Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Woah! A movie review post? It’s certainly been a long time. It’s been an even longer wait for the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. Ever since Disney bought the franchise from George Lucas, announced the making of a third trilogy, and hired J.J. Abrams to direct Episode VII, people have been anticipating this film. I have to admit I haven’t been much of a Star Wars fan since the prequels were released, and the original theatrical cuts of the old movies became nearly impossible to find. Life without Star Wars has actually been pretty good. A real shock, I know.

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I did not wait in line to see this film. I did not purchase reserved seating on opening day. The thing’s been out for weeks and I’ve just gotten around to seeing it recently. Most of that has been because of the busy Christmas season, and a desire to avoid crowded theatres. I have to admit, though, that a part of it was because my expectations were pretty low, or even non-existent. Look, we all knew ‘The Force Awakens’ would look great, sound incredible, and be entertaining; with great action scenes and some humourous, snappy dialogue. Those are all things J.J. Abrams does well, and Disney wouldn’t tolerate anything else. This film is expertly made, and best of all, it feels like Star Wars. It all looks right and sounds right. What should be real is real, and what needs to be a visual effect is done extremely well.

The cast is excellent. Performances are spot on. It’s so nice to say that about a Star Wars film again. That’s where having Abrams in the director’s chair really shows through the most. He seems to do a good job of pulling believable performances out of his cast. Finn is really enjoyable, and as the first Stormtrooper the audience has ever gotten to know, probably the most interesting character. He’s also easily the most original addition to the franchise. Rey, the modern-but-female equivalent of Luke, and Kylo Ren, this film’s version of Darth Vader, are well done but predictable. Originality is sorely lacking in ‘The Force Awakens’. Abrams has even felt the need to openly defend the film from critics. The entire first scene is an almost exact copy of the beginning of the original ‘Star Wars’. Secret information gets hidden in a droid. Stormtroopers, led by a masked figure in black, give chase to a desert planet. A young person befriends the droid and is led on a galactic adventure aboard the Millennium Falcon, discovers they are strong with the Force, and helps to destroy a giant weapon that obliterates entire planets. There’s even a trench run. It was all a bit too familiar for me, as if this was supposed to be an homage and not a continuation. Abrams says “those simple tenets are by far the least important aspects of this movie”, and that what really matters is “introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new”. If those tenets aren’t very important, why use them again? Why tell a “new” story that isn’t very new at all? “The Force Awakens” wants to tug on every single Star Wars heartstring, but instead hits them with a hammer.

This film hasn’t changed my opinion of J.J. Abrams as a director. His talent for exciting set pieces, visuals, and action is obvious. So is his shallow emotional language and penchant for vague, nonsensical plot twists. ‘The Force Awakens’, like Abrams’ Star Trek efforts, feels like a series of trailer shots and epic moments were conjured up first, then strung together by a loose and fickle plot afterwards. It’s also apparent that scenes were left out of this film that probably should not have been. We’re never given enough explanation about why Kylo Ren is so angry at his Father, so when he finally and predictably kills him, there’s no weight to the moment. Rey comes to use the Force more easily and naturally than any character in the history of the franchise, doubling down on the notion that people are born and bred to be Jedi. Years of training and discipline? Boring! And why must we have yet another secret Master of the Dark Side? Where was he during the original Trilogy? It would have been more interesting and dramatic if Kylo Ren came to the Dark Side all on his own, and was figuring it out as he went along. Anger, fear, hatred, and all that the Dark Side represents is tempting enough on it’s own to a young Man, and suggesting he was coaxed into it just cheapens his motivations. I find myself agreeing with almost everything in this piece: Everything That’s Wrong With Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

At the end of the day, ‘Star Wars’ is back. It’s just that this film didn’t really make me care. It had all of the sounds, all of the imagery, but just felt like history’s most well executed paint-by-numbers piece. I hope the next two episodes are different.

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