Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Capt. Kirk was always my favorite character. Academy Award nominee Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver star in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

Star Wars The Force AwakensCast of Characters:
Han Solo – Harrison Ford
Luke Skywalker – Mark Hamill
Gen. Leia Organa – Carrie Fisher
Kylo Ren – Adam Driver
Rey – Daisy Ridley
Finn – John Boyega
Poe Dameron – Oscar Isaac
Maz Kanata – Lupita Nyong’o
Supreme Leader Snoke – Andy Serkis
Gen. Hux – Domhnall Gleeson
C-3PO – Anthony Daniels
Chewbacca – Peter Mayhew
R2-D2 – Kenny Baker
Lor San Tekka – Max von Sydow

Director – J. J. Abrams
Screenplay – Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams & Michael Arndt
Based on characters created by George Lucas
Producer – Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams & Bryan Burk
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

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Thirty years after the Empire was destroyed by teddy bears on meth, a new evil has risen from the ashes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine’s fall…

Lens flares… or Klingons, I think.

This new empire, the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has built a new and improved Death Star ’cause if Star Wars has taught us anything, it’s that their villains are incapable of learning the first two times their plan blew up in their faces.

Meanwhile, a droid named BB8 has been entrusted with the First Order’s desired “plans”, a map leading to the whereabouts of the deserted Jedi legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and Snoke has dispatched his #1 guy, Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to snatch them up before the droid can deliver them to Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the Resistance.

BB8, however, lands not in the hands of either, but in those of Rey, a scavenger orphan eking out a living in the desert. Needless to say, as droids stumbling upon orphans in the desert will do, her life is on the verge of changing radically. Now on the run from Ren, Rey teams up with ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) on a journey that will shape their destinies forever.

Well, doesn’t that sound all too familiar.

So Star Wars is back once again, this time in the hands of the House of Mouse, and amid the bemoaning from some that “Darth Mickey” will make the franchise too kiddie friendly (they honestly haven’t seen any of the other six if that’s their complaint), I was perfectly fine with them taking the reins. Their Marvel Cinematic Universe has been clicking like a well-oiled machine ever since they bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009, and the lackluster Alice in Wonderland and atrocious Maleficent notwithstanding, I enjoyed Cinderella, their third live-action retelling of their animated classics.

Now, unlike Marvel, which gets a new film every other hour it seems, Disney is picking up after a franchise that was last seen ten years ago, and, continuity-wise, is picking up after a film that came out over thirty years ago. Of course, the franchise name alone is a guaranteed money maker, but Disney has still gone out of their way to make sure the passing of the torch is being placed in good hands. Recently appointed Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is one of the best producers in the business, having previously worked mainly with Steven Spielberg, but also David Fincher, Robert Zemeckis, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood. And J. J. Abrams, the fourth director to tackle the sci-fi/fantasy juggernaut (following Lucas, Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand) is a solid filmmaker who’s done good work before with his two Star Trek reboots and Super 8.

From a visual standpoint, The Force Awakens continues to do what Star Wars does best. Is it as groundbreaking as the two prior trilogies were in terms of pushing the bounds of visual effects? No, but that’s not a fair comparison to make since we live in an era dominated by effects-heavy franchises. His love affair with lens flares aside, Abrams is no slouch when it comes to staging action sequences, and delivers some exciting setpieces, particularly a chase sequence with the Millennium Falcon that utilizes the ship in ways we haven’t yet seen. With a combination of practical effects and first-rate CGI, The Force Awakens, visually, is one of the strongest efforts in the franchise.

Unfortunately, it’s also the laziest.

Yep, I said it… Deal with it.

What’s the phrase you Star Wars freaks like to throw around like a broken record? Oh, yeah… J. J. Abrams raped my childhood. Someone pass me the Preparation H.

Actually, this isn’t that bad. Its enjoyable, but Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan play it safe like a frightened dog tucking its tail between its legs. See, The Force Awakens is more than just content to rest on past laurels; it clings to them as if its life depends on it. Who knew the weakest element of this film would be a script from the same guy that wrote The Empire Strikes Back. Then again, Kasdan also wrote and directed the abysmal Dreamcatcher so it’s not like dropping the ball once in a while is totally out of the ordinary for him.

