo Ren (Driver) and finding the last Jedi Skywalker.

Running away from explosions is a great idea...generally speaking.
You have to give it to JJ Abrams. After re-igniting the reboot for Star Trek, he does it again for this mega franchise. The Star Wars prequel trilogy left a rather sour taste in the mouths of many older fans (and some younger ones) with its overzealous spectacle and terrible performances, but The Force Awakens might just be the apology that fans are owed. Abrams does a remarkable job at bringing the older tone and feel of Episodes IV, V, and VI back for this latest entry and the results are infectiously entertaining. Not only does Abrams bring out that Lucas style epic visual flair (right down the edits), but he also knows how to balance the various genre elements and tones to make the film flow smoothly. Whether it’s the big league action spectacle of space fights, the silly alien monster pieces, or emotional character beats…he blends it all into a smooth moving flick. The characters are fresh faced and effective (and the performances are eager and energetic) and the emotional moments work. While some of if these moments are more surface level with the father/son/familial issues that keep repeating, it doesn’t necessarily hinder what the film has to offer. Not to give too much away, but there is one moment with a father and son that could have just been slightly more epic, but it’s still a solid move for the franchise and a great memorable moment.

While the tone is spot on, the main issue with The Force Awakens is that too often it relies on being “too familiar” with its plotting and structure to truly feel as fresh as it needed to be. Essentially, it’s a slightly different spin on A New Hope as it goes through to motions to keep Star Wars fans feeling comfortable. It’s not nearly as bad as it could have been, thanks to some strong executions and just enough new stuff to make it fun, but for someone who wanted a rather new take on the series it leaves a little to be desired. Occasionally, the film does take familiar moments/style and spins them in better ways. The lightsaber duel at the end is much more akin the original samurai inspired sparring versus the cartoon flippy shit that the prequel trilogy brought to the table and the film showcases the consequences of battle a bit better (showing ships crash and civilians in the midst of the chaos), so the film does add to the experience in those ways.  Luckily, the first spin off film Rogue One looks to change up the style by taking the series into some new territory next year.

Truthfully, Abrams and company really handle the franchise well. They bring in some great and clever new ideas (a rogue Stormtrooper and his own character arc about fear from within the system) while retaining some of the older ones (the romantic plot between Leia and Han) so that fans are getting more of what they loved while the film slides in just enough new material to lay the groundwork for the ‘new trilogy.’ It’s not a film about rocket science and there are plenty of massive plot holes to try and avoid, but it’s so entertaining, charming, and fast paced that it’s hard to dwell on the details as it puts on a show. The Force Awakens might not be perfect, but it’s perfectly Star Wars and fans ought to be excited about this beginning and what it intends to bring.  

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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