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Nerdlocker Review: Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens

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It’s finally here! Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens, the most-anticipated movie of the century, hits screens today!! The force truly awakened on October 30th, 2012 when Disney announced that they purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion and planned on making Episodes VII-IX (that’s 7-9 for you non-Romans). This was music (John Williams) to the ears of Star Wars fans fed up with Lucas because of the disappointing prequels and his constant need to tweak the original trilogy without releasing the unaltered theatrical versions. Some folks–the “is nothing sacred?” crowd–are not happy to see the reigns of their beloved franchise sold to the House of Mouse with the intentions of exploiting it for maximum queso. Others don’t give a shit and simply want more Star Wars movies. Regardless of how you feel about it, chances are you have tickets, or plan on buying tickets to check out Episode VII in the near future.

So, how was it?

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens (TFA from here on out). There are a lot of great things about it, and I had a fun time watching it, but in the end, I wish I liked it more. It’s been 24 hours and I cannot stop thinking about the movie. There’s a lot to wrap your head around. People want a clear cut thumbs up/thumbs down and it’s more complicated than that. General audiences and casual movie fans will love it. It’s very entertaining. Disney made this thing with us geeks in mind and while they didn’t exactly bottle the magic from the original trilogy, there are parts that look and feel like it. There are also parts that bring the prequels to mind, but TFA is far superior and never offensive. It features a mix of familiar (if aged) faces and kick ass new characters, and pays homage to the past (too much at times), while still being it’s own thing; a Star Wars for a new generation.

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It’s impossible to perfectly recapture the look, spirit, and feeling of the original trilogy, but TFA has it’s moments. Regardless of how good any of the future movies in the franchise are, they will be their own unique thing (and that’s okay), and regardless of how you feel about George Lucas, up until now, he’s been the master storyteller of this intergalactic soap opera. With Disney disposing of his ideas for this new trilogy, we have a change of storyteller. Our characters have new Gods controlling their fates. The game has changed. This continuation of the story feels a bit like it’s predecessors but it’s almost like an alternate universe; a sort of bizarro Star Wars.

Let’s take a closer look at Episode VII.

SPOILERS AHEAD

If you haven’t seen the film, you don’t want any part of this. Save and come back. Enjoy the movie!

TFA takes place approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi. It is the first Star Wars film without the 20th Century Fox fanfare (and it’s Pavlovian effect) at the beginning. It also must be noted (to the delight of die-hard fans) that there is no Disney castle or logo in it’s place. After the traditional “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” screen, the iconic John Williams theme sets the tone and the yellow crawl informs us that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing and his sister, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) wants to find him. It mentions The Resistance and First Order, the new gen iterations of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, respectively. Leia sends the best pilot in The Resistance (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB-8 (a lovable mix of Artoo and Wall-E) to retrieve a portion of a map that leads to the location of Luke.

The opening line of the film is, “This will begin to make things right.” It’s a not so subtle wink at fans to let them know that they’re in good hands. Those are the hands of director J.J. Abrams, a lifelong Star Wars fanatic and the guy that souped-up the Star Trek franchise. For better or worse, this is his movie and it’s similar to his others. It has interesting, likable characters and funny, campy dialogue built into an action heavy plot that moves at a breakneck pace and serves as a sort of camouflage for story deficiencies. The movie relies heavily on coincidence, and features dialogue wrought with exposition so thick you’ll think Lucas wrote it (one scene with Han and Leia is particularly bad).

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A lot has happened in 30 years and the movie asks a lot of it’s viewers. It’s kind of jarring. We learn that Han and Leia have separated and they have a son, Kylo Ren (Vader 2.0) who turned to the dark side. He answers to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the giant Emperor-like character who looks more like something out of Harry Potter than Star Wars. Where did this guy come from? What caused Ren to turn to the dark side and why is he so fascinated with Vader? What happened to the Rebel Alliance and the Empire? What’s up with Luke? The film leaves you with as many questions as answers and the lack of info gave me a feeling like I missed something. There’s so much I want to know. It’s great to have some mystery injected back into the series.

