STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS [Lightsaber Duel Review]: A Rey of ‘Hope’.
Lance: Only a few things in pop-culture are as generational as Star Wars. Your father may have taken you, and you will be taking your child (or your editor, in my case). My father got me into the original trilogy and then I took my younger siblings with the prequels and now we have a Star Wars for a new generation, and if you read the initial press a more PC SW’s. So, one could say that Star Wars has brought families together and that is exactly what this newest chapter in the Skywalker lineage will do for this opening weekend or for the next couple weeks as it dominates the box office. This film also does something that I have never felt before: It gives you that feeling of seeing a loved one that you thought was gone forever, like a family reunion with missing relatives you forgot gave you that smile or brought that tear to your eye.
Travis: Agreed, Lance, as not even the Force at its most powerful could hold back the moisture running down my nerd face.
J.J. Abrams gives us, true and new fans of Star Wars both seasoned and green, a righteous beginning to something special. Truly. I can’t remember the last movie that kept this geek journalist so glued to his seat, hands clenched together throughout every second of every minute of every scene without a flinch. Even when I tried to Jedi Mind Trick myself into seeing past all of The Force Awakens’ astronomical hype and wallet-emptying merchandise (I mean.. BB-8 oranges!), it’s quite satisfying to see a perfect encapsulation of classic Star Wars signatures and JJ’s astonishing, modern technique (just wait until you experience an Alliance X-Wing from a 3D cockpit cam!).
Lance: I couldn’t agree more. JJ accomplished something that prequel-Lucas failed to do: make Star Wars “Star Wars”–but still up the ante. The prequels may have bogged themselves down with over-use of CGI or tricky camera angles, but Abrams goes for a much more fluid and natural look. Gone are the copious CG aliens or computer generated background action. JJ, rather, relies heavily on what originally made SW great: real costumes, natural effects, and puppets, not to mention SW trademark camera techniques that left you with that Lucas glow. The opening credits, space battles, or even fade-outs that reminiscent back to A New Hope are still here.
Travis: Enough about camera angles, nerd… let’s get into the bantha meat and Tatooine potatoes. While the first episode of the new trilogy weighs heavily on the “good” trilogy — with some plot elements that may ring as too familiar or even too convenient — there was really no other way for the New Regime to go about making this movie. Disney’s newest kingdom had the challenge of offering A New Hope to those not as familiar with the movie of the same name, while not entering into complete homage territory (i.e. Terminator Genisys). But… it wouldn’t be Star Wars without a few familiar tropes (a slew of deus-ex machinas near the conclusion of every ground battle and firefight) and recognizable lines (Han has a pair). Yet, thankfully, the new characters don’t entirely channel those of the past.
Lance: But what a way to showcase that past, Monsignor! When it was announced that the original cast would be coming back and then after all the issues Harrison Ford had with a Millennium Cockpit doors falling on him to plane crashes, I was a bit apprehensive that even JJ himself could still capture what originally made the 80’s heroes great. I mean, not many things could be left out to mother nature, for 30-years, and still keep its Corellian swagger or Wookie sensibility. But oh do they. From Han’s scoundrel attitude, the dialogue and tripes that are traded back and forth between Chewie and Han or even that moment with Leia in Han’s arms (all things in the trailers), magic happens. I’m leaving out spoiler heavy occurrences, but rest assured the original cast is paid their respect. It truly gives you that feeling, “we are home again.”
Travis: Who is the new Luke? The new Han? The new Lando? Hell, the new Boba? The merchandising sure led us to see it that way, but the movie both meshes and branches away from the reliable hallmarks of the characters we love. JJ and legendary Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (with the exception of one anagogic scene that certainly breaths of a lovely old green pal) keep the script tight. Characters only say things to push the scenes along, and sure do they move fast. The pacing at 2-hours-and-18-minutes is certainly admirable, considering the hundreds of dollars we spent collecting all of the new toys that join the new looks of the old ones. Some get to do more than others.
