Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Return to Form - Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Reviewed

Spoiler free, and that is legitimately important!

Dad took us to see Star Wars in the summer of 1977, inspired by the swashbuckling and derring-do displayed in the tv ads of the day; especially, I think, the big Tarzan swing taken by Luke and Leia in the Death Star.

After seeing this film, if you had asked 5th grade me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have expressed ambivalent dismay at being unable to choose between X-Wing Pilot and Jedi Knight, as I figured only Luke Skywalker could be both.

Since then we have experienced or endured two sequels, three prequels, 2-3 cartoon series and innumerable books and other media that have adapted or added on to the mythos created by George Lucas in 1977.  His attempt to blend the elements of Saturday matinee serials, the films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces succeeded beyond his wildest imagination, which makes it difficult to believe how uncertain he was back when it premiered.

Today I got to see the first non-Lucas chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, and it 's a great one.

I struggled to moderate my expectations in the face of great reviews, people telling me 'you are going to love it!' and someone else saying 'this is the Star Wars movie I have waited 30 years to see'. I can't dispute any of these claims, and I couldn't be happier.

There are plenty of things that can be spoiled, so if you are at all interested in seeing this film (and I hope you are), please see it as soon as possible.  If you are undecided, let me tell you a few things in general that may make up your mind.

It Feels Right - The use of puppets and practical effects, the updated mythology, it all feels tremendously well-synced to the original trilogy.

It Looks Right - All the design elements, uniforms, even the iPod-looking First Order Stormtroopers, they all look like a continuation three decades on from Return of the Jedi.

It Sounds Right - not just the dialogue, but some of the audio clues, like the turret guns on the Millennium Falcon, and the sound of a TIE fighter engine winding up to speed, are evocative and provocative in equal measure.

Magic Is Back - Nothing in the film reminded me of the prequels-nothing. No mention of the Clone Wars, no talk of Annakin Skywalker, and most importantly, no gorram midichlorians.The Force is once again something that many recognize, fewer respect, and fewer still can command.

Legacy - Despite having a reduced role tin the new movies, the characters we have known and loved for so long are not only relevant, but have important roles to play.

There are so many shout-outs to the original trilogy in this movie I can't reference all of them adequately, but let me just say for a moment how much I appreciated John William's score, the fact that lightsabers have heft now as well as generating their own light (for the first time ever!), and Ralph McQuarrie's design work (like the hemi-spherical engines on the new X-Wings).

Most importantly to me, when you get to the climactic lightsaber duel (never you mind who it is), in a snow covered forest, it is not only gorgeous, colourful and cleanly shot, but also highly dynamic, despite dialing down the acrobatics we have come to expect from the prequels and animated series. This is the neon laser samurai swordfight I have been waiting for since Return of the Jedi.

Lastly, let's talk about emotional resonance. Like all fairy tales, Star Wars carries at its core a sense of tragedy, menace, and loss, something The Force Awakens embraces.  It couches a lot of these aspects in homages and winks to the original trilogy, but charts its own course in many other ways. 

You also get a complete story, three acts with a beginning middle and end, despite the fact that there are tons of unanswered questions that we will have to wait until 2017 to get addressed. Unlike some other franchises, this movie is not just a trailer for subsequent episodes.  (Amazing Spider-Man 2, I'm looking at you here!) Maybe a few too many characters are related, but I have no real complaints.

Since the announcement of J.J. Abrams as the director and showrunner for this new trilogy, a lot of us fanboys have been cautiously optimistic, saying, "y'know, in a lot of ways he is far better suited to the mythical adventure of Star Wars than he ever was to the moralistic sci-fi of Star Trek.

If you felt this way, let me congratulate you on being right, and exhort you to see The Force Awakens as soon as possible.  After three decades, you have a Star Wars film that has, at long last, been worth the wait.

1 comment:

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