Friday, December 18, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" review

As the title of this should indicate, this is my review of the latest Star Wars film, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And if you haven't yet seen this film, know that this review will be spoiler-filled, so if you wish to avoid spoilers, stop reading this now.

In fact, I'm writing an extra long introduction to this post JUST to make sure that no spoilers pop up in anyone's feed or a google search of this blog. Yes, I am writing a bunch of pointless filler right here JUST to take up space and words to protect you all from spoilers.

So... SPOILERS!!!!

If you don't want to know anything about the film, STOP READING NOW!!!

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Okay, you were warned. Don't whine to me if you keep reading.

First off, let me say that I REALLY liked the movie. It will take time for me to decide if I LOVED it. But I've seen it twice already and it's really solid. That said, I think it's nowhere near as perfect as it's currently being touted as.

I think that fandom was given a very expensive, 2 plus hour fan film/love letter to the original "Star Wars", and at the end of the day, that's a little disappointing and in some ways, exactly what I was worried was going to happen.

Let's spoil the plot right out the gate. A lonely, gifted girl from a desert planet is whisked away on a grand adventure where she meets a wise old man who offers to shepherd her away from her sad life into a new one. Together they storm the evil villains lair where he is killed, inspiring her to discover the hidden power within her and save the day. Does that sound familiar? Okay. The evil lair is a giant super weapon that can destroy planets with a single weakness that can destroy it utterly. I know you've heard THAT one. "The Force Awakens" is an almost scene for scene redo of "A New Hope".

And not in an artistic mirror. A nearly one-for-one remake. And at the end of the day, was that really all you wanted out of a new Star Wars? The same stuff you loved over 30 years ago repackaged? I thought everyone hated remakes?

Let's talk now, not about the genuinely interesting new characters like Rey, Finn, Poe or "Ben". They are great, well fleshed out characters that were pleasures to watch. Go J.J.! You nailed fixing the biggest flaw of the much hated prequels. No more stiff, wooden dialogue or acting. Home run, there. No, let's talk about our returning heroes. Specifically Han Solo and Leia. (Chewy was great. No gripes there.)

Han Solo is a grizzled smuggler living on the edge of space, taking jobs where he can get them.

Leia is a general, leading something baffingly called "The Resistance" with intelligence and powerful leadership.

They are EXACTLY THE SAME CHARACTERS THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. The script bent over backwards to make sure that the old guard and the entire universe itself have not changed in any significant way. Instead of the Empire, we have the First Order. Instead of the Rebellion, we have the Resistance. But what are they resisting, since we are told there is a restored senate and Republic on a planet that sure as hell looks like Courescant, but is destroyed without ever being named.

Shouldn't the "Resistance" just have been, ya' know, the army. Why is Leia leading another rag tag group of reb...istance fighters when the rebellion won the war? Well, sadly I suspect, it's because all involved wanted to stick as close to the expected status quo as they could. Fans HATE change. That's just the sad truth. As much as we all whine about hating remakes, they are made because we want to see the same damn characters go through the same damn motions over and over. And J.J. Abrams and co. delivered. Han and Leia had a son, he went evil and their reaction was apparently to spend the next however many years doing nothing new at all.

All the foreshadowing of Leia being as potentially as strong in the force as Luke in "Jedi"? All but ignored. Their relationship? Broken up to try and recreate the tension we fans are more comfortable with. It's like how Pixar keeps bending over backward to make sure we get to see "delusional Buzz" in every Toy Story film. The warm,comfortable hug of the familiar in place of forward motion, change or growth.

This seems to have been the guiding light of the entire film: Maintain the illusion of change without really changing anything. Even John Williams' score was sadly anticlimactic. Sure, he gave us all of our favorite hits from the good ol' days. But where was this film's "Duel of the Fates", "ACross the Stars" or "Battle of the Heroes"? Even the most ardent prequel hater will generally, if begrudgingly, admit that the scores were fantastic. Williams built upon the familiar themes with new ones to GROW the audible universe. New characters and moments were given dynamic life in the scores. But there was precious little of that in "The Force Awakens".

Rey had a nice, melancholy bit of music, but it was overshadowed by a slavish need to dip into the depths of nostalgia at every turn. Much like the rest of the film.

I feel a little robbed. I was hoping for an Episode VII that would show us a bold new vision of a galaxy far, far away. Instead we were given a beautiful recreation of what we've already seen.

And yes, I still liked it.