Written by / 1/23/2016 / No comments / , ,


Director Abrams brings back the classic imagery that made it all shine
Often, you can return to a movie you enjoyed and discover it wasn't as good as it seemed, but STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS has worked the complete opposite, and after the third (and now fourth) viewing, is actually getting better. Here are some of the things that make it a pretty great ride: For one, the suspense during the climactic battle, by the Star-Killer thrusting the sun's rays to blow up planets, is maintained perfectly. As long as there's sunshine, we have a last-minute chance replacing the famous "Almost There" pilot in the original STAR WARS. And the Star-Killer surface is snow, resembling Hoth while Leia's outpost is Endor forest-green and the main beginning location Jakku is the new Tattooine. Not so original, but sure beats the hell out of those busy prequel planets that we'll get to soon enough...

A Lukeless Movie Poster
Many people are irritated by how FORCE is basically a pretzel remake of the 1977 (and mind you, they have the right and are right in their own way) classic STAR WARS but enough things are changed, rearranged and juggled around that it really doesn't matter for one simple reason... and that's simplicity. Back to pulpy basics. And taking the fiction seriously, while it's not a good thing that the Star-Killer took out a dozen (or so) planets using various sun lasers, the planet we see up-close before being blown to bits resembles one of the wannabe BLADE RUNNER locations George Lucas filled his horrific prequels with. Too many planets made for no story or suspense. Cult Film Freak's writeup two years ago, about the NEW HOPE for Disney to keep STAR WARS ON THE RUN came true. At the end of AWAKENS the Rebellion, now called The Resistance, is back down to a ragtag fleet. Meanwhile, George Lucas himself and probably one of his many "nephews," scriptwriter Max Landis, son of John Landis, whose famously controversial Tweet about Daisy Ridley's main character Rey being a "Mary Sue," which had to be Googled to learn it means a too-perfect heroine, isn't happy with the immense AWAKENS' success: Max is probably just as irritated as his 8.8 billion dollar "Uncle" who now, more than ever, probably realizes his prequels don't mean a thing, and Mr. Lucas, even in recent interviews, is not a happy camper... Being a billionaire must be tough. And a millionaire's son even tougher. But guys, those prequels were so horrible, a "too good to be true" ingenue is a necessary thing; for then, and only then, can we witness a character's struggle to remain good over evil as the trilogy continues. Yes, like Luke Skywalker did in the originals, which, again, makes AWAKENS not very creative in that aspect. But at least there is someone (and plenty of others) to actually root for and give a crap about unlike those nightmarish years between 1999 and 2005, when the art of science-fiction was coffin-nail-closed by the very man who resurrected the genre from idealistic lethargy: giving us old school Flash Gordon for a new generation, and way beyond.

The Nefarious Darth Snorkel
So not only have we moved on/back to basics, those terrible episodes 1, 2 and 3 have been done away with, completely. No one cares anymore, and they don't even have to. But let's get back on track: the one character (other than the "New Emperor" hologram) that seemed a bit too CGI in an already dated Harry Potter fashion is Lupita Nyong'o as Maz Kanata, existing on a planet with a  familiar cantina of freaks (alas, using a band playing Earthly sounding reggae, taking us out of a galaxy far, far away) and the outside/entrance resembles a colorfully flagged exterior of a Medieval Times restaurant while, underground, when Rey touches Luke's treasure chest-kept lightsaber and sees sparse pieces of her scattered/tattered backstory, the Potter similarities continue...

But by the third AWAKENS viewing, Lupita became less annoying. In fact there's a blue collar female expository-driven Jedi (though Lupita is more of a Jedi groupie) in Alan Dean Foster's first expanded universe novel (and the first expanded novel, period) titled SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE that she might be based on. Her intense, spontaneous moment looking into the eyes of ex-Stormtrooper Finn makes up for her flaws just like the intensity of our gorgeous tomboy Rey makes up for Han and Leia's son, the grandson of Darth Vader: For Kylo Ren has the most potential for ruining the new franchise from the start, but his close blood relation to Vader makes more sense for his too-rushed need to be an equally evil warrior donning a dark mask and speaking through a nefarious voice box, and his rabid jealousy about this new girl in town's immense Jedi powers provide logic and even humor to his random tantrums. And while that actor, Adam Driver, has been annoying in "normal" movies, trying too hard to be the next tall & offbeat Jeff Goldblum turned hipster, his villainy is aided by the fact there's an Emperor character, Snoke, who, voiced by Andy Serkis and looking as if Gollum took a growth pill, while being the worst input in AWAKENS, makes Ren's relationship with Domhnall Gleeson's Nazi-like General Hux work since Hux has a connection with Snoke that provides him the ability to intentionally annoy and even goad Ren without getting killed, lessening some of Kylo's powers, a good thing since less is more, especially with this particular (and perhaps intentional) lightweight heavy.

