Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Movie Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, continues the epic space saga originally created by George Lucas. The film stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, and Peter Mayhew.

The Disclaimer:
Please note that I am taking great care to make sure this review is spoiler free so don't be afraid to read all the way through. I am actually sitting down to write this review after having watched the movie three times within the first 24 hours of its release, the first of which being part of a marathon screening of all seven Star Wars films at the Seattle Cinerama. It was very interesting to see them all laid out chronologically and I feel like, for me, this was the perfect way to kick off a new era of Star Wars movie going that will see Disney releasing a new film annually for years to come.

CLICK HERE to check out some quotes from me during an interview for a Seattle Times article about the Star Wars marathon.

The Story:
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, we are introduced to a new cast of characters along with revisiting some old favorites. Luke Skywalker has gone into hiding and war between The First Order and the resistance rages on.

The Review:
The first thing I noticed about The Force Awakens is how different it is both visually and from a story telling standpoint when compared to the previous two trilogies. I don't see this is a positive or a negative, just something that is very noticeable. This is Star Wars like we have never seen before and you can really tell that J.J. Abrams took great care with every single frame of film to make each of them the best they could possibly be. There is a great mix of practical effects and computer generated imagery and all of it looks absolutely amazing. It was also interesting to see characters that are much more, I guess you could say human, or maybe modern is a better term, compared to what we are used to from the franchise and I feel like it makes them easier to relate to on an emotional level. Sure, Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren live in a galaxy far, far away but, how we see them act and talk on screen, gives a sense of familiarity and it's like we know who they are without knowing anything about them.

The proper casting of these four new, primary characters was essential and I feel like hiring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver to fill each of these important roles was an absolute home run. The world now knows who Daisy Ridley is thanks to her work in this film and she is going to thrive as the flag ship hero of this franchise for years to come. Boyega (Attack the Block) and Driver (Girls - TV show) are pretty well known and respected for their previous work although Isaac (Ex Machina) is really the only one of the group who is a proven commodity as an actor in Hollywood. Some day, we will look back at this group of names with the same fondness we have for the team of Hamill, Ford, and Fisher who themselves do a great job and create a nice bridge from the original trilogy to the new one. It was so great to see their classic characters come back to life on the big screen again along with Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO.

Other than the brief description above, I'm not going to tell you anything about the story. What I will tell you is that the story does do a great job of moving the franchise forward and really hits the mark when it comes to creating those memorable, emotional, and iconic moments we expect from this franchise. I so want to talk to you about each of the scenes that got the biggest audience reactions as well as the ones that give you goose bumps and will have your emotion meter ready to burst, but I will leave that for another day. Whether you are a casual observer, new to the franchise, or a die hard fanatic, you are going to be pleased with what you get to see on screen in this movie.

Speaking of screens, I would highly recommend seeing this on the biggest one you can find as the size and scale of this movie is seriously off the charts. The space battles had me on the edge of my seat the entire time and again there are a few particular moments that I just want to gush about, but I'll let you see them for yourself. One thing I was afraid of going in to this experience was whether or not J.J. and company would get so carried away with the special effects that the spectacle would just be too over the top and completely unbelievable, even for an epic space opera. Well, I am very happy to report that this is not the case in any way, shape, or form and the end result is a visual achievement that is the perfect balance of computer generated awesomeness and real life, tangible effects work.

The Tech:
J.J. Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel shot the majority of the movie using 35mm film with the exception of one action scene where IMAX cameras were used. What does this mean and why is it important? The use of film over digital cameras is really just a director's preference and doesn't have a huge impact on the end result. However, it can make a difference when deciding what format you want to see the movie in as film is inherently 2D and has to be post converted digitally for 3D. Seeing it in IMAX or IMAX 3D would only be a real benefit during the few minutes of footage shot with IMAX cameras.

I saw the movie first in 3D and then twice in 2D and was very pleased with both options.

2D - Beautiful, clean visuals from start to finish.
3D - Depth is amazing. Conversion done perfectly.

IMAX 3D - Pretty much the same as non IMAX 3D since there is only one scene filmed in IMAX although that one scene is pretty phenomenal.

My recommendation for Seattle area movie goers is to see it at the Seattle Cinerama. Their 4K digital projection, Dolby Atmos sound system, comfortable seats, and gigantic screen is really the only way to go. If that is not an option for you, see the movie in 3D at your local theater as it adds so much to the visual quality by giving space and environments more depth with minimal focus on stuff jumping out of the screen.

The Verdict:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is brand new, yet familiar and is the epic space adventure we have been waiting for and hoping to see. It is by no means a perfect movie, I did have a few minor issues with it, but overall it is a very satisfying and rewarding experience. For best results, see this movie at a sold out show, get the biggest size popcorn you can find, wait in line, and watch it in a theater filled with people.

From J.J. Abrams:
"The thing that is so fun about "Star Wars," and I remember this from when I was a kid, was the communal experience of being with hundreds of people and getting to scream and laugh and cheer and cry with the story. It's got that kind of a pulse and that kind of an engine. Though I love that we all have access to movies on the devices in our pockets and I love that home screens are often better than theater 17 at the multiplex, I also feel like movies speak to a human desire, if not need, to congregate and to experience stories communally. They're experiences that allow us to feel that connectivity, which is truly what "Star Wars" is all about — the Force and the idea that we're all connected. In whatever format it is, whatever screening, whatever the best available version is, I would just argue that, if possible, to try to see it with a crowd."

Thank you Mr. Abrams, you absolutely nailed it.


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