Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Star Wars Episode Seven: The Force Awakens (2015) ***

Well, the great miracle has arrived. The film that was prophesied is here, the one that will bring balance between the Old trilogy and the New. The new Star Wars movie is a spectacle for both young and old, beyond all criticism or judgment.

I'm a bit late to the party. I waited a bit for the crowds to die down (slightly), and three weeks into it's run, I'm just seeing it, while many of my friends are seeing it for the second or third time. The film seems to be universally beloved, but I have to admit to being underwhelmed.

The latest installment in the series takes place about 3 decades after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Despite that great victory, in which the Evil Emperor Palpatine was killed and the second Death Star destroyed, the remnants of the Empire persist. The storm troopers now fight for something called the First Order, ruled by a shadowy, Dark-side Supreme Leader and his disciple Kylo Ren. Princess Lea is now a general in the Resistance, split up from Han Solo, who has gone back to his smuggler's ways. Luke Skywalker has disappeared entirely, and the Resistance is desperate to find him and enlist his help against the rising First Order.

The Resistance get some help from a disillusioned storm trooper named Finn and a scrappy desert-girl named Rey. These two find themselves in possession of a droid that contains a map to Luke Skywalker's location. They must not only get the droid to the Resistance, but help find a way to destroy the First Order's new weapon, a planet-sized base that can destroy entire star systems.

The whole thing is so derivative of the original films that it is hard to believe I am not describing the plot of Mel Brooks's “Spaceballs.” I mean, we have a desert-dwelling orphan, looking out over the sands with nameless longing. We have a droid that has to be delivered to the Resistance. Sound familiar? The movie actually acknowledges its retreaded nature in the scene in which the Resistance commander explains that the Starkiller Base is different from the old Death Star in that it is much LARGER. One of the pilots points out, “This thing must have a weakness,” and sure enough, the thing has a weak spot that x-wing fighters can go shoot at. When “The Force Awakens” isn't recycling old plot elements, it is manufacturing ludicrous coincidences to advance to the plot, such as the scene in which Han Solo rediscovers the Millennium Falcon.

None of this is to suggest that there aren't things to love in “The Force Awakens.” I love me some Star Wars, and this one is infinitely better than Episodes I and II (although you have to give those films credit for at least being complex. The Force Awakens, in contrast, is written on a third-grade reading level.) It's a real delight to see Lea and Han again, and Harrison Ford tries to bring some of the old swagger. John Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey are both charming, and Adam Driver is appropriately dark as Kylo Ren. I expect good things of these actors. Finally, the movie is action-packed enough to make most people ignore its flaws.

Maybe I had unrealistic expectations for this film. After years of hype, great reviews, and all those shattered box office records, I though this would be more than just an action film. I was expecting another “The Empire Strikes Back,” but what I got was “Transformers.”

3 stars out of 5

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