STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a miserable, wonderful mess of a movie: a spoiler-filled #review

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OKAY.  Here’s the deal, children.  I was going to put this behind an actual password and decided against it.  I will, instead, drop all of the spoilery parts behind a jump.  And understand me: DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNTIL YOU SEE THE MOVIE.  I intend to spoil every second of the film that I can remember, and chances are I’m going to get some stuff wrong, and chances are some of the stuff I’m going to complain about is going to be resolved satisfactorily in future films, and I may make some shit up partway through just for the sheer hell of it.

But see the fucking movie before you read this.

Note also that virtually the entire review is going to be complaining and nitpicking.  This is because I am a horrible person and I enjoy that sort of thing.  I am not standing in front of you in the theater holding this review in front of your face, so since I’m telling you in paragraph 3 that this is what you’re about to read, I’d like to suggest that if you already know you don’t want to read that sort of thing, you skip my review.  I bet you can find at least one more site on the web talking about Star Wars if you are very good at Google and look very carefully.

Okay?  Okay.  Let’s get started.

EARLY THURSDAY AFTERNOON: In accordance with prophecy, the theater has added one million additional showings of this movie at the last minute, meaning that my wife and I are no longer fully happy with the 1:30 Friday showing that we have tickets to.  Our son’s need for a babysitter and my wife’s mild paranoia around large crowds has rendered a Thursday night showing impossible, and 1:30 Friday is mildly inconvenient, so I have agreed to go trade the tickets for a 3:30 Friday showing.  I am fully expecting the line to already have started, and consider bringing doughnuts and coffee for them, a feat I pulled once in Chicago for people who were waiting for the PS3 at Best Buy, but I decide not to.

This proves to be the correct decision, as there is literally more local media present than there are people in line.  There is, in fact, no one in line, a fact I find nearly inconceivable.  Adam Driver grew up like five miles from here!  Where are my people?  They are not here.

I exchange my tickets easily and go home.

FRIDAY, 2:30.  We arrive an hour early for the show, not sure what to expect.  What we get is a startled ticket-taker who doesn’t understand why we’re so early.  Last night was apparently a madhouse of epic proportions, a fact that causes both my wife and I to look at each other and go “SEE?” because a madhouse of epic proportions was what both of us were expecting, exactly what I wanted, and exactly what she did not want.    We have to sit far from our theater because the door is open on a current showing and you can hear everything, and I’ll be damned if I get spoiled on a plot point because I heard it from another theater while waiting for the movie.

2:45: It becomes clear that our theater has been cleaned and is ready for people, so we go in.  We are two of six people currently in the theater, and it dawns on me with a bit of horror that this showing is not going to sell out.  A few minutes later, a family of eight walks in.  They have an infant.  Despite the theater being nearly completely empty they sit directly in front of us.  I spend the next fifteen minutes trying to set someone’s hair, I don’t care who, on fire using the power of my mind.  (Amazingly, the infant falls asleep immediately once the ads start and does not make a single peep during the movie.)

3:30:  The theater is perhaps 2/3 full, and it is clear that these are not my people.  The previews start, and I manage to not kill myself.  They are all terrible.

3:50:  The movie starts.  There is no clapping or applause.  Who the fuck are you people.  My first thought upon the actual start of the movie is, hand to God, did they change the font on the opening crawl?

(Let me pause at this point to remind you again that I’ve seen this film once and I’m going to get stuff wrong.  Calm your proverbial tits; it’ll be okay.)

The opening shot, as a Star Destroyer passes between a planet and the camera, is actually pretty damn cool.

vanity-fair-star-wars-03Welcome to Tatooine Jakku!  A devastatingly handsome Rebel Resistance fighter named Poe Dameron is having a conversation with Lor San Tekka, who is actually Max “Motherfucking” Von Sydow.  Max has a map on a chip.  Poe wants it and is all excited about it.  It contains the last piece of a map to Luke Skywalker.  If your first thought is I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of sense, get up and leave the theater now, because it won’t get better.  At any rate: the Empire First Order shows up right away because they know somehow that Dameron is there (it’s possible the movie revealed how they know; this is an “I don’t remember” moment) and they proceed to Wreck Shit in impressive Imperial fashion.  The bad guy, Kylo Ren, shows up right away, as does Gwendoline Christie as her character, chromed-up, caped Stormtrooper leader Captain Phasma, because one thing that the First Order is totally not into is delegating responsibility.  I’ll get into that later too.

