Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Fall Back Asleep
A Film Review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
(read our throwback Phantom Menace review here)
(read our throwback Attack of the Clones review here)
(read our throwback Revenge of the Sith review here)
(read our throwback A New Hope review here)
(read our throwback Empire Strikes Back review here)
(read our throwback Return of the Jedi review here)
The Force Awakens is an entertaining enough film that continues the Star Wars saga with grandiose bravado, fanfare and media attention. There is no way this juggernaut won’t appropriate truckloads of cash at every box office around the globe. One cannot deny the power of the Star Wars license. But our thoughts betray us. Our eyes deceive us. This disturbance in the force has taken the quick and easy path of getting something thrown up on the screen in the continued effort of Mickey Mouse to recoup all those billions of dollars he paid George Lucas to own Star Wars lock, stock and barrel. The merchandising blitz that followed Disney’s acquisition has accelerated all things Star Wars to ludicrous speed such that my fear of content overload would only be abated if the next feature length film re-centered the franchise’s focus on story, character and meaning rather than spectacle, immensity and dollar, dollar bills.
This film succeeds in introducing the audience to the new trinity of protagonists that will be the focal points for this brand new trilogy in Rey, Finn and Poe. Their back stories, motivations, methods and attitudes are unique, charismatic and compelling. The audience cannot help but care about them surviving this new threat of The First Order. They each have moments as individuals that make them likeable, but they become more so when they meet each other as their interplay channels the same type of camaraderie audiences fell in love with among Han, Luke and Leia. I am especially impressed with Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey as she puts forth an effort to be the female lead of an action/adventure franchise that leaves the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley in the dust.
Then this film introduces us to the antagonists. It is disappointing to say that this film closes the book on 2015 as the year bad villains almost killed movies by themselves. J.J. Abrams seemed mindful of the signature villains that have been plaguing special effect driven productions of recent history and made a conscious effort to address the deserved criticism of generic blandness right away with layers of subplot surrounding Kylo Ren. The only problem with the presentation of this character is that when a villain’s own internal struggle is presented before he or she is firmly established as a nefarious threat, the audience cannot help but identify this character with weakness. Coupled with the fact that Ren’s own command structure puts him in his place regularly, none of his prisoners are intimidated by him and the relative ease he is dealt with by this film’s end confirms his flaccid villainy. Kylo Ren channels “manic-kin” Skywalker from the prequel trilogy in all the wrong ways such as his childish tantrums and general sense of insecurity. Perhaps the exploration of a dark character who struggles with the influence of the light side of the force would have been more interesting if he was capable of doing something cooler or more intimidating than Captain N: The Game Master’s pause button technique.
Ultimately, the element of this film that disappointed me the most was the atrocious pacing throughout. Granted, a new Star Wars trilogy has many responsibilities regarding plot and character establishment that takes away precious screen time from potentially more interesting moments of action. However, J.J. Abrams seemed like he was in a big time rush to present so many characters in this first film that the audience has no ability to appreciate 100% of them. The film gives us precious little (if any) opportunities to explain why any of them are there in the first place. There’s simply not enough time for any significant exposition to occur when J.J. makes his best effort to leave no character behind. Unfortunately, this yields pockets of time where the drama and dialogue really need to be broken up with some classic Star Wars action. It would be wrong to describe these moments as dead space for they certainly do much to endear Rey, Finn and Poe to the audience. Unfortunately, these lulls in energy make this film feel much longer than its 2 hour and 15 minute runtime.
Spaceship combat is certainly the strength of this film although using a bit more first person perspective from the cockpit would have added to the tension. I was not impressed by the gunplay on display by anyone. Light saber duels had decent energy, but featured little form and clumsy choreography.
Once again, (as in the original trilogy) the camera is most dynamic during flight sequences which is thanks in most part to the CG visual effects companies contracted by this production.
Daisey Ridley can do no wrong as Rey because she hits a homerun in every scene. I liked John Boyega’s Finn at first when his character had a serious subplot developing and then J.J. turned him into comic relief. Oscar Isaac’s Poe presents a classic, golden boy hero who is fearless and loyal and he does it without coming off as annoying.
