December 23, 2015 by bck1402
I saw the movie on Thursday, when it opened, and wrote this review that same day. I simply intended to wait before posting, to give others time to watch the movie. So, here we are…
Yes- Spoilers abound.
Under George Lucas’ stewardship (it was his baby, after all), the Star Wars movies had a fairly childish air about them, evoking the high-adventure science-fiction serials of the fifties. Even in revisiting the saga, it can be quite clear that Lucas was a fair story-teller but not great with the dialogue (wince inducing and grating at worst), with perhaps one exception; one that Lucas did not contribute to the screenplay nor direct personally.
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there is a maturity to the proceedings in terms of dialogue, performance and presentation that had been lacking in the previous entry. Then again, the technology employed for this entry far surpasses the ground-breaking experimentations Lucas was pushing for with his prequel trilogy. Yet, it is the throwback to practical sets, rubber creature suits and a sense of a lived-in universe away from the clean sheen of computer generated worlds (from Coruscant to Mustafar) that is most welcomed. Real locations ranging from Abu Dhabi to Iceland and Ireland.
Now this might disappoint some people, but I found the movie to be very much a remixed remake of the original 1977 film, almost in the way that Star Trek Into Darkness was a remixed version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The bones are there with many similarities in plot and pacing while certain scenes and set-pieces are meant to evoke the original trilogy. The movie starts with an emissary having to hide vital information in a droid before said emissary is captured by the bad guys. The droid stumbles across a local native who is then thrust into adventure, hooking up with a mentor in order to deliver the droid to the good guys… and so on. In terms of plot, it’s generally the same. Oh yeah, there’s also a massive weapon in play that needs to be taken out (see poster below).
That all being said, it’s not a bad thing as plot and story are two different things. The story, and the movie as it is, is a highly enjoyable romp. Of the new cast, Daisy Ridley is exceptional as the mysterious scavenger, Rey, and it’s a mystery that will continue into the future as there will be more movies. Ridley conveys an amazing confidence in her performance, rising above what might have been a rehash of Luke Skywalker. John Boyega also carries himself very well as a conflicted Stormtrooper, Finn, who simply wants to get away from the mess around him. Oscar Isaac seems a tad underused right now and one can hope we’ll have more of him next time. Adam Driver delivers some menace behind the mask of Kylo Ren but appears somewhat constipated when the mask comes off. Perhaps, it’s simply his way to project the internal conflict the character is (possibly) facing? The rest of the newcomers do well, somewhat aware of the legacy they’re partaking in, making the most of roles, even with sometimes very limited screen time. The pacing of the proceedings also don’t give much time for backstory tho, so some mysteries remain for the sequels.
The one carrying the movie, however, is Harrison Ford returning as that loveable rogue, Han Solo. Ford is more than gamely back in character, seasoned to perfection and obviously relishing in the opportunity to revisit his career-making role without missing a single beat. There appears to be a revitalisation to his performance that’s been missing from the numerous grumpy or grouchy characters he’s taken on over the last few years. Coupled with Peter Mayhew as his furry partner in crime, Chewbacca, and all is so right with the movie.
JJ Abrams directs with the aplomb of a fanboy getting to play in his favourite sandbox with some familiar pals (like Greg Grunberg), bringing a lot of his typical style (shaky-cam, lens-flares) under control, but still managing some very impressive set-pieces, especially with the dogfights. He manages to inject the sense of fun keeping much of the movie an enjoyable greatest hits romp for the most part with many traditions intact (transition wipes, music, silent finale). For some, it is simply the issues with the story, even if he had help from the great Lawrence Kasdan (probably for most of the dialogue surrounding Han and those close to him) and Michael Ardnt. The addition of the super maestro John Williams simply adds to the nostalgia, and rightfully so as he delivers another worthy score to the saga.
In any case, it is a romp of an adventure where our characters are practically running from one situation into the next with little time devoted to trying to fully establish the newer characters. It’s not something that matters here and we are just kicking off a new trilogy. There’ll be time enough in the coming films to build these characters a little more.
If the hardcore fans were never happy with the prequel trilogy and felt that Star Wars should be taken out of Lucas’ control, it would seem they’ve got their wish. Aside from from the adorable BB-8 stealing his scenes, there is very little of the cute factor remaining in the forms of ewoks or gungans. There is no denying that Abrams has crafted an excellent and entertaining movie, and as a movie, it delivers as it should and the fans will mostly be happy… unless nitpicking is involved, then things will fall apart. Speculation about Rey will be rife, but what is nice here is that the nature of the Force need not be related to those pesky midi-chlorins anymore. Especially if Rey is more than she seems and not who you would expect her to be.
But that’s for another story in this seemingly never-ending saga. To that, we might all agree.. “Bring it on!”
Stars Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson with Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Max Von Sydow and some surprises
Directed by JJ Abrams