Saturday, December 26, 2015
STAR WARS EPISODE 7 THE FORCE AWAKENS SPOILERIFIC REVIEW!
AWAKENS is the Cliffs Notes version of the original trilogy. There is a ton of familiarity with the story and its characters. The film starts out like EMPIRE with a STAR DESTROYER sending a ship or probes out into space similar to Vader sending out probes to look for the rebels base. Then as stormtroopers land on a nearby planet they storm a village with an ensuing gun battle similar to the one at the beginning of A NEW HOPE in Leia's ship. Later we see a Yoda type character, Maz Kanata, in a bar where she crawls across a table similar to Yoda crawling around Luke's camp in EMPIRE. Shortly after meeting Maz, Rey (A new character you will like) goes into a dark area of the bar down in the lower levels and finds Luke's lightsaber and has a strange vision of the past. This dark and foreboding moment of course hearkens back to EMPIRE again with Luke going down into a dark place strong in the Darkside of the Force and confronts what he fears most. Also A NEW HOPE gets homaged with the lightsaber being kept in a trunk. Yes, I am thinking that it is why the lightsaber is in a trunk. The finale of the movie of course ends with the RETURN OF THE JEDI scenario of a group of fighters on foot taking down a shield protecting a Death Star so the good guys can fly inside and blow it up. We even have Captain Phasma as a Bobba Fett looking character being dispatched in a comical fashion similar to Fett's demise in RETURN adding in the mention of a trash compactor from A NEW HOPE.
Hitting the same story beats from the originals keeps the new movie from being completely satisfying. The film makers almost seem too afraid to make something new in case it doesn't look like something that belongs in the STAR WARS universe, See the prequels for examples of that. There are many many examples of that in those awful films.
Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey are our new main characters. Each one is fun and likable with their own roguish quality preventing them from being mere clones of the original main characters. I feel like the franchise is in good hands following these three. Of course most of the older characters show up like Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2. Where's Lando? You can't help but get drawn into the action as you see all of these characters work together throughout the story. One of my favorite scenes involves Finn, Han and Chewbacca being captured by the New Order. Fortunately for our heroes, off in the distance skimming the top of the nearby lake in their X-Wings comes the Resistance. My excitement was so overwhelming that when the shooting started I wanted so badly to take up a controller in my hand and partake in the action fighting along side Han and Chewy by playing STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT on my Xboxone because I am a big lame nerd that way. Scenes like this make the movie great and just about all of them have something memorable to keep the audience interested. Like EMPIRE, this is a pretty dark story but there is a lot of comedy too that doesn't take away from the drama. There is a good balance with the tone. The comedy makes us like the characters and the dark moments make us concerned for them.
In a couple of ways AWAKENS seems to throw out the prequels and t.v. shows. It states in the opening title crawl that Luke is the last Jedi. Now I am not familiar with the STAR WARS REBELS show but I do believe that it takes place between RETURN and AWAKENS and concerns some kid learning the ways of the Force. Is he dead now? On an artistic level the film falls in line with the lived in look of the original trilogy and not the soft, sterile computerized fake environments that paint the prequels into blandness. Even the "Special Editions" are not immune to J.J.'s wrath. In what I assume is a slap to the notion that Han shot second in self defense we are given a scene where Han punches and grabs a guy hiding from a rampaging monster and throws him into the mouth of the beast to save his own skin. Lucas would have had Han help him out instead of flat out murdering him. One of the first elements shown for the new movie came in a charity video featuring J.J. Abrams on set of AWAKENS. Out from behind him came a practical effects creature walking into view. It was a person in a creature costume with additional puppetry to enhance the look of being alive. It was glorious to those of us that appreciate the original trilogy. Abrams making a statement. That statement was simple but harsh if you were George Lucas. Abrams was assuring the fans that this was not going to look like the prequels. He, like us, is a fan of the originals. Abrams is us. I appreciated his use of alien wildlife to show us a living universe that isn't just a bunch of C.G.I. cartoons added to the background just so the characters can seemingly ignore. Again Abrams understands how to flesh out this universe with alien biology even adding a little bit of blood just like when that guy got his arm cut off in A NEW HOPE.
One of my biggest concerns comes from this nagging feeling in the back of my head. It's the same nagging feeling I had after THE PHANTOM MENACE. I had questions I assumed would be answered by the following films but never were. AWAKENS has one question I need answered. How was Luke's lightsaber found? That is a big deal since it was lost on Cloud City along with Luke's hand. I'm surprised there wasn't a skeleton hand in that trunk too. Will the following films explain? We will have to wait and find out.
The one thing I actually hated in AWAKENS was the death of Han Solo. Its a good moment that builds on the story of Darth Vader wannabe, Kylo Ren. However, Han is too good of a character to kill off in the cliche of dying for a greater cause. He is the biggest reason why AWAKENS is so good. He still can carry himself as the daring lovable scoundrel he was from the original trilogy. Han should have lived happily ever after with Leia. No one would expect to see that coming. I applaud RETURN OF THE JEDI for not listening to Harrison Ford when he wanted Han to die. I bet Harrison Ford only came back if he could die thus freeing himself from future excursions into the STAR WAR universe. He has no time with all this wacky sci-fi foolishness. He would rather keep on making terrible compromise Indiana Jones sequels. I am afraid the next two sequels for AWAKENS will suffer from his absence.
For the future of the franchise I really hope the film makers follow the example of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. EMPIRE built it's story on the back of A NEW HOPE without feeling the need to repeat everything we saw before. There wasn't another big ship star base thingy that needed to be exploded. The story was more personal. We are given new environments and characters to discover. There were no constant sight gags from the first movie to wink at the audience. I groaned when Fin pulled out the floating lazer ball thingy that Obi-Wan used to help train Luke on the Millennium Falcon. Please, don't give us more winks, nods, homages and big planet destroying Death Stars. STAR WARS was great because it was a new realistic universe to discover. We need more of that sense of discovery and less "It's like poetry. It rhymes...." nonsense!
I am excited by the promise of more quality STAR WARS films in the near future. I just hope it is not too much of a good thing. Do we really need a ROGUE SQUADRON movie? A young Han Solo movie is a terrible idea. We don't need a movie for every single thing that gets mentioned in the Star Wars universe. I certainly hope we never see a Bobba Fett movie just to satisfy the fan boys. Yea, I know he was all cool, mysterious and a total badass but let the poor guy rest in peace as he is being digested for a thousand years in the belly of the Sarlac Pit.