STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS REVIEW (spoilers included)
I'm really, really late with this review (in a rare moment of doing something for myself--I saw the film Thursday night) but in my defense, it's Christmas season and I'm trying to manage over two dozen global, creative amateurs as we seek to turn Saturday AM into a dominant brand within the world of webcomics.
Sometimes, I wish the FORCE was with me...but that's just a movie and the art of creating content is a very, very REAL thing. In fact, when I think on our latest issue (#37 -- a special issue available now for FREE DOWNLOAD) and how we've gotten here (our 38th, 39th and 40th will arrive right before New Year's Day -- god willing) then I'm more than a tad confused that some sort of higher power is behind us.
Many folks thought we couldn't do it from the beginning.
"No one will pay $5/ year --- kids nowadays just steal content"
Many folks disliked our belief in diversity for both manga's characters as well as the creators who make them.
"You guys are too...black."
Many doubted that we should even attempt to try and improve upon something as perfect as Shonen Jump (after all, who were WE to presume we could offer a different take on it).
"The Saturday AM guys are doing it WRONG:, a. you can't create 'manga if you're not Japanese b. you can't strive to produce a company like Marvel--who do you think you are? c. your comics suck if you had MY comic you'd be closer to your goal."
Y'see it's not that any of these points matter to Star Wars except you can argue that THESE SAME SENTIMENTS WERE UTTERED ABOUT STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.
When Disney paid $4B in 2012 to purchase Star Wars (and Indiana Jones) from Lucasfilm -- quite a few doubted their intentions as honest or as able to compare with the original 1977 film.
We all know by now that there was (and still in) a fair amount of racist troglodytes who have attacked the film for the audacity of casting a BLACK LEAD CHARACTER (Finn, played by John Boyega).
Finally, for those of us 40 and beyond-- we all remember the vocal outrage that the CREATOR of Star Wars received for both attempting to make prequels, trying to tell HIS STORIES and for altering the original films with digital upgrades. It was so heartfelt that it actually led him to abandon the series in part once Disney bought the franchise.
So, in a nutshell, this film spoke to me for a LOT of reasons and while I didn't even watch the last two prequels in the theatre -- I made it a point to give in to the HYPE and SEE STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS on pre-opening night.
I really dug it!
Look...this ain't going to be a 30 minute review...I just don't have the time to do that (hell, we could do HOURS on this film from many facets -- cultural, political, technique, legacy and so on). here are the positives:
BB-8 is simply AWESOME! If you don't immediately fall in love with this droid then you'll never appreciate Star Wars. As someone who loves his dog...I can't imagine any pet lover not falling for the movie on these merits alone.
The mystery --frankly this was significant for me. With a background in product marketing, I find any successful attempt at getting the mainstream excited about a GEEK product to be worth studying and I'll be analyzing this for some time. That the trailers knowingly chose NOT to portray tons of information (unlike the god-awful Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer). It was beyond refreshing and I would say 75% of my enjoyment -- just to watch a big-budget, well made movie with literally no expectations of what happens next. This is just an impossible trick for such a HUGE production by a BIG COMPANY ala DISNEY and yet the results GLOBALLY speak to how well the team built excitement for this new film.
The technical proficiency of this film is another area that I enjoyed both as a fan and a businessman. I am in awe of the craftsmanship in this film as JJ Abrams (the director) kept his annoying tropes to a minimum while his more unique tropes (shamelessly--and I say that in a positive way) adapting the styles of his cinematic heroes to deliver a very familiar yet modern look. Modern was key because this time laser blasts actually caused blood or holes in people..this was not the GI JOE safe warfare of 1980's cartoons. His desire to return to PRACTICAL EFFECTS with fully constructed sets and physicals aliens vs. CGI is so incredibly simple and yet 100% intuitive to what makes Star Wars so enduring to a wide-swath to people.
