Monday, January 04, 2016

Star Wars Force Awakens Review : C minus


April 2016

I have had the chance to watch this film at least 10 times now.  I would probably move it up to a B-.  I see now that my geekdom had a great influence on how I felt.  I DID know too much.  I WAS too invested in the Expanded Universe and it made it hard to enjoy what they changed.  I still hate what they did with the Force and I still think there were scenes where they didn't need to be all jokey.  The one that stands out now is the first interaction Poe has with Kylo where he cracks the "Who talks first" line.  It completely ruined the mood that had been established there.  Overall, though, it's not as bad as I originally thought.  The emotion did eventually come through and Finn got way less annoying.  I love Rey even more.   (End Update)

First off, if you haven't seen the film yet, leave now. There are SPOILERS. Plot reveals. You will know exactly what happens.  You have been warned.

Okay, I'm going to be up front with you guys here. I am NOT a prequel hater. I admit there are lots of problems in the the prequels, but overall I liked them. George Lucas didn't just copy what he had done before. He didn't use the nostalgia to buy his fans. He tried, rather clumsily, not always successfully, and sometimes cringingly, to create something new and expand the Star Wars Universe.  It was brave & it was crazy & I admire him for it.

Now, that being said, The Force Awakens is not original.  It DOES try to buy the fans with nostalgia, and it has. I have to wonder how many review sites Disney owns because the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.  Some of these people are the same people that constantly berate other movies & directors & writers for copying and not being original. These people scream about originality being a thing of the past. Yet, for some reason they ate this rehash up like it was the last cookie in the jar.

Director and Creater George Lucas is not part of the inner circle of Hollywood.  He doesn't belong to the Director's guild because he disagreed with them.  He's always been a bit of a rebel. I always liked that about him.  He's a true artist.  Maybe things didn't always work, but he never stopped trying to make something interesting & original. I think he thought he'd have more say even though Disney bought the rights.  He fought to keep Kathleen Kennedy as head of Lucasfilm.  I bet he's feeling a little betrayed.  I wish he hadn't felt he needed to sell. 


One of my biggest problems with this film is how it utterly destroys everything our original heroes fought for and accomplished as well as their bonds to each other.  Han is a failure. Leia is a failure. Luke is a failure. Even Chewbacca fails. A good storyteller doesn't have to tear down the existing story to tell a better or equal one.  A good storyteller can build on it.  J.J. Abrams destroys the Republic without even batting an eye. As an avid reader of all of the novels, I was devastated by the lack of emotion and simplicity of this destruction.  Our original heroes and the original movies were about restoring the Republic. Friends, family & loved ones of our characters died doing exactly that and "boom!" all of that is destroyed.  Han's kid gets in with the wrong crowd & he just runs back to the bar & criminal activity & blames it on Leia's bloodline.  Luke fails at training Jedi.  Ugh.  Leia fails to protect the Republic, raise a son, learn the Force, find her Brother or save her relationship. Wow. Chewie fails to honor his life debt to Han.  Wouldn't Chewie have helped raise Ben/Kylo?  Wouldn't he have been like an Uncle to him?  It didn't seem that way when Chewie shot him.  No hesitation.  No inner struggle with the situation.  Leia & Han have problems with Kylo, he slaughters the new Jedi and Luke just leaves when his friends and his SISTER when they need him the most?  When they all need each other the most?  These are not the people I grew up with.  These are not the bonds we saw form over the 3 films of the original trilogy.  Leia just lets Han leave?  Really?  She never would've let him leave.  She faced Jabba the Hutt just to get the bastard back.  Clearly Mr. Ford had a death wish for Han and it was finally honored.  It's well know he wanted the character to die in Empire & Jedi and the rumor is that was the only way he'd agree to sign.  Mr. Lucas might not have been an actor's director, but he certainly was a character director.  He knew those characters.  He understood their bond.  With this version, our characters relationships have eroded away to nothingness.  No bond, no love, no unity, no family, no connection.

Let's also talk about those of us who grew up with the expanded universe.  Those of us who found the politics in Star Wars so interesting.  Those of us who saw characters like Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar and so many others fleshed out in print.  The Republic flourish and change and rise and become something better & stronger.  To wipe out the Republic without so much as a tear was blasphemous to me.  I still don't know the fate of many of my favorite characters from the EU, but I was lead to believe that most, including Mon Mothma, perished with one shot, and no one really cared.  Leia would have been DEVASTATED.  Mon Mothma was a mentor to her.  Oh, but wait, Disney clearly said EU doesn't exist anymore.  Well, it's not that easy for me to simply wipe away 30+ years of world building.  I'm sorry.  I'm sure that's part of my own issues with this whole mess, but I assure you I'm not alone.

