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Ok, so reviewing a Star Wars movie is a No Win Scenario, something I truly love, so here goes.

Im trying to be spoiler free, or at least very low spoiler, knowing that read on

I enjoyed The Force Awakens in some ways, there definitely are moments of win,  but in many ways its a story of missed opportunities. I would say that its comparable to Jurassic World as far as entertainment value. Its pretty fun, but has scenes that make you laugh the wrong way. In the case of Jurassic World for instance, who among us didn’t spit out their soda whenever Bryce Dallas Howard used tech talk? “We have a Phase One Real World”. Not exactly “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”, not that you have the right to expect it from a sci fi horror movie. The truth is both movies are Trope fests.

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Perhaps the blandest First Order aligned creatures we see. A near copyright infringing Harley Quinn Type and  huge reptilian walrus man knock off.

My point in comparing them is for that for 20 bucks we still got enough high energy entertainment from a reliable franchise ( lets forget about the second one) in a slightly updated form. In this case though there’s nowhere near the nostalgia for the original series and the original characters are for the moment at least.just gone.

On to Episode 7. My first issue is huge, its about 25 minutes too long and a lot of suck is packed into that wasted time. If he had dedicated just 5 minutes of it to enabling dialogue JJ Abrams movie is markedly better. like half star better.

Lets for one moment consider Director and de facto new creative overlord of the Star Wars Franchise, Generalissimo JJ Abrams. He’s able and been great in his career to be sure. At the same time he made a fool of himself and enemies of the Trek fans with that trainwreck Into Darkness and a truly condescending directors commentary from his Trek movie 1. If you listen to it you can never unring that bell. He wanted Trek to be Star Wars so badly he made it look very similar every chance he got. A great example is how rei’s motorcycle is very much something that you’d see in his trek movies as is Han Solo’s new ship. A more endor type speeder bike approach would’ve been cooler and still made sense as she lives on a scrap yard desert planet.

Movies have changed and Star Wars has changed with them. Flawed Star Wars beats no Star Wars, but this one didn’t need to be so flawed.

The fact is that JJ has now made the same movie 3 times in a row. Star Trek, Into Darkness and Episode 7 have so many similarities its a blog post of its own. Briefly- Painful death of parent/ father figure, bad guys with death stars, Creature Cantinas of an Episode 4 sort of feel. Similar looking props, similar looking costumes, Snow combat, undermotivated villains and occasional poor treatment of beloved characters.His movies have become reliably sort of erratic.  Lately he’s been a combination of semi great and then suddenly he’s a trope addled lens flare addict.

Movies have changed and Star Wars has changed with them. Flawed Star Wars beats no Star Wars, but this one didn’t need to be so flawed.

Star Wars The Force Awakens is a hard movie to really nail down in the moving goal posts of Star Wars Fandom. The Phantom Menace was a movie people turned into the highest grossing film in the series by a comfy margin until Episode 7. It took till the video release until people sort of unified on the growing internet and started savaging it. We can’t assess this movie fully til we see if it sets up the next one well. Here’s how i see it as of now–

The Open- hey, you miss the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, what can you do?   The main theme is also perhaps a touch slower. The cinematics are great, but then the credit sequence from his first Star Trek movie ensues as the landing craft aka Federation Shuttles, depart the Non Imperial Cruiser. They look the same inside and out. OUCH!

Things improve pretty quickly though, Max von Sydow was an excellent touch. BB8 manages not to offend as he is literally rolled out for the first time.

The First Order promptly show they have an inferiority complex but are willing to do on the job training to catch up to the old Empire by just massacring people (to make their troopers hard apparently). Kylo Ren makes a pretty creepy and violent first appearance. Make what you will of his costume. Neither helped not hindered the movie.

Of the new characters

Fin easily is the best. A solid performance and he has that Star Wars urgency that benefits the movie. No issues. You’re instantly on his side. He might even be the straw that stairs most of whats good in this movie.

Rei will hopefully improve and become less uninteresting. Her backstory is just right off the shelf. More annoyingly she apparently proves that the darkside is actually NOT  a faster easier path to power because on some sort of Jedi Instinct that’s believable til she keeps matching and sometimes besting Ren in melee despite his years of training and embracing of the Darkside. Abram Overkill on that one

BB8- they pulled him off well and he has the least amount of what I call “The Abrams Overkill”. (JJ Abrams directs in superlatives. You have a moon sized death star? Fuck you, we have a planet sized Star Killer!). He manages not to offend and occasionally entertains. He also probably has the single funniest gag in the movie

Kylo Ren- Ren is either mysterious or just confusing. I guess we’re supposed to believe he has too much of his dads crusading nature and moms morality in him? A very likely “Psycho Ranger” (tropes!) who could switch sides. The problem with that is after what he’s done no franchise fan will forgive him and he’s got “Season 1 Bad Guy” written all over him if you go by Tropes.

Why he keeps his helmet on what appears to be a bed of hot coals when not in use is another head scratching moment later. Killing his ass early in movie 2 might make everyone pretty happy.

