Random Thoughts about The Force Awakens – Spoilers

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!

Are we clear on that?  If you read further, I will likely spoil key aspects of the movie for you.

SFTFAThe movie is still playing in theaters just about everywhere, so go see it first.

Context

Everybody’s view of the film is influenced by their past experience with the franchise.  I have yet to read a review that wasn’t in somewhat tainted by the relationship the writer already had with the series, though I have seen more than a few that refused to own up to the baggage the author brought with them.

I will try to explain my own baggage.  I didn’t mind the prequels.  I wasn’t one of those people who raged about how George Lucas had destroyed my cherished childhood memories.  Yes, there was a lot to dislike about the prequels.  But I had already had my moment of hate when it came to GL, because I felt Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was the big betrayal.  After Star Wars: The Muppet Movie, I was never as big a fan of the series.  So midi-chlorians were a kick in the nuts, but not the deal breaker it was for a lot of fans who had no problem with Ewoks defeating Storm Troopers with bows and arrows.

General Statement

I like it.  I liked it a lot, enough for my daughter and I to go back and see it a second time.

That isn’t to say I liked it uncritically.  There are aspects of the movie than make me shake my head and groan, choices that I clearly would not have made.  But in the totality of the film, I liked a lot more than I disliked, it far exceeded my low expectations, and I had a lot of fun.

I’d go see it again.

I will admit that having watched the George Lucas prequels and remastered original trilogy, where the added CGI bits get more annoying with each viewing, in the run up to this movie helped set up a situation where The Force Awakens was going to sit favorably with me.

After the cut, some more specific thoughts.  Last chance to avoid spoilers.

I did say SPOILERS didn’t I?

The Good

Scale: I think the primary reason that this movie worked for me better than any of the prequels is the sense of scale.  Everything was kept on a very personal level.  No masses of indistinguishable Clone Troopers marching headlong into an equally indistinguishable mass of droids.  Instead we stayed focused on a few characters throughout the movie… basically Finn and Rey.  That made the whole thing work, as you could feel some attachment to them and follow them on their voyage of discovery.

Pacing:  The whole thing moved at about the right pace.  Unlike the prequels we did not spend a lot of time talking about things than happened off screen or trying to force some back story for some bit of CGI.

Rey:  There has been a lot of criticism of her and her sudden abilities.  The thing is, she is a mystery in the movie.  She has lived a hard life on Jakku and has had to fight to stay alive.  That we’re discovering her talents without preamble is part of her mystery.  Also, you saw the way she could use that staff of hers, she could fight already.

Finn:  Storm trooper who runs away, conflicted about what to do, more real than most characters in the series so far.  He wasn’t just a janitor.  That was, according to the not-in-the-movie backstory, part of his duties as a recruit when he wasn’t actively training.  I know, what bizarro world military makes soldiers wash dishes or police up cigarette butts?

Han Solo:  Gave us exactly what we wanted.  Still though, I find it tough to believe that he never once shot Chewie’s bowcaster before.

BB-8:  Cute but not too cute.  I still wonder whether droids are sentient though and what implications that has on their being property.

The First Order:  Oh yeah, the bad guys are back and they are pissed.  Space Nazis in full force.  General Hux especially.

Kylo Ren: Conflicted dark side force user barely able to control his temper.  Teenage angst sith, fighting off the influence of the light side of the force and pissed off about his parents.  It is refreshing to see some force user somewhere that isn’t completely self-assured about their place in the universe.  If Kylo turns to the light or goes rogue, it will be completely in character.

3D: My daughter and I saw it the second time in 3D and it was pretty good.  They didn’t do any of the cliches, like throwing stuff at the camera to see if you would duck or anything.  I didn’t even think about 3D a lot of the time, and then there would be a scene like the Millennium Falcon taking off from a planet or a Star Destroyer in space, and I would suddenly think, “Whoa, that looked really good with the depth that 3D gave it!”  Also, I wasn’t the only one in the theater who tried to reach up and touch that Star Destroyer.

The Force: Nobody said “midi-chlorians” even once.