Whether you like the Star Wars prequels or not, everyone agrees that an inherent downside to any prequel is that we know where it’s eventually gonna lead. With Episode VII, the sky’s the limit, and while I don’t know much, if any at all, of the Expanded Universe (Star Wars material outside the seven feature films), I do know that it provides plenty of new avenues that this film could’ve gone down. Yet it simply wants to play it safe and rehash A New Hope. Following a formula is one thing, recycling key plot points is lazy and Disney’s way of blatantly pandering to the fanbase, which is quite odd coming from a company that has up to this point had no problem pissing off hardcore fanboys with certain shakeups in their Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even Abrams showed no hesitancy in playing fast and loose with Star Trek lore in his two films.

But there’s hope with this sequel trilogy and it’s found in its two new stars, Daisey Ridley and John Boyega. Their characters are fairly thin; Finn’s motivation for breaking ranks from the First Order boils down to “It’s the right thing to do” (cue the shooting star, NBC) and key developments of Rey are rushed and given little, if any, explanation, but Ridley and Boyega compensate such thinness with their energetic performances. Boyega, running on what seems like a 24 pack of Red Bull a day, is just enough pep, humor and enthusiasm without being annoying. Ridley, the franchise’s new heroine, is fierce and resourceful, and unlike a certain other orphan from Tattoine, isn’t a grown man that plays with toy planes. Holding off on some developments for later films and letting their characters breath a little would’ve made this a better film, but Ridley and Boyega show great potential that should serve this new trilogy well.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag of both good, bad and wasted potential. Oscar Isaac is one of the finest acting breakthroughs of the past few years with terrific performances in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina under his belt, but he’s not given much to do here. Wasted even more is Gwendoline Christie in a thankless role as Captain Phasma, a blinged-out stormtrooper who’s in this ’cause I guess she looks cool. As the main baddie, Kylo Ren, Adam Driver has some effective scenes, but mostly comes off as a dollar store version of Darth Vader, and isn’t much of an imposing threat. There are areas of strength to the character that can still be improved upon for later films, but here they’re either telegraphed too prominently or not fleshed-out enough.

And speaking of the villains, another Death Star? Really? The first two times it was destroyed wasn’t enough of a hint to tell you it’s clearly not working? I’d like to think you can’t be that stupid. Yeah, I know, guys; it’s not a Death Star, it’s a “Starkiller Base”. Well, if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck… chances are it’s a Death Star.

As for the good, I wasn’t too sure at first of what to make of Disney’s new push to sell toys, BB8, but I admit that little, expressive roly-poly droid grew on me as the film went along. Lupita Nyong’o provides great motion-capture work as a Yoda-like barkeep, Maz Kanata, and it’s always nice to see C-3PO and R2-D2, even if they’re used in smaller capacities.

The best of the old fogies returning from the original films is, without a doubt, Harrison Ford who shows he hasn’t lost a step in returning to the iconic role he hasn’t played in over three decades. The banter between Han and Chewie is still as fun and lively as its ever been, there’s still some spark between him and Carrie Fisher’s Leia (who was always the weakest link of the original three, but her chemistry opposite Ford in The Empire Strikes Back was great), and his interactions with Ridley and Boyega provide some of the best moments of the film. I can honestly say I haven’t seen Ford this invested in a role in years.

That dump truck full of money Disney gave him must’ve been gargantuan.

As for Mark Hamill, I’ll just say he does show up and leave it at that.

The Force Awakens continues the Star Wars saga’s tradition of action-packed, high-tech supremacy, but is hampered by the story’s unimaginative recycling of plot points from prior films and a less-than-imposing central villain. Still, hope is not lost with this film thanks primarily to two lively, trilogy-shouldering performances from Daisey Ridley and John Boyega, as well as Harrison Ford fitting comfortably back in the role that launched his career nearly four decades ago. So yeah, looks like the Force has awakened once again. Let’s just hope next time around it’s not as content to kick back and take the day off.

I give Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens a B- (★★★).

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