Posts Tagged ‘JJ Abrams

17
Dec
15

NON-SPOILER Review: The Force Awakens

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There are stories about what happened . . .

I know many people are excited for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even as you read this many more are actually watching the film. Which brings me to the conundrum before me: how I write about this film when so many people have yet to see it? I certainly don’t want to spoil the excitement and anticipation that I had by spoiling something for those who haven’t seen it. I know I would be pretty disheartened if I was going to watch the film this weekend (or maybe even in the coming week) and I read something that basically spoiled the film for me. Having said that, this will be a NON-SPOILER review of The Force Awakens. This review will discuss the film, but not reference specific details that would give anything way. There is one caveat–any footage from the trailers and tv spots is fair game to discuss and reference.

I guess the burning question on everyone’s mind is: Does Episode VII ‘get it right’ after the disappointment that was the prequels? In my honest opinion, I think it does. JJ Abrams brings us a really close approximation on what ‘Star Wars’ is. With his work on Mission Impossible III and Star Trek, JJ has done a great job of taking old franchises and updating them for new audiences and The Force Awakens is no exception. Because of who he is, JJ Abrams respects this material way too much to make a Star Wars film that’s not Star Wars. He knows what we want and expect from a Star Wars film because he himself is just as big of a fan.

JJ Abrams at the helm of The Force Awakens.

JJ Abrams at the helm of The Force Awakens.

One of the ways Abrams makes The Force Awakens a Star Wars film is by mirroring several beats from Episode IV – A New Hope. Without giving too much away, some of the journeys undertaken by characters in The Force Awakens are similar to those of characters in A New Hope. Some may claim that there are certain plot points lifted straight out of Episode IV. I think JJ and fellow screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt diversify things enough to make The Force Awakens feel fresh AND familiar.

By incorporating Original Trilogy (OT) characters into The Force Awakens, it automatically gives us older fans something to latch onto and in a sense bridges two generations–both the characters in the film and audiences in the real world. I went on the record earlier this year as saying that I didn’t really care for JJ’s decision to bring in OT characters into this new trilogy. I was worried that it would be too much fan service and would try to give us a new movie with the OT characters as the main focus. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is not the case.

Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the main character of The Force Awakens with John Boyega’s Finn, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and BB-8 providing great supporting roles. Ridley’s Rey has this certain spunk but yet at the same time this isolationism that in some ways combine both the characters of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker into a single character. I think one disappointment that I did have is that I wish there was more screen time for Oscar Isaac’s  Poe Dameron. He’s a great X-Wing pilot, but we really don’t get a sense for his character too much since he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is not a cameo role at all and if I were to guess; actually has the second most screen time when compared to Ridley. Carrie Fisher as Leia and Mark Hamil as Luke Skywalker also turn in supporting roles that literally support the roles and missions of our new characters.

This was the Han Solo I was looking for.

This was the Han Solo I was looking for.

Since going into detail regarding what our new characters are like would give away too much from the film, I’m going to stick with the fan favorite that I know everyone is excited to see . . . Mr. “We’re Home” himself, Han Solo. The apprehension I had seeing him in the full trailer back in April was put aside early on. I was worried because in his past couple of films we’ve seen Harrison Ford as a crotchety old man who looked like he was there just to collect a paycheck. I don’t know what JJ Abrams did or if it was just being with old castmates again or if maybe he was just excited to be Han again, but Harrison Ford BROUGHT IT for Star Wars. The man that I saw on screen was Han Solo. A slightly older version of Han Solo, but you could see the character we fell in love with from the OT in Ford’s performance in The Force Awakens. He had the great one-liners, quick quips, and that scoundrel-like attitude that made Han Solo, Han Solo. And he did it with these new set of characters.

As for the film itself, storywise, I think JJ and Kasdan have come up with a great hook in which to get the saga going in a new direction. You get a sense of that from the film’s title, but the opening crawl will make it plainly clear what this first film is about. The film is quite action packed and if I had to venture to guess, probably has the most action in any of the films in the series to date. Chase sequences, battles between opposing forces (pun not intended), and one-on-one battles happen multiple times throughout the film. With all the action going on you would think that there wasn’t much storytelling going on. There are a few quiet moments for characters to tell us about themselves, but JJ excels at giving us character and story development in the midst of these action sequences.

The passing of the torch.

The passing of the torch.

Overall I was pretty pumped by the time end credits’ overture started to play. Here was one generation of Star Wars characters passing the lightsaber to the next. The action and spirit of the saga were all present in The Force Awakens and while the film closed at an appropriate point it left me with a number of questions that already have me anticipating the next episode.

Because I’m so excited and because I have so much more to say, another review of The Force Awakens will be forthcoming, this time with spoilers. Until then, go out and see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All the hype you’ve heard about the film . . . to quote Han Solo: “It’s true. All of it.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing everywhere. Look for our spoiler-filled review shortly after Christmas.

