Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve been putting off this post for 9 months. Those of you who know me have surely noticed the lack of commentary on the latest Star Wars movie… and I’m also positive you’ve been waiting for today with bated breath. The day I finally weigh in on the movie.
Or perhaps not. Probably not, actually.
But some people keep asking me when and if I’m ever going to do a review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and here’s the answer.
No. I am not going to review Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have spent nine long months pondering what I would even write, and I have come to realize that I am in no way, shape, or mentality even capable of reviewing that movie.
It’s too complex of an issue for me.
So, this is not a movie review. It’s more like a discussion. Or perhaps a dissertation.
WARNING – I absolutely cannot and will not talk about Star Wars in a spoiler-free sort of way. If you have no idea who Darth Vader actually is, and you don’t know what the Kessel Run is, and you’re not even sure what an R2-D2 is… 1) what rock have you been hiding under for the past 30-40 years? and 2) Stop reading IMMEDIATELY and go watch Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, and 6 in that order. And 7, because that’s what this post is about. Then you may return.
Secondary warning – this post is ridiculously lengthy. I am not sorry.
I realized the other night as I was trying to go to sleep exactly what my problem was and why I can’t “review” the latest Star Wars movie, and I think I can put it into words now. So here goes…
Star Wars was one of my very first huge movie loves. I know I had watched “A New Hope” (back then it was just called “Star Wars: Episode IV”) multiple times by the time I was six years old. One of my fondest and most hilarious memories is of watching this movie with my cousin and her family one evening at our house. We finished the movie and went off to play some make-believe continuation of the story.
My cousin then informed me, “In the second movie, Darth Vader tells Luke that he’s his father.”
To which I replied, “Uh UH! There’s no SECOND movie!”
So, her “spoiler” didn’t really sink in. I was convinced there was only the one story, and while the memory is vivid, I also remember the shock of watching Empire Strikes Back for the first time and discovering that 1) there WAS a second movie, and 2) Darth Vader WAS Luke’s father!
This trilogy has remained firmly lodged very near the top of my “favorite movies” list for my entire life.
My maiden name was Walker. When I was seven or eight-ish, I remember telling my entire Sunday School class that my last name used to be “Skywalker” and that Luke was my big brother. I told them we had run away from the Empire and come to Earth to hide, and had to change our names when the movies came out.
I didn’t have many friends in Sunday School. (Not until jr. high, anyway, when I met a group of girls as nerdy as myself and we hit it off)
I think perhaps my nerdiness was a bit too much for most of them at such a young age.
When I reached jr. high, I discovered The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn on a library shelf, and was transported back to that galaxy far, far away…. I was delighted to discover that a talented author had continued the story of my favorite characters. I devoured those books and went on to read many more of the books in the Expanded Universe of Star Wars (usually referred to as the “EU” by crazy fans like myself). The Courtship of Princess Leia, The Truce at Bakura, Shadows of the Empire, Specter of the Past, Vision of the Future, The Crystal Star, I, Jedi, The Han Solo Trilogy, Allegiance, Outbound Flight, The Jedi Academy Series, The Young Jedi Knights YA series, Darksaber… and so many, many more. I even read the entire New Jedi Order (eventually, that was in college)… though that series is not my favorite. I continued to read the Star Wars books as they came out… though I have fallen behind a bit as the years progress. There are a lot of books I haven’t read yet… but I always make sure to get whatever the latest Timothy Zahn installment is.
Therefore, it was somewhat devastating to me when Disney declared that the books were no longer to be considered “cannon.” I love those books. I refuse to imagine that they are anything but cannon. I have such respect for the authors who must have all worked together in some way, or at least read each other’s books… to have so many different authors writing what is essentially pretty phenomenal fan-fiction… and with only fairly minor discrepancies… that’s pretty amazing dedication.
In high school, I found a friend who loved Star Wars as much as I did, and we made a game of asking each other random trivia questions about Star Wars whenever we passed in the hallway.
I went to see all three of the original movies when they came back to the theaters.
I went to see all three of the prequel movies when they came out – and though I was disappointed by the cartoony, somewhat ridiculous stories and the bad acting… I was also happy to be back in the Star Wars universe on the big screen once again.
I own at least 2 copies of each of the original trilogy on VHS (and will keep them until somebody wises up and releases the digitally remastered version on blu-ray… if Disney wants to get back into my good graces, that would be one sure-fire way to do it). I own a ridiculous number of copies of the movies on DVD and one copy on blu-ray. I own the radio drama. I have a toy lightsaber (which I often used as a pointer during my teaching years). I own 20 of the books. And don’t even get me started on the number of Star Wars lego sets in my house…. seriously, it’s ridiculous.
Hopefully, this gives you a tiny glimmer of insight into this brain and heart of mine that went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters last Christmas.
