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Dec 16, 2015

Review of The Force Awakens - in which we discuss spoilery things.

She's not no one.
This review contains spoilers and discussion of them so hit the jump if you dare.

The Hollywood stars had literally aligned for this movie. The 'big three' of Luke, Leia and Han were back (despite some fan's concern Luke wasn't featured in promo for the film). Peter and Anthony were also back to play C3PO and the Walking Carpet.  JJ Abrams had gotten some 'practice Star Trek films' under his belt and was given the job of being the brains and face of the new Star Wars production company. Empire and Jedi scribe Larry Kasdan had come back to the writing team after Michael Ardnt set the ball in motion.  New acting talent had been found and a true mix of the old and new ways of making movies was often spoken of.

And the trailers were beautiful. But, so was the trailer for The Phantom Menace and many Star Wars fans to this day still cry that that film destroyed their fondest childhood memories (get over it - Ed).

So, should we have been brave enough to truly believe in this movie?


Yes, Virginia, you can believe in The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens is arguably the best Star Wars film that has ever been shown on the silver screen. While we dare say such a thing, we can only say it as we acknowledge that if it has seen further, it was because it stood on the shoulders of the mighty visionary, George Lucas.

Mirroring A New Hope before it in so many ways,  Force Awakens opens with a firey escapade for Poe Dameron but in short time we  with a figure stranded on a sandy planet called Jakku, with dreams to leave the planet but is held back by other forces. People are burnt, friendships are forged, escapes are made and so begins the great journey of the first female lead in a Star Wars movie, Rey. The movie's title refers to her discovery of the Force. It's pretty cool.

"Who are you?" asked new alien character, Maz Kanata of Rey in the trailer. She's one of the best things about this movie. A strong female lead was what many a fan had hoped for, and they got it. Rey has been set up perfectly as the new Luke Walker. Expect her character to evolve into a Jedi over the next films.

Let's talk visuals for a moment. The CGI in this film is arguably the best work that has ever graced a silver screen. The first set piece of the Millennium Falcon dancing a mean tango with some Tie Fighters through a fallen Star Destroy is a beautiful work of artistry. Superbly directed, this is the true promise of Star Wars fully realised.
The Castle never stood a chance as these pilots can shoot

The set pieces are wonderfully Star Wars, TIE Fighters and X-Wings have never looked better on the big screen. As Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie's fame in the Star Wars realm is assured as her character is sure to become a cult classic in the same sense that Boba Fett is. Not that she actually did much. Which means she's exactly like Boba...

And what of the big bad guy, Kylo Ren? He had incredibly large shoes to fill, indeed he claimed in the movie he wanted to finish what Darth Vader had started. Does he? Let's say he got the ball rolling and that ball is as big as fast as the ball that chased Indiana Jones in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark.

We warned this was a spoilery review so are you sure you wish to continue?

Which means we now need to talk about Han Solo

Han Solo is more than just Han Solo to me. He is Harrison Ford, and thus is also Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, Richard Kimble, James Marshall and Rick Dekkard. And what's the the common thread between all those characters? They never died on screen. Never. Until last night when Han Solo was sent to the great gig in the sky at the hands of his and Leia's son, Kylo Ren.

It hurts.

There probably has never been a more loved screen character die in a block buster movie. There have off course been some other great noble deaths, John Miller in Saving Private Ryan, The T-500 in Terminator 2, Jack Dawson in Titantic and even Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace. 

The difference though is that these were one off characters in one movie. Han Solo, as defined above, has already been in 3 Star Wars movies and his aura felt across countless more, particularly Indiana Jones so this hurts. In all the movies I've seen, there has never been a loss this big. Having guessed this character's death a year ago, we did speculate it would be good for movies in general and we still hope that proves to be what happens.

It hurts really bad, but it makes for a great movie. Solo had a very strong send off and his death serves to act as the handover for the Star Wars franchise to Rey, Finn (a fine performance from Jon Boyega) and that murderous Kylo Ren whose going to have to answer to mummy (Leia).

Ren's character arc was telegraphed to us - he's struggling with turning to the light side of the Force so it's open that he could be redeemed, like his grand father was in Return of the Jedi.

