Thursday, January 28, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens; science-fiction adventure, USA, 2015; D: J. J. Abrams, S: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Mark Hamill

Some 30 years after the last events, Luke Skywalker has disappeared and is hiding on an unknown planet. In the meantime, a new threat appeared: the First Order, a successor of the Galactic Empire, which wants to destroy the Republic. It is led by leader Snoke and Han Solo's renegade son Kylo Ren. Scavenger girl Rey finds plans of Skywalker's hideout in a droid ball BB-8, and thus becomes the target of the First Order. However, she is helped by Fin, a dissident who quit being a Stormtrooper, as well as Solo and Chewbacca. Soon the alliance helps them, led by general Leia Organa. They manage to destroy another Death Star and find Skywalker - but Ren kills Solo.

When J.J. Abrams became the first person to direct both a "Star Trek" and a "Star Wars" film, huge responsibility was placed on his back to make it right - while this 'commerical pressure' can be sensed in the too "safe" way he rehashed old storylines of the original "Star Wars" film, which made it too predictable at times, he still managed to add some minuscule amounts of wit and vitality into the franchise. The first half of the film works really well and gains momentum: Rey and Finn, played wonderfully by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, are refreshing characters who manage to carry that innocence that made the original trilogy so popular in the first place. What makes it even more interesting, is that Finn is actually a dissident who decided to quit being a Stormtrooper (an effective scene when all the Stormtroopers shoot at the civilians in the village except for him, who refuses to do it), which is untypical, though a lot more of his personality and a whole subplot could have been explored (we do not know where he came from or who he was before that, or who are the other faceless soldiers who interact with him). Rey is also a surprisingly independent girl at times (when Finn comes to her rescue and runs holding her hand, she lets it go and shouts: "I can run without someone holding my hand!"), though more of that wit would have been welcome. Some details and ideas are also inspired in that first act (the villain Ren uses his Jedi power to 'freeze' a laser beam fired at him; several iconic relics of spaceships from the previous war are seen on the desert planet Jakku; the 'droid-ball' BB is really cute when he gives a "thumbs up" using a lighter), as well as the fact that Rey and Finn escape in the Millennium Falcon - which, of course, unavoidably leads them to Han Solo and Chewbacca, in a grand entrance.

Unfortunately, the second half loses its inspiration and becomes too routine, with the ad nauseam repeated plot points from the "Star Wars" narrative: there is again a map in a droid; again on a desert planet; again a Death Star which again has the same weak spot (one wonders how they could not learn from that mistake and make a different design) and is again about to destroy the hero's planet in 15 minutes. Another glaring error is that there is no explanation as to what happened in those 30 years since the last (true) film "Return of the Jedi": how (and why?) did the First Order get those spaceships, weapons, soldiers and money when the Republic won over the Galactic Empire? What is their grudge against the Republic, anyway, and are the people from the First Order now not the rebels? Even more bizarre is that Solo is still doing a petty job as a smuggler - a hero who helped re-establish the Republic was never awarded and given a military pension? And his Millenium Falcon just stands on a desert planet and rots? It is as absurd of a plot point as if battleship Yamato would have survived just to rot in an amusement park somewhere in Shikoku or that Ulysses S. Grant had to support himself by smuggling goods across the Mexican border after the Civil War. The new villain Ren is very scarcely explored and may get a better treatment in the next movie, but unfortunately, in this one he is just a one-dimensional character whom the viewers do not understand. Luckily, co-screenwriter Michael Arndt manages to save that second half from debase with a few inspired lines: one refreshing exchange between Leia and Solo is welcomed ("I always hate it when you have to go." - "That is why I always go. So that you would miss me."), yet he was not allowed to completely polish and ferment the potentials of the script to the fullest due to the rush. Though "Star Wars" were always "Legend of the Galactic Heroes"-light, aimed more at entertaining. Overall, it is a rather well made sequel, though it left the impression that its principal point of continuing is only the commercial value, and not the motivation of the characters.


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