Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Spoiler Review

So, I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Note, this review does contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen it yet, leave now...

I'm going to try and organize this into stuff I didn't like, then stuff that I did like, but I may wander a bit.

THE BAD: (or meh, or confusing... not all of this is 'bad'...)

- I was expecting a sequel. What we got instead is a reboot of A New Hope, with a few sequel elements thrown in. I mean, we have Jakku, which is the same as Tatooine, an orphan living there who doesn't know anything about her parents, an ace rebel x-wing pilot, the Falcon getting tractored into a hanger, a death star (bigger, badder!), the heroes sneak around on the death star,  a weak target on said death star that the x-wings have to take out before the rebel base is blown up, an x-wing trench run, a quirky droid that saves the day, a bad guy in a black mask with a deep voice, the list goes on an on. Not to say that this makes it a bad movie, it's done, for the most part, quite well. Most of it's just re-hashed. So, we got the plot of ANH, but none of the optimism. But people seem to like the dark these days...  But that's a whole 'nother essay... (and, honestly, opinion, neither right nor wrong...)

- Speaking of that, Abrams can't seem to do subtle. In Star Trek, we got a redshirt who died, but instead of quietly dying in the line of duty, perhaps saving Kirk and making the character grow, it's shoved in our faces. He dies of his own stupidity, and it's shoved in our faces as though we wouldn't catch that it's a homage to a TOS redshirt if was done subtlety.
Same thing in TFA. I'm sure there's some references I'll catch on the second viewing that are more of an homage, but there's a LOT of 'shoved in your face, see, look, a Star Wars reference!' stuff, like the list in the point above.

- Lack of answers. All the questions you have going into this movie. Only one or two of them will be answered by the end.
The big one: EVERYONE wants to know "Where's Luke?" He was the main character in the first trilogy, the son of the main character of the prequels. He was (almost) everyone's favorite character as a kid. The main draw of watching TFA (at least for me, and I assume a lot of other people as well) is, "What happens to our favorite characters after ROTJ?"
For Han, Chewy, Leia, C3P0, R2D2 (kinda), and a few others, those questions are answered. Not so for Luke.
'Why isn't Luke in any of the trailers, or on the poster, or anything?' The answers is, because he's not in this movie. Well, I think he's got a total of a minute of screen time, and no dialog. I think he might be the Yoda type role in the next movie, but just because Yoda wasn't introduced until the second movie isn't a good reason not to have Luke in this one. On the other hand, including his story would've made the movie really long, so perhaps they're saving an entire movie for that?
Speaking of that, story-wise, why isn't Luke in the movie? The movie answer is that when Ben Solo turned to the dark side, Luke got so depressed that he went and hid. That's not really in Luke's character, from what we've seen of him in the first trilogy...

If you're wanting to know what happened between ROTJ and TFA, good luck. The movie only hints at a few little pieces of that. Want to know how Finn gets Luke's lightsaber that he's holding in the trailer? That's not addressed at all either. There's a half-dozen or so plot threads that aren't fleshed out. Some of them most likely will be completed in the next two movies. I've also heard the theory that some of them are left out on purpose to make you buy the books, games, comics, etc. that tie into the movie to get the whole story. (I haven't read Star Wars: Aftermath. I've heard it fills in some of the details.) If that's the case, that's good marketing, but bad story-telling.

- Where the heck did Luke's lightsaber come from?? The last time we saw it, in ESB, it was hurtling into the center of a gas giant. How did it get halfway across the galaxy? The movie answer: "That's a story for another time."
It really feels like it was put in just for nostalgia. I can't think of an in-story way or reason for it to be there, and apparently neither could the film-makers.
It's the little things like this that are insignificant on there own, yet pile up enough to draw you out of the movie.

 - If you've read any of my book reviews, you know it's a pet-peeve of mine to split one plot across three different books/movies, and call them separate stories. They're not, it's one story in three parts. There's nothing wrong with telling a story this way, it's just that I don't like it. If you have three separate movies, each with their own plot arc, and a few (or a lot) of over-arching plot elements, you end the trilogy with four stories told, instead of one. I left the theater feeling like I'd seen part of a movie, instead of a whole movie. I will admit that this one is just my pet-peave, and I don't expect some people to be bothered by it at all.

