Monday, January 25, 2016

Finally! My Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

So, as you might have already heard, I went to see the new Star Wars on opening night.


Yuuuuuup. And then I saw it again, and it was still amaaaaazzzaaaayyyyng. So yeah, it was pretty cool, I guess.

(Warning: MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead, in case you couldn't already guess. Also, spoilers for the old Star Wars expanded universe and Game of Thrones season 5, because... reasons.)

So what exactly did I like about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens?

Ok, so maybe not all of it, but any excuse to use a gif, amirite? Yes, I acknowledge that it's not a perfect movie, and even in the midst of fangasmic bliss during the first viewing I found a few flaws in it, but one thing I can say for certain is that this film did not disappoint. In much the same way as the original trilogy, it was so damn fun to watch that even though I noticed some issues, I really didn't care all that much. I can tell you right now that I'd rate this movie four stars. I know there are a lot of people out there who think it was a decent film that did it's job by being better than the prequels, but personally I think that it deserves higher praise than that despite it's flaws. So here's what worked and what didn't more for me in The Force Awakens!

What Worked

I know it sounds like a cop-out, but for me the movie itself as a whole just worked very well. Even the parts that didn't quite work individually came together with those that did to form a well-crafted product that did it's job well. That being said, there were some elements in particular that really stood out to me. First and foremost on my list are the characters and the actors who played them. While there were times when the dialogue as written did leave something to be desired, the cast was superb and the characters all had very strong, believable personas. The new characters were very fresh and weren't merely rehashes of characters we've seen in the previous films. While many of them could've easily fallen into stereotypes, I found that most of the new and returning characters had a great deal of nuance. There were exceptions, of course, but I'll get to that in a bit.

So far I'm really loving the direction that they're taking with the new "BAMF trio" of Finn, Rey, and Poe. I just hope that in future movies we get more screen time with all three of them together, especially since Rey and Poe never really had any together in this one. If I have one major complaint about our new heroes, it's that Poe was so underused in this movie. Poe Dameron is awesome! We all need a little more of him and his epic snark-in-the-face-of-danger in our lives.

Most of the weight of the plot fell on the shoulders of Rey and Finn and the dynamic between them, and I feel that they carried that weight perfectly. The only real change I would've made to their characters would be to give Rey a few more flaws or mistakes and have Finn not screw up quite as much. I am excited to see they direction they take with Finn in the future, though, because he does have so much room to grow and they could do literally anything with him. Rey was just a straight-up badass and I love her. I do see why some people accuse her of Mary Sue-ism, though; it's hard for me to admit because I'm still so enamored by her epicness, but yeah, she might have been just a liiiiitle too perfect at times. Still, I wouldn't call her a Mary Sue, and if she is, she's a very mild one. She is the one who releases the tentacle monsters on Han's ship, after all (even if she is the one to fix the problem), and she does initially run away from her Jedi destiny initially without thinking about what she's doing, which gets her captured. 

Also, something that I think is pretty damn big that not a whole lot of people have mentioned so far is that while she's kicking Kylo Ren's ass in their lightsaber duel, it seems to me that she was drawing her strength from the dark side. No, I'm not disagreeing with Yoda and saying that the dark side is stronger, but think about it: she was already pent-up and angry, so it seems to me like her previous quarterstaff fighting experience + Kylo's injury and general emotional imbalance + the dark side empowering her rage-fueled attacks makes her defeat of Kylo slightly more believable. It also makes it more interesting, and I really hope it's something that's addressed in the sequel.

Kylo Ren's an interesting villain. At first, I found that whole "being tempted by the light side" bit to be kinda corny, but then I thought about it a bit more. On the one hand, his character is rather simple: he's an adult perpetually stuck in the mindset of a petulant teenager who thinks he's the most epic badass ever but lets that facade slip when he throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. But on the other hand, he's got some nuance to him. He's pretty clearly emotionally imbalanced and confused, and for as much of a douchebag he is, it's hard not to feel sorry for him. He's still something of an enigma, one which I hope will be explored in greater depth in the next movie. Why does he idolize his grandfather's Darth Vader persona so much? What made him turn to the dark side? Why does he think being "seduced" by the light side is such a bad thing? There's kind of a funny irony in his Darth Vader worship, too, since Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is pretty much EXACTLY what Anakin should've been like in the prequels during his fall to the dark side, but wasn't. Well, better late than never, Lucasfilm...

My barf is getting everywhere...
But enough with all this crap about the new characters. What you really want is more Han Solo! Han in this movie was absolute perfection, and much as I was completely gutted by his death, I could not have picked a more fitting end to his story line than this movie. I was kind of surprised by how much screen time he got since I had been under the impression that the OT cast members would be in really minimal roles, but hey, it's not like I'm complaining! Seriously, Han came extremely close to stealing the show a couple times, and I'm completely ok with that. His characterization was believable; he was still the same guy we all know and love, but he's clearly undergone some growth and change in the last 30 years. Harrison Ford really brought his A game, and you could tell that he was having a lot of fun with this role. While I was watching, I couldn't help but mentally compare his performance here with his performance in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Returning as Indiana Jones, he just kind of looked old and tired and like he didn't want to be there much of the time, kind of like most of the cast did. But you could really tell that was far from the case with his return as Han Solo. 

