Monday, December 21, 2015

(Review) Star Wars: The Force Awakens....

I got the pleasure of seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens not once, but twice on Friday.  Taking a half-day to see it at noon would have been sufficient, but my co-worker called late asking to see it a 10pm, and with an awesome wife taking care of the kids' bedtimes, I was off to see it again.

I promise no big spoilers, like Jar-Jar and Dengar adopting Yoda's illegitimate love child (oops).   I will address some of the criticism that they essentially copied Episode IV.   Here we go...

Oh for cripes' sake, everything about Star Wars is cyclical, you didn't see a portion of that coming?   It's been 32 years since the last movie, and I'm assuming about that much time has passed in the storyline.  They had two hours to catch us up story-wise to what's transpired, find a decent plot hook, and build some character background to make us feel attached to the new characters.  You expected completely new take on things?  You may want to wait for Rogue One to come out, although I guarantee you the you'll see the same movie military tropes that pervade the genre, some of which were in Episodes I-VI.

Remember, Star Wars was groundbreaking in many ways when it first came out, but it simply redefined the the classic pulp space opera from the Thirties through the Fifties.  And you know what one of the tenants of the classic space opera serials were.  Variations on a theme.   Same characters/villains/plots, but different characters/villans/plots.  It needs to be rehashed, to make sure even the newest, most virgin viewer knows what's going on, but to establish a continuity in story.

And really, plot lines aside, the new movie does a few things better than the originals. 
  • Space fights have high-tech effects, but the feel like the original trilogy.  Everyone is still using the old targeting computers, which seem dated to 21st Century
  • Lightsaber duels that, again, feel more like the original trilogy than the Mexican Luchador /Cirque du Solei  performance of the prequels.  There was one noticeable over dramatic pause, but everything else was great. 
  • While I may have outgrown my love for rubber suits (see below), the CGI-only characters were fantastic.  I completely forgot that Maz Kanata wasn't real.  A little-Yoda-esque, but far more realistic.
The Lego figurine does not do the character justice.

My nitpicks:
  • For a galaxy with space communications, the telegraphing was there in force.  Sure, most of us old-school guys were trying to figure things out while the movie progressed, but we didn't need hit-me-with-a-brick obvious dialogue to tell even some neophytes what was about to go down.
  • Speaking of which, the dialogue for some sections was over-the-top informative, in the "Let me tell exactly why everything is going down the way it is" kinda way.   Yes, this hearkens bark to the days of Flash Gordon on the radio, except in the new version it couldn't get more overt if you dropped a plug for Ovaltine in between scenes. 
  • Perhaps there's been so much CGI in movies, that the pleasant sounding idea of people in rubber suits for aliens is a great idea, but less so in practice.    The junk dealer Unkarr Platt  (voiced/played by Simon Pegg) gave me a Seventies rubber monster vibe that didn't jive with the rest of the outrageous cast of characters.
  • Moody Jedi must be a family trait, the word Emo comes to mind, but let's see what the writers do with it.
  • Add misogynistic comments here:  Carrie Fisher just acted old and tired, and delivered her lines with the enthusiasm of an early rehearsal for a summer stock production.  Part of it was the previously mentioned dialogue, but I would like to chalk it up to her not having fun.  Any other ideas go down I path I don't wish to take, but I will say, Harrison looked tired to, but got better lines, some great one-liners, and as reports came out, had a blast making the film.
With a 32-year gap, and the old Extended Universe no longer cannon (but could be heavily borrowed from), I do feel a need to read something, anything, to get me caught up on the whole Republic/First Order/Resistance thing?  How long have stormtroopers been cultivated via the Finn method versus Jango clones?   Why is General Leia not part of the Republic government?    Has the Wookie ever lost a game of the space chess game since  New Hope?   

All my niggling questions will eventually be answered, but if you want to see a new Star Wars movie that captures the spirit (some say too much) of the original trilogy, The Force Awakens is a must see.

But you have already gone, haven't you....?

I enjoyed the action, I loved the off-handed inside jokes that referred to the previous movies, and I'm waiting with anticipation for more to be explained in 18 months.

On the Gaming with the Gnomies 5-Gnome scale, I give the Force Awakens four out of five gnomes.

Considering the best of the prequels for me was Revenge of the Sith and that might net a 2.5 gnomes on a good day, I think Disney is pushing the franchise in the right direction.

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