'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Movie Review: Entertaining Yet Frustrating, Derivative Entry Into the Saga [NO SPOILERS]
After years of anticipation for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the film is finally out and fans want to know if it lives up to the hype. The answer is yes, but time will tell whether or not this film really holds up in comparison to the prequels or the original films.
J.J. Abrams has crafted a movie that moves at rapid pace and has created some very exciting set pieces in this thrilling, if thinly-written, film.
"The Force Awakens" introduces new characters including Kylo Ren, the new villain who is trying to complete Darth Vadar's mission to destroy the Jedi; Poe Dameron, who is on a mission looking for Luke; Rey, who is a lost girl on Jakku; and Finn, a former Stormtrooper who deserts after he sees what his the first order entails.
All these characters are interesting and wonderfully portrayed by the actors attached. However, they are not fully fleshed out in many respects. Both "A New Hope" and "The Phantom Menace," which carried the burden of initiating their respective trilogy, established all of the crucial characters for viewers rather clearly without any major questions distracting from their narrative progression.
While mystery is a poor tool for creating suspense and engagement, it can also lead to distraction throughout the experience. In particular, why is Rey waiting for her family and why did she even split with them? Why did Kylo Ren turn to the dark side, and when did the Stormtroopers start being trained?
Some questions are about a lack of world-building while others crucial character questions that are rather puzzling. One can assume that these questions and many of the other gaping plot holes will eventually be filled in, but that causes all other sorts of problems for the movie.
Such as the state of the galaxy, for example. While all the politics in the prequels were bloated at times, it really gave depth to this universe and really made the audience understand the origin of the empire and the dangers of greed and power. In "The Force Awakens," Abrams and his team have stripped the film away from the politics, creating some confusion about the true state of the galaxy. It isn't as simple as a big bad dominant 'Empire versus Rebels' breaking away. First off, what exactly is the First Order and why is it so massive if it is supposed to be a smaller terrorist organization? Why is there a Resistance if there is an established Republic? Finally, who is Supreme Leader Snoke and where did he come from?
Don't expect any answers to these questions. A common response to questions about this movie will likely be: "I don't know."
That leads to the next big issue. Despite so much hype in introducing a new number of characters such as Captain Phasma, Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux and Maz Kanata, all of these characters get the short end of the stick, serving as plot devices more than as fully-fledged personages of import.
Then there are the returning characters. General Ackbar is back to sit around and do little else while C-3PO and R2-D2 are just mere fan service as they do absolutely nothing in the film; R2's cameo is also one of the contrivances of the film.
Abrams and his editors have made sure to stuff audiences with a lot of action and fan service. The effects are loud and bombastic and all this seems to cover the thinly-written plot, which at its core is typical Abrams fare -- an unabashed (almost to the point of debilitation) remake of "Episode IV: A New Hope." Audiences will leave the theater crazed about what they saw but thinking it through the story is generally a rehash of what George Lucas did, if not better the six other times, certainly with more originality, bravado and risktaking.
Additionally, this film gets the Disney treatment given to many Marvel films in that it functions more as a setup or preview of what audiences can expect for Episode VIII and IX. In J.J. Abrams' parlance, it is a cinematic expression and perpetuation of the "Mystery Box" concept. Unlike "The Phantom Menace" or "A New Hope," which were self-contained films, "The Force Awakens" is just an appetizer for the full course meal; it undoubtedly tastes good and leaves you hungry for more, but you cannot get satisfaction from it alone.
John Williams' score is also a bit of a letdown. Say what you want about the prequels, but Lucas and Williams had an idea about writing memorable themes and music that until today remain classics. There is nothing close to "Duel of the Fates," "Across the Stars" or "Battle of Heroes" to name some of the best musical cues from the prequels. Here the music is covered by Abrams' bombastic sound mix, making it hard to even remember a single melody. Only until you listen to it separately do the themes somewhat stick out.
Let's tackle one major aspect of the new film that has been heavily emphasized throughout its promotion. It's been 10 years since "Revenge of the Sith" came out and concluded the often (unjustly) maligned prequels. George Lucas employed new technology through that trilogy including digital cameras and CGI, much to the dismay of many fans who felt the effects were too prevalent and made the movies feel "fake." As a result, ever since the acquisition of Lucasfilm, Disney and director Abrams have pushed the fact the new movie was shot on film and also used loads of practical effects and real sets. That said, it's hard to deny that CGI was employed. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of CGI from the opening Millennium Falcon chase sequence to all the space shots. And not all of is actually good or state of the art.
What we end up getting is a balancing of the two unique styles of the preceding trilogies. The use of real sets does work well as it tries to bring the feel of the original films. Yet as much as it tries, it is impossible to do such a thing.
Reading all of these complaints may make it seem as if this writer disliked the film. The answer is no. This writer did enjoy the movie. It is a fast-moving film that generates good suspense and there are some moments that are truly touching. It is always good to see Leia and Han Solo back as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford relish their roles. The new cast, led by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, is rock-solid and really make the best of the film; from an acting standpoint this might easily be the best entry to date. The action sequences, even if not wholly original in execution (the space battles are largely throwaways), are propulsive and the art direction brings us back to a galaxy far, far away while showing us newer aspects we have never experienced.
In closing, one must note that in reality "Star Wars" movies are subject to a wholly different criteria. Dedicated fans don't just look at the movie, enjoy it and move on it. They investigate it, then ponder on it. They pick at every detail. And when you look back at "The Force Awakens," as a whole, there is no doubt that this is an unfinished puzzle.In fact, the "Star Wars" movie missing the most pieces. Of all the films in the saga, this one might ultimately be the one that struggles most to stand on its own out of context.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!