The Search For More Money aka The Abrams Menace

The Force Awakens CoverI don’t normally do this, but this contains spoilers, so I’m going to throw up a big <!!>SPOILER ALERT<!!> right now. If you’ve already seen the movie, or you just don’t care, you’re fine. If you haven’t, proceed at your own caution.

So the story goes that I was two and a half when I was taken to a drive-in showing of The Empire Strikes Back. It was a bouble feature with Oh Heavenly Dog with Chevy Chase, and I stayed up all through Empire and most of Oh Heavenly Dog (though I actually only remember bits of Oh Heavenly Dog from back then). Still, something about Empire struck a chord in me and planted a seed that grew into a vine that’s twined into my soul. I spent a lot of my childhood wanting to be like Luke Skywalker. I watched the Ewok movies and cartoon and even the Droids cartoon. I have a first edition Heir to the Empire and most of the books released as first editions. I discovered text based role playing in college and created my own Jedi. I have lightsabers and an X-Wing and an encyclopedic knowledge of what used to be the universe. Heck, I even got inspired by it for my own Thousand Suns Saga. So you think I’d be excited about The Force Awakens, right? Well…

I’m not going to deny that The Phantom Menace burned me. Before I knew anything about it, I’d gotten somewhat excited, but not enough to be there opening night. Part of that was that I had just started dating Tim at the time, and we’d wanted to see it together since he’s also a big fan. I wish I could begin to describe the complete sense of disappointment we felt when we walked out of the theater. I mean, we’d been the only two laughing when the Neimoidian guy said, “Oh no! They hit the main reactor!” It wasn’t because we found the accent funny. (No, it’s thoroughly offensive.) We laughed because we’d seen this before. You remember the time a certain other Skywalker fired some missiles, blowing up the main reactor of another major enemy threat? Yeah, so did we.

Not even seeing it in IMAX could save Attack of the Clones, which was an improvement on Phantom Menace, but only just, and while Revenge of the Sith was a little better still, all three ended up being huge, major disappointments. The prequel trilogy didn’t ruin my childhood, but neither did it do anything to advance my enjoyment. We all have dark parts of our history we don’t want to discuss, and for me, one of them is Episodes I, II, and III. Speaking of dark times…

I went on, glossing over the prequel trilogy and focusing on the parts of Star Wars I still enjoyed. Then came the moment where thousands of established stories were suddenly silenced. Disney bought the franchise, looked at all the lore that had been built up over the years, and decided to ball it up and throw it away. Nah. Not good enough for them anymore. Now, I’m not going to blame this specifically on J.J. Abrams, since I think he’s more a symptom of the cause than the cause itself. Firstly, I don’t think he’s the master director a lot of people seem to make him out to be. “He was a brilliant mimic. He could ape Brian de Palma or Steven Spielberg, but stripped of someone else’s visionary clothes, he was a vacant, empty imitation of a director.” Okay, so I’ve modified a quote from the movie Music and Lyrics, but I still think it applies. When you just mimic other people, you don’t have anything to really call your own.

So let’s look at some of his movies. Super 8 was okay. All it really had was how much it felt like a Spielberg film. Mission Impossible 3? Eh. Star Trek and Into Darkness? Train wrecks, and not even in the nicest ways. Just like with The Force Awakens, they took an already established franchise, said, “There’s history behind it? Screw it. Let’s toss it and do it our way,” and went on their merry way. Then, after they totally undid the Star Trek history, they made a movie that ended up like a bad fan film of The Wrath of Khan. Seriously? You can do anything you want now since you’ve got a whole new timeline, and you want to redo something you’ve just taken a huge dump on? I know Abrams has since apologized for it, but so what? He’d already abandoned the ship and moved on to greener pastures. While I hoped things would be different with The Force Awakens, they weren’t high. It’s a good thing too.

So, let’s start with the crawl. Usually, when the music starts up and those words start scrolling across the scene, you settle in and wait to be amazed. In every other film to date, the crawl brings you up to speed and sets you up for jumping right into the action. Not so here. Even the laughable start of Revenge of the Sith with its “WAR!” had more to do with setting up the start of the movie than this did. It’s been over thirty years, and they link Return of the Jedi to this one with Luke’s missing…Luke’s missing…and oh yeah, Luke’s missing. Enough already! I think we get the point!

