Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Putting The Hype Into Hyperdrive



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Putting the hype into hyperdrive

Much like the force, hype is what gives Star Wars its power. It will always be strong and mess with the senses of the most passionate fan. So much so that hype is also the path to the dark side in some respects.

Hype is cinema’s aphrodisiac. With hype comes anticipation, to want, desire a forthcoming film. But with hype comes disappointment, unable to meet expectations that were far greater than anything Charles Dickens could have written (at least he had the wherewithal to stop at great).

This is what happens when you have approaching sequels, a new film by a favorite director, or starring a favorite actor. There are sequels, then there’s Star Wars. A film property that has spanned generations, now two centuries, I suspect no other film property is as highly scrutinized as this space opera. Inspired by Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s, the films of Akira Kurosawa (particularly The Hidden Fortress) and westerns like John Huston’s The Searchers, George Lucas’s little movie that no one wanted to back, save Alan Ladd Jr., the former 20th Century Fox executive who greenlit the 1977 film changed Hollywood, for better or worse. Star Wars drew critical raves and was an unstoppable force in theaters as crowds wrapped around blocks waiting to see a movie involving a princess, an all-Galaxian farm boy, a cocksure, scruffy-looking space pirate and his walking carpet of a co-pilot, and clearly the most menacing and iconic villain to grace the screen.

Where are we now?

The last time we saw Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca they were dishing high-fivesies with those Ewok creatures back in 1983, in Return of the Jedi, celebrating the defeat of the Empire and cashing in on Lucas’s blockbuster stratagem. With great marketing and merchandising comes lots of moola.

Now, minus those little fuzzballs, George Lucas, or the backing of 20th Century Fox (Disney bought Lucasfilm, a production outfit founded by Lucas that includes the lucrative Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties among other holdings, back in 2012 for a cool four billion), the old – literally – gang is back with some new blood to help bridge the past to the future. Yes, even in a galaxy far, far away from a long time ago.

The short answer: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good.

That’s not a, “eh, it’s only good,” or good with an added exclamation. If that were the case, I’d go with great. But don’t mistake good for being not bad either. For launching the seventh Star Wars in a year that already gave us a seventh Fast & Furious and a seventh Rocky (with the spin-off Creed), The Force Awakens succeeds in reestablishing a brand with characters fans love while introducing new ones that new and old fans will grow to enjoy.

J.J. Abrams, a director of some repute if judging only by his previous efforts which fall into the mostly good range and includes two Star Treks, a Mission: Impossible and Super 8, got the Steven Spielberg seal of approval to be the one to take us back to the world of Star Wars and its expansive galaxy of planets, alien beings and sinister forces. Abrams, who also shares co-writing duties with Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and one of the original writers of the Holy Trilogy – well, Episodes V and VI – Lawrence Kasdan, takes command and delivers a solid entry that is nostalgic but something that clings to its serial roots: leaving audiences wanting more.

Young eyes will marvel at the whiz-bang effects that are comparatively subdued to what Lucas presented with those prequel installments where everything looked like a special effect. Even the old wizened one, Yoda, wasn’t immune to digital trick-, treach- ery. Lightsabers glow blue and red, but the red one has some added flair this time around. The amount of detail on fighter jets, space cruisers and that bucket of bolts the Millennium Falcon is amazing. For kids, they will be baited by new rolling droid BB8 and asking mom, “Can I have one of those?”

The biggest compliment to The Force Awakens and the reason why the Star Wars franchise has maintained a strong legacy is its characters. The original trilogy maintained a nice balance of characters, story and for its time state-of-the-art special effects. The prequels, which came sixteen years after Jedi, were effects-driven with wooden acting and poor story competing for primary impediment. Here we get the best of both. Opening with that legendary line, A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away adults get to be kids again, giddy with excitement as John Williams’ rousing score kicks in as the title crawl catches us up to speed to what has transpired in the thirty years after the fall of the Empire. The First Order has arisen and Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi, has vanished. A secret mission will whisk one pilot and his trusty droid to the desert planet Jakku where we will encounter key players.

The character MVP is Rey (Daisy Ridley). She collects scrap pieces that weren’t burned to smithereens when the rebellion blew up the Death Star many moons ago. Rey ends up with BB8 who contains something coveted by the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his secondary, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Turning to the bright side is Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtooper that develops a conscience, and the best fighter pilot in the resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), which sounds a little too close to Nicolas Cage’s Cameron Poe (just in reverse order with a consonant replaced) from Con Air.

Of the three, Poe has the most combat experience, is direct and flies by the seat of his pants. He’s like Top Gun’s Maverick minus a Jakku beach volleyball scene. Finn shows potential but needs some seasoning. As for Rey, she is the biggest surprise and impresses Han with the way she pilots the Millennium Falcon. She is strong and independent; a character that will make girls put down their tiaras and look to the stars.

Unfortunately, these added characters are saddled with a familiar story which involves an even bigger Death Star that appears to draw its power from the sun. I am at a loss if this means it is good or bad for intergalactic warming.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets off to a rollicking start until someone engages autopilot on the Falcon. The narrative meanders a bit but is of great importance, particularly for the legacy characters. Abrams and company play it safe so that there isn’t much disturbance in The Force Awakens. Keeping it safe and amusing may be enough for nostalgia kicks and pushing the serial franchise for a new generation, just make sure the hype doesn’t mess with your senses.

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writer(s): Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasden; based on characters created by George Lucas
Notable Cast: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Issac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Carrie Fisher

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