Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#JustaQuickiePlease: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoileriffic) Review

Okay, now that we have all had time to digest and digress, let’s get down and dirty with all of the geeky goodness of the newest installment in this beloved franchise.  Plus the fact, I am literally going bonkers holding my tongue, unable to totally go “full on geek beast mode” with my opinions, affections, and criticisms, yes there are those as well, of the movie that cemented my obsession with all things Sci-fi.   So, enough of the pleasantries, I have broken this down into the top ten points of pure geekgasm and surprising disappointments so all may enjoy my self-indulgent, somewhat delusional bloviating.

The force is with us...or the ten reasons this film is as good as or better than the original trilogy:

1) REY!  She has to top the list because it is a rarity that a female character is written and played with such authenticity and defiance against relentlessly regurgitated cinematic stereotypes.   Rey's character is wonderfully complex and yet simplistically genuine, and yes they can exist simultaneously, mixing the right amounts of; the majesty and grace of femininity, tomboy charm and chutzpah, and edgy, intelligent heroics.    Rey redefines what the female hero looks like, acts like, and should be.  Take note Hollyweird, Abrams finally gets it right.  Now whether or not that would have played as well without the astounding intensity and non-verbal emotional potency of Ridley's performance will remain a mystery.  But, there is no doubt, that J.J found the elusive silver, in the idea of the silver screen with his casting and crafting of this incredible role.

2) Wookiepalooza!  He was never a sidekick and Abrams acknowledges that with the ferocity of a rabid nerf herder.  By the way, do any of us really know what that is or even looks like?   He has to be the most adored alien in the Star Wars universe who finally gets his due as the walking carpet takes near center stage adding his trademark, albeit primitively conveyed, sense of humor and undeniable endearment.  Never has a simple grunt, growl, and gurgle said so very much.   And to know he will play an integral part in the upcoming sequels makes me squeal like a fleeing MSE-6 mouse repair droid.   Hats off to Mayhew, who pulled off one of the most emotionally fueled meltdowns, in a full Wookie suit mind you, communicating such genuine pain and anger at the loss of his dearest friend.  Most seasoned actors can't pull that off minus the hundred pounds of fur and fury. 

3) Kylo Ren!  In the beginning, we never truly understood the evolution of one of the most iconic villains of all time, Darth Vader.  Then Lucas attempted to answer that riddle with three inferior prequels, wasting a whole lot of time with commercial nonsense instead of the sincere struggle of a man who wishes to be absolute good but is inevitable corrupted by unyielding evil; remember the kid’s folks, remember the kids.  What an absolute sin to be robbed of the equivalent of an epic interstellar Greek tragedy.  But wait, Abrams has got this one covered too.  However, rather than give us good's enticement to evil, he proverbially bitch slaps us with good's eager submission to darkness in Kylo Ren.  Where Vader's fall was far more allegorical, Ren's choice is deeply and disturbingly psychological.   Fresh and exciting, we bare witness to a man hell bent on diving head first into darkness through a warped sense of authority and purpose.  Anakin was seeking a way to save those he loved, obsessively so.  Kylo Ren, or Ben, desperately wants to embrace evil and release himself from the self-perceived burdens and pains of light.  We are privileged to watch a slow, methodical evolution of Ren, who is far less focused than his predecessor, addicted to the Dark Side like an intermediate meth addict.  Then there is the parallel of "becoming" to young Luke, who seeks to become a Jedi with his fear and insecurity serving as his biggest obstacles.  There are three pivotal moments in Luke's journey that thrust him ahead to his destiny.  Please humor me as I briefly recap them: Ben's death which brings bravery but the conflict of vengeance, Vader's confession which compels Luke to truly find himself among the fear of losing his identity to his father's fate, and finally, Luke's selflessness and sacrifice to persevere his father's life in the face of the overt power of the Dark Side.  An action, so compelling it leads to his Father's complete conversion to good.  Fast forward to Ren, in his first stage of "becoming," but instead of watching his mentor become a martyr he must destroy the one thing he loves most to truly begin his stability with the darkness he is so adamant to serve.  I can only imagine what it will be like if Abrams tries to craft the two final stages to mirror in their own warped and unique way.   So, in this first film we see Ren; rageful, immature, but determined to succeed where his grandfather failed.  For him, Luke's act was a transgression and he means to do whatever it takes, whatever it may cost, to right that wrong.   This is what Anakin's transformation should have looked like and Driver's performance is outstanding, connecting with the audience in a near mystical way.  

