Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars (Episode VII): The Force Awakens

Director: JJ Abrams
Cast Headliners: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyongo,  MANY  many many others
Original Release Date : December 18th, 2015

(whew 100th post! and so crazy to be finally doing this review wow, dreams!)

TO START WOW; disclosure in that the Star Wars franchise , from films to animation to novels to merchandise to video games and more aka all of this amazing universe is my favorite media anything in my life ever.  George Lucas' legendary creation changed the world but it also influenced my life immensely as well offering impactful lessons, adventurous action, and sparked my imagination from the highest height of excellence  to the lowest of  holiday wookiee specials.... I take it all. So of course I would have taken anything that came out of Disney's acquisition of the godly IP. Even more of a dream besides the franchise being thriving once again is that Star Wars: (Episode 7) The Force Awakens is FINALLLLLLLY delivering the tale of what happens after the end of the 1980s' Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Dedicated fans knew the prequels were one promise but that Lucas promised we were seeing a 9 (or perhaps 12 as he mentioned in a small comment decades back, though “trilogy” implies one thing)  film saga. So it was an amazing shock this is here, but also its like that gift I and the fandom were promised a long time ago. It's a dream that THE saga is back and I can so happily says it overall delivers on belonging amongst the best.
The film picks up, just as real life, around 30 years after the end of Episode 6 and Luke, Han, Leia and crew defeated the Empire's second Death Star.  It's immediately revealed in the opening crawl that Luke has gone missing and both the First Order(formerly the Empire ) and Resistance (formerly the Rebels) to search for him. As always its a tale that must be seen first hand but what it is effective on is providing a sucessor to the end of the original trilogy. It answers a lot of questions, but it keeps large swathes of what happened in between the trilogies vague and perhaps thats a good thing as this is just the start of a era and Star Wars has always been best when piquing our interest for more with hints to a bigger world. It certainly does that without leaving the audience's feeling entirely lost. It is effective as both a sequel and new beginning and that's Disney's most impressive accomplishment.   While it's literally integral to the plot, I wish we'd seen more of Mark Hammil's Luke but well that ties into its marketing and other great themes as well...... all part of the “legends” angle that's in the film.
There's so many things to discuss so there's no better way than to just dive into it.  First are the new younger characters to the franchise introduced here.   The main heroes come in Rey (Daisy Ridley) a desert scavenger on Tatooine-but-more-surreal ( in a post-apocalpytic way carried throughout the film as wreckage of past battle dots it)Jakku and Finn an ex-stormtrooper of the First Order.  Rey, much to a delightful surprise, is actually the film's lead protagonist. Ridley showcases an wonderful talent from naivity of the past Anakin/Luke to dramatic emotion to humor to combat skill.  Equal remarks can be said of John Boyega as Finn, who brings a aspect to the franchise we've never seen in the core films with dealing with  his changing  of factions.  Each brings a energetic fresh set of interesting personalities when theyre alone, but together they have great  exciting chemistry for the ruckus that occurs.  Both grow ever more enjoyable as the film progresses and I cant wait to see more of them as they are worthy of joining the best. There's also the adorable and perhaps even moreso cooler-than-R2  droid BB-8, viley evil General Hux(Domnhall Gleeson) who has dynamic interactions with his peers nuanced Kylo( who I'll get to shortly), mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (a mocapped Andy Serkis), and the cold but ultimately more minor than expected yet still cool and in a way integral Captain Phasma(Game of Throne fame Gwendoline Christie).  Word is that she'll get an expanded role in the sequel, along with hopefully equally solid if sparesely seen Resistance pilot Poe Dameron ( a great Oscar Isaac) and wise Maz Kanata( a mocapped Lupita Nyongo) amongst others. 

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has within the span of these couple hours cemented himself as an incredible actor and villian as well. While he looks like a  helmeted dark menace Vader, and he very much is, he brings a nuance that evokes what someone like Anakin in the prequels didnt have due to his talent, occasional failure , rage, and overwhleming force of  unique personality. This is raised tenfold as the movie goes on, but just know youll love every minute of him whether one's scared or other reactions. And of course there's his tri-lightsaber seeing some action. A fitting young edgy adversary for the new generation. It's an impressive cast and I admit I'd totally have loved the movie even if it was just all these newcomers. But it's more than that. 

