Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Part 3 of 3)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Part 3 of 3)

Star Wars was always a big thing to me growing up. I still have fond memories watching Episode IV way back in the day on VHS. And, I remember seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater. So, seeing this movie being released was a big deal. Plus, this would be the first movie to not have the influence from George Lucas. Lucas made the prequels for himself, whereas this feels like a Star Wars movie for the fans, and not just neck-bearded ones either. But, you're going to get more out of it than a causal fan.
Given the 30 plus years have passed, things in this universe have changed.
First off, the First Order is clearly a stand in for Nazis, but there are hints of ISIS with the way they recruit their personnel. They kidnap kids and brainwash them. There is one scene that is clearly a callback to the Nazi speeches with the army standing around listening to a speaker. This actor in the scene invokes Hitler in his mannerism. It is a chilling scene because it shows that the First Order is a militant off-shoot of the Empire.
I like how the movie shows us how dangerous this new threat is. Plus, the ruling body seems to be the Supreme Leader Snoke, a person we now nothing about We know that he is in tune with the dark side of the force, but nothing else. We will see more about this guy in later movies.
Remember, we knew almost nothing about the Emperor until the prequels.
Despite being more militant than the earlier bad guys, the new enemy does have similarities to the Empire. They still use storm-troopers with a slightly different design. And, I love the updated streamlined appearance of the iconic design. (Plus, there are female storm-troopers.) Like the Empire, they use TIE fighters and star destroyers. I like they didn't change these things within the 30+ year jump ahead. However, I like how clean the First Order's bases and ships looked compared to the Resistance.
The Resistance isn't as fully explained as the First Order. I actually had to do some research online in order clear up some confusion. The Resistance is very similar to the Rebel Alliance, but there is another government called the New Republic. The New Republic is a separate body from the Resistance. They're allies in this movie, but not the same thing.
That was one of the weaker parts about the story. It seemed the writers wanted to shy away from the prequels so much that they removed a lot of the political back history. This had to do with a lot people complaining about there being too much history in the prequels.
There is another problem with the movie.
The super weapon is sort of an after-thought I felt. The super weapon isn't the central thrust of of two acts of the movie, but it is plopped in the third act. While I liked the actual use of the Starkiller, it is never fully explained how it operates. And, I felt it needed to be fleshed out. And, that's kind of a shame, because the Starkiller is a total badass weapon. And, I won't give away what the Starkiller does, but it is pretty cool. I just wanted more. From what I heard, there was about 50 minutes cut from the movie. So, some of the issues could have been solved in the those said minutes. I going to do some research into this. However, it does feel like the super weapon was a new addition to the script late in the game. It doesn't feel as organic as the other plot points.
With a new creative force, we get to see some new designs that still fit into the Star Wars universe. The creature and aliens are pretty much new and it gives us something we haven't seen before. Plus, we also get to see relics from the old battles during the civil war (not the clone wars). These relics are buried in the sand with a bunch of scavengers picking apart anything worth finding.
ILM did an outstanding job with the special effects and they work on so many levels. Every space battle and chase scene looks amazing, but not crowded like the prequels' scenes. The ships look sleeker and bigger and the actions scenes are bigger, but not overdone. ILM and JJ show restraint in the same manner as the Star Trek movies, It also seems there aren't as many green screen shots and the ones that are used aren't noticeable. While Lucas relied heavily on the green screen, JJ does lean on real locations and sets enhanced by ILM's special effects.
Like the prequels, he does use CGI characters, but they appear more realistic than Jar-Jar and some of the other CGI characters. I like the character of Maz Kanata and she is a CGI character. Maz is restrained, but she has an interesting look that you don't see in real life. There are a few creatures here and there that are CGI creations as well and they're really cool looking. This is how you use CGI.
John Williams' score fits the movie, plus there is a sense of energy and newness. Surprisingly, the score has a lot of new themes and doesn't rely on the old themes. The Empire theme only makes one appearance in the movie, which surprised me. I thought Williams would have made the First Order a re-used version of the Empire theme. However, even the First Order theme is brand new. Rey's theme is a nice entry to the SW catalog of SW themes. They do use some of the older themes but sparingly.
Despite some plot problems, The Force Awakens is a fun and entertaining movie with lots of great moments. There are new characters that are very interesting and the acting is top-notch. The editing is good as always with a J.J. Abrams . Abrams shows he has a love of the material by using the best people to make his vision of the franchise. This is a fitting tribute to the original trilogy and I love this movie. It feels like a new Star Wars movie.

Grade: A-

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