Moving away from cast and characters, I have to say that for as much crap I've given J.J. Abrams for his Star Trek movies, I really do think he's a pretty good director. Not so much a good writer, but the guy can direct. I think one of the reasons the characters were as strong as they were has as much to do with his direction as it does with the cast's performances, since he's obviously much more of an "actors' director" than George Lucas. Abrams really excels at directing action, too, as demonstrated by the plethora of near-flawless action and fight sequences. 

The humor in this movie also worked really well for me. The OT had it's fair share of funny moments, but not nearly as many as TFA did. And while certain parts of the prequels may have been laughable, this one is definitely has the most intentional humor of any Star Wars film yet. And it all managed to be pretty well balanced with the serious drama, too. 

Of course, you can't have a Star Wars review without talking about the special effects. The series has had a complicated relationship with SFX over the years, from being lauded as an effect's pioneer in the 70's and 80's, to having the piss taken out of it for the horrible overuse of CGI in the prequels. The Force Awakens is proof that practical and computer-generated effects and live together in harmony. They blended together so well that I couldn't tell where one ended and the other began, which should be the goal of any effects-heavy movie. Also, Rey's just-add-water insta-bread was a practical effect, which is pretty damn cool.

Speaking of Rey's bread, let met just take the time to praise the worldbuilding--yes, the worldbuilding--exhibited in this film. While there are aspects of galactic life that could've been much better explained, there are a number of little bits that offer insight into daily life that I absolutely loved. Most of this comes from what we see of Rey's life on Jakku. The concept of people on some backwater planet eeking out a living by scavenging for parts from crashed starships from past wars is incredibly fascinating to me, and it really gives that setting the "lived-in universe" feel that Lucas said he was going for in the original trilogy. It's presented in such a realistic and matter-of-fact way that I accepted it without even stopping to consider how "out of this world" it really is. It also does a good job of both paying homage to the original trilogy and showing how the galaxy has moved on since the days of the empire. There's lots of little details in this movie that may be hard to notice at first, but they're important in that they come together to create a universe that the viewer can truly immerse themselves in. Nice work, movie!

What Didn't Quite Work

All that being said, The Force Awakens is certainly not perfect. The dialogue is occasionally clunky and awkward, despite good direction and strong performances all around. Still nowhere near as bad as the writing of the prequels, though. And while a common complain about the prequels is that they're full of more boring and confusing politics than C-SPAN, The Force Awakens probably could've used some more explanation of the political goings-on of the galaxy. We know that the First Order "rose from the ashes" of the empire as explained by the opening crawl, but we're not given adequate background info regarding their conflict with the Resistance, or on the relationship between the Resistance and the Republic. 

One can reasonably assume that most of the galaxy has been under the control of the New Republic and that the First Order grew out of remnants of the empire consolidating their power over time and rebuilding their influence. But what about the Resistance? Does it consist of planets that were already under the control of the First Order for a while and are now trying to overthrow it, or were they former Republic planets who were taken over by the F.O. and are fighting back? The first one makes more sense because if it were the second scenario that were true, then it would make more sense for the Republic to be fighting the F.O. directly instead of being the Resistance's allies. But the name "Resistance" also makes more sense in the second scenario, whereas the first one is more like "The Rebellion" (which, to be fair, would be a source of confusion). On that note, where does the name "First Order" come from? And who the hell is Supreme Leader Snoke? Just how big and powerful are they? Answer me, dammit!

The movie leaves us with a number of other unanswered questions, too. For example, just who are the "Knights of Ren"? They get one single mention and that's it. We know that Kylo Ren is apparently their leader, so we know they're bound to show up eventually, but why even bother to mention them at all if you're not going to go into even the tiniest bit of detail? Also, how are the human characters able to understand BB-8's droid beeping all of a sudden, when R2 had to rely on a special computer translator or C-3PO to be understood in the other movies? 

On a somewhat related note, the movie didn't exactly make it super clear what the system it was that the F.O. blew up and why it was important. I know they said later in the movie what system it was, but I don't think they established that earlier, so at first I assumed is was Courscant, which I assumed was still the capital. However, Wookieepedia tells me that the capital was not Courscant, but rather rotated between several planets, and the system blown up in the movie was in fact the current capital. But, you know, it would've been helpful to have that all explained to us in the movie. 

(Wookieepedia also tells me that The Resistance is actually neither of the two possible things which I described above, and is, in fact, not something that one would typically call a "resistance". Words have meanings, you know.)

