Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Force Awakens (2015) Review






Okay, so my childhood was just gutted with a lightsaber and thrown into a pit.
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Yeah, I ended up seeing this film a lot earlier than I had expected and didn't manage to get to the prequel trilogy beforehand. Fortunately, the film had little to do with the prequels and everything to do with the originals so it makes little difference.

The Force Awakens has already been called a modern version of A New Hope by multiple critics over the web and I don't think I can effectively argue with that, except by saying it's much, much better than A New Hope, which, as you can probably make out from this marathon, was the weakest of the original movies for me(although by no means not great).

I think this film is the modern version of the entire original trilogy. It's meant to get people back into that mood, to re-awaken(haha) those old memories, that old love that for many, was damped by the prequels and is going to lead into a whole new story for the next film. I could be entirely wrong of course, and the next movie could just be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back, but hope is never a bad thing.

For starters, we have the wonder of the first film. Literally. The events of the original movies have now become legend in the eyes of our modern heroes and villains and have shaped the galaxy as we see it now. We are rediscovering(and for some, discovering) this new, unpredictable world. Things are no longer set in stone like in Episodes I, II and III.

We also have the drama and intricacies of the second film. Instead of just having fun like in Episode IV, the relationship of the characters is immediately set up and explored. And it is dark. The many uncomfortable implications of the original trilogy become reality here. The stormtroopers have lives. The Rebels are fallible. Anyone can die. Anyone.

And we also have the humor and experience that the third film offered, even more so. It's all appropriate of course, and there are a few obligatory tongue-in-cheek moments, but what really surprised me was that the humor was naturally there... but restrained. It wasn't all over the place like movies tend to have now. It arose naturally from the situation, from the reactions of the characters, plus their interactions with each other. Everything happened because it was supposed to. Absolutely brilliant.

So in essence, all three original movies and what they did are in this one, superb flick. Genius.

If there is any flaw that I can think of that isn't a nitpick, but something that quite bothered me, is that it's not clear at all what is going on in the grand scheme of things. Like, how much power does the First Order hold when compared with the reinstated Republic and their Senate? We know that the Resistance do not have the support of the Republic and are an independent force against the First Order so are they like the Maquis from Star Trek? Is the galaxy split between the Republic and the First Order now?

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Our new protagonists are Jakku scavenger Rey, who is strong in the Force and seems destined to continue the Skywalker legacy in spirit(unless the vague backstory she gets is related to Luke, although I hope it isn't), her Stormtrooper boyfriend Finn, who strangely has a moral center and tries to escape the First Order by any means possible and Finn's savior, the Rebel pilot Poe Dameron who is woefully underused, but hopefully will have more of an impact in the films to come.

They are all wonderful actors who do an incredible job with the material given. I'd say Boyega(Finn) is a bit overexcited, but that's entirely understandable given the film he is in and the people he works with. I love them all and I'm so onboard with seeing them in future adventures.

BB-8 is a wonderful new droid character and seems to have a really youthful personality, which creates a lovely contrast with the more experienced R2-D2(whom BB-8 seems to treat as either an idol or a big brother). I adore him. Also, the fact that he's a physical prop... wow.

Our new villains are Supreme Leader Snoke, who we don't yet know much about, except that he seems to be some sort of alien, perhaps(for some reason, I immediately thought Yuuzhan Vong), although I could be mistaken. Snoke is using the powerful grandson of Darth Vader, called Kylo Ren to his advantage. Why he needs Ren is yet unknown, but will probably be explored in future films. I must admit, I'm not entirely impressed with Snoke. He's just not very interesting. In fact, his scenes reminded me a lot of Sauron's appereance in The Hobbit, except not as cool. I sincerely hope he is developed a lot in the next films.

Ren himself is actually Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia who destroyed Luke's Jedi temple and is determined to live up to his grandfather's legacy(doesn't he know Vader turned to the light side?). In a masterstroke reversal of the original films, Ren is terrified of falling back to the light side and even does something particularly... heartbreaking... to avoid it.

We also have Stormtrooper Captain Phasma, dressed in glorious chrome armor. We don't yet know much about her, but she's a very cool, stern character and I can't wait to see her again.

Another interesting new character is Max Kanata, who is older than even Yoda and though not a Jedi, has her own connection with the Force and recognises Rey's potential. She's also old friends with Han and Chewie. Whether or not she survived the Imperial attack on her bar/Jedi Academy(okay, it's not the Academy, but it looked a hell of a lot like the Academy on Yavin IV in the now non-canonical Jedi Knight games) is unknown, but she seems like the sort to get out of a scrape.

