STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
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It’s been a decade since the last Star Wars movie Revenge Of The Sith, but the beloved franchise is back, powered by Disney and J.J. Abrams, who wonderfully rebooted the Star Trek series in 2009…sadly, he is not quite as successful here.
The story begins decades after the events of Return Of The Jedi with Luke Skywalker disappearing into self-imposed exile after losing one of his star Jedi pupils to the dark side with disastrous results. From the ashes of the fallen Empire come The First Order, who are basically Empire 2.0 complete with Sith Lord leader, his metal masked lackey, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and yet another destructive super weapon…will they ever learn? A droid named BB8 is entrusted with a map that divulges the location of Skywalker (and who made this map if no one knows where he is?) and The First Order wants it in fear his return would bring back the Jedi and halt their evil plot. A young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and an ex-stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) find the droid and try to return him to his owner, resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) with the help of a crotchety old Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
One of the biggest problems that The Force Awakens suffers from…aside from being about 15 minutes too long…is that it feels more like an expensive fan film than an actual Star Wars movie. J.J. Abrams certainly incorporates a lot of the elements we expect from this series, but the spirit seems absent. It feels like an imperfect imitation much like his Super 8 felt like a slightly-off copy of a film Steven Spielberg might have made in the 80s. The magic isn’t there. Another thing is the script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt is weak and offers a thin plot that Abrams stretches out over two hours. There is also a disturbing amount of conveniences that move that plot along, like characters who just happen to bump into each other in the vastness of space or characters who just happen to have crucial information that saves our heroes from doing any real work to get it. If you thought the Empire had crappy security, wait till you meet The First Order. Too many characters are also in the right place at the right time too often. Yet another problem is that while I admire Abrams’ decision to use as much practical effects as possible, the lack of enhancement for the settings makes them remain very Earth-like and I never felt it was in a galaxy far, far away. Aside from the actual scenes taking place in space, the film always looked like it took place on earth. Lucas created some interesting worlds even in the worst of the prequel flicks, here it always looks like exactly where it was shot and some of the sets actually look cheap without a little matte painting or cgi background help. Like them or hate them, the prequel flicks had an epic look and feel. This feels like a TV show sometimes. Even John Williams delivers quite possible the weakest of his Star Wars scores with very little memorable aside from the classic marches and themes.
There are definitely some pluses. The action does move, though even all these years later, tie fighters vs X-wings is getting a bit tiresome. I did like Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Boyega’s Finn. They show promise that when the torch is passed solidly, they may be quite engaging in their own adventures and both actors add charm in their thinly written parts. Oscar Issac’s ace fighter pilot, Dameron is less successful and is kinda bland and doesn’t do much. I wasn’t all that impressed with Adam Driver’s Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren, either. He basically seems like a Sith spoiled brat acting out and for reasons I won’t spoil, that’s kinda exactly what he is. As for the much hyped Captain Phasma (Gwedoline Christie), blink and you’ll miss her. Harrison Ford seemed like he was having a good time returning as Han and he is one of the highlights of the film, as is Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). It was also nice to see Carrie Fisher back as General Leia and she looks tired and weary as a character fighting a prolonged war should be. BB8 has a lot of personality as the film’s main droid character and should sell a lot of toys. While C3PO and R2D2 do make appearances, they take a back seat to the new droid in town. There are other familiar faces too, but I’ll leave them for you to discover.
So, overall, the new Star Wars was OK in certain ways, but disappointing in others. There is some nice nostalgia, but Abrams has a weak script and thin plot…which he is partially responsible for…to work with and stretches that thin story out over two hours. There are far too many conveniences to forgive, even when the action gets fun and the film is uneven character-wise as the heroes are engaging, yet the villains are weak and mostly forgettable. There are a lot of holes as to how we got to this point in Star Wars history and certain plot elements, some I won’t reveal, just don’t add up. Hopefully we’ll learn more in the upcoming Abrams-less sequels and maybe that Star Wars magic can yet be revived, but for now Force Awakens is a mediocre return for this beloved franchise.
2 and 1/2 Millenium Falcons.