Sunday, December 20, 2015

OVP: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow
Director: JJ Abrams
Oscar History: 5 nominations (Best Original Score, Editing, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Like every carbon-based life form on the planet, I too saw the new Star Wars movie this past weekend. In fact, I am still wearing my R2D2 shirt that I wore to the opening weekend this morning (I saw it Saturday so it's not quite as gross as it sounds).  The movies, which were a part of my childhood in a way that they were for many Millennials who saw the original trilogy when they were re-released for the twentieth anniversary, bring back a sense of nostalgia that seems to have been the theme of the year.  From Jurassic Park to Rocky, nostalgia at the movies and playing off of past love for a cinematic brand has been the best way to mine the box office and our pocketbooks for a Hollywood that continually wants to find a sure-thing (lest we forget that the Independence Day and Harry Potter franchises recently released new trailer installments).  Like many critics, I found the film itself to be an enjoyable and thrill-filled ride, one that reestablishes the world of Star Wars without alienating die-hard fans of the franchise (like JJ Abrams kind of did for some more devoted Star Trek fans) while still seeming accessible to those people who didn't just rewatch all of the original six movies for the 70th time.  Still, that doesn't mean the film isn't without its faults, and so we'll get into that juxtaposition right now.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film in many ways borrows from the original A New Hope, so much so that some (including myself) felt like they remade the original trilogy with just a complete rehaul of gender and racial backgrounds of the main characters.  Here, so far, we have Rey (Miller) taking on the Luke Skywalker role, Finn (Boyega) seemingly taking on a more robust Princess Leia position, and then of course there's can-he-be-in-everything Oscar Isaac as Poe, the scallywag who is clearly mining Han Solo while Adam Driver's Kylo Ren is the misguided son of Leia and Han and our Vader-like antagonist.  The film plays out in many ways just like this, with Rey discovered ala Luke on a lost planet, and we have Han Solo step into the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for Finn and Rey as they try to take down the newly-risen Empire (for anyone who eye rolls, remember that every generation has their "Empire" on Earth, after all, so the fact that they're back with a different name isn't really that surprising).

This sounds worse than it is, to be fair.  The reinvention is lighter than some other franchises, and they don't skimp on humor and charm, particularly in letting us soak up all of the nostalgic glory of the franchise.  There's something so magical about hearing John Williams lush strings echoed behind the faces of Fisher, Hamill, and Ford (which are awash onscreen long enough for midnight movie crowds to cheer enthusiastically, and even if I didn't go to a premiere, I still heard the murmurs when Ford and Chewbacca or Leia's face first is shown on the movie screen).  To pretend otherwise would be stupid-Star Wars is so important to pop culture and these three have featured so prominently in it that we forgot the prequels entirely while waiting heroically for JJ Abrams to save the franchise, and he did.  This film, especially in the confines of a crowded movie theater, is extremely enjoyable to watch in the moment.  The action is intense, the set pieces are great, and the visual effects never totally abandon the color palette and become a CGI monstrosity (like, say, Jurassic World); the matte work seems to match in many ways what we first saw in a galaxy far, far away.  To put it bluntly, this is a good movie, and not one you're going to force yourself to watch when you prep for Episode VIII in two years.

The problem is that when it takes on A New Hope that I felt a little less enthused once I left the theater, and even as the film progressed it became a bit of an "oh, we're just going to do that again."  I liked the movie, don't get me wrong, and suggest you see it in theaters if you're one of the three people who haven't, but they're just not adding something new to the mix.  Ben Solo (Kylo Ren's real name) is just Anakin or Luke, continually having issues with his father or father figure, and watching Han Solo, one of the most iconic movie characters of all-time go down in a scene we're completely sure he's going to die in is so anti-climactic that it borders on sacrilege.  Is there really no way that we could have done Star Wars again without a son rebelling against his father?  Are there no other plot points in a galaxy far, far away?  The film is exhilarating, and the acting is good (though some people like Isaac and Ford are better than others), but the writing still needs work, and I hope that since I've already mentally spent money on the following two sequels (Disney bought the crack cocaine of movie franchises-no one quits this baby) my goal is that they not only continue to break down gender and racial stereotypes by casting against expectations (Poe could be gay, is all I'm saying here people), but also by defying expectations since we still have Luke and Leia to perhaps subvert the path that we followed in Empire and Jedi.

Those are my thoughts on the latest Star Wars.  I'm positive you've seen it, so why not share your own?  Do you agree with the death of such a beloved character?  Are you in the same boat as I where you were thrilled while watching but kind of wish you'd gotten something new instead of pleasant leftovers?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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