Nobody gets away.  Lor San Tekka is interrogated and executed in short order by Kylo Ren, who appears to be able to read minds, or at least rip thoughts out of them in a terribly painful fashion.  Dameron’s X-wing is quickly crippled by Stormtroopers, and he’s caught as well, but not until instructing his little droid BB-8 to get the hell out of there.  At one point, Kylo Ren stops a blaster shot in midair, and it just sort of hangs there until he goes away.  It’s a power we’ve never seen in Star Wars before, and it looks amazing.  (Sidenote: Kylo Ren actually blocks very few blaster shots with his lightsaber in this movie, and when he does, it’s by swinging his saber at them like a club.  I love his lightsaber; it has a weight and a heft to it that we’ve never seen with one of these things before.)

2979968-star-wars-bb-8-force-awakensPoe Dameron’s dialogue during his capture is a teeny bit too Firefly for my wife’s tastes, but I’m okay with it.  He’s very Whedony throughout the movie.  It’s not bad, necessarily, but it’s not as Star Warsy as one might expect.  (In general, I have few complaints about dialogue in this movie.)

Also introduced during this section:  Leo the Cowardly Stormtrooper, who appears to be unaware that Stormtroopers are supposed to shoot folk once in a while and who gets real messed up when another one of the troopers is killed.  He ends up with a bloody patch on his helmet, which is good, because it’s the only way to tell him apart from everyone else.  When the Troopers are ordered to kill everyone who was left behind, he doesn’t do any shooting.  Captain Phasma notices.  So does Kylo Ren.

Hello, Daisy Ridley!  Lemme be clear here: Rey is the best thing about this movie.  Period.  She is my favorite Star Wars character.  She is so awesome that she borders on being a Mary Sue.  Hell, she probably is a Mary Sue.  I just don’t care.  She’s burrowing through the guts of a crashed Star Destroyer and living in a wrecked AT-AT and making weird food out of money or something like that, maybe.  She brings some bits and pieces to Simon Pegg, who is wearing 40 pounds of costume and a CG head in the desert heat, and probably slowly dying.  His CG head is the second-worst CG in the movie.  He offers her a “quarter portion” for what she brings him.  She wears a cast-away Rebel X-wing pilot helmet while she’s eating.  She is the most adorable thing ever and I love her.

simon-pegg-unkar-plutt-the-force-awakens-rev-2-newsLet’s note here: Simon Pegg is an ugly motherfucker.  He’s a great actor and I love him but he’s an ugly motherfucker.  So they’ve made him unrecognizable with CG.  I intend to come back to this point later.  For now, just remember it.

Sooner or later Rey hears BB-8 being captured by some other desert scavenger dude.  For entirely unclear reasons she’s very upset by this and rescues the droid.  The droid wants to go one way.  “Well, I’m not going that way,” she says.  “It’s much too rocky.”

Wait, no, that was some other movie.

Anyway, BB-8 hangs out.

Hux.jpgBack to the Star Destroyer, where Poe Dameron is all bloody and messed up and being interrogated by Kylo Ren, who, as I’ve mentioned, appears to be less able to read minds as to painfully rip thoughts and memories out of them.  Dameron does not appear to enjoy this process very much, but Ren discovers that the map he’s looking for is in the droid, and the droid is still on the planet’s surface, so back down they go.  Somewhere around here Domhnhanhhanallhnnhll (what the fuck is he, Welsh?  His name has at least eight too many consonants in it) Gleeson’s General Hux character is introduced.  General Hux’s job in this movie is basically to argue with Kylo Ren and make a convincing case that all male redheads should be drowned at birth.

(Female redheads are God’s gift to humanity.  Fight me.)

Also, I may as well deal with this now:  at some point the two of them have to give a status update to Supreme Leader Snoke.  Supreme Leader Snoke is a giant hologram played by Andy Serkis.  He’s bad and scary and apparently has Force abilities and looks more than a little like a zombie, which is spawning all sorts of nerd theories about who he Actually Is, ranging from Vader (he has a head scar in a rather significant location) to Palpatine to Darth Plagueis.  Also unclear is where Snoke actually is; my theory is nearby and behind a curtain.

Andy_Serkis_March_2015.jpgHe’s played by Andy Serkis, if you didn’t notice me saying that a few sentences ago.  Andy Serkis: also an ugly motherfucker.  The most talented mo-cap actor in human history, but an ugly motherfucker.  Take note.

So, right: back to Leo the Cowardly Stormtrooper, who pulls his helmet off and wanders around on the Star Destroyer in a stressed-out fashion for a few minutes, only to run directly into Captain Phasma, who instructs him to 1) put his damn helmet back on, 2) turn in his blaster for inspection, and 3) (I think) report for reconditioning.  Instead of doing any of those things, he saves Poe Dameron.  The two of them steal a TIE fighter that Dameron knows not only how to fly but how to act as gunner in, but he has to tell Leo how to shoot things in it.  There’s a hilarious couple of minutes where the TIE is actually… well, tied down via a cable attached to one of the wings, and they’re just sort of bouncing around in the hangar bay shooting shit, but eventually Dameron figures it out and they get away.

