This post contains information about The Force Awakens. If you don’t want that information, stop reading now.
I watched The Force Awakens late last night. I wasn’t blown away. I know that Star Wars fans have waited years (or in some cases, their whole lives) to see another decent Star Wars movie at the theater, and I know that they will, by default, LOVE this movie. In fact, they’re going to be righteously indignant if they read this post. It will be an act of heresy, in many people’s eyes, to speak poorly of the newest Star Wars film. To those hardcore fans, I say I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I seriously am. You waited a long time for it, and it’s finally here. Go nuts. See it five times.
I’m not as impressed by it as those fans, though. Here’s why. (If you don’t want to hear your favorite film franchise criticized, don’t read any farther.)
If the Star Wars franchise was a musical career, the first three records would be brilliant masterpieces. The next few albums would be mostly disappointing, although they’d contain occasional nuggets of goodness. The Force Awakens would have been advertised as the band’s return to earlier form, getting back to their roots and releasing a new record that sounds like their best work. Then, when the album was released, it would not turn out to be a new record. Instead, it’s a greatest hits album…one of those greatest hits albums that sneaks in a couple new tracks at the end. Almost everything you’ll see in The Force Awakens, you’ve already seen in another Star Wars film.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy greatest hits albums. I just don’t think they deserved to be heralded as Great New Additions To The Catalog.
Here are a few of the familiar songs you’ll hear on the greatest hits record that is The Force Awakens.
- As the film begins, the Hero, who is of course unaware of the impending adventure, is living on a far-flung desert planet and doing menial manual labor.
- The Hero’s family is a mystery, hinted at in tragic tones but never discussed openly.
- Elsewhere in the universe, the Good Guys are in big trouble. The Bad Guys are getting pretty powerful. How should they communicate with their fellow Good Guys? They should hide a message inside a droid.
- This droid will soon end up wandering the sands of the desert, where some aliens will try to grab it and sell it.
- There’s a giant creature beneath the sands in the desert. It eats things. It burps.
- Meanwhile, the Bad Guys have a powerful Jedi who wears a black mask and is tangled up in some serious father/son issues. This black masked man really likes to use the force to grab people by the neck.
- The Bad Guys serve a supreme leader who basically looks like a withered old man.
- When the Good Guys get really stuck, they go to a scummy and villainous cantina full of wonky-looking aliens, where a band is playing an instrumental. There, they find a way to continue their adventure.
- Secret jedi stuff is revealed by a tiny, wrinkly being who looks like a 700 year old human.
- The Reformed Reprobate, who has become a friend to the hero, decides this whole situation is somebody else’s problem and figures it’s time to escape alive, whether the Good Guys succeed or not.
- Of course, the Reformed Reprobate doesn’t stay gone for long. As it turns out, he has a good heart. He actually ends up playing a pretty big role in the eventual Good Guy victory.
- There are hints that the Reformed Reprobate has a crush on a girl who is really important to the Good Guys.
- We get a scene in which a Good Guy jedi uses the force to make a Bad Guy look silly, repeating everything he’s told and defying his orders.
- The Bad Guys have built a weapon: a Big Round Gun that can blow up entire planets. Unfortunately, this gun takes a long time to get charged up.
- Luckily for the Good Guys, the Big Round Gun has a major design flaw, and their ships are just small and quick enough to exploit it.
- Oh no! The Bad Guys are going to use the Big Round Gun to blow up the Good Guys and thus end their attempts overthrow tyranny! The Good Guys get in their spaceships and fly off toward the Big Round Gun so they can exploit its weakness and blow it up.
- There’s a fat guy with a beard flying one of the Good Guy ships. Fat guys are funny.
- As the Good Guys versus Bad Guys conflict plays out on a large scale, the father/son issues surrounding the guy in the black mask come to a head, acting as a microcosm for the whole light versus darkness thing.
- The clock ticks very slowly toward doom as it is announced many times how much longer it will take before the Big Round Gun is ready to fire.
- The father/son issues get definitively resolved on an extremely unsafely designed bridge that crosses over a seemingly bottomless chasm. During this scene, we get the obligatory “There is still good in you; I know it” line.
- Naturally, the Good Guys blow up the Big Round Gun at the very last moment before it can fire.
- This is clearly just the beginning for the Hero. Greater power and grander adventures clearly await.
Every single one of the above bullet points occurs in The Force Awakens AND in one of the previous films. There’s so very much recycled material.
I promise I’ll say a few positive things in a moment, but first I need to get a couple more complaints off my chest. These are not moments in which The Force Awakens reuses old material; they’re just things that bother me.
- First of all, when Kylo Ren takes off his mask, he looks like Andy Samberg. I can not take this guy seriously as a villain. That’s just a casting complaint, but it still irks me. On to more substantive gripes…
- At one point, Finn (who is black) looks at BB-8, that little round droid, and says “Droid, please.” I am dumbfounded that we have a “Nigga, please” joke in a Star Wars movie. The Star Wars franchise finally casts a black actor in a major heroic role, and THIS is the joke the writers put in his mouth? This is the single lowest point of the film for me.
- Also, the scene in which Rey realizes she can use the force, presumably the source of the movie’s title, comes completely out of left field. What makes her suddenly believe she has jedi powers? How does she know how to use them so effectively? It’s really convenient, but it’s not very well explained.
- What’s the deal with Kylo Ren? One would think that a major development like Han and Leia’s kid turning into Vader 2.0 would warrant more than a brief moment of conversation between his disappointed parents. One would be wrong, though.
- Finally, there’s no explanation whatsoever for the evil Supreme Leader. Who is he? Where is he? Why does he appear only as some kind of hologram? How did he come to power? Nobody knows. He’s big and spooky. That’s all you get.
Now, as I said at the outset, I wasn’t thrilled with The Force Awakens. On the other hand, I wasn’t disgusted. There are quite a few details of this film that I like a lot. For example…
- It’s beautiful. The CGI and special effects are better than they’ve ever been in the previous films.
- Lots of familiar faces pop up. It’s fun to see major characters and objects from the original films (Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Luke, R2-D2, C-3PO, Vader’s mask, the Millennium Falcon, wrecked hulks of Star Destroyers) on the big screen again.
- Old Han Solo seems to have gained some perspective on his antics as a young smuggler, and the scenes in which he looks knowingly at Finn or offers him advice are really well acted.
- BB-8 is a lovable little guy. Every shot he’s in is fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed watching him conquer stairs.
- Casting has become more inclusive. We get a tough, bad-ass female lead. We also get a seriously heroic black character. There’s even a storm trooper, who’s clearly some kind of lieutenant, who’s female.
- Kylo Ren is a petulant child who screams and randomly trashes things with his light saber when he’s frustrated or angry. That’s a new spin on the usually tightly controlled, emotionless bad guys we’ve had in past Star Wars films.
So there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly of The Force Awakens, as I see it. As I said, I don’t think it’s a bad movie, but I really wanted it to be more. It feels like a victory lap for the old films, not a new addition to the series. Naturally, it’s going to be HUGE at the box office. The filmmakers know their job, after all: get people in the door. They did so by giving older fans of the original films a trip down memory lane and by allowing younger fans the chance to see the classic characters on the big screen. As a piece of nostalgia (and marketing), it works very well. As a continuation of the series, I don’t think it’s especially good. I watched it once. I don’t think I’ll watch it again.