Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

[Beware of major spoilers!]

At long last, the anticipation is over. The hype no longer matters. The time for spoilers, fan theories, and trailers has passed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is here, right now, on our movie screens.

And, it’s fair to state it’s a good film.

A good film; not a great one,

How do I make this particular assessment?

I’ll tell you. 

“I hope the movie is coherent, joyful (in J.J. Abram's words), and exciting.

I hope it has something to tell us about the world we live in today, while also transporting us to one of the most fascinating fantasy worlds of all time.”

I also wrote: “I hope The Force Awakens meaningfully reacquaints us with characters we love, and introduces us to new ones who are love-worthy and can carry the torch forward.

That’s it. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I needed to write a positive review in this space.

The movie didn’t need to be the Second Coming, or the best Star Wars ever. I just wanted those particular Christmas presents from it.

J.J. Abrams delivers on quite a few of those deeply wished for items, and deposits coal in place of a few others. But overall I like the film a lot. It’s a solid, if not particularly inspired foundation for the new trilogy to build upon.

I’m rather surprised that what The Force Awakens accomplishes well (and what it doesn’t do well) failed to line up with my expectations.

For instance, I would say that the film is indeed joyful, though not particularly coherent or exciting. 

Furthermore, the action scenes are shot in undistinguished fashion, and don’t build suspense in any careful or sustained way. The film’s major threat -- Star Killer Base -- is a rehash of a rehash that never feels like a significant threat, or even a fully-formed plot-point. The film's big villain, Snoke, is a bust.

Nor does The Force Awakens speak meaningfully about our world today, as -- love or hate them -- the George Lucas prequels definitely did. Abrams usually shies away from any kind of subtext in his work (the much derided Into Darkness [2013] is a stark exception), and so perhaps it is no surprise that this Star Wars pretty much works on a surface, soap opera level, and leaves it at that.

However, The Force Awakens does transport us back to the Star Wars universe with a lot of gusto and energy. That fact also seem undeniable.

Where I feel the film succeeds most --- and the reason why I say it is “good” -- involves my final laundry list of qualifications. 

The film very meaningfully, and touchingly re-acquaints us with characters we love, and it beautifully -- and very successfully -- introduces us to new characters who are worthy to carry the torch. 

Harrison Ford is amazing in this movie in his attempt to revive and deepen the Han Solo character. He delivers a great, affecting performance. He is the film’s most valuable player, by a long shot.

And that fact takes nothing away from the rest of the cast. The newcomers -- Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver -- are nothing less than terrific. The casting for the movie is great, and I can already envision great moments from this group still to come in the rest of the trilogy.

Given J.J. Abrams’ track record, however, I expected the film’s action to be achieved in more accomplished fashion and the treatment of the characters to be only mediocre, when in fact, the precise opposite appears true.

This Star Wars movie earns major kudos because of the characters, first and foremost. They resonate, and never feel like cartoon stand-ins for real human beings.

The reason to return to this galaxy far, far away in 2015 is, clearly, the people you meet there.

“There are stories about what happened.”

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, conflict still rages.

The survivors of the Empire have re-formed under a new name, The First Order, and under a new Leader called Supreme Leader Snoke. The Republic is reformed too, and the former rebel alliance is now a resistance force battling the Order.

Both sides seek to know the location of the last surviving Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who disappeared years ago, and whose whereabouts are unknown. 

General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) sends a hot-shot resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the far-flung desert world of Jakku to recover a map revealing Luke’s location.

The First Order sends a sinister agent, Kylo Ren (Driver) as well. Dameron is taken into custody by Ren after giving the map to his droid, BB-8.  But he is freed from custody and torturous interrogation by a Stormtrooper who has rejected his training, Finn (Boyega)

BB-8 meets a wily scavenger, Rey (Ridley) and she takes responsibility for Dameron’s mission, a mission that brings her into contact with Finn, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the Force itself.

Now these new friends must get to know one another even as the First Order prepares to launch an attack with its deadly new weapon at Star Killer Base.

“I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people.”

I have lived long enough to see Star Wars re-use the same plot-line three times.

The assault on the Death Star (Star Wars), the second Death Star (Return of the Jedi) and Star Killer Base (The Force Awakens) all repeat key plot points. First, there’s a weapon that can destroy planets in an instant. Then there’s a sustained fighter attack on the base. And finally, there’s a weak point on the evil base that can be exploited during that sustained attack. In two of the three attacks, there’s also a shield that needs to be brought down by a ground-team during the assault.

