Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (FULLY-SPOILED)

Doug: Time it is. Spoil you must.

Karen: Howdy folks. While Doug and his boys are going to see it today, and we'll hear from him soon, I've seen it twice now, and I want to chime in with some thoughts. 

First, I did enjoy it. I felt it was in the spirit of the original trilogy and was visually stunning, and thankfully did not have the synthetic, over-CGI look of the prequels. I am so glad they decided to film in real locations, and use film stock. The story also is much more personal and relatable than the whole trade guild mess from the prequels -as soon as the beginning crawl said, "Luke Skywalker has vanished" I felt like the story would be focused in the right direction.

The new young protagonists were interesting and likable, if still somewhat mysterious, I am assuming we will learn more about Rey's parentage in the next film. I am still wondering what made Finn break his conditioning and rebel -is there something going on here that will also be revealed?

I have to be honest and admit that the moments that brought me the greatest joy were those with cranky old Han Solo and Chewbacca. Seeing those two together again, and seeing the Millennium Falcon soaring across the screen, were enough to make me go home with warm fuzzies. I've been asking myself how much of my good will towards the film is due to nostalgia, and I'm sure that is a nice chunk of it. Perhaps with some time it will be more clear to me if I like The Force Awakens on its own merits or just because I get to see my childhood heroes in it. I think there's enough in the film to like it beyond the nostalgia factor -but let's not kid ourselves: it's a heavy factor.

Not that everything was perfect (none of the Star Wars films are). I felt there were too many call backs to the original films. Another Deathstar? Why? Even the movie seems to poke fun at this, when the Rebels are planning their attack and Han sort of sarcastically says something along the lines of "There's usually a way to blow these things up." We have a youngster on a desert planet who has a greater destiny. A robot carrying secret plans. A cantina with a bunch of strange-looking aliens. A character who leaves winds up coming back to help. The mentor to the younger characters just felt like there were too many parallels. It's obvious it was intentional but much like Superman Returns, it felt like overkill to me. 

I also have mixed feelings about Kylo Ren. Obviously he's not meant to be Darth Vader; by the time we first saw Vader, he had been in his position for a couple of decades and was largely in control of himself -his was a simmering anger that he was able to direct with a laser-like focus. Ren on the other hand is all angst and fury, confused as hell and perhaps even psychotic. While this comes across there are also some odd moments of humor, when he throws his tantrums, that make him far less menacing and more pathetic. I suppose the true villain here is the Emperor stand-in (another call back), Supreme Leader Snoke -a terrible name - who seems to be manipulating Ren. I wasn't surprised by the revelation that he was Han and Leia's son, but I do wish we'd had a little more build up to it. The way it was revealed seemed rather off-handed. 

I suppose Harrison Ford finally got the death scene he's been wanting since The Empire Strikes Back. No wonder he's been so happy to do all these TV shows and press junkets -he's finally free! Maybe I'm too hard on him. He seems like a decent guy, just not enamored with the whole 'Star Wars' life. In any case, I thought he did a great job in the film. He really brought back Han Solo -all the ego, the humor, and the subtlety too, he pulled it off. I was very happy to see Chewie get featured quite a bit. I just wish he'd had a scene with Leia after Han's death. I also wish Ford and Mark Hamill had gotten a scene together, but barring flashbacks, this appears unlikely.

Carrie Fisher didn't get a lot to do this time around -and Hamill even less! - but I'm sure we'll see more of them next time. There are still so many unanswered questions about what has happened between Return of the Jedi and this film. And why the heck do jedi always run off and go into hiding when they have a problem? Yoda and Obi-Wan did it, and now Luke is too? Geez guys, how about dealing with your problems?!

Despite any quibbles, I am excited to see where the story is going.


Edo Bosnar said...

Darn, since the post was late today I was kind of hoping this one would have gone up tomorrow. As it is, now I'm gonna have to ignore BAB for the next 24 or so hours, as I've only lined up time in my otherwise packed work schedule (yes, I worked yesterday, I'm working today and tomorrow) to see this tomorrow night - with a few friends from work, as it turns out. Oh, well...

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie (nor will I anytime soon, since there aren't any theatres near me), but I did read the novel. I liked it, but as Karen said, there seem to be plenty of unanswered questions; I guess they're saving those for the next couple of movies.

As for filling in the 30 year gap between ROTJ and Force Awakens, there are the "Aftermath" novels by Chuck Wendig. Only one has been published so far, but it does include a young Snap Wexley as a character. I assume subsequent novels (and movies) will fill in the gaps.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

Hi, everyone --

Our showing finished up around two hours ago. We had a split decision in the family: Oldest son and I liked it, daughter-in-law thought it was OK, and youngest son didn't care for it. After he aired his grievances, I think he was spot on. But I liked it anyway.

