Disney ‘Star Wars’ Opens in Biggest, Priciest Theaters

22 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Star Wars’ takes Lupita Nyong’o to another acting universe.

NEW YORK — Lupita Nyong’o works alongside some of the biggest actors in the Star Wars universe in her new movie, though it’s another galactic first-timer who helped the most when it came to playing The Force Awakens’ new space pirate. I rarely enjoy going to premieres because they’re hectic and you invariably have to wait an hour (or longer!) for the movie to start while the celebrities stroll the red carpet and industry types work the room gossiping and trading air kisses.

R2-D2 may be great for transporting holographic messages of galactic importance, but he also has a knack for helping actual humans travel… at least when he’s the size of a plane. The Oscar-winning actress of 12 Years A Slave fame takes on the motion-capture role of Maz Kanata, a short alien with cool glasses and a watering hole that’s just as crazy and colorful as that infamous Mos Eisley cantina, though with a lot less wanton violence and loss of limbs.

The premiere on Monday for “The Force Awakens” was more frantic than usual partly because of the intense security — there were fleets of Los Angeles police officers, armies of private security and several firetrucks standing by, too. Here’s our spoiler-free review. passes the “grin test”—that is, there were at least half a dozen moments while watching this film that I found myself grinning like a maniac. It was like a military operation, but with mouse ears: Disney had taken over a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard and several theaters, including the Dolby, which is where the Academy Awards take place. A movie fanatic, Spielberg is himself a master of the graft—especially grafting the mythic memory of the cinema onto a child-like sensibility formed by television.

Abrams stands at an extra remove from the source—one step down from Spielberg’s worship of a world of images to the modern worship of a world of stories. That makes Abrams just the person to plug the newest ready-made pre-fab blocks of quasi-Biblical legend into the template left by Lucas, and Abrams does so with a vigorously responsible enthusiasm joined with a palpable wonder at his contact with the venerated text. Sure, we’ve had Abrams’ Star Treks, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a few others, but this movie delivers a lot more starship explosions for your movie-going dollar than anything else I’ve seen in ages. And when Rebel pilot Nien Nunb spoke the Kenyan language of Kikuyu in Return of the Jedi, “we felt like Star Wars was ours,” she adds. “At least I did.” What Nyong’o loved most about those original Star Wars films was the relationships it built — one of her favorites was that of the droids C-3PO and R2-D2, which reminded her of the dynamic she shares her siblings. “You bicker and you know how to poke in the right spots to get a rise out of someone,” Nyong’o says. “But at the same time, you just never want to be apart, which was the relationship between those two droids.” Sharing screen time with legacy characters like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (“who was drop dead gorgeous” in the old movies, Nyong’o says) was a surreal experience for the actress. “I don’t even think Harrison Ford expected to do Star Wars 30 years later,” she says. “Star Wars is something that really sits in a special place in many people’s hearts across generations, and very few new movies can boast of that.

The result is a movie that’s awestruck, warmhearted, good-humored—and conspicuously prefabricated, without a jolt of spontaneity or reckless impulse anywhere in its sealed-up universe. And, more than in his Star Trek films, Abrams manages to make all the spaceship technology feel casual, and used, and finicky—there are a number of moments in where things don’t entirely work the way they should, at first at least, and it’s reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon’s malfunctioning hyperdrive from The Empire Strikes Back.

The setup—and it’s giving almost nothing away to mention it, since it’s outlined in an opening crawl of text—involves the quest for Luke Skywalker, who’s in hiding. The lights went down and the crowd roared as the Lucasfilm logo appeared on the big, big screen in a galaxy far, far away. … And, as you may have heard by now, the film is a good, solidly directed and often pleasurable entertainment, which is a nice change of pace for this series. There is, however, a group working to thwart the First Order, called the Resistance, and its virtuous fighters want to find Luke first, both to save him and to harness the Force to their own cause.

Here, too, there’s secret information that gets hidden in a little robot, and there’s the crucial decoding of that information to insure the success of a mission. Finn, Rey and Kylo, in particular, are given compelling backstories and satisfying arcs inside this movie, and they carry a lot of the film between the three of them.

The new script, which Abrams co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, brings along a host of new characters who are incarnated by an extraordinary troupe of young actors. As he did with his 2009 rethink of “Star Trek,” he had to find the sweet spot between respecting a beloved work and bringing something new to the equation. That’s always tough, but the smartest move that big studios can make when they have a valuable property they want to exploit ad infinitum is to hire directors who (fingers crossed) know what they’re doing. There’s a gifted pilot (Oscar Isaac); a fiercely martial young woman pursued by villains (Daisy Ridley, a nearly new cinematic presence); an independent-minded soldier on the run (John Boyega); a passionate military mastermind (Adam Driver). There are tons of ginormous honking spaceships and other massive space things in this film—because that’s one of the hallmarks of , the franchise where it’s never just a moon. (Abrams very consciously calls out to the iconic opening shot of the first , in fact.) But also, the sense of scale is super important throughout this film, both with the spaceships and other stuff.

