Friday, December 25, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens—A Review

Have you ever sat down with an old friend who you have not seen in years and immediately reconnected?  That describes my experience with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  

I had three expectations going in:
  • Someone will die.
  • Given the involvement of J. J. Abrams, there will be strong female characters.
  • A lot of things will blow up
All  expectations were fulfilled.

First, someone significant dies.  If you look back over all of the Star Wars films, both the first trilogy (episodes four, five, and six) and the prequels (episodes one, two and three), a significant character (not necessarily a major character) dies in each for dramatic effect.   I saw the movie with three of my grandchildren.  Before we went into the movie, both my sixteen year old grandson (who has seen all of the movies) and I guessed who it would be.  We were right.  And it was very dramatic and the treacherous act will be a major factor in future films.

Second, the new Luke Skywalker is Rey, an orphan growing up on a desert planet with remarkable skills as a pilot and mechanic.  Yes, we have seen this before.  As played by Daisy Ridley, Rey is the new protagonist in the series.  She is remarkable and shows the promise of being able to stay the course for two more films.

Third, every film tries to deliver bigger special effects through the use of CGI and, let’s be honest, sometimes it is really hokey.  Abrams has wisely mixed both real-time effects and CGI to provide the feel of a real, gritty world.  In the prequels, it was too evident that this was all being done before a green screen and although the effects were amazing, we knew they were faked.  In this film, we believe this is real.

What Abrams has done is to return to the themes of the original trilogy and transfer the storyline to new, younger players.  He has rebooted the franchise after the prequels—episodes one, two, and three—missed the mark in satisfying the fan base.  Simply stated—they were a mess.  The performances were wooden and uninspiring, the CGI was over the top, and they mythology was muddled.  There was even an attempt to explain the Force, throwing in an Immaculate Conception for Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader).  The task of the prequels was not easy—to tell the rise and fall of Anakin.  It was a tragedy but one that was more painful than necessary.

At least in this film, no one tries to explain the Force—the power of the Jedi masters. The Force just is there, so we are free to interpret it as we wish.

The new characters are both interesting and engaging.  They really represent three aspects of young Luke Skywalker.  Rey is the talented outcast who is seeking her way in the universe.  Finn (John Boyega), a storm trooper who has had enough, is willing to take risks and worry about the consequences later.  Poe (Oscar Isaac) is the hotshot pilot with a yen to be Han Solo.

On the Dark Side, however, things are not promising.  If Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the best that the First Order can find to quarterback their team, they may need to go back to the draft for more talent.  He is more petulant than terrifying.  Darth Vader would be embarrassed.

So the bottom line is, go and enjoy the movie.  The Force Awakens will not make the world a better place, but you will enjoy the beginning of another hero’s journey and come out feeling better. 

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