The Force Awakens…

The Force Awakens has been out for a couple of weeks now. I hate the obsession with spoiler warnings on everything (people need to take some responsibility for their own internet click-choices, especially once things are on general release), but because such a big thing has been made about spoilers with this film, I’ll make it clear. Here There Be Spoilers!

 

I’ve been resisting writing up my thoughts on The Force Awakens since seeing it… For many, including friends of mine, it is THE Star Wars film they’ve long dreamed of, especially for those in their 30s/40s who have formative memories of the original trilogy as a cornerstone of their childhood. I get that. I really do. This is what we all hoped of the prequels… (Those hopes were cruelly dashed, whatever some Lucas apologists may now claim.)

And yet…

TFA has much to love.
– The new characters are interesting and (mostly) believable (Rey in particular is a highlight… Finn is interesting, but relies on “heavy breathing/shoulder-heaving” too much to show inner torment… remember that next time you watch!);
– there are some great (funny) lines of dialogue. With BB-8, they have cracked the challenge of the comic sidekick, without being naff;
– the special effects are (mostly) fantastic;
and it all just feels right. Star Wars-y.
Chewie… We’re home” indeed.

I made a mental note after the first scene that it gave us two characters that we care about, and at least one other that we’re interested in. This is about as much as any opening scene can do, for any film. There has even been some discussion about coded meanings behind the first line “This will begin to make things right”, as if Abrams wanted to insult George Lucas… seems unlikely to me, but this is in a different league to the prequels, and if this is the aim of the film, it delivers.

And yet…

The main bad guy, Kylo Ren, gets a bunch of screen time, showing us both his power and his vulnerability… Yes, there is the danger of some seeing this as Darth Tantrum (there is already a twitter account for “Emo Kylo Ren”, with thousands of followers), but the reality is more nuanced, more dangerous than that, his ragged lightsabre pulsing in tune with his anger. His lightsabre battle in the snow with first Finn, then Rey at the end, is amazing… especially the moment where Kylo tries to force pull the ‘sabre to his hand, only for it to fly past his face and into Rey’s outstretched hand, her powers in the ascendant. That is a fine cinematic moment, for any film.

And yet…

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark.

This feels too much like a fan-made reboot of the original Star Wars for me to love this as a stand-alone. This is not just a case of setting this within the Star Wars universe, or the standard “hero’s journey” arc that begets familiarity. Apologists who point to the way that the original Star Wars painted its references on its sleeves (Flash Gordon, WW2 cinematic dogfights, Seven Samurai, etc) are missing the point – that took a RANGE of influences and melded them into one whole. It did not look to ONE reference point and remake that with bells, whistles, nods, winks, and a more diverse cast.

When we learn about Starkiller Base, and the plan to destroy it in a decidedly-Death Star-style, I was thinking “didn’t we just leave this party?

I loved the start of the film, introducing us to Poe, Finn, and Rey… and then Han Solo turned up, doing exactly what he was doing thirty years ago. Would you watch Ferris Bueller’s Midlife Crisis, with Ferris acting exactly the same as he did thirty years ago? It could work as a tragedy, but not a comedy… and yet here we are in Star Wars, playing the same beats. Han is also too old to be a believable action hero (Harrison Ford is older than Alec Guinness was in the original Star Wars), sneaking around Starkiller Base without so much as a support team this time ‘round.

Would you watch Ferris Bueller’s Midlife Crisis, with Ferris acting exactly the same as he did thirty years ago?

Han is central to the film, and his death provides the “gasp” moment that the spoiler-averse are trying to protect (his death is telegraphed, yet it still hits you in the gut), BUT the amount of screen time he is given means that the focus is taken off the new generation, to the film’s detriment. He is also central to by far the worst scene in the film, where the rathtars are accidentally set loose on the Falcon… this brought to mind the prequels, and not in a good way. A splurge of pointless CGI, a convenient way out for characters… and no feeling of genuine threat to the characters (the rathtars kill everyone immediately, except for Finn).

