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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movie Review - Star Wars, Episode VII The Force Awakens

Update 12/28/16 -  For another take on this move, see here.

We saw The Force Awakens Tuesday night, guests of my step son Doug.  So thanks to him for the treat, and to my lovely wife for reminding me to take my ear plugs so I could survive the mayhem of the previews of coming destructions with my hearing still more or less intact. 

I’ve never been a fan of the Star Wars series, and went in fully prepared to hate this installment, but was relieved when that didn’t happen.  I assume everyone who cares has seen the movie, perhaps multiple times by now, so I shouldn’t be too concerned with spoilers.  But if I’m wrong, and that would bother you, then don't read beyond the fold.

To me, Star Wars has always been a series of mediocre check-your-brain-at-the door action-adventure stories filled with tropes that were banal centuries ago, wrapped up in mediocre plotting and truly dismal science fiction. This is the sort of stuff that writing school would tell you to avoid like the plague.  That it has become a multi-billion dollar franchise spanning decades and generations of die hard fans tells you exactly why you don’t ever want me in your focus group.

That said, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit - rather more than I actually liked it; and no, I’m not quite sure what that means.  The story has a lot of little treats packed in it for fans - cameo appearances by the ever annoying C3PO and a comatose R2D2, a trash compacter reference, and I’m sure lots of other echoes of earlier entries and tidbits that flew past me.

I walked out of it feeling that I had just rewatched Guardians of the Galaxy.  [I’ll leave the compare and contrast exercise to the interested reader.  Hint 1- there is no Groot analog that I am aware of.  Hint 2 - the Andy Serkis character.]  The plot was a herd of rabbits drawn from hats, and it seems that Abrams, et al, have a firm grasp of Dan Brown’s first law of success via bad story telling - keep the action moving at lightning speed and the audience won’t have a chance to fall through the plot holes.

Nits first, big complaints later -
  • Storm troopers still cannot hit any target - moving or stationary, despite their intense training from early childhood
  • Their armor still provides absolutely no protection beyond anonymity
  • Sound and flames still carry and burn in the vacuum of outer space - still and always unforgivable

The thing that saves this story is the characters, most particularly the compelling central character, Rey - a seriously badass scavenger girl who we find on a poverty-stricken desert planet strewn with the relics of the wars from the predecessor movies, who, like Jon Snow in a different story universe, has no idea who or what she is.  But, despite having no known training in any skill set, art or science, is not only an ace pilot, but expert in knowing all the ins and outs of the Millennium Falcon, an obsolete class of vehicle with which she has had no previous experience, that just happens to be lying around, fully fueled, available for her escape with her new bestie, Finn.  Hat, rabbit - check.

Through Finn we learn that the Imperial Storm Troopers - or whatever these puppet soldiers of the First Order call themselves these days - are like the Unsullied trained on Essos in Slaver’s Bay - young boys ripped from their families and transformed into killing ciphers.  Unlike the Unsullied, though, they are really bad at it.

I’m not going to relate every hat and rabbit.  But as soon as Rey and Finn complete their escape from the Storm Troopers and a pair of tie fighters, they get captured by none other than Han and Chewie, who just happen to be - in all the vastness of the universe - hovering overhead. Hat, rabbit - check. Then they are invaded by two groups of heavily armed - bounty hunters, I suppose - who want Han’s hide.  Hat - ra . . .  - well, you get the picture.

By the way, whatever happened to that ravenous bug-bladder beast of Trall, or whatever the hell that thing was that Rey pulled out of a hat, who neatly [well, not so neatly, actually] disposed of the intruders, then exited stage left to never bother our heroes again?  And why did it drag Finn off down those corridors instead of devouring him on the spot?  I guess we’ll never know.

And what about this First Order?  Evidently they rose from the ashes of the old Imperial structure, right down to kidnapping young lads to become future storm troopers.  But how is it that the Republic was unaware of their growing menace over the ensuing decades, and did nothing about it? Or did I miss something?  It all happened so fast.

Then there’s the mega weapon the First Order unveiled, at first unbeknownst to the good guys, who later and suddenly, at the climactic moment and at some great interstellar distance, are able to know within seconds when the thing would project all the energy sapped from an unfortunate star to vaporize their planet.  Since star systems are light years apart, they should have had ample time, you know - years, to defend or evacuate, as needed, but that little detail was lost on the authors.

