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Star Wars the Force Awakens - title

So where do I start ...?

... With the Mary Sue protagonist?

... Or the McGuffin plot device?

... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?

... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?

... Or how about the other fan-service?

... Or the shallow character arcs?

... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?

... How about the weak, forgettable original score?

... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?

Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?

Star Wars the Force Awakens - running from TIE assault
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.

Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!

So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?

And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - X-wings incoming
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?

The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. It's a bit excessive with the coincidences, and the pacing is way too fast. The third act is where everything kind of nose-dived for me. I kind of feel like this film tried to cram the basic emotional arc and character development of both A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back into one film, and that it probably should have been separated into two movies. I think it would have worked better without the Starkiller subplot.

[Show Spoilers] [Hide Spoilers]

I really feel like the Starkiller should have survived through this first movie. After the assault on the resistance base, Ren should have captured Rey and the end of the movie should have been the attempt to rescue her. The rescue could have happened on the Starkiller as it was initially being activated, and the movie could have ended with the destruction of Coruscant. I think this would have freed up a little bit more time to slow down other parts of the movie, and revealing the power of the Starkiller would have upped the stakes going into the next movie. Of course, this would assume that the Starkiller hadn't been plastered on the friggin poster! But I don't know what (if anything) Disney has planned for the sequel...

Star Wars the Force Awakens - Starkiller weapon
The Starkiller weapon felt like a silly, unnecessary plot device designed solely to mirror the original movie.

That's assuming that the Starkiller would be necessary at all. The doomsday weapon thing has already been played out in the original trilogy, and this movie (and this trilogy) didn't have to repeat it. It honestly feels like something that was thrown in simply for the purpose of mirroring the first movie.

End of Spoilers

But similarities to the original Star Wars movie are not, by themselves, a deal-breaker. After all, the Back to the Future movies were all basically the same movie, with the same plot structure and even the same jokes. And I like all three of those movies. No, I could have lived with the copy-pasted plot if all the supporting details had just been better. The thing that really killed it for me was the Mary Sue and deus ex machina.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - lightsaber duel
The lightsaber duel was the highlight of the movie,
and is much better than the prequel duels.

At least the lightsaber fights showed some proper restraint. The duel at the end actually looked like two people having a sword fight, instead of precisely-choreographed break-dancing with glow sticks. And I rather liked the lack of confidence displayed by Kylo Ren. There was a great deal of characterization going on during this scene (for Kylo, at least). In general, he pulled off the "angsty teenager" role much better than Hayden Christiansen in the prequels, and his temper tantrums were great. So this is an area in which the new movie far surpasses the prequels.

I also really liked how Snoke was presented. I don't mind that his character kind of comes out of nowhere, as it provides a bit of mystery that doesn't in any way hurt the movie. After all, the emperor was similarly mysterious in Empire Strikes Back after not having been present in Star Wars at all. I'm really curious and excited to see how Snoke develops in the next couple movies.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - Snoke's hologram
Snoke is interesting and mysterious, and I look forward to seeing how he develops in the future movies.

There's also complaints that the map acts as a "McGuffin". This is mostly true. In the sense that it is a plot-driver, then yes, the map is a McGuffin. Compare this to the Death Star plans in the original Star Wars, which was a meaningful plot device because it allows the heroes to resolve the movie's central conflict (e.g. it allows them to blow up the Death Star). In The Force Awakens, Luke serves no role in the movie, and so the map has no meaning in this movie's plot; hence, it is a McGuffin.

But it's not completely without context like the McGuffins of some of the Marvel movies. While the function of the Infinity Stones in Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are completely ambiguous, this map has actual meaning to the characters. It has a reason for existing, it has a purpose that is obvious, and it is reasonable why people want it. It's not a "map to Luke" as the movie keeps saying; rather, it is a "map to the first Jedi temple" that Luke probably found in some old Imperial database, and then hid it inside R2-D2. Since the main players all know that Luke banished himself to the first Jedi temple, then recreating the map to that temple is effectively a "map to Luke". It's just another element of the movie's plot and backstory that is poorly explained in the film.