With no real information given, they jump in to Poe on Jakku getting some sort of information from an unidentified guy right as the First Order shows up. In a groanable moment, he pops the info into BB-8 and sends him off. Really? Do we need to be reminded of this? However, unlike the last time this happened, we knew without a doubt those were the plans for the Death Star and why they had to be kept out of Vader’s hands. BB-8 is sent of with…something they want to keep out of the First Order’s hands. Oh, it’s part of a map that leads to the missing Luke. Why didn’t you just say that in the first place? If they actually did, I must have missed it. I was still laughing at the implausibility of using a ball with a head as an astromech.

Okay, can we talk a minute about BB-8 himself? I don’t understand why everyone is so enamored with him. He’s a ball with a head for one. On top of that, he’s a Mary Sue. His whole purpose in the film is that he’s got part of a map with Luke’s location. Oh, and to tag around people. Several times he wouldn’t be in a single shot, and then he’d just show up as if to remind everyone that yes, he’s still there. Okay, yes, he helps Poe in the end blow up the not-Death Star (but totally better since it’s bigger and more scary), but so what? Part of made R2 such an interesting character was how proactive he was. Stay here because I have a new owner? Nope, I’ve got a mission! People I care about dying in a trash compactor? I shut it off! Someone trying to steal my friend’s food? Hah! I shock him! Can’t escape through that door? Now you can! My best friend is in pieces? Let’s see about that! Hyperdrive’s been sabotaged? Not anymore! Han Solo trapped in Jabba’s palace? I smuggle in a lightsaber to help! What does BB-8 do? Spear some things with lines to hold on. Oh, and there was that one kind of cool moment where he pops out a lighter in imitation of an upraised thumb. But that’s it. He’s like the empty suitcase in Pulp Fiction. What he’s got is important, but he’s basically just the delivery device with a tiny bit of personality.

So speaking about the Mary Sue thing, we come across Rey. She’s a poor scavenger who’s just trying to make a living on this not-Tatooine scavenging from crashed Star Destroyers. She hears BB-8’s cry for help and comes running to rescue him from the guy who captured him for parts. Great. Instantly sympathetic. So the two of them are going together to help him…Wait. She just points him in the direction he might want to go? She’s not offering to at least escort him so he doesn’t get captured again? Wow. That’s like running into a mugger to scare him off, then asking if the victim’s okay, being told that the mugger took all of the victim’s money, and then telling the victim the police station’s on the next block and walking away. Are we supposed to like Rey or think she’s just out for herself? If we’re supposed to like her, she’d offer to go with BB-8 to make sure he doesn’t get captured again. If she’s just out for herself, she never would have run to his rescue in the first place. You’re sending me mixed signals here Force Awakens. “Look, I can take you as far as Anchorhead. You can get a transport to Mos Eisley or wherever you’re going.” See? Luke had his own reasons for staying, but he still agreed to help as much as he thought he reasonably could. Rey can’t be prejudiced against droids since she understands them and came running to help, but she doesn’t have the decency to see him to a safe destination? I would have written all that out and just had her escort him to a settlement, telling him he was on his own once they got there. That would have made the next part way more understandable.

Rey gets back and is offered a bunch of food in trade for BB-8 by the stingy not-Brian Blessed played by Simon Pegg. At first, she takes it, but then she thinks better of it and tells him that the trade is off. Again with the schizophrenia. At least when Leia made a decision, bad or good, she stuck with it. Rey just comes across as wishy-washy. She doesn’t get interesting until she meets up with Han and Chewie, which, oh boy, is a whole other ball of wax.

The only character I ended up really liking in the movie is Finn. I might have liked Poe better if he weren’t in it for the briefest period of times, but I’ll get to him later. One of the biggest problems I had (besides the “nudge-nudge, know what I mean, say no more” which I will also address) is the “no time to explain” moments. Refreshingly, this didn’t happen with Finn. We see him in his first battle ever, and we don’t need to be told why he ends up in the position he’s in because we see it. We see the trouble he has with killing others, how upset he is at losing a comrade, so we understand why he soon falters. For everyone else, we have to be told their motivations, and that’s just bad storytelling.

