Sunday, January 10, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler Filled Critical Review

I went and re-watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens last Thursday with a buddy of mine who hadn't seen the film yet. So, after two viewings, I believe that I am ready to discuss this movie. I have a lot to say about this too, so I think I will be doing several posts discussing aspects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This one, in particular, will be more general in scale. But, be warned that this post will be filled with SPOILERS. If you have not seen the movie yet, and have not already had the movie spoiled for you, then go watch it and come back later.


Plot: Many people on the internet right now are complaining that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not an original movie. That it is essentially a retread of A New Hope. First, they are absolutely right. The Force Awakens does have a plot that is very similar to A New Hope, but that isn't a bad thing. In an interview, while he was developing the Prequels, George Lucas said the following:

So, George Lucas says that they "rhyme." I would have preferred the word echo, but rhyme is fine too. These movies are supposed to be like each other. They were patterned after the radio serials of old that George Lucas loved growing up--Flash Gordon and the like. Those programs weren't original week to week, they followed a formula and the Star Wars movies do as well. And I would like to explore this idea more in another post, but Star Wars movies don't follow a formula just because George Lucas says so, they follow a formula because all good stories do.

For me, the plot was everything I hoped for. It had all of the elements that I enjoy in a good Star Wars movie. There was a lot of action. People running away from evil. Lots of spaceships. It was a hyper space opera, which is what Star Wars is supposed to be.

I am not going to spend all this time rehashing beat by beat what happened in the movie, but it was a top notch Star Wars plot.

One part in particular I would like to discuss though. I thought that Han Solo's death scene was handled perfectly. As soon as he walked out on that path hanging over the chasm, I knew what was going to happen. Symbolically it hearkens back to Empire Strikes Back when Luke faces Vader and learns that Vader is his father. It had that same emotional resonance too. But I loved how it was handled. Han Solo went out wonderfully, trying to save his son. I love that.

Characters: The movie really shined in this aspect. Han Solo and Chewbaca were great, but I would like to focus on the new characters because they were what I was the most worried about. 

 Rey was everything you are looking for in a hero. She is the every woman that you need to be able to follow a movie set in a strange Sci Fi universe. When you meet her you understand her plight, she is waiting for her family to return, but she isn't weak or incapable of taking care of herself. She has heard stories about what happened during the Rebellion and destruction of the Empire, but she doesn't know if those stories aren't just myths. As she is thrust into the action of the story, she helps to guide us and help us understand what is happening. This is what the originals had in Luke Skywalker, but the Prequels failed in. I loved how powerful she is; a great female character for my daughter. And who cares who she is related to. I have my theories, but everyone might be totally wrong. Rey might not be related to anyone. And if that is the case, then I would still be perfectly happy.

Finn...hmmm. I liked Finn, but I liked Rey more. Finn is set to take up Han Solo's role in the original movies as the lovable scoundrel. And I think he will do a bang up job. I loved how the movie humanized a stormtrooper. Before they were clones, or soldiers, or who knows. But now, they are humans. They have feelings. They can make mistakes. I loved how right at the beginning, Finn watched his friend get shot and die and his friend wipes blood on Finn's helmet, marking him. Even with the helmet on you could tell that the character was affected by what he was witnessing. It made the character of Finn interesting, it gave him depth. He is conflicted an that continues throughout the whole movie. He wants to help, but he is also scared and not confident in his abilities to be successful. That makes for a good character.

Now, if conflict and depth are what you want, then we get it in spades with Kylo Ren, a.k.a. Ben Solo. I loved Rey, but I absolutely died for Kylo Ren. He is such a great villain and I have always been such a sucker for the bad guy. Darth Vader will always be one of the greatest characters in all of history, but I feel like Kylo Ren has so much depth already after just one movie. He is so conflicted. He feels the pull from both the light and dark sides of the force. He is really into his grandfather, Darth Vader and wants to be like him, but gets angry when he messes up. He isn't fully trained like Vader was, yet he is very powerful. You can see the conflict within him, even when he has the mask on. Ever since I saw Kylo in a photograph I loved his look and the suit and everything, but I was really hoping that he wouldn't just be a throw away character like Darth Maul. Kylo Ren is most definitely not a throw away character. I applaud his creation and Kylo Ren's story is probably what I am most looking forward to in the subsequent two movies.

In a recent review of his own, Chris Stuckman, discussed how Kylo Ren's lightsaber is perfect as well. Ren's saber looks unfinished, it looks unstable--very much like his character. It is volatile and may blow up at any moment. I thought this was a perfect symbolic choice for this character.

Acting: Unlike the Prequels, the acting in this movie is also superb. The Prequels were haunted by cheesy dialogue and long monologues about inter-galactic politics. More often than not, I was very bored in the Prequels. The Prequels were also plagued by telling rather than showing. The Force Awakens corrects these problems. No more scenes of people walking on a green-screen discussing what just happened, or what they are about to go do. One of my favorite shots is one of Rey watching a space ship blast off the planet (Jakku) where she lives. You look into her eyes and see how the features of her face soften, and you can instantly tell what she is feeling. She wants to leave. She dreams of the day when she will be rescued from this "prison." She longs for the rush of boosters beneath her as the blasts off Jakku with her family. That moment is what I am talking about. Show us what a character is feeling rather than tell us. And that is what this movie does. 

Filmmaking: J. J. Abrams knows his stuff. This may just be his best movie. He knows how to shoot a Star Wars film. Big wide shots that show us all the action that is happening. Practical effects in most cases. A focus on the characters rather than panning away to show how cool the explosion was. Abrams does so much with light and color that you might have missed, but your brain didn't. This was a huge strength for the movie and a return to form for this franchise, because Star Wars movies used to be very symbolic. I will return to this subject in a few more blog posts later.

Didn't you dislike anything?: Well, yes I did. The movie is not perfect, there were problems. 

  • In both cases, I didn't like the CGI characters. Both of them took me out of the movie. I could tell that they were fake. With all of the practical effects in the movie, they just seemed out of place. Maybe you don't need your bar owner with a heart of gold character to be a little alien. Why couldn't she be a normal sized alien?
  • I felt like the characters were never given time to breath. They were running from beginning to end. I mean at the very very end they were resting, but the rest of the movie was an octane filled race to the end. It made the movie very exciting, but sometimes it is nice to get a breather at an audience member and feel like the characters are safe for just a moment. But some people complain if there is too much down time and say that the movie was boring. That balance is difficult to achieve.
  • I was disappointed with John Williams' score. I am listening to it right now as I compose this blog post and there are really only two new themes that I really like--Kylo Ren's theme and Rey's theme. I mean I enjoyed with the old themes would resurface in the movie, but I would have loved some really catchy new Star Wars tunes, like Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace (arguably the best part of that whole movie was that one song).
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a tremendous movie. Well worth the price of admission in both cases. I am really looking forward to adding this DVD to my collection and enjoying it with my family for years to come. In the end, I would give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5 out of 5.

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