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.
I lack enough +1s to throw in your favor. Thank you.ReplyDelete
I lack enough +1s to throw in your favor. Thank you.ReplyDelete
If it had infact opened with Darth Vader torturing a much older princess Leia and the whole rescued from the deathstar, blow it up, Empire strikes back, return of the jedi thing turns out to be a narcotic interrogation illusion created by the interrogation droid in episode four...would you have enjoyed it?ReplyDelete
Then Bob Newhart wakes up in bed, turns to Chewbacca and says. "I just had the weirdest dream." ;)Delete
That does actually sound quite cool.Delete
Not the Bob Newhart bit, I hasten to add.Delete
Sean, that actually sounds really cool.ReplyDelete
Emporer Mk II, who was laughably called Snoak and I only remember that 'cos he sounds like a character from "L'il Abner", continues the grand tradition established in the prequels of villains with goofy names that totally shatter any immersion. Even Christopher Lee couldn't make "Count Dooku" into a badass once I heard the name... :\ReplyDelete
Yeah, Snoak. Jesus.Delete
You should watch it again -- you missed a lot (which is surprising).ReplyDelete
Star Wars has never been about plot. The *first* one is plot by numbers. Star Wars is about characters and feel.
This one had great characters and great feel. So two thumbs up.
I know you have a thing about action/fighting female leads. I agree that virtually every time the actress cannot pull of the necessary physicality. Daisy Ridley was amazing in this regard (as in others--I am flummoxed by your assessment of her acting). She was a terrific lead, as much as you want to hold your nose about political correctness or something.
But yeah -- CGI Snoak was bad. And re-doing the death star plot was a bit much.Delete
Star Wars has never been about plot but that's not an excuse for rehashing the same plot that has appeared not once but twice before. The original Star Wars had a wafer thin plot. The plot to The Force Awaknes is wafer thin and we've seen it all before - unforgivable, really.Delete
I thought Daisy Ridley was good in that regard, and I liked that they didn't make any effort to sex up the character at all - she was totally believable as a resourceful, self-sufficient person who wasn't pandering to stereotyped male fantasies about competent-but-hot women. But she really isn't a good actress - she's the kind of TV actress who is ten a penny on British TV programmes like Casualty, Silent Witness, Doctor Who, etc. Clipped RP pronunciation from acting school, a winning smile, but not much else. I really think the only reason people think her acting performance was so good is that she's up against Hayden Christiansen. As with everything in The Force Awakens, there is a context, and that context makes everything about it look better than it really is.
I totally agree about the feel. It had a wonderful Star Warsy feel.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply to what was in all honesty a not particularly nice post.Delete
I guess I agree that re-hashing the death star / droid-with-critical-info plots did not add anything and was a little eye-roll worthy. But I really think that plot matters so little in Star Wars that the movie loses almost nothing because of it.
As to D. R., I guess this is one of those matter-of-taste things. When I first saw her I was thinking "ho boy -- is she too attractive for me to take seriously?" By the end I was so thoroughly won over by her character and performance that I was vaguely considering how to convince my wife to have another kid in the hopes that it will be a girl so I can name her Rey and give her blue lightsaber toys and ...
Well maybe not really, but close. If a character has a tremendous positive impact (which is rare) I want to give a lot of credit to the actress. You may be right about context, but I don't think very many people would have been believable in that role. Anyway, we can all agree that Christiansen was shit (though I'm not sure how much of that to blame on G. Lucas. I want to say a lot).
Agreed on all points except about Ms. Ridley's acting, which didn't bother me... not that she was given all that much to do that required much emoting.ReplyDelete
In general it felt like a do-over of the original, except kind of rushed and sloppy in places. Fun, but nothing I feel the need to watch again.
Fun but nothing I feel the need to watch again is about right for me too, although I do think I probably will watch it again just to try to figure out what I missed and also if my initial assessments were fair or not.Delete
There was so much speculation on Snoke / Snoak ? early on that I was really surprised to see that he looked just like giant Gollum.ReplyDelete
Yep, and he has his mannerisms as well, in places. Also, Snoke sounds like a character from The Moomins. What were they thinking?Delete
There was one moment where I could've SWORN he had said "smeeeagol."Delete
As for the electrostaff duking out between Fin and the Stormtrooper, I think that was just part of his training. If there's a dude with a light saber, they'll deflect your shots. So you whip out your weapon designed to combat Jedi. Though, what brought them to think that Fin was that good with a Lightsaber, at least enough to deflect shots, I don't know.ReplyDelete
I think both Fin and Rey were unfeasibly good with lightsabers, to be honest. If it's that easy everyone would do it, surely?Delete
I can't +1 all your complaints like Will, but I'm with you on most of 'em (the "baton trooper" was the absolute worse, and most jarring scene in the movie...though I've read he has become some sort of "fan favorite").
I don't mind the Emperor Mark II quite so much, but he's is too reminiscent of Voldemort for my taste. I suppose his (as yet unseen) bad-assedness will provide the strong antagonist for later flicks, now that Kylo has been thoroughly punked...though I'm hoping Ren comes back with some beefy cyborg makeover for E8.
