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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong'o, Peter Mayhew, Andy Serkis, and Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by J.J. Abrams
***viewed in 3D***
You must remember that I come at these Star Wars films as a complete novice, having only watched A New Hope a mere 30 hours ago for the first time as I type this.  And it's true that I've yet to watch (or subject myself to) Episodes I-III.  However, at this point in time, I'm going to just state the following:  Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is, without question, the best Star Wars flick I've seen thus far (and likely the best that has been created if others' trashing of the newer trilogy holds true for me).  Nothing I've seen so far can compare in terms of story, acting, directing, and special effects (which, granted, have a leg up on the 1970s/80s predecessors in terms of capability).  It's a pretty darn good popcorn movie and while I certainly wouldn't consider myself a huge fan by any means, The Force Awakens has at least got me excited about what Disney has in the pipeline for this iconic series.

With the least amount of spoilers possible, the film opens with our typical scroll telling us that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished and that a new villainous regime -- The First Order --has taken on the Empire's dastardly doings and will stop at nothing to find Luke whom they presume to be the last Jedi.  Now a general for the Resistance, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is desperate to find her brother and save the galaxy.  In an attempt to determine his location, Leia sends pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to Jakku to do some research.  Poe's one of the good guys as is Rey (Daisy Ridley) -- a scavenger who may be a more important figure in the fight against evil than even she realizes -- and Finn (John Boyega) -- a Stormtrooper who sees the error of the First Order's ways and has a change of heart.  Our heroes along with returning favorites Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) set out to fight the bad guys, headed this time by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (an over-the-top Domhnall Gleeson), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who, like Darth Vader who came before him, carries off a black cloak and face mask complete with voice digitization quite well.

Director J.J. Abrams has created a film that obviously harkens back to the original trilogy, but also stands on its own as a jumping off point to further tales in the Star Wars landscape.  He eschews the light flares that he's been well known for (and well criticized for) as a director and has created a flick that looks beautiful.  The film moves along at a quick pace and although I still think, like its predecessors, some of the action scenes are a little muted in terms of excitement (light saber battles don't do it for me), Abrams has created a film that flows much better than those films that immediately preceded it.  (Although I will say Abrams only uses about two or three transitional scene-changing wipes.  I missed them a bit...)

It helps, of course, that the film is well-written, certainly with homages to the past, but standing on its own as well.  (Kudos to Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and Abrams himself.) Filled with moments of wry humor and some taut drama, The Force Awakens doesn't really have wasted scenes which I feel hampered Episodes IV-VI a bit.  Abrams also, without a doubt, has found a cast that is quite adept, nicely walking a line between action, drama, and comedy without missing a beat.  With one exception in the aforementioned Domhnall Gleeson whom I usually really like but feel he was directed to go a bit manic, all of the newcomers were captivating, drawing me in to their own stories while also breathing new life into the stories of the "old regime" of Han, Leia, and Luke.

Rather nicely, Abrams doesn't overextend himself with the special effects.  Yes, there are a ton of them here, but they seem more natural and composed than the effects in IV-VI.  Obviously, this is partly due to advancements in technology over thirty years, but some of it also has to do with knowing the limitations of what looks organic onscreen and what doesn't and Abrams is right on target visually.  The addition of an incredibly amusing ball-shaped robot BB-8 - which most of the time is a practical and non-CGI effect - showcases the positive manner in which Abrams utilizes his visual effects to their fullest potential.

Needless to say, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens should not disappoint.  Fanboys should love the homages to the past, while non-fanboys should appreciate the new story lines that work surprisingly well.  This is a pretty great start to the reinvention of the Star Wars franchise.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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