Still, this does distract from the fact that Han managed to find the Falcon the moment it took off from Jakku, despite having been apparently searching fruitlessly for years before. Ah, those beloved SW plot holes… I suppose that is consistent with the originals too…

There are narrative problems with the film, too, that get glossed over… I can’t claim to understand the magnitude of what was destroyed by Starkiller, or how the New Republic worked, or whether the First Order has further resources elsewhere in the galaxy, or how big the Resistance is, or why in a galaxy of billions the Resistance seems to be made up of about fifty humans and a token handful of aliens, or even why Maz had Anakin/Luke’s lightsabre (in an unsecure box)…

There is always a balance between exposition and explosions, but a bit more context would have been nice…

Not to mention other problems, like Chewie being completely ignored by Leia after Han’s death, and Chewie just walking off to hang around with other pilots at the edge of the screen, as Leia hugs Rey (who, for all we know, only met her five minutes ago).

The internet has been working overtime since the film, making links, filling in plot holes, coming up with ridiculous explanations for each character’s back story. Congratulations, Abrams, you’ve got a lot of people in a frenzy, and all the speculation, sensible and wild, will only help with the marketing of future Star Wars films. I understand this, but still think there could have been a place to tell a more cohesive, less derivative story, rather than an extended set-up for the sequels. Ironically, this is something that A New Hope did really well…

This is not tall poppy syndrome, or trying to be ‘cool’ by not liking the biggest film of all time, or being critical for the sake of it. This is the genuine regret of someone who loved Star Wars, until this film. (As blogged at length previously: https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/star-wars/ ). Now, despite one last night together with some amazing fireworks, I can see that we are heading in different directions. Maybe I’ve just grown, grown up, changed, gone respectable… but this is a goodbye from me.

Yes, I’ll still watch the coming onslaught of Star Wars films, but I won’t be queuing desperately to see it within days of release… I might even wait for the DVD. I will enjoy it, I’m sure, but a large part of that enjoyment will be the parental thrill of seeing the joy on my son’s face. This is his to love now.

So long, Star Wars, and thanks for all the lightsabres.

 

——————————————————–

For those who just can’t get enough of The Force Awakens, there are a number of links below that you may be interested in. I don’t agree with all of these articles, but all are worth a quick read.

If you are in the 5% who didn’t enjoy the film, for whatever reason, you’re not alone:
http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/fans-divided-over-star-wars-the-force-awakens/?utm_source=facebook

http://movieweb.com/star-wars-force-awakens-everything-wrong/?page=11

Salivating for more? These are questions that need to be addressed in VIII and IX:
http://io9.gizmodo.com/33-questions-we-desperately-want-answered-after-star-wa-1748953034

http://movieweb.com/star-wars-force-awakens-unanswered-questions/

Another way of viewing “questions that needs answers” is that they are plot holes… :
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/40-unforgivable-plot-holes-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens_b_8850324.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/20-more-plot-holes-from-s_b_8856844.html

Kylo Ren is everything that Anakin Skywalker should have been, and other prequel comparisons:
http://io9.gizmodo.com/kylo-ren-is-everything-that-anakin-skywalker-should-hav-1749606647

http://now.howstuffworks.com/2015/12/28/10-times-the-force-awakens-nods-the-star-wars-prequels

Remake, or not? I disagree with this one (it seems to confuse a shot-for-shot remake with a remake/re-boot, for one thing):
http://mashable.com/2015/12/23/force-awakens-is-no-remake/#j2ugCj2KZsqQ

This one goes too far, but it does make some interesting points about the “Disney-fication” of Star Wars (anyone remember Winnie the Pooh?), and the drum beat of “money, money, money” behind it:
http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-star-wars-the-force-awakens-stinks-20151226-column.html

FWIW, this review most closely matches my own views (and how much would I have loved to see Han in a t-shirt saying “You’re damn right I shot first”!):
http://www.theverge.com/2015/12/18/10543196/star-wars-the-force-awakens-a-new-hope-nostalgia

May the Force be with you, whatever your view of The Force Awakens!

