Thoughts on *Star Wars: The Force Awakens*

I wasn’t gonna do this.

I wasn’t gonna write/post a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens until after I’d watched it a second time, which probably wouldn’t be until January sometime. But, I saw it today (12/19), then read a few comments by others, and I couldn’t help myself. So, instead of working on my other blog like I should have, I wrote this. (Well, most of it.)

As usual, I present for your consideration some of my observations, reflections, and critiques, though a little more substantive than the simple bullets that I sometimes do. I won’t disclose any MAJOR revelations, but I do refer either explicitly or implicitly to a few things that happen, so here is your official…

SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT!

Star Wars VII movie posterWonderful!

Spectacular!

Awesomeness!

(And that’s just the opening trailers/previews!)

I really like the new characters. All of them. Finn and Rey are interesting and enjoyable as individuals but also work well together and have a nice chemistry — with or without any potential romance. I’m glad the producers decided to go with relative unknowns, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, to portray them, much as Lucas did for his young protagonists in the originals. I like the way the characters are developing, as they are from very different backgrounds yet both orphaned and both “outsiders”, never imagining themselves involved in something like the Resistance, yet recognizing the importance of the cause. Rey and Finn’s personal journeys are just beginning (sort of), and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

I have to say, though, that their respective lightsaber duels with Kylo Ren were both a bit far-fetched — i.e., that they lasted so long –, I thought, given that neither had any sort of training, whereas Ren clearly did. I suppose we are to attribute some of it to Ren’s having been injured in his side just minutes before. Also, Rey may have had some instinctive Force-driven moves, though that wasn’t exactly clear. Finn, on the other hand, just got lucky (until he didn’t).

Kylo Ren is not as big or menacing a villain as Darth Vader was. But, is he “not as scary as he <should> be”? I don’t think so. Ren may be nearly as powerful as Vader was when we saw him — i.e., very, but still a level or three below that of his master. But, Ren is more emotionally volatile and not yet a “Sith Lord”. In fact, I think he is a lot like Vader probably was in between episodes III and IV, and I suspect we will see him grow even more powerful as the trilogy progresses. It wasn’t clear to me the extent of Ren’s injuries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if (like Vader and Luke) he ends up getting some bionic/mechanical replacements or enhancements. As an aside, I will say that I kind of like the simple voice-effect used for when Ren wears his mask.

Poe Dameron is a very likable (semi-)rogue, and I truly hope we get to see and discover more about him in the rest of the trilogy and/or the anthology films. Same goes for the rest of his squadron. (Great to see Greg Grunberg in the mix!) Some parts of the fighter battles were reminiscent of those from the original trilogy — intentionally so, I’d wager — but different enough to not feel like rip-offs. More generally, there were indeed parallels and homages to the previous films, from character backgrounds to dialogue to plot-points. Too many? Maybe. But, I have to admit, I didn’t mind them. As my friend J.W. said in his own review:

“It is like Disney was giving us one big Wookie hug, reassuring viewers that yes, this is Star Wars, and it is back.”

Other fantastic new characters, like Captain Phasma, Maz Kanata, Lor San Tekka, and (of course) Supreme Leader Snoke, are all begging for more screen time. (Not so much General Hux, whom I found boring.) In case you don’t recognize Tekka’s name, that was the character at the beginning of the film played by the legendary Max von Sydow. It really is a shame that he didn’t have a longer-lasting role. (He would have made an awesome Jedi or Sith Master!) I am sure we will see more of them (except for Tekka, probably) in the upcoming films. Oh, I can’t forget the little droid, BB-8 — part R2-D2, part puppy dog. Love him/her/it!

BB-8 and ReySpeaking of R2, it was great to see “him” and C-3PO, but it is a shame they weren’t in more scenes. I suppose it isn’t “their story” anymore, so it makes sense that they not be around as much. Still, I hope they show up in episodes VIII and IX. Of course, it was GREAT seeing Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke, and even the Millennium Falcon! Their presence really helps with the continuity aspect, and they play important roles, not just brief, torch-handing appearances. (Well, Luke was just barely there, but he is sure to be central to the next film or two.) Just like old times… almost. (Or, should I say “old-timers”?) Also, I didn’t expect them, but it was nice to see Nien Nunb and Admiral Ackbar, too.

As far as the acting goes, I thought the performances ranged from good to terrific. To my memory, nothing and no one stands out as a dud. (Except maybe Stormtrooper FN-6713 — his marching was a tad off. :p )

I honestly don’t remember any of the soundtrack beyond the Main Theme. On the one hand, this could be a good thing, in that it complemented the action and drama so well that it didn’t distract. On the other hand, I love(d) the soundtrack from the original trilogy, and it really helped define the mood and tone of the films. Was my failure to notice it in this one because it was simply forgettable? Or, maybe it was too similar to the original stuff to make its own mark (in my mind, at least)? OR, was I just too engrossed in the film — trying to follow the plot, the dialogue, the jokes, notice all the cool stuff, appreciate the acting, make sense of all the action and other developments — that the soundtrack simply escaped notice? There is a LOT to absorb, after all.

Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to track some of it down online….

Unlike with the infamous prequels, I didn’t feel like every environment was green-screened. I’m sure a lot of it was, but there were “real” places (e.g., Iceland, Ireland, U.A.E.), too. Beyond that, I thought the Visual & Special F/X were on the money. (From what I understand, Abrams decided to go “old school” in some areas, even including stop-motion animation for the chess pieces on the Falcon.) A subsequent viewing may reveal some shots that could be improved, but for now, I’m gonna say they did a great job all around.

Same goes for the plot. Sure, there are at least a couple plot holes and plenty of opportunities for speculation and questioning of the writers’/director’s choices. But, there is no such thing as a perfectly executed film. I chose to focus on the overall entertainment value and nostalgia quotient. To that end, while I am no longer a kid watching Star Wars for the first (or second or fifth or umpteenth) time and getting carried away with the space fantasy epic, from the initial screen scroll I genuinely felt like I was back in the world(s) of that first trilogy that so enchanted and transported me in my youth. So, I have to conclude that…

The magic is back!

On balance, I found Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be a greatly entertaining film and a worthy & satisfying continuation of the Star Wars saga. Disney, Abrams, et al., ya done good! Now, keep it up!

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