      That's because this film is both a new start and a legacy to the past.   It certainly feels fresh with its wonderful visuals and directorial style trademark of JJ Abrams, but more expertly is the overall tone of THE best of the old ones.    Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca(Peter Mayhew) end up finding their way into the plot and its not a spoiler to say they are kings of the show for coolness and humor.  For perhaps decades Harrison Ford has seemed like he's bored and grumpy in any roles he's taken but here he's simply, amazing. It's like Return of the Jedi and the other OT were made yesterday for his enthusiasm and passion, and as a fan that makes this so perfect from a Han angle.   Besides being the Han we remember, the movie contains more of that fun swashbuckling vibe that was slightly missing from the prequels.  The humor, some of the best ever, is delivered by veteran and newcomer alike and it is just witty and feels natural like the classics.  There's also a bunch of references to old lines and happenings, important and for comedy, but it just works.   C3PO (Anthony Daniels) adds to this, Leia( Carrie Fisher) adds to this, R2, and so on making it have  a classic  very Star Wars core and overall well done one at that.    
Besides characters' personality and humor from the old one this comes into the film itself too. Action brings the visceralness of the Millenium Falcon , X-wings, TIE fighters and so on but aided by Abrams visual touch.   Planets are perhaps less varied than the prequels but invoke some beautiful shots (See in IMAX!).   Music is done by John Williams, leaning more torwards ambient than iconic with the new stuff but some old themes are used well and however there's some golden moments buried in the new competent material.  Physical proprs and locations are used making it very much like it was actually made like a 70s/80s film too and it shines in  the trademark wacky aliens, creatures, and hints to a larger world (vague just as the early Star Wars were as well, up to one's interpretation if thats good or not but I enjoy that they can go from BB-8's great reactions to including staple OT moments like “ have you heard of the Trillian Massacre?”.  The movie's star wars magic levels are high on the charts.  This also ties into the cool meta angle that the main heroes and villians have when it comes to the plot and viewing the past, but that's a story for another day for fans to dissect for years and its sparked by it being presented so well. 

     While JJ and crew have overall taken what was great about the originals and brewed up a pretty crazy cool followup, it of course is true that not all of it is entirely new. The elements which seem familiar are so because they're drawn from a greatest hit of homages to the franchise. Most of the scoop in this Star Wars sundae comes specifically from Episode4, with their being a desert planet opening, a important droid,  wacky cantina to visit with Han Solo and Chewie, and climatic battle against a big First Order/enemy base. There's also moments of Episode5 (Twists, darkness, a snow planet), 6 (a hologram emperor and a bridge), and even some of the prequels (Prophecy talk and well ...Kylo's Renning).  But while this holds it back from being a true legend as it draws from so much of the actual milestones in film history, that's not a bad thing as its using the best of those materials while still bringing in some fresh stuff hidden within for a new adventure.  I think that's JJ Abram's greatest life accomplishment in this balancing of old and new, and Id say this has been my favorite film and his best for that reason.  Before he was trying to be Star Wars in his Star Treks, here he actually did it to amazing effect. Though I will welcome someone for future entries to take it off the rails from the homages perhaps now that we have all this out of the way. 

           The Episode VII we all hoped for could have been anything, especially if George Lucas would have had a more heavy hand on it oh boy, so I am of course very happy and glad for Disney/Abrams and co taking it on. No it's not too family friendly, no it's not too much like the Marvel cinematic universe since its Star Wars through and through in every way.  It brings the legendary aspects back and creates some fresh possibilities. While its familiar in many ways thats an incredibly fine thing to me and many Id say. As Han says, “We're home.”  And now that the dots are connected from old to new, it's even more exciting for where the franchise can go that it lives again.  Almost a new legend in itself, but as always the way it should be and as Lucas said “poetry.” 9.76 out of 10   

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