 

TFA

 

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Author: Al Lane

Writer, Poet, Daydreamer

39 thoughts on “The Force Awakens…”

  1. You described here most of my sentiments, and what especially sounds true is the ending. I took my baby brother to the premiere and seeing him so happy watching it was priceless. So ye, I will still que for releases, sport light sabers and what not, but the plot and the general movie ways (the pointless CGI you mention, and while we are on the same scene, I was a tad bit disappointed that in such a vast universe the Asian pirates sounded, well, just like Asian pirates?) are for me hinting that my Star Wars era is over.

    1. Thanks Oloriel… Glad to know I’m not alone! The issue re the accents is an interesting one, in getting that balance between exotic and “different”, without using racist stereotypes or something too recognisable and “Earth-y”. I thought the same about the Scottish and Asian pirates in that scene

      1. It is precisely about balance, but also a tiring commodity to see countless of original alien species suddenly speaking plain old English. Perhaps my age again, but I think a nice example of this is Yoda. He does not speak too extravagantly to comprehend for an alien, but you know and feel he is a different creature than a human because of the way he talks, plus I see it as less of a racial stereotype(truth be told, if you try you can get a jab at anything). The whole pirate gang scenes seem unnecessary anyways, making this detail all the more annoying, when knowing it could have been made much better, for such an iconic franchise, with just a little bit of creativity and voice acting. I even read an article spurred from some fans pointing out Finn talks in American accent while Miss R does not, where fans pointed out it is something that was cared for in the original movies, to show the status difference of the characters, with Leia speaking in the movies in a different accent to people of different social statuses. They took care of following up on that, but then Asian pirates, it just makes no sense to me 🙂

        1. Having heard John Boyega’s normal accent, I can see why they didn’t want to use that 🙂 – but if you do get a chance to see/hear him interviewed, it’ll be worth tuning in for. He’s very entertaining, and down to earth

  2. What’s funny, is this is pretty much what I expected to hear, should people decide to be completely honest about the experience. I will most likely watch the DVD but in case I do not, I believe I will not feel as though I missed anything. <3

    1. I think there’s something to be said for seeing one reasonable version of Star Wars on the big screen… but if you have fond memories of A New Hope, then perhaps leave it at that. Maybe it’s like going to see your favourite band, who’ve been around for many years, and are now touring a new album. Does anyone really want to hear the new versions of their old songs (I’m thinking of Bob Dylan), or do they just want to share with a crowd of like-minded people the joy of hearing the originals, as they remember them?

  3. Mr Al loveth it not.
    But I think it’s probably the best Star Wars film in terms of characterisation. The plot is largely irrelevant (which is a shame).
    The bits I saw of Rey in the trailers didn’t fill me with much hope but I really, really liked her. Finn gave us an angle I’d always wanted to see: the stormtrooper ordered to commit atrocities and who realises he can’t do it. And Han & Chewie are back, hurray! And Poe seems to be set up to be the new devil may care hero. And the perfect amount of droids. And no annoying characters. And a very interesting baddie in Kylo Ren.
    If only JJA had not gone for the ‘blow up the Death Star’ plot again…
    As for a couple of other issues:
    – Han finds the Falcon as soon as they take off: Meh, coincidences – Hollywood is full of ’em
    – Han is doing the same job: yes, but it’s the same job he was doing in his 30s, not when he was 17, so your Ferris Bueller analogy doesn’t really work
    – use of accents: I like the use of regional accents & dialects. Some people (generally brought up on standard US & southern English accents in TV & film) seem to find it jarring. But think about how people from different worlds would talk when speaking the same language – they would all have pronounced accents so why not use ones we already have? It makes the point about being different without the nonsense of inventing a funny voice. As an example, there was a 1970s English translation of Aristophanes’s plays and to illustrate the cultural difference between Athens & Sparta the author gave the Spartans Yorkshire accents. Which is why I really liked the psycho Scottish pirate. Admittedly the rathtar scene is kind of irrelevant, the main purpose being to get the into the Falcon (and show Han to be the cocky, mouthy crook he always was, and to show that Rey & Finn already have a strong connection). The CGI was passable but I don’t have major gripes about the scene as a whole.

    I still think that this was more of a scene-setter and am hoping for much more plot originality in VIII & IX. I will see it again & buy the DVD. The Force was strong in this one…

    1. I think the Death Star plot is key. If JJ had taken a different tack at that point, we’d probably be in agreement – there’s always stuff to nitpick over, but that’s more minor in the scale of things.