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Let's talk about the returning cast now.

Mark Hamill appears only at the very end as Luke Skywalker and has no lines, but his character is perhaps the most important in the film. Although Rey is the next generation hero, Luke still represents hope just like he did in the original films and finding him is the whole point of the movie.

Carrie Fisher has a nice, non-central, but still thematically important role as General Leia Organa, now much calmer and completely free of snark, unlike her... erm, husband(they never really confirmed it)? She immediately strikes a lovely rapport with Rey.

C-3PO was a bit odd. I'm not sure if it's the writing or the acting, but he seemed a bit senile here. "It is I, C-3PO!" His reunion with R2 was also far more sentimental than I ever thought 3PO to be(it's also one of the very few scenes they have together. In fact, he seems to spend more time with BB-8 than R2!)

I'm not entirely too sure why R2-D2 powered himself down for 30 years either. The implication was that he was shocked or missed Luke or something, but I really could've used an explanation here. Also, why didn't Luke take him along? I know he went into exile because of the Kylo Ren debacle, but surely R2 would've been acceptable company. After all they went through on Dagobah and everything?

It's kind of funny how Chewbacca doesn't seem to have aged a day. The official explanation is that Wookiees age very slowly and he's already a few hundred years old by the original trilogy's time. I wish they actually mentioned that. It's a very small nitpick, I know, but that's why I'm here, innit?

From the first minute he showed up again, Han Solo was brilliant. His presence in the film was the absolute highlight and his becoming a de factor father figure for the new heroes was beautiful. The interactions they have with him really had a huge part in making the film as awesome as it is. There's also a really funny running gag where he keeps taking Chewie's bowcaster. I'd also like to mention that he wears his badass Empire Strikes Back jacket in this film instead of the sillier vest, which is great. But alright, alright, no reason to avoid this any longer... Han Solo is dead.

Kylo Ren... his own son, took a lightsaber, opened it in Han Solo's guts and tossed him over the bridge. Whilst I knew it was coming, I'm not going to lie and say tears didn't sting my eyes. It is unreal to think that Han Solo is dead. That he fell into one of those Star Wars pits. And you know they're not gonna pull a Darth Maul with this one(they shouldn't have pulled a Darth Maul with Darth Maul, but that's another story).

Han Solo is dead. Dead and dusted. RIP. RIP my childhood also.

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The effects in this movie were perfect, exactly what was needed. No overcooked CG nonsense, it was pure model work combined with muppets combined with real explosions combined with actual people. Yes, there was some CG, but it was limited. It was used to fill in the gaps that the original movies had, exactly as it was supposed to.

The music by John Williams was, like in Return Of The Jedi, not exactly titanic, but everything it needed to be and then some. It was definitely new.

My favourite effects moments in this film were

A) The opening shot of the Star Destroyer crossing the planet. Innovative, mood-setting and immediately hooking.

B) Everything to do with the Millennium Falcon. This movie shows the Falcon love in spades and it deserves each scrap, because it is a beautiful, beautiful ship. I love every little bit of it. It's just so, so homey. So perfect. So interesting and cool and suave and with character. We even see the dejarik board in action again!

C) The lightsabers. They look quite different from the other movies, more alive, more flickerly, like real beams of crackling energy. This makes them a lot more dangerous and brings back that old feel of wanting to play with everything shaped like a lightsaber because they're new and fresh again. The only time I actually thought the new feel didn't work was ironically the lightsaber duel, as it became a bit distracting with two blades of crackling energy. But still, it works overall.

D) When Rey and Kylo are duelling and struggling on that cliff, you see Kylo's sword reflected in Rey's eyes, giving her eyes a catlike, Sith appereance.

E) The Starkiller. Whilst the station itself is a fairly huge rip-off of the Death Star(but then again, ROTJ got away with it too), the weapon is a lot more powerful and a lot creepier. It inspired awe in me in a way that the Death Star likely inspired awe in 1977.

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And that's exactly what I'm talking about. This film does everything the originals did... but makes it new. Makes it fresh.

This film is like reliving the originals all over again and then some. Is it my favourite Star Wars film? I don't know yet. But it sure as hell is a blast and has practically everything that a good SW film needs.

I cannot, cannot, cannot wait for Episode VIII to come out. In the meantime, I still have three more Star Wars films to watch to finish off the marathon. They sure as hell won't top this, though.







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