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Worth A Look39.62%
Average: 5.66%
Pretty Bad: 3.77%
Total Crap: 11.32%

4 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
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by Jay Seaver

"Especially great when it's a fresh start (A New Hope, if you will)."
4 stars

To say that the first half of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is better than the second is not to say that the latter is exactly disappointing, but to recognize that reinvention is the exciting part of giving a long-running concept a new chapter, even if back-to-basics is part of the mission statement. When new caretaker J.J. Abrams is reconstructing "Star Wars" for its third generation of fans with full consideration that 2015 demands something a bit different from 1977 (or even 1999), there's an excitement that just can't be equaled by recreating the bits that worked in the previous films, although even that is done well enough that the film is still a blast all the way to the end.

It starts in semi-familiar territory, with hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) recovering secret data - in this case, the location of vanished Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) - which he must entrust to his droid BB-8 when his rendezvous on desert planet Jakku draws the attention of the First Order, the remnants of the Galactic Empire that still controls much of local space. During this attack, one Stormtrooper (John Boyega), despite being conditioned to be the Order's unthinking hand practically since birth, finds himself horrified by the atrocities General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), heir apparent to Darth Vader, eagerly commit. Fortunately, BB-8 soon crosses paths with Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been scavenging the wreckage of crashed spaceships for her entire young life but is loath to sell a little droid with such a friendly disposition for scrap.

As the relative lack of familiar names in that description indicate, Abrams is opting to start fairly fresh even if certain elements recur, creating a version of Star Wars that belongs more to kids the age of my nine-year-old niece than those of us who have been rewatching these movies for nearly forty years. The "galaxy far, far away" they are introduced to is more intense in some ways than that of previous iterations - where our desert planets were corrupt backwaters, Rey's expeditions into the wreckage of a massive space battle imply that the previous generation's adventure had devastating effects and did not lead to the decisive victory of good over evil that was always implied, a point driven home by the film's first big battle scene, which dramatically introduces two important characters.

First up is that Stormtrooper, whom Abrams quickly singles out by having a comrade's blood smeared on his pristine white armor (recall that the original trilogy was fairly bloodless by design, with even severed limbs not bleeding much because lightsabers would instantly cauterize the wound). He may be intended to be a faceless member of a horde, but even before the helmet comes off, we're getting a sense of him, and once he gets a name ("Finn") instead of an alphanumeric designation, actor John Boyega is creating one of the best characters of the series. Finn suggests that being a decent human being is both a person's natural state and a powerful act of rebellion, and Boyega is a joy to watch as he and the film never lose sight of that. The personality that emerges is refreshingly free of the ignorance that usually defines this sort of character, but still lets Boyega create nifty moments of delight as Finn discovers actual friendship and anguish as he learns that having principles of his own means uncomfortable inner conflicts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, a new sort of villain in Star Wars lore in that he is not tightly controlled and thus all the more intimidating for his utter certainty. It's initially a bit of a letdown - bad guys who throw the sort of tantrums Kylo does traditionally have an easily exploited emotional weakness - but it also makes him very modern. He's the monster with far more access to power than self-control, but also an awful uncertainty about whether he's a bad seed or something that could have been avoided had something just been slightly different. Driver walks a great line, channeling characterization that is often only threatening when exaggerated into something genuinely dangerous. He's no Darth Vader, despite his misguided desire to be, but Driver is going to be indispensable to the seies in a way that only Ian McDiarmid has managed (and his work is often overlooked for mostly being in the prequels).

Also indispensable: Daisy Ridley, who makes Rey a perfect complement to Finn: A little warier, with less to discover on Jakku, but able to mostly channel it into self-assurance. There is, to abuse a phrase, a little bit of a dark side to Rey if you know where and when to look for it, even if the primary impression she gives is of brightness and curiosity - there's a dangerous determination to go with it. Ridley has her bristle just the right amount when meeting Finn even if they are a delightfully close pairing later on.

She also gets to spend a lot of time with Harrison Ford, who gives the movie a heck of a jolt when he arrives on the scene in what turns out to be a brilliantly unexpected move: Of all the original's major characters, he's the one that seems least likely to be promoted to a mentor, and that allows him to be the grizzled voice of experience without seeming to outrank Rey, Finn, Poe, and the rest, even for the longtime fans. And for as much as Ford has always seemed to publicly prefer playing Indiana Jones to Solo, his late-career return to the latter is more successful. He's able to play the charming, often funny rogue while carrying around thirty years of unseen history that clearly didn't go as planned, and then when the movie needs it, grabs the heart of the story in a way that recalls one of the character's best impulsive moments from The Empire Strikes Back but plays it out in a way that takes compete advantage of his (and the character's) maturity.

