So, I was out at Walmart looking for various things, and stopped by the Electronics department to look for USB drives, and saw the Blu-Ray/DVD Collectors Edition of “The Force Awakens” at what for me was a reasonable price. Now, I had heard lots about it, but hadn’t seen it, and so felt some trepidation about buying it … but I figured I’d buy it anyway, so decided, hey, why not?
Now, I’m not the ideal person to review it because I already knew pretty much all of the story before going in, so I won’t be surprised at any of the shocking plot points. On the other hand, in a way that makes me a more ideal person to review it because I can focus more on how that was presented rather than just on what’s happening. So, call it a wash, mostly.
So, what’s my overall impression of the movie? I thought it was hollow.
It has a lot of the same problems that I thought the Get Smart movie had: it seems to try to hit the same notes that the original Star Wars movie had, but doesn’t understand what it is about them — and about the universe itself — that made them great in the first place. And this starts from the opening crawl, which starts with the shocking reveal that … Luke Skywalker has vanished. And then that there’s a First Order that rose from the ashes of the Empire that wants to find and kill Luke … and presumably take over the galaxy, if they haven’t already, because maybe they have (this idea is contradicted later). Princess Leia is leading a resistance, and sends her best pilot to find something about Luke.
Now, if we look at the original Star Wars and even at “The Phantom Menace”, the crawls were about galaxy-spanning events, and set-up things that were important to that struggle. Sure, in “The Phantom Menace” we really aren’t sure why the taxation of trade routes and the blockade of a small planet are all that big a deal, but we know that the bigwigs of the galaxy thought that this was important. Here … sure, Luke’s important and being the last Jedi is interesting and all, but we don’t even know if the First Order has Force users on its side yet. Is finding Luke really the most important thing at the moment? Heck, why does the First Order even care about Luke? Is he the last leader they need to eliminate after the destroyed the Rebel Base and eliminated Mon Mothma or something? Are we playing Star Wars: Rebellion here?
As it turns out … this doesn’t get any better throughout the movie. They drop hints that Luke went away to search for some kind of important temple, which might be a good reason for the First Order to want to find the map … but that being their main motivation would contradict the crawl. We also never find out what the actual status of the galaxy is; they imply that there is a New Republic that is supporting the Resistance, and is something that the First Order sees as a threat, which is why they want to use their superweapon on it. But we never find out how powerful the Republic is or even what the relative strengths of these two main factions are. Are they delicately balanced, so much so that the Republic and the First Order don’t dare engage in open war with each other for fear that the other side might win? Is the Republic just so much more powerful than the First Order so that they need to cripple it before they can even hope to take them on? Or has the Republic been mostly crushed and is mostly hiding, but still funneling resources to the Resistance, so that if you take out their main base it’ll all be over? Is the Republic, in terms of power, more like the Empire, or like the Rebellion? We never find out.
One of the complaints about the Prequel Trilogy might be that it focused too much on boring politics. But another criticism might be that its political situations made no sense since it didn’t take the time to explain them properly. In “A New Hope”, we get a couple of succinct scenes that tell us what’s going on: the Rebels have struck at the Empire and won a space victory, the Senate might start favouring the Rebellion if they find out what happened to Princess Leia, but before they can find out and before it can matter Palpatine has dissolved the Senate and turned everything over to the Sector Governors to control. Simple and succinct … but it lets us know what’s going on in the galaxy and why all of this matters. There’s nothing like that in “The Force Awakens”.
Even the superweapon is shallow. There’s no mention of this weapon at all … until, at the end, with a kind of “And, oh yeah, they have a superweapon and are going to wipe out the Republic. Look, there it goes!” which comes across as nothing more than an attempt to set-up the final battle scene. In “A New Hope”, the Death Star was the key component of the movie, and when it is activated we see, through Princess Leia’s eyes, how devastating an impact it has. But while the weapon in “The Force Awakens” is more powerful, the emotional weight just isn’t there. It’s really just a test, and a demonstration that something must be done to stop it … but there’s no emotional gravitas there. Finn even cares far more about Rey than he does about the weapon firing off, despite being there and knowing exactly what it can do.
Which leads us to the characters. A lot could be forgiven if the characters were interesting and appealing … but they aren’t. Let’s start with Poe Dameron, who gets mentioned in the opening crawl … and then is barely seen for the rest of the movie. What do we know about him? What’s his personality like? Who is he? We get absolutely nothing, except for him to come rushing to the rescue on one scene and do presumably amazing flying at the end to finish the weapon off. So he’s a cardboard cutout, not a major character.