X-Wing Skimming
Meanwhile, the space dogfights with the X-Wings and Tie Fighters (one moment shows two Ties flying against a golden-dawn backdrop liken to, and an obvious homage of, APOCALYPSE NOW, Coppola's originally-planned duo with George featuring Harrison Ford as "Luke Lucas") and especially the Millennium Falcon, the latter manned by Rey and then taken over by its rightful owner, an aged but still pretty cool looking Harrison Ford's Han Solo, are a given plus: the aerial battles looking fantastic and not as shaky as some JJ-despisers have complained about... although at times there are too many ships flying around up there; and yet, with a squad of eclectic Resistance pilots, it's easy to keep score. And the slow-moving shots (including the first scene when the camera lowers after the easy-to-follow opening scrawl) of a giant vessel covering a planet, and the Falcon sporadically cruising through space, looks beyond-fantastic, both nostalgic and brand new at the same time. Not to forget two of the good guys stealing a Tie Fighter as we get a close-up of the beloved yet evil war ships for to catch the full glory of its wonderful exterior, and for the first time, more of the inside other than the seated pilot. Then, the Falcon sliding on snow to the edge of a snowy cliff... Sure, it's obvious Abrams is going full-out geek-mode for Generation-Xers, but this particular fella ain't complaining about getting up-close and personal to the machines that Lucas, in his good young days, make to seem like living, breathing creatures. What Abrams brought back to life was not only killed in the prequels, but lost and forgotten in jello-like and now dated CGI. The best visual is the computer monitor inside the Tie Fighter and the Falcon, that zeroes in on the target, looking just as Pong-Era video glorious as ever. And Han Solo's tragic (though underwhelming and predictable) death does make sense since, if he were around in the upcoming projects, they would be Han Solo adventures with the other characters riding shotgun: and wouldn't help endorse the upcoming "Young Han" projects. Plus the fact Ford begged for Solo to die-off years ago, and probably didn't agree to sign on here unless his legendary hero bought the farm...

Apocalypse Awakens
And boy, it sure seemed like ex-wife Leia, perhaps, once she couldn't fit into that famous slave bikini, probably got cheated on by the "scoundrel" smuggler, making her a bit too persuasive into having Han bring their boy "back home" when in reality, Kylo Ren i.e. Ben Solo is obviously beyond the point of being turned around by a simple daddy-son lecture. It's not like the kid smoked cigarettes behind the tool shed or got an F on a math test; he's co-ruling the universe bathed in full darkness. And not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but Leia repeating one too many times for Han to pull off what was not only near-impossible, but downright lethal... especially without proper backup... seems beyond suspicious (half-joking here); but that was Han's fault, and again, Solo was born to die, and once there's a complete trilogy on DVD/Blu Ray, like the first GODFATHER had Marlon Brando and James Caan setting it apart from the superior sequel, this will forever be "the one that starred Harrison Ford" even if paling to PART 8 and 9.

