Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by:  J.J. Abrams.
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt.
Starring: Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt).

J.J. Abrams was the right choice to direct the first Star Wars movie in a decade. Abrams may not be a great filmmaker, but he has very good at taking his influences and recreating them. Five films into his feature directing career Abrams has brought the Mission Impossible series back down to earth after John Woo’s operatic excess in the second film, recreating 1980s Steven Spielberg with Super 8, and did the first two new Star Trek films – getting everything right the first time, but then falling into the trap of trying to appeal to diehard fans too much in Into Darkness – so much so that the films big moments are meaningless within the context of the film if you were not already a Star Trek fan. Abrams certainly learned from those mistakes when directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is a film that borrows mercilessly from the original Star Wars trilogy – in terms of story structure and the new characters, it is very close to the original Star Wars, and which has many scenes and settings that deliberately echo those films as well. And yet, Abrams doesn’t fall so far down the rabbit hole and has more something that is more than just a nostalgia exercise, even if the film will work a lot better if you do know Star Wars. And who doesn’t? The Force Awakens is certainly one of the most entertaining films of the year – big scale movie entertainment down right. George Lucas was right when he said that the film this is the film Star Wars fans have been waiting for – because it was made by a fan. That is the film’s strength – and also its weakness.

I won’t delve too far into the plot here – most have probably seen it, and those who haven’t don’t want to know. What I will say is that the movie weaves together characters both old and new – even if the new characters really do resemble the old ones. The two main characters are Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). She’s a scavenger on a lonely planet, waiting for her long gone family to return, and barely surviving. He’s a Storm Trooper, brain washed from both to do the bidding of the new bad guys – the First Order – but who grows a conscious, and cannot kill. The two of them end up having to team up to get some very important information to some very important people. The main bad guy is Kylo Ren – who has a mask, not unlike Darth Vader, who is evil, to be sure, but also prone to light sabre hissy fits.

Abrams, who co-wrote the film with Lawrence Kasdan (who worked on the original series) and Michael Arndt, is smart enough to know what the fans of this series is going to want – which is basically more of what the original trilogy gave them, and less of what the prequels did. So, Abrams structures his characters and his story much like the original Star Wars films. He has cast the film well – Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both excellent, especially when they are together where their undeniable chemistry works, Oscar Isaac isn’t quite as good, but he doesn’t have much to do. The cast members from the original – especially Harrison Ford – slip back into their roles effortlessly. The action scenes are well done, and the special effects are top notch. The movie takes a few wrong steps once in a while, and I’m not convinced that Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoak is going to be anything interesting, but for the most part, the film is just pure, old school, blockbuster fun.

So, yes, Abrams was the right choice to reboot Star Wars – a massive franchise that Disney is banking on to become their version of the Marvel Universe for years to come. If the film disappointed – like the prequel trilogy did – the whole thing could have been doomed before it even started. Abrams isn’t like Lucas – an artist who cares about his creation, and his version of Star Wars, and doesn’t really care if it isn’t what the fans wanted. Abrams is all about the fans, and giving them precisely what they want. This was the right choice for the first Star Wars movie. But I am also glad that Abrams will not be directing the next few Star Wars movies – that they have been given to Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson, who are both directors who have shown more original vision that Abrams has to this point in his career. That’s because I would like Star Wars to evolve into something more than what it is now. If Star Wars ends up like the Marvel films are now – which are all quite fun, but to which I increasing greet with a shrug and then move on – then I will be disappointed. I want to see some great directors take Star Wars in new directions. Abrams does not take Star Wars in a new direction in The Force Awakens – what he does do is create a film that only a cynic could hate. He was the right choice, and The Force Awakens is the Star Wars film that was needed at this time. Now, we need something better.

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