Karen's review is really similar to what I'd have typed had I seen this before. My younger son said he'd basically seen this film before -- it was a general rehashing of A New Hope (Star Wars to us older kids). And he's right. Down to the manner in which the new "death star" was destroyed, this one played it safe.

Kylo Ren is a wuss. Plain and simple. If he's bada$$ like his granddad, he gets menacing theme music whenever he comes on screen. He did not. Case closed.

How did Fenn and Rey pick up things like piloting and light sabre dueling as if they'd been doing it all along?

I'm not sure what to make of Fenn. When did the clone program end? I didn't mind his revelation that he was part of a program of stealing children and reconditioning them -- sounds evil. Whose daughter is Rey? She's obviously either Luke's or Leia's -- looking forward to see which one.

Like Karen, I very much enjoyed the on-site filming and the lack of over-the-top effects. It was refreshing to see some light sabre duels that were more like sword fights and less like acrobatics. The dog fights were really fun.

Goose bumps: The opening theme from John Williams, the site of the Millennium Falcon for the first time, and of course Han and Chewie's entry. My oldest said that you can tell this is now under the same umbrella as the Marvel pictures by the humor that was injected throughout. Overall, good stuff!

I'll write more later as other commenters happen by.


Anonymous said...

The Force is strong with this movie .....

Noooo Harrison Ford you bastaaard you finally did it you killed off Han Solooooo .....!

Heh sorry if I sound like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes (the scene where he sees a submerged Statue of Liberty and realizes he's on a future Earth) but Han's death really bummed me. Yes, Ford has publicly stated for many years that he always thought Han Solo should have died at the end of Return of the Jedi, but man I still felt robbed to see Han go that way! I heard that he received quite a hefty paycheck compared to the newer actors, now we know why! Guess we won't see Han in any sequels unless he does an Obi-Wan Kenobi and joins with the Force! Oh, wait, they're planning a standalone Han Solo prequel movie? Hmmm ...

First impressions - this movie does capture the fun adventurous spirit of A New Hope, bringing back the original cast while introducing us to a new exciting younger cast of characters in Rey, Finn, Poe and even a new droid, the rolling BB-8. It was a blast to see Han and Chewie back on the scene; one commentator has said that Leia's character was underused, but hopefully we'll see more of her - and Luke - in the sequel.

I particularly loved the scenes with Han and Leia, brief as they were. You could see that they had a tumultous relationship, but they still deeply loved one another. I guess even a space princess would have her hands full with a galactic scoundrel smuggler!

OK, those are the good points. The bad points? Like Karen said, too many elements of this film seemed to echo A New Hope : a young drifter on a desert planet trying to deliver a secret file to the resistance? A cantina scene with weird aliens? An ominous helmeted black clad figure influenced by the Dark Side of the Force? A planet sized weapon? Check, check and check! Deja vu anyone?

Also, the new villain, Kylo Ren is just a Darth Vader wannabe. While it was intriguing to learn that he was Han and Leia's son, he came across as an angry, conflicted, angsty, directionless figure. Maybe this is how Jedi teenagers are? OK, he's not a teenager but he might as well have been one. Han should have sent him to the School for Disillusioned Force-sensitive Youngsters!

While it surely must have been a difficult balancing act for the writers to come up with a story which seamlessly incorporated Luke, Han and Leia and at the same time coming up with a fresh approach, it looks like they took the easy way out and shamelessly copied elements of a New Hope. Doug's son was right - the Force Awakens is less of a continuation and more of a reboot.

Still, I enjoyed this movie, much more so than the three previous prequels (why did Lucas foist those on us? I still have nightmares about Jar Jar Binks!). Star Wars is back, baby, at least the rousing adventurous version which fans have been wanting for years. Han Solo made this movie, in my opinion, and I can't wait to see the next one!

- Mike 'this time Han should really have shot first' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William Preston said...

Because the theater had—between my purchasing tickets a week ago and showing up this afternoon for the flick—moved the 3:20 showing to a bigger and later venue, they offered to let us see the movie in 3D at the time on the tickets. Rather than wait around, we did it, and we all (three daughters plus the husband of one) enjoyed the film more than we expected (we're pretty critical viewers).

Having rewatched Empire with my youngest (19) last night, I was pretty fed up with people's kids and friends being cast in every bit part to screw up lines. Thank you, Abrams, for casting terrific actors throughout. (I heard maybe one lamely-delivered line.) The new young actors raised the thing to another level. Abrams did great work, certainly his best directing work to date. He truly took the best of what had been done and duplicated (a point about which many above have complained) or amplified it.

