My wife is likely wiser than I am. Her attitude about The Force Awakens is that it’s a pretty soap bubble and she doesn’t want to poke it. And that is a totally fair way to approach. I, of course, have been thinking about it so I thought I’d jot down some observations.
First, the good things.
It’s better than prequels. This may seem like a low bar. Indeed I’ve joked elsewhere that Abrams merely needed to step over it. Still though, it is worth acknowledging that The Force Awakens was much better than any of the wretched and best forgotten prequels.
The new cast is excellent. This is probably the biggest win for the new movies. Rey, Finn, and Poe are good characters and very well-cast. The torch being passed to them seems in good hands.
It feels like Star Wars. This is something that could easily have gone wrong but it didn’t.
The welcome return of humor. And I don’t mean fart and poop jokes. Force Awakens had nice touches of humor that felt right at home with the original trilogy.
No fucking Tatooine. One of the things that bugged the shit out of me about the prequels was how it returned to Tatooine again and again. This was supposed to be a backwater planet that Luke could grow up on in obscurity, not the center of many important events of recent history. Now I’ll grant you that Jakku is an awful lot like Tatooine, but at least it’s a different planet with its own implied events. Star Wars has a whole galaxy to play with, so I hope this trend of creating new worlds continues.
Now on to the not so good things.
Finn needs more backstory. If the film is to be believed, Finn was a happy cog in the First Order machine until he experienced the brutality of battle. Then he instantly flips sides and becomes a renegade. And if the blood of his dead friend was that horrifying to him, it surely does’t stop him from killing often and with enthusiasm for the rest of the film. I like the character, but I wish the movie spent a little more time building up his defection.
Gwendoline Christie was wasted. I remember when she was cast, but I didn’t realize she was Captain Phasma while watching the movie. Phasma was a nothing of a character with little to do. I understand she’s in the sequels, so hopefully they do something better with her.
The politics are muddy. I guess Abrams and crew were gun-shy of spending too much time explaining galactic politics after the prequels, but I would have appreciated a better explanation of the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance. It was more like, “OK, these are the new Empire and Rebellion respectively, and go!”
The map to Luke is a weird macguffin. Who made the map? It’d have to be Luke, right, because no one else knows where he went. But he’s not buried treasure, he’s a living Jedi master. Is his plan to just wait on a rock until someone shows up? Weird. Also, the heroes are totally cavalier about what they have in their possession. They tell everyone they run across, “Oh, we have a map to Luke Skywalker!”
Space is meaningless. Abrams has had this problem before, in the Star Trek movies. Basically, the very concept of space seems to be an inconvenience to him. Distance doesn’t matter. You can get anywhere in the galaxy in like 5 minutes. And yet there is apparently an entire sector of space no one knows anything about.
Smart characters acting dumb. It doesn’t even occur to famed smuggler Han Solo to disguise or conceal the droid the entire First Order is looking for? Veteran General Leia Organa doesn’t even try to evacuate her base when the planet it’s on may be blown up imminently?
Ren’s hero worship makes little sense. OK, so Kylo Ren idolizes Darth Vader. He even has Vader’s mask as a keepsake. But surely, being the son of Han and Leia, he knows the final chapter of Vader’s story, right? The one where he kills the Emperor, redeems himself, and becomes a happy force ghost. If his great idol ultimately turned away from the Dark Side, how does Ren square that with his adulation?
AFDS. Look, it’s Star Wars. I expect a certain amount of callbacks to the original trilogy. There will be Jedi mind tricks and someone will have a bad feeling about this, but seriously, another fucking Death Star? This was the point of The Force Awakens in which my eye rolling began in earnest. There are other epic threats they could have imagined. One of my friends called the use of the third Death Star mythic. I call it lazy, and the implication of this repetition is…
The original trilogy means nothing now. The Force Awakens very consciously reestablishes the status quo from the beginning of A New Hope. There’s a new Empire and new Rebellion, a new Obi-wan and a new Dark Vader. This means that the events of the original trilogy were essentially pointless. The defeat of the empire was a hollow victory.
So overall, I give The Force Awakens a B-. Maybe it’s the palette cleanser people need after the prequels to set the stage for newer, more exciting movies. I hope that’s the case. I think the new cast could do a lot if they get the scripts they deserve. What Star Wars desperately needs now is some original ideas. It’s hard to remember how different Star Wars was when it debuted in 1977 but it pushed the envelope in so many ways. I hope the new caretakers of Star Wars do not content themselves with telling the same stories over and over again. There’s a galaxy of possibilities out there.
It was always going to be difficult to please everybody.
I remember when I first saw Star Wars. My parents couldn’t understand why I liked it so much, because to them it was just like a souped up RKO serial. Fandom seems to have an insatiable appetite for viewing and reading thinly disguised palimpsests of material it is already long since familiar with. In that respect I guess it harkens back to the earliest real world myth cycles, stories worked and reworked, embellished and tailored to whoever the audience was this week.
The biggest complaint of the prequel films (other than the acting) was that they weren’t Star Wars-y enough. well, you can’t say that about a film that recycles so many characters, plots, shots and locations. Force Awakens certainly *is* Star Wars, to an almost slavish degree. You can just imagine the script meeting where they wrote down EXACTLY what made Star Wars Star Wars and replicated it.
But with love.
And with just enough promise from the excellent new cast that I desperately want to see where the story goes next.
I agree with most of your points. I disagree with how fast Finn turned good. We have to assume he was thinking about this before. Hux admits that there has been a need to re-educate stormtroopers who were having doubts before. I understand this will be covered in a novel, which is a double edged sword: fanboys can read it and understand it better, but casual fans are left in the dark. However, the movie was made to be fast, moving from scene to scene in a high energy fashion, and twenty minutes of FN-2187 walking around his work like a renegade from Office Space would have broken the flow.
Again, hitting the novels (and a bit in the Clone Wars animated show), there are safe “thruways” in hyperspace. These have been mapped out and are used routinely, but not all of the galaxy has been mapped; even stars within the known areas are not explored for these thruways. There might be some kind of dark object in between that may cause you to be floating home. This is similar to what scouts do in Traveller. Again, causal won’t get it.
As for space being meaningless, all of Star Wars has hyperspace making travel a short trip to the market. That’s just the way it is.
I hated Starkiller Base, another rehash of the Death Star. And they all have stupid weaknesses. I actually disliked reusing the Death Star in Jedi. I want new imagination, not the newer, bigger same thing over and over. The old Expanded Universe was full of them: Death Star III, Prototype Death Star, and the silly Sun Crusher, a small ship that could destroy stars. made by the Death Star designers on their own. Lame.
BTW: Anakin Sywaler was originally going to appear in the melted mask scene as a force ghost, but it was cut out early, although I have seen the pre-production artwork for his look. Kind of a mix of Hayden Christiansen and old Vader without the helmet on (scars, etc.). I wonder why the force ghost was evil?
And I gave it a solid “B,” mostly because of its completely rebooted story elements.
In the end, I liked it enough to see it twice, in part (though) because I just wanted some more popcorn. I really, really hope this movie acts more as a setup for episode VIII than a simple stand-alone film – if I’m going to sit through a rehashed plot, then the payoff had better be worth it, or I might [gulp] have to skip episode IX.