The characters really shined! Diversity was the name of the game (something you all know I talk about constantly for Saturday AM, manga and of/to my creators) and I felt in just a short time we got a helluva cool character in Poe Dameron as portrayed by the Latino actor Oscar Isaac. Ford delivered a less grumpy as late performance as the venerable Han Solo who time has caught up with and who moves slowly despite still being a fly by the seat of your pants rogue. In fact, every character who appeared had moments that demonstrated that the filmmakers from director to writers and producers seemingly CARED about these characters more than just the money and/or merchandise capabilities. Every expected character here REALLY SHINES from Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata to Carrie Fisher's less rebellious General Leia (vs. the character from the original trilogy) to Domhall Gleeson's General Hux -- who seemed to capture the classic NAZI character type. That said, the stars of this film without question are REY portrayed by newcomer Daisy Ridley and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
I'd actually like to talk a bit more about REY and KYLO.
Rey-- is simply a revelation! She truly is! I mean, tall, lanky but not in a model sickly way and brave but not an 'ass-kicker'. I was so incredibly PROUD of this character as I think we've finally seen a female hero of a traditional "boys franchise" who is someone that can be embraced by all and more importantly, who felt REAL. I dunno--but there's something about Marvel's female heroes, DC's upcoming Wonder Woman (still horribly miscast IMO) and even Legend of Korra that felt too tinkered with and manufactured. Its' the height of irony that a character from DISNEY of all places can feel so legitimate. I can't imagine young boys NOT playing with her action figure. While I'm actually surprised people did not see her as the star from the trailers --- there is no mistake that she is.
On the other hand is Kylo Ren, another character who literally just went the EXACT ROUTE that he should have. By that, I never felt he was menacing. How can you outdo Darth Vader, one of the most memorable villains in movie history? This is just another area that the filmmakers so NAILED this film--as they recognized that you could not go the same route. If Darth Maul's physicality was crucial to making him different from Vader than Ren's sympathy was likewise, a perfect antecedent. We know Ren is struggling with the Dark Side due to his violent outbreaks and even his sometimes less than commanding presence alongside General Hux. That he seems to be a FANBOY of the force and or Vader could not be more apropos for this current generation of fan-fiction writers and Internet strong (if not real world strong) personality types that dominate message boards and webcomic sites. I found Ren to be a tad pathetic which makes his betrayal of Han Solo appropriate at the movie's climax. That he then subsequently loses the duel to Rey via her first light saber battle is also perfect. I believe that Ren is being set up to be not just one of Star Wars greatest villains but to be one of this trilogies' star characters.
So, I loved the characters--even Leia has an incredible moment with Chewie when they reunite (as does Chewie when Han is betrayed)! Every character felt true and appropriate even if they were short shift for now (hello Captain Phasma). You're thinking this movie is perfect right?
So, what did not work for me?
The plot is LITERALLY Star Wars: A New Hope. I'm actually astounded that they did this without any shame. The original Star Wars is a watershed moment but good lord, another DEATH STAR (now called "Star Killer" -- which DID reappear already via Return of the Jedi)??? And that's just the FIRST RIP FROM THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY -- 2. Droid has secret information wanted by the Empire/ First Order 3. The film opens on a desert sort of planet. 4. The path to victory happens to be blowing up a core from this massive planet...that's it's only vulnerability?? Why didn't Leia and Han seem familiar with the fact that the LAST TWO TIMES they blew up a Death Star--they did the EXACT SAME THING -- instead they were surprised that FINN had the answer because he was a sanitation guy and not the absolutely preposterous way to blow up a planet. The fact that the film was so technically proficient was likely the reason that so many people gave this aspect of the film a pass.
The moment Rey and team return from StarKiller base (minus Han) -- Leia somehow walks right past Chewie (as he does her) to embrace Rey--the girl she's never met (nor does Rey seem put-off by this woman she's never really met. I've read that this may be poor editing and blocking (staging) of the scene which resulted from a desire to get to the film's climax to quickly---but regardless it's a glaring miss that kills the scene and impact of Han's death.
Lastly, there is my biggest concern -- FINN. Oh Finn....for all of the diversity and awesomeness that is REY, we then get the sole black male character who is as weak and foppish as about any major character I've seen in a film in awhile. I'm not sure why it is although presumably my opinion is mine alone considering that many of my white friends and younger black friends seem perfectly fine with Finn's demeanor, role and overall characterization. I'm not.