This all takes like two minutes of screen time.  Dameron asks his name, and he gives his Stormtrooper designation, which is FN-fournumbers, and Dameron immediately tells him his name is Plerp Finn now.  It’s… kinda problematic, the way the white dude just decides the black dude’s name and everybody goes along with it, including the dude who got renamed.  I mean, he doesn’t have an opinion on the matter?  Sure, I’ll be Finn, guy-I-just-met, whatevs.

So the TIE gets shot down and they crash.  Finn wakes up first, can’t find Dameron, but does manage to score his sweet jacket from inside the burning TIE fighter, which is soon after immediately eaten by quicksand, because sure, quicksand.  He has just happened to land right next to the settlement that Rey sells her scrap at, and within a few minutes he’s trying to save her from a couple of people who are trying to save BB-8.  She beats the hell out of them.  Then the Stormtroopers attack.  They run off.  He repeatedly tries to grab her hand.  She repeatedly yells at him for it.  BB-8 recognizes his jacket and shocks him a few times and he convinces her that he’s with the Resistance and then they steal the Millennium Falcon, because the Millennium Falcon is right there for some reason.  Because plot.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-millennium-falcon-imax.jpg“Because plot” happens a lot in this movie.

Kylo Ren is very sad to find out they got away.  He wrecks some shit with his lightsaber.

Rey turns out to be a hell of a pilot, and also has apparently spent some time on the Falcon before, as she knows where everything is and how to fix stuff and she orders Finn around a bit before taking off and eventually the two of them manage to shoot down the TIEs and escape the planet.

Where they are immediately grabbed by a much larger ship.  Now, I’m confused here; TIEs are short-range fighters, but they aren’t ever in danger from the should-be-nearby Star Destroyer.  The other ship captures them in seconds, though, and there’s talk of hiding in the smuggling compartments (Rey knows exactly where they are) and about poisoning the stormtroopers with poison gas, because those masks don’t filter out gas for some reason why the hell don’t the masks filter out gas attacks?  Dumb.

It’s not Stormtroopers.  It’s Han and Chewie!  Hi, Han and Chewie!

Nobody in my theater claps.  Clap, motherfuckers.  I start clapping and manage to rouse some energy out of these animals.  I really should have seen this Thursday night with my people.

The-Star-Wars-The-Force-AwakensThis is as good a time as any to talk about my biggest problems with this movie, as they all become apparent here in short order.

FIRST: That the movie should have been set after everyone from the first film was dead.  Damn near every single thing that is wrong with THE FORCE AWAKENS is the original trilogy’s fault.  That doesn’t seem like it should be true, but it is.  Han Solo, and it makes me incredibly sad to say this, is absolutely terrible in this movie.  It’s entirely possible that this was an acting choice on Harrison Ford’s part, and the character has reason to be a bit broken, but Han is sort of doddering and incompetent and petulant for a lot of the film’s runtime, and he’s the source of a lot of needless fanservice throughout the movie that ends up being distracting.  He’s also responsible for the next 20 minutes, which are hands down the worst sequence in the entire film, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The other problem, unfortunately, is Finn.  Now, lemme be real clear here: I like John Boyega.  A lot.  He’s a great actor, it’s just that the character he’s been given to play here doesn’t make any goddamned sense.  Finn is a Stormtrooper.  Apparently the First Order has decided to take some notes from the old Jedi Order and start kidnapping little kids to make them Stormtroopers, and then they’re trained for their entire lives to not be very good shots.  He’s been in training for his entire life.  Moral reservations or not (and there shouldn’t be any, because he’s spent his whole life being told that the Resistance are terrorists who want to destabilize the galaxy and destroy everything he cares about) he’s been trained for one thing: to be a warrior.

522837e62ad93697951d755d_2cb59597Finn should be Drax.  He’s more like Kevin Hart.  That’s not a compliment.  And, again, it’s not Boyega’s fault.  He plays the character he’s given, and if you’re able to forget the implications of “spent his entire life under the thumb of a military dictatorship with mind control powers being trained to be a soldier,” his character’s great.  It’s just that he doesn’t make any damn sense.  John Boyega has outstanding comic timing, and convincingly plays a guy with outstanding comic timing who is a little awkward around women and wants to be helpful and is terrified of being recaptured by the First Order.  The problem is, other than maybe the last one, Finn should be none of those things.  

(Oh, randomly: there’s at least one point in the movie where Phasma, I think, asks a Stormtrooper a question and the voice coming from the Stormtrooper is obviously also female.  Bechdel!  Woo!)

