Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review (with Spoilers)

starwarstheforceawakensmovieposterAlong with the rest of the world (except for droids, because “no droids allowed”), I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens weekend. To put my opinion in a nutshell, the newest addition to the Star Wars Saga is enjoyable thanks to the compelling Star Wars mythos coupled with lightsaber action and a touch of humor, but the film is decidedly not great thanks to excessive parallels with the original. Read on for SPOILER-laden, geeky explanations.

Action hero humor a la Kasdan.

When think of the funnier moments in The Force Awakens, what comes to mind is Finn (John Boyega) bumbling over his lies, drawing a laugh from the entire audience. I found Finn to be some combination of Han Solo’s cool-guy comedic presence (though not as cool as Han) and Luke Skywalker’s boy scout heart, and it totally works for me.

Though it’s based on an shaky inference, I’d attribute these jokes to Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan wrote Episodes V and VI of Star Wars films as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark which has similar humor delivered by Harrison Ford (of course, Ford and Boyega’s performances are vital parts of the formula; and maybe it was other writers or actors who wrote and improv’ed these lines).

Blasters, X-wings, TIE fighters, and lightsabers—hard to go wrong there.

The action, as expected from Star Wars, is fun to watch.

There was a hiccup for me when Finn picked up a lightstaber and started swinging away; the movie established Finn was a natural with shooting, but wielding a lightsaber without Jedi reflexes seems like it’d result in lopping off your own arm. If Finn ends up becoming a Jedi in a later film, that would explain his instant proficiency, so until then—

Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) skill with the lightsaber, on the other hand, was believable. She grew up fending off scavengers and thieves with a stick, and she is strongly in tune with the Force; it’s no surprise she can stand toe-to-toe with an injured and poorly trained Dark Jedi (who, notably, isn’t awesome enough to be a Darth).

Speaking of the wannabe Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) stopping a blaster slug in midair was a cool moment. It seemed impressive at first ’cause I’d never seen any Jedi do this before, but then I remembered Darth Vader slapping blaster shots away like flies in Empire which makes Kylo Ren’s feat look like child’s play.

Gaps and loose ends.

The young characters are all somewhat interesting, but not developed much. We have a scavenger with abandonment issues, a Stormtrooper who’s too kind to shoot people (unless his target happens to be another Stormtrooper), and a Dark Jedi with an inferiority complex. That’s what we learn about them in the first third of the movie and that’s all we know about them by the end (well, we learn that Rey is Jedi material, but that’s an assumption 99.9% of the audience made before the opening crawl). It’s obvious they’re saving some major character revelations for the later movies, but I would have liked a tad more closure within Episode VII. Just tell us whose Rey’s parents are.

As for the returning characters, we’re given little of what they’d been up to in the last thirty years. It’s nice to know that they were happy for at least ten years—raising kids and training new Jedi, but there’s so much left to the imagination.

One thing we don’t have to imagine is that the heroes of the original trilogy, along with the other leadership of the New Republic, sucked at their jobs. After the fall of the Empire, the New Republic secures almost no peace or military dominance in the galaxy. The First Order just showed up and started slapping people around almost as easily as the Empire. It’s also weird that New Republic’s military is called the Resistance instead of the New Republic Navy or something less pathetic than the Resistance. I suppose the name helps the audience feel like they’re rooting for the underdog, but I don’t think it was worth sticking us with this name.

Han Solo: Gandalf (not dead) or Boromir (super dead)

My rule concerning deaths of beloved characters for any series: If you don’t see the body, there’s a good damn chance they’re still alive. This goes for Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead, and now Star Wars.

Considering Han Solo is impaled through the torso, falls into a bottomless pit of some facility, and said facility explodes into smithereens minutes, it seems a bit hopeful to think the notorious scoundrel is still alive. However, I can’t believe the director and writers would give Han Solo such an anti-climactic death. The emotion of the scene relies almost entirely on a sense of nostalgia built up over decades of being a pop culture icon rather than rely on the character development and pacing of the actual movies.

Speaking of nostalgia—

There were a bunch of moments which relied on nostalgia to make the scene interesting. Now I’m wondering how those scenes work if I were to re-watch the movie. Are there a awkward pauses when Han or Leia show up? Or does it flow naturally? I guess I’ll probably see in the near future.

Too much A New Hope, not enough new.

The Force Awakens goes out of its way to make itself parallel to A New Hope. There are, of course, substantial twists in the details, but the overall story arc is too similar. Rey, like Luke, is a mechanical engineering genius sensitive to the force. Finn, like Han, is a blaster-totting source of comedy who lies almost as often as he gets shot at. The youngsters are accompanied by Han Solo, a wizened father figure much like Obi-wan Kenobi in the original film.

The major plot points remain the same: Good guys hide secret data in a droid which flees to a desert planet; droid is found by a goody two shoe person sensitive to the force; said force sensitive person goes on an adventure with a father figure who tells them the Force is real, a comedic guy with a blaster, and Chewbacca; they get caught by the bad guys and escape; they blow up the bad guys’ planet-destroying weapon; high fives all around.

