Action Movie Friday: Star Wars, Episode 7, The Force Awakens

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Star Wars, Episode Seven, The Force Awakens
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release: 2015
Genre: action movie, science fiction, fantasy
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson
Director: JJ Abrams
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt
Distributor: Walt Disney
Budget: $200 Million
Box Office: $2 Billion

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92%

Gingersnaps Rating: Four and a Half cookies!

(It’s been so long I almost forgot my own cookie system. Oops.)

Summary:

Thirty years after the death of the Emperor, a new threat has arisen from its ashes, the First Order. The Jedi Knight who was instrumental in the defeat of the Empire, Luke Skywalker, has disappeared searching for the fabled first temple of the Jedi. On the desert wasteland planet of Jaaku, the last piece of the map to where Luke is hiding has been found, now the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa and the First Order’s operatives including the Sith, Kylo Ren, are after the map piece and whoever has it. In order to get their way, the First Order isn’t afraid to wipe out the Republic and the Resistance with their new Starkiller weapon. And it’s going to take a new generation of X-Wings and the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy to try and restore peace and order to the galaxy once again.

Review:

This is going to be hard to review without spoiling things.

Warning: If you don’t like nostalgia, this movie is not for you.

The plot of the Force Awakens runs along at a fairly decent clip and follows the classic Star Wars formula. Like in the prequel trilogy, there are a lot of callbacks and references to the original trilogy, most of them set up for laughs. I really enjoyed the movie, there were points I was pounding my chair and laughing hysterically. But not because of the new plot or characters, but because of the call outs to the old plots and characters. The Force Awakens was a pure trip of nostalgia where even the music reminded movie goers of the original trilogy with clips of the old Rebellion battle themes mixed into the newer arrangements.

So, while it was entertaining and enjoyable, there wasn’t anything really “new” about the Force Awakens. Sure, there were new characters, but they were rebranded faces of the original characters, spunky girl, dashing pilot and naïve idiot. (Sorry Finn and Luke.) BB8 is R2-D2s little brother (who reminded me of Wall-E, not sure if that was good or bad.) There is Kylo Ren, the new Darth Vader, General Hux, the new Grand Moff Tarkin without Tarkin’s cool calm control that made Tarkin so memorable. There is the Starkiller Base weapon which is the new, bigger, much larger, Death Star. (And what is the fascination with this name, there are 12 references to Starkiller in Wookiepedia including Luke Skywalker was originally Luke Starkiller.) Jaaku was the new Tattooine. Starkiller Base was the new Hoth. There was even a new “Mos Eisley Cantina” but this time on a new “Yavin IV.” The Millennium Falcon is still the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy and the X-Wings are still killing things thousands of times their size through Trench Run Defense maneuvers (with a bit of Anakin’s fly in circles and shoot the inside of the installation thrown in for spice.) Which makes the X-Wings the most awesome starfighters in the galaxy as far as I am concerned. (Sure, A-Wings are faster, but X-Wings get the fun missions.)

Sadly, Han and Leia had lost their sizzle. Their interactions were tinged with regret of many mistakes. Thirty years and the lack of an expanded universe to give us good reasons for it can do that. The Force Awakens hovers in a void of the vague future without context. (There is some irony in me saying this given what I’m going to talk about after this subject.) Remember, in Episode VI, we left the plucky Rebellion having just destroyed the second Death Star and Darth Vader killed the Emperor. And suddenly, in Episode VII, it is thirty years later, our plucky heroes are now in their fifties and we have no idea what has happened between Episode VI and VII. They try to give us some ideas in the movie itself, which I can’t say without spoiling things. There are some things that can be figured out through logic or reading the old ‘legends’ expanded universe to get an idea of what had to happen. (in fact, when I explained some of the old Expanded Universe to friends who didn’t know about it, they assured me that this new trilogy really didn’t deviate that much from what I was telling them. So, Disney, in order to have free rein, threw out the Expanded Universe in favor of making a new Expanded Universe only to use the same concepts and ideas from the old Expanded Universe. What was the point of this again? Honestly.) So, instead of showing us something from those thirty years, we are told about it through exposition of the characters. This is bad storytelling and leaves me, like Han and Leia, filled with regret over what could have been.

Despite the lack of context, the movie could have been uplifted (I’m not going to say saved because it was an entertaining movie and in my book decent) with a strong main character. In the original trilogy, (here is the irony) we were also floating in a contextless void. George threw a bunch of context/exposition at us in the scroll up marquee in the very beginning and then threw us directly into the story and to our main character. Then most of the context of the very end of the Republic was never ever mentioned again. This actually worked and worked well, because there was a strong main character.