The first part or movement of each Star Wars trilogy so far also features the youngster who is taken under the wing of an elder-statesman or wise-man. That wise-man -- as part of the hero’s journey -- must die before the story ends. Anakin loses Qui Gonn Jinn in The Phantom Menace. Luke loses Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. And Rey lose someone who fits that role in The Force Awakens.

And then of course, we have our young hero. This person lives on a backwater world (Jakku or Tatooine), and experiences a mundane life as a farmer, slave, or scavenger. Soon, however, the galaxy comes knocking on the door of that character (often in the form of a droid), and the hero's true potential and destiny is realized. Thus we have Anakin/Luke/Rey.

A couple of things we can consider here. 

The first is that each trilogy serves as a reflection of the earlier one(s). This is the grand saga of the Skywalker Family across three generations, and in each generation, the same events (attacks and deaths, as noted above, for instance), recur. If one accepts this line of reasoning then the repetition of similar events in The Force Awakens is intentional, and an attempt at a genuine artistic flourish, a sense that although the generations pass, the story remains the same. 

Another way to explain this is that although our generations pass, we keep looking to the same, unchanged mythology (especially in terms of the Monomyth) to understand our world. Star Wars keeps giving us new characters taking the same steps because the overall myth underlining the saga doesn’t change. It is universal, and eternal.

Another line of defense for the over-familiar plot-line is this. Star Wars has always been first and foremost a pastiche: picking out and harvesting plots, characters, and set-pieces from other Hollywood and non-Hollywood movies and literary sources. 

By now, Star Wars is actually a pastiche of itself, so a case can also be made that J.J. Abram has fashioned the whole 2015 film as a kind of tribute to the 1977 edition, deliberately sprinkling in familiar ingredients and plot points. And that’s why we get the new cantina (a poor reflection of the original, alas), and the McGuffin device of the Luke Skywalker map, which fills in for the Death Star plans of the original.

Yet by the same token, not one of these familiar plot points (with the possible exception of the death of the wise elder) is handled with enough flair or color to mask the fact that we are watching a very expensive narrative rerun, or hide that the plot has little or no originality, and thus little or nothing to offer in terms of real surprise.

By comparison, the final trench battle in Star Wars was exciting, but also tense. The scene was incredibly suspenseful and it was constructed like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Jedi’s Death Star battle was a shadow of the first in terms of complexity and tension, but the film’s frenetic three-way cross-cutting between the Emperor’s Throne Room, the battle raging in space, and the boots on the ground on the moon of Endor, nonetheless created a kind of fever pitch intensity. The final battle in this film is totally devoid of any sort of escalating tension or suspense.

At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion in a Star Wars film that the evil battle station will get destroyed with just seconds to spare before Princess Leia, C3PO and the rebel leaders -- standing grim-faced in their control room -- buy the farm.

The film’s other action scenes aren’t any better, and many of them are actually tiresome. Much of the action in the film involves endless battles with Stormtroopers as they get shot up and blown through the air in explosions.  The point, I believe is to show the practical nature of this Star Wars. Real people in costumes, in real locations, with real pyrotechnics. This is a rebuke to the prequels, I understand, but there is a sameness to all the action in this mode.

Indeed, many of the film's act action sequences seem interchangeable, set in long, poorly lit, gray and red corridors. 

I said I wanted coherence, above, and the movie doesn’t always satisfy on that front, at least in terms of visual coherence. 

For example, it isn’t always clear when Ren is on the ground base or in the star destroyer -- the sets all look alike -- and it similarly isn’t clear whether the Star Killer Base destroys Coruscant or some look-alike planet. 

Leia mentions the Hosnian System, but as far as casual Star Wars fans know, Coruscant could be in the Hosnian system, right?  I had to look it up on the net when I came home to see that Coruscant survived the film.  Otherwise, I was going to complain that Abrams apparently possesses some kind of mean fetish for blowing up canonically-important planets (see: Vulcan).

Even the light saber duel in The Force Awakens is not orchestrated in any sort of overtly memorable or suspenseful way we have come to expect; one that would suggest the outcome could be uncertain. 