Okay, Rey and Finn and BB-8 end up on the conveniently placed Millennium Falcon, and Rey and Finn make a pretty good team, which I liked to see. Then they get captured, which they think is by the First Order but turns out not to be? I had a very hard time understanding that whole situation. So Han and Chewie come onboard and find Finn and Rey and BB-8 and start talking with them, glossing over why the two lost the Falcon in the first place. It’s a really funny story, but we don’t have time for it… No, I think we have time to explore why they would have lost the one thing in the galaxy that means as much to Han as Leia or Chewie or even Luke. When he and Chewie first came on board would have been the perfect opportunity to explain this. “We’re home. I told you we’d be able to track the Falcon…What do you mean you didn’t think we’d get this far?…Wait. We’ve got company.” Or something like that. It would have given us that famous Han and Chewie banter and explain how the Falcon got on Jakku.

We get some banter, and Han learns about the mission to get BB-8 to the Resistance and…wait. The victory at the end of Jedi meant nothing? Within a generation, they’re right back where they started? No, wait, there’s a Republic, but then how does the First Order fit in? That’s never explained. I would have been fine with some sort of quick explanation that when the Empire broke up, a section of it became the First Order and kept the New Republic out and that section of space is where the movie takes place. That would make sense. Instead, we’re given this tangle of seemingly conflicting bits of information and told, “Don’t try to figure it out. Just believe us that it makes sense.” If this wasn’t a sequel, yeah, okay, I’d be on board with that, but it’s a sequel to Jedi, so we need to know why things are different than what we expected.

So Han says he knows someone who can help, even though they already know the location of the base? So why not just go there? Nope. We need to get our heroes to the next important plot point. And instead of going to Leia, which would have made total sense, they go to some suspiciously Naboo-looking planet to meet up with Maz Kanata, played by Lupita N’yongo, who is a great actress, and did well in the part, but I’m still scratching my head as to the why this part of the movie was all that necessary. I mean, Maz is more cryptic than Yoda, which is saying something. And in another “homage” to A New Hope, Finn is just trying to get out of there, which I understand, but there’s this lady with black fingernails who is partner to the guy Finn is talking to about leaving and is important for some reason, but I didn’t get why. So anyway, Rey finds Luke’s lightsaber that he lost in Empire. (“I could explain why I have this thing that was last seen falling into the clouds around Bespin…but that is a tale for another movie.“) At first, I thought she might be Kylo Ren’s sister, but based on this weird, totally unsatisfactory explanation, I’m thinking she’s his cousin.

My memory of the movie at this point is a little spotty, so please bear with me if I don’t get the facts right. Long story short, Rey gets kidnapped by Kylo Ren, and it’s up to Finn, Han, Chewie, oh, and I guess, BB-8, to go get her back. While I like Adam Driver, and I think he did a good job, Kylo Ren is annoying. He’s, in a twist I didn’t see coming, Anakin Skywalker’s grandson, and he should have been named for him too. In what is now the Legends, Luke named his son Ben, and the Solos had a younger son named Anakin, also annoying but died a hero. This made sense since Luke was close to Kenobi, and Leia was forgiving her father for what he did to her. Ben Solo just doesn’t sound as right. Point being, Kylo is just as annoying as Anakin was in the prequels. He’s petty and prone to tantrums and a little too much like grandad for comfort. We’re not even given a reason why he worships Vader, just that he does. You know: reasons. Which is an all too common, and much too unsatisfactory, theme in this film.

So the Falcon crew goes off to save Rey, but she’s pretty much fine because Kylo Ren tries to smooth talk her for some reason. Nope. Leave the droid that definitely has the information we need, and we can definitely get out of it, to focus on the girl who saw the piece of the map once. Makes perfect sense to me. 😛 We can infer that he’s feeling something for her, but we need this moment to establish, oh surprise of surprises, she can use the Force too! And with a flash of a lightbulb with the wattage of a sun, she figures out she can use Force persuasion to escape. I personally thought this leap was a real stretch, but I’ll let it go in the face of the other glaring problems.

More stuff about Kylo Ren being Han and Leia’s son, something had happened between him and Luke, R2 won’t work, and we’re off to save Rey. Oh, turns out Finn was supposed to be a janitor and not a soldier because, reasons, and he doesn’t know how to lower the shield on the not-Death Star so they can attack it. Yeah, by the way, Poe’s not dead, and we acknowledge this with a brief “I’m not dead!” from him. I wish this movie had had the balls to actually kill him. Not that I necessarily wanted him dead, just that it would have been an interesting turn of events. Finn escapes the New Order with Poe’s help, but Poe tragically dies while Finn lives. See? Story.

