Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Non Spoiler-filled Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

We return to that galaxy far, far away with “a story about a boy, a girl and a universe.” Ads for the original 1977 Star Wars movie used that tagline, and as this latest Star Wars film cribs from, as well as pays homage to, its parent film, it is appropriate for this story as well.

The boy is named Finn, the girl is called Rey and the universe consists of several new planets,  creatures and many new interesting characters all setting up the story for a brand new Trilogy of Star Tales.

It pays homage to previous Star Wars movies with the little droid with information that everyone is looking for – here the adorable BB-8 instead of A New Hope’s trusty R2-D2 – and a planet destroyer called Starkiller Base substituting for the Death Star. A black robed, masked villain named Kylo Ren (a very good Adam Driver) following in the jack-booted steps of Darth Vader. We also get a new wise old ancient creature, along with familiar yet updated stardestroyers, stormtroopers, TIE fighters and X-Wings, fascist empires and resisting rebels, and a desert planet that many mistake for the earlier films’ Tatooine (it’s a new planet called Jaaku).

This is the first Star Wars movie without the involvement of creator George Lucas, and it shows. Director J.J. Abrams, who co-write the script with Empire/Jedi veteran Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, and his team have created a thoroughly modern Star Wars film. Yes, there are other nods to the original movies overseen by Lucas, like the dissolves and wipes, another rousing John Williams score, lots of practical sets and creature effects a la the Original Trilogy, rather than the CGI overload of the prequels and most recent fantasy blockbusters such as The Hobbit Trilogy.

The Force Awakens is more modern in having a strong, capable and likable female character in Rey, played by British up and comer Daisy Ridley. Abrams after all was the creator of the hit television series Felicity and Alias featuring strong female leads in, respectively, Keri Russell and Jennifer Garner. Other new characters, most prominently Finn the stormtrooper with a conscience - another Brit, John Boyega, who uses an American accent, in contrast to Ridley who keeps her British accent - and hotshot pilot (is there any other kind?) Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, are instantly likable.

I will admit my eyes misted up a bit when Harrison Ford’s Han Solo first appears alongside his constant companion Chewbacca the Wookiee (Peter Mayhew), and when Princess Leia’s theme was played over Carrie Fisher’s first appearance in the movie.

The movie’s story structure and pacing is more contemporary, which honestly was a little jarring at first. Lucas previously stated he had a very specific style in mind for his Star Wars movies: people spoke a certain way, major themes were repeated throughout the series, and he guided the movies he didn’t direct as producer and editor. The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars movie where Lucas had no involvement whatsoever, so naturally it will feel different, if not “off.” Abrams and crew used current film-making techniques and styles with camera cranes and helicopter shots which the original films never used.

Without giving anything away, I was thoroughly engaged by this movie. I embraced the new characters, loved seeing old friends again, and was swept up by this new story (the homages to the original film did not detract from enjoying this new tale). The visuals, such as seeing TIE fighters silhouetted against a blazing sun and the Millennium Falcon performing aerial acrobatics, are amazing. It is setting up a new story arc that should thrill us as did the older films.

Plus, we only have to wait two more years for Episode VIII (due out in May 2017), instead of three years like we had to endure between episodes of the Original Trilogy and the Prequels.

The Force is with us once again.