I wanted to love it. I truly, honestly did. I went with skepticism, but a desire to love this new installment of Star Wars for a new generation.
The movie started out with a bit of a “grrrr” moment for me, as the name “Leia Organa” rolled past in the opening text.
NOT “Leia Organa Solo.” The first sign that the movie-makers were staying true to their word and kicking the EU to the curb. Already, I was kind of mad at them.
However, the movie progressed rapidly and I forgot about this little dig. I instantly fell in love with the cocky, ace pilot Poe Dameron and his sense of humor. He reminded me of Han, and despite the short amount of time he was on-screen, he was lovable and fun. Finn endeared himself to me with his sudden conflict of conscience and his decision to act upon what he believed was right. Though he has a very human moment of cowardice later, his desire to protect his new-found friend more than redeems him. Also, his propensity to jump into something without thinking things through is adorable. Rey… a new all-time favorite character. I loved how she was brave, but also child-like, she was sheltered, but independent, naive, but kind. She wasn’t an annoying “women are better than men at everything” character, but she also wasn’t a damsel in distress. She was a nice, well-rounded character who felt very real… except for certain things that make no sense about her at all, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
BB-8…. the cutest Star Wars droid EVER. Truly. And that’s saying something, because I love R2 very much and my loyalties don’t change easily… but BB-8 is the most stinkin’ adorable droid ever.
The action of the movie was well-paced and fun. I enjoyed the nods to the originals and loved getting to see some of my favorite characters appear on screen once more… even if they are 35 years older. Most of the movie felt like a return to the original trilogy and I appreciated not being subjugated to the more cheesy and annoying aspects of the prequel trilogy all over again.
However, throughout the movie, I also couldn’t help but notice that perhaps it felt just a little bit TOO MUCH like I was back in the original trilogy… A New Hope, to be precise. Others have done a better job of capturing this than I – THIS SITE, for example, includes a marvelous video that shows in 4 minutes just how much visually was taken directly from A New Hope… and that’s not even adding in all the story-line comparisons. While I applaud Abrams for his restraint in the use of lens flares in this movie… I cannot help but feel like he stole a lot of power from what could have been a truly fantastic movie… had it been allowed to stand on its own plot and story instead of borrowing so heavily from the original. There is a point where “tribute” crosses over into “plagiarism” and this movie strides across that line unapologetically.
Then there were the confusing moments of unanswered questions (that will probably, Lost-style (it is Abrams, after all), remain unanswered) such as:
1. The multiple-planet destroying weapon (AKA the new Death Star/Sun Crusher/Nostril of Palpatine… erm, I mean, StarKiller Base)… does it move? If it uses up all the power of the sun in its own solar system to charge (as it appears to) then how can it possibly be a multiple-use weapon? I mean, isn’t it limited to the number of suns in the solar system where it is created? What idiot would design such an inefficient weapon and who thought it was a good idea to build? Especially if it has the exact same weakness as the Death Stars had?
2. How do both Finn and Rey know how to wield a light saber?
3. We saw the celebrations across multiple worlds in the galaxy at the end of the final (hopefully) version of “Return of the Jedi” when the Emperor was killed. Even if Luke Skywalker disappeared shortly thereafter… why is it that nobody in the galaxy now knows about him or believes he existed? It seems like not enough time could have possibly passed that everyone forgot about the huge rebellion against the Empire. That sort of heroism is one parents would totally tell their children about. Especially since they have advanced technology and don’t have to rely on newspapers to get their information. That would be like people today not having any idea who Rosa Parks or Corie Ten Boom or Martin Luther King Jr. are. And they didn’t even blow up a Death Star.
4. How did Maz get ahold of Luke Skywalker’s ORIGINAL light saber that fell down the shaft in Cloud City at the end of Empire Strikes Back? In the EU, it was retrieved by the Empire and used to clone Luke Skywalker… an extremely interesting story/showdown… but this seemed rather random.
5. How come light sabers don’t seem to do as much damage as they used to? Really… nobody lost an arm in that battle in the forest? Hard to believe.
6. Why is C3PO’s arm red? They run out of gold-colored materials? Actually, I know the answer to this question: Disney wanted to sell more toys. Pathetic move, Disney.
There are other questions that may get answered, of course, like exactly who is GollumMort and why hasn’t Luke Skywalker taken him out yet? (Supreme Leader Snoke, for those who don’t “get” that joke).
Which leads me to the other places where I felt the movie was weak: the villains. The first time we see him, Kylo Ren approaches the subdued captive, Poe… and… squats down to look him in the eye? (Through a helmet, of course). I mean, come on. Rule number one of extreme villainy is that you never, ever, ever come down to your captive’s level. No, you force-choke him by the neck into looking YOU in the eye… er… mask. Strike one for Kylo.
You also never remove your mask. It’s one of your sources of power and evilness. Strike two.
