Friday, January 15, 2016

Staaaaaaaaaar Waaaaaaaaaaaaars...

Finally got around to seeing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and it was fine. I like Star Wars, but am not a fanatic, so my expectations were probably more realistic than those of your average fanboy. It did a solid job of introducing the new characters that will drive this trilogy while bringing back some familiar faces and doing reasonable fan service in connecting the film with those that came before it.

The breakout characters are pretty clearly Rey, the scavenger and apparent future Jedi knight played by Daisy Ridley, and BB-8, the droid who fills the R2D2 role in the film. Rey kicks ass in a way that women rarely do in film, and balances it well with her innate flying and engineering skills. Her Jedi skills also manifest quickly, as seen in her lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren, the Vaderish figure who represents a more mysterious side of the First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire to be a real threat to the Republic and the rebels they continue to back in the fight against evil. It is criminal how the marketing for the film (notably in the toy and games area) has ignored Rey (though they are apparently rectifying this with a new wave of Rey-focused toys coming out, which makes me wonder if this was done on purpose).

The other notable new character is Finn, a stormtrooper who refuses to participate in the massacre of civilians and eventually joins Rey to find the rebels. We probably see more of the actual life of a stormtrooper through him than we did in the other six movies combined. He's also got a touch of the Force in him, as seen in his own lightsaber battle with a stormtrooper who favors a bludgeon built into his armor.

In fact, if there's something that really sets this movie apart from the rest of the series is the real emotional connection to the characters and the story. The first six movies weren't devoid of this, but it feels like this movie does it better than the films that came before it (laughably so in the case of episodes I through III).

George Lucas was quoted as saying that the movie was too much like the originals, and one level he has a point. Episode VII has some very strong parallels to the first film, from starting on a desert planet to stopping at a dodgy cantina to a key rebel attack on a genocidal enemy installation. But what I think he misses is that the film is well-made enough to do this while also being able to create a clean start to the final trilogy. I shudder to think what Lucas would have come up with had he still been at the helm (if nothing else, I suspect Jar Jar Binks would have been made a general or something).

All in all, I think the film managed to live up to the hype about as well as it could have. It's always nice when a film that's basically critic-proof still manages to be good.

Four previews before the film:

Boy & the World, a Brazilian animated film about a boy searching for his father. It looks great, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature for this year's Oscars (which it will lose to Inside Out). I would like to see it, but given how rarely we get out to the movies I don't see where I find time to see it during it's brief run at the theater where we saw The Force Awakens.

The Jungle Book, the live(ish) action remake of the cartoon classic. Visually it's pretty impressive, but I can't say I have much interest in seeing it. We are certainly not taking the kids to it, as the trailer suggests it'd going to be violent.

Deadpool, a jokey superhero film starring Ryan Reynolds, who apparently has been forgiven for The Green Lantern. The hero in question used to be a special forces soldier, but an experiment gone awry has made him virtually indestructible. He teams up with some similarly maladjusted partners to fight crime, I guess. I don't really see superhero movies, so I'm not likely to see this. Ever.

Captain America: Civil War, the latest entry in the Avengers franchise that sees Captain America and Iron Man fall out over... something. I'm not sure what, I think it's over some guy who is apparently also a superhero but who has some level of mystery about him. Yeah, not likely seeing this ever, either. Nothing against superhero movies, it's just a genre I've never gotten into (which is also true of the comic books, video games, and whatever other media platforms the Avengers have been in). To me, the Avengers are still John Steed and Emma Peel (and not the ones from the awful 1990s movie).

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