Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The Spoilers are strong with this post.

Helmed by J.J. Abrams and featuring all the expected classics like returning characters and that distinct nostalgic Star Wars feel, while simultaneously brimming with the best our modern day can offer in the way of special effects, thrilling excitement, and epic geekiness, ten years later, the Force has awoken!

Awakened? Awoken. Whatever -- it's awake, and it's awesome.

The plot is very Episode IV: a droid, escaping while it's master is captured, holds important information that both the good (the Resistance) and the bad (the First Order) sides want, and winds up on a desert planet (Jakku this time) where it befriends a native, whose life is about to change forever.

But in this case, two people have their lives changed forever. One is the native, a girl who fends for herself while she waits for her family to come for her, Rey (). The other is a stormtrooper, who's out on his first mission when he decides to defect from the First Order. Finn () is just FN-2187 until he helps the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron () escape the Order, and the good natured rebel gives him a new name -- just before they crash land and are separated. Finn then teams up with Rey and BB-8, and a certain circular ship, to finish the presumed-dead Poe's mission and bring the secret information back to the Resistance. But they meet with more trouble along the way, in the form of an aging Han Solo () and lovable, big-walking-carpet, who want the Falcon back, and an intimidating Sith, Kylo Ren () who wants the information stored in BB-8 -- the last piece of a map that leads to the long-missing last Jedi, Luke Skywalker ().

Tip for the baddies: never overlook the droid. It's probably very important.

Along with Han and Luke, Leia () is also back, and the leader of the Resistance. These returning characters together are the biggest reserve I ever had about this movie. I figured their inclusion would be necessary, and it certainly was, and definitely worth it, but as I fell in love with the new characters, I cared less and less to reminisce with the old ones. Han in particular is very prominent in the plot as his story line is wrapped up. And I like what they did with it; I just didn't like that it meant I'd have to wait for Episode VIII to get to know the new characters more.

The title of hero belongs to our personable stormtrooper, Finn. What I love most about Finn is that since he was brainwashed and sheltered by the Order since childhood, he's very naive, yet in spite of the brainwashing, is a first class gentleman, is super friendly, and has a great sense of humor. And honest -- I adore how honest he is. He always goes to Rey's aid, and even though every time she takes care of the problem before he can help, he still always tries again the next time. It doesn't make him clueless; it makes him a good guy, and great character. In the whole movie he has one, short-lived delusion of selfishness. His naivete along with his high energy makes him hilarious -- certainly the character with the best laugh-lines -- and engaging, but it doesn't take away from the depth of his serious moments. He is the film's tone personified, and he is what ties the movie together, and John Boyega does an outstanding job with it all.

Who knew? A faceless stormtrooper becomes a Star Wars hero!

Rey, however, is the film's main character -- along with being the heroine. It's a close call, but because she is the one destined to be a Jedi (contrary to what the trailers and posters had us believe -- nice one, J.J.), it skews in her favor that way. Really these two together are what makes it all work; almost like they are one character together. What one may be missing the other naturally fills, and they complement each other winningly. Daisy Ridley's Rey is a perfect "strong female" character because she doesn't make a show of the fact that she can take care of herself. In fact, she doesn't make a show of anything she does, and never tells anyone when she just saved their life, or how she escaped, or that she just beat a Sith Lord -- or whatever the case may be. On top of that, she's drop-dead gorgeous, but has a welcoming, down-to-earth quality to her that makes her very relatable. Ridley is a true talent and owns her character with quiet grace and British charm.

"Oh, and do drop your gun!" This girl knows how to Jedi.

I knew from the moment Oscar Isaac was cast that he'd be my favorite character, and I knew from the moment he was revealed to be a pilot that he'd be stuck in a cockpit most of the film. I was right on both counts. Poe Dameron owns the movie's opening, but once he appears later he's more in the background in favor of those previously mentioned, and, yes, spends a considerable amount of time flying an X-wing. Awesomely, of course. Oscar Isaac makes the most of every second though, leaving a great impression, and continuing to amaze me with his spot-on character acting. Every one of his characters is so unique; it's like playing that one character is his specialty. His Poe is an effortlessly cool; a loyal rogue, smart-mouthed, and laughs in the face of danger, but is friendly and easy-going with those he trusts. If he doesn't get even more time in Episode VIII, someone will have made a very wrong decision.

It Star Wars! You gotta have a good trio. Obviously that's what he's meant for, but he got a little left out...