- The way the Force works. So, Rey's force-sensitive, she's discovering her powers. Okay, cool. Wait... she just did a Jedi-mind trick, with no training? What??? She just defeated a partially-trained dark-side user... with no training???
In interviews, Abrams has (rightly) said he wants to ignore the midi-chorine crap. Good. He wants to treat it as if the Force is around everyone, if you tune into it, it's available to everyone. Good, that meshes more with the original movies.
I like that idea, but the implementation of it has all the finesse of a sledge-hammer.
In ESB, Luke has had some training with Obi-Wan. On the low end, a few hours, on the high end, a few weeks. All he's able to do is move a light-saber, heighten his instincts, and call out to his sister. Lucas has stated that Luke is the most powerful Jedi there ever was, or ever will be.
And yet, somehow, Rey is able to use the mind-trick, mentally keep out a dark-side user, over-power him telekineticly, and out lightsaber fight him... with absolutely zero training???
Come on. Even most other trained Jedi Masters couldn't do the mind trick as well as Obi-Wan, yet we're expected to believe that she can do it with no training at all....
To quote Han: "The Force doesn't work like that!"

The Middle:

- The villain. I'm not sure where to put Kylo Ren. There's good points and bad, kinda all tied together.
It's kinda like Disney said, "We need to have Darth Vader in the movie!" So, we got a Darth Vader clone. Yet, the way they did it is consistent with the story. It's Darth Vader's grandson, who the darkside has twisted him into idolizing.
It's also kinda neat that, though the EU is no longer cannon, they have borrowed some of the better ideas from it. (Kylo Ren is really Ben Solo, Han and Leia's son, who trained under his uncle Luke before he turned to evil.)
That's really neat that they've nodded to the EU, acknowledged that Luke is "passing on what he has learned," and whatnot. Yet, at the same time, it feels a little re-hashed. Is the Skywalker family doomed to repeat the same story over and over again in successive generations? And, if so, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it reflects on real-life ("Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.")


- I loved BB8. There's always the risk when introducing a cutesy kid-friendly character that you'll end up with another Jar-Jar. Not the case here. He was integral to the plot, funny, and well-acted (if a droid can be considered an actor...) Nothing was over-done with him (it?).

- Finn's character arc. There's some really good story telling done here with the character of Finn. His arc has a beginning, middle, and end, and still leaves room for him to play a big part in the sequels. The character's motivations for everything he does are there and plotted out, while not falling to cliche.
One of the problems I have with any evil-empire, be it fictional or in the real-world, is "Can't anyone see that what they're doing is evil? How can they think it's right?"
That's one of the reasons I love Finn so much. He's been born, bred, and conditioned to do his job, yet when they're killing innocent villagers, Finn can't do it. He wakes up emotionally, and realizes it's wrong. They could go cliche here, and have him go into full hero mode, but they don't. He does the right thing following his conscience, but he's still just trying to run away from the evil for a while.
He does seem to get attached to Rey really quickly, but I suppose they've been through a lot together, and she's the first other person he meets who tries to do the right thing...

- I love the character of Rey too, just not quite as much. The movie sets up a complex character here, who I'm sure we'll see more of her backstory later.

- Everything with Han and Chewy. I've got some little nitpicky things to say about most of the characters. Not so here. Everything is spot-on. To me, some of the other characters have to act slightly out of character to make the plot of the movie work. Not so with Han and Chewy. Han's reasons for leaving everyone are completely consistent with his character, the balance of snark, humor, and everything else we love about Han is here and perfect. Including when he dies. I would've like his last words to be, "I forgive you," or something, but just caressing his son's cheek and saying a thousand things with actions and not words (not to mention that the character hasn't ever been good at mushy stuff) is totally within the character, and works. (Yay! Abrams did one subtle thing right!)

- the "lived in" feel is back. A lot of people criticize the prequels for feeling new and shiny, and not at all like the gritty lived-in fell of the first trilogy. I don't think that's a valid criticism, as the gritty feel is symbolic of the decay that evil has brought to the galaxy.
That feel is back in TFA, and is appropriate, as one evil empire has fallen, only to have another rise in it's place. (The weariness of fighting evil for a lifetime shows in Leia's face, too.)

- I really get the felling that once the other two movies are out, the plot elements of TFA will mesh really well with them. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of plot stuff that's left dangling. To me, this is irritating to watch a movie and not get a complete arc, but the setup is there to have this be one of the most tightly integrated trilogies ever. I'm really expecting to like TFA a lot more once the next two movies are out and I'll be able to marathon all three of them.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie (and, as I said, I believe it will be better in context with it's sequels, and possibly some of the tie-in material) , but I didn't think it was perfect. Most of my issues have to do with nitpicking the plot. Fortunately , I like the characters more than the plot, and the characters really shine.

I do kinda want to read Aftermath, and some of the other tie-in material, then re-watch it. (but again, that other stuff should enhance the experience, not be required...)

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