I watched the new Star Wars film tonight. I'd been a bit reticent about going to see it, because the hype was frankly irritating me (before it was even released it had already come to feel as though actually watching the film was a sort of ancillary activity in the midst of all the pressure to GET EXCITED and BUY THINGS). But of course I was always going to see it, and tonight dragged my unfortunate wife along with me. (My wife is pretty laconic; her main observation was "So it seems Yoda is a woman now," which I think summarised the entire film pretty well.)
Anyway, I did enjoy it. JJ Abrams knows how to make an entertaining flick, which it was. It was probably in the noisms 3 1/2 star range, but I am unreasonably difficult to please when it comes to films. I think the best and most important thing about it was that it wiped clear the memory of the prequels like some sort of magic solvent - it was like the anti-Attack of the Clones (which is not just the worst of the prequels but one of the worst films ever made...but let's not get started on that). Star Wars has come home: this is what The Phantom Menace should have been, but wasn't. It was also excitingly put together and actually quite beautiful in its way: some it was genuinely stunningly gorgeous to look at. There were some really inventive and fun moments, especially on Tatooine, sorry Jakku. I thought Harrison Ford did a creditable job, as did Carrie Fisher, and, come on, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to get a kick out of seeing Chewie, C3P0 and R2D2 on the big screen again.
That said, there were problems. I have avoided reading anything about the film, and haven't really seen anything in the way of reviews or commentary, but something tells me the choice of lead may have been hotly debated on the internet, with the battalions of moronic Men's Rights Activists doing battle from their mothers' basements against the holier-than-thou "About time too!" political correctness brigades. I hope that hasn't disguised the fact that it doesn't matter at all that the lead should be a woman but it really matters that whoever is playing the lead should be able to act. And I'm afraid Daisy Ridley just isn't a very good actress. It would be nice if she was, but her performance very strongly reminded me of Orlando Bloom's in the Pirates of the Caribbean films - pretty to look at, but sort of empty. Her delivery was flat and unconvincing and her emotional range mostly consists of widening her eyes and either smiling or crying.
(Although, in her defence, she is poorly served by the character of Rey, who does have the ring of Luke Skywalker about her. Like most people, I think, I always smelled a rat with Luke as a kid: George Lucas really wants you to love the goody two-shoes hero, but everybody prefers Han Solo. Luke's just a bit of a boring cipher until late in Empire. I get the same vibe off Rey - I'd have much preferred to spend more time in Fin's company, because the turncoat storm trooper idea is actually an interesting one. Perhaps because it's one of the only novel things in the entire film, but more on that below.)
A more significant problem is the plot, though, which I have to say was really just a bit piss poor. There's a Death Star but bigger and they have to blow it up with X-Wings again; the Death Star-but-bigger has a planet-destroying Big Fuckoff Laser on it again, but this time the Big Fuckoff Laser can destroy five planets at a time; there's Yoda again but this time as a pseudo-Asian old woman; there's the Emperor again but this time he's bald and really big; there's problems of parentage again but this time it's the other way round and the son is the bad guy. I understand that echoing previous plot threads is part of the fun of a series, but this really felt as though the writers were just working off a Star Wars By The Numbers book. They simply ought to have done better.
I also wasn't convinced at all by either Kylo Ren or Snoop or Snape or whatever the Emperor Mark II is called. Kylo Ren was well acted, and I liked the moment with Han Solo at the end, even if you can see what is coming from a mile away as it barrels down the railway tracks of the plot towards you, tooting its horn and bellowing, "I am a twist!" But he already seems to have been rendered completely non-threatening by the fact that the ever-competent heroine simply bests him at every possible moment. What's a villain worth if he gets his arse kicked by the main character before the story has even got going? I didn't understand the point of the fight scene in the forest at all: clearly every rule of story-telling you could possibly name would dictate that it was Rey who should have been saved from certain death by the appearance of the crevasse rather than the other way round. Otherwise what's left to get excited about? She's basically won already.
Emperor Mark II was the thing I liked least about the film. In fact, I actively despised that character. The CGI was jarring in the context of a film which was deliberately trying to retreat from that, but in any case, what is it with the CGI faces of villains in movies? They all look the same. Snoop/Snape's face looks more or less exactly like Gollum's, whose face looks more or less exactly like all of the CGI nasties in the Peter Jackson Tolkien films. And they still can't get the mouth and lips right. Making him appear as a kind of giant (although I assume this is because he is in the form of a hologram) seemed almost like an admission on the part of the film makers that they knew he was fundamentally a shit character. They had to think of something.
I have a few minor quibbles. In the first of the JJ Abrams Star Trek films, you couldn't really understand all the details of the plot, it seemed, without having first read all sorts of extraneous comics and other bullshit. (Trust me: the motivations and actions of the Eric Bana Romulan make absolutely no sense if you just watch the film on a prima facie basis.) The Force Awakens wasn't quite as bad in this regard, but it did have its moments - for instance, what was all that about with those five planets being destroyed? Why those five planets? Who was living there? Another example: it seems you still have the Republic (although at some point Big Shouty Bad General Guy starts declaring that "this is the day the Republic is over", or something), but you also have this thing called "the Resistance"? How does that all fit together? It's very important to avoid infodump in films, but film makers shouldn't try to get away with that by just leaving all the details to the hard-core nerds who can be bothered learning all the Extended Universe stuff.
The other minor quibble: the bit where the storm trooper decides to drop his gun and pull out some sort of force-baton device so that he can duke it out in melee with Fin for shits and giggles rather than just, er, shoot him. What the fuck?
So, a fun film, but they'll have to do a lot better with Episode VIII if they want to get a coveted Monsters & Manuals Academy Award.