All this created more questions. Who are the Knights of Ren? This was not answered. Who is Rey's family? Is it even important? What is Snoke's game plan? He didn't seem to care what happened to his Star Killer base? And why the heck was he so similar in appearance to Gollum from Lord of the Rings - surely the producers saw that coming a mile away when they chose Andy Serkis to play him?

And what of Princess Leia? This was a nothing role for Carrie Fisher, I suspect she'd pretty disappointed with her part in this film. She does nothing much of significance. Her part could have been played by any generic movie general.

TFA had about 50 references to the past movies. Some were visual, some thematic. They were all great.

We also need to talk about Luke

"Where's Luke?" many a fan cried out when he failed to materialise in the third trailer for the film, seemingly forgetting he featured as the voice over for the second trailer and we saw his arm....

For those of us who had a pretty good idea of the plot due to internet sleuthing going into the film, we knew not to ask this. Just as Han Solo's death is the handover to the new story and characters of Star Wars, Luke's place in the movie is actually the bridge on which Rey can cross over to become a Jedi.

In many ways BB-8 stole the movie.
It was a bold strategy to keep Luke Skywalker from looming large over the film, his effective 15 second cameo in the movie only adds to his legend and sets Episode VII quite ripely for what will possibly be Luke's last hurrah.

Time will tell.

The Verdict?

We talked about how we could believe in this movie. While we never stopped believing in Star Wars (what ever that really means), there's a renewed er.. hope for Star Wars. This is a shot in the arm for the franchise that Revenge of the Sith first administered, check the reviews, Sith is bettter critically reviewed than Return of the Jedi but is an adrenaline shot like no other before administered to a film franchise (James Bond's recent adventures would be the closest things).

JJ and his team of designers, artists, prop makers, sound engineers and editors and the like deserve a medal ceremony of their own for this movie. It's a great ride, strap in for VII.

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This review has been written in the small hours of the morning from Wellington NZ so forgive this author for sounding too excited (or not!) and any mistakes made. In the light of the day, we'll let you know how the digestion of this movie is feeling.

5 comments:

  1. The Franchise is a guilty pleasure for me. But I must say that the whole thing was deeply disappointing. I believe that the reason so many die-hard fans are enamored by this installment is that it revisits (heavily) the original two. It must have been a taste of what was familiar. For me it was like a frozen entree warmed over.

    As a rule, I need the writers to make something plausible enough for me to believe it in the context of the universe in which it exists. In other words, don't just throw crap together and ask me to accept it. That's creative laziness. Apropo...

    1- Why does Ren wear a helmet? It makes absolutely no sense. Worse, they had the opportunity to give us a truly melevolent-looking character underneath it. Instead it's some horse-faced geek with great hair. I imagined Valdemort under there. We got Val Kilmer if he had TB.

    2- Why is Fin such a big p*ssy? He's supposed to be this ubber-warrior, "trained from birth" who goes rogue. OK, but why play him as a hyperemotional dingbat who freaks out about everything--good and bad-- when they could have made him the nonconformist he is supposed to be and still kept his stoicism? Besides, I thought the troopers were all clones of Temuara Morrison, an ethnic Maori. I imagined a Josh Brolin-esque character. Dark and brooding, quietly competent but internally conflicted. Instead we got the Fresh Prince. Lame

    3- Why is Kylo Ren such a bad swordsman? A storm-trooper who has never weilded a sabre (and, evidently, has more experience with a mop) should have been sliced like a salami in the blink of an eye. Ren almost got his ass handed to him and then DID get his ass handed to him by an untrained, unwilling neophyte. This dark lord who apparently bested Luke Skywalker and destroyed all of his new Jedi apparently can't swing a lightsabre to save his life except against innanimate objects like walls and electronic equipment and such. Get a grip, Kylo...of your sabre.

    4- Even the tiniest sun (like ours) is many thousands of times larger than a planet and its disappearance (by being sucked into a weapon?) would instantly drop the atmosphere on a nearby planet to 0 degrees....KELVIN. All movement of all moving parts would cease and Han Solo would need a whole hell of a lot more than a jacket to keep him warm. If you're going to use a little bit of science, then use it.

    5- Why the hell did Luke leave behind a map? Wouldn't it just be a "he's on such-and-such planet?" kind of thing? What, did he discover a new planet?

