I am writing a fluff paragraph introduction in order to give people a chance to avert their eyes from this spoiler-filled post. I went to Star Wars: The Force Awakens with very little prior expectations. I think I watched one of the trailers once. I did not read or listen to very much of the commentaries, predictions, etc. I heard that Abrams had re-signed all of the major cast members, but I tried not to let that color my expectations (especially when the trailer showed a lot of new characters). I also want to say that I went to see the movie with a couple of good friends of mine, and I had an awesome time hanging out with them. In that sense it was a worthwhile evening for me.
So I came to the theater with kind of a blank mind. I do not go see movies in theaters very often, so usually I am overwhelmed by the big screen, big sound, etc. I enter right into the movie and have a good time. Episode VII was different for me. I was not mentally analyzing the movie at all until about two thirds of the way through the movie, when I surprised myself with the realization that I was feeling bored. Please note that this was a feeling, not an overly analytical rational conclusion. I was at a Star Wars movie, and I was feeling bored. As the movie reached a climax, so did my boredom. Except for a few moments of laughter, I only got more bored as the movie went on. The force may have been awakening, but I was having trouble staying alert.
So after the fact, I began to analyze why it was that I was feeling bored. This analysis mostly stems from the time period after watching the movie, but some of it did come to mind near the end of the movie. I do not have time to organize this post, so it is going to be somewhat stream of consciousness. What follows is almost completely negative. This is not because my impression of the movie was completely negative. It is because I am trying to explain my boredom.
The main reason for my boredom was that the movie is “derivative,” as a lot of critics have said. It was basically a retread of elements from the original movies. I think this was a combination of fan service and fan reassurance – sending the not-so-subtle message that they were returning to what everyone loved about the original Star Wars. It may have been reassuring, but it was also boring.
I mean, c’mon, the Starkiller is essentially Death Star 3. I thought the second Death Star was redundant when I watched Return of the Jedi for the first time. Why would I not feel the same about Death Star 3? Saying it was bigger didn’t help. Saying it was a modified planet only made it harder to believe. Why is there ANOTHER trench scene? Why is there ANOTHER fatal weak point in the defenses? Actually, Death Star 3 seemed the easiest one to destroy yet. No bullseye-ing of womp rats necessary.
And that is just one of a multitude of ways in which the movie is just a regurgitation of past Star Wars elements. I could go on at great length. Unlike other fans, I was not geeking out by all of these obvious plagiarisms. What made Star Wars great was its originality, not its traditionalism. And by originality, I mean coming up with better ideas than Jar Jar.
I also thought the director/writer/whomever-is-to-blame made some classic errors. The timing was painfully slow at critical moments. Nothing is more boring than watching a psychic interrogation from the outside…for second after second after second. We all knew Ben was going to kill Han, so why did we have to stare at the lightsaber for twenty minutes? And speaking about staring at lightsabers, what is up with the ending? How long did Rey hold out that lightsaber for anyway? My arm was getting tired for her. It was painful to watch.
Major surprises were telegraphed. As soon as people came for Han on his smuggling ship thing, we all knew the problem was going to be solved by releasing the scary cargo. We just had to wait for it, and wait for it… As soon as Han said “meet back here” we all knew he was going to bite it. Again, we had to wait for it, and wait for it, and stare at the lightsaber, and wait for it…
They tried to throw us into the middle of the action, but I had to work too hard to understand things, especially the political situation. Who is the First Order? How is the Republic different than the Resistance? How is the Resistance different than the Rebellion? When the Starkiller blew up a planetary system, who did they blow up and why? And why does nobody know what happened 30 years ago? Tattoine – I mean Jakku – was the location of a decisive battle against the Empire. I would think most people living there would have some idea of what happened. How did Kylo Ren turn evil? That seems pretty improbable to me.
And then the movie explained things that did not need explaining. For instance, we had to hear the explanation of the force…again. Who in their right mind was watching the new movie without seeing the old ones? It’s a continuing story! It’s not a franchise reboot on an alternate timeline like Star Trek. Explain to us the stuff we don’t know, not the stuff we do know.
The movie too often settled for telling us rather than showing us. How do we know that the First Order is scary and strong? Because Finn told us so. I certainly wasn’t impressed with them from what I saw otherwise. How do we know that Han and Leia loved each other but were in a fight? Because everyone kept telling us. When I saw them together, I did not feel any vibe.
I can’t put my finger on the reason, but I did not feel very emotionally attached to any of the main characters. I didn’t care about the new characters. The return characters didn’t grab me either. R2D2, a perennial favorite, basically wasn’t in the movie. Did they not know that C3PO and R2D2 (for good or for ill) are critical to the success of a Star Wars movie? C3PO just didn’t talk or act like C3PO. Saying “Thank the Maker” once just doesn’t cut it – especially now that we know who his maker was. I felt like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were playing nostalgia rather than acting.
Let me run through some of the characters and stuff from the movie.