And the lightsabery temper tantrums? Take all the oomph out of your scary-ness. Sorry, dude, but Darth was terrifying because you knew he could just silently choke the life out of you from a planet away. Watching you hack away at your own computers and walls like an angry 2-year old just makes me think a stronger use of discipline in your early childhood would not have gone amiss. Third strike. He’s out.
I thought this kid wanted to be just like Grandpa Vader. Obviously nobody ever told him the truth about dear old gramps. How he not only was one of the best and most terrifying villains of all time, but how he also ultimately conquered his dark side and freed the galaxy of the tyrannical Emperor. (I blame his parents)
Speaking of his parents… this is me being super shallow and ridiculous… but (my apologies to the college-girls) the actor who plays Kylo Ren is simply not attractive enough to be Han Solo’s son. Nope. I feel nothing for this guy. He’s a whiny, obnoxious, temper-tantrum throwing brat with zero redeeming qualities. I despise him, and I hope he falls into a pit of angry rancors and nobody rescues him.
Also, why is his name Ben? That was a slap in the face to everyone who reads and loves the EU. Ben is LUKE’S son. And it doesn’t even make any sense that he would be named that. Han Solo had nothing but contempt for Obi Wan, and Leia never met the man. What would possess them to name their son after him? Arrrrrrrrgh.
Phasma. The worst villain side-kick ever (unless she’s secretly a double agent actually working for the Resistance) because she caved way too quickly and added nothing but cool armor to the movie.
Supreme Leader Snoke… was just ridiculous. With all the hype, I was expecting something new, something never before seen in the Star Wars Universe… not a large hologram of Gollum. Sorry.
But… I could forgive all of this. I truly could. I could overlook the plagiarism and the lame villains and the strange plot-holes like why Rey can speak Wookie and fly the Millenium Falcon as well as Han, or why Luke left a map so that people could find him if he didn’t want to be found, or why Luke disappeared in the first place, or why Leia hugs perfect-stranger-Rey instead of Chewie near the end of the movie… all of that… all of that I could overlook because the movie was so much fun and the characters were so instantly lovable. One thing I have to say for Abrams, he knows how to make you fall in love with a character in 10 seconds or less.
Elephant in the room.
You knew it was coming.
What I can’t forgive is the death of Han Solo.
Rule number 1 of writing in the Star Wars universe: YOU DON’T KILL HAN SOLO.
Or not the end. I know that this has been speculated on forever and ever and will continue to be until the next movie comes out. Personally, I’m not convinced he’s truly dead because 1) he fell down a huge shaft and we know that means nothing in the Star Wars universe… things are recovered from those all the time (apparently perfectly intact). Also, 2) I’m in denial. 3) Harrison Ford is in Episode VIII (and if it’s as a “jedi ghost” I’m gonna be even more upset because that breaks a whole host of other rules). And 4) Han lives on in the EU and I liked him better there anyway.
Nothing about that scene is okay. And nothing can make it okay. I don’t care if he did it trying to save his son, if he pushed the button himself in order to protect his son from going to the Dark Side, if he let it happen because he had an uncharacteristically un-Han-Solo-like moment of stupidity. It shouldn’t have happened. There was no reason for it to happen. And here’s the big final kicker: it didn’t make me sad… it only made me angry.
I’ve seen characters I love killed before. When done well, it tears out my heart and causes me to dissolve into tears. It’s hard to take, but I can accept it as right for the character or right for the story. This scene only made me mad. I wanted to post to facebook immediately after the credits began to roll this particular message:
“Jar Jar Abrams better hope he never meets me in person. Because I will punch him in the nose.”
I didn’t post it. But I wanted to. That was what Star Wars: The Force Awakens left me with.
I can watch the movie. I can even enjoy most of the movie – there are some awesome new characters in there. But honestly, it will never be one I can love. Unless that irredeemable moment somehow gets fixed (and by “fixed” I mean “Han Solo isn’t actually dead, because obviously there was a long delay between the Millenium Falcon taking off and the planet actually exploding because SOMEONE was able to track down and find Kylo Ren in the middle of the forest (filled with chasms and thigns) or he was able to stagger out of the forest and find a transport vessel that got him to safety before the planet imploded… so obviously there was more than enough time for Han to be retrieved and stuffed in a bacta tank as well”) in Episode 8… well, unless that happens…
In conclusion, I guess what I have to say is this: is this a worthy sequel to the original trilogy? Yes. It has its flaws, but it is a far better companion to the originals than the prequel trilogy was. It is a fun-filled romp through a galaxy far, far away. It is a wonderful introduction to a whole new generation (my sincere sympathies if you grew up in the era of the prequel trilogy…). It is very good Star Wars.
It’s just … not MY Star Wars.
And that is what I thought of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I am actually very much looking forward to Rogue One this Christmas.