    6- Why all of a sudden is the captain of the storm troopers a woman? Aren't they all clones of one man? And why is she walking around always carrying a blaster? Commanders don't carry rifles around or even into battle, they direct the fight, like a conductor who doesn't play an instrument but with his little baton makes all the music happen. They lead, delegate, direct. A small side arm is fine, but does she think she's going to have to break out into a firefight in her own headquarters?

    6- Why is the Supreme Leader (I do love that name and the reference to Iran) a scarred giant? Like, "how do we make someone intimidating? Eh, just make him big. And throw a few scars on his head. There, that's intimidating."



    6- And then the climax, the blowing up of the Starkiller. Even the name was weak. Isn't that another way to say...um...Death Star? With X-wings (black ones, though. What an upgrade). Through a convoluted maze of cannon and iron girders. And having to put it in just the right place. Wait...I've seen that somewhere before...where was that?

    In short, the writers seem to have decided that the best way to make Star Wars fans happy is to give them...Star Wars. Again. I have a great name for the next installment. Call it..."The First Order Strikes Back".

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    Replies
    1. Right on...I also didn't like that Finn said "the sun". That is what we say. Would think he would have said "a star or the star".

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  2. I loved the movie, but saw a lot of problems. 1. Han should have died 8. I felt terrible when Han was killed, but was not pissed at Ren b/c I didn't know him well enough yet. It was too early. 2. Finn was too weak a character. Hopefully he grows a set. 3. Rey came along with the force WAY too fast. 4. Political correctness was rampant. Rey and Finn being new minority leads is all fine, but the over exposure of females working posts on the ships took away from the "evil" of it all, and rang over the top on the PC scale when looked at in whole. If Reynolds is Luke'so daughter, I will throw up. 5. Too much Poe...who cares?...Unless he turns out to be Luke'so son...b/c he can't fill Han'so shoes. 6. Luke has to confront Vader to "complete" his training...light or dark will he go? . Seems to me same should have been true of Ren...confront Han to "complete" his training...light or dark will he go? Nope! He kills Han and then Snook says he will complete Ren'so training...loss of continuity. 7. Lastly, so I am supposed to believe Luke is training Ren/Ben and others, Ren is seduced, maybe kills the other jedi, and Luke runs off instead of nipping that crappie in the bud? Not to mention the build up of a giant evil armada right under the most powerful jedi'so nose for 30 yrs.

    Great movie...loved it...felt a lot like 4,5, and 6 which made me so happy...but they have A LOT of explaining to do...I also didn't really fall in love with the new characters...except maybe BB. BB and Chewy stole the show.

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  3. I loved the movie, but saw a lot of problems. 1. Han should have died 8. I felt terrible when Han was killed, but was not pissed at Ren b/c I didn't know him well enough yet. It was too early. 2. Finn was too weak a character. Hopefully he grows a set. 3. Rey came along with the force WAY too fast. 4. Political correctness was rampant. Rey and Finn being new minority leads is all fine, but the over exposure of females working posts on the ships took away from the "evil" of it all, and rang over the top on the PC scale when looked at in whole. If Reynolds is Luke'so daughter, I will throw up. 5. Too much Poe...who cares?...Unless he turns out to be Luke'so son...b/c he can't fill Han'so shoes. 6. Luke has to confront Vader to "complete" his training...light or dark will he go? . Seems to me same should have been true of Ren...confront Han to "complete" his training...light or dark will he go? Nope! He kills Han and then Snook says he will complete Ren'so training...loss of continuity. 7. Lastly, so I am supposed to believe Luke is training Ren/Ben and others, Ren is seduced, maybe kills the other jedi, and Luke runs off instead of nipping that crappie in the bud? Not to mention the build up of a giant evil armada right under the most powerful jedi'so nose for 30 yrs.

    Great movie...loved it...felt a lot like 4,5, and 6 which made me so happy...but they have A LOT of explaining to do...I also didn't really fall in love with the new characters...except maybe BB. BB and Chewy stole the show.

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  4. thanks for sharing your thoughts guys - a lot to think about! To answer why Rey beat Ren, check out today's post: http://www.inafarawaygalaxy.com/2015/12/how-did-rey-beat-kylo-ren.html - short version is Chewie's shot to Ren's chest leveled the playing field somewhat...

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