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23
Apr
15

Post View: Thoughts on The Force Awakens Trailer

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I’ve had a lot of cautious optimism since the dual announcement of the LucasFilm acquisition by Disney and the creation of new Star Wars movies two and a half years ago. Though I have fond memories of watching each of the episodes in the New Trilogy (NT, Episodes I, II, & III), they just weren’t as memorable or as imaginative as the Original Trilogy (OT, Episodes IV, V, & VI) was. That’s why since the announcement I’ve been patiently waiting to see how the franchise would be guided and what kind of storytellers would be brought in to carry the saga forward.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that hot on JJ Abrams decision to nix the script that Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt was working on in favor of a storyline that brought the OT leads back. I wanted to see what new stories and challenges the characters in a post-OT Star Wars universe would have to face; not tagging along with Luke, Leia, and Han for “one last ride.” Their stories have been told already. Been there done that.

When the Star Wars – The Force Awakens teaser trailer came out last December I was intrigued, but not blown away. I mean really, all we got were a couple of short scenes that gave us an idea of how the film would “look.” Probably the biggest takeaway for me was that this film “looked” like it fit in with the OT and not dramatically different like the NT did. While everyone was excited to see the Millenium Falcon (the only appearance of something from the OT), I was excited to see that scene as well. Not because we got to see the Millenium Falcon, but because of how we saw it. That over the shoulder tracking shot of the Millenium Falcon as it did a loop and then turned right side up was so dynamic and exhilarating that it was definitely my favorite part of the trailer.

Now cut to a week ago.

Disney drops the first full trailer for The Force Awakens last week at Star Wars Celebration to rave reviews, fans crying (hell, even Matthew McConaughey shed a few tears), and nearly half of my Facebook feed wetting themselves. Again, cautious optimism. But what was getting everyone so worked up?

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. . . the reveal of Chewie and Han. I’m not going to lie, Harrison Ford looks older than ever. I don’t know if it’s because he became such a big star, but after his last slate of films that he’s been in (Expendables, Ender’s Game, Cowboys & Aliens, Morning Glory) I don’t see him as Han Solo anymore. I see him as an old and grumpy Harrison Ford. The brash and beguiling Han I know only appears in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Seeing him here at the end of the trailer telling Chewie “we’re home”, that did not do anything for me. Do not get me wrong, I am a fan of the series through and through and I love Han as much as the next fanboy; but seeing a tired Harrison Ford on-screen just kind of deflated the entire trailer for me. I’m still hopeful that maybe in the grand scheme of the movie, this wasn’t exactly Ford’s best moment. And who knows, maybe he is still is the same old Han Solo we all know and love just a bit older. We’ll have to wait and see.

Similarly to the teaser trailer, it’s the sum all the parts of this trailer that really gets me excited for Episode VII.

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The trailer starts out with a familiar shot of Tatooine, but then as the camera pans across the desert landscape we see a massive star destroyer crashed into the dunes with a wrecked X-wing in the foreground–already I’m hooked. We’ve seen the Tatooine landscape laid out for us before, and Lucas even brought back similar shots in the NT to give Anakin an angsty emotional moment. This opening shot, however, it lets us know that we’re not in that same galaxy far, far away that we once knew–things are different now.

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Then the nostalgia train gets started with Luke (we think) reciting his line from Return of the Jedi that talks about his family “having” Force abilities. While seeing Vader’s burnt and disfigured helmet is a nice touch, it’s when we get to this particular shot (image above) that we realize this isn’t the line from Jedi that we’re hearing, but new dialogue when we hear “my father HAS it.” This could mean any number of things, but most fans are speculating that this suggests that Vader is not dead. Why would Luke say this unless he knew his father (Darth Vader) wasn’t dead right? Maybe, just maybe he lived and what Luke burned at the end of Jedi wasn’t his father. Granted, this is one possibility.

Another interpretation could be that the reason Luke said it this way is because, as Obi-Wan told us, “from a certain point of view” Luke doesn’t consider his father dead because he is still “alive” as a Force ghost–which we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. He could still be interacting with his father/Vader’s Force ghost ever since his death.

Still another possibility is that this isn’t Luke speaking at all, but perhaps it’s his son instead. Most of the theories out there posit that this next set of episodes will focus on the children of Han and Leia–who would have Force abilities passed down to them from their mother. However, as no official synopsis has yet been released, we still don’t know what the story is. The reference to “my father has it” could be from Luke’s son being told to someone else. Fun speculation to be sure, but like I said, this could be another possibility.

As we get into the second half of the trailer though, that’s where we get to see a bunch of fun puzzle pieces . . .

An ominous cloaked figure putting a metal hand on R2D2, someone being handed a lightsaber, Oscar Isaac getting excited flying he X-wing . . . while these next set of shots didn’t move the needle too much for me, the following did:

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Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and BB8 running from tie fighter strafing fire . . . totes exciting.

 

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

 

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger--you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger–you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

 

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

 

And then, the pièce de résistance for me . . .

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This chase sequence through a crashed star destroyer (same one from the opening shot perhaps?) is damn near genius. It’s definitely got hints of Return of the Jedi when Lando took the Millenium Falcon into the Death Star, but I also love that it’s updated by JJ with the snap zoom shot as the Millenium Falcon enters the star destroyer. It’s something we’re familiar with, but updated for a new generation.

And that last shot, well, I’ve already talked about that at the top.

After seeing this trailer, I’m much more excited and hopeful that this next set of Star Wars films will be the Star Wars movies that we’ve been waiting for. While I will always have fond memories of camping out and seeing the NT in theaters the same way the previous generation did with the OT; the newer films themselves didn’t live up to the bar that was set by the older ones.

After this trailer though, there has been an awakening . . . have you felt it?




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