Genaro Contreras's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

Want-to-See Movies

Want-to-See TV

This user has no Want to See TV selections yet.

Rating History

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
11 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

After much reluctance, I have decided to present my basic thoughts on the much anticipated (and polarizing) new installment of "Star Wars". I'm not going to go through any formalities or introductions for this franchise or its cultural impact, nor should I have to. Anyone reading this should have a sufficient understanding of such things. The fundamental question on the minds of the masses is whether "The Force Awakens" succeeds as the initiatory chapter in a new story, and for me the answer is, mostly, "yes".

It's apparent that Abrams and the rest of the staff had the goal in mind to recapture the feel of the original movies, resulting in a narrative that borrows significantly from the past. Oh, the story is told well enough in and of itself. It moves on a smooth, uninterrupted trajectory, justifies its numerous introductions and accomplishes them with efficiency. The issue is there are simply too many recycled plot points and, though tweaked enough to distinguish themselves, they largely fail to improve upon what came before. Consider the Starkiller base. In spite of its size and unprecedented firepower, it's less impressive than the Death Star. I think that's because the original battle station was presented so well in "A New Hope". The sense of awe and fear from the heroes was palpable, the villains' confidence in it convincing, and the place felt so expansive; it almost became a character itself.

The biggest argument against these story decisions is the aesthetic. Though a good case can be made that this is not the best movie of the year, it's definitely the best looking. No other 2015 release, from "Age of Ultron", to "Jurassic World", to "Fury Road" boasts such impressive visuals. The CGI Millennium Falcon is especially terrific, and the ruins of a fallen star destroyer are marvelous. From beginning to end, this movie looks exactly as we would expect: a sleeker version of the world in the original trilogy. These technical accomplishments are sufficient to sell the feel of a "Star Wars" movie, rendering the familiar plot beats unnecessary. Even so, by placing much of the focus on the smaller stories of truly new elements, "The Force Awakens" mitigates the negative impact of its uninspired backdrop.

Through it all, there are some very promising analogs. Maz Kanata is a curious new creature that suggests Yoda without imitating him. The same essentially goes for the dynamic between Kylo Ren and General Hux, which is this film's obvious version of the Vader/Tarkin duo. It's underplayed, but the uneasy alliance between these two stands in contrast to their predecessors' cooperativeness.

One thing that's pretty unanimous is that the new heroes are welcome additions. Like in "The Phantom Menace", they share a sense of inexperience, the key difference being that their personalities are endearing and better drawn. There's little by way of actual dramatic arcs, but that's acceptable in an introductory chapter, and the same was largely true of the original "Star Wars" anyway. What we do get is progress in individual histories and backgrounds that lend dimension, a promising foundation for future developments. There's also an interesting parallel between Rey and Finn, who are both essentially orphans, one desiring to belong and the other needing a new purpose. I do agree that her near-immediate picking up of Force abilities strains credulity, but, considering what we know about the Force, her instinctive piloting of the Millennium Falcon is acceptable. Surprisingly, the film's sense of humor has been quite under-appreciated amongst audiences. Sure, the in-jokes get tiresome quickly, but this is arguably the first entry in the series since "Empire" to successfully derive wit and humor from character interactions.

Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is a misfire. One thing I will readily concede to is that he's not lacking for substance. His motivations, vulnerabilities and history are clear, painting an individual who chose a darker path out of insecurity and self-loathing, both of which he is still hindered by. There's some good material here, but the screenplay's approach is what derails everything. Rather than manifesting or exploring these aspects of his character with restraint, his shortcomings are hamfistedly presented as blunt insecurity. Combine this with temper tantrums played for humor and a string of embarrassing defeats following the first removal of his helmet, and you get a villain practically stripped of menace and dignity that undermines the unsettling quality of the dark side established by the previous six films. Compare Zuko from "Avatar", whose self-doubt manifested as despair and weariness, and was often counteracted by dignity, discipline and determination.

As far as action goes, it's nothing extraordinary, but the refreshing look goes a long way towards making things captivating. It's interesting how big a role the settings play. The chase with the Millenium Falcon is exhilarating largely due to passing through a fallen Star Destroyer, and the traditional lightsaber duel has a great, atmospheric location. Even so, the duel itself is too crude to work. Sure, the sound work is first rate and combatants get wounded more frequently than normal (particularly Finn receiving a nasty slash), but the bladework lacks kineticism or the impression of skilled swordsman, and the result is what fans have been inadvertently clamoring for: a polished clubbing match between two 12 year olds. The humble thrills from the original trilogy simply don't fit into this modern age.

So, how does it hold up in its own line? Oddly enough, it lands in the middle. It's marginally better than Episode II, but lacks the sheer ingenuity of Episode IV and the mythic quality of Episodes V and III. Even so, for all its missteps, "The Force Awakens" is entertaining and made with enough feeling to get one primed for the next chapter.