Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Hi everyone! I wasn't feeling too well this week, so my husband stepped up and offered to post his thoughts on the new movie, Stars Wars Episode VII. We both enjoyed the movie, but he has some interesting insight and theories for the future installments! Enjoy! (Warning: Nick wrote almost four pages single spaced in Microsoft Word. He likes to write.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review | Keys to My Life

Hey everyone! Ariel let me take over the blog for a day to tell you my thoughts on the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie that came out last month. I know that some of you may not have seen the movie yet, but since it has been almost a month since its release, I want to dive in as far as need be so here is your warning now. I’ll let you know when we hit dangerously spoiler-y waters. There will be some spoilers for episodes I through VI, but, let’s be honest, if you haven’t seen them at least once by now, 30-plus years ought to be long enough.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want to preface this with a quick overview of what I think of the movies that came before this one. I’ve seen them all several dozen times I’m sure (I didn’t count), and I know a good deal about them, though I’m not one of those guys that can recite them word-for-word including the alien languages (though if you are, I applaud you and perhaps pity you a little – in only the best ways, I promise).

I don’t have too much to say on the music right now, though I would love to. Obviously the music that was done for all six of the previous films was phenomenal (John Williams, if you ever read this, let’s do lunch sometime! I’m a huge fan), and I’m a total soundtrack music junkie so I would love to talk about the musical styling at some point, how it takes inspiration from Wagnerian opera with the use of leitmotifs and such, but I’m sure Ariel would like her blog back someday so I’ll keep to the point.

The effects are a different story. In the original versions of the first trilogy, George Lucas did a great job with practical effects, as computer animation didn’t exist back then, and if it did, it was still in its infancy and being experimented with, not employed as a reliably good movie making technique. Even so, the effects of the originals were very well done and are a model for many in the industry today. Likewise, the prequel trilogy used more computer-generated effects and effectively so. These movies have always worked to push the boundaries. However, I believe that the artists making these films were a bit overexcited about the medium and overused those effects, which weakened the feel of how these movies presented themselves in comparison with the originals. This will be important in my review of #7.

I personally hated a good chunk of the writing in the prequel trilogy, and I blame the bad acting of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman mostly on that. I feel that both have acted well in other films and few could have delivered some of those scenes well with such terrible writing (“It’s because I’m so full of love,” “No, it’s because I’m so in love with you!” “So love has blinded you?”…gag me with a spoon). This wasn’t universally true, but that was the big area that I believe the prequels failed in. I’ve heard many, many people complain that the prequels were corny and had a lot of stupid jokes and gags, which I believe is true, however if you look back at the originals, they had arguably just as much if not more. They were just the first to really excel in this genre and are now classics, so we tend to be much more forgiving. Personally I think the fact that George emphasized the stormtrooper hitting his head on the door in episode IV’s later versions just because it was a stupid and funny mistake tells me that his sense of professionalism in regards to those movies went the way of Captain Needa a bit. Sure the movies were supposed to have some lighthearted humor in them and that’s excellent, but there were times in both trilogies where it ventured past funny down to stupid humor.

Obviously there is much more to say on those movies than I want to go over here, but that should give you an idea of where I am coming from. So, without further ado…

Thar be spoilers ahead!

This is the first Star Wars movie directed by someone other than George Lucas, and this garnered varying opinions from fans. Those of us who thought that George’s movies were awesome were nervous about J.J. Abrams taking the helm, while others thought that Mr. Lucas should have vacated that chair a couple movies ago. I was personally of the mindset that while he had indeed made great movies that had pushed many boundaries of filmmaking, Abrams was likely going to be an excellent choice as a director based on his interpretation of the new Star Trek series. I’m going to excuse Spock yelling “KHAN!!!” in Into Darkness from this statement, but I digress. I heard what he intended to do with the new movies, and I was thrilled. Back to elaborate costumes and practical effects we go! Those are a huge element that made the original trilogy so iconic. When I saw the movie, I was not disappointed. Now that computer animation is more mainstream, mature, and out of the “ooooh, pretty imaginary liiiights” phase, Abrams was able to blend practical and computer-generated effects really well. I was thoroughly impressed by the fact that most of BB-8 was completely practical and that he was a working droid, regardless of the technical complications of having a little droid head sitting on top of a rolling ball. Abrams could have taken the easy route and animated him entirely, but having him physically exist brought a nice sense of reality and quality to the movie. This use of computer animation to enhance practical effects and costuming brought balance to the film (see what I did there? Heh, I’m sorry) that the prequels didn’t have.

Musically, John Williams was at it again with fantastic musical scores and new themes mixed with the old, which made us wonder things like who Rey is; it seems fairly obvious to me that she has something to do with Luke based on the themes surrounding her at crucial moments. Some theorists have even used these themes to guess that Supreme Leader Snoke is actually Darth Plagueis, as Snoke’s theme material was the same as was used during the part of episode III where Palpatine was telling Anakin about Darth Plagueis’s legend. Personally, I would love for that to be true because then we’d have an antagonist we would have at least heard of and could enjoy learning more about rather than a completely new face. Possibly a bit of a stretch but I would not be surprised if that were the case based on how John Williams has used theme material in the past. Nothing like that is an accident with that composer.

