Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

It's finally here.

It's been a long ten years since the end of the prequel trilogy. Many people were incredibly dissatisfied with the prequel trilogy, and with Lucasfilms being bought out by Disney, it was only an inevitability until they made a new Star Wars movie, let alone an entire sequel trilogy. And now, here we are, and after seeing the midnight premiere of The Force Awakens, I can safely say that it lives up to the hype. It's actually a great movie, and even though it has a few kinks to it, it manages to not only live up to the hype, but surpass it.

As a fair warning, while I will try to keep this review SPOILER FREE, I will make mention to one particular point that many people have been asking about. It was the biggest question asked by fans after seeing the trailers, and I will address that question as my one spoiler, but even then I won't give specifics. I will talk about the main characters briefly and will try my damndest to not say a single thing about the plot.

30 years after Return of the Jedi, even though the Empire has been defeated, a new regime called The First Order has risen from the ashes and is now arguably worse than the Empire. If the Empire attempted to be somewhat diplomatic and came out from loopholes and allowed planets to live in some peace, The First Order is MUCH more tyrannical. Because of that, The Resistance was created to oppose them and finally put an end to the First Order and their tyranny. Finn was a stormtrooper that worked under Kylo Ren, a new Sith apprentice, who gained a conscious and abandoned The First Orader in order to help a Resistance pilot, Poe Damaran, who sent his droid BB-8 away on Jakku with valuable data to help the Resistance. BB-8  comes across Rey, an scavenger, who takes BB-8 in, an now being hunted by The First Order, she has to team up with Finn and Poe in order to get BB-8 to safety and put a stop to them.

Structurally, The Force Awakens is so similar A New Hope that it kind of hurts. A droid carrying valuable data to stop the regime of the day? An ace pilot that has a mouth of him? A helmeted Sith apprentice with a deep and menacing voice? Hell, the movie starting out on a desert planet where the main character is an orphan with a low class job? It goes through the exact motions of A New Hope, even the major bits that you wouldn't think they would do twice. It may repeat classic scenes, but they're presented in such a way to make them feel fresh and entertaining once again.

A LOT of set up also occurs for Episodes VIII and IX, but it never feels frustrating that we don't get all of the answers. If you're going in wondering who the First Order is, how Supreme Leader Snoke got to power, or anything about the Resistance's greater plans, they won't be addressed here. It's not disappointing because the story present in The Force Awakens feels complete and doesn't need to have every little piece of world building. Hell, the ending is the biggest tease of them all, setting up a sequel that most likely will be even better than this movie.

The biggest surprise for me was the character of Kylo Ren. Without giving anything away, Kylo Ren is unlike any other character present in the franchise and has a very interesting moral dilemma present in him. He's also much less experienced than we give him credit for and while he's certainly a badass who possibly commits one of the worst acts in the franchise, there's an air of sympathy and an internal struggle present in him. If you thought that Anakin turning to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith was some great internal conflict, you haven't seen nothing yet.

The Force Awakens also loves to introduce new villains to the series. Not only do we have Kylo Ren as the main antagonist, but we also have Captain Phasma, a stormtrooper captain, General Hux, a First Order general in charge of the Starkiller, and Supreme Leader Snoke, who just sits on a chair and has so much more menace than Palpatine could ever have. So with four villains, how do they juggle them all here? Short answer, they don't. Phasma is present for all of five minutes, Hux talks a bit but does nothing, and Snoke just sits there and reminds fans that he's gonna be the big bad eventually and lead to an epic fight scene. I wish there was a bit more to them, but Ren picks up the slack and carries the entire First Order on his back.

As for our heroes, there is a lot of awakening here in this movie. A large portion of the movie is about Finn, Rey, and Poe accepting their destinies as heroes and eventually taking the mantle themselves. It's still a long way to go, but establishing seeds have been laid for these three to be amazing heroes. However, if we're being perfectly honest here, the three of them all pale in comparison to the return of the classic Star Wars characters. Han, Chewy, Leia, R2, C3-PO, even Admiral Ackbar make triumphant returns. Seeing them come back older and wiser is infinitely entertaining and they all have the best lines and moments in the movies (except for BB-8. BB-8 is adorbs and fantastic). Han and Chewy appear early on and as soon as they appeared, it felt like seeing old friends again. It's a reunion, plain and simple.

All of the action scenes are thrilling and viserceral. There are hand to hand battles, phaser battles, starship battles, and nearly every kind of battle scene you could have asked for from a Star Wars movie. Without giving too much away, I wish that fights like the climax were present a bit early in the movie, but it's a minor gripe since the action scene we got was thrilling and the most enjoyable fight of the entire movie.

There's even a significant amount of comedy here, much more than any of the prequel trilogy, and no that does not mean there's a Jar Jar or Jar Jar style humor here. The jokes are all reactionary, quick little quips, or the tiniest things that some characters do. Again, BB-8 is the best at this and has some of the best expressions and reactions in the entire movie. Even Kylo Ren gets a few good jokes in at his expense. Make no mistake, Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. Stromtroopers and his associates will react accordingly to him as he does.

And yet, this movie is not perfect. J.J. Abrams did a fantastic job here and delivered on what a Star Wars movie should be, but there were a few niggling issues that I had with the movie. A lot of important things happen and appear, but no context is given to them. When something really important is given to Rey, Rey asks where it came from, and the answer is completely ignored. It's been a whole 30 years since Retrun of the Jedi, and one major plot point was completely hand waved over and gave absolutely no explanation to. What's worse is that this plot point completely ties into Kylo Ren character, and without any context or insight, it's just dangling here that I hope will be answered later on, but I somehow doubt it.

And then there's Luke.

I WILL NOT talk about his role in this film, as it is the most important question that people had going into this movie, and while I really enjoyed what they did with him, I wished that J.J. did not employ his mystery box tactic. "The Mystery Box" is when J.J. Abrams keeps something so locked up and spoiler free that people generate its own hype machine to the point of insanity. Last time this was done was for Star Trek: Into Darkness when he kept the lid incredibly tight on Benedict Cumberbatch being Khan even though it was completely obvious. Here, the hype was built up so much that no matter what the film gave us, it would not live up to the ridiculous expectations.

Unfortunately, that is true here. While I'm certain that hindsight will help ease me into how the movie treated Luke, I'm pretty sure it's not what fans were expecting. His role is perfect, but his execution leaves a lot to be desired. He still has the star power of the franchise behind him, and even mentioning his name is enough to make people step back in wonder, both Resistance and First Order members. Then again, as the first movie in a new trilogy, of course you couldn't pull out every card at once. You have to save some tricks for later installments.

Over a week ago, I sat down to watch every Star Wars movie and wrote an entire retrospective about the franchise. I personally think that Empire Strikes Back was the best entry, followed by Revenge of the Sith. Now, While I still think that Empire Strikes Back is the best entry in the franchise, The Force Awakens may be my second or third favorite entry. It's still too soon to tell, but that just goes to show how great this movie is. It's so good that there's no doubt that it'll be one of my favorite entries in the franchise, but where its placement is is still a mystery to me.

However, The Force Awakens is a Star Wars movie for a new age. The effects are the best they've ever been, and the characters feel more fleshed out than every before. The prequels seem like a distant memory now. The Force Awakens washes away the taste of the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones out of my mouth and make me remember why Star Wars was such a popular franchise and why it's the biggest franchise in all of cinema. This was a fantastic film, and if you haven't seen this movie before Monday, then you are subject to having the movie spoiled for you. Go into it, watch it, love it, and may the force be with you.


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