Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens (PG13 – 135 minutes)

I waited quite a while before writing this review, hopefully everyone has seen it (more than once) by now!  Just in case you haven’t, I’ll keep the majority of the review spoiler-free – then warn you before I decide to get into some more detailed plot points.  I was going to try to stay completely spoiler-free, but it’s so tempting to get into all the depths and mythology of Star Wars, the now-defunct Expanded Universe, and interweaving story lines from various other books and movies when talking about the Force Awakens.  I can’t help it – I love this universe and all the stories in it – so I’m definitely going to mention a few of them!

Let’s pretend you’re completely unfamiliar with Star Wars, here’s your catch up paragraph.  George Lucas wrote the first Star Wars trilogy – Episodes IV, V, and VI (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) - released in 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively.  They told the story of Luke Skywalker, a young farm boy who learns that he’s the son of Anakin Skywalker, a once great Jedi Knight who turned against the light side of the Force and embraced the dark Side, becoming Darth Vader, assisting the Empire in spreading tyranny across the galaxy.  Luke teams up with Senator Leia Organa (who is later revealed to be his twin sister), rogue pirate and smuggler Han Solo, his rugged co-pilot the wookie Chewbacca, and two droids, humanoid protocol droid C3PO and astromech R2D2.  Together, they defeat the Empire, and bring peace and justice back to the galaxy – reinstating the Republic and the Senate that governed it – which had been disbanded by the Emperor at the beginning of Episode IV. 

That’s a brief summary, but it covers all the basics. Those three movies were such a huge hit with fans that it created an entire universe of books, toys, TV specials, and comics.  Lucas always had more stories in his back pocket, and in 1999 – released Episode I The Phantom Menace, in 2002, Episode II The Attack of the Clones, and in 2005, Episode III Revenge of the Sith.  That line in the original trilogy explanation about how Anakin Skywalker, once a great Jedi Knight turned against the light side and became Darth Vader?  Well, these three movies explain how that happened. 

This prequel trilogy was not nearly as well received, for many reasons – and while I will try not to get into a huge discussion of that here – I can say that they lacked the heart of the original trilogy.  In many ways, that was due to the story.  While the original trilogy felt familiar and real, due to mostly practical effects and relaxed performances and scrappy characters in a rebellion against a big bad Empire - the prequel trilogy was set during the height of the republic, as opposed to the grittiness of the time after it fell.  The republic at its height was much more formal and reserved.  Now, there was also the issue that almost every effect in the prequels was CGI, or done on green screen – and while the effects were excellent – they did not feel real.  The performances were also much more wooden – mostly likely directed to be that way.   There are parts of the movies that I like – in particular, I loved all the political intrigue – how the Senate was corrupted from the inside, how the Separatists rose up and separated from the Republic – how the clone army came to be to fight against the separatist droid army – and how Senator Palpatine from Naboo organized the entire sequence of events.  Right down to finding the one shatter-point that he could twist into the destruction of the Jedi order in Anakin Skywalker while pretending to be totally trustworthy the whole time.... 

There are, of course, many (many many) things I don’t like about the prequels – but hey, it’s a new year, let’s stay positive! The best thing about them was that they led to the animated Clone Wars Series - Netflix that if you haven't seen it. 

Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, who promised to make more Star Wars movies, and under the direction of new Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy (thank goodness for Kathleen Kennedy), she found director J.J. Abrams, and they set about bringing us Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Now, if you’re familiar with the Expanded Universe stories – you know all about Grand Admiral Thrawn, how Han and Leia had twins Jacen and Jaina – how they and their younger brother Anakin trained under Luke at his new Jedi academy and that Luke and his wife Mara Jade had a son named Ben.  You also know that Chewbacca died saving Anakin and many others from the Yuuzhan Vong invasion at Serpindal.  You know that eventually Jacen fell to the dark side and became Darth Caedus, killing Mara – and that Jaina had to track him down and eliminate him.  You know that Jaina Solo was an incredibly strong, powerful female character who had amazing stories, and would have been amazing on screen, especially chasing down her brother after he turned.

When J.J. first started working on Episode VII – the first thing he stated was that he was going to be telling all new stories – and not using anything from the expanded Universe stores.   

The Force Awakens begins with the same familiar crawl of words as all other Star Wars movies – basically they help set up the story, in case we don’t know what happened prior.  We learn that Luke Skywalker is missing, the New Republic is fighting against the First Order which rose out of the ashes of the Empire, and that Leia, now a leader of the Rebellion supporting the republic and fighting the First Order, is desperately searching for Luke – hoping he can assist. 