Right.  Back to the Falcon.  The next 20 minutes are terrible and do not make any sense.  Han’s a smuggler again, but he’s smuggling… animals?  And he’s got a ship that’s way bigger than the Falcon now, but he’s been looking for the Falcon, because someone stole it from him, and now he’s happy that he’s got it back, which I guess it’s nice that he happened to be on Jakku just as the last of several owners Rey rattles off leaves it unlocked so she can steal it and fly off the planet.  Then there are two different… bounty hunters?  And some of them look pretty cool?  And there’s a fight, because Han owes both of them money, and there are giant tentacle monsters because this is Star Wars and I guess we need those, and Rey saves Finn again, and eventually they’re all back in the Falcon and blasting off the ship again, and seriously two weeks from now when everyone calms down this will be the “sand is rough” sequence of this film.  It’s terrible, and the meatball-monsters are bad CGI and are stupid, and Chewie gets shot in the arm and is super whiny about it, and Jesus, Chewie, you’ve been a Star Warrior for like two hundred years, you’re telling me you never got blastered in the arm before?  Jesus, nut up.

CJcuyEavAnother problem with this movie: Chewbacca clearly gets the Comic Relief edit.  He’s practically a punk in this movie, and whines a lot, and the one chance he gets to be a Wookiee later in the movie is wasted.  But that’s several thousand words away.

Some poor bastard informs Kylo Ren that the good guys got away with the map.  He wrecks even more shit with that lightsaber.

I know I keep using that phrase.  It’s a theme.  Dude has anger management issues, apparently.  Adam Driver is the second best thing about this movie; there’s a scene (maybe here?  I don’t remember) where he’s basically having a chat with Darth Vader’s melted helmet about how the Light Side is calling to him.  It’s chilling and amazing.  Also, I don’t remember exactly when this gets revealed, but he’s Han and Leia’s son, and therefore Vader’s grandson.  Driver nails every single aspect of this character and he is absolutely great.

Han takes Finn and Rey off to some other planet to meet his friend Maz Kanata.  I don’t remember the reason they contrived to go here; maybe Kanata was going to get BB-8 to the Resistance because Han didn’t want to?  At any rate, somewhere along the way it becomes clear that he knows who Rey is, somehow, and he sort of awkwardly offers her a job when they get to this other planet.

Maz Kanata is a thousand-year-old three-foot-tall nearsighted turtle-person played by Lupita Nyong’o.

This is Lupita Nyong’o:

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This is Maz Kanata:

Maz

No.

Star Wars has some diversity issues, okay?  This film goes a long way toward helping with that, but this is a series that is on its seventh film and if  a woman of color has had even a single line in it so far I cannot remember who that woman might be.  There are definitely none in the original trilogy.  I can’t remember any in the prequels, although I think there’s one woman of color on the Jedi Council.  I don’t think she ever speaks.

You cast ugly motherfuckers as the all-CG characters.  You cast Lupita Nyong’o as a badass Twi’lek if you’re bound and determined to make her an alien and then you let somebody else be the fucking turtle-person.  Or you don’t have a turtle-person and you let Lupita Nyong’o play the turtle-person but you don’t make her all CGI.  Dammit.

None of this should be interpreted to mean that I didn’t like Maz Kanata.  I did. Maz Kanata’s pretty cool.  I want more of her in future films.  But… goddammit, movie, do this shit right.

Anyway.  Finn wants to run away, Han isn’t super interested in going near the Resistance, Rey’s just sort of mad at everybody and wants to go back to Jakku to wait for her parents who abandoned her there, and at some point she sneaks off and finds Luke’s lightsaber in a box downstairs.  She touches it and has a series of Force visions.  She’s totally Luke’s daughter; the movie never actually says it, but it’s so heavily implied in so many ways that it may actually be the most annoying red herring of all time.  To my mind, you don’t cast the spitting image of Natalie Portman and not have her be Natalie Portman’s granddaughter.  There are people out there arguing that she’s Han and Leia’s other kid but those people are dumb.  She’s Luke’s.

Anyway.  Kanata gives her Luke’s lightsaber.  Or tries to; the visions freak her out and she doesn’t want them.  She runs away.  Finn ends up with the lightsaber anyway.

star-wars-jabba_3372135kDid I mention that the second they walk into Kanata’s place they get ratted out to both the Resistance and the First Order by two different characters, who all know about this already for some reason even though the whole movie has taken place over just a handful of hours by now?  Because right around here is where the First Order attacks, and Kylo Ren’s with them again, and Finn fights (poorly) with the lightsaber, and Kanata’s place gets wrecked around her nonexistent turtle-ears and it’s not clear that she actually survives but I’m pretty sure she does.  Finn gets into a lightsaber fight with a Stormtrooper who has some sort of cortosis-weave arm club-thing that the lightsaber can’t cut through, because you need to outfit Stormtroopers with those when there are no Jedi left, and he loses badly.  Han and Chewie and Finn are captured (Rey’s busy running away) and then the Resistance attacks and it gets better.  Finn realizes that Dameron has got to still be alive just by watching one of the X-Wings fly, which should be super cheesy but works.