And now it's time for the real spoilers. But honestly, if you didn't see this one coming by halfway through the second Force Awakens trailer, then I wonder if you were really paying attention.

[Show Spoilers] [Hide Spoilers]

I'm sorry Han, but by the time your son has become the head of a murderous, child-brainwashing cult of evil that has secretly built a doomsday weapon capable of blowing up entire star systems, and who has ambitions for galactic domination, then I think he's a lost cause. The movie tried to go out of its way to make Kylo torn between the light and dark side, but I never really bought into it. So Han's death seemed incredibly contrived and meaningless to me. I'm not even sure if Kylo was intended to be uncertain at that point, or if he was just telling Han what Han wanted to hear in order to stall them from blowing up the Starkiller long enough for the sun to be fully absorbed.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - Snoke's hologram
Han, it was clearly too late to save Kylo from his choices. You walked right into this one.

And this was a death that I saw coming from a couple miles away. I've been telling people for about a year that I think that Han Solo was going to die. And if you want to be mad at me for "spoiling it for you", then I have two things to say: first, it's not a "spoiler" if it's just speculation based on the trailers and casting; second, I can't be held responsible for J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan writing a predictable movie, nor can I be held responsible for Disney putting spoilers in the trailers and poster! When the second trailer hit, and it was all about the Millenium Falcon and Han Solo, I suspected that Abrams was trying to get everyone exciting about seeing Han and the Falcon in action again, so that he could force them to shed nostalgic tears of giddiness and then get sucker punched in the gut when he dies. And as I realized the similarities to the first movie that were present in the trailer (yes, I noticed the trench in the trailers), the framing of Han as the "wise old sage" who teaches the kids about the force and the dark side created a parallel to Obi Wan and further cemented the idea that he would sacrifice himself by the end of the movie. It seemed pretty transparently obvious to me.

It was clear that Kylo Ren would be either Leia's child or Luke's child, but given that Han was more prominent in the trailers, I leaned towards Kylo being the son of Han and Leia. So that was no surprise, and I'm grateful that the movie didn't try to make Kylo's identity some kind of big, dramatic plot twist reveal, because that would have just been stupid. Unfortunatley, it looks like they are building up to a dramatic reveal that Rey is Luke's child (or maybe Obi Wan's?), but that's a different story...

In any case, I felt that Han's death should have been a sacrifice to save the others. If his approach of Kylo had been framed as him trying to stall Kylo while the others escaped, or if he died while trying to save Chewbacca, Leia, or even Rey or Finn, then I'd have been much happier.

End of Spoilers

The bottom line is that this movie disappointed me because I don't feel like it was the passion-project that it was hyped up to be. It feels like a very corporate-feeling, "soft reboot" of the series, akin to what Universal did with Jurassic World (minus the clever meta-commentary on Hollywood and consumer culture). It was a remake of the first movie intended to introduce "Star Wars" to a new generation. But Disney didn't have the balls to just make a pure reboot or remake for the same reason that Paramount didn't allow a complete reboot of "Star Trek": it would have put the fanbase in an uproar. So instead, we get this half-baked "baton-passing" from the old characters to the new in an attempt to tie the new movie into the old.

Star Wars the Force Awakens - Starkiller trench battle
The action scenes looked very nice, even if they felt very derivative.

But the movie is far from terrible. On it's own, it's a fun (albeight predictable and rushed) space adventure with exciting action, working humor, and some decent characters and drama. It's a definite improvement over the garbage that was offered in the prequels, but it's far from restoring the Star Wars name in my eyes. In all the ways that The Force Awakens is comparable to the prequels, it seems to be far superior; but in all the ways that it deliberately invites comparison to the original Star Wars movies, it fails to live up to the standard.

