Thursday, December 24, 2015
Photo: Official Star Wars poster from the movie's official Wikipedia page
Warning: Here there be spoilers!!!
The Force has indeed been nudged awake, as J.J. Abrams does (the best of) George Lucas proud, while putting his own exciting, realistic-action stamp on the franchise. Abrams does a nice job here of looking back as he looks ahead; he clearly went out of his way to show respect to Lucas, and to Episodes IV-VI. He does this so often that he comes perilously close to simply remaking A New Hope; more than a few critics have said that The Force Awakens and A New Hope are basically the same film.
Some obvious nods / homages / outright steals:
--movie-important information is hidden in a small, round droid, which gets away in the middle of an attack
--the chess game, flashed on and off just to make fans of Episode IV happy (which works)
--a more powerful, meaner Death Star-like weapon that can destroy planets easily, here called Starkiller Base
--a glaring weakness in said weapon that the Rebels can explode from within
--the de-activation of this weapon's defenses from another location (okay, this is actually Episode VI)
--the Millenium Falcon and its victory in 12 (not 14) parsecs
--another Cantina scene
--another R2-D2-like droid, this time a rolling ball, with a bit of WALL-E in him, named BB-8.
--the boss of a bad guy wearing a black mask is clearly just using him and his Force as puppets for his own power.
--there's a lot of Freudian / mythological daddy issues here
--before the newest Death Star-like weapon can destroy more planets, there's a countdown that the rebel fighters must beat to destroy said weapon
--the main character of this one is a scavenger / orphan who doesn't know she has The Force. Luke was, well, exactly the same.
--said same character gets attached to the Rebellion via the escaped droid, which has the plans that will...you get the idea.
Need I say more? This is almost the same movie.
But also it is not. The bad guy here literally is a Darth Vader wannabe--so much that he admits it! But he is no Darth Vader, and he's no Emperor. He's not even Hayden Christiansen at his best as Vader, in Episode III, when he's fighting with Obi-Won Kenobi or when he's striking down the future Jedis. He's no Ben Kenobi, either, despite his birth name. Kylo Ren does have a helluva sinister voice, though--from a mask that he doesn't need to wear, and does so only as an homage to Darth Vader.
The better villain is one we rarely see: Kylo Ren's master, Supreme Leader Snoke. We'll see more of him. (And of Han Solo, I'll warrant. In fact, a guess: Before Kylo Ren escapes the exploding planet, he finds his father and takes him with him.)
I say that this movie is essentially Star Wars 1977 in a good way. As one reviewer pointed out: Isn't that what we all wanted anyway? And I add: Isn't that why most of us disliked Episodes I-III so much, because it was all special effects and no magic? That it was George Lucas losing The Force? Abrams simply gives us what he knew we wanted. Though it's true that there are no huge surprises here, there is a very comfortable sit-back-and-enjoy feeling, while at the same time seeing something that is at least a little new, a little fresh.
Daisey Ridley is very, very good, as is Harrison Ford, who wears Solo's jacket much like he did Indiana Jones' coat--like he's comfortable in it, like he's never stopped wearing it.
Ford has infamously said many times that he has no emotional attachment to Han Solo. I saw him tell Jimmy Fallon that he did it only because they paid him a lot of money. (Which they did: $25 million, plus .05% of the total revenue. By my math, when this makes $1 billion [which it will do easily], that gives Ford...let's see: 10% of $1 billion is $100 million, so 1% would be $10 million, so half of that is $5 million. Right? Feel free to correct my math if I'm wrong.) Anyway, take my word for it, Harrison Ford had fun in this role. He looked like he was having more fun filming this than he did any of his previous Star Wars movies.
Carrie Fisher is very serious here, as her character should have been in all of the previous movies. I'm still not sure how I feel about Lucas dressing her in that bikini in Return of the Jedi. Jabba would've made her wear that, I guess, but she's a princess there, right? I know that's the purpose of him degrading her, but...Whatever. P.S.--She's extremely negative in her commentaries for her previous Star Wars movies, released together with newer special effects in the late 1990s. She throws Billy Dee Williams under the bus a few times for forgetting his (few) lines and for needing constant re-takes.
John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver were serviceable here, but didn't wow me like Daisy Ridley did. They'll have their chances in the next two movies.
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca reprised their roles well. Chewbacca especially got most of the laughs.
Despite the new faces, this was definitely Ford's movie, and the moviemakers were wise to put it in his trustworthy hands. Aside from that, this was really Daisy Ridley's movie, and she showed me a lot. She's not just another pretty face. When she's ready to kick ass with the lightsaber, her face shows it, and it's correctly intense and serious. She gets an unreal number of (very) close-ups in this movie, which for any actor could spell doom. But she carried it all off, and only good actors can do that. She's got the Luke Skywalker role, and Boyega is the Han Solo. (My guess, BTW, is that her character is Luke's daughter with someone, probably British.)
So go and see this if you're one of the 6 or 7 who want to see it but haven't yet. I'll see it again. IMO, it's the 3rd-best Star Wars movie, behind only The Empire Strikes Back and the original. (Return of the Jedi is 4th, mostly for its silliness. It's at its best with the super-serious chorus-filled lightsaber fight at the end.)
P.S.--It was nice to see Max Von Sydow here. Gwendolyn Christie, from Game of Thrones, is the Stormtrooper leader, unmasked throughout the film. Speaking of stormtroopers, Daniel Craig, Mr. James Bond himself, is any one of the two million stormtroopers, in an uncredited cameo role.