Kylo Ren captures Rey, who has seen the Skywalker Map– I forgot to mention that– so he figures he doesn’t need the droid any more.  It’s right around here where Han actually reveals that Ren is his son.

forceawakens-finn-screaming-700x352Let’s gripe some more.  Star Wars is in a galaxy far, far away.  This movie is set in, at best, a single solar system.  One of the things the movies (including the prequels) have always done is blur distance and time– you cannot tell me how far Hoth is from Bespin or Dagobah or how long it takes to get from one to another.  In this movie, characters travel from one planet to another in the space of a single conversation.  Several times.  This movie has no scope to it at all, and we’re about to hit the scenes where this lack of scope become the largest problem.  These planets have got to be all on top of each other– again, there are two reports that “hey, these guys are here,” and both sides of the fight are there in like ten minutes of screen time.  The First Order doesn’t appear to actually hold any territory other than Starkiller Base (stand by) and that one Star Destroyer.  If they control anything, we never find out about it.  The Order isn’t the galaxy-spanning tyranny that the Empire was.  They’re actually more like the Rebels from the OT than anything else, only with an absolutely insane budget.  But I’ll get to that in a sec.

(At this point, I realize I’m out of pictures, so what’s left are going to be out of order because I’m not gonna start rearranging things.)

The-Force-Awakens-08112015So a couple of things happen.  The First Order’s Big Scary Battle Station is called Starkiller Base.  It is close enough to a star– get it?– that it gains its energy by stealing power from that star.  It is, nonetheless, built into an ice planet, which makes no fucking sense at all, because it’s clearly the closest planet to the sun in its system and that’s not how ice planets work.  Somewhere during all this battling and Star Warsing, General Hux gives a big Nazi-esque speech to what I have reason to believe is his entire army, all of whom are on the base, and Starkiller Base blows up … something.  It’s not clear what.  One planet, and its moons?  He’s all mad at the New Republic, who have played absolutely no part in this movie at all so far, so… does he blow up the seat of government?  Does he literally blow up the entire Republic?  I dunno.  You get a brief glimpse of someone who looks like The Cosby Show-era Denise being scared and then the planet blows up.  Nobody really seems to care, though.  It’s not like when Alderaan was destroyed– Leia was from Alderaan, and watched it get destroyed, so even though the film hadn’t been there before you felt the impact when it was destroyed.  Ben Kenobi felt the deaths, too.  It was a big deal.

This nameless planet, or planet-and-moons, or whatever, is destroyed because this is a Star Wars movie, and well, I guess we have to do that.  Hey, remember when that happened in the first movie?  That was cool, right?  Let’s do it again.

The folks in the fight on Kanata-planet see the big laser overhead, by the way.  So these planets are all in the same solar system.  You see what I mean?  Too small.  Way too small.

star-wars-force-awakens-06_612x380So Han brings everybody to Leia.  Hi, Leia!  There is no clapping when Leia finally appears on screen.  She and Han are estranged, and her last name is still Organa, but Kylo Ren is definitely their son.  They keep referring to him as “our son,” so his actual name is apparently going to be a Thing when they finally use it.  Also revealed: Luke had originally started rebuilding the Jedi Order, and their son going all crazygonuts and killing everyone was the reason that Luke is in hiding and the two of them aren’t together any longer.

Somehow (I think they explain, but I don’t remember) they have plans for Starkiller Base.  Here’s how that scene goes:

LEIA: That’s a big thing.

ADMIRAL ACKBAR:  I am here too.

POE DAMERON: It’s bigger than the Death Star!

NIEN NUNB: Remember me from Return of the Jedi?  Is that black guy’s last name Calrissian?  I liked Lando.

POE: We should blow the big thing up.

FINN: The union guys insisted on a big structural weakness again.  It’s right there.

LEIA:  Cool!  Go do that.

Also in this movie now for some reason: Greg Grunberg, who you might remember from Heroes and almost certainly don’t remember from anything else, who plays an X-Wing pilot, almost certainly Jek Porkins’ son Jork.  He is consistently insanely distracting for some reason, as the look on his face in his every scene absolutely screams EHRMAGERD STURR WERRS.  Everybody else in the movie is over it except for Greg.  It’s like they cast him and filmed all his scenes in the same day.

And we get C-3P0 back, who literally jumps in between Han and Leia to bitch about his new red arm, which he has for no reason, ignoring the fact that Anthony Daniels’ voice isn’t quite right anymore and oh also for some reason his entire body has been replaced with a matte gold instead of the shiny gold and silver (the one leg, remember?) he’s been for the past six movies.  R2D2’s there, too, but he’s shut down, because Reasons.