We are introduced to rebel pilot Poe Dameron as he picks up what seems to be vital information regarding Luke’s whereabouts on the planet Jakku.  Just as he collects what he needs from a mysterious old man, the First Order shows up.  One of the First Order stormtroopers seems to have issues with new villain Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma giving orders to kill everyone in the village.  Poe is captured, but not before he hides the information in his droid, BB8. After interrogating Poe, Ren finds out what he did with the information, but our rogue Stormtrooper, FN2187 (FN stands for Footsoldier Number – or so I’m told), breaks Poe out and together they steal a TIE fighter to head back to Jakku to pick up BB8.  Meanwhile, BB8 has connected with scavenger Rey, a woman who is making her living trading pieces she collects from the crashed ships on Jakku.  

She’s waiting for the family that left her there to come back and get her.  Poe and Finn (as Poe decides to call FN2187 – because that’s not a real name) crash, and Finn – thinking Poe is dead - grabs his jacket– runs into BB8 and Rey.  BB8 recognizes the jacket, and Finn tells them Poe is gone, Rey assumes he’s a resistance fighter, and together, the three of them fly away from Jakku in a local junk ship, which just happens to be the Millennium Falcon. 

Okay – from here on in – spoiler alert – you’ve been warned.  I’m going into plot details!

The Falcon gets picked up by a freighter that is being piloted by legendary smuggler/pirate/scruffy-looking nerf-herder, Han Solo and his co-pilot, Chewbacca.  They learn that Finn and Rey are attempting to get BB8 back to resistance headquarters, and after dealing with a pure action/comedy distraction sequence of two groups of bad guys both trying to collect money from Han – they head to Maz Kanata’s place. 

Maz Kanata is a thousand-year old lady who hangs out in weird cantina that she’s built on beautiful planet.  Maz tells Han to take them to the resistance on his own. Finn is more concerned about evading the First Order (he doesn’t want to go back, and who can blame him?).  Rey feels pulled into Maz’s basement, called by Luke’s lightsaber in a box, and is treated to a force-vision – with lots of images in it that can all be interpreted in multiple ways – so let’s just go with general vision-stuff for now.  She freaks out – and despite the fact that Maz tells her to take the saber, she panics and runs.  The First Order attacks, and Maz tells Finn to take the saber to Rey. 

In the battle, Kylo Ren captures Rey because she’s seen the map, and takes off just as the resistance pilots show up.  Finn has a brief battle with a Stormtrooper who seems to have gear designed to fight against lightsabers (if all the Jedi are gone, why would you have that gear on a Stormtrooper?).  Leia shows up, and Han tells her that their son, Kylo Ren, was there and caused all the destruction.  They all head back to Resistance headquarters, where Finn is happy to find that Poe is still alive, but not nearly as happy as BB8 (did I mention how adorable BB8 is?).  C3PO shows up, still annoying, but pretty funny, and we learn that R2D2 went into ‘lowpower mode’ when Luke disappeared and is non-communicative. 
Ren attempts to interrogate Rey on the ‘Starkiller’ base, a planetoid that drains energy from a nearby star to fire at and destroy multiple planets.  He is unsuccessful, as she begins to realize her own strength in the force. After being commanded to do so by Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux destroys several republic planets, causing the rebels to decide to take action.  Han, Chewbacca and Finn will land on the base, rescue Rey, and shut down the defense system so that Poe and his pilots can take out the regulator that is holding the weapon together.  

Well, Rey pretty much rescues herself, but runs into Finn and Han when they show up.  They set some explosives just as Han decides to confront Ren – Ren gets really whiny about his struggle, sounding an awful lot like his grandfather when he was young, then impales Han with his lightsaber.  Chewbacca sets off the explosions, and they all run – the pilots start the destruction of the planet, and Finn and Rey encounter Ren in the forest.  He knocks out Finn, but then Rey is able to force-grab Luke’s lightsaber, and duel with Ren.  She gets the upper hand just as the planet begins to pull apart, and Chewbacca brings in the Falcon to pick up she and Finn.  Hux bails on the base, presumably grabbing Phasma and Ren to head back to wherever Snoke is. 

Back at the resistance base, everyone is pretty excited about the victory, but sad about Han.  R2 wakes up, and projects a map with a missing piece, luckily that’s the piece that BB8 has.  Rey takes the Falcon with Chewbacca and R2, and finds an island on an ocean planet – she climbs a whole lot of steps to finally come face to face with Luke and hold his lightsaber out to him.

In my opinion, J. J. did a brilliant job with making this movie feel like the original trilogy.  The majority of the sets and effects are practical, and that really makes a difference.  So much so – that the two CGI characters – Snoake and Maz - really stand out and feel almost cartoon-like.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s noticeable.  The action sequences are great,  the battles are amazing, and the chase sequences are all fun.  The plot is very echo-y of Episode IV, and while many have complained about that, I actually think that’s a good thing.  It feels familiar, but introduces a lot of new.  In terms of the actors, everyone is fantastic.  All the performances feel very natural.
  • Harrison Ford is top billed and that is absolutely justified.  This is definitely a Han Solo movie, and he is wonderful.  Han’s death is not really a surprise, after all, Ford has been campaigning for it since 1980 – he felt Han’s should have a hero’s death.  And in this, he’s right, and it works.  It will be a shame not to see him back in the next movie, but he really went out with a bang.

