Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams and screenplay by Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan from characters written by George Lucas, The Force Awakens (Star Wars: Episode VII) is the story of a conflict between two factions that re-emerges to disrupt order in the galaxy as three people find themselves in the middle of this conflict. Set thirty years after the events in Return of the Jedi, the film focuses on new characters who encounter those from the past as they deal with this conflict in a new war. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Max von Sydow, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. The Force Awakens is a sensational and riveting film from J.J. Abrams.

Set 30 years after the events that saw the fall of the Galactic Empire and the resurrection of the Galactic Republic, the film revolves around a new conflict between a new order known as the First Order and a group opposing the First Order in the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Realizing that the First Order is trying to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who had disappeared many years ago, General Organa asks Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to find a map that could lead to Skywalker before the First Order finds and eliminates him. While it is a film that is derivative of plot elements that relates to Episode IV, it does however manage to find ways to create new storylines and characters to be engaging as it bears elements that made those first three films so special.

The film’s screenplay by J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t just introduce these new characters into the story and how they would interact with characters from the past. It also has an air of innocence that was definitely missing from the prequels as it relates to a character named Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she is this young scavenger from a desert planet called Jakku as she steals and sells scraps from war remnants to survive. Yet, she is in the planets as she awaits for people to comeback until she meets this droid named BB-8 where her adventure begins that includes an encounter with a Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) who defects from the First Order after seeing what they have done. Finn is an interesting character as he is someone that was born and raised to be part of the First Order but when he sees first-hand in what they do. He starts to question what they do where he would later help Poe escape from the clutches of the First Order as well as go into his own journey.

Rey, Poe, and Finn aren’t just this new trio of protagonists who all have something to offer as they’re allowed to be characters audiences can root for. While Poe may not have as much development as Rey or Finn, he is someone that is willing to do the right thing and stand up to the First Order no matter what they can do to him. Then there’s the antagonists in the members of the First Order such as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as he is someone that is strong with the Force as well as someone that is kind of an emotional time bomb whenever things don’t go his way. While he would also have to contend with First Order leader General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) over what should be done, Ren is someone that is also very complex as it relates to his own background and why he’s obsessed with finding Skywalker. By the time Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) come into the story, they would not only help Finn and Rey but also reveal the many myths about the Jedi, the Sith, and the Force which would allow Solo to reunite with Leia and find Luke. It’s not just in the characterizations and storylines that help make the story successful but also the dialogue where it does reveal aspects to the story but also has some funny moments.

Abrams’ direction is definitely grand not just in the way the galaxy is presented but also in establishing a world of peace and prosperity is about to be undone by this new galactic world order. Just after the opening crawl, the film opens with this large Star Destroyer covering a planet as it plays into how much the galaxy has changed where things are about to become very chaotic. With the planet of Jakku shot in Abu Dhabi as well as some locations that are shot in Ireland and parts of Iceland, Abrams does give the film a more worldly feel while also harkening back to visual ideas and such that isn’t just a homage to the original trilogy. It’s also to play into moments that made that original trilogy so special where Abrams doesn’t just bring back that air of innocence but also keeping things simple in its story while not doing too much to make everything bigger than it already is. Abrams usage of the 2:35:1 aspect ratio allowed him to capture every moment with the wide shots with such beauty as well as in the medium shots that establishes some of the moments between the characters.

Abrams also create these moments in the action where it does have this energy and element of suspense that is needed such as Finn and Rey trying to run from the TIE Fighters. Even the battles in the air are thrilling where Abrams knows what is happening and what needs to be shown while he also finds a way to have the story break away from the action for drama and humor. Even in the way he uses close-ups and camera angles to help play into the drama and suspense. Abrams’ usage of practical visual and special effects doesn’t just add to a sense of realism to the look of the film but also add something that isn’t overwhelmed by computerized-digital effects that often takes some of the visual elements away from the story. The film’s climax may bear similarities to other climaxes from past films but the stakes are definitely high as it play into what is happening as well as the kind of weapon the Resistance has to take down in this mega-version of the Death Star that is called the Starbase Killer. Overall, Abrams creates an exhilarating and majestic film about a group of people trying to save the galaxy from a new world order.

