December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Death of Subtlty, Imagination, and Wit

Read further for spoilers, potentially in the worst possible sense.

I'm not a seasoned movie reviewer, not the best of Star Wars fans, and probably ought to think a bit before writing further.

But I'm not going to.

I tend to have a hard time holding onto ideas and thoughts, and thus I've decided to write at least a preliminary review immediately. If I see the movie again (ideally after a highly critical re-watch of the original trilogy), I may revise this review to reflect any additions or changes in my opinion.

But, yeah. This is my opinion. It will most likely be a long series of incomprehensible tangents, but they're my incomprehensible tangents.

Again, if you proceed further, expect not only spoilers to the actual plot, but potentially a spoiler for the experience as a whole, because...I don't think they did right by the series.

In the beginning, we find ourselves on yet another desert planet. I don't necessarily fault anyone for this, it just seems to be a common trend, for no obvious reason. Maybe Jedis only originate from deserts?

Anyway, we find ourselves in another desert colony. Our hero, at least for now, seems to be a pilot, part of the Resistance (oh, how I loathe that they chose that name. As if "The Rebel Alliance" wasn't original enough). He's got an X-wing fighter with him, to retrieve a small portion of a map which will lead, eventually, to Luke Skywalker.

And Luke, for whatever  reason, has decided to leave his Jedi way and hermit it up on some lush, ancient island in some remote, unknown corner of the galaxy. Being a Jedi is just too hard, I guess. After all those years, things just got tough. He had to, you know?

And let's talk about Han (I promised tangents, remember?).

So the dude has apparently had a son with Leia (yay!), but become soft in his old age, despite the fact that almost everything has gone wrong since the end of the Return of the Jedi.

No, really. His son becomes a Jedi, trains under Luke, and, for a reason I've either forgotten (good job telling me that story in the first place, then), or was never explained in the first place. He leaves Leia and returns to his smuggling ways, "the only thing I'm good at," or something like that.

Despite all this, not only is he in debt to at least two separate criminal enterprises (I don't know, I guess he's a scoundrel or something), but he's become soft and easy, with quips well-suited to television for toddlers. Random girl steals your beloved Falcon and is found stowed in the honestly completely obvious grilles which were supposedly sufficient to hide the crew in the original trilogy, and what is his response? I'll drop you at the nearest planet.

Original trilogy Han would have tossed both her and "Finn" straight into the brig, or more likely still, left them to explore the never-ending, icy cold, soul sucking darkness of space.

That's not the least of Han's sins. Han would have to become an especially epic kind of soft to do the incredibly foolish thing he did. Han is a survivor of survivors, proven still more by the fact that he's back after all these years, still smuggling and fighting.

JJ did Han a huge dishonor by allowing his character to be so changed from his original self. There's no good reason for this change. He got married, had a Jedi kid, and said kid turned to the dark side?

If anything, my guess is Han would have become more cynical, calculated, cruel. To have someone so beloved torn from you by basically evil itself would make you feel helpless and desperately lost.

I must move on. Han, though, is probably the greatest sin this movie has to offer.

The movie is gorgeous. Spectacular. Shiny, bright, impressive.

The plot, meanwhile, is basically A New Hope, but this time, it's bigger! It's prettier! And you can sure as heck depend on there being women and "minorities" everywhere, from the Stormtroopers (who were cloned from a man, as I recall), to the heroine herself, to Finn, to the pilots of the X-wings.

There's nothing wrong with that. But it makes the movie no better if the only thing different or better about it is skin-deep.

Rey I like. But what am I supposed to do. She's an attractive young woman. Her garb is flattering, and she does justice to Star Wars' trend of having beautiful women in leading roles.

However, I don't think her character is worth the pixels she appears on.

Again, I may seem harsh, but I did warn you that, A. This is my opinion. Take it or leave it, and, B. Spoilers.

Why don't I like Rey's character?

It's far too easy for her. The story may develop and explain this in later movies (we are getting another trilogy, I'm assuming), but Rey learns to use the Force with such incredible speed, it's absurd.

For Luke, grasping the Force took at least days, likely longer (we're never really clued into how long the entire thing took). Even after he trained with Yoda, he was "not ready," as both Yoda and Obi-Wan said. Rey, without prior knowledge or preparation, performs a Jedi Mind Trick on a Stormtrooper. Yeah, it took her three tries, but even that isn't something Luke would so quickly grasp.