The hallmark of a great series of movies to me is to have that strong main character. A strong main character drives the story along through their words and their actions. They are the catalyst for the events of the story. They are the spark. (Because of this, I often have different ideas on who the main character is in some stories than other people.) The Original Trilogy (IV through VI) were strong because they were stories about Luke Skywalker. Say what you like about Luke, he was whiney or naïve or a fool (because he literally was the tarot deck’s Fool at the beginning of the story), IV through VI were his journey, his quest to be a hero. The story was a product of his choices, good and bad. Luke, no matter the circumstances, when faced with a choice, he did the right thing, even when his mentors told him it was the wrong thing, he did what he felt was the right thing. (And invariably, he tended to be correct or at least, he learned something when he wasn’t.) The scope of the original trilogy was focused tightly on Luke.

This is where the Prequel trilogy failed. The Prequels broadened their scope and lost their focus. The prequels were meant to be a tragic story about Anakin Skywalker and his fall to the dark side. Anakin was never the catalyst of the story. Anakin was a puppet of Senator Palpatine. He never had any agency. The story would have been much stronger if we had followed Anakin through is journey, saw him have to make choices, have him know what the right choice was to make and make the wrong one every single time. Instead, the Prequel trilogy was too cluttered up with so many plot threads gone wrong, that the plot threads needed to actually tell the story were regulated to the Expanded Universe. (Which has now mostly been thrown out. Great.)

So, here we are at the New Trilogy, and as you can see from my summary of the movie, I haven’t named any of the new characters other than Kylo Ren as the antagonist. Mainly because, I cannot tell whose story this is supposed to be. Is it Rey’s story? Is it Finn’s story? Is Poe even really in this story? Or is this actually Kylo Ren’s story? Allegedly, when writing the script and trying add Luke Skywalker earlier into the story, Luke kept taking over and not allowing these new characters to develop. That, my friends, is a sign of a strong main character, which tells me that none of these new characters have stepped up to be the main character. I want to root for Rey. I want this new trilogy to be about her story and her journey. I think it would be awesome for Star Wars to have a main female protagonist. I just don’t think she’s there yet and that the old characters that are being brought in to bring back those who love the original trilogy are going to overshadow Rey, Finn and Poe.

So, I’m going to eat half of this cookie. The story was fun, it made me laugh and kept me watching (which has been hard to do of late), but the lack of overall context and a main character really eats away at what they’re trying to do. (Character wise, we’re headed to Prequel territory and that just isn’t good.)

Unnecessary explosions. Check. The one I’m thinking of in particular was supposed to be a moment of deep emotional impact and horror that just went too far and actually became “oh, so that happened.” One is fine, more than that are just numbers. There were other unnecessary explosions, but that one stood out. One cookie. (I never said they had to be good unnecessary explosions.)

The fights were entertaining. Han was being Han. Han finally got to use Chewie’s crossbow, which was amusing. The Stormtroopers actually seemed to know how to shoot this time around. And someone taught Kylo Ren how to fight like Obi Wan Kenobi, which is kind of scary given the way his lightsaber is constructed. (I kept expecting him to cut off his own hand.) So, one cookie.

Now despite the fact that Rey wasn’t a strong main character. She was a good character. I actually don’t think we had any strong characters. The movie was too fast paced and glossy for that. There were no moments like in the original trilogy where Luke stood and watched the sunset. We didn’t have space to breathe and have introspection. The few moments of any quiet were reserved for Han and Leia and Han and Kylo Ren respectively. Rey is a passive character. Instead of taking action once opportunity strikes, she would rather go back to Jaaku and wait for her family to return. This is a sharp contrast to Luke who couldn’t wait to get off of Tattooine. Rey’s motivation comes much later in the first film and almost too late. She is the reluctant hero. What makes her a good female character, when she was kidnapped and put to the test, she rose up to the challenge and became strong enough to free herself. Rey started to take that step to ‘took a level in badass’ right before our eyes. She is a character with strong potential. Let us hope that they don’t flounder with her the way they did with Queen Amidala. One Cookie.

Do we really need another paragraph of me waxing poetic about how awesome the star wars universe is? No. Okay. One cookie for the awesome universe.

The Force Awakens is a fun and entertaining movie that is a trip down nostalgia lane for those who love Star Wars. There are a few hiccups that can hopefully be straightened out in future movies as more context is either revealed or a main character is settled on and their journey is explored. Four and a half cookies.

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