Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Friday, January 08, 2016

The build-up is over. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now a living, breathing reality. It’s already sitting there in movie theaters, making (probably) billions of dollars in box office receipts. But is it any good? I guess it depends on how you’re measuring it.

Compared to the disastrous, soul-sucking prequels, it stands up very favourably. But against the originals it falls way short. Way, way short. For every good thing in this movie, there are a couple of bad things to counter it.

The biggest problem is that the central villain, Kylo Ren, is emo as shit. Darth Vader was a cool, clinical psychopath who would quietly dispatch his subordinates whenever they did something that wasn’t to his liking. Our Kylo, on the other hand, is a pouting drama queen. When he doesn’t get his own way, he destroys shit like a toddler having a tantrum. It’s not scary and it’s fairly ridiculous to watch. Plus Kylo is played by Adam Driver, whom I last saw in HBO’s Girls. So basically you have a millenial hipster trying to rule the galaxy while not ruffling his floppy hair. How far we’ve fallen as a society.

Another problem is the larger villain of the piece, the ‘Supreme Leader’. This is the guy that Kylo Ren answers to, much like Darth Vader answered to The Emperor. But while The Emperor was an amusingly withered old guy, who cackled like some terrifying man-witch as he made a catty remark, the Supreme Leader is a horrible CGI creation. A big deal has been made that these films are going to use more practical effects, but this thing is an abomination. It looks like something you’d expect to see in the upcoming World of Warcraft movie, not Star Wars.

And what was with his hologram being about thirty feet tall? Is he that tall in real life? Or does he just have a tiny penis and therefore demanded a fucking huge hologram when the tech guys were installing all the telecommunications? ‘Oooh. Supreme Leader. How terribly big you are.’

And why is this film basically a less satisfactory rehash of the original Star Wars? It’s almost the same plot, just far less engaging. So the The Empire (or the First Order as they’re called here) are searching for a droid which has some secret information inside it. A lonely, idealistic daydreamer then intercepts said droid. However, while in Star Wars this individual had an aunt and an uncle, and there was some character development, in The Force Awakens the daydreamer has no parents or guardians and is very quickly swept up in the galactical drama that ensues.

But again, just as in Star Wars, the greenhorn encounters an old, wise hero from a bygone era. In the previous series, it was Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here it’s Han Solo. Then there’s a Death Star rip off that’s actually a planet with a massive weapon in it. Except this new weapon is far worse than the Death Star. While the Death Star was a space station that could go wherever it wanted, this thing is a fucking planet and can go nowhere. Why the downgrade? But then there’s a plan to shut down the weapon and attack it with spacecraft. It’s the exact same fucking film! It’s just more sloppily written and directed.

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are good things about the movie. Rey, the surrogate Luke Skywalker character, is excellent. She’s not the wet blanket that Luke Skywalker was in the first film and she has plenty of charm and strength. It’s also good to see that the male hero in this film is black. It’s sad that even in this day and age it feels brave that a blockbuster has a woman and a black man as the heroes of their movie, but it does.

It’s also great to see Han Solo back. It’s quite amazing how much the film improved when he finally turned up. Maybe it’s partly nostalgia, but nostalgia only lasts so long. The film genuinely became much better once he made he finally made his appearance. It’s a pity that they decided to kill him off and that that emo bastard was the one to do him in, but it was a pretty good scene.

The action scenes were also pretty decent, but even these were riddled with problems. So we eventually find out that Rey is strong with The Force. There’s a fantastic scene where Rey resists Kylo’s attempts to interrogate her. She shows her strength of will and it’s wonderful. But then at the end she’s having a very involved lightsaber duel with Kylo. Here it just becomes silly. Rey has never picked up a lightsaber before but here she is, holding her own with a guy who’s probably been in training for years. Just because you’re strong with The Force, doesn’t mean that you know how to fight yet - that takes training. So even though you have this pretty decent action scene taking place, it’s ruined by the fact that the logic behind it is totally fucked.

Compare this with the original trilogy. Luke doesn’t get to use his lightsaber until the second film and then he loses his hand in a fight to Darth Vader. So yeah, The Force is strong with Luke, but he needs training and experience. He can’t just go into a fight with someone and hold his own.

I also feel that the film left far too many things unexplained. Why does Finn suddenly decide that he doesn’t want to fight anymore? He begins the movie as a Stormtrooper but then he has a crisis of conscience and flees. This is a great idea for a beginning but the reasons and the emotions aren’t really explored, which makes Finn’s journey half-baked and unsatisfying. And even though Han’s appearance is extremely welcome, he seems to appear out of nowhere and then instigates a fun action scene with some space monsters. The machinations behind it are explained so quickly and so poorly that I couldn’t help but ask myself what the fuck was going on, so even though I’m enjoying the action, I don’t really know for sure why it’s happening. And what the fuck happened with Poe? How did he survive that crash? I’m sure it got explained, but I’m also sure that the explanation lasted 0.7 seconds and was probably mumbled under all the Dolby Surround sound.

But then the whole script is muddy. You get the feeling that JJ Abrams just couldn’t give a shit about telling a decent story. He just wants to move onto the next thing. And I have to say, I never thought that JJ was a good choice for this. He’s never convinced me as a filmmaker. And again he’s produced another superficial movie. It looks pretty good and everything feels like it should work, but it doesn’t.

The ending with Luke promises that there will be something to look forward to in the future, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. I haven’t seen enough to warrant getting excited. And I haven’t even mentioned a couple of really little things that bugged the hell out of me. Number one - why is a TIE Fighter on a tether? So you have all this enhanced technology and someone steals your spacecraft but the way you’re going to get around that is with a chain? What the fuck? The sight of Finn and Poe trying to escape in a TIE Fighter that’s tied to the wall is one of the saddest sights in recent cinema.

Number two - did you only hire the most weasly of British actors? The first trilogy had loads of English actors, but the weasel factor was nowhere near this high. The sight of Domhnall Gleeson (yes, yes, I know, he’s actually Irish) trying to give a rousing speech while squinting and grimacing like Vole was a little embarrassing.

Oh, and Captain Phasma is a fucking terrible villain. She’s not quite General Grievous terrible (multiple lightsaber attack!), but she’s about as tough as a sponge. A couple of kids hold a blaster to her head and she does everything they say. Fuck. Me.

Despite this, I feel that The Force Awakens is going to get an easy ride because it’s not The Phantom Menace, or Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. But I do have to wonder whether this is going to prove a worthwhile endeavour after all.

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  1. Spot on man. I am lost as to why the reviews for this film are so positive. I left the theater thinking "I saw this already, it was called Star Wars and was released in 1977." They really couldn't conjure up a villian that wasn't another Vader or a weapon that wasn't another Death Star?