Lance: Was it that long? I couldn’t tell. I was equally glued to my seat and forgetting to breathe. There was definitely not a slow point in the whole story. Even the part that Moody is alluding to does what it was meant to accomplish. Though a different look would of been helpful, I mean why do all the wise sage moments have to be handed down by vegetation colored individuals? Also, with Empire Strikes Back being one of my most cherished of the last six films, it’s little wonder that they share a writer, Kasdan. One thing I can gripe about though is the lack of original aliens. Sure there has to be plenty of new and amazing alien characters to collect but not one bantha or twi’lek; I mean I’m not asking for an Ewok here! But after Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace you’d think least one of those aliens would find their way to Jakku!
Travis: Whatever, Traveling Nerd, you barely collect! Back to subject, Captain Phasma I could have seen some more of. But seeing how Gwendoline Christine (the new Boba?) is slated to appear in Episode 8, we’re OK with that. Clearly, she is going to be a bad-ass with a far larger agenda than we see in The Force Awakens. Adam Driver’s masked baritone should send nearly as many chills up spines as James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader. While Kylo Ren is certainly not there yet, his Sith’s vulnerability is most rewarding when moving forward. Having other First Order commanders not entirely fear or respect him, ala Tarkin, helps keep one predictable scene from being too anticlimactic. We see it coming, but we value the intention (yeah, this movie is really hard to write about without giving anything away).
Lance: You are so right! Captain Phasma is so the new Boba! I shall name her Tropper-Fett due to her enjoyable moments and comical exit in this story. Which brings to mind something else worth mentioning, the humor that has been “awakened” in this newest edition. From the opening ten minutes and all the way till the end, The Force Awakens never takes its self too serious–something that helps make this new chapter so refreshing. Even some of the best comic relief moments are not just saved for Han or Chewie. Both Finn and Poe both have lines that help alleviate the moments of danger or help with character development.
Speaking of character development it’s such a hard task to pick your favorite new character in the SWTFA. All of them have their moments to shine and in a way they all have parts of the original heroes in them. If John Boyega isn’t shining in a Han’ish rogue way as Finn, he’s facing danger and jumping head first like a younger Luke. Oscar Isaac is also equal parts Skywalker behind the X-wing and has his Han moments to shine. But it is Daisy Ridley who takes the cake and embodies all of the original big hero 3, she has the naive candor of a young Luke fresh off the moisture farm, the Solo feel once she gets behind a cockpit or with a wrench in hand, and even Leia in her “I can do anything and don’t need a man” attitude. She is the embodiment of a powerful new women role model for future nerds to love.
Travis: You may like them all Lance, but to me when it all boils down, TFA is TRS: “The Rey Show”. Daisy Ridley’s performance is essentially — and I predict you will be reading this a ton — a supremely visceral combo of the franchise’s three most cherished rebels. While I’m not entirely sure this went along her script’s backstory, Ridley steals most of the scenes she’s in and looks even better doing it, carrying the no-nonsense attitude of The Princess, the naivety of The Jedi, and the gun-ho snarkiness of The Smuggler. It all works here, and gives the new trilogy a new centerpiece moving forward. Of course, Boyega is lighting in a white-shelled bucket as toiled Stormtrooper, Finn, and it’s arguable that his personal story is the film’s most mysterious and intriguing. Learning more about Finn is going to be the most fun we’ll have in movie theaters the next several years.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unlikely to take any major Oscars back to Jakku in a couple months, it will be the most enjoyable time you will have at the movie theaters until the next one comes out. In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.
Just a damn good movie.
Lance: No doubt, man. It is “The Rey Show” all the way and she delivers, especially, for such a barely tested actress. They may not win themselves an Academy Award, sure–but boy does that casting agent deserve one.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is on par with the best film in the last six, The Empire Strikes Back and may after more watching even surpass that one for me. It has everything that needed from the originals and delivers so much more. JJ Abrams and Disney have out done them selves with this newest Force-juggernaut! Though little issues do arise with development, let’s be honest about Episodes 4-6, which all had issues themselves (and I won’t even mention the prequels). On the scale of a film minus the galaxy far far away aura, it would still hold up to an enjoyable Winter block-buster. But on a scale of Star Wars, TFA is a slam dunk!
4.75 (out of 5) Lightsabers.
4.75 (out of 5) Darth Vader’s chokeslamming the Oscar’s agree.
Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens this Friday.