Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

I’m back on the couch, with my cat oozing all over my lap, and Tylenol is coursing through my system, removing my Imax headache obtained while watching The Force Awakens. I only go to the theater for movies that are worth getting a headache, and The Force Awakens is one of them. 

I’ve been reading through other spoiler-free reviews and they all seem to say nice, bland things like “I liked it” and “the effects were good.”  And sure, I concur with all of that.  At the same time, I want to test the very boundaries of nonspoilitude.  So!

The Force Awakens was written by a committee that was very careful to replicate all the good things from the good movies while completely avoiding the low points and mitigate some of the political incorrectness: the Empire’s new incarnation now hires people of color to do subservient things for pale-skinned jackbooted officers, plus there’s a black man in a starring role.

In fact the black guy, Finn, is a great character, and I developed a lot of affection for him, and for his new-trilogy-teammates, Rey and Poe.  I also really liked the square-jawed force-sensitive Rey, and dashing-adrenaline-geek Poe. Enough about them. 

There’s a bad guy, a Vader wannabe, and I’m treading carefully around spoilertown when I say that he’s … a really interesting villain. Complex. Charismatic. An amalgamation of past Star Wars villains, with his own unique touches. 

And yeah, the old folks are back, displaying their gray hair and experienced faces, and yeah, I got all sentimental when they appeared – enough about them too. Spoiler territory.  Nien Nunb makes an appearance, and so does Admiral Ackbar. 

So what can I talk about without spoiling?  Plenty!  First of all, the Millenium Falcon.  It’s been sitting for a while, and nobody has gotten around to refurbishing the interior, so the game table is still there, as well as that thrill-ride gun turret.  Not only that, it’s subjected to some hardcore piloting – it skips across water like a stone, narrowly avoids mountains, plays dodge ‘em with some TIE fighters. 

And what about those TIE fighters!  There’s a new variant, with straight contrasting-color foils. There are some new-model X-Wings too, much slenderer than their predecessors, with a nice diverse crew of pilots.  Possibly they have better mufflers, since the sound effects are sadly lacking in this installment.  The characteristic spaceship sounds are muted and brief, and there are no sonic charges, or distinctive creature noises, although there are a few good creatures.  The cantina band is more reggae this time, and their song isn’t stuck in my head at all.  In fact, I barely remember any of the music in this movie.

The costuming, though – let’s talk about that costuming. First of all, for the first time I really got the sense of stormtrooper armor being actual clothes, that people put on and take off, for functional reasons. Rey has these awesome little detatched sleeves that leave her shoulders bare, for no appreciable reason, and she always has exposed calves, and they make her look just a touch vulnerable (looks deceive).  The bad guy shimmers like a rockstar in his black ensemble. Leia’s mature-lady fatigues kick the ass of any of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits, or all of them combined.  Cosplayers are going to be impressing each other in this drag for the next couple of decades, and I’m happy about that. 

How about those sets?  First of all, wherever that last scene was shot, I want to go there. Now. Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot of stairs, so’s my house, I can handle it.  The desert-ish planet that isn’t Tattooine but looks like it has a nice reddish gold tinge to distinguish it, and the snowy planet looks like Westeros in the wintertime after the white walkers have redecorated.  Oh, and those starship interiors? Whoa. It almost makes me want to start playing SWTOR again just to run around in the reconstructions, although I can’t stand SWTOR due to the companions (NPCs that follow you around emitting unwanted chatter). 

Aliens! We’ve got big old sloth people, and a pointy-faced lady who just has to have a backstory, and a wise nearsighted lady who is all CGI but in a good way.  In fact there are female people all over the place, which made me feel warm inside.

J.J. Abrams is a teenage thug at heart, who appropriates old stuff and shoves it into his adrenaline-infused movie factory until something kinda cool comes out. And I think he’s taking the right approach with Star Wars, which was probably the movie that taught him to do that, because George Lucas figured out how to do it from pillaging old dogfight scenes.  It’s all a big circle.  

He also displays absolutely no nostalgia for the prequel trilogy. It never existed. Callbacks to the real trilogy happen every couple of minutes, but don’t go looking for any gungans.  Maybe somebody really did crash a spaceship full of giant piranha fish into their underwater city – or perhaps a spaceship full of those other creatures we briefly encounter (sorry, it’s a spoiler, can’t talk about it).  No pod racing, no battledroids, stormtroopers are now enslaved child soldiers rather than all being Temuera Morrison – it’s like the First Order deliberately erased the entire prequel trilogy from the history books. I think Coruscant is in it, briefly, but ... nah, don't want to spoil it. It's as if every character in the prequel trilogy and the extended universe cried out, and everyone was too busy enjoying The Force Awakens to pay any attention.  

Rejoice! This is a movie real Star Wars fans can enjoy.

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