Ginger Haired Tarkin Type- No real complaints except his huge nazi style speech sounds it was written by JJ Abrams lawyer. Whatever, he’s button pushing killer by remote control and shores up the Non Empires cold bad jerk image. In the Trope Guide he is known as “The Mad Scientist”. Well cast and played

The First Order- Well hey they couldn’t just call them the Sith or JJ gets less for the toys. The Non Rebel “Resistance” also play by the same rules. Whatever, we knew how Abrams works when it comes to protecting his merchandising rights from his Star Trek behavior.

star-wars-force-awakens-han-solo-chewbaccaHan Solo – Not bad but Abrams went in a somewhat different direction than I expected or would’ve liked to have seen. After making Captain Kirk into Han Solo JJ Abrams finally gets the real Han Solo but mostly uses him as Indiana Jones, complete with an awesome weathered leather jacket and a pretty funny gun joke. I would’ve expected he’d have shown the “Han Shot First” quality and  made him just a little more ruthless. He is supposedly ruminating over serious personal disappointments. Maybe he was really just trying to combine all the goodwill Harrison Ford has, its was briefly off putting but not movie killing. Another more charitable way of looking at it would be that he reverted to his post unfreezing comedy relief Solo from Return of the Jedi and its just the way he is now.

The Falcon- Lots of win, some suck. Way too crash-y. Hand solo would’ve woven through obstacles to a certain extent before just plowing through anything beyond the snowbanks they mogul over. The slightly different, lower profile sensor dish makes sense and looks great. For the most part the foley art (sound) of the falcon is consistent with how we’re used to the Falcon sounding.

General Leia- She still shines through. Somehow she just does, and shes pretty amazing in the sequences with Han. The Rebellion, now the New Republic, are aggressively exporting democracy these days. In other words, they’re more less the George W Bush administration waging a war of choice by proxy against the first order. This is fine as the Old Republic was also a war machine and a mess at the end when we really see it. It comports well though its occasionally awkward.

Po- Po has potential and is well played. Sadly its just a bunch of convenient plot devices to bring him back into the movie. When he reappears his face is pretty covered by the new bulky X Wing helmets and I was didnt recognize him while he’s doing some pretty cool dogfighting. Hey, its not like he has a distinctive voice.

Supreme Leader- UGH! on this character they screwed the pooch bad. No grease. Someone says it’s Andy Serkis, Im not even interested enough to check. Someone let me know in the comments. If true why they bought in an amazing physical actor to play a guy who sits in a chair is something maybe the next movie justifies. He lacks the awesome voice of Ian McDiarmid, the best bad actor this side of Shatner. He also looks like a Peter Jackson Monster mixed with Prometheus cast offs. Had he been named Corporate Commander it would’ve bee more appropriate and at least funny. He has a totally unimaginative name. Even King Something or other would’ve been better than Supreme Leader. The Star Wars cartoons are higher quality than this aspect as far as writing.

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Chewie- They got him pretty much right. No issues. He also gives Kylo Ren something to think about after he douches out and gets all Hamlet.

The New Republic- While they take a devastating hit from the First Order that’s sure to lead to all out war, from what we get they are aggressively backing insurgents into the First Order and seem to be the initiators of the conflict. Not exactly a Peace and Justice oriented government. Sounding much like a Reagan-esque or Bush 1 or Bush-Cheney America. Military adventuring would seem beneath the standards of the Old Republic, at least until it becomes seriously decayed and co-opted in Episode 2.

The final combat scene is as great as it is frustrating. While superior to the way the Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon verse Darth Maul fight was cut, its infuriating as the plot holes sort of come at you- since they knew they would destroy the sun why does no one on the First Order side have an evac plan for a planet now presumably about to begin hurtling through space with no star to hold it in an orbit, presumably losing atmosphere?  Could we have been thrown a few lines of enabling dialogue to shore up why the bad guys decided to build a weapon that could seemingly be fired only six times? Mention the star is unique and regenerates would have done it and if I can think of it whats Abrams excuse? Also, just a funny aside, are they now as broke as the Soviet Union? How many of their kidnapped brainwashed army did they lose? Not bad for an attack that seems to feature roughly 16 X-wings.

The jedi combat is great, but undercuts the idea the Darkside is the quicker path to power. This can be fixed in the next movie, right now its an unscratchable itch that I worry will just be blown off. Like lets just find out they retarded Ren’s training on purpose and i’ll be happy. Anakin complained about it enough.

Finally in the most annoyingly convenient plot device in the history of movies with sound; the breaking up of the Genesis planet, umm i mean the Star Killer Base, simply puts the good guys on one side of the sudden opening in the earth and the bad guys on the other. At this point though the fact a decent jedi jump would vault the new chasm falls by the wayside, no one bothers and Kylo Ren shuffles off pounding his pancreas to stay angry (it took me a long time to realize this is why he did this).

John Williams- He’s written better soundtracks. There’s long pauses in the music, its sort of very unStar Wars. His music is a character of it’s own and often eased rough dialogue and enhanced the story telling. Maybe Abrams felt like i do when he heard it and just minimized it? By going with the non Empire “First Order” Abrams assures us we only hear a reprise of the Iconic and plot cementing Imperial March very briefly and mildly when we see the melted Vader mask.

Finally, there are notably, very few cinematic wipes, (i only counted one) a standby of all the other movies and a homage to early sci fi i always enjoyed. Too bad. I held  off this point for last for good reason, the film still works well enough without them. Other rabid fans of the other movies may take it a little harder. I’m not devastated but there’s no not mentioning it.

Overall- See it, its tied with a couple of the other movies at third best. Its not Phantom Menace, but don’t let anyone tell you its as good as Empire or A New Hope. Its just not.

 

 

 

 

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