Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spoiler-Free STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) Review

At long last, after weeks of looking forward to it, I've finally seen J.J. Abrams' science fiction film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I've managed to avoid spoilers so far, and I won't sully your experience, so the following review will be spoiler-free...

The Plot

Thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Republic has been re-established and is supporting a resistance movement against the First Order, a successor state to the fallen Empire. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and both the Resistance, led by Leia, and the First Order are seeking him. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) receives a map showing where Luke went into exile and leaves it with his droid BB-8 on the planet Jakku before being captured by the First Order and its Force-wielding enforcer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While rebellious stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) helps Poe escape, the droid ends up in the ends of scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and the hunt is on...

The Good

*The movie is quite entertaining. It starts out with a bang--the First Order attacks a village in order to capture Poe and the map he has--and keeps going. A lot of movies I end up looking at my watch multiple times throughout, but not this one.

*There are some fun action sequences, including a Big Damn Heroes moment where the Resistance arrives to rescue some characters captured by the First Order and various battles between X-wings and TIE fighters.

*Finn is pretty funny, especially his interactions with Han Solo. I liked a lot of his lines.

*Although Leia does not appear to have undergone Jedi training like she did in the original Expanded Universe, the filmmakers do remember that she's Force-sensitive. She's capable of picking up on another character's ultimate fate from possibly light-years away.

*Although the film is too derivative of the original trilogy (more on that later), there are a couple scenes where Han riffs on events from the first film for comedic effect.

*I liked how a character reveals another character's real name. Very dramatic. And the resulting confrontation is very well-done. One character makes a particular decision and is clearly very torn about it, to the point you think they'll make a different one.

*The First Order soldiers are clearly trained to take on opponents armed with lightsabers, indicating a certain adaptability on the Empire/First Order's part.

*Domhnall Gleeson does a good job playing General Hux, one of the First Order's commanders. He's very good at making dramatic speeches.

The Bad

*The movie is overall rather derivative of the original trilogy. The First Order's new superweapon is too much like the Death Star, as is the attack on it. There are even sequences that are obviously copied from the original films, including a scene where the Millennium Falcon and X-wings flying away from an explosion. The galaxy far, far away is a pretty big place and there's plenty of room to do new stuff in the old world.

*The superweapon doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The Death Star was pretty straightforward--it was a gigantic laser capable of destroying a planet. Not going to go into more detail for fear of spoilers.

*The political situation doesn't make much sense. The resistance is a separate entity from the Republic and is clearly under-armed, but yet it has a bunch of important people from the Rebellion in hands-on command. I would expect them to be better-armed. It's like if the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviets was commanded by a U.S. general from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam but didn't have anything beyond their own small arms.

*I don't particularly like Kylo Ren's robotic voice. James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader was much more impressive. Heck, given how Ren has Vader's helmet, it would be interesting if he plugged in Vader's voice-machine and had James Earl Jones' voice. Characters could even comment on that.

*There are some obvious matte paintings for the background.

*I liked what Han and Leia were up to in the original EU--her one of the civilian political leaders of the New Republic and him a military general--after the fall of the Empire rather than what they're doing here. The reasoning behind it makes some sense--and I think in the EU Han did something similar after the death in battle of Chewbacca--but I didn't particularly like it. And how on Earth would he lose the Millennium Falcon?

*Why Rey doesn't want to leave Jakku is incredibly foolish. I remember another reviewer saying she acts like a realistic young person, including making bad decisions, but I didn't like how they handled it.

*Finn goes from wanting to desert the First Order after a war crime to killing his former comrades pretty quickly. I would expect more internal conflict.

*Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is rather underused. She doesn't even take her helmet off. Christie was pretty impressive in Game of Thrones, so this is rather unfortunate.

*Why is there a map to where Luke is hiding? I could understand something like manifests of the ship he left on or records of "Luke Skywalker sightings" or something to that effect, but how would this map be made?

The Verdict

It would have been a lot better if they'd adapted Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy instead. Let's hope the new trilogy improves from here. Six out of 10.

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