Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Non-Spoiler Review

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So a new movie just came out last weekend, and I thought I would write a review of it since it’s a new follow-up to a hugely-popular geek-loved movie franchise.  I’m talking of course about Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.

Yeah.  Right.

No, instead I am talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  This will be a non-spoiler review, but I will publish a spoiler review later this week (hopefully; this is a pretty busy week for me since I’m a pastor!).

Before I get started, however, I should point out that I grew up in a Star Wars family:  my siblings and I loved watching the original trilogy, and even enjoyed the prequels (though since I’ve grown up I’ve learned to see all those things I didn’t see when I was younger).  We would make up Star Wars stories, read a lot of the Expanded Universe books, and even collected some Star Wars memorabilia.  To say that I’m a Star Wars fan would be an understatement!

Naturally, I was really hyped for this movie and really hoping that it would be good.  So is it?

Simply put:  Yes.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens deserves all the accolades it is getting.  It deserves all the money it is bringing in—and will continue to bring in for the next several months.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an excellent return to form for the Star Wars universe.

Just about everything I can say about this movie is very positive.  The special effects are all excellent; there weren’t any effects which jumped out at me as being fake—certainly nothing like the prequels or the painfully-obvious CGI additions in the Star Wars special edition.  The lightsabers were really good, and Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber is actually put to good use, with the crossguard serving as more than just a badass addition to an already-functional design.  In terms of technological development there is only one piece of technology which has obviously undergone 30 years of development.  The ships and weapons are very similar to those of the Original Trilogy, though there are some definite differences/improvements.

The new main characters—Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren—are all very well developed (Poe less than the others).  The returning characters all play just the right part in the movie and do not overshadow the new characters.  In fact, the returning characters unintentionally show that the aging between Episodes III and IV could actually be possible!

There are a lot of definite homages to the Original Trilogy, more than just weapons and characters.  Surprisingly, there are also several definite homages to the Expanded Universe/Star Wars Legends, which I wasn’t really expecting.  At some point I may go through and point out all the EU nods that I saw, but that is definitely spoiler territory!  Suffice it to say that while Episode VII and the new canon are very much doing their own thing, they are not completely disregarding the EU.  For as disappointed as I was to hear that the EU was no longer canon, I am even gladder to see that they are treating the EU in the same way that the MCU/DCEU treat their respective comic books:  source material from which to borrow.

If it sounds like I’m saying a ton of nice things about this movie, you’re right.  There’s a ton of nice things to say about this movie!  However, every movie has some faults, and The Force Awakens is no exception.

The biggest fault that I found with this movie was the number of subplots that went unexplained.  There is one particularly glaring one which is completely unexplained and then resolved without explanation, but there are quite a few smaller ones as well.  In video game terms you could say that The Force Awakens is like a narrative game with a lot of side quests.  You can finish it without doing any of the side quests, but it still feels like you’re missing something.  The Force Awakens is absolutely a complete narrative, but there are still several “side quests” which aren't completed in this movie.  I suspect that most of these “side quests” are answered by the Journey to the Force Awakens publications, but some could also be setting up Episode VIII.

The other “fault” I found in the movie is less of a fault and more of a question:  what is “homage” and what is “ripping off”?  There are a lot of pieces in this movie which look to have been taken straight from the Original Trilogy, and particularly A New Hope.  Is that a bad thing?  No; most of these elements are approached and used in different and unique ways.  But is it unique enough?  That’s a question for another time.

So do I recommend seeing this movie?  Absolutely.  This is definitely Star Wars and it is definitely well-worth the price of admission—seeing trailers for Batman v. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men: Apocalypse on screen at the same time (no Star Trek Beyond for some reason) could be worth the price of admission alone!  The movie itself is excellent with excellent characters, a very cohesive story, and very good special effects.  If their goal was to introduce Star Wars to a new generation, Disney and Lucasfilms can consider this a resounding success.  I don’t think Star Wars fans have anything to really complain about—certainly after this!

What did you think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens if you’ve seen it already?  Who is your favorite new character?  Just be sure to avoid putting spoilers in the comment section below!

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