Harrison Ford does a good job fighting off the gruff old man he’s only been capable of producing for his most recent film roles and manages to rediscover vintage Solo at times. I feel every instance of self-loathing and self-deprecation well known of Carrie Fisher during her press interviews and promotion of this film – she is uncomfortable and doesn’t look like she wants to be there. Adam Driver easily produces the wussiest wielder of the dark side ever portrayed in a Star Wars film. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux is a fiery ginger that knows only 2 levels of energy: low and hemorrhoid-bursting-ly high. Gwedoline Christie’s Captain Phasma is literally a non-factor in this film.
Beyond the iconic Star Wars fanfare in the beginning, the musical score seemed a bit too subliminal during the rest of the film. The beginning of this new trilogy needed a new marquee theme to rally behind like “Duel of the Fates” provided for the prequel trilogy.
Oh no! Blaster fire sounds completely different and it’s muffled like everyone is shooting with silencers attached to their barrels. Light sabers sound different featuring more reverberation. At least TIE fighters sound the same.
“Moving” - 17/33
Spaceship action is smooth and exciting. X-Wings, TIEs and the Millennium Falcon really haul! The Supreme Leader? That was a joke right? Andy Serkis playing Gollum 2.0? As for the new Death Star, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Also, squid monsters on a cargo ship were kind of like snakes on a plane. And I guess J.J. can copy/paste his hyper space effects from Star Trek to Star Wars because they are both Bad Robot productions. Well done, Michael Bay!
Yay! J.J. made practical effects cool again. Congratulations! The Force Awakens doesn’t feel as plastic as the prequels. Kudos for BB-8, explosions and flame throwers.
A+ for everyone wearing alien costumes. Some of Chewbacca’s expressions were far too natural to have been done practically. Storm trooper armor seems less detailed. In fact, plainness was a common theme for everyone in the resistance, Rey, Poe, Finn and even Kylo and that dorky mask of his.
Hair & Makeup
It was a good decision to go minimalist with the overall concept for Rey as it was clear the filmmakers wanted her to retain attractiveness without coming off as some babe in the woods. Han and Leia did not look their best, but then neither did Kylo. Please put the mask back on.
Most of the events of this film were taking place outside in some form or another and the level of detail showcased throughout these sequences was exquisite.
Also, no complaints here. You can tell a healthy amount of budget went into set design and it really paid off.
“Picture” = 23/33
Luke has been gone for a while, but now we must find him for an unspecified reason while a new kind of rebellion is happening, but we don’t know who is on which side and why they are fighting in the first place. What?
Forget the galactic conflict in the background as it is a can of worms. The only thing that really matters here is the Solo family tragedy, which is heart breaking in more ways than one. Rey against Ren plays out unexpectedly due to the convenience of zero setup. This too shall pass.
All that remains is more questions regarding everything. One would be: “was all that I just saw really about this final moment, right here and now?”
The dialogue is quite natural and informative by every character not associated with The First Order (Finn excluded). All those people are some seriously brain-washed puppets with less personality than the clones of the prequels.
LOL! Another joke, right?
Introducing the tragic villain in Star Wars may be an effort by J.J. Abrams to make more sophisticated commentary regarding stereotypical concepts of good and evil. Unfortunately, Kylo Ren crosses that moral event horizon in a pretty definitive way which nullifies any potential sympathy his character may have earned to carry over into future films. Yes, a dark warrior struggling with light is as interesting as a woman stepping into the Luke/Obi-Wan/Anakin role of a Star Wars fiction.
Defiance against family. Self-doubt. Living in denial. Hoping for redemption. These are all themes that radiate from several of the main characters.
“Story” = 18/34
Overall MPS Rating: 58/100
I didn’t hate this film, but I didn’t love it either and that’s not the kind of thing J.J. Disney Abrams wants to hear. All they want to hear is the kind of rhetoric being echoed by the scripted mainstream: everything Star Wars is good and great and must be seen at the cinema multiple times to challenge the box office record of Avatar. Every Star Wars fan should see this movie just on general principle alone, but multiple viewings are about as necessary as heart attacks. I would even suggest that fans do their best to avoid viewing any previous Star Wars film prior to a screening of The Force Awakens because doing so will alert the viewer to all the ways this film is not like any previous. As for those unfamiliar with the mythology to date, good luck trying to make sense of it all because I’m still scratching my head over what I just saw.