I’m sure some of you have heard that there was a new Star War. Below are my thoughts on the film retelling.
The film was fine. It was fun and funny and interesting with good pacing and exciting visuals and endearing characters.
JJ Abrams basically makes hugely-expensive fan films, but this was not nearly as insufferable as what he left at the Star Trek altar. As many have pointed out on twitter, the film could not decide whether to be a relaunch or a sequel; and indeed this is the heart of many of the problems—the filmmakers (whether by their fault or under the pressure of someone else) are so burdened with paying service to the original movies (oh yeah, if you weren’t aware there are other Star Wars movies, you should go see those first) that they lose the impetus to make the film a classic.
The Force Awakens lacks any real sense of awe. Some of that is due to the music, which seems to be leftover scraps from the previous films. We must at least grant Lucas that in the prequels there were truly iconic, awe-inspiring moments and set pieces and worlds that were far more immersive than any desert or island or cantina visited in TFA. Even the cameos and wink-and-nod moments felt better earned in the prequels (the cameo/fanservice juice clearly ran out when it came to R2D2, by the way).
The best original, iconic moment we have in TFA is a spot-lit American Idol stage where Han Solo shows up to collect his massive paycheck while a vague weapon somehow sucks a sun into a planet for the universe’s largest flame thrower (why don’t they call the new DEATH STAR “SUN SUCKER”?)
My So Called Sith is a whiny teenager (if you haven’t, find the Emo Kylo Ren twitter feed) which may make for interesting sequels as he progresses into darkness under the supervision of (spoiler) BIG CGI BAD GUY whose name rhymes with JOKE. Kylo’s journey may turn interesting especially if (SPOILER, MAYBE) Rey really turns out to be his sister, or his cousin, making the central family theme Sibling v Sibling or Sibling v Cousin rather than Father v Son (they were banging the Rey’s Father Is Hear Somewhere drum pretty loudly). Hey, maybe twins run in the family.
The Fresh Prince of Far Far Away was okay but the Finn-isms were a little over the top and his whole journey was damn near close to one of those Troops video spoofs.. Especially when his scary silver supervisor Captain Phasma’s best lines are essentially “Oooooh you’re going to be in so much troubleeeeee.” Finn is intentionally a Han Solo-like character, but Han’s journey from “do it for the girl” to “do it for the girl and for the good” was far more organic, more earned, and more believable. Finn’s dialogue and significant moments are overly exclamatory and quite paint-by-numbers.
Luke was pretty cool. We sure had a long time to sit and stare at how cool, and intense, and bearded he is. We spent almost as much time just staring at him as he spends staring at the rock on the edge of his island. I see people all over the internet asking “What was he eating there all alone?” but come on, people, obviously he uses the force to catch sea birds and pluck them, or he uses the force to command interstellar take out along with his copies of Coastal Living.
The film missed two opportunities which I believe would have thickened the Star Wars fabric: when The Fresh Apprentice lights up Luke’s Saber at the planet where the little woman from THE INCREDIBLES supplies her heroes, Kylo should have spun around mid-action as he felt his grandfather’s saber activated. That would have rocked.
And Luke should have yanked that saber from Rey’s hand. C’mon, he’s not going to stay on that rock and we all know it. Let’s see it fly out of her hand. I get it, she needs to talk to him. But we all wanted to see that.
Rey going toe-to-toe with a Sith when she’s holding a lightsaber for the first time is problematic. It took Luke 3 whole movies to be able to do that. The Force is so cool because it must be taught, controlled, and disciplined. A relationship must be forged between the Lightsaber and the Jedi. Not just rocked out by some bedouin on her first try. And against James Bond, nonetheless.
All that coincidence in the first act (just how small IS this galaxy, anyway?) could have been easily explained away with a line about the force bringing them all together. Instead we got some nonsense in Wookie. The plot so telegraphed, in fact, that the Deus Ex R2D2 moment is completely inexplicable; the droid activates only when it is exactly the point in the plot when we need its information. No character earned this moment, no one discovered it, it is the kind of pure coincidence best reserved for the hero’s call to action.
There story lacks originality in pretty overt ways. Luke did exactly what Yoda did after f***ing up the training of his star pupil, again, just as Yoda did (Luke opted for a pouty hideaway a bit more above the water than Yoda, of course). They blew up a giant death sphere in more or less exactly the same way after spies (again) acquire secret plans that they hid in a droid.
The cameos were distracting. Abrams giving every actor that’s ever winked at him a cameo ultimately took one out of the Galaxy Far Far away and straight to the pages of Variety. Samuel L Jackson in the prequels worked because he played the part so well, because the world was otherwise so detailed, and because most of the cast (for better or much, much worse) were relatively unknown.
Side note: I would watch an entire BB-8 movie, but I suppose that’s what WALL-E is, so never mind.
The opening crawl was exciting, it was a thrill to see on screen once again. That thrill will diminish with each new galactic installment (can anyone say Thor 3?) and ultimately Star Wars won’t be nearly as special as it once was. There’s something to be said for leaving well enough alone—before the prequels perhaps were the best time to consider this.
Ultimately all of these problems seem to be part of a larger troubling trend in big-budget film making: movies aren’t built around story, they’re built around the trailer. Abrams is the “top” director in this sense. Of course, it works. It sells. But the Force is strong with a strong story. All in all, The Force Awakens was hugely fun but not hugely memorable.