johnlink ranks STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Saw this a few days ago with my son, but needed some time to gather my thoughts and get them all sorted through. There will be SPOILERS BELOW. I was deciding on wether or not to go that route. But I think that a lot of people have seen it, and are trying to figure through it, as I am. So skip this until you see it. But, by all means, come back once you do.

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I watched STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) on 12.30.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

First of all, before we get to the movie itself, J.J. Abrams deserves a lot of credit. Already a legendary television creator, he has directed a really good sci-fi story in SUPER 8, he made a really solid entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series in M:I 3, and he revitalized a tired franchise with his two solid STAR TREK movies.

Now? He has done what George Lucas could not: He made a STAR WARS movie for a modern audience that people really like. George Lucas can do all the interviews he wants trying to undermine THE FORCE AWAKENS, but it rolls out of bed better than at least the first two movies of the second STAR WARS trilogy, and it is better than anything Lucas directed in the series, including (in many ways) the original STAR WARS.

At this point, if J.J. Abrams and science fiction are involved, he can write his own check. Seriously. If Abrams went to a studio head with a concept for a $300 million big screen adaptation of Alf, he’d probably be able to get it made. And that link in the prior sentence features Alf lip-synching Bob Seger. So I’ll go ahead and wait until you get back…

Now, on to the movie…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser #2

THE FORCE AWAKENS is really good. Ranking movies from three different eras in film is hard, but I’d probably put it second after EMPIRE, and above of the original STAR WARS. It has some really good stuff in it. Even if some of that stuff is a bit of a retread.

The story has a young girl living on a dusty planet, Rey (Daisy Ridley), who longs for a better life. She is an indentured servant, of sorts, awaiting the return of her family. From the first mention of her family, we know they aren’t coming back. She, not surprisingly, is the last to find this out. So, she has some Luke Skywalker in her. But, unlike in the original STAR WARS, Rey is not written as an annoying young upstart. She is written as an intuitive and likable survivor.

THE FORCE AWAKENS also features someone in the resistance, the ace flyer Poe (Oscar Isaac), feeding some vital plans to a droid (the new, and awesome, rolling BB-8). Poe is captured by the bad guy, but the plans get away. Much of the thrust of the movie, then, has the bad guys searching for a computer file in possession of the good guys. That file will lead to the whereabouts of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

We will talk more about the bad guys later, but those bad guys are the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his master Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Ren seems to have a mask he doesn’t need, and Snoke is a giant hologram at this point… but, again, more on that later.

LAST SPOILER ALERT. GO AWAY IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS. SERIOUSLY.

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-Rey-Finn-BB8-running

We also get the triumphant return of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and – eventually – Leia (Carrie Fisher). The stuff between these three is gold. It ends, of course, with the death of Han Solo. But in getting there, we get that character’s best film. And that’s saying something considering the glorious pedigree of Han Solo. Chewie is given more to do in this than groan, though he gets cheated in the end when he doesn’t get an emotional moment – but instead WALKS RIGHT BY LEIA WHEN HE GETS OFF THE SHIP AFTER THE DEATH OF HAN!

Leia gets some good stuff to do, here, even if it is limited. She is a General now so she mostly commands from the ground at this point. But her reunion scene with Han reminds us why we love these characters so much. And her last scene with him is an absolute wonderful moment of foreshadowing which makes the eventual death hurt so much more.

Fortunately, even if all of the stuff that sounds like a retread, there is plenty more. The movie finally takes advantage of the idea that a henchman can be important! The character of Finn (John Boyega) starts as a Stormtrooper but quickly develops a conscience. This is a great device, and his character gives a wonderfully fresh perspective to a film which needed a few new threads. I’m really excited for what they do with him next.

Another great character addition is Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). Her thousand year old, world wise character isn’t brought out as a female Yoda (thank goodness), but she brings the same kind of fun energy that Yoda brought when he first showed up in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

But that’s all plot stuff. Let’s talk about this movie now.

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First, we have the fairly easy theories that Rey is the daughter of Luke. This seems like a pretty obvious conclusion. So obvious, in fact, that either they have something up their sleeve or the second movie is going to start with Luke breathing heavy before saying “I am your father”. Could she somehow be the sibling of Kylo Ren? Sure. But then they really got some ‘splanin to do because that would make Han and Leia some terrible parents. Some have opined that she could be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter. Yeah, maybe. Truly, I think the most interesting choice would be to have her be related to none of them. Let her be a woman who has the force by virtue rather than blood. But we’ll see.

Oh, and those of you complaining that she shouldn’t be able to do all that she does? Just stop it. Luke gets trained by Obi-Wan for like thirteen seconds in A NEW HOPE. He basically fights a robot baseball. He’s then able to shoot down the Death Star like its nothing and best Darth Vader – the BEST FLIER IN THE GALAXY – at the end of the movie. So stop it. If you’re mad because she’s a girl, just say it. Speaking of that ‘girl’ thing, I love the moments in this when Finn thinks he is going to save her only to discover that she in no way needs saving. They aren’t sold as ‘did you see that’ moments, but instead happen with some subtlety.

