Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens The Light Side and The Dark Side of the Movie

I saw The Force Awakens last night at the opening, and wanted to share my thoughts on what was good, what was bad, and the movie in general.  There will be SPOILERS so if you haven't seen the movie yet I suggest you not read any further.

The good news is, it was a good movie.  It's not a great movie.  It retreads too many story beats from the Original Trilogy.  It's not as complete a movie in and of itself the way all the others are.  Instead it serves mainly to set the stage for Episodes 8 and 9.  But overall it was a fun and entertaining movie.

The movie had a few problems.  First, the story followed Episode 4 a little too closely.  Secret plans hidden in a droid are replaced by a secret map hidden in a droid.  The Death Star which can destroy a planet is replaced with the Star Killer, which sucks up the energy from a star to destroy several planets at once.  There is even a trench run to destroy the new Super Weapon.

Since the droid wasn't carrying the plans for the weapon this time around, they needed another method for finding the one weakness that would allow them to destroy it.  This time it was Defected First Order storm trooper Finn.  But once they were on the planet Finn confesses to Han Solo that he worked in sanitation.  Wait, what!?  Okay, for the sake of argument I can accept that a sanitation worker might pick up enough knowledge about the base to help the Resistance figure out how to blow it up.  But we first see Finn on the planet of Jakku as part of a strike force.  What military establishment is like "Hey we're gonna go take out a village, someone be sure and grab the janitor"?

And while Finn and Han are working to blow up the um Star Killer, Finn spends a few moments concentrating really hard and learns to use the Force.  So the Jedi would train children from infancy to learn to master the Force.  This was shown to be unnecessary when Luke learned to master the Force in what could have been at most a matter od a few weeks.  And now Rey shows us that even Luke was an underachiever as she masters the Force the same day she learns about it.  At least she masters it enough to pull off a mind trick, and win a duel with Kylo Ren, who we learned earlier in the movie was trained for a time by Luke himself.  Moral of the story, Jedi are slackers.

The Resistance and the First Order seem interesting, and I was looking forward to learning more about their goals and how they evolved from the Empire and the Rebellion.  Unfortunately after watching the movie I am still looking forward to finding these things out.  And if the answer is "Well they wrote some books that explain that", that is not a good answer.  If you have to make someone  read a book to understand what is happening in your movie, you haven't made a complete movie.

That is the biggest weakness of the movie.  It was made with the knowledge that others were coming, and it spent its time setting up mysteries for those later movies to reveal instead of being a complete movie in and of itself.  Kylo Ren was interesting, but not a great villain.  But they set up the circumstances to have him be a great villain in future installments.  If they took from Episode 4 for Finn and Rey's story, they took from Episode 3 for Ren's.  Instead of showing an established villain, the movie showed us how he completes his journey to the dark side.  I actually liked this aspect though, as it gives him a more personal grievance against our new heroes.  Losing to Rey also give him the scars to make him become more like Vader, which is obviously where he is heading.

Having made those complaints, it may seem I am down on this movie.  I really am not.  I was able to shrug off those issues, even if it seems like they should be too big to shrug off.  The movie was fun and engaging enough to make it possible.  Also, I know there are future movies coming that will fill in the gaps this movie left in its wake.  The new characters are great.  Harrison Ford was the best part of the movie.  He stepped right back into Han Solo with barely any awkwardness.  Even though his death at the hands of his son was telegraphed and obvious, it was still a solid emotional moment because Ford carried it off so well.

The dialogue was much less stilted in this movie than any other installment.  At first it was jarring to hear people talking so normally in a Star Wars movie.  But it turned out to fit the new characters nicely.  The new actors are all very good.  And Rey is a great female lead.  She takes the strong female character of Princess Leia to the next level.  When Finn sees her being attacked by two ruffians, he rushes to her rescue.  Only, before he can reach her, she has taken them out, and then comes after him!  She does get taken captive by Kylo Ren, and Han Solo and Finn go to rescue her.  Only she doesn't wait around to be rescued.  She gets herself out and is doing quite well on her own thank you very much.  In fact, after Finn gets his ass handed to him by Kylo Ren, she steps in to save him.

Apart from Han Solo, who dominates the movie, most of the OT appearances amount to little more than cameos.  They were nice little moments for people to applaud during the movie.  C3PO's was my favorite, as his butting into the middle of an emotional reunion between Han and Leia is so in character for him.  Luke being the McGuffin for the film necessitates his barely being in it, not even having a spoken line.  But I'm sure he'll be central to the next movie.

This was a fun movie, and it was a good movie.  I suspect it will be a better movie once Episode 8 comes out and cleans up some of the mess storywise that this one left behind.  Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been far worse too.  As it stands, it was fun.  And midichlorians were not mentioned even a single time.  So it has that going for it.