Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Star Wars
            It is my 300th entry on blogger and I am going to use this entry to talk about the biggest movie in the world “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.  It will be an early start to my annual reviews of movies from 2015, and maybe I will get some sympathetic traffic to here from people randomly googling these kinds of things.
            Since this is the kind of movie that is really big and you could go thru it scene by scene to talk about things I liked or didn’t care for I will do my usual thing of disjointedly asking questions, critiquing, and giving out compliments.  SPOILERS obviously, overall I thought the movie was a solid 8/10, with a hearty recommendation from me.
 
Remember, this whole franchise is built around coincidence and destiny.  And an awesome score.
            People like to point out that the plot is (in an outline) the exact same plot as “Star Wars: A New Hope”, but I would posit that it has a lot of points and scenes taken from all of the original trilogy, which is fine.  The original trilogy is 38 years old, taking that same story outline and presenting it with modern effects and dialogue, and using that basic story to kick off the new franchise is a good idea.  It is akin to saying, “This is what we are going to be doing from here on out, this is how we are going to do it.”
            However there is some grander subtext at work here too.  The main character is a scavenger who makes their living picking thru the remnants of the old franchise, and the main villain’s central personal crisis is whether he will live up to the classic iconic villain.  It is almost like the movie is picking thru the old franchise to find the best workable bits and is terrified of not living up to the legacy of the original films?  Am I reading too much into this?  Probably not, they draw attention to this all the time in the movie, I feel this was exactly what they intended.  There is a literal shrine to Darth Vader in the bad guy’s bed room.
 
"I feel the pull of the light"
            Let’s talk about one of the things I really liked, Kylo Ren.  Kylo is the best villain in Star Wars.  He is powerful, he has a goal, you understand his motivation, you understand his inner conflict (say what you will about Darth Vader, if Luke did not say the words, “I feel the good in you” the audience would have seen ZERO evidence of Vader turning into a good guy), and he acts like someone who is powered by rage, fear, and pain.  My favorite scene with him is the final lightsaber fight in which he pounds on his wound to work himself into greater levels of frenzy, that is some brutal violent shit right there.
            His armor is cool, his lightsaber is cool, and he kills the most beloved character in the franchise.  The only thing missing from that scene is Han saying the words, “I love you” followed by Kylo saying, “I know” and then kicking Solo’s body in the blackness.  Also, have to love Chewbacca’s reaction, he has just seen his best friend murdered by (what I imagine) is his god son, he probably baby sat Kylo, had the family over for Life Day (HA!) and now he is trying to kill the kid.  That is some emotional baggage.
 
Boy was my character oversold in the marketing.
And now for something I didn’t like, anybody else think that the stormtrooper Captain Phasma was a huge waste? I can't help but think some script pages got lost or something got rewritten.  For instance, when that random stormtrooper has that electro-tonfa and fights Finn... Why not make that Phasma? It would make sense that she would call him traitor, it would even make sense that she would have that kind of unique weapon on her person (working with Kylo all day I imagine she mentally preps for the day he decides to hack her to pieces and so she keeps around a weapon that could block a lightsaber long enough for a retreat).
I also did not like how easily she is captured near the end. Han, Chewie, and Finn take her hostage and demand that she lower the shields... And she does. I kind of expected a marine captain to not just roll over and lower the defenses to the single most important military asset in the galaxy. It would have been cooler had she just said, "You're going to have to kill me." Then Finn doesn't (because he knows that would be brutal and accomplish nothing), and they keep her prisoner, then they find Rey, have her try to use the force on Phasma and then just have the Captain pull a Jabba and say, "I am not so weak minded." Then have her do something clever and escape down a garbage chute.
You might be saying, "Well, then how would they get the shields down?"  To which I reply, "Just have the plot move forward the same way with the group planting charges." Dropping the shields ultimately wasn’t enough, so why not just skip that scene all together?  Having them forced to use the charges to let the Resistance attack thru would be fine, it has the exact same impact on the narrative and echoes "Return of the Jedi" even more so.
With those two changes you take a character that barely has any lines and fights no one, and instead turn them into someone who is clever, tenacious, has unique armor, an anti-lightsaber weapon, and is resistant to the force. She becomes a cunning dangerous adversary that promises to be a recurring threat in future movies. As it stands she is literally thrown in the garbage.
She is apparently returning in the future but I can’t see why they should bother, she is already a joke.  Single biggest disappointment in the new movie.
 
