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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Friday, January 1, 2016


There are films every now and then that are simply more than "just going to the theater" for. One just goes to the theater to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks for example. Some films however are an event. These are the movies everyone is talking about. When you're sitting down at a pizzeria you'll hear across from the table in front of you about them in conversations. Examples include The Avengers, Godzilla, and The Dark Knight. If the box office numbers are any indication, then the subject film for today is an even bigger event than the aforementioned. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has been a primary topic in many fan circles for a few years now. When Disney announced they had acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, hype became real as the countdown to Episode VII began. In perspective, there hasn't been a major Star Wars production since 2005's Revenge of the Sith. (There was also the Clone Wars animated film in 2008, but that was just a launch pad for the the cartoon.) The stories have continued in comics & video games, but to the general public the saga ended in 1983's Return of the Jedi with the death of Darth Vader and the fall of the Empire. The Force Awakens is the first thing to officially continue the story. It's an interesting venture as it brings back old faces and introduces new ones. It tries to find ground between being a tribute to the old films while having a new story. J.J. Abrams delivers a film keeping the original spirit of the series. It's a flawed experience, but sill enjoyable.

 Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last of the Jedi Knights.
It's obvious from the start that the film is basically aiming to be the new A New Hope. The opening sequence is reminiscent of Darth Vader's invasion of Leia's ship in that very first film. While it's definitely interesting to see the idea of A New Hope being revisited, this can be the story's undoing sometimes. Sometimes it feels like more of a retread of the film rather than a tribute. When Kylo Ren first walks off his ship for example it's hard not to think of him as a second rate Vader. As the story goes on Ren manages to escape being thought of like that and becomes probably the best character of the whole thing. We'll go into more detail soon, but let's spend some time on the other characters.

Rey is a likable main character throughout. What's confusing is who exactly she is. The story hints that she could be Luke's daughter, but this isn't made evident. That's why the very last scene isn't as effective as it could have been since there isn't a definitive connection made between the two. Rey in the final act utilizing the force effectively came very sudden. Luke had two films to master it, so it came naturally there. But by the end of this film Rey is more than a match for Ren, who supposedly had been in training for sometime. Despite these things, Rey is still one of the highlights in the cast. Finn is the other main character, and provides most of the comic relief. While I did enjoy this story arc of a Stormtrooper betraying the Sith (or in this case The First Order) Finn is just over the top sometimes. For example in the later part of the movie when Han Solo motions to him to look behind, how did he not know what Solo meant? It might have been funny in the moment, but in retrospect it just didn't make sense. The final scene with him is also very unclear, especially with Rey's line.

A rather major negative is the character of Captain Phasma. There's nothing wrong with her specifically, it's what the film does with her. For awhile marketing hyped her up as an important, powerful character. Rightfully so, because we've never seen a female imperial commander before in Star Wars. Combine that with the awesome armor and we have what could be a highlight, much like Boba Fett of the original movies. That isn't the case here. In her brief scenes she does nothing of importance. Her final scene involves her being thrown in the trash. Literally. What we have is the definition of a wasted character. I don't think anyone would have minded if they had cut down on Finn in favor of more Phasma. Hopefully in the next Episode she's given more to do. (Though it's hard to be respected by the audience after being thrown in the garbage!)

What I find most amazing about the return of Han Solo and Chewbacca is how similar they are from the original trilogy. One can watch Episode's IV, V, VI, and then VII back-to-back and he/she wouldn't see any kind of change. Keep in mind that Harrison Ford's last film was way back in Return of the Jedi, so it's uncanny how he's able to bring back that character so effectively after all these years. Seeing the duo and C-3PO later in the story was like seeing old friends. Princess General Leia was very good, though has a minimal role. This is expected since the story isn't about the Resistance at first. The plot at its core is about finding Luke Skywalker. The reason given to why he's left is pretty poor, so hopefully that gets expanded on in the sequel. Because of his leaving things have gone to heck, so hopefully he feels some kind of guilt for making such a terrible decision.

Alright, now for Kylo Ren. This guy has the menacing look and persona. He was a blast to watch whenever he was on screen, much like how Darth Vader was in the original films. (One of the reasons why the prequels were boring in comparison is because they didn't have that ongoing engaging character.) As stated earlier, the character manages to escape being a second rate Vader. His conflicted arc is very interesting. The scene where he's talking to Vader's destroyed helmet and his line "I will finish what you started" was a powerful moment, arguably one of the most powerful of the entire film. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the story is that part of Ren's arc is a reverse version of the ongoing father son conflict of Vader and Luke in Episodes V and VI. It's really intriguing how the story went with this in the climax. Adam Driver did a solid job delivering the human aspect when the mask was off. Though, the people I was watching the film with made an interesting observation: he looks nothing like his father or mother. It seemed to me the story was aiming for a resemblance to the young Anakin Skywalker, but in doing so destroys the realism of him being the son of Solo and Leia.

Snoke is the same thing as Emperor Palpatine, just 10x more generic. There's literally nothing interesting about him at all, so hopefully this is rectified in the sequel. The climax on the bridge was excellent, and contains a very unexpected ending in retrospect. Hopefully the final film in the storyline doesn't go ahead and copy Return of the Jedi's ending and have Kylo turn good. The thing is that it's mentioned by one of the characters here that "there's still good in him," which is a reference to Luke telling his father that same line in Return. The thing is that here with the climax there actually is seemingly no more good left in him, which again is an interesting reverse version of the family conflict in the original trilogy. So to have him redeemed by the end would be almost a carbon copy of Vader's arc in that film. The soundtrack is fantastic, containing many of the old themes while featuring new ones which fit right into Star Wars. (Which is fitting, since John Williams came back to do the score here!)

Overall, The Force Awakens is a worthy continuation in the beloved sci-fi series. Right from the iconic "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way..." to the classic title screen music you can feel yourself filled with great anticipation. It's a quality adventure with fun characters for the most part. You feel invested in the conflict with this classic good vs. evil story. While perhaps taking too much from A New Hope (even copying the famous destruction of the Death Star idea) it's great to see the old characters brought back. Kylo Ren is an excellent antagonist whom I look forward to seeing more of in the sequel. Unlike A New Hope, this film leaves many plot lines open which as a whole might make the film feel incomplete, but as part of the larger story it's fine. It's definitely good to have Star Wars back in the spotlight.


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