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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

In the following review, if you have not seen The Force Awakens and want to go into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it then to be perfectly honest you shouldn't read the slightest review no matter what anyone says. If you're still interested in the review but don't want spoilers I'd suggest you only read the first section. The second section doesn't contain spoilers, but I still wouldn't recommend it if you haven't seen the movie. If you don't care because you're not even planning on watching the movie, then I hope maybe reading my review will change your mind. If you didn't like the original Star Wars trilogy then you definitely won't like The Force Awakened so who cares (although even if you did like the original some people have set their expectations so high they still won't like it, which makes no sense because nothing J. J. Abrams has done in his career could possibly lead anyone to believe that he could pull off that kind of a masterpiece). I was going to do a third section and go into more specific critiques containing spoilers, but this turned out longer already than I expected so I think I'll wait until I've seen it again.

Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens (2015) Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and Harrison Ford
With Supporting Roles from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Greg Grunberg, Warwick Davis, Ken Leung, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster

When I had first caught wind of the news that Lucas sold the rights to Disney I wasn't too pleased. I figured they'd do a really lame job with a money-grabbing corporate mentality. I remained quite skeptical up until a month or two before the release. I'd seen a few trailers, and they didn't really look like anything special. My aunts and uncle said they wanted to do a family outing to see it in theaters together, and I said I would see something else instead. I had no interest in even watching the movie at all. My skepticism changed suddenly when I stumbled across a trailer that actually showed some pretty decent acting on Daisy Ridley's part. And then I saw a video of Kevin Smith talking very excitedly about seeing the first half of the movie before it was finished. He was so enthusiastic that it really gave me hope. I still kept my expectations very low, and didn't let my hopes get much higher.

So a couple of days ago I was sitting at home playing Gran Theft Auto V. I had just finished watching Fargo, and I was feeling really good. I had a 12 hour shift coming up that evening, and had just finished a 12 hour shift the previous night. But I didn't really want to go to bed. I was planning on seeing Star Wars eventually, maybe when theater turnouts toned down a bit, but then I remembered that over the holidays my family was going to go see it. So to be honest, since I was planning to actually see it now, I didn't really want my first time to be with all my extended family. I looked at my clock and said to myself, "You know what, I could get an hour and a half REM cycle in, go to the matinee, and then rough it at work with a power drink." So that's what I did on impulse. I still got a lousy seat at an awkward angle, and accidentally went to the 3D showing (and I hate watching movies in 3D). So those things made the experience a little uncomfortable. All I'll say about the movie in this section is that it vastly exceeded my expectations. It was more than entertaining. I was actually emotionally invested. It surpassed my hopes and turned out to be a half-decent movie.

So there I was, sitting pretty far to the right in row A (the first row above the front isle). At least I didn't have to sit in the really lousy seats at the front that make you strain your neck. I did that once and vowed never to do it again. I was prepared to wait another day if that would have been the case. I reluctantly put on my 3D glasses and considered asking for my money back and putting it off another day. Well, I decided to just go through with it. The children's pop-up book of layered 2D images trying to be passed off as 3D would have to do for now. I didn't really want my first experience to be like this, but then again the movie probably wasn't going to turn out very well anyway...

I don't want to go into too much depth just yet, so I'll refrain from commenting on the opening scene. I'll just say that some of the acting was utterly horrible. I mean it was so wooden that some high-schools wouldn't give you the part. Twice in the movie a blaster caused someone to bleed. Aren't those highly compressed particle gas blasts supposed to cauterise wounds? And isn't that only if they get hit in the flesh, not in their storm trooper armor? I mean usually you just see that black scorch mark on their armor and they die anyway to so much as a shot in the foot (unless they're a main character, then it just stings a little) rendering their armor completely pointless in the first place (unless they're a main character, then their skin counts as twice as much armor). Oh man it was actually very hard at first for me to suspend my critical urges to over analyse everything. Gradually I started to get more comfortable with the movie, and then something magical happened. Daisy Ridley's acting was the first saving grace for the movie, at least for me. I found myself occasionally snickering at a number of absurdities, but I also noticed from time to time that I was actually captivated by the movie. Every now and then the shoddy 3D would pull me out of my immersion, but I didn't have too much trouble getting back in. The next saving grace was Adam Driver's character, Kylo Ren. I'm telling you, that was one hell of a well designed antagonist. His acting was decent enough to make the character believable, but it was really how they designed and wrote his character that made his role powerful.

My biggest fear going into the movie was Abrams. The best I have ever felt about anything he has done was "okay." Super 8 was okay, Alcatraz was okay, some episodes of Fringe were okay, Mission Impossible III was okay. I hated Lost, and I hated the Star Trek movies. When The Force Awakens was finished I felt like it was the best thing he's ever made so far. Which isn't saying very much, but it's something at least. It wasn't really the directing that saved this movie for me though.

I can understand and appreciate them not wanting to maintain the Expanded Universe (EU) as canon. It's a lot of material to go through for people who don't do any research before they make $200,000,000 films (And to think Jodorowsky couldn't get another $20,000,000 to make Dune). I still got the impression that some things were borrowed from the EU, but they were vague enough to be merely logical deductions of what would have happened considering the end of Return of the Jedi. Well at least the movie turned out better than it would have if Lucas had made it himself.

Besides Daisy Ridley there was really no other acting performance that stood out as above average. There were moments where Driver and Boyega shone, and other than that no one else even had so much as a great moment, not even Ford. But honestly Ridley's acting was so good that she carried the movie. Without great acting I simply can not get emotionally invested in a movie at all.

Other than acting the movie actually had a surprisingly good story. The basic overall plot structure wasn't bad, but the plot had no depth and that was a bit disappointing. Over the years I've come to differentiate story from plot in this way: The story is what happens, and the plot is how it happens. If someone were to retell what happened in The Force Awakens, I think people would have a response like, "It was better the way you told it." A movie's story to me is almost like something in the background and atmosphere that is implied by the events transpiring, but the plot is what is actually transpiring right in front of you. It's hard to describe, but I feel it. I felt like I could get lost in the world of Star Wars, even in this "new canon" version. But a lot of what actually happened was boring the way it happened. The idea of a great battle between the Republic and the Empire is pretty cool the way that they told it in the movie (sorry I can't be more specific without a spoiler), but when I saw it in the movie I thought to myself, "Year right, like it would have happened that way. I guess J. J. Abrams has never watched a WWII documentary, and has no clue what an actual battle looks like." The plot had so many plausibility issues that it fell into the realm of a 16-year-old's fan fiction. I think one reason why Lucas did such a good job with things like the Death Star trench run was because he actually based it off WWII documentary footage.

The special effects were surprisingly good though. I never felt like there was too much CGI or green screen. Those elements were blended in so well that I could rarely even tell where the boundaries were between what was real and what wasn't.

Well, I think I'll wrap it up here for now. There are a lot of things I want to go into more detail about, but I think I've come about as close to spoiler content as I dare. I may have actually said a little too much as it is. Overall I enjoyed the movie. I do have a lot of criticisms. It was a very flawed movie. But the good actually outweighed the bad. I'm looking forward to watching it again. I'm looking forward to the next movie. And I think I'll take a look at what else Daisy Ridley has done, because she really did blow me away. I actually went home feeling very inspired about life in general. If a better director had made this movie, and a corporation wasn't looming overhead with it's greedy puppeteer strings tugging at everything, this could have been a truly great movie. All things considered though, it turned out surprisingly well. Despite the lousy plot and mostly mediocre acting it was actually a pretty decent movie with some intense emotional scenes, some exciting action, some great characters and visuals, a good story, and a very strong lead.