  • Carrie Fisher looked amazing, and brings the same determined power to General Leia that she originally brought to Princess Leia.  I especially love how irritated she gets with Han – even when he’s just trying to help.  The two of them have incredible chemistry, and it was wonderful to see them together again.

  • Mark Hamill looks great as Luke – even though you only see him for a moment.  In the meantime, keep watching the Flash – I’m sure the Trickster will be back again!

  • Lupita Nyong’o did the performance capture for Maz, and again – the CGI is excellent, but she still doesn’t feel as real as she would have had it just been Lupita in some prosthetics and makeup.  But, she’s a fun character, especially when she asks about Chewbacca – “Where’s my boyfriend?”

  • Andy Serkis likewise does a great job with Supreme Leader Snoke, but we only see him as a CGI hologram in this movie.  Is he really that big? Or is he much smaller? Will he be CGI when we see him in person?  Who is Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he ‘create’ Kylo Ren? Hopefully we will eventually get some answers for this pile of Snoke questions.

  • Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux – and really, he’s not in the movie much – he just gets an attitude with Ren here and there.  They seem to be in competition for Snoke’s favor. 

  • Gwendoline Christie plays Captain Phasma, and I cannot wait to see more of her, mainly because that chrome armor is really nifty.  I do like that you never saw her without the helmet, it made her a little more mysterious.

  • Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron – the ‘best pilot in the resistance’.  He’s fantastic – super-actiony and a Han Solo-type for a new generation.  I can’t wait to see what adventures he will have from this point on.

  • Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren –and there are all kinds of theory and speculation about his backstory and while I’m interested to learn how the boy who used to be Ben Solo becomes the Master of the Knights of Ren, I didn't mind not having those answers yet.  There were a lot of temper tantrums on his end when he didn’t get his way – and while some have complained that made him less threatening, I found them to make sense for his character – which is pretty much a really lost and tortured young man.  I thought he did a great job and made for the beginning of an epic villain – but we’ll see where he goes from here.  And is there any good left in him? Can he be redeemed? Not after killing his father, in my opinion...

  • Now – to the two who stole the movie for me – John Boyega is a revelation as Finn.  From the tortured stormtrooper to the fake resistance fighter to the man rescuing his friend – he is above and beyond excellent.  His absolute exuberance in the role shows through at every moment.  There are those who have complained that he’s got too many jokey lines, that he’s too over-the-top.  I disagree.  He’s incredibly watchable, crazy hilarious, and really almost the best thing in the movie.

  • Almost – because BB8 is adorable and Daisy Ridley as Rey is the best thing in any movie this year.  She’s strong and powerful, but with no excuse and no reason.  She just is.  In previous Star Wars movies, Amidala and Leia were powerful women, but almost had to be because of their station.  Rey begins as just a scavenger.  She’s just a person on a planet doing what she can to survive.  She steps in to help the larger fight because it’s the right thing to do, and once she begins to come into her power, she does not hesitate to use it to get done what needs to be done.  Ridley’s performance is engaging, straightforward, and wonderful. Her chemistry with Boyega is absolutely real and wonderful.  I wish there was some way to put into words what it means to have a Star Wars movie grounded in a woman this strong – but I think the legions of little girls who want to be Rey will begin to convey how I feel.  When I was a little girl – it was not cool for girls to be into Star Wars, now – Rey makes it beyond cool, and not just for little girls, she’s an action hero for everyone.  I cannot wait to see what she becomes.

Was there anything about it I didn’t like? Honestly, at this point, no – there wasn’t. 
Yes, it follows the same plot points as Episode IV – that doesn’t bother me. 
Yes, it’s filled with jokes – I loved that, it’s really hilarious in moments. 
Yes, R2 only conveniently wakes up with the map to Luke at the end – but in my opinion that makes sense because Luke remotely awakened him when Luke felt the ‘awakening’ in the force of the one who could bring about the re-birth of the Jedi – when Rey starts to come into her power. 
Yes, it did feel like J.J. borrowed a little of the stories from the Expanded Universe – Are Ren and Rey a version of Jacen and Jaina?  It sure feels like it.  Could she be Luke’s daughter?  Is she something else entirely?  I’m not upset at any of those questions, I’m excited I get to ask them, and look forward to learning the answers.

There is one thing.  I feel like I could have used a longer ‘mourning for Han’ sequence from Chewbacca and Leia – a hug between them when they return, etc.  But honestly, it’s probably better that didn’t happen, I would have been a mess! 

11 out of 10 – I loved it, it’s exceptional.  It was everything I wanted and more, and I cannot wait to see the next one!

Here's the SDCC Panel from last summer...

No comments:

Post a Comment