Cinematographer Dan Mindel does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the sunny look of the planet of Jakku to the usage of green and naturalistic colors for the planet of Takodana as well as some of the interior lights for the scenes inside the Star Destroyer and the Starbase Killer. Editors Mary Jo Markey and Maryann Brandon do amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and stylish transition wipes to not go overboard as well as allowing shots and scenes to play out longer rather than delve into conventional fast-cutting techniques. Production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford, with set decorator Lee Sandales and supervising art director Neil Lamont, do incredible work with the set designs from the look of the Resistance base as well as many of the interiors in the Star Destroyers and Starbase Killer as well as the junkyard at Jakku.

Costume designer Michael Kaplan does excellent work with the costumes from the newer look of the Stormtrooper outfits as well as the look of the Resistance and the jacket that Finn wears that belonged to Poe. Hair designer Lisa Tomblin and makeup artist Amy Byrne do fantastic work with the look of some of the characters including Leia‘s hair and some of the minor characters including some pirates that have issues with Solo. Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould and creatures conceptual designer Neal Scanlan do phenomenal work with the practical effects from the look of the X-Wing and TIE Fighters as well as some of the starships and creatures in the planets that look and feel real which adds to how worldly the galaxy is. Visual effects supervisors Roger Guyett and Michael Mulholland do splendid work with the visual effects from the look of some of the characters as well as some of the exteriors in space as well as the look of the Starbase Killer in its exterior setting.

Sound designers David Acord and Ben Burtt, with sound editors Gary Rydstrom and Matthew Wood, do superb work with the sound from the sound effects of the droids including BB-8 and R2-D2 as well as the sound work of the some of the starships and other moments that play into the sound. The film’s music by John Williams is remarkable for its bombastic orchestral score that features themes from past films but also some newer themes from some very low-key yet somber pieces as well as some heavy moments as it is one of Williams’ finest work.

The casting by Nina Gold, April Webster, and Alyssa Weisberg is marvelous for the people that are assembled for the film as it features small appearances from Billie Lourd as Resistance officer Lt. Connix, Tim Rose and the voice of Erik Bauersfeld as Admiral Ackbar, Mike Quinn and the voice of Kipsang Roitch as Resistance fighter Nien Nunb, Ken Leung as Resistance Admiral Statura, Simon Pegg as Jakku junkyard dealer Unkar Plutt, Greg Gunberg and Jessica Henwick as a couple of X-wing pilots, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as First Order Petty Officer Thanisson, Dave Chapman and Brian Herring as the puppeteers for BB-8 with vocal work from Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz, and Kenny Baker as the voice work of the droid R2-D2. Other notable small roles include Anthony Daniels as the protocol droid C-3P0, a trio of pirates played Yayan Ruhian, Iko Uwais, and Cecep Arif, Gwendoline Christie as the Stormtroopers leader/First Order officer Captain Phasma, and Max von Sydow in a brief yet superb performance as Lor San Tekka as a village elder who would give Poe a portion of a map that carries information into where Skywalker is.

Peter Mayhew is terrific as Chewbacca as Han Solo’s first-mate and friend who aids him in dealing with pirates and members of the First Order as additional credit goes to Joonas Suatamo who appears as Chewbacca for some of the film’s action scenes. Andy Serkis is excellent as the mysterious First Order leader Supreme Leader Snoke as this figure who is Ren’s master as he is hoping to end the Resistance and bring order to the galaxy. Domhnall Gleeson is fantastic as General Hux as a First Order leader who watches over the Starbase Killer as he often contends with Ren for power as well as provide a more ruthless idea of what the First Order should be. Lupita Nyong’o is brilliant as the pirate Maz Kanata as this offbeat yet wise alien who is an old friend of Solo and Chewbacca who can look through people as she provides some key moments for both Rey and Finn.

Mark Hamill is wonderful as Luke Skywalker where despite the fact that Hamill doesn’t appear in the film, he maintains a presence that is of great importance as the legendary Jedi knight that looms over the conflict in the galaxy. Carrie Fisher is amazing as General Leia Organa as the leader of the Resistance who is trying to deal with the First Order as she also copes with her brother’s disappearance and the hope to find good in the galaxy. Harrison Ford is great as Han Solo as the legendary smuggler who finds himself back in the conflict as he too carries a burden of what had been lost where he becomes this reluctant figure of wisdom for both Finn and Rey. Adam Driver is phenomenal as Kylo Ren as this commander of the First Order who displays the power of the Force as someone who is eager to fulfill the legacy of Darth Vader but is also unpredictable and dangerous as it plays into who he really is under the mask that he wears.

