January 4, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Grade: 55/100

Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver

What it's about. This reboot of Star Wars plumbs the plot of its 1977 predecessor. The Evil Empire runs the show and has developed yet another Death Star. This one's even bigger, yet certain to be blown up just the same. The Darth Vader character, or a wimpy version thereof, is named Kylo Ren and is played by lanky Adam Driver. The Empire, for some reason, is desperate to learn the location of Luke Skywalker, now a recluse somewhere in hiding.

As in the 1977 film, a humble droid (robot) holds the all-important MacGuffin video, and is fleeing an Empire hot in pursuit. It runs into someone who just happens to be most powerful with the Force on the planet, but is too young to know it. No, not Mark Hamill, our heroine is Rey (Daisy Ridley), a loner and tomboy who spends all day in the sun but nonetheless looks like a Miss America pageant winner. She teams up with renegade Empire Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) to take the droid to the Resistance, the same group of fighters from the 1977 film.

To accomplish this, Rey and Finn steal a spaceship that just happens to be the Millenium Falcon, again from the 1977 movie. Soon, Harrison Ford and Chew-tobacco show up, to the audience's nostalgic delight.

Now that the gang's all here, it is time to pay a visit to the Death Star, as in the 1977 movie, to blow it up (again) just in the nick of time and / or rescue the damsel in distress (Rey instead of Leia). This involves various confrontations with hunky and beleaguered Adam Driver, which leave Ren, Rey, and Finn alive for further adventures in the inevitable next movie.

Oh yes, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has a small role, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has a gloomy cameo, and loquacious C-3PO makes an appearance, as does R2-D2 and that talking fish head dude.

How others will see it. The ably promoted movie dominated the box office and appears to be set to become the highest grossing film of all time, at least in nominal (inflation-unadjusted) dollars. Of course there are naysayers who spot the formula and liked it better under George Lucas. But most fans got what they paid for: plenty of action, in 3-D and Sensurround.

How I felt about it. Before seeing the film, I was disappointed to learn that J.J. Abrams was the director. Abrams was the director behind the commercially successful "Star Trek" reboot, in which the classic 1960s television characters look sort of the same, and have the same names, but don't act like the characters in the series would. In fact, the philosophical spirit of "Star Trek" was replaced by the standard good versus evil action movie, with the setting changed accordingly to fit the franchise.

Thus, I expected Star Wars: The Force Awakens to have plenty of good guys versus bad guys action. But Abrams did a better job with this movie in evoking the George Lucas spirit that pervaded the first three movies, that is, the ones worth watching more than once.

Abrams has repeated the mistake made casting Darth Vader in the previous two movies. That is, he has picked a tall and handsome actor instead of someone intimidating. Driver, who technically plays Vader's grandson, is less dull than Hayden Christensen. But he is nonetheless inadequate, and it isn't his fault. It's because of his character. Darth Vader was ruthless in the original Star Wars.

I shouldn't be surprised that the Mark Hamill role from the first film is filled here by a model. We don't know if Daisy Ridley can act, because she is too busy playing heroine. But it is difficult to believe that this completely untrained young woman is more powerful with the Force than Kylo Ren, who has presumably trained for years and is, after all, Vader's grandson, and Leia's son.

In fact, the only reason that Rey is so strong with the force is that the movie needs a young heroine. Luke isn't old, when compared to Yoda, but he isn't a Perfect 10 like Daisy Ridley, or at least not in recent decades.

We also wonder what the point was in Luke defeating the evil Sith Lord, if he was simply going to join the Witness Protection Program and allow the Empire to spring up again, as bad as ever, this time embodied by a giant come-and-go Thinker sculpture. They even wear the same white Stormtrooper uniforms.

But it's no mystery why Harrison, instead of Leia, confronts Kylo Ren on the bridge. It's true that Leia is powerful with the force, while Harrison is just another Rhett Butler rascal. However, Harrison is an A-list actor, while Debbie Reynolds' daughter is part of the supporting cast.

The movie isn't all bad. Harrison Ford is entertaining, and John Boyega is likeable. The movie looks, and sounds, like a Star Wars film. Nonetheless, the vision of George Lucas has been monetized by Disney and Abrams, in mostly predictable fashion.