Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nick's Review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Spoiler Free)

(I’m writing this SPOILER FREE review after having seen the movie 3 times within the opening week)

Growing up, Star Wars was life. I cannot think of my childhood without thinking of Star Wars. One might even say Star Wars was synonymous with my childhood, and my entire life for that matter. For me, it all started in 1993, Christmas day to be exact. My uncle, only 18  or 19 at the time, gave me an R2D2 action figure as a Christmas present. From then on, I was hooked. Like the Dark Side that Yoda warned Luke about in ROTJ, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Except that this wasn’t a dark path at all.

For over 20 years I have been obsessed with Star Wars. Starting that Christmas in 93, I was a Star Wars collector. Since then, I have collected over 1,000 Star Wars action figures. This isn’t a fact I tell many people. It doesn’t go over well as a conversation starter on a first date. Ha! I can tell you the name and back story of every single character I have and pretty much where I got the figure. Its weird things like that that stick with me.

Me and George in the mid 90s
I think back to my yard in my old house in Mississippi where me and George Bennett would have our Han Solo vests on and our toy DL-44 blasters at the ready, running around killing imaginary stormtroopers and acting out our own stories of what happened after ROTJ. Those were, as Freddie Mercury would say, the days of our lives.

If you were to ask me why I like Star Wars, I honestly don’t know how I would answer that. Its something that is so engrained into my life, that I cant think of myself without thinking of Star Wars. Like my faith and relationship with Christ, it pretty much has and always will be part of my life.

I had the privilege of experiencing the Original Trilogy in the 90s and then experiencing the Prequel Trilogy in the 2000s. Now, as an adult I am experiencing the Sequel Trilogy. And the funny thing is, my excitement and giddiness is just the same as it was growing up.

The Force Awakens. WOW! I give this film a solid 97 out of 100. I was blown away. I was very worried about JJ Abrams directing and co-writing this one, but he went above and beyond. He has been a life long fan of Star Wars and, as a fan, he knew exactly what die-hard fans wanted to see, and boy did he deliver!  It captures the great things from the Original Trilogy, but has the newness of the Prequel Trilogy. As a fan, I've been thinking and speculating about what happened after the Second Death Star exploded in ROTJ since I first saw it in the early 90s. I was very well versed in the Expanded Universe stories that continued to follow the characters after that film, but now those hundreds of books, comics, and games have been deemed non-canon. So, that left the slate clean for the new films, so, as fans, we had no idea what was coming.
I watched every single trailer and TV spot that aired for The Force Awakens, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the storyline. I had ideas and speculations about it, but Abrams did an amazing job of keeping the trailers from giving away anything about the story. As someone who likes and analyzes movies for their story, this both aggravated and impressed me.

The tone of this film is very dark, but the characters lighten the mood and bring some humor to it. It captured tones of both A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. A good mixture of those tones story-wise.

The Actors:

The film is mainly told through the eyes of the cute little droid, BB-8. His head resembles R2, yet his body is simply a ball. He is actually a fully-functional remote controlled droid that somehow moves around like a ball while balancing the head on top. The props go to the engineers here. The thing that makes him so darn cute and loveable is his personality. You’re probably asking: how can a robot ball that beeps have personality? Well, its simply those sounds of beeping that make his personality I don’t know how the folks over there at Skywalker Sound do it, but they made it so we can tell his mood and personality through the various pitches of his beeps and boops. I was worried at first that he would end up being like Jar Jar with the way he is being marketed on everything, but he turned out to be quite a loveable ball of fun. (Pun intended).

Harrison Ford did an amazing job reprising his role of the stuck up half-witted scruffy-looking nerf herder, Han Solo. After seeing him in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was kind of worried about how he would do as Han. In the Crystal Skull his character was very old and slower moving and you could just tell that he had aged. But with The Force Awakens, he wasn’t like that at all. He was just as we left him in ROTJ. Sure, he’s older, but his mentality and scoundrel ways are just the same. I was impressed at how well he did playing this part as a 73 year old man. Yes, you heard me right: he is 73!

Carrie Fisher hasn’t aged as well as her on-screen love interest. She has had her fair share of alcohol and drug problems over the years, and those have had their toll on her. I will admit, in this film she looked a lot better from when I saw her a few years ago in Atlanta. When I saw her, she had a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other, sitting under a sign that said “no smoking”. That’s Carrie for you. But it was nice seeing her in Character as Leia. Of all the mentalities and personalities of the original cast, she has changed the most. In the Original Trilogy we saw glimpses of her as a military leader, but for the majority, she was just being protected and rescued throughout the films. In this film we see her as a seasoned military general. She’s the leader of the Resistance, which is what part of the Rebel Alliance became. She is stern and serious. As a leader of this group of freedom fighters, she has undoubtedly seen her fair share of battles and politics, and in real life, 30 years of those two will wear you down quick. So, with all that considered, she played the part brilliantly.