      I thought Rey was a big hit, but have been reading today some articles on her as the “Mary Sue”, perfect-at-everything character (piloting, using the Force, lightsabre fighting, speaking every language), which makes some valid points. Similarly, for Finn, although it was great to go “inside the helmet”, I was never convinced by his sudden turn against his training, especially when the point was made that he’d never shown any signs of insubordination before. That felt undercooked. It’s difficult to say at this stage whether that’s a failure of characterisation, or something that will be developed in later films, but there are an awful lot of those question marks hanging over the film – certainly a lot more than an audience would have felt after A New Hope.

      I tried my Ferris Bueller line on my wife – I don’t know why he was the one that occurred to me – and her response was “depends who’s directing”!… but I still think it a bit sad that the character is unchanged in all of that time. In fact, if Han had been brought in in the way that the Falcon had been – untimely dragged from his retirement, gathering dust somewhere, that would have worked so much better!

      1. I agree that Rey does seem perfect at many things but she does seem a bit bewildered by it all, which does compensate somewhat. I think that there may be more surprises ahead with Finn; there are subtle indications that he is having some kind of awakening too (could be the Force, but obviously not to the extent of Rey).
        Still not convinced about Han doing anything different to essentially living the dream of pootling about in a souped-up spaceship doing a few deals with the odd colourful character – and then some bugger nicks your ship. I’d go looking for it too. After a few years of Generaling and a bit of family life that gets a bit awkward, don’t underestimate the lure of a fast vehicle, the open spaceway and a best mate who doesn’t argue 😉

          1. And grumbling about modern music. Then they retune the space radio and pick up the Cantina band playing the old favourite.
            “That’s more like it…”
            “RrrrAaaOooaaagghh”
            🙂

  4. I haven’t seen the film yet, but probably will at some point before it leaves the big screen, which gives me a bit of time. There is a certain bitterness about that, with, yes, some intelligentsia snobbery, because as I mentioned when I wrote about “The Danish Girl,” we missed it the first time around because it was gone in less than a week. I don’t blame the theater, if no one shows up for it, time to use that screen the new Peanuts movie. When we did see “The Danish Girl” on Christmas Day, TFA was, of course, in full swing, with multiple screens and a plethora of starting times. We watched our film with three other people in the theater, not counting the two that walked out early on when they discovered what the film was really about. So five people from the greater Scranton area to see a critically acclaimed (well-deserved in my opinion) film.

    I definitely love my low-brow along with my high-brow films and such. From “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to “Serenity” to”Kung Fu Hustle,” I love my twisted amounts of blood, special effects, and fight scenes, not to mention kitschy and schmaltzy romantic comedies. I was twelve when the original “Star Wars” hit the theaters, and while I enjoyed it, even then I found most of the characters annoying except for Chewie and CP-30, and somewhat so with Han. I don’t think the trilogy had that much impact on my formative years (as opposed to someone like my step-brother who my age). By the time the third one came out, I waited to watch it on television.

    I say this not as an attempt to make myself superior to those who pulled into the film like the Falcon was into the Death Star. It just simply didn’t resonate with me, which makes it hard to wrap my brain around those who get into a frenzied state over TFA. At the same time, I’m sure that it is reversed in many cases with them trying to wrap their brains around my obsession as a youth with “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” spending nearly every Friday and Saturday (mid)night watching the film for a couple of years.

    The main reason I have put all this out there is that regardless of my feelings about the cultural institution that is the Star Wars series, I thought your review of the film was incredibly awesome. I would say that one of the writing art forms I particularly enjoy is a well-written movie review (which is almost impossible to do without putting in spoilers). There are three facets of a great review: one is the analysis of the movie itself. If one has not seen said film, this facet tends to become the framework for other two more interesting facets.

    The second facet is the analysis of the film as a one among others in the genre and art form that is cinema, An example of this, so well and concisely written is: “Apologists who point to the way that the original Star Wars painted its references on its sleeves…are missing the point – that took a RANGE of influences and melded them into one whole. It did not look to ONE reference point and remake that with bells, whistles, nods, winks, and a more diverse cast.”