It's funny you mentioned Snoak looking like Gollum. It's the same person behind the CGI.ReplyDelete
I think it's the Snoak part that dropped my immersion the most. Was it just me or did it feel jarring to anyone else that they suddenly axed the 'blue haze' hologram, but for just that one character?Delete
It felt cheap. The rest of the film though, was a treat. Saw it twice (second time I was stoned during the first half and man did I make up some fun theories). Looking forward to a third viewing.
Yeah, I found out subsequently that it was also Andy Serkis. It's odd they didn't think to find anyone else.Delete
I agree that it really was very immersion-ruining. The appearance of the Emperor in the Empire Strikes Back (before George Lucas started messing with it for the special editions) is great - the hologram sort of gives you an impression of what he's like but sort of doesn't. I thought absolutely nothing about Snoak was well done at all.
Yeah. Snoak was bizarrely bad. Especially in that most of the rest of the movie clove pretty closely to the old school Star Wars "practical effect aliens/sets are good, CGI sucks" aesthetic.Delete
Why on earth would you plunk a jarringly bad CGI character in there?
The details of the relationships between the Republic, the Resistance, and the five blown up planets were probably the most WTF moment in the movie for me, but for what it's worth, I'm under the impression that you're not expected to have consumed additional material, as they're not considered a part of the same canon/continuity/setting anymore.ReplyDelete
That means the movie is just unclear there, rather than willfully incomplete, which I consider that the lesser sin.
I honestly thought it was more on the willfully incomplete side, to be honest. I'm fine with leaving things unexplained but that just felt like it was in there because they needed to show off the "Starkiller Base" and its super dooper Biggest Laser Ever and couldn't think of another way to do it.Delete
I strongly agree that AotC was the WORST of the prequels, thanks to the grotesque "love" scenes between "Mannakin" and Padme, the shameless waste of the late great Christopher Lee, and the revolting spectacle of Yoda hopping around like Sonic the Hedgehog. Oh, and it was crushingly boring as well. Taken as a whole, the prequels are the worst three major Hollywood movies I've EVER seen, bar none.ReplyDelete
As far as the new film goes, the reviewer for the New Yorker said that it was like getting edible food at a restaurant that gave you severe food poisoning the last three times you ate there. I think that about covers it.
Yes, the complete debasement of Yoda was one of the worst things about those films.Delete
I'm given to understand that the novelization clarifies the Resistance/Republic relationship, presumably by virtue of having been based on an earlier draft of the script.ReplyDelete
I'm more put off by the fact that (as in Abrams's STAR TREK, right?) the film breezes by an act of genocide as casually as can be, in order to get back to the crucial business of the heroes' budding friendship...which latter is nice enough, and that is (after all) what protagonists do and are -- but there's still something contemptible about the film spending precisely zero time on the murder of billions and the wiping out of the galactic government. That choice doesn't just rob the movie of something, it sticks in the movie like a burr.
And it speaks poorly of Abrams that this seems to be habit with him.
As for Pointless Baton Stormtrooper -- boring to speak in these terms, but that fight's presumably there just to establish Finn's combat training and make the otherwise ludicrous final swordfight at least thinly plausible.
I enjoyed every minute of it the first time, was irritated and restless while also enjoying it the second time ($4.25 per show!), and have lately lost interest. I'm reading Timothy Zahn's Thrawn books. They're fast and fun, and Zahn (physics-trained and all) made a real effort to imagine the galaxy as having (in a simulative sense) a political situation, rather than just a dramatic one. In comparison, they're fresh bold takes on Star Wars. By any other standard they're just shamelessly derivative knockabout pulp novels. I recommend them.
Yes, I agree completely. Abrams has this awful blitheness about anything that might be serious or dramatic. This was really driven home to me by watching The Revenant shortly after The Force Awakens. I understand completely that The Revenant is a film for grown-ups and The Force Awakens has to appeal to a wider audience, but the two films are like night and day in the sense that The Revenant actually cares about violence and its consequences - which is something I also felt that the original Star Wars films did too (compare the destruction of Aldaran with the destruction of whatever those five planets were in TFA).Delete
I'll give the Zahn books a go. I have nothing whatsoever against shamelessly derivative knockabout pulp novels.
I should perhaps amend that to: "Abrams has this awful blitheness about anything that might be serious or dramatic, beyond the iconic characters."Delete
"compare the destruction of Aldaran with the destruction of whatever those five planets were in TFA"Delete
What do you mean? It has been remarked that the destruction of Alderaan led to pretty much nothing in the way of mourning. (E.g., http://www.tor.com/2009/05/04/alderan-billions-unmourned/ ). Just another example of this latest movie's slavish devotion to the first one! ;)
I really felt as though the destruction of those five planets only took place to echo the first Star Wars and to show that Death Star Mk III was even more powerful (Biggest Death Star Ever). At least there is a build-up to the destruction of Alderan and you get a sense of what's at stake. And you see Leia and Ben have a reaction.Delete
Also, as W points out, this isn't just the wiping out of billions of people - it's also an event of apparently massive political significance, which the film-makers make basically no attempt to explain or even set in context.Delete
It's one of many examples of sheer sloppiness which the film sort of gets away with because it's an entertaining Star Wars film and we haven't seen one of those in a very long time.