Sunday, January 3, 2016

"The Force Awakens" - And Not A Moment Too Soon!

      Better late than never for this review, even as a boy I was the last kid on the block to see new Star Wars films, so it is almost fitting to carry on the tradition with “The Force Awakens”. There has been a lot of talk in the media, fandom and the Twitterverse about this latest installment of the Star Wars franchise being the first true film of the iconic saga since “Return of the Jedi”, and I’m here to say I couldn’t agree more! Maybe it’s seeing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, yes, there’s a real person inside that fur) together again, or the absence of Jar Jar Binks, but this film possesses an authenticity none of the three prequels were able to capture.

      The storyline is familiar, even derivative, but the Force is in the details. A young loner on a desert planet, Rey (Daisy Ridley), escapes her lonely, yearning existence when she discovers a small droid, BB-8, holding important information needing to be relayed to the good guys. Sound familiar? However, the secret information is the location of long missing Luke Skywalker and the baddies are led by new masked villain, Kylo Ren, who also happens to be the son-gone-bad of Han Solo and Princess Leia. This sounds good just typing it!

         ***MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD***

       By now it is almost common knowledge that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) kills his father, Han Solo, in a vicious ending to an intensely emotional scene both Driver and Ford played to perfection. While this is of course an important event in Kylo’s turning to the Dark Side, I feel killing Solo was a mistake. Bringing back Solo only to kill him in the first film of a new trilogy is as disappointing as having Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), a great character, killed off in “The Phantom Menace” by Darth Maul (Ray Park), a great villain who is himself then killed off in that film. Solo was a beloved hero, rogue, even role model. Perhaps Harrison Ford didn’t want to do another film or two, but if this was Abram’s decision it was a bad one. In my opinion Abrams needed to earn our trust with this franchise before doing anything so grandiose. The death of Han Solo, though well played and built up to, feels like the work of a man overplaying his hand by robbing us of an old friend.


      Naturally, the effects are astounding and the action scenes intense. Light sabers look very cool in 3D. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher still have that onscreen chemistry that made the romance between Han and Leia so genuine three decades ago. Newcomer Daisy Ridley’s Rey is strong yet vulnerable, bright yet still full of wonder. The maelstrom of emotions Daisy conveys during her final discovery of Luke Skywalker was the work of true talent, even if her London accent was a little distracting on occasion. Will Daisy move on to other successes like Harrison Ford after “Star Wars”? I think so.

      The loss of Solo notwithstanding, “Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens” is the best thrill ride I’ve seen on the big screen in a long, long time. I actually found myself sitting there, smiling, really enjoying myself, and few films do that for me anymore. Yes, this is the best Star Wars film, perhaps since the original, certainly since “Return of the Jedi”. See it, or see it again, but don’t be the last kid on the block to do so!

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