Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: J. J. Abrams

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Max Von Sydow, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew

For the past few weeks anticipation was at an all time high, but the day finally came for the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh chapter in the Star Wars saga. The back story behind this movie is that it is the first film in the Star Wars Saga to be produced by Disney every since they bought Star Wars from George Lucas for a mere 4 Billion dollars. So while this film exists within the universe that Lucas created, George Lucas had nothing to do with this film. Now some fans might say that this is a good thing and I’d have to agree with them because, let’s be honest here, everybody hates the prequels. They were George Lucas’s chance to give fans the Star Wars movies they’d been waiting for since Return of the Jedi (1983). What we got instead were a trio of overtly serious films that were missing that element of fun that the old trilogy had. Lucas forgot about the cliffhangers, the pure movie magic, the entertainment. In comes J. J. Abrams, the director to whom Disney gave the chance to “save” the Star Wars franchise. I think he was the perfect choice actually, after all, it looks like J.J. Abrams is shaping up to become this generations Steven Spielberg. He’s the new big budget, pure entertainment and spectacle guy. Did he manage to make a pleasing Star Wars film? Did he save the Star Wars franchise? I will be reviewing The Force Awakens in the next few paragraphs, and I’m keeping it spoiler free so I won’t deny you of the amazing surprises and shocking moments that this movie holds in store for you, so read unafraid my dear friends!

The premise for this movie is that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and everyone and their mother is desperately looking for him. The Rebels want to bring Luke home, and the bad guys, a fascist military order known as ‘The First Order’ are also after him. They fear he might bring back the Jedi’s to the galaxy. Now the only one with the map to Luke’s location is a little android known as BB-8; who has Rey and Finn, the two protagonists of this story to protect him as he makes his way to the Rebel Base. Will they make it? Will they ever find the ever elusive Luke Skywalker? See how I kept that short and sweet as to not spoil anything? ;)

Man, watching this movie in theaters, with a crowd of fans was such an experience. As it happens with the premiere of any Star Wars film (good or bad) audiences are always excited to see a new one. After the opening scroll which explains the premise of the film, it’s all dead quiet as everyone devours every second of what transpires on screen, hoping with every bit of their beings that it doesn’t suck. What all Star Wars fan wants from a Star Wars film is that old magic, that feeling of adventure we got from the first film. It’s incredible how not even Lucas himself could recapture what he achieved with that first film. The thing about those first films is that they were not about ‘the senate’ or the ‘trade federation’ or ‘negotiations’, they were quite simply about good guys fighting the good fight against the bad guys. And somewhere along the line, Lucas forgot about that and decided to do the prequels, which were primarily about politics. They got too technical, everyone was too serious. And as we all know, politics are boring. There was no Han Solo saying funny jokes, there was no Princess Leia with her snappy come backs. Thankfully, this new film brought that fun element back! That’s right my friends, we’re back to good vs. evil, and sure, at the crux of it all is a political themed film, but we see that angle from a broader spectrum, we don’t go into political conversations that nobody cares about.  

One of the main reasons why Episodes IV through VI work so well is because they had likable characters. I mean, who didn’t love to see Han Solo and Princess Leia bickering, Luke and Han fighting over Leia’s affections. R2 and C3PO squabbling over everything. I mean, sure, the future of the galaxy was in the balance, but there was always time for that silliness like Leia calling Han a "scruffy looking Nerf Herder" and the such. On The Force Awakens we have a little bit of that back again. Characters are back to saying comedic lines in the most serious moments. I mean, you can tell Han is back, and yet again, everything he says will get a giggle out of you. I have to say, true fans of Episodes IV through V will get such a thrill out of seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back in action, flying the Millenium Falcon. When Han says “Chewie, we’re home” I thought “and so are we” because that’s exactly how I felt, like this was the Star Wars I wanted and loved, it’s finally back. I, as a Star Wars fan, was home. Trust me, I didn’t feel that with Episodes I through III. A warning though, they gave C3PO and R2D2 a rest for this film, we only see them in brief yet essential roles.

