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.)
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.
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.
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:
Salivating for more? These are questions that need to be addressed in VIII and IX:
Another way of viewing “questions that needs answers” is that they are plot holes… :
Kylo Ren is everything that Anakin Skywalker should have been, and other prequel comparisons:
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):
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:
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”!):
May the Force be with you, whatever your view of The Force Awakens!