The Bad

Starkiller Base:  Back to context, I was a bit annoyed that they went back to the Death Star well for Episode VI, so the fact that they went back there yet again is probably my biggest gripe with the movie.  Only this time it is bigger and more nonsensical.

A planet-sized Death Star that eats an entire sun for every shot and can blow up things across light years with an exposed weak point on its surface?  I don’t want to get all Neil deGrasse Tyson here, but fuck that noise.  Even avoiding the magical space technology discussion, logic still screams out that if you could suck an entire star into your weapon, you probably have the ability to just call out a solar flare and cauterize whatever planet out there you want.  Or just this:

And, of course, this:

Also, can we just once destroy the enemy super weapon a couple days before it is aimed at our head and not just at the last minute?

The New Republic:  Actually I don’t have any problem with the New Republic.  My problem is that the New Republic had about 20 seconds of screen time before it was destroyed.  Seriously, WTF?  Okay, yes, there is a whole backstory there in the book they put out, along with some on the cutting room floor, that people know about.  But in a movie I shouldn’t have had to read the book to get what is going on.

The Resistance:  First, you won at Endor.  You established the New Republic.  You don’t get to call yourself “The Resistance” or anything that implies you aren’t part of the new establishment.  You’re part of the new power structure, so you should really be just part of the New Republic Navy or some such… except of course that all got blown up.

Second, what are you even?  A couple dozen X-wing fighters based out of Greenham Common?

Yeah, yeah, I know, read the book with the back story.

The Empire:  It didn’t just go away.  It is still out there, and The First Order and The Resistence are part of some sort of proxy war to get around the treaty it signed with the New Republic.  Or so I was told after the fact, because the movie didn’t spend any time bringing me up to speed there.

The Size of Space:  The movie really failed to give a sense of scale to the vastness of space.  I mean, when we get to the end it takes Rey and Chewie what… maybe two minutes to get to Luke in the Millennium Falcon?  Where was he, at a bar around the corner all this time and nobody could find him?

Likewise, Starkiller Base fires the big gun at the New Republic and Han Solo, on another planet no doubt light years from either the weapon or the target, can see the superluminal weapon hit its target?  Seriously, WTF was somebody thinking right there?

Space is pretty much only as big as it needs to be at any given moment to suit the plot.

The series has never been great about giving space a sense of vastness after establishing that that was no moon, but this time around it feels like they just gave up.

The Middling

Call Backs: A Desert planet.  Han Solo.  The Millennium Falcon.  A giant planet killing weapon.  TIE fighters.  Chewbacca.  C-3P0.  X-wing flying down a trench.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Some of this was clearly to get us invested and comfortable with the story while other bits seemed unnecessary.  It did add up to the whole thing feeling a bit like Episode IV being replayed from a given point of view.  But we had new characters with new stories to help us overcome that.

Princess Leia:  I don’t care that Carrie Fisher has gotten older or heavier or whatever.  Who hasn’t?  Some of you reading this were just a single cell when Carrie Fisher was wearing that gold bikini, so look how much weight you’ve gained.

All I wanted from her performance was to feel that she was the same person, old, wiser, and many miles down the road, changed, but still the same at her core.  There is one point, a silent flash of a moment, when the camera is close up, and you can see it in her eyes, deep and brown, that she is the same person.  I saw it and thought, “There! There is Pincess Leia!” and then it was gone.  But for most of her performance they could have used a different actress and it wouldn’t have changed anything.  I don’t know if it was her, the director, how they edited, or what, but I didn’t feel like I got the right tone.  Didn’t hurt the movie all that much, but I felt like something was missing.

The Force: Still a capricious son of a bitch.  One day you can sense another force user on a transport shuttle a million kilometers away or the death of a populated planet light years away, the next day an 800 year old jedi master can sit in the same room as a sith lord and not notice anything is wrong.  One day you have to struggle to pick up a rock or grab your light sabre, the next day inanimate objects fill you with visions or you get special mind control powers just exactly when you need them.

Snoke: Mr. Homn meets the force.  Okay, this isn’t the first mysterious dark side force user to show up, but if they have to get the guy who played Gollum to do the role, I wonder what he really is.