Han Solo's last stand
And it was a letdown that Solo's death wasn't in an old school heroic "die with your boots on" fashion, or an intrepid attempt at saving others. Hopefully, that won't happen to Chewbecca; and no matter how old Peter Mayhew is, just replace him with another giant actor if he gets too winded from all the running around in that heavy costume, because in an episode of COMIC BOOK MEN, Peter looked downright ancient and may not have two more films in him. Chewbacca is, in his own endearing way, equally important as Solo just as Captain Kirk and Spock are basically an even draw to the overall TREK canon, and fandom. It can be foreseen that if Chewie does die it will be at the end of the third and final film of this particular trilogy... But the importance of having the old-timers... like our 11th hour Jedi-in-hiding Luke Skywalker as the new bearded Obi-Wan hanging out on what looks like a Mini-Maui... In keeping the original characters around, the youngsters, who miraculously worked since director J.J. knew exactly how to film them up-close and then slowly back up the camera after establishing their importance into the scene/story instead of the vice versa/horrible direction Lucas used in the prequels... visually bragging his billion dollar computerized widescreen canvas (making travesty of his own "used future") while characters served as a mere afterthought. And herein, the editing, too, is tight and effective. For example, when an angry Kylo Ren asks something, like (completely paraphrasing), "Who is this girl?" we cut quickly to a Rey close-up in the Falcon, giving orders to Finn... There are several moments like this, gliding from scene to scene according to the characters being moved around like a house-fly flying around in a moving car as opposed to a bee stuck in a jar without breathing holes...

If only baby Greedo shot first
Those vapid, stingless prequels are obviously what a then-younger "nephew" Max Landis adored; imagine him cuddling up with tubby Uncle George during that actual private screening where he "might have been" along with his dad, John Landis (the ANIMAL HOUSE and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON director who some millennials probably don't even know about); George's INDIANA JONES partner Steven Spielberg; and mentor Francis Ford Coppola (who each said PHANTOM MEANCE was a work of art... they probably said the same thing about the third GODFATHER). And now, all grown-up and genuinely carving his own path, Max Landis provides his mass of millennial Twitter fans that one negative and trending-power opinion on FORCE AWAKENS, and even bitches about how his own projects turned out. As a scriptwriter, young Landis is much better a one-sentence Tweeting mud-slinger turning-on coffee shop girls than a full feature scribe... at least so far. The clunky hand-held science-fiction CHRONICLE (number one on a slow weekend) and the limp VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN weren't exactly classics.

Leave her be, rich boy Maxwell
But, having actually met the guy after witnessing him, three rows up in a particularly important theater, moving his hand around during a screening of the Spielberg animated feature THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN; his hand imitating a pirate ship moving around like a kid does outside the window of his mother's car. He's an excitable and interesting young man, indeed. And is genuinely nice, if extremely blunt and unique, in person. And, although disagreed upon here, his blasts about our leading lady Rey are unfairly judged as being chauvinistic. Deep down, Max is alright; he's simply part of the big budget royal cinema family, and a family that sticks together... you know the rest. He just doesn't have that governor inside to keep him from blurting out all his Twitter thoughts; perhaps he's Donald Trump's son, instead.

Fortunate Son
So then, to finish this rambling piece, the best thing about STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS is how it takes the legendary Original trilogy and twists it into a fantastically entertaining movie that holds its own despite a few flaws, like the otherwise effective and believably vulnerable Finn, at times acting, dialogue-wise, a bit too Earthly when getting worked up; and the too-little screen-time of one of the best characters, Poe Dameron, the new X-Wing ace who will now help carry the late Han Solo's sarcasm, which at this point is more Robert Downey Jr. IRON MAN Tony Stark, the new King of Heroic Facetiousness. But since the always-watchable actor Oscar Issac (see the Coen Brother's comeback, INSIDE LLYWEN DAVIS, where Issac actually sings and plays guitar) is so cool right off the bat, he didn't need to be fleshed-out or proven effective like the three younger, more important new characters: Rey, Finn, and Kylo. But now that we all dig the intrepid Poe, we're gonna have to get to know him better. And hopefully, the next writer/directors (two young men behind LOOPER and JURASSIC WORLD) keep STAR WARS not only entertaining, but also, like AWAKENS: basic, pulpy, heroic, character-driven and uncomplicated: The reasons why J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasden hit a home run. Despite using the same old bat, they definitely found a brand new sweet spot all its own, and knocked it outta the park!

ALSO: Since writing this, yours truly has seen it a fifth time. Might be the last viewing until having it on VUDU, which has been already ordered online. THE FORCE AWAKENS isn't perfect, but it flows, is fun, and goes from scene to scene in a fashion that makes it totally re-watchable. And as you can see by the picture of Max Landis above, perhaps his resemblance to Adam Driver got him defensive.
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