    The third facet is using the film to delve into grander realm of society, cultural, and the human condition. Obviously this is not the main point of the review, but when a great nugget is thrown in, it turns a good review great. One great example of this is: “Would you watch Ferris Bueller’s Midlife Crisis, with Ferris acting exactly the same as he did thirty years ago? It could work as a tragedy, but not a comedy…” Suddenly, not only am I transported to a non-existent film that I can see so clearly, but I do so through the assertion it can only work as tragedy, not comedy, forcing me to agree or disagree the assertion. In this particular case, I would agree, but now find myself pondering the nature of that tragedy, why it is a tragedy (and not just tragic).

    So on your review: two thumbs up.

    1. Thank you for these generous comments, ET. Writing reviews is fairly new to me, and I hadn’t thought about it structurally as you have described (I will from now on). One conscious choice was to skip the plot recap that opens so many reviews… because as a reader, I always do the same, and the mechanics of what happens within the story are often less interesting than the way that that story is told.

      I think there is a piece worth writing on the corporatisaton/Disney-fication of cinema and merchandising, at the expense of other films/art forms. This seems to match the growth in supermarkets at the expense of smaller, specialist shops… as consumers, we complain about the effects of this process (fewer local stores/ possibility of seeing smaller films at the cinema), while also acting and voting with our wallets to ensure that this trend only continues. Perhaps I’ll continue this train another day…

      1. It is definitely some a train I would look forward to. Just a quick similar example in politics: people complain about politicians being slick hucksters, but when it comes down to voting, the guy or gal who is down-to-earth, not made-for-television, espousing in-depth policies usually doesn’t stand a chance when people cast their vote, thus ensuring this trend only continues.

  5. I think the movie is so popular mostly because of its nostalgic element. I haven’t seen it, but I keep hearing how much people enjoyed seeing the original Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Luke Skywalker.

  6. Well, I think I pretty much told you already what I felt. I’m not totally disappointed, going to watch TFA gave me an opportunity to view the 6 other episodes again, so there’s that!
    I was disappointed in Poe, I wondered how Finn could be black since in previous movies, the storm troopers were clones, the explanation given was vague at the most.
    As I said somewhere, sometime (can’t remember whether I wrote it or said it to someone IRL), I don’t understand the last 5 minutes. To me, the only reason they’re there is so that all old characters are in the movie. Which is kind of sad!
    There are many things that I wish had been clearer. I would have liked for this film to be a stand alone, not just an introduction to the upcoming ones (reeks of greed to me, if people don’t understand, then they want to go see the sequel).
    All this said… I’ll probably go see the sequel with my kids (who should all be old enough to see it by the time it comes out). Because I like the idea of the force. 🙂

    1. They did mention that the storm troopers were no longer clones – the current troopers had all been taken at birth and indoctrinated from an early age. I really hope that the speculation that Finn is Lando’s son is false… that would be a pointless tie-in too far.

      If you like TED talks (I’m kind of obsessed!), then JJ Abrams did a good one a few years back (pre-SW) on “the mystery box”. It explains his love of leaving people hanging, with the audience desperate to know the bits that have been left out… it’s a good storytelling trick… obviously it leaves some of us frustrated too though!

      1. I know they mentioned it. But very briefly, in passing, there is no back story, nothing. Who are the other ones? Why isn’t thre more secession?
        I don’t care whether Finn is Lando’s son or not. What I want to know if it’s the case is how did he get there? Why was he taken? Again, too many unanswered questions.
        I understand leaving people hanging, makes for a better sale the next time around. But when you leave them hanging on ALL threads in the script, it just gets boring. 🙂

    2. If you mean the last five minutes where Rey finds Luke, that’s there because the entire movie, including everything involving Starkiller Base, was about finding Luke. The opening crawl laid it out with the first sentence. Luke Skywalker is missing.