Kylo Ren/Ben: OK, so maybe the actor was better than Hayden, but he is almost the same character…maybe worse. I was not intimidated by him from the get-go. He was too scrawny and too much of a Vader rip-off. That of course was the point. He is supposed to be like that. Which makes it all the more annoying. We didn’t get a “good” villain. I think from the way he treats Rey he is more of a creeper than Anakin, and he is even more of an emotionally uncontrolled adolescent. Childish tantrums are not necessary to being a dark Jedi. Look at Palpatine, Vader, Dooku, etc. The Sith were supposed to be sneaky and devious even though they used hate and rage as weapons. What kills me is that the Star Wars expanded universe is chock full of very interesting villain material. Why did Episode VII have to use the despised Anakin as its model? As a side note, I really liked the idea of his lightsaber in concept, but I thought it was kind of dumb in the movie, especially because when it was onscreen it was all you could see.
Supreme Leader/Gollum: A large hologram does not a scary villain make. A big scar does not a scary villain make. After Palpatine, the Supreme Leader seemed tame to me. What does he have that makes him such a big deal? The next couple of movies better have some big reveals.
The First Order/The Empire Lite: I found the First Order less than impressive. We saw one base the size of a planet. But this one base seemed to be almost completely lacking in defenses. There are a few hundred storm troopers. We also saw one large super-star destroyer type thing. When the General called out “all” of the squadrons, the resulting 25 TIE fighters were laughable. Does the Supreme Gollum have a huge fleet hiding up his flaring nostrils?
First Order General guy: No Grand Moff Tarkin. He’s not even any of the various guys that Vader chokes. I can’t remember his name. All I know is that he was stupid enough to build Death Star 3 with a weak spot larger than Beggar’s Canyon, nevermind a womp rat. And he was stupid enough to barely guard it. And he was stupid enough to put the energy of a star inside a planet. And he was stupid enough not to evacuate immediately. Again, I am not scared.
Silver Stormtrooper(ess): Is her armor functional or just a fashion accessory? Apparently the scariest thing about her is that she sent Finn to remedial training, and then she is so pansy that she shuts down the shields for the entire base at gunpoint without a fight. If she is the best and brightest of the First Order, then why hasn’t the Republic sneezed them into submission?
Poe: Who is this guy? OK, so he’s a great pilot, but if we are not really going to get to know him, why tell us much about him at all? And I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy the instant bond between Poe and Finn. Introducing a character is different from developing a character.
Finn: Apparently all you have to do to get this guy to like you is not be First Order and tell him your name. His main role in the movie was to whine, sweat, and tell us how scary the First Order is (because otherwise we wouldn’t have been scared).
Rey: I know more about the force than Luke knew by the end of the original trilogy…totally by accident…
BB8: Relatively lovable. I am not sure why we needed a new R2 when R2 is still around. And what’s with the bobbing head? Either his method of moving works, or it doesn’t. I would think they would be able to keep his head from continuously falling, or else they never would have made a droid like that. If his head controls need to be recalibrated, then why didn’t Rey fix him?
Some other comments.
Where did all of these new force powers come from? So Ben is able to interrogate people telepathically? Somehow if that were possible with the force, I think Vader would have used it on Leia. And Ben is able to stop and hold a blaster bolt in mid-air? Really? I mean, cool visually, but I found it distracting. And again, why was Vader not able to do this?
Do the guys who made this film know anything about science at all? Of course it’s supposed to be a fictional space opera, so we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of science. But the original Star Wars tried not to get too far out with its science. On the other hand Episode VII trampled all over science. How was Han Solo able to see the Starkiller beam and the resulting explosion? Those things should have been light years away. And the Starkiller sucks the energy from a star? Does that mean the whole planet moves from star to star? If so, how does it move? How does the atmosphere stay intact? How is this any easier than building a space station? Did they realize how devastating it would be to a planet to lose its star? We are talking meteorological disaster! And when the star gets sucked up, where is all of the ambient light coming from? Why is the planet not pitch black? The lightsaber battle should have been happening in the dark. And then when the planet explodes it turns into a star? Really? Again, cool visual effect, but totally absurd! And by the way, how in the world did the Millennium Falcon survive atmospheric re-entry at light speed? Did they watch Han Solo’s explanation of the hyperdrive in the original Star Wars? And since when did travel times in the Star Wars universe get so compressed?
Apparently the point of this movie was to be so much like the originals that it would scour Jar Jar from our minds (if that were only possible). It accomplished this by blatantly repeating much of the originals. I felt it made it boring as a movie in its own right. I also thought it was unnecessary in light of the fact that this is supposed to be a continuing story. However, we have yet to see the next two episodes. Maybe when we watch the next movies Episode VII will be proven to be worthwhile. Or at least, maybe Episode VII may be the boring setup movie that we endure watching in order to complete an otherwise exciting series. Episode VIII, you are our only hope.