It took way too long to find this picture.  Seriously, it should not take more than a minute to find a group shot of the new Light side characters for the biggest movie on earth.
Now a positive thing, Finn is now my favorite character in the franchise, more or less summed up by his first interaction with General Leia, as she tells him how brave he is for defecting from the first order.  Turning your back on the military dictatorship that is the only life you have ever known because you see the violence and suffering they are inflicting on the galaxy is brave, and without Jedi powers he fights Kylo Ren, a fight he cannot win.  He is also a great straight man to Poe and Han’s wise cracking, a position that is always underappreciated (honestly without the straight man most comedy just falls flat).
As for Rey, Poe, and BB-8?  I love them all.  Each is fun in their own way and they do not step on each other’s toes at all.  While Finn is my favorite, any one of the human characters could have been the hero in their own movie and would have worked great.  If these are the type of hero the new era promises then I happily await more entries.
 
Couldn't we have just had a fleet of Star Destroyers?
Now something I dislike, The Star Killer Base is the absolute worst kind of writing in a sequel.  Upping the stakes by increasing the destructive yield of bad guy’s weapons.  It is lazy.  WE HAVE AN EVEN BIGGER DEATH STAR.  Yawn.  The conflict and drama between the characters is what I am here to see, not just more planets getting torched.
If they had to have something like this, then it should not be in the first movie.  Hint at it.  Have rumors of a new Death Star being built and the Resistance not knowing where it is, have it show up in the 3rd movie as the big thing that dwarfs all other confrontations before it.  Showing the hologram of how the base is a 100 times larger than the Death Star comes off as comical in this movie, if it had been built up to it over multiple films it would have been terrifying.
The Star Killer Base is the thing I dislike the most about the movie and it does bring it down for me.

How is Harrison Ford still so devilishly handsome?
Unattainable standards for male attractiveness in films, I am being oppressed.
 Something I like, the returning original cast members.  While Luke is barely there at all he unquestionably looms over the whole film and looks the part as the hero who completed his journey to Jedi master.  The story in which is betrayed by the knights of Ren (how cool is it that there appears to be an entire clan of Dark Side Force users?) is legitimately sad, he was supposed to have been the guy to return order to the galaxy and he just couldn’t manage it.
Han, Chewie, and Leia are all great.  I did find it strange that in the 50 years they have been working together Han never fired Chewie’s crossbow, maybe they should have had Finn fire the crossbow, and since he is a storm trooper you could have him say something like, “This thing is so much more accurate than my old blaster” to joke about how Stormtroopers never hit anything.
C-3PO is used appropriately, he pops in to ruin the moment between Leia and Han (just like he did in “Empire”) is funny, offers up some exposition, and then steps back into the back ground.
Harrison did his best performance in a decade, fully embracing and saying goodbye to the best character he ever played.  Really, when it came to the old cast they did everything right, showing how they changed and where they went since the happy ending of Jedi, and using them as launch pads for the new cast.

General Hux, I actually think he is a pretty good character.  They do not directly compare him to anyone in the original trilogy, he gives one impassioned speech, and otherwise serves as the calculating counterpoint to Kylo Ren.
 Something I did not like, the politics.  I had to look up what was happening in the movie’s political conflict.  And while it makes sense after I look it up, the fact that it made no sense in the movie hurts the film overall.  It is not necessary I suppose as the movie moves very fast and is not about Space Politics (that should be left for Star Trek), but it is the motivation of General Hux, and General Leia, and the impetus of the story, so maybe making that a little clearer to the audience should be a priority.
 
So Carrie Fisher is delightfully mad in real life.  Can't say I saw that coming.
One last thing I do like, everything else.  The music, the effects, the costumes, the action, and the pacing.  If Disney were to put out a statement talking about how happy they were with the film and how they want to continue to be the mainstay of pop culture, I would just nod and be happy.  Much like Marvel, Star Wars is a huge franchise that will reach millions and millions of people, this film promises that the franchise will be committed to fun, adventure, and good characters that kids and adults all over the world can watch and love and serve as a common cultural touchstone for all the right reasons.
While this movie is not perfect, it didn’t have to be, we have decades to explore an entire galaxy of adventures, and a company that wants to put the people who love that universe in charge of making things people love.  Hooray.

Score: 8/10
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