Friday, December 18, 2015

The Official Black Owl Review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Spoilers!)

So, before I begin, there will be spoilers.  Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.  I am warning you there will be spoilers.  Got it?  OK. 

This is a page from my Dad’s diary, specifically from January 31st, 1978.  I was 5.  That last entry was important to me.  Very important obviously.  It defined a lot of who I was as a kid.  It was really in that theater, that day that the SF fan I am today was born.  As I have grown  I’ve had my problems with Star Wars (documented elsewhere on this blog) but I was really ready for Episode VII. The media blitz was perfect, and it looked like JJ Abrams-whose Star Trek I love-had made good on his promise to do Star Wars right.

I woke up this morning, and my the Lovely Jennifer had been sneaky, and I found this on the coffee table downstairs. 

This is the Target exclusive Hasbro version, and I played with it all morning.  I was all prepped, even took a dramatic, Icon selfie.  

Then, I went to the theater.  The movie played.

I liked it a lot.  A whole lot.  I know that sounds a little weak, but please understand it is really wonderful, but not the mind blowing experience I have seen others had with it.  That’s OK- I have some minor quibbles (which I will get to in a moment), but I am so happy to have this movie out in theaters, and still very glad I bought all the Action Figures before I saw it.  I came home to get them out even.  Of course, I had to shift a lightsaber from one character to another…

So, this is your last chance to look away, because here come the spoilers.  I have the Black Owl review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Just let it in.

This is the best opening crawl yet.  Despite it not being on all the promo material, it does explicitly say “Episode VII,” which took away the sting of not hearing the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It succinctly puts you in the action and brings you up to date on the major events since Return of the Jedi.  Then, minor quibble number one: We got frickin’ Max Von Sydow, who is introduced in the crawl as “an old friend” of General Organa.  He plays Lor San Tekka. 


Yeah, I don’t know who he was supposed to be either.  He also is in the film for four minutes.  This could have been a nice nod to someone, anyone, but it isn’t.  It could have brought the wonderful Mr. Sydow into the franchise to appear again and again.  Nope.  Why wasn’t this General Madine, or Kanan Jarrus, or anyone we’d ever heard of?

And that leads me to my second complaint, though this isn’t really the film’s fault.  Disney told me I was getting an integrated universe.  Disney told me everything they do will tie together.  Disney told me there would be direct ties between this film and my beloved Star Wars Rebels.  I saw none.  There was speculation for a while that Kylo Ren was either Ezra Bridger or perhaps HIS son.  Nope.  I really love Rebels and wanted to see a nod; I don’t feel I got one.  As I have asked before, where’s Hera?

So I can move on to all the stuff I really liked, let me get my next couple of quibbles out of the way. (And, I am tired of using the word “quibble.”)  One thing that always struck me about the original Star Wars (you will not hear me call it “A New Hope”) was that it would stand on its own.  Though later the beginning of a trilogy, it was self contained really, certainly an artifact of the fact no one knew if there would ever be another.  Years later, love it or hate it, Episode I did the same thing.  You can watch Phantom Menace all by itself and not really need another thing.  Indeed, when I watch in the famous “Machete Order,” Episode I is so self contained, you don’t even need it.  I wanted a degree of that here.  Instead, this movie feels like a middle movie.  Yeah, I know, it is the first of a new trilogy, and the seventh in a series.  Well, it felt like that too.

There are questions about characters that do get answered: who is Kylo Ren, why did Luke disappear, where did Han and Leia go wrong.  That story is revealed and I like it.  But who is Snoke?  Why is he leading the First Order?  Who left Rey on Jakku?  There seems to be hints that she’s Luke’s daughter, but no real confirmation.  These are obviously threads to pick up later, but I think they are dangling out there to a distracting degree, to the point that I am left not with an eager curiosity, but rather a feeling of being let down that we don’t tie those lose ends up.  This movie ends like Empire; worse yet, like Fellowship of the Ring.  Yeah, I know there will be more, but too much is left hanging out there for me.  To much JJ mystery box is left unopened for me in the end.  On these questions, I don’t walk out with any sense of closure.