Had Lucas had control (I said to the kids afterwards), you'd never have had BB-8 (who EVERYONE loved; my 25-year-old daughter said, "I didn't expect to be so emotionally invested in the robot"); Lucas would have stuck with his droids/Japanese wanderers, no matter how much they tend to slow down the action. (C3P-O is quite distracting in Empire.) BB-8 is integral to the story, emotes more than any other droid, and isn't physically handicapped. Relegating our familiar droids to smaller roles was an excellent and surprising decision.

I would have changed was the final shot: Abrams should have stuck with the stronger composition of Rey with her hand extended, or maybe a two-shot with Rey and Luke at either side of the screen; the helicopter shot pulled me out of the moment and looked like crap—and also too obviously communicated that we were on the final shot.

Abrams relied a lot—more than even his icon Spielberg has done—on sustained close-ups. He held some shots much longer than I expected, and he could do it because his three young leads were so damn good. I left with those images in mind more than the special effects shots. That's pure Hollywood (in a good way), and I think conveyed the Force as well as characters' internal struggles far better than any of the original movies. (Luke and Vader over the pit would be the one exception; that's a well-cut scene, though, as a friend said, Daisy Ridley is a much better Luke Skywalker than Mark Hamill was.)

As for all the mirroring: Yes, there were certainly a lot of hollabacks to the original films, especially the first one, but I felt like it worked anyway. Han pointing out, "It's just bigger" was exactly right, and a recognition that they were doing the same damned plot. I somehow didn't mind that. It's Star Wars; it's never been terribly smart. I minded the repetition of Death Stars in the original trilogy because it was lame, but this movie made a point of its repetitions. I think if there hadn't been solid and convincing emotional through-lines, I wouldn't be so forgiving. Instead I felt like Abrams and company were showing how the movies were supposed to work. At least the bombing runs didn't go on for as long, and we spent more time with the characters at the base than in the air.

William said...

I'll start by saying I liked this movie OK. But, like Karen said, I'm not sure how much of it is due to nostalgia. Like I said, I enjoyed it, but for me it just didn't quite achieve that Star Wars feeling. I can't quite yet put my figure on why though. Maybe it just wasn't campy enough, like an old-school movie serial. I don't know.

But here are some of the things I liked:

The visuals that were not too jam packed with CGI. The new characters were pretty decent. The acting was good. Loved seeing the Falcon in action again, along with Han Solo and Chewie. I really liked the early escape scene in the Tie-Fighter. I really liked BB8 as well. (He has even more personality than R2). I also liked the Ben Solo / Kylo-Ren character, although I found him to be not as menacing as he should have been. It seems he doesn't command nearly the fear and respect that Vader did. Although he appears to be more powerful. I watch the show "Girls" on HBO, so I am familiar with Adam Driver, and I've always liked him. I think he's a good actor, and I was glad to hear he had a big part in this movie. I thought he did a good job. I also enjoyed the light-saber battle at the end. It wasn't too over the top, but it was still exciting. Overall, it was a well done sci-fi space fantasy action movie.

However, I thought the plot was too derivative, and that they really missed a good opportunity to tell a more original story. I think the first mistake was not having any Jedi in the movie. I mean, the last movie in the series was called "RETURN Of The Jedi"!! So, where were the Jedi? The coolest thing about the prequels was all the awesome Jedi action, but I felt it was tainted by the fact that we all knew how it was going to end. (With almost all the Jedi destroyed). So, I think it would have been awesome to have some newly trained Jedi as the heroes in a story where we don't already know what the outcome is going to be. It could have been a reversal of the original trilogy with the Republic as the controlling power in the galaxy, and they suddenly have to deal with a rebellion, but this time the rebels are the bad guys.

Which brings me to my next questions? Why aren't Leia, Han, and Luke, etc. high ranking officials in the government of the Republic?? Didn't they win the war against the Empire so that they could take over and run the government the right (and just) way? Why are they now part of some offshoot resistance? What are they resisting? I know they are fighting against the "First Order", but why?? Why isn't the Republic resisting the First Order? I didn't get that at all.

This is running long, so I'm going to stop now. I'll chime in more later.

William said...

OK, I am going to say one more thing. What bothered me about this movie is that when I left the theater I didn't have that "pumped up" feeling like I did when I saw the original movies. I actually left this one feeling kind of down in the dumps. And it wasn't just because they killed off Han, (but that certainly didn't help). I think the overall tone of the film was just a little too dark for a "Star Wars" movie. Even "Revenge Of The Sith" (with all the child murder) didn't seem as dark, because of the signature Lucas camp factor. It kept things in that comic-book zone. With the crazy action, and corny dialogue. You just didn't take it as seriously. So, it wasn't as depressing.

