A review of Star Wars The Force Awakens (with some slight spoilers)

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

There are 7.125 billion people on this planet. On Christmas Eve I became the 7,125,000,001st person to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is a brief review with minimal spoilers.

I was just the right age to enjoy the first Star Wars movie. Now, by first movie I mean FIRST movie, back in 1977, before it was a trilogy, or before that a nine-part-epic, then before that a trilogy, then before that just the one movie… 🙂 . The opening fanfare still brings back floods of memories. Every time I hear it, just for a brief second, just a nano-second, I am 12 years old again.

The only comparable feeling is the smile on my face when I hear THAT portion of the William Tell Overture. People of a certain age can’t help but shouting, “Hiyo Silver!” at just the right part of the song. The opening fanfare of Star Wars creates a logarithmically greater chill.

The archetype of the first Star Wars is well known to anyone who read (or saw) the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Wheel of Time series, etc.: a strange wizard whisks a youngster and his friends off to fight the forces of a dark lord.

***

The story of Star Wars boils down to this:

The movie opens with the forces of good losing a devastating battle against the forces of evil. One of our heroes has vital information that may finally defeat the bad guys once and for all. To prevent the information from falling into the hands of evil, it is hidden in a droid that is sent to a barren desert world.

After fighting off scavengers, the droid befriends our main hero. We meet the rest of our heroic band who join together to take the droid to the main HQ of the good guys – whilst in the meantime visiting various places in the galaxy including an odd bar filled with bizarre aliens and unusual – yet strangely familiar- music.

We discover that the bad guys have created a planet-size machine that can destroy an entire world in one blast. They discover a flaw that can destroy the machine, but first they have to infiltrate the machine and shut off the shields.

Then the good guys in their space fighters head to the planet’s one weak spot. Can they destroy it in time, before the machine can fire upon the good guy’s home base?

***

The rest is cinematic history: the merchandising of the first movie, the comic books, the Holiday Special (shudder), Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the Empire Strikes Back, the Han Solo books, the Lando Calrissian books, Return of the Jedi, the cartoons, more comic books, Heir to the Empire, more and more books from the distant past and distant future, the Phantom Menace (slight chill), the other two movies of the second trilogy (shudder), the purchase by Disney … and on and on.

***

And now here we are at Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.

A brief plot descriptions (with only MILD SPOILERS):

The movie opens with the forces of good losing a devastating battle against the forces of evil. One of our heroes has vital information that may finally defeat the bad guys once and for all. To prevent the information from falling into the hands of evil, it is hidden in a droid that is sent to a barren desert world.

After fighting off scavengers, the droid befriends our main hero. We meet the rest of our heroic band who join together to take the droid to the main HQ of the good guys – whilst in the meantime visiting various places in the galaxy including an odd bar filled with bizarre aliens and unusual – yet strangely familiar- music.

We discover that the bad guys have created a planet-size machine that can destroy an entire world in one blast. They discover a flaw that can destroy the machine, but first they have to infiltrate the machine and shut off the shields.

Then the good guys in their space fighters head to the planet’s one weak spot. Can they destroy it in time, before the machine can fire upon the good guy’s home base?

END OF SPOILERS

***

Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-poster

I say the above with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. The plot of Force Awakens is an homage bordering on plagiarism, yet despite this slight similarity in plot 🙂 , it worked! Force Awakens is a great film!

And leave us not forget that the original Star Wars was itself an homage to old serials of the sci-fi and pirate genres …

It is not a complete reboot ala JJ Abrams’ two recent Star Trek movies, it is a continuation.  We meet new heroes and villains. All are interesting and I cannot wait to see them again. Each seems, again, to be an homage to those-who-came-before: Rey, the main hero from the desert-world whose past remains unresolved, Poe the pilot extraordinaire/lovable rogue (although despite such comparisons to a certain Correllian smuggler, from the first moment of his introduction Poe’s being a hero of the rebellion is never in question), Kylo Ren as the Darth Vader wannabe (SPOILER: when he takes off his mask I whispered to my wife; “Abrams couldn’t get Marilyn Manson?” END OF SPOILER), and even BB-8, the R2D2-spunky-and-cute-droid of the movie.

The most unique starring character is Finn – by that I mean he has no real original movie equivalent – as a storm trooper/deserter. He starts as a coward but his attraction to Rey, and his eventual discovery of his bravery and sense of right and wrong, turn him from the dark side.

By far my favorite character is the Palpatine-equivalent Supreme Leader Snoke, “played” by CGI-king Andy Serkis with a disturbing resemblance to Bill Nighy.

Our old friends are also present. No spoilers here, there are as-yet undiscovered tribes in the Amazon who know that Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker are also in the film. As are Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2D2. I heard the voice of Obi-Wan during one intense scene and although I read Yoda’s voice is also heard I must have missed it.

Certain characters (or their alien race) from the second trilogy have been happily omitted. Mesa happy about that.

Most of our old friends appear in vital slightly-more-than-cameos. Carrie Fisher’s Leia gives us more emotion here than she had in all three of the trilogy. She is wonderful in her role.

No spoilers here: I am very pleased to report that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is more than a cameo – he has more of a roll in the movie than Poe. Captain Grumpy excels in the role that made him a superstar – I loved this Han Solo. Here is he is older and not necessarily wiser. And funnier!! “You’re cold.”

There is much more humor here than in the prior six films, but not enough to lower the movie into spoof territory. The humor comes from the characters and the situations and is realistically done. Poe and Finn especially give us some very canny quips to uncanny situations. “Why are you nodding your head at me while I am trying to talk?”

The Force Awakens is not perfect. No movie is perfect. Okay, Godfathers 1 & 2 are perfect. No OTHER movies are perfect.

But this is close. The only real issues were the deux ex machina of some of the rescues and sudden and coincidental appearances of the cast. But, to be frank, that is expected in this kind of genre, isn’t it?

The direct parallels to the first movie made for a pleasant homage to we old fuddy-duddies and still made for a great story.

The original fanfare opening the movie made me feel like a 12-year-old for that split second. The plot homages helped continue that feeling. An original plot – and remember Phantom Menace, for example, had a very original plot – might not have done so.

Perhaps it might be best Abrams is not involved in the rest of this third trilogy. If only because of his track record of his Star Trek movies: the first, a redo of the original series. The second, a redo of Wrath of Khan. I would worry about his plot of a second Star Wars movie: After a First Order assault decimates a rebel base, Finn & Poe seek refuge at a base they thought was run by an ally, but are betrayed. Meanwhile, (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT) Rey goes to a swamp world to be trained in the Force by a reptilian Fozzy Bear … (END OF SPOILER)

For the first time since the first movie, I want to see more of this universe. Empire succeeded in doing that. Let’s hope Episode Eight does that, too.

And remember Empire had an original plot. We’ve now known the thrill of knowing this universe we love so much is back, so now let’s move forward instead of looking back …

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

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