By Anthony Norton (Singapore)
Today I decided to write my first movie review simply because I was bored, but also at the same time I was compelled to express my thoughts about (possibly) the most anticipated film of 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I caught the midnight screening on opening night in IMAX 3D, surrounded by throngs of hardcore fans all dressed in their best impersonations of beloved characters from the famous space opera incepted in 1977. (Even Deadpool was there). Hence, with so much excitement for this film, and wide acclaim from early reviews, I hate to be a bummer, but in my honest opinion it wasn’t all that good. That is why I decided to write. Because everyone was just raving about how great this film is, when I cannot fathom why. I’ve seen it twice, and I will watch it again, but it really doesn’t appeal to me THAT MUCH. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great nostalgic popcorn rollicking film with steady direction, but there were stark issues with the film that didn’t seem to bother anyone except myself. So let’s go straight into the review.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS A SPOILER REVIEW, PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
I don’t waste time with summarizing the plot; either you’ve seen it or you haven’t. For those who have, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’ve already told you it is a spoiler review. First and foremost, and what really disappointed me the most, is none other than the plot. This, folks, is just a rehash of A New Hope. Why do that? If I wanted to watch the same story, I would have watched A New Hope again. The point is that The Force Awakens does not break new grounds at all. No plot intrigue, no political themes that were inherent in all the Star Wars films, and most importantly, there were no memorable quotes or scenes that will remain in people’s minds for the rest of time. As horrible as the prequels were, at least they gave audiences an expanded Star Wars universe, with interesting planets and creatures, woven to fit the original trilogy with devices that completed the picture of what this entire concept is about.
The Force Awakens shies away from all that, taking the easy route typical of Disney’s adapted films these days, to tell a tale as old as time, but with new characters. This time though, I could identify Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) as the new Han Solo (Harrison Ford), which means that Han Solo is irrelevant? Of course! It’s excruciatingly obvious when the scriptwriters killed him off in a scene reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death scene in the hands of Darth Vader in A New Hope. Similarity much? Wait there’s more. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is the new Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and her origins are exactly the same as Luke’s. Except the fact that her home planet is Jakku instead of Tatooine. Which is yet another silly feature because both planets look the same. I can find no reason why the story even needed this new planet when it was just Tatooine in looks and culture. Again, plot holes.
This plot thing is bugging me for yet another paragraph of complains. The first 15 minutes of the film really mimics the first 15 minutes of A New Hope, when Poe hides a MacGuffin in the droid BB-8, just like how Princess Leia did with R2D2. Cantina scene with wacky music? Check. X-Wing fighters blowing up a Death Star-like Starkiller Base? Check. Domnhall Gleeson channeling Peter Cushing as a General who behaves exactly like Grand Moff Tarkin? Check. How does this actually please moviegoers? I guess I can sort of relate to why people really dug this movie, simply because it is more or less like a remake, except it is not. I am OCD, so if it’s not, it’s not. If it were a remake, then yes, this film nailed it. Everything worked perfectly. But sadly, it is not, and the writing is so unimaginative, it is almost to the point of plagiarism, which sickens me.
But I am not a whiny fan nitpicking at all the minor details. I have compliments that thankfully, the characters are all well-developed. And the actors, all masterfully performed. Noteworthy is Daisy Ridley, who really gave her character bite and grit with her portrayal. John Boyega’s character Finn is by far the one character with the most engrossing background in a script so reiterative of the original trilogy. Playing this conflicted person who switches from the Dark Side to the Light Side really gave his character that extra dimension, and this is what is needed in a Star Wars movie, characters placed in new situations they’ve never experienced before.
Boyega was fantastic in his role, lapping it up with impeccable comedic timing and dramatic evocation. Even Oscar Isaac, who is no doubt a great actor if you’ve seen his body of work from A Most Violent Year to Inside Llewyn Davis to Ex Machina, was stunningly charismatic in his role, a dedicated resistance fighter pilot (Can’t call them Rebels now since for no reason the script demands it) with that extra spunk to him. But the best performance throughout this whole film must definitely be Harrison Ford. He was brilliant, stepping back into the shoes of Han Solo after many years and yet still embodying the character that made everyone root for him (well, at least until he died) with so much verve and energy. That is really the work of a seasoned player.