Comments (6) -

Mike
Mike
01/04/2016 06:14:37 #

SPOILERS BELOW

similarities to the original Star Wars movie are not, by themselves, a deal-breaker.

I agree with this. It's silly for people to think this wasn't intentional, and I'm willing enjoy the ride of what's essentially a 21st century re-skinning of episode IV if that's what they wanted to make.

I felt that Han's death should have been a sacrifice to save the others
I think you give Han too much credit. If he became a saint like this it would take away from his character.

I would hope Kylo Ren would be a member of the Skywalker lineage - I can't think of an alternative that would make sense. However, to me we did not see the son of Han Solo. To me an evil offspring of Han should be an exaggeration of his qualities - suave, over confident, short sighted, self centered. (and handsome. How could Han and Leia's kid look like a young Howard Stern?) It seems Grandpa's whiny genes snuck into our little Anakin 2.0, which I had gotten enough of in the prequels.

Jennifer M Wolff
Jennifer M Wolff
01/05/2016 03:52:47 #

I don't have time to read through all of this right now, but I'm disappointed that you don't seem to get what a Mary Sue actually is.

01/05/2016 05:22:10 #

Mary Sue: a fictional character (usually female) who acts as self-insert wish-fullfillment (especially in fan fiction), being extraordinarily skilled at virtually everything she attempts, and being liked by virtually all colleagues.

I can't believe that I have to say this: Just because she doesn't meet your criteria for "Mary Sue", and that we disagree, doesn't automatically mean that I don't know what the word means. There isn't a single litmus test for "Mary Sue" status; it's a subjective qualifier. The subjectivity comes from the differences in what people might consider "extraordinary" for the fictional world that the character inhabits, and, being works of fiction, this is all open to individual interpretation (and, therefore, disagreement). And to me, based on my first viewing of the movie, Rey is extraordinary in ways that far exceed Luke and Annakin (both of whom were treated like prodigies by their mentors, but which still had to undergo multi-movie arcs), and so I feel justified in labeling her as a "Mary Sue". It's a "weak Mary Sue", but it's a Mary Sue.

Granted, the original "Mary Sue" was just innately good at everything without explanation. You can argue that Rey is skilled at a lot of things because of her nature as a loner and scavenger. Sure, I get that. Being good at everything you do pushes against the "Mary Sue" boundary even if it is the result of training. I enjoyed the early scenes in which she balks at Finn's attempts to help her, and I laughed with the rest of the audience when she tells him "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run". I had no problems with her being a good fighter and pilot, and I was happy with the subversion of the "Damsel in distress" trope. The things that pushed her over (for me) is how she flew the Falcon and the mind trick. I'm pretty sure I recall a scene early in the movie in which she performs some maneuver in the Falcon and comments on how even she doesn't know how she is so good at piloting the ship. Am I misremembering? But I could have lived with this if it was the only issue. Heck, she almost instantly earns Han's admiration and explicit respect - something that Leia (as strong and competent of a character as she is) took time to earn. Maybe it's an older, wiser, less-adversarial Han?

The mind trick is what really did it for me. A development arc that took Luke Skywalker more than two whole movies and extensive training from two Jedi masters is accomplished by Rey in the span of two minutes. Yes, I get that Kylo was reading her mind, and she fought back and read his, and that might have taught her the mind trick. But, to me, that was far-fetched. If this scene had involved her trying a Jedi mind trick (or pretending to), tricking the Stormtrooper over to her, and then somehow incapacitating him or freeing herself without mind-tricking him into helping her, then I'd have been much happier with it.

Little Annie may be able to subconsciously use his nascent force powers to help him win at pod racing, but he isn't told by Qui Gon that he has a high medichlorian count, and is then suddenly a master of Jedi powers. And this is in a world in which everybody knows about the Jedi, and they aren't dismissed as legend and myth. Annie flying the starfighter at the end of Phantom Menace stretches his character beyond a point of "extraordinary" for me, and he's definitely eligible for the label of "Mary Sue" in my mind also. But then again, we're in (I'm assuming) unanimous agreement that the Phantom Menace is a bad movie, and little Annie was an annoyingly miserable character, regardless of whether we use the label "Mary Sue".