So, why is everyone else okay with this? Why is this being called an awesome movie? A Success!  Part of it is the psychology put in place BEFORE the movie was released. Abrams & Kennedy kept saying "History repeats itself." "Things always repeat themselves." "It's fun!"  "It honors what came before!" "It takes everything you love from the originals & adds something new!"  I keep seeing reviewers and those who love the film regurgitate these words.  I love Star Wars because it shows us that we can learn from our mistakes and we DON'T have to repeat the past. Star Wars was a hopeful optimistic tale of mysticism & balance & overcoming greed, revenge, slavery, fear, and oppression, but most of all connection.   Connection to each other as well as the greater whole.  The Force Awakens was not.  The Force Awakens tells us we can never overcome these things. We will never reach a higher plane.  We are destine to fail over & over again. We are not connected or bonded & even if we were, those bonds mean nothing.  They can crumble in an instant.  No matter what we've gone through together.  The outlook is bleak & rather dystopic.  Just like every other movie we've been fed since 9-11.  *sigh*  Where's the hope? Where's the strength & love? Where's the magic?

The Force was also misused.  The "old" Force just wasn't cool enough.  Everything now has to be over the top & steroided up. Patience & training are boring.  So, now you can capture and hold laser bolts while fighting a village despite not even having much formal training. You can mind rape people. That's so much cooler than using an interrogation droid.  Actually, I really hate this.  Jedi mind tricks are one thing...mind rape...ugh. The Force has been turned into a weapon & a silly magic trick and an invasive torture tool.  It's laughed at.  No one laughed at the Force before!  The Force was serious. It was something many of us believe in.  It was based on the best parts of all the great stories & philosophies that came before & now it's just a joke.  A steroided weapon to be used to FORCE people to do different things. The snark towards it in the movie turned my stomach a bit.  

Originality is so lacking in this movie. The costumes, the ships, and more are all old McQuarrie designs.  McQuarrie even imagined a female Jedi Skywalker & a spherical droid.  BB-8 uses a flash drive. I say uses, it just sits in a plastic tray. It didn't even plug in.  Lazy writing. Unimaginative. That's now tech.  R2 used a DVD before DVDs existed.  Where's the imagination? Where's the cool new stuff? Even the prequels succeeded there. We have a desert planet that isn't Tattoonie, but it is.  Moisture vaporators & all.  We have an Ice planet that isn't Hoth & a tree planet that isn't Endor. Where's the cool alien planets?  Speaking of aliens, where the hell are they?!  No Rodans? No Nautolans.  No Twi'leks.  No Ithorians.  No Grans. No Gamorreans. No Duros?  Just humans and maybe 5 new creatures?  Whatever Maz is, the big lug on the couch with evil Harley Quinn, the Monsters Han caught, and 3 or 4 aliens on Jakku.  Star Wars has always been filled with interesting and new forms of life.  This was 95 percent HUMANS.  Boring.  Unimaginative. 

 Despite being told we wouldn't be fed tons of CGI, we did get a large dose of it.  Snoke, Maz, and even Unkar Plutt were all CGI characters. Why did they build a costume for Simon Pegg if they were just going to CGI over it? There were more  practical effects in this film than the prequels though. I can't deny that. Yet, Snoke looked like the great & powerful Oz version of Gollum.  I won't even start with the 3rd Death Star thing.  Seriously, no one could imagine anything better?  I bet Lucas did.  We'll never know.

Despite all of this,  there were things I loved. Rey. Rey was a little more fleshed out than everyone else & I won't deny that it was cool seeing a female lead in a Star Wars movie. I did manage to care about her & do want to see what happens with her.  She better be a Skywalker, though.  Star Wars is about the Skywalkers.  If you want to spin off to another story, fine, just do it after the new trilogy.   BB-8 was nice, despite just being a round version of R2. Seeing Luke Skywalker again was awesome.  The nostalgia got me there. I was surprised by how annoying Finn was.  I went in expecting to love Finn, since I found John Boyega so cool in the interviews, but his character came off like an asthmatic fanboy.  Poe was a Mary Sue.  Seriously, the guy was perfect.  Perfect looks, perfect pilot, willing to help a stranger, found the missing piece of the map & destroyed Starkiller base.  All with a gorgeous smile.  I do sort of like Kylo.  I think he could be interesting.  It would have been more interesting to see how he came to this conclusion of Vader not finishing what he intended.  How he discovered his lineage.  What exactly happened to him BEFORE we got here.  Overall, I'm just so disappointed.  Disappointed & hurt.  I went to the movie with high hopes and left in tears.  I literally cried on the way home.

I know I'm in the minority.  I was disappointed with Phantom Menace as well, although it didn't make me cry, & I was in the minority then as well. I loved Qui-Gon but was annoyed by Jar Jar. I freaked out at the midichlorians thing, but Lucas went back & revised & explained it a bit.  People denied that it missed it mark at first. Force Awakens isn't a terrible film for a flashy action space film but it isn't great either.  That being said,  I will see the next one because I do care enough about Rey to want to see what happens to her.  I might not go to the theater to see it though.  I probably will.  

I don't buy the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" excuse either.  Maybe try first.  Of course, there is no try.  Do or do not.  They did not.

This review isn't meant to try & change anyone's mind.  It's just a way for me to voice my disappointment & to share my reasons.   Maybe reading all those novels & comics & being such a Luke fan & optimistic person has made my perspective different from the masses. Maybe it's because the Force was the thing that helped me get through the tough spots in my life & it's hard seeing that parodied in such a bad way.   Maybe it's because I refuse to believe people bonded so closely & who fought so hard would just give up on the important things in life & just become sad shadows of themselves..  I just hope the next one is better.  I hope they take it a little more serious.