In this regard, The Phantom Menace’s light saber duel is far superior. It is clever, indeed, to give us a fight between two (or three, actually…) untrained saber fighters in The Force Awakens, but as a result of the characters’ inexperience, the fight lacks any kind of visual distinction. It’s just people hacking and charging at each other in a picturesque setting.

Although Abrams occasionally lands on a memorable shot (like TIE fighters silhouetted against the glowing orb of a burning alien sun), there are very few compositions in The Force Awakens that stir the emotions, or ignite the imagination.

There is no equivalent here of that famous “sunset” shot, for instance; that moment of yearning in the original Star Wars. Even against 21st century contemporaries, The Force Awakens is a letdown in terms of its action and visualization. This film doesn’t have one-tenth the visual brawn of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), for example, which sustained a car chase for two hours, essentially, via dazzling cinematic chops.

What Star Wars: The Force Awakens lacks in spectacle, suspense and real adrenaline, it absolutely makes up for, however with a lot of good humor, sly banter, and strong characterizations. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher bring grace and charm to their roles. They don’t get a whole lot of screen time together, but they make the most of it, for certain. Fisher has less time to make an impact that Ford gets, but she registers strongly. Ford is fantastic in this movie.

It’s funny, but Harrison Ford’s persona in later years -- Air Force One (1997), even Ender’s Game (2014) -- is, well, kind of dour. I wondered if he could find the Han Solo within, after all this time away from the part. He sure as hell does. 

The interlude that involves his discovery of the Millennium Falcon, a smuggling deal gone wrong, and some hungry living cargo that gets loose aboard his ship is, in many ways, the high point of the film. 

Here, Ford performs the miracle of reminding us of the devil-may-care young Solo, while projecting, simultaneously, the idea that he has lived through all these years and adventures since the last time our paths crossed. And when later scenes require Ford to tread into trick emotional territory, he is also up to the challenge. He nails every nuance of the character.

It’s also great to see returning characters Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Admiral Ackbar, but the film’s best introduction of an old friend belongs to none other than C3PO (Anthony Daniels) who -- with typical lousy timing -- inserts himself into the middle of a Han-Leia reunion. This scene really made me laugh, and brought back memories of the characters as they interacted in The Empire Strikes Back. Like so many moments in the film, this scene is delightful.

The new characters -- Finn, Poe, Rey, Ren, and BB-8 – are also handled very, very well. There isn’t a bad actor or bad concept anywhere in the bunch. These new individuals all manage to come across as vivid and real personalities, with Ridley’s Rey being the obvious stand-out. She’s a real find. The camera loves her, and so, I suspect, will every fanboy (and girl) in the universe. Rey is strong and resourceful, independent and funny, vulnerable and tough, at the same time. I can’t wait to see her character grow over the next two films and I am glad she so capably takes center stage here. I look forward to Rey being the central character in this chapter of the Skywalker Saga.

The one character who didn’t work for me at all in the film is Supreme Leader Snoke. He is composed of (bad) CGI, and looks like uncomfortably like Lord Chaos from Skylanders, right down to his choice of wardrobe. I didn’t find him particularly menacing or interesting. He’s like a weird-place holder or something, until the trilogy’s real villain shows up, or takes center stage.  My son Joel insists we haven’t really seen Snoke at all, only his holographic image, and that the real Snoke will look quite different when we finally meet him in the flesh.  I hope so, because I couldn’t take him seriously in this guise. Of all the characters, he is the one who transmits as a cartoon, a parody of the kind of villain we would expect in a Star Wars film.

Finally, I should add that The Force Awaken’s climactic scene packs a punch, in part because of the location shooting, in part because of the return of another major, beloved character. This is the best filmed scene in the movie, and will be a great leaping off point for Episode VIII. It features the visual coherence or poetry that the remainder of the film seems to lack. It is also, finally, suspenseful.

The Force Awakens is an entertaining and solid Star Wars entry, and that’s what I hoped it would be. I understand some devoted fans are apparently angry at reviewers who don’t like the film, or who somehow do not praise it highly enough.

That’s just silly. This is a film, like any other film, and it obeys the same laws of physics. The fact that it is Star Wars doesn't give it a pass.

Let’s leave the hyping of the product to the marketers, the irrational exuberance to the fanboys, and permit the critics do their jobs. 

I was satisfied with the film on many fronts while feeling that -- much how I felt about The Phantom Menace -- there is also significant room for improvement as the saga continues. 

