Star Wars: the Force Awakens – a From the Hip Review
For the first official movie review at this page, I’ll need to make a few comments up front. Firstly, the humongous amount of hype for this film nearly destroyed any interest in seeing it until the majority had forgotten it was out. Secondly, I truly had no interest in reviewing it, or even spending more time than has already been spent discussing it. Thirdly, I was… enticed… to write this at the behest of From the Hip’s own resident Devil’s Advocate, Johnny Ganache Amenta. Finally, know that I’m not a Star Wars hater, just a pragmatist. There will be no spoilers in this review.
REPEAT. THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
I was happy to have watched the film with FtH Podcast Chief Unca Vinnie Agosta and the aforementioned DA, Johnny Ganache Amenta. In preparation, I wore my brightest, cheeriest, geekiest Star Trek Command Staff t-shirt, just to offset any Star Wars fans in their dingiest Jedi robes. Sadly, there weren’t any, and the extremely comfortable theatre was about half empty for the noon showing. Surely made this cinephile pleased!
For purists, you will likely be aware that the classic drumroll of 20th Century Fox no longer graces the opening of the Star Wars product. Some will miss it as the film jumps right to the Star Wars fanfare and the standard opening exposition scroll, which should get viewers up to speed on what has happened since the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI. If you liked reading the excessively long opening scrolls of the prequel movies, you will be disappointed as this one is much, much shorter and written at a first grade level. Once again there is a group of bad guys up against a group of good guys, with nary an Empire, Republic or Rebellion part of the story, now.
Viewers will immediately see similarities to the film that started it all, STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE. There’s a droid. It has a special map stored within it. The new version of the Empire wants it, as does the new version of Darth Vader. The droid gets lost, finds a new companion to bring it to the Rebellion – sorry, they aren’t the Rebellion, the Rebellion is gone. They have a new name you can discover for yourself. Max Von Sydow shows up to emulate Sir Alec Guinness, for some reason undetermined except that he looks like Alec Guinness. Basically, the plot is traced from STAR WARS right from the get-go, with the pencil rarely leaving the paper from that point.
Viewers are introduced to a cache of new characters, both bad and good. There’s the evil Vader-esque Kylo Ren, the pilot Poe Dameron and Finn, the black guy. Why is he Finn, the black guy? This is a NO SPOILER review and giving out more than that would ruin some of you scratchy readers. Also, he must be the Lando Calrissian of this series, as he seems to be the only black man in the universe. There’s also Reya… Rei-ah… Rayah… (looking it up, it’s spelled Rey but no one seems to say it in any specific way, including the lovely actress playing the part. The new droid, BB-8 is the single most annoying creation since C-3PO. Or Chia Pets. There are a load of mostly nameless non-Empire faces that do lots of shouting, pouting and strutting, very reminiscent of the original movie and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Regardless, none have the poise or presence of the late, great Peter Cushing, which makes the scenes of the non-Empire strip mined from STAR WARS miss his ability all the more.
The story jumps around a bit to get the new cast merged with the old, allowing the Force to Awaken in fans pants as Han Solo, Chewbacca, then eventually Leia and the droids show up. Most of it is pretty contrived, but hey, it’s Star Wars. If Jar-Jar Binks and the Neimoidians couldn’t kill it, nothing can.
The end of the movie is mostly a rehash of scenes from RETURN OF THE JEDI, which in turn were a rehash of STAR WARS, so you’ll see that the tracing paper is used well and with no remorse. Unlike STAR WARS, the film concludes with an open ending, giving over to the forthcoming connecting films. It’s not a cliffhanger as such, but it’s got just enough for those in their best IG-88 cosplay to ache for the next movie.
The movie isn’t bad, exactly. It’s got entertaining bits, nice special effects and some likable new characters. Director J.J. Abrams obviously has his own awakened force when it comes to the TIE Fighter, which is featured prominently in many scenes. He chose to forego lens flare for other tricks, such as an eye-attracting lens focus on different characters or things in camera shot. It doesn’t stand out as much as the lens flare he’s famous for, but it might attract or detract, depending on your own way of watching a movie. I liked it, in most places.
Harrison Ford is great again as Han Solo; with all his scenes incorporating Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca are some of the most expressively entertaining of the picture. Daisy Ridley as newcomer Rey (yep, double checked, it’s Rey) will make her the new poster girl of geek infatuation. John Boyega as Finn is likable, though who he’s modeled after is intently obvious. Unfortunately, many of Carrie Fisher’s scenes as Leia are shot from the back of her head, so it’s difficult to gauge if the character is still important to the overall epic, or if Abrams just likes her hair. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is imposing and has a great voice, but time will tell if he’s just another Dark Side spaz akin to Hayden Christiansen as Anakin from the prequels. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron brings great flair to his role, limited as it is.
For the Star Wars fanatic, you’ll likely be screaming at some bits in both anger and joy, with excitement ever at the fore. Unca Vin was trying to hide his tears when R2-D2 moved, while Johnny Ganache practically jumped out of his recliner when the Millennium Falcon filled the screen for the first time. We all had our groaner moments, as will even the first time Star Wars viewer, such as C-3PO talking or the dumb ball droid. Fan or no, the movie has an extremely large hole in the story that makes it so much less than it could be, with the intent that the viewer shouldn’t even miss it. That saddens me, as I see it as nothing more than pandering. You’re the fan, you’re going to pay to see it, repeatedly for many of you, and the creators just don’t care enough to tell you a complete tale. They’ve already got your money and your fandom and they just don’t care. There’s a lot of ‘whys’ and ‘when’s’ that might be answered in the upcoming films, but it’s too late, this movie is done and it’s incomplete.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS scores a full six-pack on the scale of how many beers I’d drink during a viewing of the movie. The more beers, the worse the movie. The rest of you might find that six beers will get you tipsy enough to miss the giant hole in the story and feel like your 12 bucks was well spent.