I heard some things about Captain Phasma being this really important character, and and evil woman at that. With a legacy like Admiral Daala and Ysanne Isard, I expected great things from her. After all, she’s played by Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones, and she does an awesome job of portraying Brienne. Ah, sadly, disappointed once again. She basically could have been removed, and it probably wouldn’t have hurt anything. But she’s like Boba Fett, right? You barely see her, but she’s menacing and…Yeah, no. I didn’t feel any real threat from any of the villains in the movie. And Boba Fett kidnapped Han Solo and fought them during the skiff scene on Tatooine. Phasma…orders a bit and turns the shield off. Big whoop. I hope she gets more interesting, but right now, I’m not feeling her evilness.

Speaking of evilness, First Citizen Snoak, whose name I can’t take seriously because it’s too similar to the Arrow character, Felicity Smoak, is way less scary than Felicity. We don’t see him do anything menacing. At least in Empire, Palpatine has a moment reflecting on how dangerous Luke is and must be destroyed, even though he knows Luke is Vader’s son. That’s evil. I mean, I like Andy Serkis, and he’s played villians before, but I’m not impressed with (tee hee) Snoak. (Felicity could totally kick his ass.)

So, shield down, not-Death Star being attacked, and Finn and Rey have a confrontation with Kylo Ren. I like the idea of Finn using a lightsaber and hope he’ll become a Jedi in the future, but the whole thing with him fighting Kylo…Uh, I know he practiced a little in the one previous fight, but Kylo would have way more practice and should have defeated him earlier. But Kylo was injured! you cry. So? You forget your training just because you’re injured? Nah, I ain’t buying this. And he does eventually defeat Finn, so he goes on to Rey and has a very odd “Join me” moment, at which point she suddenly somehow turns around and kicks his ass. I get the whole “Force flowing through her” thing, but it still seemed like the turnaround was way too convenient.

They win the day but lose Han, and I didn’t even shed a tear. I saw it coming a mile away. That and Harrison Ford has talked a lot about how much he just wanted to be done with Star Wars and wanted Han to die. No noble death here though. Hell, it was even less upsetting than Wash’s death in Serenity. Nope, when Chewie bought the farm in Vector Point, I had way more feels than this. And Leia’s reaction? I got more of an “Oh, he’s dead,” than “The love of my life just perished.” Not in character for her, people, especially if she felt it to be by her son’s actions.

And then at the very end, R2 wakes up and fills in the rest of the map, so Rey takes the lightsaber to Luke. All I have to say to that is that Mark looks weird, and I’ve seen him play the Trickster on the original Flash TV show.

Thus ends the movie, leaving me very unsatisfied. The plot feels like one of the Family Circus strips where you follow the dotted line; you can see where the character has been, but the path is twisted and convoluted and confusing. Why did it have to be this way? And why couldn’t they have explained more? I don’t mean a brief exposition. They could have told so much with the characters conversing with each other or like they did in the beginning with Finn, but they didn’t. It was lazy storytelling with a cast of characters I really found hard to empathize with.

I can see what you’re thinking. She’s just a Star Wars hipster. Au contraire. I watch the animated Star Wars Rebels religiously. I love it. It feels more like Star Wars than anything I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t hate Star Wars under Disney. I just expect more out of it than this movie provided. I know why they did all the nods to the original movies; they were trying to keep it safe to not tick off the fans and make money. To me, it just made me feel like they couldn’t respect my intelligence and love for the franchise, so they had to dumb it down, kind of like Phantom Menace.

The Star Wars galaxy is vast, so why couldn’t they have started completely fresh? Out of all these systems, the only worthy stories to tell are the ones about the Skywalkers and Solos? And you want to talk racism? I’m fine with John Boyega, but I’m not fine with how human-centric this is. I want to start seeing some other races as centric. Yes, we have Chewie and the droids, but even they kind of play second string to the human characters. Rebels has a Twi’lek and a Lasat as main characters. Why can’t the movies do the same? Oh, right. It’d be too expensive. Cheap ass racists.

The Force Awakens (which is still a dumb title) is a film with a Star Wars skin on it. I know I’ll probably get a lot of hate for this, but as a fan, I’m not content to accept mediocracy for the things I love. I expect better, and so should you. If nothing else, it’s better than the prequel trilogy, and you can’t hit much more rock bottom than that.

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