The humor in this movie was one of the reasons why I consider it to be one of (if not the) best movies in the series. Where other movies used a ton of slapstick-y comedy, this one took the original feeling and cut the crap so to speak. There was humor present, but I can’t think of any of it that was stupid or made you wonder whether or not it was a mistake. This allowed for a much smoother blend between the lighthearted segments and the more serious parts of the film.

The character development was awesome in this movie. It made me care about the people in this film, even though I had never heard of them before. In the prequels, you knew enough of the main characters that nothing was really a secret so caring about them was based on their ties to the originals in most cases. In this one, they risked making a roster of forgettable characters, which would likely have effectively ruined the series, especially since they seem to be in the process of killing off the old crowd. In that regard, I loved the way that the writers and J.J. Abrams handled the death of Han Solo, even though I hated to see him go. It wasn’t corny and gave a different flavor to the film, and I’m curious how they’ll deal with that in the upcoming entries in the series. I’m not sure what they plan to do with Finn, because he was the one character that I must say I went in and out of enjoying. He seemed like an awesome, heroic person at times and a total chicken other times. His confused character got a bit old, and I can’t really explain why. Maybe it was because he was up against such well-defined characters from the new lineup and the old. I hope they dig into his story and personality much more later. Rey was cast extremely well and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her develop into a budding jedi-to-be. She had her lighthearted humor and a seriously tough attitude, and Daisy Ridley owns that character. I thought that she and the majority of this group was casted perfectly. There was only one character that I didn’t like the actor for, and that was Adam Driver as Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo if you prefer). I thought he did a decent job as Han and Leia’s son, and I get that maybe they were trying to make him resemble Hayden from the prequels, but I personally think that his performances, especially toward the end, were a bit lackluster. When I compare his acting to that of those around him, I hope he really digs into his character next time and not just the script. That being said, I thought he did a good job and what he was able to do still added to the movie significantly. As a last point in this area, Luke could have used a few lines…just saying.

Now, I have a couple questions about this movie that I’m hoping will be answered in the next installments. The first is that of Rey and Snoke’s true identities. I mentioned this above of course, along with my thoughts, but I really hope they don’t drag that out too long. Heck, Darth Vader’s true identity was revealed in the second movie so my hopes are high. Secondly, and I’m really hoping they have a good reason for this, why was it that R2-D2 randomly awoke from his low-power state at the end of the movie? There seemed to be no logical reason for it aside from driving the plot, and Star Wars can do better than that. I hope that they talk about that in the upcoming film. A final group of questions was brought about by the lightsaber that was given to Rey and finally accepted by her in the end. It was said to be Luke’s lightsaber, as well as Anakin’s. Obviously Anakin’s ownership of the saber (along with its color and construction) means that it is not the one that Luke used in episode VI, but is in fact the one that Luke lost when Vader cut of his hand on Bespin. That weapon fell all the way down that chasm-like tube as far as we know. This brings forth a couple questions that need answering. The first is, unless it was caught partway down its fall, how did the lightsaber not break after that great a distance? It may seem a bit trivial but I would think it was dumb if they glossed over that one. Even Star Wars has some semblance of physics and they definitely aren’t indestructible. Secondly, how did Maz get it? They’ve teased that answer in episode VII so I’m sure they’ll follow through there. Lastly, how did Kylo Ren recognize the lightsaber without ever seeing it? Sure it was blue but it was also dark and in a snowstorm, so I don't know how he could have possibly recognized it while gripped in the Finn's hands. How did he even hear about it? I'd think that even if Snoke knew about it, he or Luke would probably not even think to mention it since it had been lost so long and lightsabers could still be made if one was lost. There are many more questions that are of less significance in my mind, but these seemed to be the most pertinent ones to ask. I’d love to know if you have any thoughts or theories so definitely leave a comment if you want to share! Try to include some potential proof toward any theories if you can.

All in all, I thought that episode VII was a fantastic breath of new life to the Star Wars universe. Though some might be angry that they disregarded plot lines in most books that have come out in preceding years and restarting the canon, I find it more engaging that we won’t know what really happens, and ultimately I trust the team behind these movies because of their interactions with George Williams and that they have taken his opinions on the plot lines. It was a fun movie to watch, left me with questions, made me care about what happened to these people that I’d never met just as the original trilogy did, and was faithful to the spirit of the series. I enjoyed it more than pretty much anything in the series thus far, and I’m very excited for what is coming next. Hopefully Luke will even get a line in this time!

Have you seen the new movie yet? Did you enjoy it? What are you hoping for in the rest of the trilogy?

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