The Force Awakens - A New Generation's Star Wars
To be completely fair, all movies are a product of their times. What made Star Wars great in the beginning, was its ability to meld groundbreaking special effects with compelling narrative drawing from timeless story lines. For the prequels they were a product of an industry drunk on CGI but immature to the point of not really understanding when to use computer graphics and when it would simply look better to have real props. The movie I watched yesterday morning is similarly a product of its time. That's not completely a bad thing but it did leave an awkward taste in my mouth despite it being generally a fun movie to watch.
I'm going to try to avoid any spoilers in here since my POV shouldn't ruin the movie for you. If you are a Star Wars fan - go see it, you'll enjoy it. Just don't read my notes under "The Bad" because I have no way to express it without sharing some pretty substantial spoilers.
There's no denying that The Force Awakens is going to be one of the biggest blockbuster movies of all time. It has everything going for it including a great cast, incredible marketing, and JJ Abrams is by all measures one of the best directors in the industry. However, while I may be tossed out on my ear by Star Wars fan boys - it simply isn't a great film.
The movie is set approximately 30 years after the events in Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance has become the Resistance and the Galactic Empire has become the First Order. Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi has disappeared and so General Organa (Leia) has sent her best pilot to search for clues about his whereabouts. Along the way we meet a stormtrooper with a conscience (Finn) who teams up with a scavenger girl (Rey) to help the resistance destroy yet another Death Star like planetary base.
The Good ...
For pretty much the entire movie it is a non-stop series of awesome action sequences. From exploding planets to flying X-Wing fighters so close to the surface of a lake that you can see the spray rise up behind them, this movie has amazing special effects. It's clear that we've entered a new generation of filmmakers who understand how to balance CGI with real props and as a result, it was visually stunning. The world felt "real" rather than if I was watching a video game.
Similarly, it has a great cast that is much more diverse than the whitey white casts seen in the previous movies. While the main characters (except John Boyega's Finn) are white, Abrams did a great job of including non-aliens of other Earth-based races including Latinos, Asians, and Indians in various scenes.
Above all, I enjoy exploring the Star Wars universe and so it was a pleasure do do so on the big screen once more.
The Bad ...
Most of the movie is really good. It's not perfect, but few movies are.
The one unforgivable part though is that after almost two hours of the movie we find out that R2D2 has pretty much been holding out on us the entire time. He's been in "low power mode" and then suddenly decides gives us the data we've been looking for on where to find Luke Skywalker. A few minutes later, Rey hops in the Millennium Falcon and lands on a set that might have been ripped out of Lord of the Rings and meets Luke. If he had simply spoken up the whole movie would only be about 75 minutes instead of being more than 2 hours long.
This was one of those situations where they should have just cut the movie at "wow we know where he is now" or like they did in Empire where it was inconclusive.
Even worse though was that once she found him it was some weird, awkward stare off between some young girl who just climbed a mountain (complete with circle shots ala Lord of the Rings etc.) and some weird old dude in robes. Then the movie simply ended. There was no "yes, I will train you ..." or other commentary that would have denoted some emotional connection.
Of all the ways that it could have ended, this was among the least fulfilling. Think of it like having a great meal at a good restaurant but then the cake for desert just tastes nasty. Unfortunately, it's difficult at that point to recall that the rest of the dinner wasn't all that bad ... but there you are, and here we are.
The Ugly ...
I recognize that this is a transition movie where we're handing the Star Wars torch to a new generation. As part of that, the movie felt much like a reboot that wasn't. But was clearly aimed a generation that eats up movies like Hunger Games and Divergent. As such, the characters we know and love - Han, Luke, Leia, and even Chewbacca are there in the movie ... but in a different capacity. They are older, supporting characters often times sitting on the sidelines as the kids run the show.
As someone now nearing 40, it might simply be that I'm "out of touch" and this movie is aimed at the teens, just like the prequels were aimed at kids. For example, Kylo Ren's character reminds me of young Aniken Skywalker's temper-tantrum's vs Darth Vader's calm but overwhelmingly evil power. Similarly, Rey's "awakening" as a force wielder felt unbelievable and artificial. Her character was great as "part of" an ensemble cast ... but once she started to rise as a lead, it was challenging to buy.
It isn't that these actors and actresses were bad - I think they all did a good job. But for someone who did such an amazing job taking Star Trek to the next generation ... I just expected more.
Luckily, there are some interesting other characters that I look forward to seeing more of in the future. In particular, General Hux who helps balance out Kylo Ren's immaturity with cold calm authoritative presence.
At the end of the day, watch it or don't ... my review really doesn't matter. I'm thankful to have been given the opportunity to watch a preview with a bunch of other members of the media. However, I wonder if I had watched it on opening day with a bunch of fans with no other goal than to eat some popcorn and enjoy a movie - would my reaction have been different?
- Written by James Hills
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