Immovable franchise, irresistible force
Kap Maceda Aguila (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2015 - 9:00am

Film review: Star Wars

MANILA, Philippines - First things first. There are no spoilers herein, so please feel free to come closer and read on. Grab that cup of coffee, too. Put your feet up and lean back.

If there’s one thing that perhaps curtailed the social media habits of Filipinos the past couple of days, it was the very real possibility that overeager, overexcited moviegoers who had just seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens would spill the beans on Facebook or some other platform. It wouldn’t be surprising, as history suggests — and memes indeed communicated unfriending threats to those foolish enough to try spoil it for the rest of us. So, aside from stepping back from the Interweb, I shied away from reviews and the glut of material on The Force Awakens and the mania and hype that bubbled back to the surface after the relative calm and quiet since the release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005.

Well, I digress a bit. Just like any other fan, I yielded to the temptation of the myriad of shirts and Star Wars paraphernalia foisted on a vulnerable public channeling its inner Yoda, Luke, Hans, or that new cute droid BB-8. However, even the snazziest and costliest of Star Wars mementos is destined to fall flat on its face if the movie didn’t measure up to the very considerable hype.

So, let’s get this out of the way really quick. Miss Episode VII at your peril. It’s so good that it is probably the quickest 136 minutes of your life. There scant time to dig into your popcorn or slurp your drink because you’re so engrossed by what’s happening on the screen.

Thirty-two years is quite a long time for a sequel to finally happen (not counting the three newer prequels, of course), but the writing trio of Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams (who also directs) and Michael Arndt pull it off with aplomb. Understandably, much has happened during the interim. In keeping with the spoiler-free parameters of this article, let me just give you an overview of the plot. Remember Luke Skywalker? Well, it seems he is nowhere to be found. Both the bad guys of the First Order (nee Galactic Empire) and the good guys of the Resistance (nee Resistance, duh) are looking for our favorite Jedi.

Not much has changed by way of wardrobe, which is pretty good for a generation (or two) of Padawan learners not weaned on the original three episodes of George Lucas’ sci-fi opera. The Stormtroopers still wear pristine white, still are bad shots, and are still largely ineffectual.

Which helps make matters both familiar — homey even. Abrams, avowed fan of the Star Wars franchise, succeeds in recreating moods and palates the rest of us have come to expect. Of course, because it is a J.J. Abrams movie, The Force Awakens is visceral and with a distinct first-person point-of-view in many of the key sequences. At times, it felt like those slick first-person-shooter games. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, but I found myself in pleasant déjà vu during some scenes.

There is much to marvel in how contemporary CGI has rendered the galaxy, far, far away into something truly wonderful — crisp, clean and totally sleek. “This is the future of the past,” Abrams, who also re-imagined the other sci-fi classic marque Star Trek, said in a Time interview. It must be made mention though that the director tried to limit CGI as much as he could. “Wherever possible, he abandoned (it) in favor of models and practical effects, and green screens in favor of actual sets and physical locations,” wrote Lev Grossman in A New Hope: How JJ Abrams brought back Star Wars “using puppets, greebles and yak hair.”

Even as he went back to the simplicity of the original Star Wars in 1977, Abrams was presented with a unique opportunity. Unlike the three prequels that followed the first trilogy, Abrams could now conscript the original actors, as the story of The Force Awakens occurs a similar number of years after the tale (and production) of Return of the Jedi. As such, this is the first Star Wars installment that actually combines so many of the original players and actors with new, no less compelling ones — a true, 30-year-old bridge from the past to the future not just of characters but of the franchise itself. Endearing new protagonists include: Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on Jakku, a desert planet; Finn (John Boyega), a reformed Stormtrooper; Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an ace X-wing fighter pilot; and the too-cute-and-cuddly BB-8 droid — a contemporary R2-D2.

Stepping into the villainous shoes of the dearly departed Darth Vader is the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a commander of the First Order who, at least in appearance (no spoilers, remember) is channeling the late lamented Darth Vader. Sprawling sceneries, weird creatures, fantastic vehicles of all kinds, and pseudo-supernatural beings complete the adventure. A bar scene pays obvious homage to one of the most beloved settings in the franchise.

Walt Disney — which acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012 for an incredible $4.06B — is, by all accounts, set to realize a windfall of, well, Jurassic proportions. Truth be told, the Disney machinery had actually been realizing benefits in the acquisition long before its first crack at a Star Wars movie, via everything from theme-park attractions to toys (through, for instance, a tie-up with Lego).

CNN reported on the eve of the film’s debut in the United States that $100M in tickets had already been pre-sold. The Hollywood Reporter stated that, as of last Wednesday, $14.1M had been earned from the first 12 international markets (including the Philippines) that showed the film. This, the website added, “(eclipsed) all previous Star Wars entries.”

For fans old and new, more adventures are lined up in the near future. Episode VIII is set for release in 2017; Episode IX in 2019. Understandably, other Hollywood films have done the wise thing and steered clear of the Yuletide box-office set to light-saber anything in its path.

The only thing that threatens to stymie the Star Wars momentum in the Philippines is the annual Metro Manila Film Festival, which is set to, um, awaken this Christmas. So, unless you have very high EQ and a truckload of patience, best to watch our favorite sci-fi saga before then.

And may the Force be with you all.

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