My last problem is how much this movie really borrows from Star Wars (which I am still not going to call “A New Hope.”)  There are a lot of familiar scenes that feel lifted from the OT for me; the final assault against the planet destroying citadel; Maz’s palace feeling a lot like a certain Cantina; Jakku feeling a lot like a certain Cantina’s homeworld; Opening with a droid carrying important information fleeing across the desert.  If you felt Star Trek Into Darkness borrowed too heavily from Wrath of Khan, you may feel JJ did that here too.  Oddly, I didn’t feel STID was too derivative, but this one felt a little too familiar in places. 

OK, that’s all out of the way.  Let’s talk about some good stuff, and there’s a lot.

Captain Phasma is definitely the Boba Fett of this film.  She’s awesome every second she’s on camera, and you just want more.  Fett in fandom went on to earn a following (myself included) that perhaps wasn’t really too well deserved given the short screen time and ignominious ending.  Phasma they say will be back in a big way in Episode VIII and I can’t wait.  So glad she didn’t get Darth Mauled or Fetted here.

I fell in love all over again with the Millennium Falcon.  She gets some great moments here, and I was worried she was going to be the older cast member who died, but no, she makes it, and I want to see years and years of Rey and Chewie in her cockpit. .

Oh, and Rey. Finn is solid as a Stormtrooper with a conscience, but that Rey. I had gotten the sense from the social media leading up to this film that Daisy Ridley was something of a find.  What I did not know is that she is a precious jewel to be treasured, worshipped, and venerated.  Watching her slowly come into her powers was a delight.  Watching her not have to be rescued was a joy.

Watching her was the high point of the film…even if she apparently is not General Leia Organa’s daughter.

Leia and Han are great here.  Ford is in fine form in his last outing, and when he and the former Princess are on screen together, it is magic.  My brother-in-law told me there would be tears, but when the major tragic act happens ending Han Solo, I did not shed a tear…until they cut away to Leia sensing it in the Force.  That got me, and I am so glad they just let Carrie Fisher be her in this film.

And I loved the Kylo Ren stuff.  The tragedy of Ben Solo plays out very well for me, and that is very much due to the wonderful performance by Adam Driver.  The Lovely Jennifer felt he was a little too emo, but I liked watching the battle between light and dark ravage him, liked how he was in no way the smooth Sith Lord of films past, but the unhinged child of war who made the wrong choice when it all came down to it.  I am really ready to hear just who Snoke is so we can see how that all played out as Ben turned on Luke.  I certainly look forward to seeing Kylo and Rey with their sabers drawn on one another again, him now scarred by his first confrontation with her.  That’s the type of string I DID want to be left to later be plucked.  Looking forward to it.

So, aside from some things that keep it from leaving me astounded, I got a well delivered and performed film, that was lovely to look at, and a very worthy sequel to the saga.  I hope the rest of this trilogy brings home the things set in motion here, because now that the Force has Awakened, I am really ready to see where it wants to go next.  It isn't The Empire Strikes Back, but maybe it would be if I was the same age I was in 1981.

Oh, and next time, more Poe.  I liked Poe.  I hope he and Finn both spend a little more time in the back of the Millennium Falcon.

Even if Rey makes them both a little superfluous.

(Official content is property of Disney, no infringement intended, used for review purposes only.) 

1 comment:

Justin Bingham said...

I agree whole heartedly. Daisy was awesome, so great for my daughters! And I think the biggest issues I had were with the death star jr. jr. being blown up again and the fact that hyperspace was suddenly instantaneous. There was no travel time unlike in the original trilogy. I would have loved more Phasma, even if I couldn't shake the image of Brianne of Tarth from my mind. And I really loved the comic relief Finn provided as well as actually having some character development moments. I look forward to more of these two. Han Solo was back and his bridge scene was good even if a little predictable. The new giant emperor was the biggest question mark in my mind. I think Kylo Ren is everything Anakin should have been as far as the struggle between light and dark. And Your wife is right, he's a bit emo. I was glad to take my 8 year old son and two girls to this. It's the movie Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1985.