Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Review

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Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleason, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max Von Sydow, Mark Hamill
Featuring the voices of: Lupita N’yongo, Andy Serkis, Gwendolyn Christie
Based on the characters created by: George Lucas
Written for the screen by: Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
IMDb Score: 8.3 (#127 of Top 250 Movies of All Time)
Metacritic Score: 81
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Film Editing, Best Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

Let’s just get to the preamble opinion that everyone wants to know before reading this review. For the few of you who haven’t seen this film yet.

Great = Empire Strikes Back
Good = Star Wars: A New Hope
Meh = Return of the Jedi, Attack of the Clones
Bad = Revenge of the Sith
Mother of God, How Terrible = The Phantom Menace

With that out the way, review!

The First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Driver), are looking for the map to Luke Skywalker (Hamill). So is the new Resistance, led by Leia Organa (Fisher). In the middle of all of this is a defected Stormtrooper (Boyega), a scrapper (Ridley) and a little BB-8 Droid (Rolling Ball Thingy).

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Put this one right between the Good and Meh in the list of Star Wars movies.

The Force Awakens is essentially a weaker A New Hope redux that gives the characters more depth and has some good action set pieces, but it’s still formulaic to the point of it being slightly better than fan service. Add that the set pieces, while still impressive looking, don’t compare to the first two movies in terms of memorability or excitement.

And, let’s be honest, we don’t come to Star Wars for dialogue and character development. We come to it for science fiction epic action and that’s when Star Wars is at its best.

Set pieces are done with much more mechanical panache and a more organic feel than the previous trilogy, a huge plus when it comes to show the action of the movie. This means that the movie feels like it is in a living, breathing world instead of the static backgrounds and green screens from the Prequel Trilogy, which became a nuisance as the trilogy went forward.

This decision helps make the special effects that more impactful. The effects are done in a way to supplement already existing content, with some exceptions of course. Little details, such as the impact of the blasters and the violent vibrations of Ren’s lightsaber, help create these touches that flesh out the world more than it has been since Empire.

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The story, as its written, is simply okay. It follows a very well worn story type that is synonymous with Star Wars (person who has force, doesn’t know it; unspeakable evil with parental issues; evil that wants to destroy planets) with some minor differences (main character is female, who is also the alpha on the team) that still makes the movie it’s own.

The problem that this movie has is the feeling of a really expensive fan flick. Sure, it’s great to have someone who enjoys and loves the property to create a new movie, but there seems to be a clear delineation of creativity.

The film feels like that some things had to be “check-boxed” to be shifted into a new story. Again, the familiar tropes and archetypes are there, but they feel like something that was forced in than massaged into a creative re-imagining.

This seems like a weird direction, since the one thing the Star Wars franchise could have really benefitted from was a new vision of their properties. The story just seems to go into the same direction as the previous movies, which isn’t bad, but just feels like a missed opportunity.

This spills over to the direction, which doesn’t feel like a J.J. Abrams film at all: it feels like a Star Wars film updated. J.J. Abrams is a great director who can create a vision and keep it entertaining (M:I 3 and Star Trek are great examples of that): why would they have him direct if he’s just going to follow a strict template?

Finally, the performances are decent, with the best going to Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Ridley and Boyega are good as the main characters of the film. They are likable and it will be interesting to see where they go next in the coming two films. Adam Driver deserves some mention as the villain of the film, though he comes off as a temper tantrum laden baby at most times.

But again, it’s Harrison Ford who steals the show. Seeing a grizzled Han Solo, who honestly is channeling more Indiana Jones that Han Solo, makes his scenes that more enjoyable and funny. His payoff in the end is that much more impactful as well. It’s fair to say that he’s the heart of the film and that the film is better to have him.

Look, a lot of the complains written before may seem like great things to you. You may not be asking to see something different, you want to see Star Wars. And The Force Awakens does that: it is undoubtedly a Star Wars ass Star Wars movie.

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But it isn’t doing anything fresh to make the property more interesting: things that the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films definitely did as the stories kept running along.

So, depending on what you are looking for, make sure to set your expectations accordingly if you haven’t watched the film yet. It’s not changing the property: hell, it isn’t even trying to. Which to me isn’t a problem, but a disappointment.

The Wiz Says #64

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