Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Review

The Jedi have not return as expected. Luke Skywalker has gone into hiding after a failed attempt at creating an academy for those with the force. His current whereabouts are locked away within a map stored on a memory chip, which is currently in the possession of cute ball droid BB-8, the robotic partner to Rebel star pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac). The First Order, a military dictatorship risen from the ashes of the Empire, are seeking to obtain the chip by any means necessary. Stuck on a desert planet dubbed Jakku, the droid eventually meets up with two castaways: a resident scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a former Stormtrooper named FN-2187 or Finn for short (John Boyega). Constantly on the run from drive-by TIE fighters and mercenary threats, the new trio of heroes meet with some certain mythical legends on the way to the headquarters of the Republic.

Even with that short summarization of the plot, you can figure out that STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is pretty much a copy of the original STAR WARS movie, for better or worst. It's a very entertaining blockbuster that had me smile ear to ear, both for nostalgia and sheer amusement, but it does feel like J.J. Abrams and his comrades stuck so close to what made the STAR WARS flicks so good, as opposed to George Lucas' ill-thought-out prequels, in order to make it all work that they resorted to practical plagiarism. In its opening scene post-standard yellow exposition credits, you would think they just blow the load with all the parallels to the original film: a robot holding a Macguffin, a raid by the villains, the vicious intro to a black-clad masked nemesis, a slaughtering in the desert, a protagonist being captured for questioning, and a respected elderly actor (Max von Sydow) playing a former Jedi who sacrifices his life for the sake of others. After all that hubbub, you would think the makers would then just thankfully move to a new template of stories but no, further allusions continue to pop up and cause the viewer to be a little disinterested in the product, especially if they see it by themselves or with a cold crowd.

Though I rag THE FORCE AWAKENS for its rampant lip service to the original's ideas, its main story does fundamentally work, showing us that the cyclical nature of good and evil continues to plague this corner of a galaxy. The new crop of characters get to experience the same plight as past warriors, seeing their family and friends pull a heel turn or leave them as orphans of war. And from all of this repurposing, Abrams, Michael Arndt, and resident franchise screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan imbue the plot with some clever modern twists that refreshingly opens the world more up. Lucas' ancient theming and other two-step-back ideals in the preceding six films are thankfully ripped to shreds in order to craft moments that will shake up the blockbuster mold today. Additionally, there's genuine humor in the art, making the serial adventure more rollicking and the characters more likable and humanized.

John Boyega does a real bang-up job as the mighty but scared Finn, sharing the responsibilities of being the next Luke with Rey yet also coming into his own as a charismatic lead. Boyega being very charming is not hard to spot since he can generate it with ease ever since his debut in ATTACK THE BLOCK. What is surprising, however, is the virtually unknown Daisy Ridley, who break throughs with her role as Rey and ends up as the true star of the picture. She aces the conveying of a wide range of emotions Rey goes through at every turn, makes you smile whenever techno babble comes into the conversation, and handles herself as a heroine that has all the tools in fighting and mental knowledge but slips up occasionally or is tormented by what the stars have to offer her. Adam Driver, who plays the new Sith hotness Kylo Ren that I chose not to mention, does well with his low timber voice pattern and as a Dark Side resident who wrestles with his present state and the expectations of his past. Oscar Issac sadly doesn't have the same luxury of the his other fresh cast members as Poe's roguish and spritely demeanor is undercut by his low number of attention in the final cut.

Abrams did an amazing job in handling this behemoth for the future of the STAR WARS line and for new owner Disney. He diminished the plethora of CGI and lens flare nonsense in his past films for physical sets and clean beautiful camerawork. He worked with capable screenwriters to make sense of the ever-expanding world while planting some fan service for those who're too much in the know. And he created a large film that pops with excitement, edited magnificently, and makes the sci-fi epic feel like a real adventure instead of a bogged down tome. A wonderful start to a new era of STAR WAR films, with plenty of room for improvement and crisp insight.


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