Friday, April 8, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

To celebrate the Blue-Ray release I present my
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review:

          The Force Awakens is the first new Star Wars release in 10 years. It an almost perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new. It may be that one piece that we were missing in order for us to forget the errors and misstepas of the prequels. While treading carefully on sacred ground the subject material is treated with an almost reverence, steeped in nostalgia (sometimes even a bit too much) and is used to introduce us to a new generation of Star Wars. Most notably it perfectly captures the spirit of the original trilogy, most markedly A New Hope, evoking a sense of discovery through unforeseen encounters. Thanks to much secrecy on the part of Disney the entire experience is layered with a child-like sense of discovery and trepidation, awakening awe in even the most cynical of fans.

          Unlike the opening crawl in the prequels, this time we are simply shown what has happened in our absence, much like in the original. It simply sets the stage for our journey, while not giving too much away. We are immediately introduced to our first newcomer, the pilot Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac. Giving off an aura reminiscent of Luke (as a pilot) or Wiggs he is very likable if albeit somewhat underutilized character. Next up is John Boyega as Finn who is a very complex character and one of the funniest in the film besides BB-8. Daily Ridley as Rey steals the show, only second to BB-8, and is one of the strongest female leads since Carrie Fisher. The nuances of her character show how conflicting real life and war is (similar to Finn) without oversimplifying it to a conflict Good Vs. Evil. Hollywood finally has some of its strongest female and African American roles and that is just the icing on the delicious Death Star shaped cake. The star of the show in my opinion is without a doubt BB-8. The little droid somehow manages to be funnier and cuter than R2D2. It has taken all my willpower to not buy that $150 toy for Christmas. Returning favorites are all here, with a standout performance by Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Unlike in the last Indiana Jones movie, Ford does a terrific job especially in scenes opposite Carrie Fisher. People were very nervous about how the new characters would mesh with the old. I'm very glad to say that it is a beautiful coalescence of witty banter culminating in the proverbial torch being passed on from the old generation to the new. ns
          On the other side of the spectrum the Dark Side gets the slightly shorter end of the stick. With such enormous shoes to fill as Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) the deck seems stacked against our new villains. Adam Driver steals the show as Kylo Ren, our main antagonist. He is a complicated character driven by his idolization of Vader and echoes of what Anakin might have been like in his 20s after Episode 3. Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke does not command as powerful of a presence as the The Emperor did, while General Hux played by Domhnall Gleeson feels slightly wasted in his role, similar to Captain Phasma played by Gwendoline Christie. Hopefully they will have a larger role to play in the later movies. Overall the villain side feels slightly weaker than their hero counterparts. This is mainly due to a lack of returning characters and the small amount of time the movie spends with them.
          Even with John Williams returning to Star Wars, the soundtrack is unfortunately not some of his best work. In comparison to all the other Star Wars movies this feels like the weakest of the bunch. A couple standout tracks such as Kylo Ren's Arrival at the Battle, Rey's Theme and The Jedi Steps do sound phenomenal but there is no standout unique song that defines this new chapter in the Star Wars universe. None of the songs will stay with you after you leave, unlike The Imperial March in Empire or the Duel of the Fates in episode 1. Hopefully the sequels will be able to rectify this situation.
          The movie really shines when it comes to its action set pieces. JJ Abrams follows one set piece after the next with somewhat uneven pacing that gets a little too fast, not giving the audience time to breathe. This hurts the slower scenes that feel sandwiched in between the action. While some might see this as a detraction I feel like it help the audience establish a deeper connection with our heroes, who are also left with very few moments to spare as the New Order hunts them down. The action is fast and furious taking full advantage of 3d (albeit sometimes a bit blurry) effects with unconventional, sometimes nausea inducing camera angles. The angles & action draw you even more into the film backed up with beautiful visuals that will stay with you long after you leave. This also one of the few movies (among the ranks of Avatar & Gravity) where the 3d makes the movie exceptionally better when compared to the standard edition. It is not tacked on to justify the inflated price, instead it gives every scene more depth and impact. There are also a couple continuous shots that are simply beautiful to behold. Unfortunately some of the CGI effects do stand out, especially if you see it in 3d. This is somewhat upsetting considering 2 out of the 3 of them (total) could have simply been achieved with practical effects. Overall Star Wars has never looked so beautiful.
          The acting is top notch, blowing the hammed in prequels away. I think a part of this is due to a lack of CGI making it easier to get a standout performance out of the actors. JJ even gets Harrison Ford to stop scowling (unlike in The Crystal Skull) and emote. Ford is back and better than ever in a stellar, tour de force comeback performance. Carrie Fishers performance is a bit lacking and her voice feels strained. It kind of looks like she has been shot up with botox, with her cheeks stretched & taut. Jason Boyega and Daily Ridley really shine and slowly come into their own. Each of the new characters has their own motivations and goals. I feel like there is not as much character development due to the amount of action and pacing. This can always be rectified in the sequels but for now seems a bit rushed. This is also due to the amount of content the movie has to fit in, introducing new characters while showing us what our favorites have been up to. The action is stellar, especially the dogfights and saber battles. Unlike in the prequels which were filled with overacted, cartoonish battles that destroyed your suspension of disbelief, the ones here have weight, strength, emotion and meaning behind them. They aren't overused, like the fluff in the prequels but instead used to grow and test the characters. BB8 is as I mentioned phenomenal for a role with no "speaking" parts. Overall the acting is on par and in some parts better than the original trilogy (Empire Strikes back is exempt).
he overarching themes of Star Wars resonate well within The Force Awakens. Chance meetings as well as finding the power within yourself (through courage) to overcome a great evil are very well represented. Great acting, cinematography as well as excellent effects push this movie beyond everyones expectations / hype. After the fan service and nostalgia glasses wear of it is not without its faults. A weak story, soundtrack, the breakneck pacing, and an over-reliance on plot lines from Episode IV as well as some continuity errors (that should have been fixed in post) hold it back from being a masterpiece. It is still 1000 times better than the prequels, but that is not hard to do.
         Overall JJ does what fans have been waiting for for almost 30 years. He revitalized and brought Star Wars into the modern age the way it should have been in the prequels. In fact it's even better since it does not have to set up other movies, it surprises and delight the audiences the way the prequels simply couldn't. It sets the stage for the future of Star Wars by reassuring the fans that the material will be treated with respect, and that they care about the them. It builds anticipation for the next chapter and I for one cannot wait to see it grow even better. It is a terrific time to be a Star Wars fan for The Force is strong with JJ Abrams and Disney. 

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