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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
cinema_holic
cinema_holic
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
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Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A
Special Effects: A-



I was only one year old when the original Star Wars was released in 1977. Apparently, my mother actually took me with her when she went to see it. That's a woman I would hate in the theatre today. In any case, I'm still old enough to remember a time of years of speculation regarding whether any more movies would be made. That one was called "Episode VI," after all. So much time went by, it seemed like it might not happen. And then, when George Lucas rereleased the films in 1997, and fanboys around the world shit themselves. And started arguing. Did Han or Greedo shoot first? My answer has always been: who gives a shit?

Enter 1999, and the prequels come around, igniting fan fervor all over again. But also Jar Jar Binks. Who plenty of children who didn't know any better actually liked. But that's the thing, and something too many older fans forget: kids loved the prequels and had no qualms with them.

That being said, The Force Awakens is the satisfying addition to the Star Wars legacy that older fans have been waiting for since 1983. J.J. Abrams has a far better understanding of what fans want than an aging, early-21st-Century George Lucas ever did. In Lucas's revisited world, he was obsessed with "state of the art" CGI visual effects that looked dated even in the years they were released, rendering environments unnaturally clean and sterile, never mind his beyond-groan-worthy dialogue. Abrams takes us back to a world with seamlessly blended CGI and practical effects, with lived-in and dirty, grimy hardware, equipment and landscapes. This feels like the world it should have been all along. He does an even better job of rebooting this franchise than he did with Star Trek (2009), and that movie was excellent -- save for a disappointingly unmemorable villain.

No such problem here! And since I can't get too deep into plot details for fear of giving someone a nervous breakdown, this seems like a good time to talk about the actors, who are uniformly great.

Adam Driver plays the central villain, Kylo Ren. We already know from the trailer that he is obsessed with Darth Vader, and he wears his own mask. But, unlike Vader, we also see Driver's face a few times, and the man gives a performance of such near-perfect subtlety that even without the mask, he causes uneasiness. He is a young man going down a dark path (duh), but somehow you fear for both him and the others around him. Vader was, as Obi-Wan once said, "more machine than man." Ren is explicitly a man, making him more relatable, and thus more sinister.

There's no reason to tiptoe around this: The Force Awakens achieves a kind of diversity previous Star Wars films clearly aspired to but never quite reached. Our central hero this time around is a young woman, Rey (Daisy Ridley, who feels and talks like a younger clone of Kiera Knightley -- not that that's a bad thing). One of the badass Empire villains is Captain Phasma, played by Game of Thrones's Gwendoline Christie, whose screen time is limited but is always fun, even though we never see her face under her helmet. And the dumbest uproar over this movie was idiot-fan insistence that a Stormtrooper couldn't be black, but guess what? John Boyega as Finn, the Stormtrooper with a crisis of conscience, couldn't be better, and not one thing about his character feels out of place.

This diversity even extends to the special effects, which are easily the best seen in any Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi. (To be fair, they couldn't possibly be better, in context, since this is now a long-established world that could never wow audiences with effects the way they did in the seventies and eighties, when nothing like it had ever been seen before.) Lupita Nyong'o is wonderful as Maz Kanata, who is also entirely CGI-rendered, far more convincingly than George Lucas could ever have dreamed of. As a character and creature she seems odd, maybe even corny, in concept, but is wonderful and charming in execution.

I haven't yet even mentioned Oscar Isaac as the talented pilot Poe Dameron! Or, of course, Mark Hamill, or Carrie Fisher, or Harrison Ford or Chewbacca's Peter Mayhew. We all know these iconic characters return, but the less said about them the better. I will say that there are moments that feel a little more Indiana Jones than Star Wars, but of Ford's two most famous characters, this is a far more satisfying return for him than in the forgettable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This is Harrison Ford's true legacy, and Abrams gives it the respect it deserves.

Princess Leia is now General Leia Organa, and she gets far less screen time than probably any of us want, but, somewhat amazingly, Abrams and his two co-writers (one of whom is Lawrence Kasdan, who also co-wrote both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) use these characters from the original trilogy in ways that make sense and feel organic.

Nothing about the story feels forced, unless you want to count the one particularly disappointing element, which is how much of it feels like a retread of both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. The premise of the central threat to the Rebellion is decidedly unoriginal, and honestly feels a little like the bad guys are overcompensating for something in ways that are bigger than ever! On the other hand, the First Order and their Stormtroopers get a welcome bit of color, giving them just the right shade of Nazi undertones.

I must admit I fear for the future of Star Wars. The Force Awakens is, in spite of its few flaws, a fantastic doorway back into this world, but a big part of its effectiveness is how much of it is worth the wait. Until now, we got trilogies literally decades apart, which kept fans hungry. But now that we're facing a Star Wars movie of one kind or another every single year for the foreseeable future, just like Marvel managed to make all superheroes supremely boring, Star Wars is about to saturate the market. Die-hard fans may find this irrelevant, but more casual fans like myself do not -- and if the studios want the massive success to continue, even with Star Wars, they're going to need more than the die-hards. As these movies move into ever-more episodes and even spin-offs, inevitably we're going to be faced with clunkers even worse than Lucas's prequels.

For now, though, The Force Awakens is about as good as it gets, and offers everything fans could possibly hope for. There's a lot going on here; perhaps less than in the convoluted prequels but certainly more than in the original trilogy films, and yet this movie is expertly edited, perhaps better than any Star Wars movie to date. It goes on for 135 minutes but all of them zip right by, thanks to just enough perfectly executed action sequences, and clunky expositional dialogue kept to a relative minimum.

And perhaps most importantly, this movie was fantastically shot, by Daniel Mindel (who also did Star Trek, incidentally, but thankfully lens flares are virtually nonexistent here). From there very beginning, this movie is filled with indelible images, right from the moment the opening text crawl disappears, revealing empty space until the camera pans down to this movie's first visible object. It puts a new spin on an iconic moment, setting the stage for an entire film that delivers all it promises and more.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega run for cover in the eminently satisfying STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS.


Overall: A-
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