Back to Rey - in whom the titular Force is now awakening.  We see her incipient power when she wrests Luke Skywalker's light saber from the snow, despite Kylo Ren also beckoning it.  In the ensuing [and required] light saber battle, Ren backs our heroine all the way to the edge of a cliff.  At the very edge of the cliche - er, precipice, he offers to train her in the use of the Force, if she’ll join him on the dark side.  Evidently, this wasn’t the best pick-up line. The camera then zooms in for a long close up of her admittedly quite lovely face.  “Force,” I imagine her thinking; “Oh.yeah, that power I just used to snatch this weapon a minute and a half ago, but seem to have forgotten about over the last several seconds.”  With this dawning new awareness, she suddenly takes the advantage, and attacks Ren with all the fury of a woman recently poised at the edge of a cliff.

And she’s winning.  Ren is wounded, laying bleeding in the snow; but before she can come in for the kill, a fissure opens between them.  Did I mention that the planet is now coming unzipped?  So there they are separated by a chasm, deftly pulled from the planetary hat.  If we could see to the bottom of the abyss, I’m sure there were be a multitude of stampeding rabbits.  But I digress.  Needless to say [I’m saying it anyway] Chewey, arrives in time to save her along with the injured Finn, and fly away seconds before the planet completely comes undone.

Well, enough of this.  One thing that worked for me was the encounter between Han and his son - the masked-for-no-apparent reason Kylo Ren. This could have played out in a number of different ways, but the way it did was the only one that made narrative sense.  Ren was at the cusp of an identity crisis, but with Han’s help pulled through and decided finally where he was heading.  My guess is that he also headed off the planet, just as Rey did, and probably on rabbit-back.

There are two more movies in the not to distant future, so I’m quite certain we haven’t seen the last of him.  Nor of hologrammed Andy Serkis, the really big Big Cheese in the order of First Order. 

So the big hanging threads at this point are - what’s up with Luke?  Is he going to take on training Rey?  Who is she anyway?  In my clan, we’re divided between Luke’s daughter and Leia and Han’s daughter.  Another view is that she’s Obi-Wan’s granddaughter.  And I’ll stop at this point, because I just ran out of hats.

But not before a salute to this episode's Yoda substitute, Maz Kanata.


The Arthurian said...

Great, fun review of a great, fun movie.

The only painful part for me was the close-up of Han and Leia. I loved everything else about it. I really liked that scene where Rey grabbed Luke's light saber.

Good post.

Jazzbumpa said...

Thanx -

What about the Han - Leia close up scene troubled you?

I have my guess, but can;t say for sure.


The Arthurian said...

"What about the Han - Leia close up scene troubled you?"

Oh... It made me feel old.

Retirement? No, that didn't make me feel old.
Looking at myself in the mirror? No.
Looking at the woman who puts up with me? No.

Looking at Han and Leia? Yep.

Karlo said...

Your take on the series is the same as mine. I love science fiction and will watch virtually anything in the genre with enthusiasm, but I've never been able to sit through the entire first episode of Star Wars and have never bothered with the sequels. I find it all extremely boring and a waste of expensive graphics. Maybe I'll get the courage to try watching the series at some point.

Jazzbumpa said...

Art -

Well, that wasn't what I expected. For me, it was the poignancy of seeing the reunion of old lovers whose love had faded, but might be rekindled - but that got quashed in the most horrible way.

Karlo -

Thanks for the input. This movie, for all flaws, was great fun, and I will probably see it again.


Tinbeni said...

I always considered Star Wars movies to be Western's in Outer Space.

This was my first time I went to a movie in I-Max and I thought it was an enjoyable way to spend 2 and a half hours.

Yeah! I liked it.

Hungry Mother said...

George Lucas said that his Star Wars tales were intended to be for kids in the nature of the old Saturday matinees, with the accompanying cliffhangers. I bought the Blu-Ray set of complete episodes to freshen up my Star Wars knowledge and listened to all of the commentary and extras in the set. There is a great discussion where he explains his idea of the Force. Anyway, to completely enjoy the movies, bring a child's mind (easy for this geezer).

Lemonade714 said...

Loved the movie; Rey is cool the new bot is cool and Han had to die. It is all good. I also like the Librarians and the Kingsmen and thought this was much better than Guardians of the Galaxy