Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review Day: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There are no major spoilers in this review.

As many of you are aware, I've never been a big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy, which ranks up there with Super Mario 64, Half-Life, and the movie, Birdman, on the list of things where the over/under is overrated and underwhelming. I also tried watching Episode I twice and fell asleep both times during a pod race so I have no opinion on the remainder of that trilogy.

Rebecca, on the other hand, grew up watching the original trilogy with her cousins repeatedly on VHS, so I got her the movies on DVD for Christmas in preparation for Episode VII. With sixteen years of distance since the last time I saw them, I was finally able to distill what exactly I dislike: the movies are just a hodge podge of transitional scenes that inevitably melt into something nearly resembling a plot, like chocolate on a shelf obeying the laws of gravity.

It's as if an intern accidentally threw away all of the real footage and they had to make due with only the scenes from the cutting room floor. They could have called Episode IV "Stormtroopers walking down the hall and turning around a corner" and it would have been a truthier title. Coincidence is heavily employed as the primary storytelling technique to get people into the same room to further the plot.

It also doesn't help that John Williams' musical score never shuts up, but I've previously established my expert distaste in that area (source: highly-paid music major).

All of this background material (like 20 minutes of C3PO and R2D2 walking in opposite directions in the desert only to reappear on the same junk ship) serves to lend dramatic weight to the reveal that I actually enjoyed Episode VII. It's not the greatest movie of all time and it essentially cherry-picks the most interesting plotlines from previous movies and rehashes them with a fresh coat of paint, but it was very entertaining. (It also goes well with a beer at the Alamo, where we caught the movie three days before they stopped showing it, like the trendsetters that we are).

Episode VII has a modern sensibility to it, given room to be overtly humorous without camp while almost (but not quite) overdoing the sentimental callback "winks to the audience". The music was a good mix of old and new that did well at supporting the visuals without getting in the way. I also appreciated that this was a tightly-edited 2 hour affair which didn't put my ass to sleep via an unnecessary montage of Hobbits, Horcruxes, or pirates coming back to life.

The new actors, consisting of a fake Keira Knightley (do British actresses ever close their mouths?), a fake Dennis Haysbert, and a fake Mark Ruffalo, stand up well against the returning actors, and are all interesting enough that I'd watch a couple more movies about them. Greg Gunberg manages to sneak in a cameo as well, like he does in all JJ Abrams productions. There are several plot gaps that could become plot holes if not addressed later, but they didn't diminish my enjoyment. I presume they'll be filled in during the next movies, unless someone hires Damon Lindelof on as a writer.

Overall, The Force Awakens succeeds at the visceral popcorn level, which is all that I needed from it as a Star Wars-hating philistine. It won't change your life, but it's worthwhile as a fun diversion.

Final Grade: B+

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