Friday, December 18, 2015

STAR WARS - The Fan-service Awakens

It's been ten years since the last STAR WARS movie, and more than 32 years since the last cinematic adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa. So let's be honest, you already know if you're going to see The Force Awakens or not.

But is it good? Yes. Does it wash the taste of the horribly miscalculated Prequel Trilogy from the galaxy? Triumphantly. Was it worth the wait? Mostly. Is it as good as the Original Trilogy?

Well, maybe. If we're only talking about Jedi.

To say that STAR WARS Episode VII: The Force Awakens is made with love and reverence for the original three films of the seminal saga is a massive understatement. Director J.J. Abrams is a professed fan, and you can feel the enthusiasm from the top on down. On the one hand, this means that returning franchise vets both in front and behind the camera have a presence and energy that - for some - hasn't been seen in decades.

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (working from an initial draft my Michael Arndt with with co-writing by Abrams) crafts a story of cyclical loss and desperate search set against a backdrop of familiar myth-making. The film boasts familiar faces as well as some dynamite leads, notably Harrison Ford as Han Solo, who hasn't been this energetic or charismatic on-screen in far too long. However, as good as it is to catch up with old friends, it's the new blood that really makes this film hit. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac as Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron respectively, instantly measure as iconic characters worthy of the storied franchise. Their personalities pop as their own people with various pasts, passions, and failings and their charisma is palpable and infectious. The diverse representation in the casting (which extends even to background scenes) is welcome overall, and it's hard to imagine a world where a generation of little girls won't utterly lose their mind over Rey the Scavenger.

On the darker side of the equation, Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver make a great sinister pair of cutthroats as the leaders of the Empire-emulating First Order. Gleeson's General Hux is a sneering fascist willing to throw anyone under the bus to serve his interests, but it's Driver's Kylo Ren who emerges as a villain worthy of challenging our heroes and just as capable at engendering understanding from an audience as he is our hatred. The film's breezy pace is a boon, but these folks work so great together than I wouldn't mind a slightly longer run-time (or 1-2 fewer action scenes) if it meant more charged moments for these actors to play off each other.

But then, casting and performances has always been a talent of Abrams' - his challenge has been finding a script worthy of his ability to get emotional moments from likable actors. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite found it yet. Make no mistake, there's a lot of good material here, but the story is where the affection for the highs of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back devolves into a little too much emulation. As much as The Force Awakens feels like reconnecting with an old friend, it's a little disappointing that said friend is still trying to wow with the same antics they used nearly forty years ago (albeit polished to a remarkable degree). On the one hand, the film does a great job "setting the table" for future adventures while still telling its own story, but said story gets sidetracked for a cover version of a classic song.

Honestly, if the new characters had just been xeroxes of Luke, Han, and Leia, or if they'd been playing second fiddle to the original trilogy's cast, it all could have become insufferable. However, being half remake, half sequel manages to work on the back of new locations, new dynamic faces, and a return of the sense of wonder and mystery that made the original film so captivating. People speak of the war against the Empire and the powers of the Force in hushed tones, invoking the name of Skywalker as a possible myth. There's real discovery and wonder to be found, lending more to the proceedings than a simple retread of a familiar tale.

Abrams and company have pulled off a feat that probably should have been impossible in the face of pleasing so many masters, and have not only crafted a functional piece of blockbuster entertainment with real emotion and a sense of history, but they've made the galaxy far, far away a place you never want to leave again.

No comments:

Post a Comment