The Force Awakens is a good beginning to the third Star Wars trilogy, but it's not the greatest show in the galaxy. When the nostalgia wears off, people will begin to see this film and its values and deficits more clearly, I believe. 


  1. Anonymous9:57 AM

    I'll agree with the good, not great assessment. But my particular may differ.

    I'll go with the idea that it was intended to show the cyclic nature of events, thus the slight re-imaginings of various scenes from former movies. And that fits Joe Campbell's stuff to a T (even though I find the monomyth tired and stupid). And even the negative events are cyclic.

    Obi-wan has a student go bad, and he runs and hides. Look at how that works out for Alderan, for example. Luke does the same with Kylo. Otherwise, Luke is just a putz.

    I do disagree with the idea that there's no reflection on today's world. On the one hand, the First Order doesn't appear to be in control of much, as it's continually shown that it wants to be the Empire. On the other, the Republic is both referred to as a government, implying that ti's in power, and a rebellion (which makes little sense). I'd cast the First Order as the characterization of ISIS, et al.

    To me, Snoke looked to have more in common with Voldemort than anyone. Serkis was wasted on this. The only positive point about Snoke was that it was ambiguous whether he really was 20 feet tall, until you see it's a hologram. Snoke must have a bigger ego than Palpatine, who never saw the need to appear larger than life.

    One thing that doesn't ring true is the idea that Luke is the last Jedi. If he's really the last, where does Snoke come from, and what is he teaching Kylo? Where do these guys keep popping up from?

    And I'm guessing there must be some crossover with Dune, except that instead of spice, there's midichlorians in that sand, since all the Force-powerful characters seems to come from deserts.

    Yes, Ford is very, very good in this. As are the rest. One of my criteria for this movie to be successful was to NOT mess with the existing characters. And Abrams didn't. Han is still Han. Leia is still Leia. C3PO is still himself, though I found his reuniting to be forced rather than funny.

    I'll also disagree with the idea that there's no subtext here. There is. And that subtext is 'who's your family?'

    1. Late to the comments here because I only just saw the movie tonight. To sum up my personal reaction: I liked it better than Return Of The Jedi but not quite as much as Empire Strikes Back. The big surprise for me was that they managed to fit some real humor in the film. The unpleasant surprise was the moment when Kylo did a Jason style offscreen-teleport to get in front of Rey and Finn!

      Yes, the big bad was a Voldemort cameo. Didn't expect that! Just once I would like to see something totally different for the main villain. No way would it make it into a big budget film but on the way home the idea popped into my head of having Kristen Schaal use a variant of the character she played in Flight Of The Conchords - kooky, cute, obsessed, unstoppable and terrifying.

  2. Agree on all counts. It's one of those movies that's great fun while you watch the first time but becomes more and more irksome the more you think about it afterward. This, by the way, seems to be a J.J. Abrams trademark. His films are fine in the moment but none of them are built carefully enough to last, to withstand sustained scrutiny. He is, sorry to say, a lazy writer who depends almost entirely on nostalgia and recognition of genre signifiers for his effects instead of doing the actual work of building a logical, airtight story.

    Having said all that, you are absolutely right about what goes right here: The casting. If there's any justice at all Daisy Ridley is going to be a huge star. She's terrific and has charisma to burn. I love that we finally get a female character who is strong and interesting and who isn't forced into the usual "girl who's really just an honorary guy" box that action movies nearly always force female leads into. And she's allowed to have her own mind about things and make her own choices without being dragged about like baggage by a macho "hero." On the same note, Abrams and Kasdan also have the grace to not turn her into the opposite and equally offensive cliche: The ball-busting, man-hater who's "independence" is just a cloak for a depressing neediness that (of course) can only be cured by the attentions of a macho "hero." Rey is independent and brave and doesn't need a "hero" to rescue her. She does quite nicely rescuing HIM (Finn), thank you very much. If nothing else we can at least thank George Lucas for giving us the good example that Abrams has seen fit to follow: Princess Leia. It cheers me to see how much my two nieces loved the movie and Rey in particular and I can at least thank the filmmakers for making them feel welcome and empowered in this universe the rest of us already love.