4) Retelling without rehashing can it be done?  Apparently so!  Although I have some issues that I will revisit later, for the most part, Abrams gives us an old story in a very new and exciting way.  I know he wanted to recapture the magic of the original trinity, but I want to add another dimension to this review.  So, sit back and allow me to wax philosophical, bordering on theological.  The complaint may be that instead of telling an entirely new story, J.J relied too heavily on mirroring the original concept. Although that may be true, I have a take maybe unconsidered.  My theory; J.J. was trying to give us a deeper glimpse into the practice, principles, and even the organism that is the Force.  Maybe, just maybe, J.J was demonstrating that a sentient, unformed entity follows a cyclic pattern until it finds the balance of its preservation, and thereby the universe.  As Serling would say; consider if you will..that the Force seeks out those individuals that can actually serve its greater purpose and those people share similar facets and characteristics.  The loss of family, the need to find a sense of self, sincere humility, definitive integrity, a willingness to seek good over evil for no other reason than it is what should be done, and an incorruptible spirit proven by finding hope in utter desolation and isolation.  Both Rey and Luke are literal spiritual twins when it comes to these precepts.  One could even argue that Anakin possessed them, possibly even Obi-Wan.  By selecting these individuals, we see the Force wield its will as it continues to cohere the fabric of the cosmos.   Those repetitions are unavoidable as we are all connected under its umbrella.   So this story is simply another chapter in how a sovereign energy works.  I am sure there are a million holes that could be poked in that speculation, but that's my two cents.  Or it could merely be Abrams trying to retell a treasured fable without the infamous aberrations of the clichéd reboot.  Either way, it's a win.

5) Finn!  Is he comic relief or another poignantly significant physiological symbol?   Again, there will be some opposing opining later but, for now, we will focus on the positives.   Avoiding stereotypes, Finn is the every man, the reluctant hero who doesn't want to fight but is unable to resist the urge to protect.   He perfectly represents the unwitting draftee, firmly believing, at one time, he is on the side of right, and once that idealistic deception is exposed, he is torn as to what to do next.  Finn was trained from birth to hate, to serve, without question, a regime that indoctrinated him into their ways.  It is the only life he knows and yet, conscious and conviction proves, once again, they trump conditioning, no matter how deep or severe it may go.  There are any number of controversial parallels we can draw here throughout the tragic archives of history, but let's stick with a lighter tone for now.  Finn is us, trying to find his place in this world.  He is not special or different, but full of life and desperate to find purpose; not a Jedi, endearing bad boy, suave hero, or invincible soldier. Instead, he is a man gradually finding his own way while discovering the strength of his character existed the whole time.  He is what we aspire to be; the guy who stands in the gap, faces danger without hesitation, well most of the time, and is willing to stand while others kneel.   Add in a solid dose of authentic humor and unquestionable kinship with the audience and Finn becomes a serious presence in every scene.  Boyega's acting prowess instantly makes Finn a welcomed addition to the Star Wars legacy of loved characters.  

6) Battle sequences that don't look like glorified toy commercials!   Elaborate masterfully choreographed, and beautifully intense, each action filled act whether by land, sea, or space is absolute magic.  This is what Lucas' perfected even when the technology wasn't there to truly support his vision; effects that enhance the story and its cast not to carry or eclipse them.   J.J returns to his FX roots to craft a masterpiece that is both visually and intellectually captivating.  Oh and let's not forget, Stormtroopers that can actually aim and hit things; pretty brutally in some case.  Wow, have we come a long way in the galaxy.

7) Just the right mix of nostalgia!  Wink, wink, nod, nod to everything we loved about the originals without overloading us with simple reruns of favorite characters, scenes, and one-liners.  Not to mention, the near perfect melding of the treasured and tested with creative and exciting risks.

8) Old Friends!   Han Solo...enough said really, but allow me to elaborate just a bit more.  Ford once again, delivers one of the greatest cinematic heroes of all time.  He may have aged, but so does the finest of wines.   As far as I am concerned, Ford is one of the best actors of the century, in the exclusive company of such greats as Stewart, Brando, Grant, and Dean.  Just Google them and you'll get the gist.  He owns this character and no one; no one can breathe life into the scruffy smuggler like Harrison.  One of the few times, hype meets reality.   Leia...Fisher never lost it, but she faded for a long while way before her time.  Her performance is more subdued but just as poignant ensuring her legacy remains fully intact, every scene with Han is subtly powerful and perfectly timed.  

9) Rey's Force trip!   From her mental tug of war with Rey to that crazy cool moment with Daniel Craig's Stormtrooper, yes you read right, and finally, her battle with Kylo as powers begin to blossom, all were indescribable Jedi awesomeness.  As for the coolest scene in the movie, dubbed by a tale of two Bens; McGregor and Guinness was the re-imagining of Luke's Dagobah's mind freak with glimpses into a deeper, more meaningful Rey story.  It gave us just enough to squeal like a Tauntaun while wetting our cerebral appetites for more.  Way to tease, J.J!  