Luke: I’m speechless.

Overall

As noted at the top, I liked it.  I’ve seen it twice.  Each time I left happy.  There are bits that annoy me, but they were not enough to topple the whole.  I think J.J. Abrams accomplished what he set out to do, to create a Star Wars movie that was spiritually much closer to the original than anything else.  I am really looking forward to May 2017 when the next movie in the series is slated to premier.  Until then I will make due with the Emo Kylo Ren Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, if you want to listen to some real fans talk about the movie, the Cat Context podcast episode 90 has all you could want.  Totally on Team Aro after that.  I wrote most of this before listening to that podcast, then had to go back and make some edits, usually about where backstory was left out.

18 thoughts on “Random Thoughts about The Force Awakens – Spoilers

  1. Tesh

    I love the idea of Finn. I do love a good “coming to your senses” redemption story, and it’s nice to see storm troopers humanized a bit. It’s worldbuilding and character building all at once. I hope it works out for the character. He’s the most interesting guy in the movie for me, just because of that arc of “bad guy minion > hero” that he can go through.

    Agreed on Leia, too. I’m also not a fan of the marital drama angle; it plays like a bad soap opera to give her and Han some pointless drama. It feels like a thumb in the eye to their “happily ever after” (yes, real marriages have trouble, but you work through them) and a deconstruction of the Rebel victory, all in one. It makes the Star Wars universe more of a downer place, which guts some of my interest in the IP. (This is also why I hated the Yuuzhan Vong in the EU novels; they made the EU a crapsack universe, just like all the other 90s “darker, edgier” garbage fiction.)

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  2. Rob Kaichin

    The thing that made TFA more appealing to me was these pieces of analysis:

    http://www.rebelforceradio.com/shows/2015/12/30/star-wars-oxygen-vol-25-the-force-awakens-part-1

    http://www.rebelforceradio.com/shows/2016/1/14/star-wars-oxygen-vol-26-the-force-awakens-part-2

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the film is a mess, with a lot more wrong with it than right. However, the confused, disjointed music was what really killed the film for me. When you come out of a movie humming music that wasn’t in the movie, there’s a problem.

    Those shows above completely changed my mind. Rey does have theme! Kylo Ren’s theme doesn’t change every scene! There’s a reason for the music!

    I still don’t think the music is traditional Star Wars (unlike the rest of the film!), but I can see the rationale now.

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  3. evehermit

    I was surprised at the hit of nostalgia I felt when the music started and the familiar yellow words scrolled up the screen. I’ve also watched it twice and enjoyed it. It is not without its faults, but to me it felt very much like a Star Wars movie. When Han Solo said “Chewie, we’re home” – I remember thinking yes, yes we are.

    I can’t fathom why people complained about how Princess Leia looked. There was nothing wrong with her appearance. In fact – they could have really aged her. What is she – in her 50’s, maybe 60’s? She has had a stressful life and job, heavy responsibilities, lots of loss, a difficult husband and a child who turned into a mass murderer.

    I particularly liked Rey, although I thought the awakening could have been paced better. She had a nice balance of self-sufficiency and trepidation. Finn was a bit annoying – I assume in homage to the whinny role Luke had. However, no one seemed entirely out of place.

    I had two main irks. The first was as you pointed out, that they failed to portray the size of space. The travel time between each destination seemed to take less than 60 seconds. The second was that it was not unique enough. The story mimicked previous films to the point it could have come from the same scripts.

    So I felt like I got value for my money, and I am looking forward to the next two movies, I just hope it moves the world forward into something new.

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  4. Shintar

    Your comment re: Carrie Fisher’s age/weight made me giggle; I can’t agree about her performance though. To me, the scenes between her and Harrison Ford were actually the most touching ones of the whole movie, more so even than the Han Solo/Kylo Ren stuff. They just managed to pack a huge sense of history between these two into very few looks and sentences.

    I think in hindsight, how small they made space feel was probably the most annoying thing to me, as that was the one point that actually made me pause even as I was watching the film because it was kind of… “Wait, what?” Even with fantasy physics, shouldn’t travelling in hyperspace take up some time? And where is that super weapon anyway, relative to everything else? It was outright confusing.