And what about the new guys? John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren? Well, I’m happy to inform that they did a fantastic job. The thing with presenting us with new Star Wars characters is that they have to be good actors, they have to be likable, their performances have to be convincing. Casting the wrong person in these important roles could mean the death of a movie, sure they’ll make money (as the prequels did) but the films will be hated for all eternity because they have that bad actor in that key role, Episodes I through III, I’m looking at you guys! Daisy Ridley is instantly likable, I loved her character! She was written in an interesting way. She’s got a charisma, those eyes, she’s smart and self reliant. I’m just glad that Hollywood is finally giving women great leading roles. For the longest time, women had been relegated to being ‘damsels in distress’, females who couldn’t fend for themselves, who had to rely on the big macho man to save them. Not so here. There’s this moment in which the bad guys are chasing Rey and Finn and Finn grabs Rey by the hand and she says “I can run perfectly fine without you holding my hand!” That’s when I knew that this movie was making a special effort to portray a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself, which is awesome to me because for the longest time Hollywood did the contrary. So this movie gets two things right, it puts the women and the black guy in the forefront by giving them the starring roles. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is obviously making a statement with this, and a good one at that.

And what’s a movie without a good villain right? On this one we get Kylo Ren, a truly hateful villain. Trust me when I say that by the end of the movie, you will end up hating him with every bit of your soul. He comes off as an angry, volatile, less experienced Darth Vader; he is shaping up to become a memorable villain in the Star Wars universe. And what about Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron? Well, what can I say, they’re calling him the new Han Solo, I kind of agree! Now a word about the structure of the film, which is extremely similar to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). It’s true what you’ve heard that A New Hope is the blueprint for The Force Awakens; of course it was done on purpose to give us a feeling of familiarity. There are some moments that mirror A New Hope, but there’s no denying that the film also gives us some amazing new elements that I was not expecting at all. So there’s a little bit of the old, but also, a little bit of the new. It’s emotional, and will make an impact on you, trust there’s some shocking moments in store! In terms of effects, well, the film is top notch. You do not feel as if characters are walking in front of a green screen, nope, these sets are there. They are tangible, they feel real. There’s a perfect balance between practical set design and computer work, which is the way it should be. This is also something that George Miller executed perfectly well in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). So I applaud these directors that are showing a true balance in the force, they aren’t forgetting that films are made in front of a camera! So thank you for that J.J. Abrams, my hats down to you sir! So yeah, I was pleased as hell with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and that ending? Whoa! Left me salivating for more! Let’s see where we go to next, looking forward to Episode VIII come May 26th 2017!  

Rating: 5 out of 5


eddie lydecker said...

A $120 million opening day ! ! !, i wonder if it`ll be able to go on and ultimately beat "Avatar's" all-time world record of $2.8 Billion ?.

jimmie t. murakami said...

In my opinion the other famous movie franchises (Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, James Bond, The Matrix, etc etc) are just 'not there' when compared to the magnificence and magnitude of Star Wars, for me its always had a special magic that other films simply cannot compete with.

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

I'm in love with this film. It's so good.

Franco Macabro said...

Eddie and Jimmy: Spielberg did say it could end up being the biggest movie of all time. Agree about Star Wars special kind of other franchise has the same effect.

Sergei: So am I, its pure movie magic! On my way to seeing a third time!

Unknown said...

I loved this movie from beginning to end. Does it have its faults? Sure but its merits far outweigh the bad stuff and best of all it wipes the floor with the weak Prequel movies.

SFF said...

I know we have a difference of opinion here so a couple of things.

I'm not sure everybody hates the prequels. I'm not a huge fan but they had
some great sequences in spots, quite frankly, much like this film. But I
didn't feel The Force Awakens brought it back to the kind of magic the
originals enjoyed. Again just my experience with the film.

And I don't see that Star Wars would ultimately need saving. This thing could drop a turd and still keep rolling out films.

