Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reviewing Star Wars (Spoilers!!!)

Well on its way to breaking up the James Cameron one-two punch at the top of the all time box office, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on Star Wars- Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Spoilers ahead obviously.

It's difficult for me to review Star Wars like a normal film. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of better films than Attack of the Clones, but I don't rewatch the best parts of those movies on youtube when I'm bored. I love The Lord of the Rings films, am an enormous supporter of Nolan's Dark Knight, and have enjoyed a number of recent Marvel releases. The world of Star Wars has always captured me like no other. I spent hours as a (not even that little) kid clashing my two plastic lightsabers against each other, imagining I was a jedi knight battling even Sith lords. I must have watched The Force Awakens trailer 20 times.

So what did I think?

I was definitely pleased, but not totally enthralled. I initially liked the parallels to Episode IV, but by the end it seemed like a remake. There is no reason that three films from a fictional universe as creative as Star Wars should all have the same climactic space battle. The Death Star was a great idea in 1977, but this serious has pounded it into the ground. George Lucas deserves credit for striking out a different path for the prequels, if nothing else.

The Force Awakens does fix the three biggest problems with the prequels; (1) the nails on a chalkboard dialogue, (2) the horrific acting (looking at you Hayden Christensen), and (3) Jar-Jar Binks. Fortunately, none of these things are to be found in The Force Awakens.

There are lots of small details I loved, some old and some new.  Han and Chewie are back and amazing; Chewie is a little more well-rounded than before and even more hilarious. I'm so happy Han took center stage for an hour; the "That's not how the force works" line was probably my favorite of the movie. C-3PO's introduction is also great.

On the new side, I loved the scenes with Rey laboring, the silhouette of the sun in background. I though the way Kylo Ren expressed his anger was a nice touch; the scene where the stormtroopers turn around and walk in the other direction was the type of clever irreverence missing in Episodes I-III. Supreme Leader Snoke looks like a badass (does Andy Serkis ever disappoint?).

There were several things that bothered me. I thought the movie takes a little too long to get going, I thought the action sequence where the First Order attack on D'Qar was poorly edited and had strangely bad art direction. I though the whole Nazi fascist stuff was kind of silly. And most surprisingly, I thought John Williams' score was lackluster. The old stuff is great, but none of the new themes were memorable.

I also have some more fanboy-ish complaints. First, why is Luke hiding. I hope its not because he is depressed. I'm tired of jedi just going into exile when disaster strikes. I understand the necessity of tying up lose ends, but why did Obi-Wan and Yoda, two of the greatest jedi of all time, need to go into hiding. If Luke is just reacting to some tragedy, then I will be disappointed. I hope there is some purpose to him being on the island in the middle of nowhere. But I'm not optimistic on this front.

Second, I didn't love the lightsaber duel (well, comparatively). It didn't have the choreography of the Darth Maul fight, the excitement of Yoda in dueling form, the speed or the galaxy on your shoulders importance of Yoda-Palpatine or Anakin-Obi-Wan, or the utter brilliance that is Luke-Vader. I also don't think Rey should have been able to get the better of Kylo Ren in their first fight. For six movies, we've been told about all the training and dedication that goes into being a jedi. If you can take on someone as powerful as Ren the first time you pick up lightsaber, that kind of defeats the purpose to me.

Which brings me to the biggest post-viewing question: who is Rey? Because her natural talents seem so out of the world, I want her to be progeny of both Luke and Obi-Wan. She should be a Skywalker on one side and a Kenobi on the other. I could also go for a Harry Potter-esque tale of her miraculously surviving jedi purge round II as an infant, because her force abilities are so out of this galaxy. Alas, wait we must.

Overall, The Force Awakens is a solid film. We may need to wait for Episodes VIII and IX to reach a final verdicts on its merits, however.

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