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  5. carson63000

    I found it a bit annoying that the guy in charge of the whole Starkiller Base thing was a kid too young to have seen Star Wars in the cinema. Clearly doesn’t take long to get promoted up to General in the First Order. No problem with Kylo Ren being a kid, because you grab a Force user as soon as you can. But General Hux? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief on that one (and I _like_ Domhnall Gleeson)

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  6. zaphod6502

    I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The director respected the material and didn’t go all Jar Jar Binks on the audience. There was just enough nostalgic material to cater to those of us who saw the premier of the original Star Wars. I was 11 when I watched the premier in Australia with my father in 1977. It was an experience I will never forget.

    I make a lot of allowances for films even with seemingly illogical faults. My criteria is very simple – does the film make me forget the real world for 2 hours, do the actors make an effort, and last is the story engaging. The new Star Wars easily passed my criteria for a good film.

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  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Also, I forgot to add that NOT having the 20th Century Fox intro music ahead of things was strange. The first time I saw it the LucasFilm logo came up for a second and then it went straight to “A long time ago…” and I said loudly “Let’s get straight to it I guess!”

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  8. Sylow

    I find it very interesting that you put the “3D” in the good part. I personally would’ve placed it deep into the “bad”, due to how lousy it was done.

    I mean yes, some of the space scenes profited of the 3D, but a lot of other scenes actually suffered badly. A lot of the dialogue scenes felt like they were cutscenes from Guild Wars 2 to me. The problem boils down to this: The space scenes were modeled and rendered CGI. Rendering them a second time in a 3D version was little effort and gave nice space scenes. Unfortunately all the rest was filmed with normal cameras, no 3D cameras were used, so most of the movie actually was filmed in 2D.

    Since selling a movie as “2D with some 3D space scenes” didn’t sound great, they then converted the scenes. Unfortunately really converting a scene into 3D out of 2D material is extremely expencive and often impossible. Instead, they just “cut” the important characters and put them on different “distance layers”, and called it a day. In effect, the characters thus were no more than animated cardboard stands. They were at varying distances to the viewer, but they actually were completely flat. This was very striking when one of them turned, or when you paid attention to the background. I found it most jarring in a scene with X-Wings in the background, where people ran around them. So while the talking characters in front were at least somewhat 3D, the people in the background running around the X-Wings were in 2D and just as flat as the X-Wings themselves.

    I didn’t know of this before watching the movie and absolutely didn’t expect this. I mean, filming in 2D and converting to 3D to squeeze some additional money out of it might be the method for a bad rated movie to still make some money, but the fact that they resort to this method on such a guaranteed cash-cow with so guaranteed high profits as this movie hurts. But alas, as long as people even praise this inferior technology, why should they bother to give us quality?

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  9. SynCaine

    As someone who is entirely neutral on the SW IP, this movie was fine. I’m not invested in the whole thing enough to notice the smaller plot holes, nor do the cameo appearances of minor characters do anything for me. It was a bit confusing at parts, but ultimately those parts didn’t seem to matter at the end.

    Ray did bother me, only because if you are that powerful that quickly, why up until the movie starts are you scrapping to get by, working for a somewhat abusive and unfair boss? Going from that to beating new Darth Vader in a few days felt like a major stretch to me, especially because in every scene that needed some increasingly impossible heroic action, here comes Ray.

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  10. Pendan

    Finn described how the sun gets sucked away and disappears right before firing as if he had seen it done. Then the death star planet had to have eaten a sun to destroy some planets that is magically seen light years away. Then we watch the death star planet eat another sun. Where is this planet with trees and breathable atmosphere getting all these suns to eat?

    Why was there a map of the path Luke took through the stars to his unknown location? Why was the map that BB-8 had important at all? R2D2’s map had a lot of stars that would have been enough to figure out where in the galaxy the end location was. If you were looking for Luke why would you not take apart his inactive robot to get the information? What prompted R2D2 to reactivate and provide the map piece? How accurate was this map so they new where to land and spend way too long climbing steps to find Luke alone in a desolate location at the top?