10) Shocks and surprises that make sense!  Ren revealed as Solo and Leia's son.  I have to admit, totally didn't expect that.  Ren was once Luke's Padawan, that one I kinda saw coming.  Ren's real name is Ben, too cool!  But the shock heard around the universe was Han's death at the hands of his only son.  I too felt the saber's pierce as it sliced through our hero's heart like so much warm butter.  I knew Ford wanted out, even expected the possibility of Solo's death, but nothing, nothing could prepare me for witnessing his gut-wrenching demise on screen.  He seemingly allows his son to impale him, only able to gently, lovingly touch his face before he plunges down the unfathomable depths.  Abrams even imploded a planet around him to add an exclamation point; like pouring sour Bantha Milk on an open wound.  Did he see it coming; I mean his character of course?  Did Han honestly believe he could save his son?  We may never know.  It was a masterpiece of a scene, constructed with care and pure emotion and unspoiled by excess dialogue or unnecessary prolonging.   Still,  his death will be one of the most heart-crushing scenes in movie history. 

We have covered the awesome, now let' take a moment to review some of the “head scratchers” that we will, of course, forgive, but I must address them to maintain my own integrity.

Slipping over to The Dark Side...or the ten things that made us do a double take:

1) Enough of the planet size, planet destroying space stations!  What is the Empire/First Order's R&D department a one trick pony?  Seriously, a little less attention to the Resistance and a little more HR insight might help your cause; maybe a few quick employee evaluations.  Remember, let's retell without rehashing.  Besides, how is the Empire/First Order scoring all of the money to build these things over and over again with a galaxy inhabited by; worlds of nothing but ice, tree planets plagued with retired care bears, desolate third world desert trading stations, and swampy moons....just saying.  

2) Finn again!  I know I gave him a lot of love earlier but explain to me again how an individual trained in combat since birth is; afraid of everything, sucks at fighting, and has all of the coordination of a young Jerry Lewis. I have to admit, I kinda got a whole Will Smith in Independence Day vibe for a while, 

3) Captain Phasma!   Apparently hype is a bit stronger than the Force.  Talk about the biggest letdown, and I mean even more so than the Luke on film for five minutes thing,   Can it be true?  Is the Star Wars universe only capable of containing one significant female lead at a time?  We reduced the most anticipated new villain in the legacy to 15 minutes of voice-overs...nice.

4) Missed moments!  Too many important scenes were rushed or not explored enough.  Ridley's Rey emotionally owned every scene she was in with little to no dialogue required.  But there were several scenes that robbed us of full nerd impact.  Two, especially, come to mind.   One, is when Han leaves Leia to face Ren.  What J.J we couldn't even get a Solo/Leia kiss...really!  How about the line that would have caused uncontrolled geekgasm; Solo tells Leia, “I love you."  To which, Leia answers, "I know."  C'mon Abrams that would have been indescribably epic.  Second, when Han dies, a little more time spent on Leia's grieving would have been nice.   Even when Rey leaves to find Luke, a few extra seconds of interaction would have amplified an already touching moment. 

5) Poe!  First, I was literally getting ready to start a drinking game...take a shot every time someone says, "Poe is the greatest pilot in the resistance."  Second to Phasma, he is the most underused, one-dimensional character in the new lineup.  What a shame, because the few precious moments when his role shined in both humor and heroics were diluted by his absolute lack of depth.  Maybe we will get more in the sequels but he should have had a more significant presence and story.  And how again did he get back to the resistance after being thrown from the crashing Tie Fighter on Jakku?  Why didn't he try to find Finn and BB8?  Seems we have another Phantom Menace of a storyline on our hands.

6) Admiral Ackbar never said, "It's a Trap!"  Okay, got it out of my system...moving on.

7) Where the hell is Boba Fett?  The number one selling character and you couldn't even give him a cameo!  Maybe a quick nod in the back of the bar, a fuzzy glimpse of a junked Slave 1 on Jakku...something.

8) Everyone apparently can use a lightsaber, some very well with zero training! Suddenly, doesn't feel as special anymore.

9) The Empire/First Order sucks at holding people hostage!  Underestimating your enemy, need to work on that just a bit.

10) Rey escapes exploding planet miles away from a viable ship....cause sequels.

With all that said, this is one of my favorite movies, bringing back all of the childhood joy and wonder that had been sorely lacking in my cinematic experiences.   Absolutely a 4 out of 5 Kernels: The Force is strong with this one...you know I had to do it...just go with it!

  

      


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