Mark Hammil, poor guy. He hasn’t gotten too many acting roles since his early days as Luke. He’s done a lot of voice acting though. He is probably best known as voicing the Joker in the 1990’s Batman: The Animated Series. Which he does a fabulous job at. He is back in this film, but not in the way most of us hoped for. But I walked away from the film quite happy with his performance and how the writers chose to use him in this film. He looked amazing! His costume and apparel are very reminiscent of Sir Alec Guinness’ Ben Kenobi. I can’t say too much without giving away any spoilers, but I can say that he will definitely have a lot bigger ad better role in the coming films.

John Boyega is the 23-year-old newcomer to the series. He plays Finn, one of the film’s main protagonists. He plays his part quite well. He shows us that he is exactly what we would imagine a 23-year-old would be like in the Star Wars universe. He is fun, flirty, caring, and as rebelled against the ways he was raised. Not much different than the majority of 23 year olds here on Earth. Boyega brings lightheartedness and humor to this dark film. He is very believable and the actions and paths he chooses to take are very smart and thought out. He makes you want to have him as your best friend. I cant wait to see what is in store for his role in the coming films. I've been following John Boyega on Snapchat for months and he's hilarious! He is just as excited about being in it as I was to see it. He's just like me, a fan.

Daisy Ridley plays the orphaned desert scavenger, Rey. She, along with Boyega’s Finn, are the two main protagonists in The Force Awakens. At first I wasn’t sure how this young 23-year-old would do in the film. She is pretty much unheard of in films. I think she might have had minor roles in some local or independent films prior to this, but nothing major. But she ended up being one of my favorite characters. She blew me away with her acting skills. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but the way she plays this strong independent young woman is fantastic. When we meet Rey, she has been living alone on this junk yard desert planet for the majority of her life. We get the feeling early on that she is quite tough and can handle and look out for herself pretty well. In many ways, she has a lot of comparisons with when we first met Luke in ANH. Without spoiling anything, II will just say that I am very excited to see how her character develops in the coming films.

Oscar Isaac plays the hot-shot Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron. For those of you that didn’t read the four part Shattered Empire comic series leading up to The Force Awakens, we find out that his mom and dad both fought in the Rebellion alongside our original heroes. His mom was an A-Wing Pilot who flew into battle with Lando during the attack on the Second Death Star, while his dad was part of Han’s strike team on the forest moon of Endor. At the end of the series, we learn that the three of them settle ad make their home on Yavin IV. Oscar Isaac does a stunning job at playing this Resistance pilot. He is the best pilot on the Resistance, yet he isn’t cocky or arrogant about it. He is a genuinely nice and humble guy. He’s the type of guy who always has your back in any fight. Isaac’s performance of Poe left me wanting to see more of him in action. He’s just a loveable character. I have no doubt that he will continue to amaze people in the coming films.

Former United State Marine, Adam Driver plays the film’s main antagonist, the evil Kylo Ren. We learn right from the start that he is ruthless and has shows no mercy. In his first scene we also get several hints dropped about his origins, that are revealed later in the film. I, for one, wasn’t surprised at those origins. His character isn’t a fully-formed villain like Vader was, nor is he the Anakin type that we see the whole scale from good to bad. He is very conflicted as to who and what he is. He mentions that he feels a “pull to the light”. That is something we have never heard of in previous films. A bad guy who is pretty much down the dark path but feels the pull of the light side of the force. Its usually the other way around. His character dynamic is very interesting. He wears a helmet that loosely resembles Vader’s for about half of the film. I prefer him with the helmet on. Im not a big fan of Driver’s face. Clean shaven, he looks like an emo teenaged boy with anger issues. But there is much potential for this character, and I cant wait to see how he develops over the course of the film.

The score is composed by America’s greatest living composer, John Williams. Ive been in love with his film scores since I was a small child. He is phenomenal. A genius. A musical god. And he doesn’t fail to deliver on this film. At 80 years old he can still write and compose just as good as he did in his early days. I went out and bought the soundtrack the day it came out, which was the following morning after I saw the premier. I cant seem to stop listening to it. Wow!

The visual effects were pretty neat too. The Original Trilogy used mainly models and puppets and masks, whereas the Prequel Trilogy relied heavily on CGI. This director deliberately chose to use a good even mixture of the two. The puppets and costumes of aliens really brought you back to the first time we see the Cantina full of all these bizarre and interesting creatures. You could also tell that the sets were real and not CGI, that was a very solid choice as we see desert, forest, water, and snow in the planets that they visit.

The pacing of the film was non-stop. There really wasn’t any time to rest as there were in previous films. The characters are constantly jumping to place to place and fighting. The action and suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time.

The film didn't answer all my questions about what happened between it and ROTJ, but there are still two more movies left for those answers. It also brought up many new questions, which, again, still have two more films for those to be answered. The film did a decent job of showing the original heroes, but it is obvious that it is really paving the road for the new younger cast and their characters’ stories, which is how it should be.

Overall, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is an AMAZING film. It excels in its story, characters, visual effects, costumes, scenery, acting, cinematography, directing, and sound design. It is everything a Star Wars movie should be.

One more year until Episode VIII comes out, but until then, May The Force Be With You…Always!

Me and George seeing the movie Thursday night in 3D IMAX

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