Of course, I have to address the bantha in the room: the fact that the last act of this movie is a complete and total shameless rip-off of A New Hope. Ok, let's just get one thing straight: no, I do not think that it is a complete and total rip-off. But there is, however, a fine line between paying homage to another movie and stealing ideas from one that it does cross. The fact is that for all it does right, The Force Awakens is not terribly original. I get that the filmmakers were trying to play it safe after the disaster that was the prequel trilogy, but come on, did there really need to be another Death Star??? Really? After already doing that same shit twice? Oh wait, I'm sorry, it's totally not a Death Star, because it's, like, BIGGER. Ooookaaay, so it's a... SUPER Death Star. Got it. It actually was pretty hilarious when they lampshaded that in the movie, because it's just so ludicrous. That was probably the only time in the movie when the audience was laughing at something that was supposed to be taken seriously. Or maybe it was supposed to be funny? I mean, it's not like they could actually expect us to take it so seriously...

I'm staring to wonder if this blatant rehash of the planet-destroying super weapon plotline from A New Hope is evidence that J.J. Abrams maybe, juuuust maybe, has a teeny, tiny fetish for watching planets blow up (not that there's anything wrong with fetishes #tolerance). I mean, he did blow up Vulcan in the first Star Trek, then he blows up an entire planetary system in this one, and then he has to make the planet-destroying super weapon itself an entire planet so he can watch that blow up, too? Look, you can analyze it all you want, I'm just reporting the facts here...

Anyway, here's to hoping that Episode VIII is a little more original and won't "borrow" too much from The Empire Strikes Back. 

I was also a little disappointed in how underused and over-hyped a few of the characters ended up being. Everyone was making a big deal about Captain Phasma--although admittedly it was mostly because she was a feeeeemale stormtrooper, omg--and she turned out to be completely underwhelming with hardly any lines or much substance as a character. She was really just an extra in a shiny suit, which is a shame since under-using Gwendoline Christie like that should be a crime. Also, while I sort of get why they wanted to save the reveal of Luke for the very end and try to make it as epic and mysterious as possible, it was pretty disappointing that they didn't give him a single line. 

My Predictions for the Sequels

What I Think Will Happen
1.) Luke will turn out to be Rey's dad- Ok, you know I had to bring this up at some point. This is basically the "Is Jon Snow really dead?" Eh, now that I think about it, R+L=J would've been a better Jon Snow related reference, but whatever. Much like that theory regarding a character's mysterious parentage, the possibility is never stated outright in the movie, but there's a good bit of evidence to support it. Maybe I'll even write up a future post going into detail about it. Someone please remind me about that later.

2.) More screen time for Poe Dameron- Because the world desperatly needs more Poe Dameron. 'Nuff said.

3.) We'll see flashbacks to Kylo's jedi massacre in the next movie- Well, we'll be officially re-introduced to Luke, who I'm sure has an interesting story to tell about his former apprentice. Plus, Kylo's backstory is in need of fleshing out, and since Snoke has called upon him to complete his training, I'm sure he'll get plenty of chances to angstily reflect on his dark past.

4.) The First Order will NOT build another Death Star Starkiller Base- Come on, no one wants that.

5.) Luke will uncover that Rey tapped into the dark side during her fight with Kylo- and she'll have to confront those demons during her training with him. The writers will need to be careful with this, though, as it could easily veer into making the film too much like Empire. 

6.) Kylo Ren will have turned out to have killed Luke's wife when he turned evil- I think it's likely that, since the filmmakers have already taken some inspiration from the EU for the new canon, I think they'll take at least some inspiration from Mara Jade's story line. She may or may not be Rey's mom, and she may or may not have the same backstory as Mara, but she'll have a few similarities, and I think being killed by her nephew will probably be one of them. 

What I Don't Think Will Happen
1.) Finn and Poe will not become a couple- Yes, I know we all want StormPilot to be a thing, but I don't think Disney is quite that progressive yet. I wouldn't rule out slashy subtext completely, though...

2.) Rey will NOT turn out to be Han and Leia's daughter/Kylo's sister- Pretty sure I covered this in my "Luke's her dad" prediction, but I want to make sure my bases are covered. With all the rehashing of plotlines, another secret sibling reveal is the last thing Star Wars needs. You could argue it doesn't need a secret father reveal, either, but I still think it's way more likely to happen than this.

3.) Rey and Kylo Ren will NOT fall in love- Because I can't believe just how many fan fics there are out there about this ship already. Just no.

4.) Snoke will not turn out to be Jar-Jar Binks- Really, people? Really?

Like I already said numerous times, this was a fantastically fun movie overall, and I see great things in the future of Star Wars. It wasn't perfect, but honestly, were any of the original trilogy movies perfect? No, but they were massively entertaining and the awesome far outweighed the flaws. And in my most humble of opinions, The Force Awakens is right up there with them, and I can't wait to see where the new trilogy will go from here.


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