Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

At Star Wars


The Woman got us two tickets at Angelika (reserved recliner seats, beverage and food service) for a 3D viewing for $39.00 plus $6.25 for a small bag of popcorn. It’s been a long time since that first Star Wars movie in 1977 when I paid something like $2.25 for my ticket.

The Cultural Phenomenon

Star Wars must be the biggest event since 9/11 that brought people together in the United States. What is it with this? It’s just a movie, right? Yet, my Facebook feed is full of families taking selfies (like we did above) of themselves at the theater.

This phenomenon is different from any other movie I know. Is it because the franchise spans generations? I was as fascinated with the very first Star Wars movie in 1977 as I was with this one now. I never would have thought in 1977 that I’d walk out of the theater after watching Episode VII almost 40 years later and within an hour call up my 27-year-old son to discuss the movie, particularly since 1977 was many years before I had even met the mother of my children.

It’s partly because of its timelessness that Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon.

The non-Plot [minor spoiler]

There really is no plot to speak of. Luke Skywalker disappeared a long time ago and there is a secret map that supposedly leads to him. The First Order (the bad guys) want the map because Luke is the last Jedi and they have to get to him to eliminate him before The Force challenges them. The map is in the cute little droid. Epic space battles ensue to get the droid. In the end, do they find Luke?

Star Wars never was about plot, and this continues to hold now. Star Wars is about special effects, imagination and dreams. It’s a fairy tale.

My Favorites

Star Wars 1
[click to enlarge]
There are several effects about Star Wars that are my favorites. I love the relics of crashed spacecraft which were present in every episode, including this one. The picture above is of a giant, kilometer-long battle cruiser crashed on a desert planet. Never mind that a hulk of metal this size is not likely to just come to a skid-landing like an airliner would, mostly intact. Upon reentry, it would cause a crater the size of Rhode Island, cause an extinction event and leave no trace of itself other than globules of molten metal. But that aside, it’s really cool to see the Millennium Falcon fly into the engine opening and then traverse the hulk at top speed, just like you’d expect in a Star Wars movie.

I also like the realistic portrayal of transportation technology, whether that’s the levi-cycle or the beat-up metal shells of the fighter craft that somehow always are immediately space-ready.

The Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s ancient ship, plays a major role in this episode, and I enjoyed seeing how the ship they call a piece of junk just lifts off, lumbers a bit, scrapes into the ground and mountains as it makes its way into the air and into space, and finally into hyperspace in just a matter of seconds. I want to fly that ship.

Then there are the aliens. Consistent with my expectations, there is always a bar scene where all manner of aliens congregate and speak mostly English, except for the very bizarre ones that only chirp, burp or growl.

Star Wars Aliens
Photo Credit: Vanity Fair Magazine. [click to enlarge]
Even though most of them are humanoid, with a weird head, two legs and two arms that bend like those of humans, I could watch hours of footage of Star Wars aliens. In my opinion they are the most realistic of all cinematic aliens and alone worth watching the movie for.

Finally, I always get a kick out of the hoodies in Star Wars. The old emperor of the dark side used to wear a full-length burka-style robe made out of rough-hewn material with a hood that hid his face. The new bad guys also wear black robes, with hoods, and the good guys wear gray and white robes, with hoods. It makes me want to get one of those and wear it to work, so my colleagues will think I am really into “the future” of a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.


Now that Disney has bought the franchise from George Lucas, and the movie is pegged to make more money than any movie in history, we can be assured that there is a future for Star Wars. I will continue to watch the sequels, and so will my eventual grandchildren. They will post selfies of themselves at the theater, and they will be able to tell their kids that their grandpa was there, alive, back in the last century, when the first episode burst into American cultural history.

Rating - Three Stars

Movie Review: The Martian

The Martian

In the near future, six astronauts are on a mission to explore Mars. They are scheduled to be there for 31 days, performing scientific experiments. On day 18 an unexpected storm strikes and threatens to topple their ascent vehicle, stranding them all without hope for rescue. They decide to abort and leave. In the hustle back to the vehicle, one of them gets struck by flying debris from a broken antenna. When they can’t find him and he does not respond, the captain must make the decision to stay and search for him, dooming them all, or leave him for dead. They leave.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up a few hours later half buried in sand, with his oxygen alarms going off. He is impaled by an antenna rod, but he was lucky that this blood and the cold sealed his punctured suit and kept him alive.

Mark makes his way back to the habitat, operates on himself, and as he recovers he realizes he is completely alone on a planet, with rescue capability years in the future, in a habitat that was designed for a month, and with a total food supply of less than a year. And worst of all, he has no way to communicate to Earth or his crew, and nobody even knows that he is alive.

But Mark is a botanist, and a mechanical engineer, and he has lots of time.

The Martian is based on the novel by Andy Weir, which I have read and reviewed six months ago. The movie, surprisingly for a science fiction story of this complexity and with this kind of detail, follows the book’s plot quite closely and focuses on those parts that lend themselves to visualization. Thus, the movie does not replace the book, but it supplies superb visuals. I loved the shots of their spaceship, with its rotating crew habitats and the internal passageways to and from them. There were some great shots of crew members spinning around looking outside and observing the docking ports.

I also enjoyed very much the rescue mission and the problems with orbital trajectory matching. Ten feet per second does not sound like a large velocity when you just say it, but catching a human in orbit traveling at that speed is equivalent to standing at a railroad crossing, watching a slow-moving freight train rolling by, and catching somebody jumping off it. Go try that sometimes!

All in all, The Martian is a great science fiction movie with a plausible plot and a very human story.

Mark Watney is somewhat of a wise guy, and his dry humor actually makes for a funny movie.

If you have read and liked the book, you will most likely enjoy this movie. If you go and see the movie first, you’ll still want to read the book for endless additional detail.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars

Valkyrie – the Movie

Tom Cruise stars in this movie as a German colonel during WW II, under Hitler’s regime. Most people don’t know that Hitler had systematic internal opposition in Germany, and there were at least 15 attempted assassinations. This movie, based on actual facts, chronicles the last one, which took place on July 20, 1944, just nine months before Hitler eventually committed suicide.

We are conditioned to think of all Germans in uniform during the Nazi regime as monsters. This film helps set the record straight. There were good people and soldiers with conscience in Germany who risked their lives and the lives of their families for the good in humanity and the honor of Germany.

In this case, to no avail, as we all know from history.

Cruise does an excellent job in the portrayal of a German officer. We are riveted to our seats  as we watch  the dangerous coup unravel. And we learn some history that we likely didn’t know anything about.

Rating:  ***