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  11. Toldain

    One note about the bowcaster – there was a lot of fuss about it because at the climactic moment, Chewy shoots Kylo Ren with it, and hits him. Everyone we’ve seen hit by that thing before has gone down in an explosion. Kylo just says “ow”. But it’s affecting him later, when he fights first Finn and then Rey. This is meant to even the odds between them.

    But you’re right, it did seem a bit odd to me that Han had never used it up until then. Strange stuff happens, though.

    It didn’t completely work, though, judging by the number of people who didn’t track this. Also, (I’ve watched it 3 times) it seems pretty clear to me that Kylo doesn’t want to kill Rey (Snoke orders him “bring her to me”. I don’t think he means dead.). But Kylo doesn’t want to kill Finn either, which is very curious. He didn’t even cut off his hand when he disarmed him of the lightsaber. Likewise, the stroke with which he takes him out is very careful and deliberate – disable this guy, but don’t kill him.

    Rey, on the other hand, is more than willing to kill Kylo. Nevertheless, he beats her, until she realizes she can use The Force. At that moment we hear theme music that is usually associated with Luke – but it might just be The Force.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pendan – In The Empire Strikes Back Luke landed pretty much on top of Yoda and he didn’t even have a map. He didn’t even have a planet specified, just the “Degobah system” if I recall right. If Rey is really as strong in the force as implied, she should have landed right on his hut, not half way down the hill.

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  13. Rob Kaichin

    @SynCaine

    I think your problem with Rey also lies with the vast difference in abilities between her and Finn/Poe. Finn and Poe are characters with distinct flaws. They’ve certain skills, yes, but they’re not skilled in every category. Rey is. Every problem Rey causes, she solves. Every dangerous situation she’s in, she escapes from. Her one, defining flaw: her reluctance to leave/stay away from Jakku, is dealt with via a mysterious old lady with prophetic powers. Deus ex Geriatrica, if you will.

    Finn and Poe’s status isn’t helped by the fact that Rey’s skills overshadow their defining ones. Poe’s role, as “the best pilot in the Resistance” who “can fly anything”, is over-scored by Rey’s miraculous, so-far-unforeseen ability to fly the Millenium Falcon (notoriously unreliable at the best of times) at full combat speed, with great dexterity and familiarity.

    Finn’s role as the ‘expert’ fighter is also minimised: Rey, who has little-to-no combat experience, behaves like a professional soldier. Her shooting is excellent, she can function in combat and she can duel well.

    As for ‘why was she still only just getting’, don’t you know that heroic Youths are trapped in their village/abode/minor, out of the way castle until their Destiny arrives?

    :P

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  14. SynCaine

    The more I think about it, I think the core issue is the roles between the big bad and the big good are reversed in this movie. Usually the big bad is all-powerful except for one flaw, but here that’s the good guy (girl). She’s awesome at everything, and her only ‘flaw’ was being stuck on a planet collecting junk for ‘reasons’. At the same time, Kylo is a massively flawed emo-kid in a universe that gave us Darth Vader.

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  15. Pendan

    “she should have landed right on his hut, not half way down the hill” and that is what irritated me about the scene. I had to watch her walk up a hill for too long. This was mostly because a few minutes earlier I had watched a scene where Rey had finished the fight, was standing over the downed Finn, and the Millenium Falcon comes up over the trees. I remember Rey lights up her light saber again and then suddenly it cuts to Chewy walking off the Millenium Falcon back at Leia’s base. I am told the 2D version of the film might have had different editing at that point. However for the 3D (first film for me since Disney 30 years ago for 3D) version that I watched I had to think why shorten one more interesting scene and not the boring scene.

    My view of the movie was tainted by having watched the unaired shows of Firefly for the first time 2 weeks earlier along with the rest of shows in proper order and Serenity. It bothers me that the overall public is so engrossed by Star Wars over a better written sci fi story. So I talk about nothing but negatives (mostly covered above by you and others above) about this movie even though my overall opinion can be summarized as Joss Whedon > JJ Abrams > George Lucas.

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