So let’s turn to Rey, who might be the main character of the movie. Now, when we were introduced to Luke, we learned things about him before we got caught up in his story. We learned that he wanted to join the Imperial Academy, and was stopped by his uncle. We learned that he was too much like his father, which his uncle thought was a bad thing. We learned that his father had been a Jedi. We knew things about him, and his personality was developed in tons of little ways all through the intro and the movie itself. This … didn’t happen for Rey. She had no one to play off of, and so all we get are some snippets of her life … which, disturbingly, looked more like Anakin’s from “The Phantom Menace” than Luke’s from “A New Hope”. We pick up little details — like that she’s waiting for her family to return for her — and she is presented as someone who kinda cares for others, like the droid — which is why her turning down the movie for the droid ought to surprise no one — but beyond that … who is she? She comes across, a lot of the time, like petulant brat, particularly in the ill-advised scenes where she rails at Finn for taking her hand. She doesn’t come across at all like a strong, capable character … and, in fact, it’s really hard to say what her personality actually is from watching the movie.
That being said, I don’t see her as being that much of a Mary Sue as others think. Her repairs on the Falcon mostly are just her knowing what was done to it, her fighting off the thugs isn’t that much of a surprise for a heroine in these sorts of movies, and that she’s an excellent pilot isn’t all that much of a stretch. Arguably, the only reason no one else does much is that, well, there’s not much to do for anyone.
Finn, on the other hand, comes across as craven and cowardly, not as someone who abandoned the stormtroopers out of morality. He acts nervous and shaky throughout the entire battle, and not only when they are asked to exterminate the villagers. He’s goofy, incompetent, and stupid most of the time. He risks the entire mission to destroy the superweapon by lying to say that he can shut down the shields but he really only wants to try to rescue Rey. Pretty much everything he gets into turns into a comedic screw-up. He wants to run away throughout the entire movie, and even his return is handled poorly. Finn plays no real useful role in the entire movie; anything he does others could have done with less issues.
But, at least, is the villain interesting? Well, no. The villain is a whiny, emo, teenage brat. His temper tantrums are teenage acting out, not anything intimidating. In fact, the villain just isn’t intimidating at all. In any way. He knows a few good tricks, but that’s about it, and he loses far too often to be taken seriously as the Vader analogue. I don’t know who thought that making Kylo Ren act more like Anakin than like Vader would be a good take on the main villain; didn’t they learn better from the Prequel Trilogy?
Anyway, given all of this, the only scenes that really work are those between the old cast, and mostly between Han and Chewie (although the conflict with the gangs was just too much; Han probably isn’t that stupid). Of course, we won’t get these in the next movie. I also kinda liked — after disliking at first — the person running the bar, but that was a fleeting bit of entertainment.
So, is at least the main plot, about finding Luke Skywalker, interesting? Well, as it turns out … no, it isn’t. BB8 has a fragment of a map. The deactivated Artoo … has the rest of the map, except for that part. That’s … a mite convenient. You can argue that it was done that way for security reasons … except then there’s no reason for Artoo to be deactivated and magically come to life. They could have had the map and known that that was the missing piece, and at that point Ren getting that piece of the puzzle would have been useless to him, and they would have known that. As it turns out, it would have been useless to him, and so his scene with Rey trying to get it is, well, actually irrelevant. Sure, he didn’t know that, but once we do we wonder what that scene was supposed to achieve except for showing that Rey has Force powers. So even this resolution is pointless, and while the last scene is evocative, it’s also built on a foundation of irrelevance.
So, okay, is the action at least good? No, I find it hollow, as well. We get fight and chase scenes, but I can’t really remember anything interesting in them; they seem like stock action with no real humanity or real risk, as characters that we know nothing about die — in the final battle — getting only a couple of meaningless lines to show, well, anything. The action scenes, in general, are just plain boring; the action is not strong enough to carry the viewer with it, but nothing else happens to make it interesting.
The more I think about the movie, the less I like it. This … is not the way you’d want that sort of movie to go. I originally watched it with trepidation, and while I don’t regret watching it and will probably watch it again sometime when I start watching all of the Star Wars movies again, I think it safe to say that, for me, “The Force Awakens” was a disappointment. In fact, it is more of a disappointment than “The Phantom Menace” was, at least to me. That .. does not bode well for the new Star Wars movies.
I will make another post soon on how I’d take the basic framework of this movie and do it better, so watch for that.