And my poor wife hated "Force Awakens" so much, she was actually crying real tears when we left the theater. She thought the way they killed Han was "too cruel". With his son looking him right in the eye as he coldly murdered him. It genuinely upset her. She said that Han Solo has always been her favorite character and he was the only fun thing about the whole dark movie, and she vowed not to see any future installments. (We'll see).

William Preston said...

William's comments (the other William; I'm not talking about myself) highlight an interesting problem that Karen also raises, which is the challenge of "reviewing" this film rather than "responding" to this film. People have had decades of responses, reactions, discussions, and internal reflections on these films, this universe, and the circumstances in which those films and other media were experienced. Perhaps for more than any film in the history of cinema, people's reactions will diverge--and widely--because millions of us have built up a rich set of complex reactions to our personal history with the franchise.

And that's okay. And kind of amazing, whatever our initial response or considered reflection.

As a fan of old films, I like to keep in mind former movie franchises as a way of putting this sort of thing in perspective. Think of someone have seen—as they were released—every Dracula film from the '30s to the '70s. Or Tarzan?—anything with a huge cultural repository of material that keeps being revisited. That's all that this latest movie is, and I think remembering that frames it more modestly so that it doesn't become too large a psychic mass.

Doug said...

In the flashback scene (the first time Rey touches the light saber) -- when Rey is a little girl, is Luke holding her hand? I didn't catch it, but a friend told me it was Luke's bionic arm that was holding Rey's hand.


PS: And yes, Harrison Ford negotiated quite a contract. I understand the film has grossed over $1B. Ford's contract allegedly stipulates that he is to be paid $74M once the film reaches that level. Amazing, as the two young stars' contracts paid them less than $500K apiece. I could be wrong, but am pretty sure I read those figures last week.

PPS: Am I correct that Luke's only lines were actually in one of the early trailers? He does not speak in the film, but in the trailer spoke something along the lines of "The Force is strong in our family...", etc.

William said...

Doug, you are absolutely correct about Luke speaking those lines in one of the early trailers. It was basically the same speech he gave Leia at the Ewok village in ROTJ. But he added the line "…and you have it too." (Or something to that effect). I assume he was supposed to be talking to Rey. I'm pretty sure she is going to turn out to be his daughter.

Edo Bosnar said...

O.k. Just back from the theater about an hour ago, read the post and all of the comments. Agree with and/or understand many of the criticisms, but I have to say, I really, really liked it a lot, despite the bummer aspect of Han dying (Mike from T&T, re: "this time Han should really have shot first" - *snort*). If nothing else, it was a really nice and much-needed palate-cleanser after those godawful prequels.
I think the thing that I least liked is that Luke didn't have a single line in this one; I've noted before that he was always my favorite character in SW, and I was hoping he would have played a slightly larger role from the start.
Things I liked the most: Chewie! Oh, man, how I missed that Wookie; Rey - she's awesome! And Finn is cool, too, and so is BB8 and even that pilot guy, Poe. In fact, all of the new characters are, as Karen said, interesting and likable (again in stark contrast to the prequels). All right, it's pretty late over here and I have to crash. Maybe I'll have more thoughts to add tomorrow...

Karen said...

Edo, Luke has always been my favorite character too, and I'll argue all day long about Star Wars being about Luke and not Vader. I was hoping for more Luke before I saw this film but as soon as I saw the opening crawl, I figured we'd be lucky to get him having a role in the third act, but most likely he'd show up in the very last scene, which he did. Yes, aggravating that he didn't even speak, but I am hoping/assuming that he will have a larger role in the next film (similar to Han Solo's in this film).

Is Rey his daughter? All indications are yes, but perhaps that is too obvious. However, if it turns out she is Han and Leia's child, and there was some sort of mind wipe involved, I'm going to feel a wee bit annoyed. She could be unrelated to any of them, but I think there has to be a connection to bring some emotional impact to the situation. I've seen suggestions she could be Obi-Wan's grandchild, but that just sounds not only unlikely but disturbing...

I've heard a lot of complaints about the music. To be honest, what I noticed was a lot of re-use of old themes, but since I love the original themes this didn't bother me much. John Williams' scores are so perfect, it's hard for me to complain about using them again. Still, I can understand the complaints about no new outstanding music.