It's a good thing that the characters are so great to talk about, because at the rate Disney intends to crank new installments of the series out for the foreseeable future, they need to forge that kind of affection. Meeting (and reuniting with) these folks and their world is what makes the first half so exciting, while the second half repeats a lot of beats from the original Star Wars. It's not the worst decision - if part of the mission is to introduce a new generation to this universe, you can do a lot worse than imitating one of the best fantasy adventures ever made, even if it does start to feel like a bit of a detour away from what this particular film started out as. It also means that there's not a lot that feels particularly new in this movie; where both the original trilogy and even the rather less-beloved prequels often delivered things that the audience had never seen before (with the visual effects team often inventing new techniques to get what George Lucas imagined on-screen), The Force Awakens doesn't break that sort of ground.

Everyone involved still does some pretty great work, though, building a world that backs off from the busy visuals of the prequels and special editions but is still far from sparse, while Abrams has the effects crew create some pretty terrific action scenes. It's also one of the best 3D experiences you'll find, earning every dollar of any surcharge the theater wants, but gorgeous in other ways (Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel mostly shot on film, which likely helped worth their careful use of color and lighting). It's also a real joy to have John Williams back, creating new themes, reinterpreting old ones, or just getting a near-Pavlovian reaction to the opening fanfare.

Will the next "Star Wars" movie (whether you define "next" as 2016's anthology story "Rogue One" or 2017's Episode VIII) be able to get the same reaction, considering how "The Force Awakens" works best when introducing something new, or at least satisfying pent-up demand? Hard to say, but it does leave the audience in a place where many will want to know what happens next, and at least shows that the new brain trust has more than an inkling of where to go with this material.

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originally posted: 12/25/15 17:02:18
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User Comments

5/11/18 Suzanne Ridley and Ford make this movie - music great as usual 4 stars
9/09/17 morris campbell good but wont make u forget a new hope 3 stars
12/21/16 Chris A complete insult to A New Hope - almost a cheap money spinning remake. 1 stars
6/02/16 Chelsie Entertaining, Desirable taste, but could be even more delicious with new original flavors. 4 stars
5/20/16 Jason Interesting new characters! 5 stars
5/13/16 Chelsie Entertaining, Desirable taste, but could be even more delicious with new original flavors. 5 stars
4/05/16 J herman Basically boring. Really really boring. Except that Ridley is fun to watch,. 2 stars
1/15/16 Charles Tatum Gets back to the spirit of the orig trilogy 5 stars
1/08/16 Loopy Despite some bullshit moments and Jar Jar Abrams tendacies it was an enjoyable time 4 stars
1/08/16 John Loved the new characters! Rushed, sometimes clunky, but still very fun and classic SW 4 stars
1/03/16 PAUL SHORTT I wish Carrie Fisher had showed her bum, otherwise a great movie. 5 stars
1/02/16 Boobie Fett This is one film I will gladly see again in the theatre 5 stars
1/02/16 Jack The worst of all the Star Wars films. Abrams is a hack. 1 stars
12/30/15 Paul Saw it twice, can't wait to go to more viewings! 5 stars
12/29/15 Brightblade My Brain screamed WTF? was that- had to rewatch originals 10 x to clear it. Shameful criti 1 stars
12/28/15 KingNeutron Lots of shoutouts to the 1st (original) movies, really liked it 4 stars
12/28/15 mr.mike I wish this had actually been filmed in Ultra Panavision 70. 5 stars
12/27/15 Michael B Enjoyable as a family outing, but proof that J.J. Abrams is the P. Diddy of movie industry 4 stars
12/27/15 Bob Dog Too much action, too litte character - I was flat out bored. 1 stars
12/26/15 M De javu much?? Still an amazing film, goosebumps of traditional cinema, score is incredible 4 stars
12/26/15 Tony Brubaker I want to bugger Carrie Fisher 5 stars
12/23/15 mr.mike Starts well then fades with some unconvincing detours. 3 stars
12/23/15 zenny Didn't I see this already in 1977 when it was just called "Star Wars"? 3 stars
12/22/15 Koitus Like others said - more of a "reboot," like Jurassic World. Still good, though. 4 stars
12/22/15 gcc This is not a sequel. Its a reboot of the original star wars.. 1 stars
12/19/15 KRS too much remake episode IV rehashed 1 stars
12/18/15 Benji OMG SOOO AWESOME!!!!!1!! 5 stars
12/18/15 Bob Dog Just a remake of the best of IV & V - - zzzzzzz... 2 stars
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  18-Dec-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-Apr-2016

  17-Dec-2015 (12A)

  DVD: 05-Apr-2016

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