Monday, January 4, 2016

Movie Review: Thoughts on the New Star Wars Film Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Spoilers ahead.

Completely glossing over the total disregard for science (absorbing a Main Sequence star in an hour), Adolph Shmitler & his Shmazis, Gollum on Sauron's throne (how did he get there? Did the Shmazis vote him in?), and Han "losing" the Falcon, I will cut to the main things that stuck with me as I walked out of the theater.

I liked the new characters. What I loved best about them were that the good guys were good. Rey and Finn both seem to be driven by doing things because "it was the right thing to do." But the emotional pacing & connectivity seemed kind of "off." That is, the timing, their crises, their lines--it felt horribly rushed, and that I wasn't given enough information to really care with the characters, but merely at them. When Rey was crying and running away from the lightsaber, instead of crying with her, I felt like an awkward person on public transportation witnessing a stranger's meltdown in the seat next to me. Pity, yes--connection, no.

Emotional pacing is basic script-writing, so I have no idea why it seems to be so lacking in recent movies in franchises (Age of Ultron, Voyage of the Dawn Treader). In short, I wanted to care about the new characters, but it felt like more of a cerebral choice.

When the Disney franchise decided to jettison one of the most compelling badguys in science fiction history (Thrawn, a highly intelligent & heroic alien, whose fatal flaw is that he believes evil must be done to achieve salvation of the galaxy), and create their own, I wasn't expecting much. Which goes to show that there is always something far, far, lower than rock bottom because GOLLUM ON SAURON'S THRONE was not even a faint image in my wildest nightmares.
I really have nothing to add to that, other than, naming him "Snoke" was the icing on the cake.

Weirdly enough, my least favorite scene of the movie was the one in which we meet Han again, caught between 2 pirate gangs he's ostensibly working for. It was the scene in which my suspension of disbelief crashed (even more than slurping up the sun in an hour)---because that scene was impossible for so many reasons. Once you leave the fringe, get all respectable, join an army, become a general, and marry a princess, there really isn't any going back. He's walking hostage-money to every gang, pirate, crime-ring, and bounty hunter out there. When he'd had Jabba's price on his head, you at least needed to get the slug to cough up the dough for a corpse, but when you've got a Han now with army intel in his head, and Princess/General Leia's heart---he is pure walking cash.

The fringe is all about who you know. When working with men who no longer fear the law, it all comes down to connections. Which rival gang will exact revenge if you torture him? What are the repercussions for not paying him for his work? How many real friends has he got who will come after you if you shoot him and take his stuff? Han has far too many connections now, even if his marriage is on the rocks and his generalship resigned, he's obviously worth something to somebody---too dangerous to operate as a free agent. The fringe is very unforgiving, respectability stains permanently.

And finally, at 70, you have neither the quick wit or physical agility that surviving in the fringe demands. Seeing them trying to make old Han act just like young Han hurt, like watching them trying to carve against the grain of the wood. Old Han is a much more interesting character than young Han, he's gone through life, suffering, fatherhood---Old Han is who we want to see. I wish they let us see him, they were stingy with the couple real glimpses they gave us of him between the one-liners. The two glimpses we got were his interaction with Leia about their son and his half-way apology for running away, and his interaction with Finn on the Death Star II, when he tells him a bit about the Force and how people are counting on them. I wanted more of that---real scenes with the Old Han. But what I desperately wanted was some actual fatherly dynamic with Rey. Instead, we are simply told that Rey feels that way about him when Kylo Ren is ripping info from her mind. (lazy scriptwriting! First law: Show, don't Tell!) Han barely interacts with her, merely on a proffessional/aquaintance level, before he's dead. All I needed was a 20 second scene, of Han teaching Rey something, or handing her tissues when she cried, or trying to encourage her to keep her chin up, and it would have been the emotional center of the movie for me...

Ok, one more thing that bugged me about Han back in the Fringe, I can see an embittered broken Han running away from Leia when things went south, but for crying out loud, he would have left Chewie to protect her. (Remember how protective he was of her he was in the Battle of Hoth?) And that is assuming Chewie would even let him run away from his wife. Chewie is a loyal sort, and also, over 7 feet tall. With claws.

When Carrie Fisher came on screen, I cried because she was so beautiful----etched in her face & eyes, the time passed, the pain, the struggle---life. I couldn't not care about all the horrible things they put her through, even though I tried not to be manipulated as they cavalierly sent her through a mother's worst nightmare. I cried in spite of my best attempts not to.

Which brings me to the biggest flaw in the movie, Ben didn't work. What would convince a kid with loving parents, his very own lightsaber & knighthood, and the reins of the rebellion to throw it all away to join the status quo empire? There had to be a compelling reason (perhaps a belief that this was the Only Way To Save The World, like Thrawn. Or a strange religion, like the Inquisitor. Or a desire for order & devotion to duty, like Agent Kallus. Or even a cynical child of idealists who thinks this is the only way to end the destructive conflict.). The scene where Kylo rips from Rey's brain, and thereby unwittingly opens his mind to her, could have been so compelling. But as I leaned forward to hear what secret drives Kylo/Ben/Jacen it fell completely flat.
"Afraid you'll never be as strong as Vader"

Sense this makes none.

Even supposing being the next Jedi of the Universe wasn't cool enough, or that everyone forgot to mention to him that Vader repented, and that Vader had repented out of love/weakness for his child in pain (bad role model for brutal strength), there has got to be an easier way of achieving awesomeness than being the pawn of a giant Gollum who makes you leave a crying Mom, ditch all your friends, execute civilian villages, and kill a loving Dad.

So what made him turn? Because I'm sure as heck it wasn't Snoke's charisma & vision.

