Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Star Wars: The Force Awakens | review by Douglas J. Ogurek
An acquaintance of mine arrived at Star Wars: The Force Awakens while in the throes of a fever. Director J.J. Abrams had a daunting task: to cut through this individual’s nausea, back pain, and somewhat clouded mental capacity. Plus this acquaintance wasn’t the brightest lightsaber in the bunch; what kind of guy goes to the theatre sick?
When the film ended, he was still in pain. However, during the two-plus hours of space battles, lightsaber duels, inspiring music, and settings ranging from vast deserts to cramped spaceships, this fellow mostly forgot his condition and instead basked in the tonic powers (my words, not his) of a simple, yet highly entertaining story.
Impelled by my acquaintance’s recommendation, I saw the film. Kudos to Mr. Abrams!
When it comes to dumbed down one-word summaries of five-star films, there’s a big difference between “wow” and “cool”. “Wow” describes a consciousness-jarring work that embeds itself in the viewer for life. “Wow” is Titanic (1997), There Will Be Blood (2007), or, in the case of genre films, Signs (2002) or Paranormal Activity (2007).
“Cool”, on the other hand, provides a more in-the-moment experience. The “cool” film’s contents include the latest special effects, stimulating action sequences, and, often, clear distinctions between good and evil.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens undoubtedly falls into the “cool” category. There is nothing extraordinarily new or surprising about this seventh installment in the ultimate sci-fi series, yet it manages to capture the essence that made the prior episodes (apologies to haters of episodes I–III) so enchanting. The Force Awakens resurfaces all the things we love most about Star Wars, from TIE fighters and AT-AT walkers to alien bars and stylized scene wipes. And the Millennium Falcon is treated with as much reverence as if it were a character. The Force Awakens also offers plenty of melodrama; I suppose that’s why they call it “space opera”.
This film smartly latches onto the craze for crusader-heroines like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series) and Tris Prior (Divergent series). This time, it’s Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Unlike her counterparts Everdeen and Prior roaming a dystopian future US, Rey lives on the desert planet of Jakku. Moreover, she isn’t encumbered by love interests or prone to teary indecision. Rey, an independent young woman with a difficult (if not very clear) past, scavenges to make her meagre earnings. Her journey begins when she meets BB-8, an R2-D2-like droid and, shortly thereafter, Finn, a Stormtrooper gone rogue.
Both the good guys (the Resistance) and the bad guys (the First Order) want the same thing: to find Luke Skywalker, who has gone into hiding after one of his Jedi Knight trainees went over to the dark side of the Force. The Resistance wants Luke to help revive the mostly dormant Force and help protect the galaxy, while the Nazi-like First Order wants to destroy Luke and conquer the galaxy.
One of the biggest shortcomings of The Force Awakens is the emotional disconnect between characters, which unfortunately transfers to the viewer. (But were we ever that close to these characters?) Also abrasive were some of the post explosion/destruction celebratory colloquialisms. “Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” This is supposed to be “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away”, not “today in the United States”.
Notable is that the new generation heroes are relatively unknown and retain a quiet, though strong presence consistent with Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in episodes I–III. Adam Driver excels as Kylo Ren, a Darth Vader wannabe and kind of First Order roving bully who transitions from rage-induced lightsaber tantrums to tense one-on-one conversations. When Kylo Ren is masked, Driver’s thin frame and black cloak give him a Grim Reaper-like appearance. When the mask comes off during key scenes, his previous behaviour, doe-eyed expression, and Josh Groban hairstyle add to the mystery of whether Kylo Ren will go berserk or break into “O Holy Night”.
So take The Force Awakens, in sickness and in health; it will captivate unconditionally. It is cool. Definitely cool. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****