By John Enfield (Las Vegas)
I have a confession to make. From the first day that I read that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney, I had written Star Wars off. I told myself ‘I’m never watching anything new in Star Wars again.’ I was rather upset since I’d seen what Disney had done to other intellectual properties in the past and, to paraphrase C3PO, thought ‘they’re doomed’. Then, I heard that J.J. Abrams was going to direct and was even more concerned, considering what he did to Star Trek in those new movies. Then, the rumor mill on social media kicked in and with each succeeding revelation of what might or might not be in the new movie, I was less and less enthused. I must admit that I was even re-posting some of the awful Disneyfied Star Wars and other ‘it’s going to be awful’ memes that I was seeing.
Then, a ray of hope emerged when I heard that the great Lawrence Kasdan, who contributed so much to the classic trilogy, was going to help write the script. Faint hope blossomed into cautious optimism when I heard that some of the new characters would be played by good actors such as Oscar Isaac and Max Von Sydow. Finally, it bloomed into ‘okay I’ve just got to see it, for old times’ sake if nothing else,’ when I heard that many of the original cast would be in it, especially Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and most especially Mark ‘I’ll never do anything with Star Wars again’ Hamill. When I heard that even he had agreed to be in the new trilogy, I knew it must be at least okay.
But, I still entered the theater harboring lingering doubts.
‘How can it possibly live up to the accumulated memories and expectations of almost 40 years of Star Wars?’ For fans like me who literally grew up with Star Wars (having first seen Star Wars when I was four at a drive-in back in 1977), it seemed impossible that this movie could find its way into our hearts. Especially for those who felt a bit betrayed by what many of my generation consider the disaster that was the Prequels and the Clone Wars cartoons. Personally, I enjoy many aspects of the Prequel movies and some episodes of The Clone Wars, but even I have to admit that those shows pale in comparison to the Classic Trilogy, especially Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Sorry for the lengthy prelude, but I felt it necessary to explain my frame of mind going into this film. A skeptic to be sure, with a touch of hope that the film won’t be as abysmal as Star Trek: Into Darkness.
My first relief after suffering through the seemingly endless wait through TV commercials (seriously! Ads from department stores, soft drinks and cars? I was beginning to think we’d see the early evening news next.), movie previews etc. etc. was that they went straight into the movie with the immortal words “Long ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Oh, thank the Maker! No parade of multiple studio and producer logos like you see in most movies today, (I was especially thankful not to see Disney’s ‘magic’ castle!) I kind of missed the 20th Century Fox fanfare as it had been on the other Star Wars movies for so long and kind of fit in, that I had come to consider it part of the opening music.
Speaking of music, it’s such an important part of Star Wars that it bears mentioning here. I enjoyed the fact that the Star Wars main theme by the great John Williams was still front and center in the film with lots of little movements of it throughout the movie, rather than being relegated to just a couple of especially nostalgia inducing moments as what happened to the main theme in the new Star Trek movies. There were a couple of music-free moments in the movie that were a bit surprising as the music didn’t seem to drop out so that you could hear specific sound effects (like they did in the pod race scene in Episode I where the pods sound effects became the ‘music’ of the scene for large parts of it). But, just when I thought they were going to leave the music off for a long time, it gradually swelled back up again. Great to hear the inclusion of Leia’s Theme and of course the Imperial March in there at the best moments for them as well. The First Order doesn’t seem to have a new theme of their own, although it will make sense why when you see the film.
Since I mentioned the presence of specific actors encouraging me to even watch this new movie, I must speak a bit about them next, I promise not to spoil anything, unless of course, you haven’t even seen any of the previews or TV ads, then you might want to scroll down a bit. It was great to see the talented Harrison Ford back as Han Solo. I’ve loved almost every movie I’ve seen him in and he’s still quite good, so it’s a treat you don’t want to miss.
Peter Mayhew has never been better as Chewbacca. He’s managed to make Chewie even more expressive and alive in this movie than he was even in Empire. I’m so glad he got to do so much in this film. As Attack of the Clones was R2D2’s chance to shine a bit more as an upfront character than usual, so is this the movie for Chewie. If you’ve enjoyed Leia’s ‘walking carpet’ in the previous movies, then you’ve got to see this one for his performance alone.
Speaking of Princes Leia Organa, her performance is brief but very powerful in this film. Carrie Fisher is still beautiful after all these years and her ability to express emotion even when she doesn’t have lines has vastly improved. Her scenes are quite moving. I nearly cried at one point. Me, a guy who rarely cries at movies.