And I've given this a bit of thought, but I don't quite see Abrams as Spielberg.
At least not yet and not on relatively strong evidence. I agree with you that he brings the spectacle with competence, but Spielberg was more gifted in creating
a coherent whole and I also appreciate Spielberg's gift for capturing the human
component and emotional resonance within his pictures. They just strike more
deeply than the films I've seen from Abrams. That's certainly not to say he won't get better or that he isn't striking that cord with some people. Just my take.

And I don't think politics is boring. Ha. But I get what you mean. Policy and politics as presented in the Star Wars prequels was abysmally boring with wooden character reciting garbage with no passion. That was rough stuff to watch.

But isn't your warning about the droids a spoiler. Just busting you Fran.

And speaking of politics though why is it important to note gender and race as selling points for a film? I know that is the norm nowadays but I just don't understand it.

I think Boyega and Ridley are awesome but I don't care about the identity politics of casting. I just think they are truly excellent in their roles. But if they were two white characters or two Mexican characters that's fine too. Anyway, please know my comment is meant in the spirit of conversation and friendship as always Fran.

Love your reviews as always and I love your enthusiasm for this picture. I think it was an enthusiastic picture and very energetic with a big helping of "nostalgia balls" but it ultimately was just a satisfactory picture for me. Take care my friend.

Franco Macabro said...

I feel the same as you about the prequels, they have their moments, I don't entirely hate them either, but they feel completely off at times. As you say, Lucas himself can drop a turd and it will make money, like the prequels did.But the general consensus even among hardcore Star Wars fans is not favorable for them.

Abrams as Spielberg, I see Abrams trying to make the big spectacle movies that Spielberg made early in his career, albeit with less emphasis on solid stories and more on the fast paced entertainment. Also, Abrams has been paying homage to Spielberg a lot, it was most most evident in films like Super 8 (2011), that one was a love letter to Spielberg. He obviously admires and is influenced by Spielberg and his style of film making.

Agree, Spielberg is superior in many ways, Abrams has a lot to learn about slowing it down a bit, and as you say adding that human component which is so present in Spielberg's films, those little moments in which we connect and identify with the characters. Spielberg is genius at that. Abrams is just getting started though, I'm sure he'll grow as a filmmaker. I'm hoping anyway.

I think gender and race are important issues. But speaking of hollywood, they've always portrayed this prototype of women as helpless and whiny, and black people have been treated unfairly in cinema for ages, this is just history dude. What I liked about Star Wars is that they are obviously trying to break with those old cliches. The black guy is the hero, he doesn't die, the girl isn't helpless and unable to think for herself and so on.

Agree, gender and race issues aside, the new characters are excellent, in fact for me, they were the best thing about the new movie. Of course I take your comments with respect, this is a blog where all trains of thought are welcome, its what makes the world go round in my book. Social learning, we learn from each other.

Let's see if these films get better as Disney continues to produce them, hopefully we're looking at an improvement and not just a photocopy of the old ones.

Thanks for your insightful comments, always appreciate them!

SFF said...

Thanks Fran and let me tell you...

... I am quite pleased my comment went through because I didn't think it went.

I was thinking I was going to have to re-type the whole thing (that's how much I think of you Fran- I was going to do it. ha)

Also, yes, agree with you on Super 8 and yet I still didn't love that film as much as it was a love letter. I did get some of that Spielberg magic but still didn't come to appreciate it like a Spielberg film.

He'll get better.

All the best my friend.

Roman J. Martel said...

Great review Fransisco. I pretty much agreed with you on this one. Had a blast with it, but wished it was hand't been quite as familiar as it turned out being. Still I see where Abrams and the studio were coming from, so I'm going to just go with it. Really liked how the new characters and old characters were worked together into the script and had key moments. It went beyond just having the old characters show up for a cameo or two. All in all, it was a fun time, and I have to say it has been a long time since I had the much fun with a Star Wars movie in the theaters.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Roman, I have a feeling the next chapters in the Star Wars saga will be less derivative, they just wanted to grab us with this first one.


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