The biggest surprise turned out to be Kylo Ren. This is rather crazy, because he was already everyone's favorite character and the designated coolest character even before anyone had seen the film. His costume, his mask, his voice, and don't forget that controversial lightsaber -- all made him stand out from the very beginning. But the film doesn't rely on that only; they give him tons to chew on, and more built-in depth than the previous three heroes put together simply by making him Han's son. Adam Driver hits a beautifully complicated conflict of thrillingly cool evilness masking an unstable storm of fear and anger. A true Sith. I love that he idolizes Darth Vader, not knowing that he turned to the Light side before dying. (Side note: why didn't Luke tell him?) I loved his temper tantrums, and I like that his neat lightsaber is useful for stabbing people during a clash -- that's just the kind of evil he is.

is again playing a CGI character, the Supreme Leader of the First Order, Snoke. Who, we were all glad to discover, is not actually a giant. But it still very intimidating and promising. is third baddie, Hux, a First Order General. His character was fun, and played off with Kylo in some very interesting and entertaining ways. 's silver stormtrooper, Captain Phasma got next to nothing to do besides look and talk cool. I was sad the 's character didn't look like him, and neither did 's, but they both still gave good stuff. Recognizable cameos and bit-parts were everywhere, and wins for being most unexpected.

Star Wars villains really know how to dress!

There were some throwbacks to the original trilogy, but it was done in good taste and with reserve. There wasn't nearly as much as there could have been, nor, in fact, as much as I expected there to be. Believe it or not, this movie seeks to separate itself from the Star Wars we already know, just with maintaining the general principles of the tone. Almost the first thing we knew about The Force Awakens was that J.J. was bringing back the practical effects. In fact, his goal was to bring back that feeling of awe and wonder he had watching the original trilogy as a kid. With that goal in mind, he put effort into creating the film practically, and with detail. And every bit of it worked together into a beautiful success. The wonder and the exhilarating thrill of watching Star Wars -- something I was only barely able to remember when recently re-watching them -- has been restored.

I feel like this story is just now finally beginning to live up to its full potential, but it's not fully there yet. In separating itself from episode six, and breaking off into its own new direction, a lot of time was spent cutting ties, making clean ends, and moving on. They did a great job with it -- it couldn't have been done better, but taking that time for the old meant giving up time from the new, and sometimes the unexplored territory seemed to sit there just out of reach, tempting. When it was being explored it was brilliant. I can hardly wait to see more new creatures and planets, and new additions and developments on the powers of the Force and the way the Jedi and the Sith use them. Everything promises to be fully thought-through and fleshed-out and awesome.

Think about it -- hilt-guards are for protection; these are for attack -- which sounds more Sith?

The script is probably the only thing that could use more improvement. Things like plot or the individual lines that characters say is one of the least important things about Star Wars, and this one was still light years ahead of the campiness of previous films, but there's still room to grow. I don't care that this movie pretty much copies episode four's whole plot outline because it was awesome and worth redoing, and I didn't mind that there were only a handful of fantastic lines, and just a lot of filler besides; but neither do I think that a smart script and a complex and unique plot would at all detract from the fun that was done to such perfection first try. The next director is Rian Johnson, and I hope he brings his signature full armory of smarts and wit and adds it to the full blast of sci-fi geeky delight.

This movie is not perfect. Honestly it couldn't have been even if a perfect movie is a possibility. It had too much baggage and too much responsibility. But it was, I believe, the best it possibly could have been, which, considering the huge amount of hype and the pressure from such a legacy, really is fantastically high praise. Also, I may think it's just shy of a perfect movie, but as far as the movie-loving little kid inside me who guides my movie-enjoyment is concerned, it was perfect, and the best movie ever. Whenever I wasn't so involved and drawn into the world that I wasn't even aware that I was actually sitting in a theater, it was only for brief moments, which I used to revel in my giddy excitement that I was once again watching a Star Wars movie for the very first time.


Overwhelmed, I was. Handle it, I could not.

Filled with absolutely incredible characters portrayed by an amazing cast, and a deep respect for its roots, balanced with an explosive sense of gleefully gripping entertainment, The Force Awakens gets it exactly right. It feels warm and familiar while surprising you with plot twists that make perfect sense, and blowing you away with breathtaking visuals that could only exist with the combination of the world of a long time ago and the movie magic of today. By the fans and for the fans, the iconic saga that is Star Wars reawakens, ushering in a whole new era of thrilling tales of adventure from a galaxy far, far away...

16 comments:

  1. Loved your review, Sarah! Poe was my favourite, too, and Finn. I didn't expect a good movie (since follow-up movies are rarely as good as the originals) but it was a nice surprise. Kylo Ren's a bit like an angsty teenager though. :')

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    1. Thanks, Jo! Yeah, well, after the prequel trilogy there really wasn't anywhere to go but up, but they did pull it off spectacularly! I liked that about Kylo just because it's contrary to his appearance and our expectations, but I can understand not liking it so much. Hopefully the character will have more balance it the next film.

