Sunday, January 10, 2016

Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens (a review)


Like most of the planet, I was pretty excited about the new Star Wars movie. The first couple of teaser trailers for The Force Awakens provided some hope that this new film would make up for the disappointment of the prequels.

Having been burnt by The Phantom Menace et al, I was still slightly cautious and deliberately avoided any further promotional material to steer clear of any potential spoilers. I tried not to even look at the poster in case I saw anything spoiler-y (ultimately that proved impossible, and a big plot element was staring me in the face).

In the week of the film's release I had to avoid the internet pretty much altogether (not easy given the fact that I work from home) until I'd gone to see it. It says a lot when you have to reorganise your life just to keep away from film spoilers. Damn you, Disney and your behemoth marketing machine!

Overall, I liked it. It was fun, gripping and fast-paced (more on that in a bit, though). I did get slight goosebumps when the famous 'Star Wars' crawl began and was pleased to see it didn't mention anything about trade disputes or midichlorians.

JKY came with me – a truly special father and son moment – and he loved it. He was a little scared by one flashback sequence but apart from that he was glued to his seat.

It was good to see the return to more practical effects and characters, although people often assume that the prequels were shot entirely in front of a green screen, which isn't true. They actually used models for many scenes and these photos prove that. The effects in the latest Star Wars instalment, however, felt seamless and the choice of using film cameras as opposed to digital ones helped give the Force Awakens the same feel and look as the original trilogy.

The story was solid, following two characters (Finn and Rey) as they get tangled up in the efforts of the Resistance and their fight against the evil First Order, helped along the way by some old-timers (ie Han, Chewie and Leia). Finn and Rey were great characters to be introduced and it was refreshing to have a good mix of genders and races (human races of course!) represented.

I felt the pace to be a bit too quick in places. One particular scene, where the rebels are discussing the Starkiller base and how to attack it, seemed to be over in mere seconds, while similar ones in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi feel like they last for at least a couple of minutes (I haven't checked so might be wrong). That is certainly JJ Abrams style, so it's not surprising (and thankfully the 'lens flare' filter was turned down to '1'), but was a bit too frenetic for me, and didn't quite feel right for a Star Wars movie.

The Force Awakens seemed also to have too many overt 'knowing wink' references to the other films, which unfortunately spoiled it for me a tad. It suffered from 'The Hobbit' syndrome, where it didn't quite have the confidence to move out of the shadow of its predecessors and stand alone as a film in its own right, and had to constantly scream at you things like 'Look! It's C-3PO - remember him? From the other Star Wars films!!'. Another slight niggle was the exchange between Han and Rey talking techno-babble – the amount of which would have been more at home in an episode of Star Trek.

One final gripe is the finale, where the rebels destroy yet another superweapon by attacking its major weakness. Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it? Abrams has gone on record, acknowledging the similarities but also defending the storyline. I kind of see his point, but can't help thinking it's a bit lazy. There are an infinite number of ways they could have taken the legend forward without using a devastating weapon (and they have already, with the now-non-canonical expanded universe), because a good movie is really all about the characters – not the big set pieces. This is a problem which too many Hollywood films end up getting caught up in.

I can accept it's not entirely illogical to think that the baddies will come up with a terrible weapon to wipe out the opposition, and that each time this technological marvel is destroyed a bigger and more powerful one takes its place. The ever-growing size of superweapons started way back in the Clone Wars, so there's precedent for an arms race of sorts. It's just, really, now that Starkiller Base has been destroyed, if the First Order carry on, the increasing size of their subsequent weapons gets ridiculous. I mean, what next? Galaxy Nuker? Universe Expunger?

These are, however, minor niggles and I'm not one of the minority of haters that will never be content with anything post original trilogy. I reckon the reason people find it hard when a new Star Wars film comes out is because between 1983 and 1999 no other movies existed (officially, anyway – and of any decent quality). The three original films embedded in the culture of a generation in such a way that when something new did finally come along people just couldn't handle the 'new'. It was like discovering someone had come along and redecorated your room at the family home while you'd been away at university.

I do feel that Star Wars is in good hands – there seems to genuinely be a desire to do the franchise justice. Yes, Disney as a company is in it for the $$$s but I think the people on the ground working on the projects have such a love for the characters and mythos that they don't want to screw it up.

So, roll on Rogue One - the next installment of the Star Wars movie machine. We're counting on you to keep up the good work.

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