    1. Says you, Count Zero-I thought that Into Darkness summed up what's been happening in the world quite well. What's getting your goat and John's is that Abrams, Orci, & Kurtzman didn't adhere to the hogwash about Roddenberry's 'vision' that you, he and millions of others believe in based on what's in Star Trek-The Next Generation. Get this as much as possible: Star Trek's an action-adventure franchise with a sci-fi setting, not any of the hogwash believed by people like yourselves. If it tells a great story about human nature, fine, but in and of itself, it's still a space opera with action in it, not any of the nonsense made up by Roddenberry and two generations of fans at conventions blowing smoke up his butt.

      As for The Force Unleashed, I tend to think that this is a homage/pastiche, not lazy film-making. The deeper themes and meanings are still there, but at least Abrams hasn't forgotten what entertainment is.

      Zero, you don't like Rey being so good at fighting with a pike? Remember how Luke Skywalker was a mess at doing so in Episode IV, yet he was able to wield a lightsaber against Vader in Episode V without any problems just like that? I never heard any complaints for you that Luke had gotten so skilled with a saber, or that Luke was so good at piloting an X-Wing that he was able to use the Force to shoot two torpedoes into the Death Star's exhaust port just like that-again, where was the outrage? This is hypocrisy coming from you and many male fans. Why not accept that Rey was as skilled in the Force as Luke was/is and as Anakin was when he was a kid, and leave it at that?

      John: I'd rather The Force Unleashed be like it is rather be so daring in story and characters that fans are pissed off and hate it to bits so that it get considered a popular failure again like the prequels. Judging by the reaction of the public and critics, I'd say that people are very pleased with it (although they shouldn't be blasting the prequels, though.)

  3. Hi John,

    I enjoy your work very much, and you have many times given me new perspectives on films, thank you for that brother.

    I agree with much of what you said in your TFA review but I still think your being nice or you're still a bit in the "Honeymoon Phase". There's so much true Star Wars fans have to be upset about with this movie. Your review was very close to my assessment, that the most lacking factor was wow, wonderment and awe. Plus the fact that this film had no suspense and not one great set piece.(a first for a Star Wars film and sad) TFA feels like Star Wars The TV Movie. And if it was a TV Movie on ABC, I would have been a little more impressed but this is the first Star Wars movie in theaters that is not an EPIC. I never felt transported to other worlds, I saw a desert and a forest with minimal production design. The Prequels are looking really good right now in that aspect. I give it two stars because of the actors and the "funny moments" but besides that it has no build up, at times its silly, and pandering. (I feel that John Williams had no idea how to score TFA because every action scene has no buildup thus no need for his amazing talent to give rise and build to scenes, not his fault) The point I was surprised you did not bring up was Rey's unusual quick knowledge of the force, even though she has no real idea what it is. Things that took Luke 2 movie's to do, Rey did in 1 movie. I was reminded of this while watching The Empire Strikes Back when Luke is hanging upside down and is reaching for his Lightsaber, he is struggling to reach it and its very near by. Rey was able to do it with ease with no training and from a much further distance. Its ugly women empowerment pandering "Anything you can do, I can do better" in a film series that is more about Father and Sons than anything else. They destroyed a bit of the gravity of the series with that nonsense throughout the film. And I am not a Women Empowerment hater, Mad Max: Fury Road and Jupiter Ascending proved that that sort of Propaganda if you will can be done right and us guys have to shut up because it was done with thoughtfulness and heart. TFA is not that, the whole film feels rushed especially the characters development.

    My final negative point is something I read in another review which summed up my worst fears of what this film could have been which is:

    "Which brings me to what I hated the most about the movie, and the main reason I'm giving it such a low score: it erases anything good and fulfilling we had at the end of Return of the Jedi. Every single one of the original heroes failed miserably in every aspects of their lives. Where is the reward for being good, just and do heroic deeds?
    So... Han failed as a husband, as a father, as a member of the resistance and overall as a man (a bitter one it seems)... same goes for Leia (oh, she is a general of a sidekick cell that's supported by the republic... great). Luke is the worse of them all: failed as a jedi master, failed as a protector of the galaxy, as uncle, as friend, as brother, as the owner of R2D2"

    End of Part 1

  4. Part 2

    TFA broods with so much negativity and abandons everything that our heroes fought so hard to protect. Its a huge slap in the face. It undermines the power of GOOD. Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker all deserve a grace period after what they've been though and this film denied us that forever. We are right back in the same loop, and I get it most people come from broken homes, or fatherless childs, (I'm one of them) etc. But that doesn't mean films have to pander to society in such a manner. It could have been a great example to show that the GOOD in the world has to be protected and that its a torch of hope that we pass down to our children. TFA in my opinion has destroyed much history and has set us up for a very negative Trilogy, I guess one about the loop of destruction. And maybe that would have been acceptable if the movie was great via amazing set pieces, visual spectacle, wonderment, better pacing, a memorable score, and inspired production design but it didn't even do that. All things that are Star Wars Traditions. There's more of course, Plot holes all over the place and the misuse of Captain Phasma, is she dead?

