Monday, December 21, 2015

FILM REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have not done a film review in a long time. It's only fitting and proper for me to do a write up of the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise.

First and foremost, I must say I'm glad we will be seeing more of this great universe first visited in 1977! I'm actually more excited about the spin-off films rather than the anthology because I prefer to explore the world of Star Wars outside of the Skywalker family.

Now, quickly, I'll my synopsis without any major spoilers: The evil First Order rises after the fall of the Galactic Empire to take over the galaxy. A band of misfits unite with the help of The Resistance to defend the system against The First Order.

If I could sum up my review into one word, it would this: Letdown.

I bought into the hype machine not because I expected an epic, sci-fi masterpiece. I bought the hype because its frickin' Star Wars without George Lucas! At the same time, it was J.J. Abrams at the helm. I found that J.J. is better suited to the small screen (Alias, Lost), and not so much in cinema. Still, with more practical effects, no George Lucas, actors that are really acting, no George Lucas, a continuation of the beloved anthology (not prequel!), and no George Lucas, I had higher hopes this new film would be great. Aside from some pretty cool, yet generic, action set pieces, the film did not break any new ground, and worse yet, did not bring anything new to the long-running franchise other than fresh young faces. The new characters could at least have been made more interesting...

Its hard to talk about the film without giving much key information. So I'll just say this: I expected a lot more freshness and a lot less "homage" to the old films. (Stupid fan service.) Overall, the film felt like a true and serious Star Wars film. The acting was good. the visuals were cool. The pacing was uneven, but the sound and music were firing on all cylinders!

Given the amount time it took to do the film, I thought some of its issues would have been ironed out, yet the final act felt rushed and uneven.

I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but as a whole experience to the anthology, it's a letdown. No new ground was realized, and once again we are stuck following some extension of the Skywalker family as opposed to seeing some actual Star Wars.

Would I watch it again? Absolutely. Its better than most popcorn movies tend to be, but being that this film is a part of a such a beloved franchise that has long been neglected and maligned at the hands of its creator, a lot was riding on this film to restore its respect. I can say it will definitely make a whole new generation of fans, and it will feed the nostalgia of the existing fan base alike. What it failed to do was bring something new and exciting to the core audience, but I can always hope to tread new ground with the next chapters.

One last note, the Storm Troopers are better shots this time around, and they are scary.

My Rating: B+

Keep reading for my spoiler-filled rant of issues with the film or stop here! 
You've been warned!

I'll use my previous gripes with J.J. Abrams as contrast for my issues with this film.

In his directorial film debut Mission: Impossible 3, Abrams was criticized for not bringing anything new to the action, spy genre. In fact, he was largely maligned for ripping off the bridge-jet attack sequence from True Lies.

In his "original" movie Super 8, Abrams was paying an "homage" to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Whereas E.T. was actually fun, moving, and memorable, Super 8 was boring, confusing, and dumb. Felt more like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, really, but still, it failed to live up to the hype and was quickly forgotten.

In Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams did not fool anyone into thinking he wasn't redoing Wrath of Khan. Much to the dismay of the fans, Abrams not only redid Wrath of Khan, he rehashed his previous film: Star Trek. He recreated the same key moments and scenes from both films in Into Darkness failing to bring anything fresh to the long-running franchise.

The only film I don't take issue with is with his first Star Trek. I embraced the re-imagining. It made a fan out of me.

So with that quick recap of all his films, I make the case that J.J. Abrams does not have a solid track record. I prefer him over George Lucas, but I really expected more out of him, and the writers after all the fans clamoring for a truly great Star Wars ala A New Hope. No one asked for a REMAKE! That's essentially what we got with The Force Awakens.

1) Droid carrying a secret message
2) Storm troopers raiding villages on a desert planet
3) Death Star 3.0 (Bigger, badder, more powerful)
4) Black-masked villain
5) Rag-tag team of misfits accidentally thrust into the big fight
6) Cantina scene
7) Recreated final act from A New Hope complete with the death of a beloved character (not surprising either)

So, what I hoped was a reboot to inject fresh blood and perspective, turned into a "been there, done that" rehash of the original Star Wars. Sure, it will win over new fans, and at least we don't have to worry about Disney directly remaking the old anthology, but there was really no new ground to thread here. It was sorely lacking amid all the good the film did do: good acting, practical effects, great music, and awesome X-Wings!

Now let's see what Rain Johnson will bring to Star Wars. It better be great!

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