35b6c583-24bf-446b-abd0-47c5f3b3f982-620x372So, yeah.  Finn and Solo and Chewbacca are tasked with shutting down the shield generators, because really?  We’re doing that again? and everybody else piles into an X-wing because those are all the ships we have budget for anymore– the Resistance appears to not own a single capital ship– and flies off to blow up the Star Death.  I mean, seriously, I get the meta-joke about calling it Starkiller, because that was originally supposed to be Luke’s last name, but we went from the Death Star to the Star Killer?  Christ, people, call it the PlanetPuncher or something.  Be original.

Kylo tries to interrogate Rey to find out where Luke is, awakening (get it?) her Force powers in the process, and she’s basically all uh, no and shoves him out of her head, which he doesn’t take very well.  I’m being flippant; this scene is actually awesome and these two are the best thing about the movie and this scene is solid gold.  I wish Adam Driver had played Anakin; he’s that good at being conflicted and awesome.  Han and the others somehow capture Captain Phasma (?!??!) and this is really the scene where Finn is channeling Kevin Hart in a not-very-good way and they somehow convince her to lower the shields.  Like, just like that.  That easily.  Then there’s a joke about dumping her into the trash compactor and we never see her again.

So, I was right when I said that Captain Phasma being the Boba Fett of the trilogy meant that she would be completely useless as a character and have no real effect on the narrative at all.  Goddammit.  She’ll be back, supposedly.

Back to Kylo Ren again for a second, because I forgot to mention this: Rey gets him to take off his helmet, and I swear to you that I have identified as firmly heterosexual for my entire life but my very first thought upon seeing Adam Driver’s face is that man has insanely pretty lips.  My second thought is connected to his long, wavy, luscious hair, which looks amazing considering it has been trapped inside a helmet for, like, forever.  Apparently the First Order spends a lot of money on Kylo Ren’s conditioner, because wow.  It is a testament to Driver’s acting that he immediately makes himself scary as crap again as soon as he goes back to talking.

pzwb1fhlkzyvmrtavkosSo they shut the shields down, and Rey, who has never been around anyone who uses the Force before, figures out that the Force lets her tell people to do things, and she makes the single Stormtrooper guarding her (played, I shit you not, by Daniel Craig) free her and give her his gun and she escapes, because no one ever saves Rey.  Rey takes care of her own shit.  Meanwhile Han and Chewie are planting explosives all over the place and there’s lots of shooting and apparently they only sent about 8 X-wings and the base is draining energy out of the star to blow up the Resistance’s planet, which… uh, it’ll die anyway once the star is done, and there’s like a timer or something until the base has drained enough energy to shoot something again.

Kylo Ren discovers that Rey is gone and throws a tantrum.  Fun visual joke when two Stormtroopers patrolling the hallway realize what he’s doing and turn on a dime and go the other direction.

Since Star Wars doesn’t have OSHA, Han spots Kylo standing in the middle of a huge catwalk with no railings.  He’s promised Leia that he’ll try and bring their son back to them, so he calls out to him.

“BEN!” he shouts.  Oh, that’s cool.  They named him after Ben Kenobi.

leia-force-awakensThe scene between them is actually really great, guys.  Han Solo is a big weak part of this movie but Harrison Ford absolutely nails this part, and when Kylo Ren ends his internal conflict by ramming his lightsaber through his father’s chest you really feel like the movie has earned killing off such a major character.

(You don’t ever want to be the oldest guy in the Star Wars movie.  This movie kills off the oldest guy twice.  ROTJ did it three times.  In order.)

Chewie, Rey, and Finn are watching.  A major opportunity is missed here, because Chewbacca absolutely should have gone after Ren, and he doesn’t.  He kills a bunch of Stormtroopers and does manage to shoot him in the side, but the Chewbacca I know would never have rested until he had Han’s killer’s head on a pike.  There should have at least been a scene here where Chewie has to choose between avenging Han and going back with Rey and Finn.  Instead, there’s next to nothing, and the impact of Han’s death is immediately wasted.

They both should have died, is what I’m getting at, because I don’t see Chewie letting anyone get way with killing Han, and I don’t see Ren getting away from Chewie without killing him.

_1445350717.pngAnd then there are lightsaber fights.

FIRST, Finn vs. Kylo Ren.  Ren is injured, so it takes him a while, but he basically carves Finn like a Thanksgiving turkey, ramming one of those crossguards into his shoulder and eventually hitting him from behind in a stroke that looks like it ought to have split his spine clean in half.  He’s alive, somehow, but … well, this fight didn’t go well.