I don't have problems with Rey using her Force powers -I think she's a natural, and also, the interrogation by Kylo Ren may have helped to bring them to the next level. His pushing her seemed to not only stir her resistance, but cause her to unconsciously utilize the Force to probe his mind. He created the channel and she felt it and used it. It all made sense to me. As for the final duel, he was already wounded, his confidence was undermined, and Rey knew how to fight with a staff, so she was able to adapt to the sabre (OK, a bit of a leap, but possible). And hey, it's Star Wars! It's always had more in common with King Arthur than Arthur C. Clark.

MattComix said...

I saw it and enjoyed it but there was something I had in mind that would be an absolute deal-breaker for me and since Luke has so little screen time in it the potential for that deal breaker is still there.

In a nutshell, I do not want Luke to join the Dark Side or become a villain. I just have no desire to see that whatsoever. I didn't watch the original trilogy just to eventually see him end up like his father. Also, I just think it's a total fanfic move.

See, I basically view the original trilogy as one story and a really damn good one with a great ending. Everything else is to greater or lesser extent fan fiction to me. The prequels being bad fanfic while Force Awakens being a good fanfic. One that actually respects the style and the rules laid down by the work on which it is based so much so that it feels like some kind of plausible extension of the original thing.

Turning Luke evil is a move that would cross it over into bad fanfic for me because it such an obvious shock tactic to make the previous protagonist go bad. It's the kind of thing a 14 year old thinks of in that stage where only dark stuff is cool to them. Incidentally that's kind of how Kylo Ren struck me. He's a fanboy in love with the Darth Vader persona with no real sense of the man behind it and how awful being that truly is. He just wants to feel like a badass. Which actually works oddly enough. Instead of trying to convince the audience you've created a villain as great as Vader, have the guy who is trying desperately to be Vader and is bad at it which makes him dangerous in a different way.

Martinex1 said...

I saw it tonight and tried to stay spoiler free until seeing it. I agree with those that liked it. I enjoyed seeing Kylo Ren stop the laser blast with the force. In general I did not think his villainy was badly played; I liked that there was a bit of competitiveness in his approach. It was a bit psychotic that he wants to be the best of the worst. Even raised by his parents, it was more important for him to follow in his granddad's footsteps and outdo him. There is something true about that even in real world despotic nepotism.

I too was turned off by yet another Death Star, and I kind of wished there was a twist that the First Order actually fixed the glitch this time. I liked the new characters and actors a lot, which brings me to my quibble...

Some of the relationships seemed off to me, too rushed. I liked Rey and Finn but I don't really understand why they liked each other and why they were so loyal to each other. It seemed like it missed a beat somehow. The same goes for Finn and Poe. For all the things that the creators copied from the original, they missed some of the mistrust that the original trio of Luke, Leia, and Han had. And I think that was a gap. Would resistance fighters welcome an ex stormtrooper so rapidly? Also, I thought Han and Leia's discussion and approach to their son lacked some gravitas; he was a ruthless killer not a ne'er do well. Even though I understood their parental care, it seemed naive in light of what they lived through to just "bring him home".

Like William above I didn't understand why the resistance existed as it did 30 years later.

Loved Chewbacca and his show of emotions. Really liked BB8. Loved the Millenium Falcon scenes and the battle with the beasts when Han is confronted by the gangs. Want to know more about Finn and Rey and see more Luke, so that's all good. And I saw some good previews to boot. All in all, well worth it.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, your criticisms of the relationships are basically the same ones I would make (esp. Leia and Han and their rather blasé attitude about their psycho kid), but I have to say, this movie was just following the lead of the first one in that regard. To wit: why would Luke form such a deep attachment to Ben Kenobi when he only knew for about a week? Why did Leia seem unfazed by the destruction of her home planet and the death of much everyone she knew and loved? Why would the rebellion allow Luke, a farm-boy who'd only flown a land-speeder at that point, to become a fighter pilot in a crucial combat mission? And and there's more of that kind of stuff in both Empire and Return of the Jedi...
So I just let most of the same kind of stuff in Force Awakens roll off my back and enjoyed it for what I think it was supposed to be: an action-packed space fantasy.

J.A. Morris said...

I thought it was very good. Not perfect, but very good. Within a few minutes, I cared about Rey, Finn and Poe in ways that I never cared about characters introduced in the prequels.

My biggest disappointment was that we didn't get a scene with Han, Leia and Luke, and now it's (very likely) too late for us to get one in episode VIII.

Anonymous said...

I just saw it. My wife, son, and I really liked it. The new characters were good, especially Rey and Finn. That final light saber duel was cool. Unlike many people, I didn't mind the callbacks. I think it's ok that Abrams & co. played it safe, plot wise, but pumped up the razzle-dazzle. My only real complaint is Kylo Ren. He was too wussy. Overall, it was a good time.

- Mike Loughlin

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