The characters in are constantly dwarfed by their environments, and when we visit a desert planet or a snow planet, there’s a pleasing sense of massiveness in the background, with the characters often looking startled in the foreground. He won’t direct the next chapter; that gig belongs to Rian Johnson, whose movies include “Looper.” By then maybe everyone will have calmed down; because, frankly, among the challenges in reviewing a hyper-hyped release is separating the signal from the noise — in other words, separating the movie from the nonsense that’s generated by the industry, the entertainment media and the fans. Their talent often blazes through the screen, their presences are vital, but the spare rendering of character and the tight mechanism of the plot allow them few chances to shine. There are no lens flares (that I noticed), but instead there’s a crispness to the image, that only makes the occasional blurry bit of VFX stick out a bit more. Boyega renders a keen declamation of proud anger, and Driver momentarily surpasses the story in a fiery Shakespearean outburst, but for the most part the cast appears mainly as symbols of their own youth, a new generation of cinematic faces transplanted onto the revered corpus of legend.

I had read widely on “Star Wars” as a series and a cultural sensation for an earlier article, but avoided stories focusing on this latest installment. Many of the most emblematic shots in this film feature a static frame, into which something pops unexpectedly—like the famous shot of Finn’s head popping up in the desert landscape, for example. Abrams plays the nostalgia factor to the very hilt of his lightsaber, and the stagy entrances with which he reintroduces beloved performers is among the most identifiable elements of his direction.

Because while it may represent a second cinematic coming for some and offer further evidence of the decline of civilization, the art and the media for others, I needed to watch a film. Abrams’ static lens sees a surprising (or scary, or funny) item lurch into view, and the whole movie is sort of a masterclass in the use of sight-gags as a tool of high adventure.

He beams every gesture and every gag, every sigh and every whoop, to the virtual balcony, and some grand plot twists can be seen coming around the corner. His spectacle and its meticulous design are something to see, but his direction doesn’t shape the elements stylistically—it doesn’t provide anything to look at. Instead of simply setting up expectations within the narrative and then playing off them, he’s in a position of having to play off our pre-existing expectations—so he gives us what we expect, but still tries to keep us off guard.

From the start, Abrams confirms the movie’s own identity as a fast-moving action thriller that, like Lucas’s first installment, mixes its frames of reference, combining science fiction and Westerns, “Lawrence of Arabia” and prehistoric fantasies. Beyond the fact that we can all quote Yoda from memory, there’s also the weird distortion that happens when every single cute moment has become a T-shirt or a meme. But the director seems to resist allowing any of the elements to depart from the confines of the action to take on free-floating, loose-ended cinematic identities of their own—no thought is meant to escape from the airtight channel of meaning. The movie is fast-moving—featuring rapid action within the frame, rapid camera movements, and rapid cutting from shot to shot—yet it feels sluggish throughout, because the speed of thought is slow.

There’s no way to strip away the cultural baggage that’s accrued to the first three films, and get at the essence of what they actually were—so instead, this film aims to connect to that collective miasma of shared ideas, while making it all new again. And to some extent, nostalgia for has become like the description of the Force from the very first movie: It’s an invisible energy that binds all fans together. This work of stunning, shock-and-awe digital contrivance is so weighed down by reverence for the franchise and calculation of effect that it plays less like an experience than like a summary of itself.

In fact, very much adheres to the “used future” idea of the classic , and technology has both aged and advanced, in ways that feel somewhat realistic and tactile. Even the mightiest of catastrophes and most clamorous of battles never reach the actual thrill of experience; they stand outside themselves and await the feedback of admiration, like the cinematic equivalent of a flashing applause sign.

But at times, nostalgia definitely overwhelms storytelling, and at times the determination to give us the “greatest hits” of is a little too ingratiating. is great, as a fun, zippy space adventure about brand new characters exploring a galaxy we already know and love. The reason to describe the plot in only the hedgiest and dodgiest of terms isn’t so much to avoid spoilers as to avoid giving away the only thing the movie’s got. I wouldn’t have wanted to know the great twists of “Psycho” before seeing it for the first time, but, even after having once seen it and knowing all of the script’s tricks, the pleasure of watching it again (and again and again) is nonetheless undiminished, and possibly even enriched.

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