Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Triumph or Disappointment?

I was very excited, to put it mildly, when I sat in my seat, with my 3D glasses on, and waited for the lights to be turned off. It has been a while since I saw a Star Wars movie at the cinema and I was determined not to let anything ruin the experience. I have managed to find a suitable sitter for the boys. The venue was half empty, with no loud teenagers anywhere in sight. The reviews of the film were great - over 90% fresh at the Rotten Tomatoes, and everything was pointing towards a happy ending. 

At the beginning, everything was looking promising. (Warning: Spoilers approaching!) The text with the explanation what happened since episode VI quickly introduced us to the fact that the bad guys are now called the First Order, and that they are opposed by the Republic and Resistance (instead of Rebellion). To tell the truth, I was too excited to think about this, or the disappointment would probably have come much sooner that it had.

The film started with the First Order chasing a pilot, Poe Dameron, who has obtained the map that leads to long lost Luke Skywalker. He hides the map in his droid, BB-8 and gets arrested. He is interrogated by the guy trying hard to look like Darth Vader, but is subsequently freed by a deserter storm trooper, Finn. In the meantime, BB-8 makes friends with a girl, Rey, who lives on a desert planet and scavenges wreckages of star destroyers for a living. The deserter and the pilot crash onto the planet, and are separated. Finn manages to get to the settlement in time to see Rey and BB-8 attacked. The droid recognizes Finn's jacket as Poe's and attacks him. The First Order attacks at that moment and the three end up in the Millennium Falcon, fleeing for their lives. They get caught by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca. So far so good.

I really liked this part. The main characters have come together nicely, with a lot of coincidences but the Force is with them, so it is understandable. The idea to have a deserter stormtrooper is very good, as well as the mysterious girl who was left on a desert planet to wait for her parents. That reminded me of the New Hope, but it was forgivable - there probably are a lot of desert planets in the galaxy. I was OK with that.
Han Solo’s entrance was great. He was a great connection between the old and the new - an old smuggler, still doing what he does best. And all the while looking for his precious starship. Things were looking very promising at this point.

Then they are attacked by other smugglers, and all hell breaks loose. Star Wars movie would not be complete without some alien monstrosities trying to kill the main characters. Three such monsters are set free in Han Solo’s cargo ship and he manages to escape with Rey and Finn. I was really enjoying myself. This is a good movie, I thought.

At this point our heroes go to some beautiful green planet, where there is Han’s friend Maz, a bar owner who struck me as a female equivalent of Yoda. She is supposed to run some kind of hostile, dangerous place, but the bar was rather pleasant, and almost identical to the bar at Tatouine from the New Hope. Somewhere at this point I started to feel a certain discomfort. Something was off. I still could not put my finger on what it was but it was enough to ruin the dream.

I continued to watch the film but without the initial excitement. Rey wanders into the basement and finds Luke’s old lightsaber, which causes her to have visions. It becomes evident that she is the “New Hope”, and that the Force is strong with this one. In the meantime some unsavory characters from the bar have informed the First Order about the location of the wanted droid, and another action sequence is upon us. Rey runs off into the forest ant Finn is the one stuck with the lightsaber and it is his time to be the hero. I was confused with the fact that he can use the lightsabre. I though, only Jedi Knights were able to wield it, because it required the use of the Force, but I dismissed this as just my lack of lore knowledge. Rey is taken by Kylo Ren and interrogated, which leads to her discovering that she is very good with the Force. She becomes an instant Jedi.

This was the moment when the Resistance X-wings came in to save the day. There is a well played meeting between Han and Leia, and it was around here when we become aware that the main antagonist, Kylo Ren is their son, who has gone over to the Dark side. That was when the feeling of disappointment started to hit hard. I was still immersed in the movie but this was simply too much. What sequence of events would lead the son of princess Leia and Han Solo to cross over to the Dark Side and become some sort of caricature of Darth Vader? Forgive me for this, but the scene when he destroys control panels with this lightsabre in a fit of childish rage reminded me of Spaceballs. And that Snoke guy? What kind of a name is Snoke? It is good if it was supposed to be funny? The bad guy in Spaceballs was called Skroob? It is almost the same. The Force Awakens was quickly turning into a farce.

The rest of the film was too predictable. There is a new bigger and better Death Star and the Resistance must destroy it. It is done in the same fashion as in the original trilogy. Han, Chewie and the two kids are on a mission to destroy something that would enable the destruction of the weapon. There is a confrontation between Han and Kylo Ren, and he does what he must to stay on the Dark side. That was, by far, the worst part of the movie. It all felt so deliberately set up. Even Kylo Ren looked like: “Sorry but I must. The writers have put me in this position that whatever I do, I look bad. I must kill you or the entire film will look lame as hell. Sorry again.” (tears)

After that there is a sword duel between Kylo Ren, the guy who can stop a blaster shot with his mind, and gets his ass kicked by a girl who holds a lightsaber for the first time in her life. Admittedly, he had been shot by Chewbacca earlier, but still...

Kylo Ren manages to escape, the Death Star is destroyed, and Ray goes to find Luke. Apparently, he has been standing at a cliff for the past twenty years. With that cliffhanger, the movie ends.

In conclusion, I must say that I was utterly disappointed with what was done with this movie. Overall, there was too much familiarity, not with the setting, but with the story. The setting was all right. CGI was scarce and well implemented. In that aspect the film hit the mark. But the story was a mile off. It is as if the writers sat down and decided to remake New Hope, because it would satisfy the audience, with some “clever” changes: Let’s have a black man and a woman Jedi in the lead roles, and the bad guy will be... I know, Han Solo and Leia’s son... Nobody will see that coming... Ah, we are so smart!

You can say what you want about George Lucas ruining the prequels but he wanted to tell an original story, and make something new. He decided to stay true to his artistic vision, whether we like it or not. The creators of this movie did nothing of the sort. 

The Force Awakens, in spite of the fact that it looks very good and it will make a ton of money, is just a copy of something that a lot of us have fallen in love with. It was made to please the majority of the fans, trying to push all the right buttons, but in the end feels just like a piece of merchandise. The worst thing for me is that the film has received great reviews and is almost universally well received. I just cannot believe that the people do not see how many flaws this movie has. The people from SFFworld forum, who share some of my views, have restored my faith in humanity. Thank you for keeping me sane.

If I had to grade it, I would give it 1 out of 5, not because it is that bad, but because of the missed opportunity. Instead of a new story following The Return of the Jedi, we were given a recycled, unimaginative and play-it-safe piece of money-grabbing cinema that epitomizes everything that is wrong with Hollywood movie industry. Disney could learn a thing or two from Marvel Studios but looking at earnings, I don’t think that they will have the motive to do so. After all, they have fulfilled their goal.

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