As you may know, they made another Star Wars movie. It’s called The Force Awakens.
Like pretty much everyone else, my reaction is “Whew, they made a good Star Wars movie.” SW is supposed to be heroic, spectacular, and just a bit cheesy, and that’s just what they achieved.
I’ve seen a lot of people saying that it’s kind of a remake of the first film. I’d say that’s true of the last half of the film— the whole Starkiller thing. The first half, with the introduction of Finn and Rey, feels more original. And even if it is a reboot, it’s a very sure-footed one. The acting, the fighting, and the spectacle are really better than the original.
I think Harrison Ford really sells the movie. There’s an art to delivering prime movie cheese. If you don’t accept it, it turns into camp, and if you’re too earnest, it seems laughable in a different way. Ford gets the balance exactly right. He makes his age work for the movie: he’s a tired, tough old rogue, and yet he never upstages the newcomers, but gently welcomes them into the series.
(It’s a narrative danger for a movie or book series or comic to fall in love with itself. You assume that the audience adores your characters, and you start to treat them portentously, have secondary characters do everything for them, and you forget to actually make them still likable. Danger averted here: Han earns his hero status all over again for this movie.)
The weakest part of the movie is also the riskiest move: Kylo Ren, the emergent emo Sith Lord. I like that he isn’t Darth Vader; he’s young and a little naive, and makes mistakes. That’s a far more interesting Dark Lord to work with. He does better than (shudder) Hayden Christopher, and yet it’s a little hard to take him seriously when he takes off his helmet. He doesn’t do much to show why the Dark Side attracts him, or maybe the script just doesn’t let him do so.
I like the character of Finn. Was this someone’s elevator pitch? “Let’s see a Stormtrooper start to question his role.” Not a bad idea at all. I almost wish the elevator guy had convinced Abrams to make that the whole movie, because learning how the Stormtroopers operate and what the human beings inside the plastic suits are like would have been interesting. (They can’t all be motivated by fear, can they? What do they do off duty? Are there a bunch of gung-ho Trumpists who just love Stormtrooping? Is Finn the only one with doubts?)
Rey is great, and I think she fits in with my contention that women make better video game protagonists. We feel what we see, so a stoic space marine lessens what we feel— if he doesn’t seem to care about what’s happening, why should we? Rey reacts viscerally to everything she goes through.
Her character arc is small here: basically from “wants to go home” to “wants to help out”. She doesn’t have to learn to be a hero; she’s heroic throughout. That’s a major difference from A New Hope, in fact, though in part it’s just that Finn gets the role of “guy out of his depth who has to step up”. In a sense the usual transformation is applied to the audience instead: we expect an untrained nobody, we suspect Finn is going to be the New Luke, and we keep getting shown that Rey is the more competent one.
It’s tempting to say that a character needs more flaws and setbacks, but that isn’t always the case. Plenty of popular characters are pretty much always heroic. Besides, they’ll probably throw a lot of bad shit at her in Episode 8.
When I think about the story it feels a little contrived, or to put it another way, it’s a little too convenient that people always end up just where they need to be for the next bit of plot. But I didn’t really care about that while watching, and it probably wouldn’t have added much to paper over the contrivances— it’d just lengthen the movie for no great narrative gain. (Example: the raid on Maz Kanata’s planet, which conveniently takes place just after the plot points have been covered. It wouldn’t have been hard to, say, make it a week later. But it works emotionally to have everything happen almost in real time.)
(A bigger hole, I think: they destroyed the capital of the New Republic, right? Everyone is awfully blasé about that; they react much more to the death of one guy, albeit an important one. The one thing the movie doesn’t sell is the size of the galaxy. Compare the war in Consider Phlebas, which destroyed 90 million ships, 14,000 orbitals, and 53 planets. In many ways Star Wars feels like it has about a hundred planets total.)
OK, onto the traditional notes I took while watching…
- The opening crawl is less amazeballs in 2015.
- I’ve never quite got why everyone understands Droid but the audience.
- That huge ship would make a great video game level. But really, all she could find in it to salvage is a double handful of parts?
- Is it a good idea to steal that droid from the guy who’s stealing it?
- Finn sometimes overplays the nebbishness.
- I’ve played so many Bethesda games that I would’ve kept the armor to sell it.
- Darth wouldn’t’ve trashed his own terminal, he’d’ve trashed the underling.
- This whole section of the film doesn’t feel like A New Hope at all.
- “We shall see”— you may be Sith, Lord Snopes, but you could be a little more supportive.
- OK, that’s a cantina scene.
- No, Rey, never go down into a dungeon alone!
- It’s taking these dudes a long time to commit to the cause. C’mon, folks, we know you got nothing to go back to.
- Why is this big galactic laser beam visible from entirely different star systems? The galaxy never really feels like it’s the size of a galaxy.
- Does anyone in-universe ever wonder why random people have a different accent?
- Leia’s first appearance gives off a strong Hillary vibe.
- My sufferance for C3PO hasn’t improved.
- Hard not to look at Kylo Ren and think of Reaper.
- Outsmarted, Kylo! Try not to destroy your terminal again.
- OK, Bigger Death Star, this is looking like a reboot.
- The Falcon does pretty well with all this knocking into the scenery.
- Everything is always so overbuilt in this universe. Wouldn’t plain drywall have been cheaper?
- Here’s how well I’d expect a soldier trained with a laser rifle to do with a lightsabre: poorly. So from that point of view Finn is doing well.
- “How fast is the weapon charging?” “At the speed of plot, sir.”
- How does a planet collapse? Was it full of air bladders?
- The Starkiller episode kind of violates Mamet’s tenet of plot. Rather than repeatedly trying something and failing, the Rebels— sorry, the Resistance— come up with a plan and it works as planned on the first try.
- BB8 didn’t get to go along on the final quest?
- Pretty long denouement for an action movie.
- How was that map made? Did many Gungans die for it? Also, why did no one not recognize a huge frigging section of the Galaxy? People live in the Galaxy, they will know its shape. It’s like getting a map of Europe and saying “I have no idea how this fits on the globe!”
Join me in about two years for Episode 8!