At some point he disarms him, and he reaches for Luke’s lightsaber, trying to summon it to himself.  The lightsaber flies out of the snow…

…and ends up in Rey’s hand.  And then Rey and Ren fight.  Meanwhile, the base is sufficiently blown up that the planet starts falling apart, because it’s got the torn-away energies of a star inside it and that energy kinda needs to go somewhere.  Kylo Ren has Rey backed over a cliff and says something about training her, and you can see in her face that the phrase somehow breaks something else loose, and she proceeds to beat him like a rented mule.  I thought at one point she’d actually taken his head off; he’s badly beaten but I’m not sure if he actually loses any body parts.  In general, one of the cool things about these two fights is the way the characters manage to hurt each other without resorting to dismemberment.  The fights are more OT than Prequels; these are untrained kids trying to beat each other to death with laser swords, not people who are used to waving blades around prettily to deflect blaster fire.  I’m happy about it.

A convenient rift appears in between the two of them, preventing Rey from finishing Kylo off.  Chewie picks her and Finn up in the Falcon.  General Hux gets orders from Snoke to grab Kylo Ren and bring him to Snoke so that they can “finish his training;” I suppose he pulls that off but neither of them are seen again.  And the Starkiller Base…

…well, this is one place where my wife and I remember it differently, actually.  She says it blows up.  My memory is that the base actually stellifies, becoming a star in its own right, but hey, everybody’s safe and off the planet who ought to be, I suppose.

1500wThey get back to Resistance Planet, where Finn is pronounced to have a heartbeat and spirited off.  R2-D2 wakes up, because Reasons, and provides the rest of the map, missing only the part that BB-8 had, which he quickly fills in.

Can we talk about this?  This is stupid.  You don’t need a map to Luke Skywalker, because you’re in outer space, and the map actually has a stupid yellow line on it, like there’s only one way to get to this system in a galaxy.  You don’t need a map.  You need coordinates.  There’s a good argument being made out there that Luke left that part of the map with Lor San Tekka (remember him, 5000 words ago?) on purpose so that he could give it to Rey when she was old enough to need it, because, again, Rey is clearly Luke’s daughter.

Further evidence:  Leia, who hasn’t met Rey yet, gives her a huge hug, says “May the Force be with you” (Bechdel!) to her, and sends her off to find Luke.  She doesn’t go herself.  The entire First Order appears to be destroyed except for like four people– again, we’re never given any evidence at all that they have any galaxy-wide presence of any kind.  They just hang out on that one Star Destroyer and on that one planet being all evil and needing some resisting.  Well, maybe the Star Destroyer’s out there still, I guess.  STAR WARS 8: FIVE X-WINGS FIGHT ONE STAR DESTROYER AND GREG GRUNBERG IS STILL REALLY EXCITED ought to be awesome.

The only reason for Leia to send Rey and not at least go with her is that Rey is Luke’s daughter.  It ain’t like Leia’s got anything else to be doing right now.

Han Solo’s death goes unmentioned.  We get a brief shot of Leia Force-intuiting his death when Kylo Ren kills him, but that’s it.  No funeral.  No big speech.  No memorial service.  Who, that guy?  Why you bringin’ up old shit?

Rey and R2-D2 and Chewbacca follow the map (pfah) and find Luke on an island in the middle of nowhere.  His mechanical hand doesn’t have skin on it anymore.  He turns to her as she offers him his old lightsaber, and a genuinely impressive number of emotions crawl across his face in just a very few seconds, the camera swings out, and…

…credits.  Luke gets maybe 30 seconds of screen time and not one word of dialogue.

I ain’t mad.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was a cool way to end the movie.

But it would have been a lot better to drop this map nonsense and have him show up at the last second at Han’s funeral and end the movie the exact same way, with Rey extending the lightsaber to him.  Because you know he felt Han die.  And that way Han’s loss could have gotten some respect, which it didn’t.  At all.  Of any kind.


I actually liked this movie, believe it or not, and I plan to see it at least once or twice more, at which point several of my questions might get cleared up.  The two more movies coming will surely help, too.  But… geez.  The movie’s greatest strengths are that it feels like Star Wars in a way the prequels didn’t and weren’t trying to, and the acting from all the new characters is uniformly outstanding.  The weaknesses?  Well, I feel like I covered those.

Go see it.  Then come back and tell me what an idiot I am.  S’cool.

19 thoughts on “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a miserable, wonderful mess of a movie: a spoiler-filled #review

    1. Okay finished reading it now. Other than my above correction, I basically feel fairly similar. Though I didn’t mind any of the CG (or even notice it, it didn’t take me out of the movie at all) but the film was essentially a remake of A New Hope… Which JJ already remade as his first Star Trek movie… And…. sigh. It slogged in that way.

      I also thought John Boydega’s character worked pretty well, he seemed extremely naive, like they’d taught him to kill, but not think, so when he challenges their ideas its almost something the First Order didn’t consider he’d do.