There's the possibility that Rey was child to two force-sensitive parents, rather than Luke and Anakin's one.

Perhaps "The Force Awakens" is more than well-worded bait for eager fans. Perhaps they actually mean that the power of the Force itself is growing, such that more people are attuned to it, or those who are, are "better" tuned to it. If this is the case, it could be the explanation for Rey's incredible power and quick learning.

But then shouldn't a trained Sith (I assume that, as Jedi are still a thing, Sith are as well, despite the fact that the name was rarely or never mentioned) be far, far more powerful than an untrained Force-sensitive young woman?

And furthermore, the first time she wields a lightsaber, she fights like someone who at least knows how to duel with swords/lightsabers of some sort. Perhaps not with great proficiency, or with much strength, but enough to keep her from dying swiftly.

So option 1 is that Rey is a spectacularly powerful Jedi in the making, or option 2, that Kylo Ren is no more than a simpering, power-hungry man-child with a fancy "laser sword," as his "grandfather" once called it.

Kylo Ren. Apparently "Ren" is now what "Darth" was before it...or something like that? It's confusing. I forgot what Kylo's given name was, as well. Maybe I wasn't intended to remember that information? Anyway.

Kylo Ren, like Darth Vader before him, sounds deadly and terrifying, but unlike Darth Vader, at the request of his father, he willingly removes his helmet, removing all mystery and potential for imagination. Oh, and it's no secret from easily one third through the movie who Kylo Ren is. And the reveal is unimpressive, as if an afterthought. It's depressing.

Kylo Ren, in an absurdly cliched manner, "softens up" to his father before he...

Oh, and he goes to "Supreme Leader" Snoke like the simpering child I described before. Almost like this pathetic commander is his equal. If he were a child rushing to his parents to tell his side of the story first, it would be far more believable. "Mommy, it's his fault, not mine!"

In a long line of villains who were either human, though torn and destroyed by evil, or villains who were essentially beings composed of corruption, power, and evil itself, who actually did strike fear into their subjects (think back to the second Death Star; Darth Vader arrives, scaring the commander there quite enough, but then brings news that the Emperor himself will arrive shortly; that man looked scared), Kylo Ren is a disappointment. He goes before his master as he were equal with a lowly military official. Darth Vader murdered at least three of the commanding officers on Star Destroyers and the two Death Stars during the original trilogy.

I recall Kylo Ren murdering no fellow "First Order" members.

Oh, and the "First Order"?

Please. The resemblance to Nazi Germany is not lost on me, but explain to me the exact point of giving a bloody pep talk to a few thousand Stormtroopers? Aren't they going to do your bidding to the best of their ability anyway?

And what's with Finn "waking up"? The Force "awoke" him as well, I suppose? After all, he knew well enough how to use a lightsaber too. He got himself hurt and basically would have been dead but for Rey's helpful interference. But he lasted a good five or ten seconds with a weapon he'd used for a good thirty seconds maximum, versus someone who at least should have trained for weeks, months, probably even years, if you count Luke's training as well.

Compared to Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn should both be well-cooked mincemeat. (explain to me why a weapon hot enough to burn through solid metal can't completely and permanently cauterize a wound; looking at you, Kylo Ren)

Let's get back to the "First Order," though. The fact that you think you're the "First Order" means either you think you're better than everything than came before, or you are simply ignorant (willingly or otherwise) of those who came before you. Yoda, Sidious, Dooku, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan; they cam before you, and they mattered. This is no "First Order".

Maybe the First Order refers to their supposed objective of ridding the galaxy of chaos and strife? Perhaps that's it. Yes, let's destroy a half a dozen planets, march Stormtroopers in circles around every planet, and we'll all be happy.

But wait! There's more! There's a new Death Star! And this time, it's bigger! This time, it's better! This time, it siphons energy from stars into its core, somehow converting that into a big curvy laser beam that splits into multiple beams, and you can see coming at you! I guess light works a little differently in Star Wars, so I won't knock them for making a laser beam slower than the speed of light, which splits and automatically targets five separate planets at once.

