Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I ventured back to the Alamo Drafthouse on Christmas Eve to see Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  I saw the 2D version.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega & Harrison Ford; with Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac & Mark Hamill; directed by J.J. Abrams; (2015) - Official Website

Before I write about the film, I should mention I have mixed feeling about the food.  Having the chips & queso at the Drafthouse recently was more significant than I could have imagined.  The flavor of the queso brought back memories of my hindsight it was almost subconscious.  I found myself craving the queso in the days after having it.  I ordered the chips & queso during the Star Wars screening.  It tasted better than it had the previous week.  I'm not sure if they modified the recipe or if my craving was the reason behind the improved taste but the queso was more flavorful.  My only complaint is that there are too many small chips or crumbs served with the queso.  You need larger chips so you can scoop out the queso without it touching your fingers.  I also ordered a sausage & fennel pizza which exceeded my expectations.

The auditorium was near sellout.  Service was slow which is to be expected.  It seemed as though the people around me got their food much sooner than me and the pizza was closer to lukewarm than piping hot which indicates it might have sat on the kitchen counter for awhile.  I had to ask three times to get ice water.  Also with a full house and more food/drink orders, the servers were more conspicuous.  On more than one occasion, they distracted me with their movement.

It's unfair to judge a restaurant on their service and food during its opening weeks so I'll extend that courtesy to the Alamo Drafthouse and reserve final judgment until a future visit.


I guess I should state my Star Wars bona fides upfront.  I prefer, without hesitation, Star Trek to Star Wars.  I was less than month shy of 9 years old when Star Wars came out.  I remember the long lines and the hype.  My parents bought me a Star Wars T-shirt and I remember having playground conversations about the film.  Long before Star Wars came out, reruns of Star Trek were being played on television.  My parents didn't buy a VCR until 1982 or 1983 - five or six years after Star Wars came out.  The original fanboys cut their teeth on repeated viewings of Star Wars on VHS tapes which was largely unavailable to me.  In fact, I don't recall being friends with any hardcore Star Wars (or Star Trek) fans.  All through that period and extending to present day, I watched Star Trek (Saturday nights at 9 PM MeTV) and Star Trek The Next Generation (no set schedule but shown frequently on BBC America) episodes when they come on TV.  I rarely see Star Wars on television.

I guess that serves as an apologia for what I'm about to say - I wasn't that impressed with The Force Awakens.  The plot borrow liberally (or pays homage) to the original 1977 film.  Of the new cast, there are three main characters - Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Fin (John Boyega).  Kylo Ren (the most prominent villain) is by far the most interesting character and without giving away too much of the plot, he is the anti-Luke Skywalker.  Rey is a scavenger on a desert planet; her backstory is deliberately kept vague but she has an abiding sense of justice and is Force-sensitive as they say.  Fin is a stormtrooper-cum-rebel who starts the film as war weary and even frightened but becomes quite fierce by the end.

Of the original cast, only Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has significant screen time.  Princess Leia now known as General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) only has a few scenes and Luke (Mark Hamill) only shows up in the final scene with no dialogue.  Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is attached to Han's side throughout although I read that Mayhew had to have a stunt double for much of the film because of his bad knees.  C3PO has a few scenes while R2D2 is inactive until the close to the end.

Beyond a few too many similarities between the plotw of the 1977 and 2015 films, what were my issues?  I found Rey & Fin to be overly contrived.  Even Kylo Ren borrowed heavily from Darth Vader.  Their characters seemed to fit a blueprint than being realistic & organic characters.  The film seemed to need the characters to behave in certain ways to advance the plot and it became predictable.  Perhaps that is the gist of the matter - the film was too predictable once you picked up on the parallels to the original film.

The older Han Solo is the most interesting character in the film which doesn't bode well since this trilogy is about a new generation.  Imagine if Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi had been the most interesting character in Star Wars.  Maybe I felt that way because I know Han Solo's backstory and have had 35+ years to revisit the film and its characters.

Actually, the plot is a little problematic.  The Rebel Alliance won the war in Return of the Jedi but in The Force Awakens, they are referred to as the Resistance and the military power is controlled by the First Order which has tapped into the Dark Side of the Force.  How the winners of the war came to be the insurgents 30 years later was not explained.

I could nitpick the film but the ultimate litmus test is that I became bored with the film at various points.  I won't go so far as to say that I didn't like the film.  If nothing else, the scenes with Harrison Ford and Adam Driver make the film worthwhile but it seemed a bloated at 2 hours, 15 minutes.  I wonder if the film could stand on its own merits if it was the first entry in the Star War series and not the seventh.

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