Some Hard Truths About Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I make a lot of stupid predictions, yo. I thought both the Eagles and Sixers would be in playoff position this season, but hell no. I predicted that Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee; instead, he’s disappearing from time and space like Marty McFly. Man, I thought they were going to kill War Machine in the second Avengers flick and I was crazy wrong.
But I got something right. I predicted that John Boyega would make Star Wars: The Force Awakens; I told my friends that the magnetism and physicality that he showed in Attack the Block (British indie smash; Boyega as latchkey kid leader of British chavs in a surprise war on aliens; see immediately) would dovetail perfectly with the anticipated — and delivered — speed of the new space opera. And it did. My God, Boyega — starring as stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter Finn — is downright electric, working perfectly with Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, our two other main characters, who portray a force-sensitive metal scavenger and an ace Resistance pilot, respectively.
Without spoiling too much, it is apparent by the end of the movie that Ridley’s Rey, not Boyega’s character, is to be the star of this fledgling trilogy. I take no issue with Ridley. She’s a fine actress and I found all her scenes to be engaging. But the script has imbued her character with something of a tiresome, one-track, mission-oriented myopia that doesn’t allow for much development. By the time we meet her, she’s a hardened if big-hearted kid. She’s aggressive, she’s serious and she’s assertive. These traits aren’t bad on their own, of course, but there’s an issue here that should be alarming to weiners and weinersauruses everywhere: Rey is meant to be this film’s Luke. Luke is a whiny dweeb when we meet him in the original trilogy, and remains a whiny dweeb for a movie and a half or so. It’s part of why we like him. He’s a believably crummy, annoying kid placed in an unbelievable scenario that would not be navigable without the help of his friends. Rey is so self-sufficient that her sidekicks almost seem like a hindrance. And let’s not forget the last time Star Wars tried to cram a boring, fusty, remarkably confident Force-sensitive main character down our throat.
I hate Hayden Christensen.
Again: there is no issue with Ridley as an actress. But there is an issue of balance. In Finn — kind of the supporting character, but really just Main Character B — we have a fascinating character who is part hero, part comic relief, and part soul-of-the-movie. He’s dynamic, conflicted, excitable, honorable. He’s all that. The writers have allowed his character to gobble up all the goodies of the script, and left Ridley only with the standard hero writeup. Here’s hoping, for Ridley’s sake, they patch this up in the next movies. I think they’ll be able to right course, though, and round out Rey.
“Mel Brooks’ Star Wars.”
I mumbled this to my buddy after one of the film’s 10,000 droll one-liners. Then I realized that that joke was dumb because Mel Brooks already tried to write an extended Star Wars sketch and it was atrocious. Space Balls fans: there is no way that Brooks ever watched Star Wars before writing that thing.
I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that this movie’s script is manic. It never drags, but for a few incredibly distracting moments of exposition unfairly foisted on Leia. It hums.
It’s scientifically Star Wars.
Clever, wry and jumpy, the audience never has to wait terribly long for a new gag or memorable byte. Everything fits the tenor of Star Wars, right down to the X-Wing pilot radio dialogue. While Finn gets most of the best lines — duh — everybody gets in on the action. They wrote the hell out of Han Solo and BB-8.
It doesn’t sync up perfectly with A New Hope. The first — chronologically fourth — Star Wars isn’t always full throttle, and does occasionally lurch, and is incongruous with the prequel trilogy. But that’s okay: it’s the most important sci-fi film in the history of mankind. I theorize that this movie is so fast-paced and so engaging from the first beat because J.J. Abrams and company were aware of the importance of their task: The previous decade was dominated by a Star Wars product so unfamiliar that it was literally heartbreaking to an untold number of people. They had to rebuild millions of burned bridges. What better way to redeem a franchise than to concentrate the beloved parts of the original trilogy — the dogfights, the snappy dialogue, the sparing Jedi mysticism, the rogue aesthetic — and deliver on them hard the first chance you get?
Everything that makes Star Wars is there, and executed almost-perfectly. The sand planets, the ships, the amazing practical-effects aliens, the bizarre proto-futurist utilitarian realism that defines the true Star Wars aesthetic. And yes, it’s a little fan-servicey, but it’s not obtrusive or winking. Finn accidentally activates the Millennium Falcon’s space battle chess dealy. Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb make appearances. It’s darling. It’s soothing. It’s Star Wars.
It’s not all perfect, though. If you thought I was going to lay back and let Star Wars escape needling, you’re nuts. Major things first: our heroes are the Resistance, the evolution of the original Rebellion, and their nemeses are the First Order, an offshoot of the Empire. This is confusing to begin with, because I thought that at the end of the original trilogy, the Empire, while not shattered per se, had had its ass kicked so utterly that it was supposed to crumble. But no. The First Order, the modern, hyper-Nazified version of the Empire, looks like it’s stronger than it’s ever been, and the Resistance looks just as hapdash and spare as the original Rebellion.
How many Death Stars do these kids need to blow up to put a dent in the bad guys? It all screams “read the Marvel-produced tie-in comics and watch the prequel TV shows and buy all the toys with biographical snippets or else we’ll punish you with an incomplete story.” Gross.
Moving on: Adam Driver and his gigantic face portray the villainous Kylo Ren and Domhnall Gleason plays the probably-more-evil General Hux. They’re two thirds of the First Order villainy triad, rounded out by Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke. They’re both 6’3”, they’re both rather unintimidating, and they both weigh about 160 pounds. Driver can be scary with his mask and voice modulator on, but when it’s off he’s rather unimpressive and his reads are occasionally halting and occasionally boring. There’s a point to the casting of Driver; his character is supposed to be impressionable and youthful and completely under the hypnotic sway of space-Hitler, making him … space Albert Speer? By the end of the trilogy we’re obviously going to be asked to feel for him, but it might not work. He and Gleason — who is functionally playing a more indoctrinated Grand Moff Tarkin in this movie — try hard, but don’t quite work.
Time will tell, I suppose, if they can gell.
Lastly, and this is going to be kind of spoilery, I got me a big problem with Captain Phasma. Phasma was seen in virtually every promotional shot of the movie. She’s a massive, glimmering, chrome-bedecked stormtrooper higher-up, and her design is enticing. There was near constant dork-excitement for her coming into this movie — finally, a new female villain for the increasingly girl-power Star Wars series! Captain Phasma toys, Captain Phasma fan art, Captain Phasma backstory — she was originally supposed to be a male character, but we thought she’d work better as a lady!
How annoying it is, then, that she appears in maybe three scenes for a generous grand total of three minutes, and receives lines that could easily be said without any story alterations by any freaking stormtrooper in the whole First Order. Ick.
Whatever. My final gripe is this:
C-3P0 is all over this movie. He’s so annoying. I want to see him die a slow painful death. I want to see him get blown out of an airlock and disassemble after getting smashed into by a meteoroid. I want to see him melt in the volcanoes of Mustafar, just like his equally annoying creator. I want Kylo Ren to decapitate him and pike his chattering dome and then wing it into an imploding sun.
I hate C-3P0.
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