The Force Awoke

As indicated a few days ago, indeed we did go to see Star Wars – The Force Awakens and contributed our share to the now already 1 billion box office take of that little movie. Before you read on the usual spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen the film yet and are afraid to read something you don’t really want to know, veer away. I’m certainly not going to go out on a limb to avoid mentioning story details. You have been warned! Now let’s get to the good (and bad) stuff. Perhaps in fact we should begin with the latter.

My brother and I have never been particular Star Wars fans. We both prefer Star Trek and other series as possible interpretations of the future or life in galaxies far, far away. That being the case, I only know the movies and have never read any of the expanded universe novels. I’ve only ever seen a handful episodes of The Clone Wars animated series and in addition a passing knowledge of some of the various games over the years from reading about them (never played a single one myself). So for better or worse, all my knowledge is formed by the original canon and yet, all the time while watching the movie I kind of intuitively knew what would/ could come next. Which puts a point to the biggest issue: Predictability and repetitiveness.

Unfortunately the producers basically decided to replay the original first movie with new characters, throw in a few good ideas from the others (including George Lucas‘ own prequels) and grant the fans fulfilling some fan lore – Han Solo having banged Leia, after all, was such an obvious twist. Similarly, many scenes are constructed in a manner that if you pay close attention to the details, you know how they will be resolved like that Rey vs. Kylo Ren fight in the woods or the parting shot where Rey meets Luke. Wanna bet we’re going to see something very Darth Vader like Ren in the next episode and Luke using “I am your father” at some point?

The similarities do not even end there. After two failed attempts, wouldn’t you think the evil ones would give up on building ever bigger and bigger Death Stars? This part caused some comments even from other viewers. Of course it also has repercussions for future episodes: How big can you go with these things? Will it ever be big enough? Shouldn’t they just start getting into bio tech and wipe out everyone with deadly viruses? There’s some big stinking fish dangling here that needs to be cleaned out.

Otherwise the story is, regardless of my complaints, more than enjoyable. Inevitably there has to be a lot of exposition to introduce the new characters as there have to be some excuses to bring back old heroes and that’s to be expected. Luckily we can sympathize with pretty much all of them, so it’s a pleasure to behold their hijinks. There’s some good jokes as well and some witty repartee and everything flows almost naturally with almost no hiccups or kinks. The young actors do their job well enough to be believable despite being relative newcomers and pretty unknown to the world. BB 8 is just downright adorable, too.

Let’s talk a bit about the technical side. Mimicking the original trilogy also in its visual style, the film is full of grand vistas and generally uses more wide shots than your average contemporary movie. It has become a bad habit to get ever closer into the scene these days and that’s why many action movies are so exhausting and nauseating. They literally make your head spin. If you care to remember, in the prequel movies the light saber fights were sometimes so tightly shot, all you saw were flashes of red and blue light. It’s nice to just sit back and get to see things from a bit of a distance and have relatively simple camera crane moves. This also helps to keep things straight and to know where the good guys and the bad guys are in the action scenes, even if those do use more daring camera work like in the Millenium Falcon chase sequence also seen in the trailer.

While J.J. Abrams made a conscious decision to not shoot in 3D, of course the film is post-converted to 3D for the cash grab and aside from a few interesting full CG scenes (an imperial destroyer pointing his front tip toward the audience for instance), it is barely noticeable and does not contribute anything. Unfortunately that’s also true for some of the CG effects themselves. After all the secrecy I was mightily disappointed at seeing how Maz Kanata turned out. It still looked rather artificial and fake.The same can be said for Grand Leader Snoke‘s hologram – it just has “bad CG” written all over it and ironically, those scenes could also have been excised from the movie without doing any damage to the story, so it makes you wonder why.

The more conventional stuff like spaceships and vehicles, big explosions, set extensions/ replacements and even the environmental stuff looked a lot better. There’s also some very Optical Flares like lens flares in some shots, though they may not necessarily be the ones Andrew Kramer actually worked on. In conjunction with the practical effects and elaborate selection of locations it indeed brings back that old time feeling from the original movies. On the other hand I could have gone without some of the make-up work and alien creature designs. To me this stuff in Star Wars always just looked like what it is  – humans with rubber masks – but I guess it’s one of those things you cannot get right one way or the other.

While most of my points may sound rather devastating, this shouldn’t give you a wrong impression. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it’s just not the masterpiece everyone wanted it to be. At least I do not feel compelled to rush to the cinemas a second time and will wait for the Blu-Ray. In a funny way this is perhaps an even better way to watch this and really absorb the finer details and learn the words by heart until they become cultural icons themselves – just like it happened with the original trilogy…

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