WARNING: SINCE PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE IN THE WORLD SAW THIS MOVIE OPENING WEEKEND, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. IF YOU ARE TRYING TO STAY ON THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOVIE'S PLOT DEVELOPMENTS, SET YOUR HYPERDRIVE TO FLY YOU FAR, FAR AWAY FROM THIS REVIEW.
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Well that was a decent remake, right? In "Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens," director J.J. Abrams and his writing crew are cool with copying off the paper of old man George Lucas, who has donned a hood and taken up residence as a hermit, lying dormant until his Jedi skills are ever needed again.
Beat for beat, "The Force Awakens" is a copy of "A New Hope," or the original "Star Wars" for those who aren't fluent enough in geek to have been wedgied for their comprehensive knowledge of the franchise.
There is a lot of energy flowing through this movie, but creativity, not so much. We have the orphaned, itching-to-fight Jedi-sensitive hero (Rey here instead of Luke), the ruthless, masked bad guy (Kylo Ren replacing Darth Vader), the giant, planet-destroying monstrosity (Starkiller Base rather than the Death Star) and the hooded last Jedi living like a crazy hermit (Luke here, just like Obi-Wan).
The similarities don't have to be a problem, and to go all-in on "Star Wars" nerfherdery you need to accept the parallels and move on. Abrams is sewing the seeds of restarting the franchise for the long haul, and he can be forgiven because he keeps the thing moving with the urgency of a landspeeder. What really matters is that the parts work. He's got the key parts of the old cast back -- and bravely shows he is willing to kill them off in ruthless "Game of Thrones" style (nice knowing you, Han) -- and strong, relatable actors forming the core of his "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" crew of Jedis and Sith.
Most importantly, there are mysteries to debate and savor. What is Rey's relation to Luke? What the heck is Supreme Leader Snoke and where does he hang out when he's Facetiming his minions? How is Finn Force sensitive? What went wrong in Luke's training of Ben, and how did that drive his parents apart?
The movie is a letdown. How could it not be? But that doesn't mean it's a failure. Its job is to revive the series and give it enough of a kick in the tunic to move forward, and it accomplishes that. There are also spectacular moments to treasure and rehash, such as Kylo Ren's vicious, shocking takedown of Han, C-3PO's smack of R2-D2 and everything BB-8 does.
"The Force Awakens" works because it feels like a natural extension of the original trilogy, with an excellent practical effects blended with exquisite CGI, writing packed with suspense and twists and spirited, emotional performances, with especially touching turns from Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, who provide a transcendent capstone to their Leia-Han romance.
That said, there are problems that need to be corrected going forward as Disney pumps out a new story-advancing film every other year.
For one, the Dark Side needs to get over their whole thing about building giant, planet-sized death machine bases with weapons designed with the purpose of blowing up other planets. They just aren't economical, and are way too easy to destroy, with shields that are simpler to hack than Windows 7 and the insistence on always having an unprotected power core that allows the entire thing to be decimated if an X-wing so much as looks at it funny.
Also, the filmmakers need to be given the freedom to mix up with the formula to keep things fresh and lively. The opening title scroll and compulsory dialogue-free, musical endings are like ratty old blankets grade school children have clung to since childhood. It's time for them to go to shake things up a little.
A good, but not great movie, is all fans could really hope for, and that's what Abrams delivered here. Just as with Star Trek, he's taken a dormant franchise and made it relevant and poised to continue its dominance. The lightsaber is drawn, the battle stance is set, and the Force is most definitely strong with this one.
RATING: 3 STARS OUT OF 4
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