Oscar Isaac is incredible as Poe Dameron as Resistance fighter who is considered the best pilot in the galaxy as he is tasked to do a mission for General Organa in finding out where Luke Skywalker is as he also deals with the severity of the First Order. John Boyega is tremendous as Finn as a Stormtrooper who defects to the Resistance as he tries to find redemption and meaning to his life as he helps Rey and take down the First Order despite being targeted as a traitor. Finally, there’s Daisy Ridley in an astonishing performance as Rey as this young scavenger who finds herself in an adventure that has her doing so much from fixing starships to fighting Stormtroopers as she is also someone that is very vulnerable as it relates to being alone for much of her life as Ridley is the film’s real discovery.

The Force Awakens is a magnificent film from J.J. Abrams. Featuring a great cast of people from past films as well as a collection of newcomers along with great technical work and a thrilling score. The film isn’t just a great mixture of nostalgia and homage to the original trilogy but also a film that manages to bring in a lot of adventure and heart that the series that hadn’t been seen in years. Notably as it’s the kind of film that manages to be escapist cinema but also cinema that is very intelligent and full of warmth and innocence that is often lacking in today’s high-octane mainstream cinema. In the end, The Force Awakens is an outstanding film from J.J. Abrams.

Star Wars Films: Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Last Jedi - The Rise of Skywalker

Related: The Star Wars Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - The Clone Wars - Fanboys - The People vs. George Lucas

Star Wars Anthology Films: Rogue One - Solo: A Star Wars Story - (Untitled Star Wars Anthology Film)

George Lucas Films: THX 1138 - (American Graffiti)

J.J. Abrams Films: (Mission: Impossible III) - (Star Trek (2009 film)) - Super 8 - (Star Trek: Into Darkness)

© thevoid99 2015


Chris said...

Yeah, escapist cinema is a good description. I loved how funny the new film was. The mix of new and old cast worked well and I’m already looking forward to E8.

rhysgdrury said...

Great review! Glad you liked the movie just as much as I did, I thought it was awesome.

ruth said...

Glad you love this so much Steven! I admire Abrams for injecting something fresh into this franchise, and good point there about the sense of innocence of the two new characters, Rey and Finn. They played well w/ the older-and-wiser characters, esp Solo, and their scenes are fun to watch. I wasn't as wowed by the visuals, but I think because I expected it to be spectacular given the budget and so I think Abrams & co. delivered. There are so many unanswered questions though, but I suppose they'd want to delay the revelation as much as they'll make many more SW movies.

Anonymous said...

This was my first and only Star Wars movie and I surprised myself by enjoying it. I thought Boyega was especially fun, and I loved seeing the interplay between Solo and Chewbacca. What a sweet relationship. I may have liked it better than my Star Wars fan husband, who seems to be a bit disappointed by it. He thought it was too samey.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-It didn't need to be anything other than just the kind of films audiences can cheer for and such. Plus, at the screening I was at. There were some laughs at some of the jokes as it shows that this film isn't taking itself so seriously which was something prequels were doing. Lucas was just too concerned with trying to do something that kids would enjoy but also have a lot of political overtones to it which is not what Star Wars is about. Plus, Abrams understands what it is to be a kid and doesn't insult them with that crap.

@rhysgdrury-Hey, you had fun. I had fun. What more could a film ask for?

@ruth-I like the fact that film had more questions than answers as I'm relieved to know that we won't have to wait too long for some answers but also manage to make some guesses and see if they're true. and Chewbacca are the bomb. How can you not love those 2 together? I quote Jim Jarmusch, "Nothing is original". I didn't care nor mind if it had similar plot ideas like the first film as I was having too much fun watching what I saw.

Brittani Burnham said...

Excellent review as always. I loved all your Star Wars coverage leading up to this. I feel like I'm obsessed with this movie, it's all I'm thinking about at the moment. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thanks. I'm thinking about seeing it again. This time around, I want to see it with my parents, my sister, and her husband as I think it's the kind of film that brings families together. Give them something to root for and have fun with. Maybe I'll do a 10 Reasons piece on the film and why it works.