Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

StarWarsEpisodeVIIPosterI was 9 years old when “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released, and despite all the bile hurled at the prequels, at that age I had no concept of good. All I knew was that there was more. More Star Wars was a good thing, and for the Millennials like me who give the prequels the most hatred, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” is the first Star Wars movie we’ve been able to see for the first time as adults.

“The Force Awakens” doesn’t need to be as great as “A New Hope” or “The Empire Strikes Back” for it to live up to expectations. It needs to be able to fit snugly into the Star Wars canon in a way the prequels never seemed to belong. J.J. Abrams has delivered less than a masterpiece, but “The Force Awakens” is a Star Wars movie.

“The Force Awakens” has the spectacle, the whimsy, the humor, the campy, screwball charm, the romance and the invigorating excitement of the original three films. In channeling the same themes of good and evil and the mythos of the Force, this film has the spirit of a Star Wars classic.

In part, it’s because J.J. Abrams has nearly remade “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” In between films, a new evil entity known as The First Order has risen to power. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the dark lord out to find him and put an end to the rise of the Jedi. A Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides a map to Luke’s location in a droid called BB-8 and sends it off on a desert planet. The person who finds it is another scavenger, a person without a family and with dreams of becoming a pilot and getting out of this desolate place. Starting to sound familiar? The only difference is that this young person is a woman, Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley). Along the way a Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) will break off from The First Order and even stage a daring, hapless rescue of Poe before meeting Rey, working to protect her and banish his own past demons.

Though “A New Hope” is proud to boast themes of good and evil in the biggest and broadest of space opera, it is a film about growth, finding identity and believing in yourself. Luke makes that spiritual journey and sheds his youthful naiveté, and Rey will go on that same journey, answering the call to believe in the Force and embrace her destiny.

This is what Star Wars is about, and in that spirit Abrams more than delivers. As with the best of the franchise, the film dances between different moments of action on the ground and in the air. There are thrilling lightsaber duels, stunning dogfights, goofy chases and escapes from an amorphous tentacled creature, a scene inside a seedy cantina full of quirky galactic beings, and even something of a new Death Star. Despite the high CGI gloss, Abrams has captured the tempo of these pictures as much as the tone, with cathartic, cheerful action set pieces that avoid chaos and over-stylization in a way that’s classical and tangible.

John Boyega has a lot of uncontained enthusiasm as Finn, Adam Driver has a lot of angsty rage as Kylo Ren, and Daisy Ridley has a lot of scruffy, rugged charm and star power. Yet all three are led by the master, back in character as though he never left: Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Han is one of the great pop culture characters of all time, and he continues to get the best lines, and Chewbacca the best reaction shots. Ford is acting from the seat of his pants, sarcastic and cool yet always in a hurry and thinking on the fly. Finn has brought Han to the new Death Star and reveals he has no plan for taking down its shields, but maybe they can use the Force. “That’s not how the Force works,” Han bellows in his trademark exasperation. This could be Ford’s best performance in nearly two decades.

“The Force Awakens” does at times feel like a reboot, but hearing John Williams’s magical score swell in all the right places reminds us that there’s no harm in not reinventing the wheel. And the film does take one massive risk that will surely be polarizing. But regardless of if the plot has holes or if the twists hold up, this is still Star Wars. More is good.

4 stars


The Jackie Robinson biopic “42” deserves better than to be another “magical black man” movie with a cheesy script.


“42” isn’t yet again trying to prove to white people that racism is alive and well; it’s merely trying to depict the racial struggles of Jackie Robinson, an undisputed American hero. But it’s 2013, and we deserve better than another magical black man movie, and we definitely deserve a better, smarter film than Director and Screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s (“L.A. Confidential“) cheesy, Old Hollywood inspired script.

Robinson was one of baseball’s greatest legends. He won Rookie of the Year in his inaugural 1947 season, the pennant for the Dodgers and later in his career the World Series. But “42” paints Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as a miracle man long before credit is due.