What changes the plot slightly is Rey. She takes Leia’s role as the woman in distress, but is capable of rescuing herself before anyone else lifts a hand (whereas Leia at least needed Luke to open her cell door).

Star Wars finally gets diversity and feminism (outside of video games, anyway)

The twist of The Force Awakens is that it’s politically correct by modern standards. The ranks of the Resistance are slightly more diverse with the pilots played by actors of various races and sexes, including ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who’s of Guatemalan and Cuban descent, and seems to be the #1 contender as the new Han Solo). I also recognized two of the ranking Resistance officers as Ken Leung and Greg Grunberg from Lost and Heroes, respectively.

In line with recent popular novels and films, Rey is a female warrior who manages to save herself and other people on more than one occasion. What I find refreshing about her is that she seems to have 20 or 30 more IQ points than certain other YA heroines (not smarter than Hermione, though).

Kylo Ren brings to mind J.P. from Grandma’s Boy

kylorenandjp

Kylo Ren and J.P.: Medium-length hair, long black coat/cloak, and nerd rage.

I didn’t notice this while watching the film in theaters, but it was pointed out to me soon after: Kylo Ren bears a passing resemblance to J.P. from Grandma’s Boy, primarily due to his hair and all-black outfit. He looks like a socially awkward guy in cosplay and, as such, he is the least menacing Dark Jedi to have graced the silver screen.

I’m assuming the social awkwardness was intended; Kylo Ren is supposed to be an angsty guy with an inferiority complex and father/grandfather issues, not a bad ass Sith Lord. Notably, rather than murder the subordinates who fail him like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren uses his (poorly made) lightsaber to destroy inanimate objects. Vader’s actions demand respect and fear, and all Kylo Ren manages to do is make the Stormtroopers feel awkward and walk the other way (giving the audience a few laughs).

Rather than having suffered through real loss and PTSD like Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren seems to have succumbed to the dark side simply because he wants power to compensate for his lack of self-esteem. Sure, his parents seem to have dismissive attachment personality disorder and probably weren’t very good at showing him love and support, but that’s no reason to become a Dark Jedi. I hope the later movies make him more sympathetic and somewhat justified in going dark.

Well, that’s my two cents on the mountain of pennies that is the internet. The Force Awakens is good but not great, and I have hope that the following movies are better.

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Horns – Movie Review

Horns Promo Daniel RadcliffeDrugs, alcohol, sex, violence, overt biblical references, and Daniel Racliffe.

I watched Horns (2013) with absolutely no expectations. Somehow, I’d gone without hearing much about the film and didn’t bother checking others’ reviews. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Coincidentally, I’d just watched Bruce Almighty (2003) before watching Horns, so there was a bit of a contrast between the two films: in one, God takes a rather direct hand in helping a protagonist figure out his problems, and in the other, He seemingly has delegated the job to Satan.

In Horns, Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is suspected by nearly the entire town for the murder of his girlfriend (Juno Temple). Having been on a drunken bender at the time, he’s not quite sure himself whether he did it. Being treated like the devil incarnate, Ig eventually also looks the part when he sprouts horns on his head and finds people confessing their sinful desires to him because of it.

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Moon – Movie Review

Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell in Moon (2009)Directed by Duncan Jones and featuring the talents of Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, Moon is an indie science fiction drama that shouldn’t be missed.

Nearing the end of his three-year contract mining helium-3 all by his lonesome on the far side of the moon, Sam Bell (Rockwell) is just about ready to go back to Earth. After spending so much time with only a computer AI named GERTY (Spacey) to talk to, Sam starts getting a bit loopy and crashes his Moon-car (not what it’s really called, but you get the idea). Then, stuff happens. Interesting stuff.

What’s so awesome about Moon?

To avoid further spoilers, I won’t say all that much, except that Sam Rockwell by himself on the Moon is much more entertaining than Sandra Bullock by herself in space (Gravity is overrated, people—sorry, I had to say it).

Moon is often tense and, even in its moments of silence, it should keep you thinking. There are very sympathetic, touching scenes, as well as a bit of comedy here and there (if you don’t mind a substantial spoiler or have already seen the film, I’m embedding a YouTube video of a moment I thought was kind of hilarious after the break).

Sam Rockwell’s performance is great in this movie, showing a few layers of depth. Kevin Spacey’s voice work as the robot/AI-companion is predictably good as well.

What’s not that awesome?

As a 2009 indie flick with a moderate budget, Moon‘s CG doesn’t hold up to modern blockbusters (I only saw Gravity a few weeks ago, so it was hard not to notice some special effects flaws as I re-watched Moon).

It’s also slightly slow in the beginning, but if you’re like me, your interest level will grow pretty quickly after ten minutes or so.

Overall—

I think this film is more than worth a watch. I watched it once in 2009, once again last week, and then again two days after that. So, I guess it’s worth three watches.

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Superhero Movies! Marvel VS DC

Batman VS Superman Dawn of Justice - Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Henry CavillSuperhero films are big money and a whole lot of fun. All the relevant film studios have been cleaning house, more or less, over the past fifteen years. Here’s a little recap of the recent past and a look into the future where the Justice League and the Avengers face off (well, in terms of popularity, reviews, and box office revenue). Continue reading