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  2. Yup! I agree. Not perfect, but not disappointing either. I liked Poe and Rey best, and then Finn. Looking forward to seeing it again!

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    1. I'm glad you thought the same! Poe had better have a bigger part in the next one! And why in the world did he and Rey never interact?? Should I expect a review from you soon?

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    2. Well, Poe and Rey interacting wouldn't really have fit anywhere in this story, I don't think.

      Yup, I plan to review it after I see it a second time.

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    3. Yeah.... I know... but they probably did meet and they just didn't show it, you know? So now we'll never see them meet, and for some reason that bugs me. :P

      Oh! I know why. Cause Finn, Rey, and Poe are supposed to be the new Star Wars trio type thing, and Finn had really great, memorable meetings with the other two, so naturally Rey and Poe should too, but, they didn't. And it feels wrong to me. But you're right, there really wasn't anywhere to put it. Sigh.

      Good, I'll look forward to that!

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    4. Okay, so I actually watched with this in mind yesterday when I saw it a second time, and I don't think they really would have had a chance to meet. They could have briefly encountered each other when Finn was being taken out of the Falcon all wounded -- Poe ran up then and he and Rey kind of just glanced at each other. But IIRC that was about the only time they were for sure in the same place at the same time. So maybe in the next one we'll have some nice getting-to-know-you stuff while they both visit Finn or something.

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    5. That does make sense, and I SO hope you're right! I just assumed that they would have met in the time between when they get back to the base and when Rey leaves in search of Luke, but I was imagining that space of time to be longer than it probably meant to be. It was probably only just enough time for Rey to get cleaned up and leave. Yay, so I get to hold out hope for this to happen in ep 8! :D

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  3. I loved the movie that much as I've seen it twice in the theatres. They probably should make the eighth instalment and have all the loose ends tied up as to bring back Kylo Ren and have him as the chief antagonist and reveal more of Rey's background.

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    1. I saw it twice too, and I'm still not satisfied! I agree, and I'm sure Kylo will be back in ep 8, and Rey has such a mysterious background that they'd be crazy to not explore it. Gotta leave some room for ep 9 though!

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  4. Excellent review! Clearly you liked it more than I did, I'm sure as the hype dies down I'll rewatch it and appreciate it more!

    I'm also glad, like you said, Supreme Leader Snoke is not giant lol. When I first saw it I was concerned about that, but it was only a projection thankfully!

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    1. Thank you! I understand that -- sometimes the bigger the hype for a movie is, the more I feel inclined to be critical of it.

      That was such a relief! I mean, technically he still could be giant, but probably not. What if he were unusually small? That'd be interesting.

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  5. Wow, Star Wars is back! And it’s awesome! :D Firstly, superb review. The Force Awakens is about as good as it could have been, despite a few very minor things here and there.

    One thing about the movie in general is that from a filmmaking stand point of direction, cinematography, acting, special effects, ect. The movie might as well be flawless (except for a handful of CGI moments). It sounds crazy, but I almost feel like the movie wasn’t created, it just happened “In a Galaxy Far Far Away.” I think I explain what I’m trying to say a little better in my “Direction” part of my review, but I’ve never been THIS engrossed in a film ever, so it was an experience to be sure. I was expecting it to do something to disappoint me. I was just waiting for that “Oh well, they screwed that up” but they didn’t. Well, I would normally apologize for ranting, but you seem to enjoy longer comments! :D

    Random thing, I was getting anxious and a bit angry because there were 17 minutes of trailers, haha. After each one, I was thinking, “Okay, here it comes” and then, “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me!” And then the text crawl began and then my mind focused 100% on the film. I still cannot believe Star Wars is back!

    Excellent review Sarah! It’s so much fun to be able to talk about a new Star Wars movie with fans! And of course, the fact that it was a legitimately spectacular film doesn’t hurt either. Lol :D

    -James

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    1. Thank you, James! I'm glad we agree!

      I know what you mean and I agree -- it's like everything about the way the film was put together is totally convincing that it's Star Wars, and it just draws you in, and while your watching it you believe it's all real. I had next to no moments of realization that it wasn't real, and typically I'd have a lot. I know! It was almost too good to be true. Haha, yeah, don't bother, I do love long comments! :D

      Hahaha! Yeah, I wasn't annoyed at how long they were going, but I was getting impatient too. A lot of the time the trailers will actually take away some of my excitement to see the movie I'm about to see, and I'll start thinking "I'd rather be seeing that right now." But not this time. :D

      Thanks so much! Yeah, before this one, I didn't want to talk about it or speculate for fear of jinxing it or getting my hopes up too high, but now our confidence has been restored, and everyone love it and it's so much fun!

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