Some Quick Thoughts About The Force Awakens (Some Spoilers)



I'm seeing lots of click-bait nonsense articles and various other misdirected negativity out there about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A lot of it is just that same old song on the internet where no one can ever really like anything, and instead can only make snide comments and live in a state of perpetual disappointment. Some of the rest seems to be some fundamental misunderstandings of what they're talking about.

Here are some short takes:

The Force Awakens is "just a retread of the original films" : Of course it is. If it weren't, you would really hate it.

Few things going on here:

1. Genre Film walks a constant tight rope of needing to simultaneously fulfill audience's expectations and subvert them. That is to say, the audience needs to see what it knows and likes but also be surprised (not too much, but just enough).

2. Star Wars works because it tells a very old and basic story in broad strokes using powerful cinematic language (particularly in its use of novel spectacle -- art direction, costumes, creatures, etc.) that allows the audience to fill in the gaps and add levels of richness and complexity. The Mos Eisley Cantina is just a room full of imaginative Halloween costumes -- there is no story created there. We the audience made the connection.

3. Episodes IV V & VI all feature clear visual quotes, repeated lines of dialogue, parallel scenes and other heavy structural devices that communicates the strong recurring themes of the series. Everything that is a "retread" in The Force Awakens is not by accident or lazyness. This film is a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi and the start of another 3 part cycle.

4. As much as those of us from the generation that grew up with the original films want any new Star Wars stuff to fill our own needs, this movie isn't really for us. Its for our kids. Its for us to enjoy as a family. Its about Han, Leia and Luke passing the torch to Poe, Finn and Rey.

Nothing is ever going to live up to our memories of those first 3 movies -- because that's how nostalgia works. If it feels like "something" is missing for you, well, it probably is. We're not kids anymore.  

J.J. Abrams just made "really expensive fan fiction" : Sure, so? What did you expect?

All of these big genre pictures that part of a pre-existing franchise are derivative by their very nature. If you're going to have someone make a film like this, wouldn't you want that person to be someone who's personally invested in the story, setting and characters, someone who cares about it outside of simple professional concerns?

J.J. Abrams has been pretty open about his "fandom" of Star Wars, and it shows in this film. He gets why people like it, arguably more so than George Lucas did (who famously was convinced the first film would be a total failure, and when given the chance to revisit the series even more famously created three overlong, soulless CG effects showcase reels)

"Rey" is just a "Mary Sue" : Baloney.

Rey's characterization is nearly identical to Luke's in Episode IV, and really she gets just as much instruction in The Force as Luke does in that picture before she starts using it consciously (and its magic anyway, dummy, so just relax).

More importantly, Rey is heroic, passionate, idealistic and competent. When captured, she doesn't wait to be rescued: she escapes. Rey is Luke Skywalker remade as girl, and before you decry that as another case of this movie being a "rip off," let me share this story:

In the theater next to me watching the movie were two young girls -- maybe 10 or 11. When Rey first uses The Force, they gasped in unison, and then cheered. Rey is the hero I got when I was a little boy and now little girls are getting theirs. This is a pretty huge accomplishment actually, and one that is maybe better summarized here and especially here.

Unfortunately, I suspect that if Finn had done everything Rey had, this argument would not have been so quickly circulated.

"Kylo Ren" is not a threatening Villain: The same people who don't like the movie because its too much like the others seem to also be upset that Darth Vader isn't the bad guy.

I will concede that Kylo Ren is a little lacking in development, and that I'm not hot about the design of his mask. But he works in the picture and is a great counter to Rey. He's obviously not Darth Vader, and that is clearly a major motivator for his character. He's an angry teen who's given into his darkest impulses (including self-pity).

You'll note, too, that Vader in Episode IV had basically no development other than "he betrayed and murdered your father" -- and he's technically not even the main bad guy in the story (Grand Moff Tarkin is)

If anything, its the Han Solo connection that's the problem. I think Ford sells the guilt and fear Han felt regarding his son, but they needed a little something else to flesh out their relationship.

Things I didn't like that much: 

Some of the shakey camera/quick zoom stuff like during the Storm Trooper drop ship scene, the use of actual flashbacks and the lack of old fashioned camera stuff like wipes made these feel a little out of synch with the original films.

As great as Rey was, Captain Phasma and General Leia are basically props that don't add anything to the story.

Closing Thoughts:

The Force Awakens is a worthy sequel to Return of the Jedi that hits all the notes we need it to. It has a great cast, with natural chemistry, placed in a well paced adventure story with humor, heart and plenty of space to expand into for parts VIII and IX.


Comments

  1. I think most of that perpetual disappointment comes from ppl never getting to see anything new. But it is really nice to see the movie theater filling up on Tuesday nights.

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  2. I can see your point, although if you want "new" and you choose "Star Wars" (which already has 6 major motion pictures, 2 made for TV live action movies, and handful of animated series & animated movies, 30 years of comic books, novels, video/board/role playing games...) you can really only blame yourself.

    Not saying genre fans should always be fully content with whatever is offered to them, but just that perspective is necessary.

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