So how is the action? J.J. Abrams really knows how to create cinematically engaging action sequences that were astounding to behold, especially in IMAX. I am a big fan of J.J. Abrams, as a director, not a scriptwriter. He has great vision with wide angled shots dollied in to specific details in all his work which really stylized the film so much. And I loved that. Cinematography was simply wonderful. It is the Star Wars film you’ve never seen come to you so realistically before, only with the advent of technology is this possible. And J.J Abrams manages the emotional scenes well too. It was heartwarming to witness the rekindled love between Han Solo and Princess Leia (now known as General Organa) was truly beautiful and endearing. Two souls who have battled trials and tribulations that have tried to tear them apart (in The Empire Strikes Back when Han was frozen in carbonite) and now aged but their love transcended across planets and time. Gave me goosebumps during that scene. Very well-handled and Carrie Fisher as Leia also gave in a terrific performance.
Okay, now there’s something controversial I’m going to say. The score was comparatively bad. Yes, that’s right. Now I’m not referring to the scores that were replayed such as the Star Wars Theme, Princess Leia Theme or The Force Theme, which were perfectly composed in every way by the great John Williams. I love John Williams and his scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, E.T. etc. But by the sound of his recent compositions, all I can say is that his musical anecdotes are not as good as before. Take the Tintin film for example, rousing it may have been, but melodic or coherent it definitely was not. And the same occurred this time round in The Force Awakens. There were no significantly hummable melodies in the score, and I am very obsessed over a film’s soundtrack. In the prequels, he gave us Duel of the Fates (very intense and dramatic), Across the Stars (forbidden love, beautiful and foreboding), and many more memorable tunes. For this film, there is a lot of pomp and circumstance in musical terms, but nothing classic, sorry.
One last rant. The film does manage to leave a lot of questions unanswered. I wonder if they will bother explaining why Poe Dameron left the wreckage of the TIE fighter with Finn still unconscious onboard without rescuing him, or what exactly happened in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi that formed the First Order and the Rebels. Most importantly, I want to know why Kylo Ren (Adam Driver in a knockout performance) didn’t use the force to knock out Finn and chose to have a lightsaber duel with him, knowing full well Finn does not have force powers. It was just a lame moment with a poor excuse for a lightsaber battle, which ended up being as primitive as the original trilogy. But I can forgive the original trilogy for the lightsaber duels since it is considered groundbreaking back in the day. This one, I cannot forgive. As a fan, I live to see fierce lightsaber battles, but the brief moment here, is simply made up of stabbings and mindless slashings, even from Kylo Ren, a trained wielder. One may argue that Finn or Rey are not trained to fight like Jedis, but based on this argument alone the duel should not even have taken place since Kylo Ren could easily defeat them with his force powers alone. J.J Abrams, if you want to put a poorly motivated lightsaber battle, at least make it a spectacle, not a running joke.
I promise this is my last crick with the film. Nothing particularly bad about the film, but the about the marketing. Mark Hamill was highlighted as a main actor (his name appears as one of the first few in the credits) but appeared for 20 seconds or so without dialogue. This is just atrocious. I remembered that the audience I was with cheered at every return of the old guards (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, the Millennium Falcon when they appeared), but not for Mark Hamill. Also Gwendoline Christie, brilliant actress from Game of Thrones, was so dispensable in this film because she was hidden behind a helmet the whole time as Captain Phasma and didn’t have much to say or even much action to partake in. I was infuriated with Mockingjay Part 2 for relegating her to a cameo role, but this film just took it even further and didn’t even bother showing her face. Oh, and Max Von Sydow. Don’t know who he is, where he comes from, dies in the first 10 minutes, but no story about him. I hope the filmmakers get these details addressed in the next instalments.
Overall, the film is a really nostalgic picture with much to love (and hate). But despite my quibbles and distaste for it, I cannot deny that I really enjoyed the film when I decided to shut my logical thought down halfway through my first viewing. But then doing so makes it nothing but a Transformers movie doesn’t it? No, it’s better than that. At least the new characters are great to care about and the Star Wars environment that we have come to love all these years are back in vivid and vibrant effects. That said, I would choose Revenge of the Sith or Attack of the Clones above The Force Awakens simply for the risks those two films took and for widening the scope of the universe.
Rating 3.5/5BEST QUOTES