The film completely lacked a compelling villain. Tarkin believed in what he was doing ("the fear of this battle station will keep the systems in line"), Vader believed in what he was doing ("join me...together we will end this destructive conflict and restore peace to the galaxy"), the Inquisitor believed in what he was doing ("There are things far worse than death"), Kallus believed in what he was doing (jumping on a moving train alone to fight jedis who had previously force-thrown him, to stall for time). Thrawn believed in what he was doing (unifying the galaxy under an empire to face an external horror).
So far the Force Awakens has given us a bunch of Shmatzis ruled by Gollum with an insane kid vaguely reminiscent of a school shooter.

The stormtrooper with the mask and the lightsaber-proof weapon that shouts "Traitor!" is a runaway fan favorite. Why? Because he obviously believed in what he was doing. He had conviction. It says something when a masked actor with a single word overshadows the entire cast of badguys.

Lastly, I never realized how much I loved Han until he got skewered. (Luke was my hero)
But seriously, Han is a gambler. A gambler knows exactly what he's wagering when he walks out on that bridge to an insane son with force-throwing skills waving a lightsaber.
His life: Ben's repentance.
So when he loses the gamble, he wouldn't have looked shocked, only sad.
I resented the shock, as if he were the pathetic dad blindsided by this awful turn of events. Han knew what he was doing.
But at least he touched Ben's face. There was that small crumb that kept me from turning over the theater chairs.
I would have preferred bopping his nose and saying "God'll get you yet", or whatever the force-equivalent is in this galaxy far far away. Because even then, Ben felt like such an incredibly pathetic little kid, even legally changing his name to something jazzy trying to feel cool.

Patricide is incredibly dark, to me, it is on the level of rape. If they actually want to hash out this incredibly dark thing for the benefit of truth and repentance and hope, then yes. But if they were flippantly throwing it in for shock value, then shame on them. Time will tell.

Then of course, there was all the recycled material from Episode IV. But look, if you're going to recycle Ep. IV then DO A GOOD JOB. When Han thinks Ben is too far gone that even Luke couldn't save him, and Leia says "Luke's a Jedi, you're his Father", I was deeply moved....and then he gets bumped off.
In the spirit of Ep IV, if they wanted Kylo Ren skewering someone for dramatic effect, it should have been Luke---his mentor and a great Jedi. And then Han, his lowly mechanic father, would have gotten him to repent in Ep IX. I would have cried. I would have cared so much.

And if you're going to jettison Thrawn and Mara and everything from the books, but keep creepy Jacen, you may as well keep Jaina. If Princess Leia is going to Eve crying over her dead beloved and her killer-son, then you need Seth. Rey needs to be Ben's sister, needs to be Han and Leia's lost daughter, and put a beautiful grandbaby into the empty arms of the grieving Leia. We need some new hope here.

Ultimately, what will jettison or salvage these movies for me, is if Han's final gamble pays off, and at the end of everything, Ben repents.

In the words of one of my best friends "If Kylo Ren is saved, I'll forgive a lot."
And there is a lot to forgive in Episode VII.


  1. You gotta put this on amazon. People put their movie reviews under the dvd pre-order page. Put yours there.

  2. I loved this review! TBH, when I saw Ep. VII, I think I was just so thrilled to be out of the house and revisiting the universe, I excused a lot of these issues. But now as I go back and think about it again, I am totally on board with a lot of your critique.

    1. Yeah, I still get pretty worked up about it...I guess I'm still pretty raw...
      It did have its good points, like you said about Rey being awesome. I think the first time I saw it I was just so upset I kind of glossed over that, but Rey was a very good character, principled & strong & awesome ninja skills, but yet not proud, she seemed really kind. And Finn was brave & sweet. So I hope to see more of them doing cool things in Episode 8. I'm really really really hoping that Rey is Ben's twin, and that she convinces him to repent, and that Ben does something repentant or good in the end, at least before he dies. Because no matter how much of a jerk he is, he's still Han's beloved kid, and he just needs to repent. And then Han would have won in the end. Sniff sniff, I'm still emotional about this. I don't know if its because it taps into a mother's primal fear or something... So I'm really hoping for a good ending to this trilogy!

    2. I think you're right -- it must be the fact that we're moms! I cried more than I expected to at Leia and Han's sadness over Ben, thinking about my own SHB.

  3. I find it likely that there were scenes scripted between Han and Rey like the ones you are describing (because if they only used Harrison Ford for what we saw they were crazy) but they ended up on the floor because editors thought the long battle scenes/effects were what the majority of the audience paid to see. They are probably right too unfortunately.

    I have been lurking at this blog on and off for a while now. I worried about your beetle infestation (or the spiders from Mars in the Mirkwood as I called them in my head.) I think your take on Moroccan lamps as being elven is inspirational as are all your tutorials and projects. I feared for you and your paralyzing scrap bin, (your Precious?) I love your ideas and understand the need to make the world more beautiful and meaningful while we are here. So if yours is the last homely house then I wish you well with making it happen. Just figured I'd get all that off my chest. I'll probably go back to my occasional lurking and admiring from afar now.

    1. I really really hope there were those scenes, and that they come back in some extended version or something. Or that they film them and put them in. It would make a world of difference for me.

      My scrap bin/stash being like the Precious for me is probably pretty accurate :D
      Thanks for the encouraging comments! We just moved to a place with no internet, but I have been doing home-decorating, which I'll hopefully post in in a week or so.

  4. Wait till you see the next one and it turns out there's not even a coherent vision tying the films together. Or so I understand; I haven't seen it. This remains the definitive review of this film and I still cherish it.