“Practical effects steal the show”
Writer: Chris Kettner
The first time I saw The Force Awakens in theaters, I was not immediately sold on it. Sure it was fun enough, and it was definitely a much welcome break from Lucas’ style of movie making, but I left the theater a bit underwhelmed.
I recently came to the realization that I don’t love Star Wars for the stories. Don’t get me wrong; I love the stories, but I’m more into seeing how the movie got made from start to finish. After watching the bonus material for Star Wars the Force Awakens’ twice over, I am now a big fan of the movie and an even bigger fan of J.J. Abrams for delivering on his promises.
One thing that really sets Star Wars apart from other blockbuster films is its dedication to stunning visuals. When Abrams came out a couple years back and promised that his new Star Wars would feature more puppets and practical effects than the last two installments combined, though skeptical I was nonetheless thrilled. I’ve been lied to about this sort of thing in the past (I’m looking at you Jurassic World), so I went into the theaters with a healthy dose of cynicism.
Seeing the characters come to life on screen looked too good to be true. They looked too perfect to be puppets or practical effects. I assumed Disney copped out last second and went CGI with a lot of the visuals. That assumption lasted months until I watched the bonus segment on character creation. Instead of relying exclusively on CGI or exclusively puppetry, Star Wars The Force Awakens melded the two together so seamlessly that even my seasoned eyes couldn’t tell the difference.
Take Unkar Plutt, for example. I knew it was Simon Pegg in a suit. I saw photos of him during the weeks leading up to the premier. His character came to life in such a realistic manner, I was thoroughly convinced the studio decided against using a costume and instead did his whole character in post. Nope! It was, in fact, Simon Pegg in costume on set, acting the whole thing out. They added a CGI mouth and eyelids in postproduction to make Plutt more convincing. Well, color me impressed. Even in Maz’s castle, nearly every single beast was a costumed creation or a puppet. J.J. said he would bring back practical effects and holy hell did he ever.
One part of the movie that bummed out was the utter lack of Phasma. The bonus features continued to let me down by barely mentioning her at all. A few words are said about her character and costume, but they didn’t include the fact that her shiny armor came from Queen Amidala’s ship being melted down.
The deleted scenes were definitely deleted for a reason and didn’t add anything to the scenes they were chopped from.
One of the cooler segments shows how the Falcon was built, paying painstaking attention to every little detail. Toggle switches with springs was Harrison Ford’s only request. Seeing people’s’ reactions to a life-sized Falcon sitting in front of them made me so happy, and a bit envious of the few who got to run through it uninhibited like a kid in a candy store.
It was quite cool seeing familiar faces from past Star Wars documentaries return for The Force Awakens. Dennis Muren, John Williams, Lawrence Kasdan, all the people that made the original trilogy so beautiful, and so memorable, are back, and it shows.
The Force Awakens has problems, all major blockbusters do, but the visuals are not one of them. If you love Star Wars and love seeing how much blood, sweat and tears go into making these movies, The Force Awakens’ bonus features will leave you in a state of slack-jawed wonderment at exactly how much was done on camera. You can bad mouth J.J. Abrams all you want for making a movie that was “a blatant rip off of A New Hope,” but you’re wrong. I welcome our new creator with open arms. Thanks for a great movie, J.J., and thank you a million times over for your commitment to practical effects and wizardry.