Wednesday, January 13, 2016

You don't need this review to encourage you to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens

One out of four Americans has already seen it[1] and the reviews from aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, have the film at more than 90% favorable. None of that matters to me, I only care about my opinion, cough-cough. I’ve already seen it four times; the film flies by like it’s the Millennium Falcon trying to set a new record for the Kessel run [2] so it’s taken me a few views to really dissect this joyride of a film.

You don’t need to read the opening scrawl either, but it’s there and gives a quick setup of what’s to come.  Luke is missing; the evil Empire has risen again as the New Order, and the fledgling Republic is in trouble. Princess Leia, now a general in the Resistance, needs her brother’s help: he’s our only hope. She’s dispatched their best pilot, the dashing and handsome Poe Dameron and his astromech droid BB-8, to gather a map to her brother’s hideout. The New Order gets word of this, and is hot on the pilot’s heels because they want to destroy the Jedi once and for all.

If this sounds too familiar, you might be disappointed, but this is an origination tale for another trilogy, and there’s plenty of new along with the old to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, cheering for the new heroes and hissing at the new villains. If we’ve learned anything from the previous two trilogies, it’s that history repeats itself, the force runs strong in the generations of the Skywalker clan, evil never dies -- it takes on new forms, and Star Wars uses poetic symbolism to reflect one moment upon another across the vastness of the galaxy and time itself.

The opening shot is a beaut: A Star Destroyer, mostly in shadow, fills the screen but soon four smaller spacecraft fly out from underneath, filling our view with Stormtroopers prepping for a landing; it’s an invasion force lead by Kylo Ren, a Sith apprentice.  Ren quickly shows his powerful use of the force, but he has a few issues that make him unstable and that’s where the fun begins. He captures the pilot, Poe Dameron, but not before BB-8 takes off with the map to Skywalker deftly hidden inside.
What follows is a high-speed chase, with the New Order always in violent pursuit, barely a step behind our heroes. Heroes? Yes, BB-8 not only charms his way into our hearts, he blithely gather’s helpers, Rey and Finn, along the way.

Rey is a scavenger, hardened to life on a parched desert planet, Jakku. Jakku makes Tatooine a paradise by comparison. Finn is a renegade Stormtrooper who immediately overcomes his conditioning during the opening invasion: a ruthlessly brutal attack on the village where Poe Dameron is captured. We witness the gory details of what Luke Skywalker might have missed when his Aunt and Uncle were brutally killed in the very first Star Wars film, A New Hope.

While Rey, Finn and BB-8 are on the run, they meet up with Han Solo, and Chewbacca. The two space pirates are back in action doing what they do best: smuggling dangerous cargo. That cargo, really scary monster aliens called Rathtars, definitely need their own spinoff film[3], because audiences haven’t seen a truly frightening monster since Ridley Scott’s Alien in 1979. This being a Star Wars film, Rathtars are just a tiny piece of a much larger, richer galaxy that sprung from George Lucas’ imagination and continues under director J.J. Abrams’ talented and adoring hands.

A first rate cast, and a team of filmmakers that is the envy of many a director, assist Abrams in bringing us one of the three best chapters of the seven Star Wars films. He’s further assisted by John Williams’ magnificent score, perhaps Williams’ best ever: subtle and sublime. If you’re not moved to tears by it, you’ve lost that little child inside you. 

Listen, or watch again: it’s your only hope.

[1] $815,000,000/8.61(average ticket price) = 94,657/319,000,000 = 29%. Some are return viewers so I dropped it to 25%
[2] The Kessel Run requires passing close to the Maw, a black hole cluster and Han insanely, but safely, ventures through that cluster, shorting the trip down to twelve parsecs. Expect this to be part of the newly announced Han Solo Star Wars anthology movie.
[3] Finn asks Rey if she’s heard of the Trillia Massacre. We can assume since this is Star Wars, there’s a story there: a really scary story. Forget Boba Fett and Obi Wan. We want Rathtars!