R2D2 and C3PO have very limited roles in this film, but manage to steal the few scenes they get in true ‘droid duo’ fashion. They are still the ‘Laurel and Hardy’ of Star Wars, even when their antics are greatly curtailed as they are here. Anthony Daniels has perfected his C3PO role over a stellar career of playing it in movies, games, live plays etc. I hope that he has an expanded role in the next movie.
Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker needs to stay spoiler free as long as possible as it’s a great moment in the film. I’ll just say this: for someone who has built a career in voice acting in animated movies, TV shows and games that has eclipsed his movie career, he can still say so much just by looking at another character.
Okay, on to the new cast. I’m a bit behind in my current TV and movie watching, so most of them are ‘new faces’ for me. The only exceptions whom I could recognize (since this is Star Wars and some actors are behind masks, makeup and CG characters) are Max Von Sydow and Oscar Isaac, both of whom are top notch actors whose work I’ve admired for quite a while. Max’s role is quite brief, but he still puts everything into it as he always does.
I first saw Oscar Isaac in the wonderful film The Nativity Story in which he gives a powerful performance as Joseph. You’ve just got to see it, especially during the Christmas season. He was great as Poe and I was hoping he’d be the main hero. He still has an important part and he plays it quite well with a lot of heart and emotion.
Daisy Ridley quite surprised me in this film as Rey. She is very good at showing both inner strength and inner turmoil. At once vulnerable, sympathetic, strong, intelligent. A balanced performance for a leading female character that we need to see more of in movies. Not all female characters need to be damsels in distress, but they need not be a total feminist dominatrix either. Her Rey is as a result, a quite likable character whom we can quickly become invested in. I might even go so far as to say that she does a better job of this than Carrie Fisher did as Leia in the classic trilogy. You’ll find yourself believing that Rey can really do the things she does in this film.
John Boyega is another amazing find who I also think has a bright future in film. He pairs with Oscar Isaac very well in this film in an almost Han Solo and Luke sort of way: brothers in arms. They do a great job of making you get invested in that as well. John is just as talented as Daisy in making his character’s feelings apparent on his face. He’s even more adept, at least in this film, of doing it with body language. If you’ve seen any previews or screen shots of the film this next comment is not a spoiler:
His ability to portray his character’s change of heart while still totally covered in Stormtrooper armor is totally amazing! Acting students take notes here, as you watch the film. This is how it’s done kids. It takes a high level of talent to make your audience totally understand what you are feeling though a mask or helmet. At his young age, he’s well on his way to being as good at it as Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels are.
Perhaps the biggest surprise performance of the film is by Adam Driver who has somehow managed to stay below the media radar (maybe because saying anything about who he plays gives too much away?) I’ll just say this: he’s almost as good as John at acting through a mask. He’s certainly good at coming up with subtle ways to show raging anger for a young actor. For a while, I thought that Kylo Ren was being played by Benedict Cumberbatch through that mask and voice modulator.
Then there is Domhnall Gleeson whose taut, coiled spring performance as General Hux perfectly portrays the fanaticism of the First Order, the new threat to peace following the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. Don’t miss out on what he has to say, nor how he says it, amongst the flash and action of the other actors around him. A masterful example of loading a first installment in a new trilogy with exposition without bogging down the whole movie.
You’d ever know that the ‘big bad’, Supreme Leader Snoke, is played by Andy Serkis. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from this master of voice acting through his work as Gollum. He’s worked his magic yet again, turning a bunch of ones and zeroes into a compelling character. His moments are brief but memorable.
In true Star Wars fashion, the movie is packed with stuff going on and I’m sure I’ll have to watch it a couple more times to catch it all. From the cast list on IMDB, I’m finding a few more familiar names who no doubt did a good job of filling in the complex tapestry that these movies are. A couple of notables to look out for, though you’ll have to recognize them by their performance as you can’t see their faces are Warwick Davis, Simon Pegg, Kiran Shah and Daniel Craig. Keen eyed Whovians may spot Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) among one of the crowd as well.
Special effects have, at this point, become almost impossible to distinguish from what was shot on set which is a testament to how far they’ve come. Everything looks real in this film.
Finally, I wish to say that I am quite relieved to tell you that I can recommend that you see The Force Awakens without any reservations. I don’t need to tell you to ‘keep an open mind’ nor to ‘try not to think about what’s come in the saga before’. It turns out that there’s nothing to worry about and no reason not to see the movie. So go see it!BEST QUOTES