Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Force is With J.J. Abrams

Writer-Director J.J. Abrams has previously managed to resuscitate a couple of franchises that were stuck in second gear: he did it with Mission: Impossible: III in 2006, and helped re-boot the Star Trek universe in 2009 with Star Trek, starring Chris Pine. Now, he tackles the world of George Lucas’ much-loved Star Wars saga. Can he do it again? The answer is yes. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a thrilling adventure that pays homage to its roots, while helping move the story forward. This will be a largely spoiler-free review, but if you don’t want to know some basic details about the film’s plot, read no further. Set thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the movie introduces some new characters to the Star Wars universe, including hotshot pilot Poe Dameron, who’s sent on an important mission to the desert world of Jakku. He needs to locate a portion of a map that contains information vital to the resistance.

We also meet Rey, a scavenger who lives on Jakku, and Finn, a stormtrooper who deserts his post, and crosses paths with both Poe and Rey. It’s Rey who will become an important focal point of the film as the story progresses. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Empire (now known as the First Order) is marshaling its forces, and preparing to wipe out the resistance once & for all. A new Dark Lord, Kylo Ren, is leading the offensive, and is seeking the same information as Poe. As the story moves forward, we meet some old friends from the original trilogy, and there are the usual assortment of space battles, narrow escapes and (of course) light saber battles. The great thing about the film is that it looks and feels like a Star Wars movie. The almost deadly slow pace and lack of humor evident in the much maligned prequel films is not in evidence here. Abrams is a fan, and he knows this saga inside out. Much as he did in his Mission: Impossible & Star Trek films, as well as the Spielberg-influenced Super 8, he truly delivers the goods.

There’s a Mos Eisley Cantina’s worth of visual (and dialogue) references to the original trilogy, which will also please fans. One of Abrams’ collaborators on the script is no stranger to the world of Star Wars: it’s Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back & Return of The Jedi. There are times the movie feels like a “greatest hits” of Star Wars lore, but in most cases that’s a strength and not a detriment. You will need to have some familiarity with the original films to fully enjoy this one. It’s a fast-paced, action-filled story, and while there may be some minor weaknesses in the story, the Star Wars we know & love is back. The story sets up some intriguing elements for the next chapter in the series, set to be released in 2017. While The Force Awakens is part of its own trilogy, Disney (who now owns the rights to the saga) will also be producing several spin-off films, including Rogue One, due this December.

The new actors introduced in the film all give enjoyable performances, but special kudos to Daisy Ridley as Rey & John Boyega as Finn, who do a great job. It's nice to see a female character be given a central role in such a large scale franchise film. The effects are fantastic, of course, and the one & only John Williams provides the movie’s score. And it's no spoiler to say it's fantastic to see the original cast members who return to reprise their roles; you get a wonderful nostalgic feeling as soon as they appear on screen. If you’re a fan of the classic films, this is a great Christmas present from J.J. Abrams and his cast & crew. I saw the film in 2D, so I can’t speak for the quality of the 3D, but it looked just fine in 2D format. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now in theatres. Here’s a link to the film's trailer: And remember, “It's true.....all of it."

1/2/16: Review Update: I went to see the film a second time yesterday, and it holds up very well on a repeat viewing. In fact, I enjoyed it a bit more without the weight of all the anticipation & expectation of seeing it for the first time. This time I viewed it in 3D, and while it's not essential to view the movie in that format, it did add some fun to the experience. Still, seeing it in 2D will be perfectly fine, if you just want to experience the film on the big screen. This is an exciting, enjoyable space adventure with action, humor & heart that stays true to the spirit of what George Lucas started back in 1977. I look forward to seeing where the story takes us as the saga continues.

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