But the best part, the most spectacular part about this new Death Star? Its name! Let me look it up here, I completely forgot due to the magnitude of their ingenuity.



Let me move on, please.

Now, to the more sweeping topics, which basically encompass the entirety of the movie.

This movie is 100% a 2015 movie. What I mean by this is that they led with their expensive, digitally rendered foot forward. The story bares so many elements in common with the original trilogy that almost nothing is surprising. What could be surprising down the road is tossed into the audience's lap like a dirty sock, inside out, just in case you weren't sure what it was.

The greatest mystery remaining is Rey's origin, which is actually interesting and befuddling, but the fact is that there at least appear (for now) to be no hints as to where she came from. It's possible that she's Luke's daughter, but aside from her visions while holding Luke's lightsaber, there's nothing I remember to hint or indicate that.

Also, being that JJ Abrams was so heavy-handed with the rest of the secrets in this film, it's almost like he doesn't care. Like they don't matter.

And the story is so obvious and similar to the previous films that differences are jarring rather than refreshing.

The special effects were stellar, as far as I could tell, but maybe I missed some of them looking for a story worth extending my unfortunately short attention span.

I read online after seeing the movie, in a Youtube comments section, not to expect Original Trilogy quality from a brand new movie in 2015.

The amount of hype this movie has gotten has been basically without compare, not the least of which was the possibility of Jar Jar returning as a greater Sith Master than Sidious before him (still a possibility, really); in my view, the movie borrowed heavily from plot points of episode four and five, added all the fancy special effects their budget could afford, took on a gorgeous female lead, brought back a few of the most iconic characters from the original trilogy, and left compelling, innovative storytelling, good character development, and true depth behind.

I think C-3PO would do a better job writing and directing this trilogy than Abrams has thus far.

If anyone doubts it was a fun movie, fear not. It is that. If you don't care about a good plot, deep characters, or compelling villains, and just want to see a fun, flashy flick sometime, I recommend it...but only after the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Lego Movie, or your Pixar movie of choice.

Am I judging the movie too harshly? Doubtless. But this is a sequel to a trilogy which is truly unequaled in its time. Star Wars is an epic. It is one of the most valuable movie franchises in history. It is enjoyed by children and adults alike. In order to achieve the same effect, JJ Abrams seems to have cheapened humor, depth, and character, making them all accessible, glib, and, in the end, boring.

I don't say this lightly. Certainly I should probably watch the movie again, maybe a few times, even return to the original trilogy with the same critical eye, but Han wasn't sly, irritable, and filled with foolhardy one-liners. His character sagged from too few bones, his words were shallow and his actions were those of far less a man than the scoundrel, smuggling scumbag we first met.

Leia wasn't proud or strong-willed. She didn't look much like a leader. She looked like a tired, impotent figurehead.

Luke, who we saw for mere moments, shows the depth of his character by his absence alone. As the last Jedi in the galaxy, he has a duty to essentially give his life to preserve the Jedi Order for generations to come. He seems to have given up based on the abandonment of one who was probably poised to be his best pupil.

As to imagination, fret not, for JJ Abrams has brought the galaxy far, far away into this world, with special effects which make you long for a world that bright, colorful, flashy.

This is a problem with movies and TV shows as a whole these days, but I believe this episode in the Star Wars franchise gave me no cause to imagine worlds more beautiful or ugly, as it was as clear as life itself. Can I blame him for this? I guess not; a director returning from the digital wonders we have today to the kind of old movie magic which made Star Wars in the first place would probably lose him his job.

But at the same time, given this incredible wealth of tools and skills, artists and effects, one could put together a story which both beckoned our imaginations to wake and see, to disbelieve and then believe, to challenge our minds to hope and dream, to wonder and think, to walk from that darkened room trembling with new eyes in our heads, new feet on our legs, and new hands on our arms.

The cinema is a medium of art with such incredible capacity to convey meaning, truth, and ideas, that it is incredible how few movies these days challenge our imaginations, our ideas, and our minds.

I argue that the Force Awakens fails to deliver wit without need for a "Get it?" sort of pause, and most of all fails to challenge us to imagine or understand the galaxy far, far away any better than we already do.

I think I have said my piece in good measure, for now. I'll probably see the movie again in a month or two, when it's at Riverview, but until then, these are my cogitations, and you take them or leave them.