The movie starts with a newsreel history lesson and says that America was just waiting for someone like Robinson to come along. Then a grizzly GM played by Harrison Ford in a bad haircut looks his bumbling assistants in the eye and boldly claims he’s going to put the first black man in baseball! “Uh wahhh? You can’t! But I can!” Then he flips through a few manila folders and finds a resume with Jackie Robinson’s picture and says something close to, “Look at this guy! He’s going to be a star!”

“If it was a white baseball player, you’d say he has spirit” is what Ford actually says when his assistant claims he has a bad temper. But Robinson’s bad temper amounts to him being a little less tolerant of racism directed at him than others. His goal to be accepted is to focus on winning, not the hate, which makes for the first sports movie in which strictly focusing on being the best is the moral lesson. Continue reading “42”

Star Wars (1977)

“Star Wars” remains a thoroughly fun, exciting, inventive, colorful, imaginative and in fact masterful film. George Lucas’s saga is one of the most influential films of all time.

I have seen “Star Wars” a billion times. In fact, even if you’ve never actually watched the original “Star Wars,” you’ve seen it.

I physically sat down and watched “Star Wars” from start to finish for the first time since probably the prequels, and I watched it with a friend who had never seen the film. His reaction was without surprise, because every plot point, image, line of dialogue, sound effect and more has been done to death in parodies, fan fiction, what have you.

For instance, seeing the Mos Eisley Cantina scene did little for him in terms of visual wonder because all the characters, however unique they once were, are all too familiar today, even if no film has ever modeled anything like it since. The same will go for when he sees Episode V and learns that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, or when he sees Episode VI and learns Luke and Leia are siblings.

The reason people are today introduced to “Star Wars” at a young age is not because the film is dated (which in a way, it horribly is) but because only with the most innocent, naïve minds can you recreate the thrill and fantasy audiences felt watching the film in 1977.

But enjoying it has nothing to do with age or time period. “Star Wars” remains a thoroughly fun, exciting, inventive, colorful, imaginative and in fact masterful film. George Lucas’s saga is the pinnacle of space opera, one of the most influential films of all time and arguably where modern film begins. Continue reading “Star Wars (1977)”

American Graffiti

There was a time in American history where all the kids in town could be found at the sock hop or the local drive-up diner or simply driving down Main Street. Everyone was innocent and carefree, and the radio was playing constantly. The year is 1973, and “American Graffiti” was in theaters.

The time I’m actually describing is 1962, which George Lucas’s second film captures so beautifully. “American Graffiti” is a touching, heartfelt period piece and vignette, the kind of American film that simply doesn’t get made anymore. Perhaps Lucas’s own “Star Wars” had something to do with that.

There is not so much a story as the tiny little anecdotes of life about a group of teenagers in this small town, two of whom will be leaving for college the next day. These kids are innocent and happy, but there is truthfully a lot of drama going around. And because they express their thoughts and their problems so lovingly, we enjoy “American Graffiti” because we realize these are people we’d like to know and a time in which we’d like to escape to.

The film was a huge success, nominated for Best Picture for producer Francis Ford Coppola and Best Director Lucas. The film put Lucas on the map, allowing him the resources to actually go out and make “Star Wars,” but it also gave him and the rest of the ‘70s some valuable resources. Continue reading “American Graffiti”

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen said about “Apocalypse Now” that if he knew then all that he would have to deal with over the agonizing 16 month shoot, one that sent him through the Philippine jungle and back and gave him a heart attack along the way, he would have never agreed to it. Today, he has no regrets, because I would imagine that not he, nor any critic on Earth, would think about Sheen having a heart attack while watching this masterpiece of cinema.

Francis Ford Coppola’s film is easily the best of the Vietnam War movies, and in my book one of the best of all time. To watch “Apocalypse Now” is to become immersed and dragged deeper into the horror that is war all while remaining distant, confused and utterly hopeless at the idea of ever fully understanding violence. Continue reading “Apocalypse Now (1979)”