Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens film review: A lovely yet bittersweet departure

Star Wars: The Force Awakens film review: A lovely yet bittersweet departure
by rick olivares

When was the last time a film really had you clapping from the moment the music hits the screen? When was the last time you were on the edge of your seat? When was the last time you left a theater in equal parts ecstasy, wonder, disbelief, joy, and sadness; you know where you run the entire gamut of emotions?

Yes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is all that and more. And under the capable baton of director JJ Abrams who knows a thing or two about revitalizing and bringing beloved franchises to a new generation (see Star Trek), it’s a bold stroke for the mythology of creator George Lucas.

While some scenes are similar they are different. And they’re smashingly lovely if not bittersweet departures.

Seeing Jakku is like revisiting Tattooine complete with that sense of wonder. In Star Wars: A New Hope, that came in the form of the myriad landscapes and aliens (Tusken Raiders and the Jawas). For Episode VII, it’s the burned out hulks of fallen Star Destroyers. Rey (Daisy Ridley) reprises the wonder of Luke staring at the twin moons of Tattooine by spelunking inside the Star Destroyer and life as a scavenger. I wish there were a few extra minutes inside the fallen Star Destroyer as Rey looks around, scavenging. 

Space pirate Maz Kanata’s castle on the planet Takodana will remind one of the cantina scene in Tattooine after which there is a battle albeit a longer one with Stormtroopers.

I love the new cast of Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and BB8 that looks to be the next main cast with some members of the old cast still around. Ridley and Boyega are terrific. They both bring a certain electricity and energy to the film. Part of it is the humour that scriptwriters Lawrence Kasdan (one of the old hands still around), Abrams, and Michael Arndt infuse the dialogue. In Episodes IV-VI, a lot of that humour was sprayed around by the crusty and sardonic Han Solo. Boyega brings it. If Ridley is the soul of the new franchise, Boyega is its heart. He sure made all his scenes memorable.

BB8 is a winner! This is the droid that we are looking for. The heir to R2D2 that in many ways is more loveable and interesting. The droid’s spherical shape resembles a football that isn’t lost on fans of the world’s most popular sport. And that leads me to say that you should have seen The Force Awakens promo with the Spanish National Football Team that cements this. 

The Force Awakens also serves as a bridge from the old to the unchartered future. The old hands like Leia Organa (now a general), Han Solo and Chewbacca (who have returned to their freebooting days), and Luke Skywalker are still around. While they make memorable appearances, they essentially pass the torch to the new cast.

And speaking of passing the torch, in Episode I and IV, the first films of the first wave of trilogies, a key member of the cast bit the dust. They were Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi respectively. I thought it would be Luke to keep with the Jedi death tradition. Instead, it was Han Solo whose death at the hands of his own son, Kylo Ren, is stunning in its suddenness. We are blind-sided to this. We know that as far back as Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford campaigned for the death of everyone’s favorite space smuggler. Now Abrams and company obliged him “to move the story forward” as the director explained. 

Yet unlike the deaths of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, this one hits home because at the time of the theatrical releases of Episodes I and IV, we didn’t really know them as characters. Solo was a key character in the main trilogy. 

As much as it hurts, it does make sense. It gives the film a sense of urgency and danger. Not since the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke’s father does a film leave one to think, reflect, shake your head, and cuss some. It will go down as one of filmdom’s more poignant screen deaths. 

Another point to the death… nothing good ever comes during that generator complex/catwalk scene (see Qui-Gon Jinn versus Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi against Darth Vader).

I love how Kylo Ren reflects the tortured mind of Anakin Skywalker. I hope he isn’t easily dispatched by this trilogy’s end. And speaking of dispatches...

Film-wise, The Force Awakens seems to follow the template of A New Hope — a desert planet, a droid given important information that the Empire/First Order is after, a sprinkling of humor here and there, a major death, and the fall of the enemy base — and it does make for an enjoyable film. I’d say it would have been the best of the Star Wars lot considering the technological breakthroughs, superb cast and the wonderful dialogue had it not been in my opinion some glaring flaws. 

What are these flaws?

One, I disagree with how quick Rey learned to use the Force. It took a while for Anakin and Luke Skywalker to learn how to utilize it and they both had Obi Wan Kenobi to guide them. She got it kind of quick. One may argue that her will power might be stronger but remember that the two Skywalkers were thought to be the ones to bring balance to the Force.

Furthermore, sword fighting is something that is learned. Even if Rey uses a staff to fend for herself that is still way different from using a sword to fight. You send someone trained in the art with an untrained person and the latter will be skewered in seconds. 

I don’t buy Rey beating Kylo Ren… just yet. It would have been more plausible to see her lose first.

Second point is how Finn knew the weak point of Starkiller Base (love the name that is a homage to the original surname of Luke Skywalker). How does a grunt know that? Whether he was kidding or not that he was on garbage detail is beside the point. Do you think the military high command will tell its soldiers its secrets? That’s a need-to-know basis especially for something as sensitive as the weak point of the base.

And lastly, you know the saying, “Fool me one, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?” Well, after this film, the First Order, the newfangled Empire, are effing idiots. After the destruction of two Death Stars, never mind if a generation has passed, you’d think they would have learned their lessons well. For a military to be defeated that way a third time, well, no wonder they are losing the war. 

Let me expound. During World War II, the Bofors system on Allied warships was effective is shooting down enemy aircraft. When the threat of the Kamikaze arrived, the Bofors was rather ineffective and hence, the need for heavier anti-aircraft weaponry. Post-WWII, that eventually gave rise to what is termed as CIWS (Close-In Weapon System) to moder-day defense systems such as the American Phalanx, the Russian AK-630, and the Dutch Goalkeeper to name a very few.

Further to that point, in Naval warfare, you have various destroyers and frigates surrounding and protecting an aircraft carrier that is arguably the most important ship in a flotilla. 

So it stands to reason that Starkiler Base should have satellites to protect it from Republic fighters. 

I think this flaw in terms of military strategy is terrible and adds to unbelievability of the battle's end.

The Force Awakens is many things. First of all, it is a blockbuster film that ends 2015 with a massive bang. Second, it’s a bridge to the next generation of Star Wars films.

After watching The Force Awakens, is it the best Star Wars film thus far? I’d say it moves up to #2 with A New Hope still the best.

The Star Wars galaxy isn’t safe from the nefarious First Order. Yet for all my quibbles, as a franchise, it is in the very capable hands of Disney and director JJ Abrams. I can’t wait to see how Episode VIII turns out.


Two of the three top-grossing films of 2015 are from Disney — Avengers: Age of Ultron and Inside Out. 

Barely, a week into its initial screening, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is at eighth and climbing. It could very well catch up to the Avengers and Inside Out. 

Let’s see though it is catches Jurassic World that topped the Avengers by under $200 million. 

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