  5. It's funny, a friend of mine (and a long time "Star Wars" fan) gave it a mixed review similar to yours. I almost feel like I saw a different movie. Perhaps nostalgia played a role in the exhilaration I felt both times I have seen it. But allow me to push back on two things...

    Like you I completely agree about the prequels and their rich and contemporary subtext. The political stuff is the main reason I like the prequels. While TFA seems to stay away from this kind of stuff on purpose (because the prequels are so hated I imagine), like the above poster pointed out, "The First Order" can be seen as an ISIS. Take out the Emperor (or the dictator in Iraq) and you create a vacuum which will be filled by a new form of evil.

    Also, I do think there is considerable visual panache to the direction of the action sequences. The entire TIE fighter escape was exciting as hell for me. Same with the initial escape from Jaco in the a certain ship.

    There is also a scene near the end of the film where Fin watches an X-Wing (manned by a certain new hotshot pilot) make a daring circular attack run and exclaims "That is one hell of a pilot!"
    It is shot in a gorgeous, beautifully choreographed one shot. Awesome direction in my opinion.

  6. I always felt the mistake in this film was mixing too much of the old with the new. The Starkiller seemed a dead end redux. It bore no relevance to the story they set out which was essentially "the hunt for Skywalker". As I sad on my podcast this week, I think they should have modeled on Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than Star Wars, to generate a rip roaring Star Wars style hunt for Skywalker, not a return to the Death Star trope AGAIN. That said, great new characters, great to see the old ones. Fun visuals, old friends. Lots to love, but no, narratively, and structurely, this felt like Abrams Into Darkness; big scene after big scene, with little thought as to where they were going with this film.

  7. John,
    I'm running out of superlatives for your reviews. You've spot-on nailed it in all respects. I'm continually impressed by your ability to parse details and examine with clarity what seems obfuscated upon first glance.
    I've seen the film twice, and happily, the second viewing improved upon the first, at least in my opinion. But lingering doubts have really affected my ability to fully appreciate this film as others have.
    On the one hand, I loved all of the new characters. They were each engaging, interesting and likeable. BB-8 is a wonder to behold. Harrison Ford is great, as you have noted. There's so much here to enjoy.
    Which brings us to the other hand...
    The lingering thought in my mind is "if only." If only these wonderful characters were given a plot line which lived up to what they were able to bring. The deja vu portion of my brain was overloading, and not in a nostalgic, "hey that's neat" kind of way.
    "You think that's a Death Star? THIS is a Death Star!!!"
    Lines recycled from A New Hope are hoarded as Easter Eggs and passed off as plot points. After two viewings, I just felt like all of the characters in this film - never mind my feelings - deserved something better than a re-hash of past events.
    As much as I loved seeing Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Ackbar, Nien Nunb, Luke and all the rest, I felt that the film hit a wall when Han and Chewie enter the Millennium Falcon. Or veered down a nostalgic side road, never to return. But hey -- Daniel Craig!!
    As RUTZ pointed out in the comments above, and as has also been noted by others such as Rob Bricken at io9, the happy feelings we experienced in the OT have been superseded by the sense that everything that was fought for in the past came to naught; there's still an Empire Mark II and a Rebellion Mark II, and it's impossible not to notice that these characters we fondly remember struggled and died for nothing.
    When General Hux is giving his big OTT speech to legions of Stormtroopers, was I the only one in the theatre thinking "Who would ever follow this pretentious, sniveling little prick?" I'm looking forward to a lot more Finns in the sequels...Bunches and bunches of Stormtroopers getting the hell outta there rather than follow this guy anywhere.
    Spoiler Ahead! Don't read if you haven't seen the film!
    Any way you want to look at it, spin it, or rationalize it away, Han Solo gets punked. Mace Windu has nothing on Han. They were both literally tossed aside, Sith fodder, and I can't even. I'm repeating myself here, but he deserved better.
    I wanted to love the film; I liked it. I wanted it to be great; it was good. There is a truly amazing film inside there, desperately trying to get out. It was buried by a plotline we've seen three times now, under sets and dialogue lifted directly from past Star Wars films, X-Wings fighting Tie fighters and light sabers and blasters all twirling in different directions.
    Oy! Disney! How about a speeder chase through an underground volcano that erupts spontaneously taking out good guys and bad guys? How about a chase through a Saturn-like planet's rings? How about something we've never seen before?
    In the comments for your post regarding your hopes for the film, I hoped for some originality. I also hoped that they wouldn't use the same lines from the first three Star Wars films.
    Well, when Han Solo says "I've got a bad feeling about this," I'm okay with that. In fact, I've been saying the same thing myself ever since I saw the film.