01/06/2016 04:15:26 #

Mike, I can be on board for most of your points, but saying Kylo Ren isn't handsome is frankly quite rude, shallow, and incredibly objective. As a straight man, I myself find Kylo Ren to be handsome in the "dark and tortured pretty boy" sort of way, like someone out of a gothic romance band such as HIM. Just because he has long, curly, black hair doesn't mean he looks anything like Howard Stern. That's like saying Tupac looks like Michael Jordan because they both have dark skin. One similar feature does not make two people look the same.

As for problems I had with the film that you didn't mention, megabearsfan, both the "mind-force struggle" between Ren and Rey as well as the final shot [SPOILERS] between Luke and Rey where they stare at each other were held for far too long. Both scenes started off tense and exciting, and went on so long that they became unintentionally comical and awkward. I also hated how Fin (or is it Finn) was able to hold his own with a light saber against not just a fellow stormtrooper trained with a rare close-quarters weapon, but also against a trained sith lord, when 1) it's safe to assume he'd never even used or been trained with any kind of close-quarters weapons of any kind, much less a light saber or any kind of blade because stormtroopers are trained either primarily or exclusively in blaster use, and 2) as far as I'm aware, nobody but jedi are even supposed to be ABLE to use light sabers (although it's never been explained as to why that is). I'll forgive Rey being able to use it and be effective with it because she's established to be a naturally gifted force-user, but not Fin/Finn.

01/06/2016 08:40:08 #

@Lee Taggert

I didn't have a problem with the staring contest between Kylo and Rey. There was a lot of internalized struggle going on there, and I'm a general supporter of a film slowing things down to allow intimate moments between characters Heck, I'd have been happy if the writers had dropped the entire Starkiller Base subplot in order to make more time for more moments like this: some casual bonding between Rey, Finn, Han, and Chewie on the Falcon (akin to Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han in the first movie) would have been nice. The Luke - Rey staredown (and accompanying spinning helicopter shot) did look terrible IMO.

Finn had been trained since birth to be a stormtrooper. I think it's safe to assume that he received training in multiple fields of combat (including close-quarters combat). I'm not aware of anything in the movies ever explicitly stating that "only Jedi are capable of using lightsabers). I think it's just the traditional weapon of a Jedi that is impractical for others to use because of the extreme risk associated with it and the fact that a non-Jedi wouldn't be able to hold his own with a lightsaber against any firearm of any sort (don't take a sword to a gunfight!). If there is anything in the extended universe (novels, comics, tech manuals, etc.) about this, then remember that Disney explicitly de-canonized everything except for the movies and clone wars series.

Edd
Edd
03/20/2016 06:16:11 #

@megabearsfan -

About the Lightsaber stuff: The Emperor says "jedi's weapon" when he talks to Luke (ROTJ), If you ever played KOTOR and read the game's manual you will find more info about lightsabers. I can't find the box right now but last month I saw it.

About the Movie: I loved the Original Trilogy Laughing, however I am not a big fan of Ewoks; in my opinion the Prequel Trilogy wasn't as bad as Daredevil or the New Couple of Spiderman films but it was not as good as the OT. (I neither liked Gungans by the way).
Personally I know people that loved the Prequels (even people that saw the OT when they were young), but some of them told me they HATED Episode VII and prefered the PT (Isn't it ironic?). I have no problem at all with The Force Awakens; I would have hated reborn Palpatine, Jerec or the Dark Apprentice. But I missed Kyle Katarn.

I recomend you and everyone reading this website to check KOTOR games and The Force Unleashed, also Legacy Era comic books; I am sure you will enjoy the villians stories (Darth Krayt, Darth Revan and Starkiller).

May the force be with you.

Greetings from France

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