Moving on… the bad guys, in this? They need some work. I really want to like Kylo Ren. They are taking the nastiness of Vader and the coolness of Darth Maul and trying to put them together. But Adam Driver is just not a convincing villain. It feels, throughout THE FORCE AWAKENS, that he does things due to the fact that they are written that way and not because he IS that way. The moody college brat thing makes him feel like someone who is mad at his Dad because Dad cancelled his credit card. It is just really hard to buy him, here. A lot of that is writing, but more of it is in the casting. I just don’t look on Driver as a super villain in any way. I’m not sure that such an uncool villain has killed such an uber-cool hero in the history of cinema.

Snoke also feels a little underdeveloped. He is an obvious stand in for the Emperor as the Empire has given way to The First Order. I want to see more out of Snoke before I judge. I mean, the Emperor didn’t exactly make a big impact in EMPIRE before being so damn vital in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Actually, all I am hoping for is that Snoke is really just a tiny dude who merely projects himself as a giant (a la the Wizard of Oz). But I doubt I’ll get that.

One cool thing about the villains, though, is that the Storm Troopers can shoot. The opening scene has them pouring out of some ships D-Day style and laying waste to a village. These ain’t your papa’s Storm Troopers. It is a smart development, and one which really helps the action.

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And, really. the action is AWESOME. The flight sequences are really top notch. Not all of them, as we know, take place in space. The one which has Rey and Finn flying on the surface while pursued by TIE Fighters is probably the coolest flight scene in the series. The later infiltration of the Weapon may seem like another homage/rip-off of A NEW HOPE, but the action is really solid and it culminates in that great lightsaber battle between Ren and Rey (hey, they are so alike, that they only differ by one letter!).

I’m really hoping Harrison Ford gets to show up again. But I doubt it. His elimination is the worst offing of a hero in a series that I can think of. But he is giving way to some really awesome heroes. Rey, Finn, Poe, even Maz… they all offer a lot of promise. And I’d really like to see an increased utilization of Leia and Chewbacca. Oh, and there is that whole Luke thing. What a way to end the movie.

So, this isn’t perfect. It has some weak villains, and a little retread. But this movie is the STAR WARS we all hoped PHANTOM MENACE would be. It’s fun, it has some new vision while honoring the originals (no better place is this line walked than in the creation of Maz’s Cantina and all who hang out there), and it makes me really wish that Episode VIII wasn’t so far away.

SCORES

FILM: 7; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 7; WRITING: 7; BONUS: 1

The flying sequences certainly deserve their own bonus point and recognition. The use of miniature alongside CGI is another example of Abrams getting the tone of this movie so, so right.

7+9+7+7+1=31

FINAL SCORE: 7.75 out of 10

 

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~ by johnlink00 on January 2, 2016.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)”

  1. Loved the film, love Rey and Finn and BB-8, and I think your review in spot on.

    And if J.J. Abrams did a $300 million big-budget film adaptation of ALF, I’d go see it!

  2. I think we have very similar feelings about the movie as a whole. I definitely agree that there had better be a good explanation of why Rey was left in indentured servitude on a desert planet. All we get is a scene showing that she and Leia know each other quite well. I do hope the explanation is satisfying.

    However, we are gonna fight about that light saber battle at the end (Put ’em up!). I could *sort of* accept Rey’s earlier use of the force, but the fact that they set up Kylo Ren as demigod-like at the beginning only to have not one but TWO people who have *never held a lightsaber before* suddenly able to not only hold their own without injury (Finn) but able to best him outright (Rey). To me there’s a big difference between firing off one good shot and wielding a light saber against a trained opponent. Luke never had a lightsaber battle until the very end of the second movie, after training under both Obi Wan and Yoda. And if Rey is so special that she was able to learn on the fly the same as her earlier tricks, how does that explain Finn’s sudden fencing skills? That was pretty jarring to me. If they really wanted a light saber battle in this movie they had an easy way: Han should have pulled one out on that bridge. It’d have been easy to believe that in the decades after Return of the Jedi he learned some things from Luke, and was then bested by a younger and stronger foe (ala Obi Wan at the end of Episode IV). That would have satisfied the requirement of a light saber duel without the exceptionally strange choice they made, in my view.

    As an aside: the way you’ve written it makes it sound as if you were saying “If you dislike those scenes, you’re basically a misogynist.” I’m fairly certain that’s not what you meant. I’m sure there are people that dislike Rey’s character because she is a strong female, but I’m doubtful that many such people read this blog.

    Kylo Ren’s mask seems to be getting a lot of negative attention. You only mentioned it once but I keep seeing that criticism: he wears a mask he doesn’t need. I don’t get it. So do the stormtroopers, crimson emperor-guards, Leia in her bounty hunter disguise, Jango and Boba Fett, heck even the beast of burden in one of the pictures you chose is wearing an unnecessary mask… I can only assume it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable, and everyone will be wearing them in the future.

    Finally, I love your thought that Snoke is actually small and projecting himself as enormous.

    Oh, and Finn? Totally Lando’s son. Probably.

    • I’m certainly not projecting that anyone who dislikes that plot point is a misogynist, though I still think there would have been less backlash if she was male. For example: I have not heard that same criticism you lobbed about Finn NEARLY as much. Valid point, though it could also be said that maybe Kylo Ren isn’t quite as strong a fighter as we think he ought to be.
      My problem with Kylo Ren goes far beyond a mask. I think the character creation was ok, but I had a problem with the actor much more than the character. I think that made me much more likely to be annoyed by things that might not otherwise be annoying.

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