      The worst part was when the First Order blew up (and I had to Wookiepedia this) “Hosnian Prime”. No one cared. Billions of people are dead, probably. We didn’t get any of the characters reacting in the sort of horror the moment deserved. It should have been the atrocity that pushed the movie forward. Instead, it was like a checkmark on a nostalgia checklist.

      But yeah, I liked it to. Despite all my complaints.

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  1. Is it weird that I would rather read your spoiler-y review than watch the movie right now? The way I see it, your review will at least be entertaining, whereas the actual movie might do further damage to my cherished memories of the original trilogy. Episodes 1-3 and the changes/additions to the original trilogy blasted the Star Wars love out of me. 😦

    BB8 is downright adorable though. So there’s that.

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  2. This captured a lot of the same confusion I had. Still loved the movie and am looking forward to the next installment. Something I couldn’t say after seeing Episode I.

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  3. I disregarded your warning and read the review, even though I haven’t seen the movie yet. It’s utterly cool, because I am completely spoiler-happy (a habit that, among other things, kept me away from Aliens3, for which I have been profoundly grateful for the last 23 years). I always spoil myself on major releases like this.

    Thank you for the review– it’s gives me a perspective that’s a nice counterpoint to the general adulation out there at the moment. I’ve had reservations about J. J. Abrams since the debacle called Lost, and his reboots of Star Trek haven’t improved my impression of him. I think he’s sloppy and lacking in good story sense. It sounds as if TFA might be another such case. Flaws in a movie’s logic make me grumpy. We’ll see if they’re bad enough to ruin the film for me.

    I’ve got tickets to see it Christmas day. I consider myself forewarned. Thanks again.

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  4. I quite liked the movie, but yeah, I had a lot of these same problems, especially with Han and Chewie when the initially show up and the way the death goes almost totally unacknowledged. Was trying to decide if Rey is going to be Luke’s kid or if she’s somehow going to end up as Kylo Ren’s sister—though they’ll have to stretch some details a bit to make that fit, it makes a better fight than if they’re just cousins.

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  5. J.R.Barker

    I’m not sure where they can take the next level of weaponry to, I mean once you’re able to blow up a planet you can’t really escalate your evil. Which I guess is why they’ve now had 3 death stars instead of starting off small, say with a lazer that could destroy a continent, then a bomb that could destroy an entire hemisphere before graduating to full planet annihilation.
    I’m guessing they could blow planets up in other solar systems? They never gave us a range on it, it’s the impression I got anyway.
    But I do hear you about the space thing, Han just happened to be there to find Ren and the Falcon must have meant that he would have been spotted and boarded by the First Order. He must have been right on top of them, how were they not spotted?
    As for Chewy, I got the feeling he wanted to go after Kylo but knew he had shit to blow up, he probably hoped to blow Kylo up too. He is 400 years old now and not a young reckless Wooky any more.
    But all in all I think it had the perfect mix of flaws and epicness that 4, 5 and 6 had.

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  6. It’s both miserable and wonderful, yes.

    I agree with you on almost everything. Rey is def. the best part of this, and her goofing around with the X-Wing helmet is easily the best few seconds in this whole move. Absolutely there should have been a funeral for Han and Luke should have showed up. Diana and I had a phone conversation after I saw the movie (she saw it days ago) in which we said almost the EXACT SAME THING.

    Points where we differ: I like Finn better, and I like Rylo much, much less than you like him. In fact I dislike him so much, I’m calling it a poor casting decision.

    What happened to Chewie, I agree with. I have a feeling that ten years from now, the Chewie revision is going to be the one part of this I am still willing to engage in discussion about.

    Agree about the crossguard lightsaber. Totally agree with everything you said about that.

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  7. Pingback: Top 10 Posts of 2015 | Infinitefreetime.com

  8. I thought I was the only one who loathed this film. Star Wars has legions of fans and I think they’re so hungry for new content that it blinds them to the fact that this film sucked.
    Also, the new game content for Star Wars: The Old Republic has completely destroyed that experience as well.
    It seems like Lucas has handed over the mantle to the wrong people. I wrote a post knocking both the game and the film. God to know that I’m not the only one out there.
    https://ernsangia.wordpress.com/2015/12/27/new-star-wars-content-ho-hum/

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  9. Could’ve done with another 20 or 30 minutes, in my opinion. Could’ve done a little more explaining, had more cause-and-effect instead of unexplained coincidence… and the balance between old and new characters was very odd, not to mention the bizzarrity of every Han Solo sequence. Finn’s characterization was weird, but it didn’t bother me nearly as much as the Han tone… That, and the unexplained origins of Mega Bad Guy. And the fact that I couldn’t figure out what kind of scale we were dealing with on either side. Emotionally I really enjoyed it, but my brain had to be dragged along for the ride sometimes.

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