‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a return to what makes film great | Inquirer Entertainment
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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a return to what makes film great

07:35 AM December 18, 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Daisy Ridley John Boyega

This photo provided by Disney/Lucasfilm shows Daisy Ridley, right, as Rey, and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams. Early screenings of the film begin Thursday night, Dec. 17, 2015. Disney/Lucasfilm via AP

For fans of the “Star Wars” saga, a lot was riding on J. J. Abrams’ take on episode 7 of the beloved franchise. My personal stake on the matter was simple: If Abrams failed to honor the actual episode 4 of the franchise, then he would be forever remembered as Jar Jar Abrams.

However, to honor it he did. At its heart, “The Force Awakens” is a gripping, well-paced homage to the cultural touchstone that began in the ‘70s, updated for the modern day. That The Force Awakens is a great piece of cinema might not come as a surprise to many who follow Abrams’ recent endeavors. After all, the “Alias” director made fans of “Star Trek” happy when he took over the reigns for the first Star Trek reboot featuring Chris Pine.

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In many ways, the success of The Force Awakens follows the same trajectory: both of the first films in a newly rebooted franchise follow a strict adherence to the majesty and spirit of their respective original series.

The Force Awakens picks up 30 years later after the events of the last movie in the original trilogy, “Return of the Jedi (which was released in 1983).” In the movie, we follow the two main characters: Finn, a disillusioned Storm Trooper and the young scrapper/scavenger Rey. Both are played convincingly by newcomers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.

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Abrams dispensed much with the noise that the prequels brought to the mythology of the franchise. If the original trilogy (which starts with “A New Hope”) focused on having a relatively simple story told with great attention to moral nuances, the prequel movies focused more on pomp and flash. By contrast to the prequels, The Force Awakens is super-sleek: story elements are focused on the hero’s journey of our two main characters and the rise of a new enemy. No unnecessary screen time was given to garrish exposition.

In one scene, Rey contemplates the meaning of her life as she is stuck in a desert wasteland. The entire range of emotion was delivered through a series of looks and close-ups, accentuated by a beautiful score and top-shelf framing.

This brings us to the technicals of the movie. Watching the movie is a sensory delight; scenes are carefully crafted to show the aftermath of the great wars. Most of the movie was shot at locations in deserts and forests, removing the need for CGI (computer-generated imagery) antics and blue screens. Even the choice of film used played a big part in creating a totally immersing world(s). The entire film was shot using Kodak film instead of digital. The result is hauntingly beautiful scenes that remind a viewer of ‘70’s era filmmaking. No confusing cuts here; the kinetic energy of the film is conveyed with clarity and consistent editing.

However, craftsmanship aside, where The Force Awakens delivers big is in the story and the emotions it evokes.

Abrams and his crew masterfully weaved in the old gods and icons of the series and made their appearances mesh well with the wealth of new talent on screen. Princess Leia is a now a general in the resistance army and her entrance is cleverly underscored by the progression of the story.

Han Solo and Chewbacca deliver a show-stopping moment as they board the Millennium Falcon. Very few scenes in recent cinematic history can galvanize an entire cinema into hoots and applause as the archetypal rogue makes his way across the vessel that made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford carry their roles with dignity and grace as though they never left the set and the stories their characters go through are well entrenched with the lives of our two new characters.

The cast is round out with the sort of villain that Anakin Skywalker wishes he could be. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is a lithe, if occasionally violent, antagonist. He delivers a chilling performance despite being a conflicted and sometimes whiny baddie. The difference is in the acting; where Hayden Christiansen comes off as insufferable, Driver’s performance is palpable.

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Ridley as Rey steals the show, showing a maturity in her craft as she plays a sort of alternate reality Luke Skywalker: strong in the force but one who bottles her conflicts and demons inside; she, nevertheless, rises to the occasion. She is joined by the witty antics of Boyega and the refreshing take by Oscar Isaac on the Han Solo archetype as ace pilot Poe Dameron.

Paternal issues and the light and dark side of the Force are at the heart of the story in The Force Awakens. However, the real meat is in the hero’s journey of Rey and Finn… and the villainous awakening of Kylo Ren. The story ends with a yearning for more. Battle lines are drawn, sides are chosen.

Abrams has managed to hit the right notes in delivering a far more compelling film than George Lucas has ever produced in three of the prequel movies. His track record with reviving old geek franchises with reverence has been tried and tested…at least for the first entries. It will be a worthwhile endeavor to wait and see what he can do to bring the new trilogy up to the same cultural level of the original trilogy.

Abrams and his crew crafted a compelling cinematic experience by returning to the basics of what makes Star Wars great: carefully painted frames of cinema, practical effects, a simple yet effective story sans the words “senate,” “midichlorians” and “trade federations” and an actual war in the stars. RAM

 

 

 

 

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