Monday, December 21, 2015

MM: The Force Awakens (spoiler free)

Obviously, I must review this movie. Because it's all anyone is talking about. Today's review is the spoiler-free version. Freeform Friday this week will contain the super spoiler version.

Short version: It was everything I wanted, even if it's not a perfect movie. It was fun. It was true to the feel of Star Wars. It had explosions and Force tricks and droids and old friends and, very importantly, humor. One thing the prequels deeply lacked was moments that were funny to anyone above the age of 8.

I doubt that this review will spread far. But in case it does, let me lay out where I come from. I am a huge fan of A New Hope. I consider it one of the finest action adventures ever committed to film. Every movie after that has had a gradually declining number of redeeming moments. Empire had good arcs but a muddled whole. Jedi is a whole series of cool set-ups followed by failing to stick the landing, with the exception of the sequence of Luke vs Vader vs Emperor. Phantom has awesome set pieces strung together with a truly awful story. Attack of the Clones has three or four great fight scenes, and I barely remember what happened in between. Revenge of the Sith was not only a poorly written movie, it managed to retroactively rob Vader of some of his strength.

So, I like Star Wars, but I'm not a huge fan. I've never read the EU stuff. I own some of the RPG books but have never gotten around to reading them. I've never played any of the video games. But I will always love Jedi, droids, lightsabers, TIE Fighters, and the Millennium Falcon.

I went into this movie with very high hopes, carefully banked with fears of both it being over-hyped and it having too much baggage to possibly clear the bar. I can confidently tell you that my hopes were fulfilled. I could tell this most of all because I felt that old stirring. Every single time I watch A New Hope, I get a terrible jonesing to game. My first thought when the credits ended was that I really needed to start a new campaign.

What can I tell you without spoiling anything? Well, the trailers were honest. They depicted pretty much exactly how the movie felt, and what the characters were like. Rey was fierce, Fin was strong, BB-8 was cute, Poe Dameron was dashing. There was a lot of fan service in the film, but all of it was done well. Honestly, I can say that the fan service in TFA was better than in Abrams' other notable effort, the Star Trek reboot.

Were there flaws? Well, sure. Kylo Ren was a very complicated character that could have been handled much better. The grand strategy of the Empire First Order was not just familiar, one has to wonder why anyone signed off on such an obviously losing gambit. And the movie as a whole comes across as rushed and breathless. I felt like we needed more grand matte paintings of space.

My breakdown of the feminist angle should really wait for the spoiler version, but I can at least tell you this much: It passed. Rey clearly passed the Mako Mori Test. Leia also had a strong presence, though not much of an arc. The movie does pass the Bechdel Test. I would have very much liked to see more of the background characters be female, but that's really my only quibble on that front.

You should definitely see it. Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, you should see it. It's fun. It's funny. It's exciting. And it's going to be an important cultural touchstone for the next several years. Also, you should definitely see it in theaters. This one really benefits from the big screen and big speakers.

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