  8. Great to read your thoughts on this one. Just saw it on Friday. Like you, I enjoyed it quite a bit, but found it lacking in the overall plot and structure. I want to see it again before I really start digging into it critically.

    But I have to say this is a fun movie. That is something I don't think any of the prequels really managed. It also had me looking forward to where the characters were going to end up, again something the prequels never managed.

    I do think the lightsaber battles were interesting visually and had an intensity and desperation to them that was sorely lacking in the prequels. Jedi's duels were savage and brutal, and these felt the same way. I really appreciated that.

    I also think that visually this film looked great. A fine mix of the familiar and the new. As for the interior of the StarKiller and the Star Destroyer looking same, well the same thing happened in the older series. I think the big difference is that we have both as primary locations in this film.

    All in all, a fine Star Wars film, but not the GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME that I hear some fans declaring. But I also really like John Williams score. It may be the most complex of his Star Wars scores, but it really works well in the film and as a stand alone listen.

  9. John. A terrific rendering of the film and my experiences with it.

    Your points about the lack of "threat" genuinely permeated my experience of the film making it a generally satisfactory one.

    Your use of the original 1977 film's death star trench sequence is a great example. There was great depth and complexity to that sequence. Even secondary characters stood out in a meaningful way. Not so with this entry.

    I think you really nail it here. It simply wasn't exciting despite all of the spectacle. Where was the menace, to use a word? Or suspense as you put it? Where?

    Your points about the action sequences is entirely fair. They were rather bland. I could see those same action sequences watching my son play his video game and maybe that's the audience and the point.

    The lightsaber action isn't staged well at all and lacks the awe factor that is really central to those moments. You can point to just about any film in that regard.

    Harrison Ford was okay. I didn't find his Han Solo quite as wonderful as you, but... he's older and I should take that into account. The fact he had never used Chewie's crossbow until now was certainly amusing and did remind me of the old Solo.

    And Snoke really was a "bust"! That was awful. Again, the old problem with CGI attempting to mimic flesh, hologram or not, that character seemed rushed at best.

    Throwing all of the action and the old faces together is a nice idea but ultimately not enough to create a strong story or influence the film enough to obscure its flaws and or weaknesses.

    I liked the character casting choices as well. They were very likable if not particularly deep.

    I also don't think your expectations were that hard to meet.

    Enjoyed your article very much!

  10. I admittedly am not a big fan of science fantasy, after all I just now viewed this film. But the largest critique I have with the film itself is the light Saber duel between Rey & Kylo Ren. Almost amateurish in intensity. How does Rey, who has never been trained, competently battle...and even DEFEAT Kylo Ren? And this before Luke trains here and she's defeated Ren already? He's supposed to be more dangerous next film? Maybe a bigger Death Star that blows up whole galaxies instead of solar systems? I got it....how the big merger?????? Bring the Borg into the Star Wars universe. Good film...yeah sure, I guess, however the bar just keeps getting lowered for this franchise.

  11. I admittedly am not a big fan of science fantasy, after all I just now viewed this film. But the largest critique I have with the film itself is the light Saber duel between Rey & Kylo Ren. Almost amateurish in intensity. How does Rey, who has never been trained, competently battle...and even DEFEAT Kylo Ren? And this before Luke trains here and she's defeated Ren already? He's supposed to be more dangerous next film? Maybe a bigger Death Star that blows up whole galaxies instead of solar systems? I got it....how the big merger?????? Bring the Borg into the Star Wars universe. Good film...yeah sure, I guess, however the bar just keeps getting lowered for this franchise.


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