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For Your Consideration: 'The Force Awakens'

"(sob) You mean I could have held out for a larger percentage of international residuals?"

Star Wars, in case you missed it, has become a Disney franchise. The company that specializes in putting trademarks on beloved folk stories, to further its attempts to extract cash from your wallet, paid a massive sum for the rights to your favorite childhood characters and stories. Most fans think only of the "restart" given to the film series, with this month's excessively hyped release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but the effects of the buyout of Lucasfilm go much deeper.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens, directed by J. J. Abrams
Readers with children, like us at Ionarts Central, know that the mill turning the grist of Star Wars into pop pablum has been grinding away on the Disney Channel, where shows and specials can now make jokes and plot lines using the Star Wars characters and costumes. The iconic score by John Williams can be woven into Christmas music tags between idiotic kids shows, and there is even an animated series for kids, Star Wars Rebels, already in its second season, and a Star Wars Land in the works for Disneyland. The latest news about Disney's mounting financial woes can only mean that the Star Wars profiteering will accelerate. Lucas, who referred to Disney's purchase of the rights as "selling his kids to the white slavers," may not have gone too far.

What Disney trades on is the commercialization of nostalgia, betting that parents will shell out large sums to share prescribed sentimental moments with their children. For the most part, they are right, and that is where Episode VII comes in. All most fans wanted from the new film, directed by J. J. Abrams, was something to wash the bad taste of George Lucas's prequel films out of their mouths. Abrams co-wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, apparently with the goal of slavishly reproducing a long list of the average fan's favorite moments from the first classic trilogy of movies. Sure, it is fun to wallow in memories as cameo after cameo features every possible one-time character or beloved concept from the old movies, but at some point the story has to stop trying to cash in on fan cravings and generate its own interest, which it just did not. Not only was the script full of hard-to-swallow plot holes, the new characters are flimsy and forgettable. (Spoilers ahead.)

Other Reviews:

New York Times | David Edelstein | Washington Post | The Atlantic | A.V. Club
Christian Science Monitor | Los Angeles Times | Rolling Stone | Wall Street Journal

The new movie takes place thirty years after the end of Episode VI. General Leia, princess no more, and Han Solo have a son, Kylo Ren, who takes his obsession with his grandfather Anakin's legacy too far and turns to the Dark Side. Adam Driver, so memorably pissed off and weird in the delightful Girls, here is anodyne and devoid of menace in the role. Equally vanilla performances come from Daisy Ridley (an almost completely blank slate) as the feisty Rey, a scavenger who turns out to have a gift with the Force, and John Boyega (equally unknown) as Finn, an imperial stormtrooper with a heart of gold.

The talents of Oscar Isaac (so excellent in Two Faces of January and Inside Lleywn Davis) are wasted on the role of Poe Dameron, who is apparently a really good fighter pilot or something. Sadly, the most vivid character work is done by the new droid, BB-8, who is important because -- you can probably guess this -- he contains super-important plans (revealing the location of Luke Skywalker). All of this is a double-shame because so much about the movie is superb. The art direction and effects are the most gorgeously realized of any Star Wars film, and John Williams has again produced a top-notch score, weaving in his old themes in heart-moving ways.

This movie is playing everywhere, around the clock.

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