New characters do a lot of the heavy lifting and the casting is great. Daisy Ridley is spectacular as Rey (Luke 2.0), a scavenger abandoned on the planet Jakku (Ta2.0oine) who displays a natural gift for the force. She’s the most badass female character in the entire franchise and has capabilites far beyond those of Amidala and Leia. I look forward to her future adventures. John Boyega (Moses from Attack the Block) plays Finn, a former Stormtrooper gone rogue, and he brings a lot of personality to the role. He’s excellent in many scenes, but sometimes the camp is ratcheted up a bit high. That’s probably how Abrams wanted him to play it. Finn was a bit of a red herring. He’s shown in advertisements wielding a light saber, but it doesn’t look like he’ll train as a Jedi. Maybe, he just didn’t show a natural inkling for the force like Rey does. Finn links up with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the aforementioned pilot of The Resistance, and the two of them pair well together. Isaac is super likable and looks at home in an X-Wing. BB-8 (R2-D2.0) is everybody’s favorite piece of product placement.

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Kylo Ren is an interesting new character played by Adam Driver. He’s mysterious and the force is strong with him, but he’s consumed by the dark side. He wears a mask even though he doesn’t need one. Why? Probably because he idolizes his Grandpa Vader. Also, his pretty boy looks don’t command the same level of respect as the mask and it shields the world from his insecurities. I’m not sure how I feel about the look. He kind of looks like one of the ninjas from G.I. Joe. Ren loses his shit and throws temper tantrums often. He has much to learn about channeling his anger and his short fuse makes him unpredictable. A new character that I didn’t find appealing is Domhnall Gleeson’s ultra-hammy General Hux. It’s a shame, Gleeson’s been killing it lately (Ex Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn) but he’s kind of goofy here.

So, who’s back? Not Luke. Well, he is, but not really. They say he’s off looking for some mystical Jedi temple, the first one in creation (Lucas cringes). We discover him at the end of the movie, chilling on a mountain, looking dapper. Chewbacca, Han Solo, and Princess Leia–now a General–are all back. Old Chewie is my favorite, he’s great. Han’s good too; fans will be thrilled to see Harrison Ford back as the character he admittedly isn’t very fond of. He probably relished killing him off. My gripe with the death of Han Solo is that it doesn’t pack an emotional punch and it should. It felt a little hollow. I wasn’t enchanted by Leia either. It’s hard to believe that the loving, capable Princess from Return of the Jedi lost her son to the dark side. It just doesn’t feel right. Our new storytellers had to take some liberties in order to fit their narrative into the universe and it was at the expense of some classic characters. That’s where it feels a little dirty.

The right touch of fan service is fun, but no need to try and replicate the original movie to such a painstaking degree; new Luke (Rey), new Vader (Kylo Ren), new Emperor (Supreme Leader Snoke), new R2-D2 (BB-8), new death star (only BIGGER!), death of a major character for a jolt at the end, similar looking planets, cantina scene. This is supposed to be a sequel, not a reboot. It’s obvious they’re setting up the next episode for some kind of “I’m your father, I’m your sister” style reveal with Rey. I don’t have any knowledge of it, but it seems like there’s a good chance she’s either the sister (possibly twin?) of Kylo Ren, or more likely, the daughter of Luke Skywalker. The natural piloting ability she displays when she jumps in the Milennium Falcon is reminiscent of Anakin and Luke.

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TFA is progressive in ways, but it also plays it safe by relying on a tried and true formula. Jurassic World did the same thing with worse results. TFA is much better, but it’s not as strong of a comeback as Creed, which was a knockout. Creed gave me chills both times I saw it and TFA didn’t, even with John Williams’ rousing score, lightsaber fights, and the nostalgia factor. It’s a solid attempt from J.J. and Co. though; TFA is supremely entertaining and it will be a blast to see in a theater packed with rabid fans; grown men and women dressed as Jedi, Sith, Stormtroopers and Wookiees, toting lightsabers, and bringing a shared enthusiasm to the event. It’s all about the experience and Stars Wars makes people crazy in all the right ways. Let’s see where this bizarro story takes us.

3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls

Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens opens Thursday 12/17 in 2D, 3D, and IMAX.

SW: TFA merchandise and promotional products are available in movie theaters, restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, banks, liquor stores, and gas stations everywhere.

Trailer:

Stills:

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

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