Movie Review: Star Wars VII

I will do my best to make this a spoiler-free review, as I’m posting opening day and a lot of people haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe I’ll do this in Q&A format.

Did you like the film?

Yes indeed I did! Star Wars is back*, with a movie worthy of the name for the first time since 1983. It has a good story that moves along at a pace similar to Episode IV, with a script that (for the most part) sounds like real people talking, albeit in a space fantasy universe. The characters are–and I can’t emphasize this nearly enough–likable. Not just our old friends like Han Solo, Chewbacca, or Princess (now General) Leia, but the new kids on the block. I found myself caring about these new characters in a way that I just could not manage with the prequel characters. What a difference good directing makes!

The technology in the film has that “lived in,” scruffy look that the original trilogy has, and of course all of it has the telltale music orchestrated by the immortal John Williams. And really, some of the moments in the film where you’ve got the original story’s characters doing their thing and Williams’ soundtrack doing its thing are quite enough to warm the heart of the most cynical Gen Xer. Note on that: I preordered the SWVII soundtrack, and unlike previous soundtracks, there are no “spoilers” in the musical piece titles. I did encounter that on the prequel trilogy soundtracks.

(*Yes, I know there have been other movies, books, comic books, and other media bric-a-brac in this universe, but I’m not so enamored of the series that I’ve been willing to watch all of them.)

Are there major plot surprises in the story?

Yes. If you want to know what the spoilers are, go here.

Can I take the kids?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for several reasons, mostly violence related with some “language” and other situations that you might not want to have to explain to your curious, impatient, or easily frightened 6-10 year old. Your call. Some of the stuff that might bother younger viewers would qualify as spoilers, so bear with me if I don’t divulge too much.

Without revealing spoilers, what can you tell me about the movie?

Set around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, we find the galaxy far, far away still in turmoil, this time through a war between The New Order (the bad guys) and the Resistance (the good guys). The bad guys, led by a new scary guy in a mask named Kylo Ren, have a new, scary weapon to terrorize the good people of the galaxy.

In the midst of this turmoil, we have some new characters living out their lives–a junk scavenger, a stormtrooper deserting his post, a crack Resistance pilot, a new lovable droid–as well as some people we’ve seen before, advancing in age, but still charmingly likable and doing things true to their characters.

Did I mention that the heroes are likable? Why is this such a big deal? Because the characters in Episodes I-III were so damned unlikable. I can’t blame all of the mess in Episodes I-III on the actors. Much of that must be laid at the feet of the director/executive producer/money man George Lucas, who in the years between 1983 and 1999 forgot how to write and direct.

Do you have any gripes with the movie?

While watching the film, I had a couple moments where I couldn’t understand what people were saying, either because the technobabble was  spoken too quickly or was overwhelmed by sound effects or music. Nothing critical and not often, but these things happened.

The political situation in this film is a bit murky, but then compared to certain other films in the franchise, it’s a model of parliamentary coherence. I might buy the novelization to see if some things I’m curious about are explained, but none of my questions affected the action or my enjoyment of the story.

There are also a couple of moments in the film that are predictable if you’re attuned to storytelling.

After the film I had to sniff around a spoiler site or two to pick up what other gripes there were to be found. I’m not going to lie to you: I had misgivings about this film due to some of the things director JJ Abrams did with the Star Trek franchise. He has a tendency to repeat things done with the original material he’s working with, if only out of nostalgia, but the things he did with The Force Awakens were done respectfully and handled entertainingly. There were places where The Force Awakens “rhymes” with the original film (e.g., mission to destroy large superweapon). As long as he doesn’t retell the entire Episode IV-VI trilogy, things will be fine.

However, given all of these nits above, none of that really bothered me because I got to involve myself in a story with characters I wanted to see succeed. Isn’t that why we go to the movies?

Should I go see it?

Yes! In the theater! I paid extra to see the film in 3D, which was a nice touch, but isn’t 100% necessary. In case you hadn’t noticed, this film has won me over simply because of the charm of the characters and JJ Abrams’ ability to tell a good Star War story. In fact, I found the film enjoyable enough to forgive him for much of what he did to the Star Trek franchise. That’s saying a lot, I guess, depending on the type of nerd you are.

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