      1. Well, she seems to have no problem finding him when she decides to go. Wonder what was preventing her or anyone else to do so before… 🙂
        Again, it’s one of those things that should have been left out from the opening crawl then, just like Poe. I would have preferred they take more time to explore the what/where/why/how with those characters we DO get to know, rather than introduce characters without developing them at all…

        1. Dawn, I don’t mean to argue with you, but until the very end of the movie, after the Starkiller base blew up and Rey returned, no one knew where to find Luke. BB-8’s map with the location was not useful without the larger reference map that R2 then provided. I will completely agree that R2 deciding to wake up and say “Boop” (translation: Oh, you people need this big map I have?) was really a bit too convenient. But the fact that no one knew where Luke was, was preventing anyone from going to him.

          Poe’s getting his own movie, so details were left out to let the script writers not be constrained. As well as the next director, Rian Johnson, who pretty much has free rein since JJ deliberately kept things ambiguous.

          I appreciate your preference that you’d rather this movie be standalone, as opposed to a to be continued. But the best movie of the original trilogy (I still like Star Wars better) was The Empire Strikes back, which featured a huge cliff-hanger.

          1. True about the map. But yes, why does R2 wake up then? This isn’t answered at all, not even hinted at.
            As for cliff-hangers, I like them. I just don’t like when everything goes all over the place!
            Don’t misunderstand, I enjoyed the movie, it was nice entertainment, but… I’d have prefered for the movie to stand alone a bit more, until the cliff-hanger. For example… how does Rey find Luke? What is their relationship? Why did Luke flee?
            I felt the only reasin Luke was there was to be able to say all the ‘old’ characters were there. It felt really fake to me. If it had been brought better along, if the whole movie had been about finding Luke and that had been made clear throughout the movie, in ways that were more than just a sentence here or there… I don’t know, it seemed a bit alien to the movie to me. 🙂

            1. I can’t give a good reason for R2, other than he’s a sneaky withholding monster. But the movie did reinforce the Luke stuff, a lot. Poe was searching for info on Luke. The First Order grabbed Poe to find out what he knew. BB-8 was loose with the key to finding Luke. When BB-8 slipped from the Order’s grasp, Hux lobbied successfully to strike at the Republic Senate/Fleet so if the Resistance gets the key to finding Skywalker, they wouldn’t be able to leverage Republic support. Snoke was consistently more concerned about Skywalker than anything else.
              I appreciate that it didn’t work for you though, and I’m not trying to say how you feel is invalid.

              1. I agree with you, it did reinforce it a lot. I guess it just didn’t manage to make it stand out enough that I realised that’s what the whole film was about. To me, it felt more like a succession of various events, vaguely linked to one another… I don’t mind the idea that Poe gets his own movie, but if it’s the case, then don’t make him seem so important in the roll of this one, Just introduce him through the action. I mean, we’re told he’s the best pilot of the Universe, yet we hardly see him fly or fight…
                I appreciate your willingness to discuss this with me. I’ll go watch the next one. I just hope that one is more of a standalone than this 🙂
                It’ll always be time

                1. Dawn, I’m happy to talk to you about this. I will say that we do see Poe excel as a pilot. There’s an unbroken sequence during the aerial fight at Maz Kanata’s place, where the camera tracks Poe’s black X-Wing from Finn’s point of view, where Poe blows up 11 TIE Fighters in succession. It’s boom, boom, boom, boom… It’s kind of awesome watching him do that. That’s when Finn exclaimed “that’s one hell of a pilot.”

                  We’ll see how standalone it is, but I suspect it’ll be less derivative of the two trilogies.

                  Maybe…

    1. An interesting piece, if a little quick to thank “the Force” for every convenient plot device. I also disagree with its opening statement that you either love it or you hate it… I loved much of it, but overall was just left with the feeling of “that was okay, but I’ve seen most of that before”. Each to their own 🙂

  7. Hey, I enjoyed reading your article. And thank you for reading my The Force Awakens posts on my site. You’ve given me a lot to think about (but those thoughts will have to wait until I finish up my final post in my series where I talk about my major issues with the film.)

    I’m a classic apologist in many things (man, I work overtime defending Game of Thrones sometimes) and TFA is no exception, but I enjoying hearing things from both sides. After I’m done with my final (for now) post on TFA, I’ll come back and leave some more comments.

    And thanks for all the links to other things to check out.

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