Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens

 


                                                                   Star Wars
I went to go watch Star Wars today. And I was deeply disappointed.  And before anyone starts thinking that I had some idealized and inflated memory of the originals, I was sure to watch all three of them within a week of seeing "The Force Awakens".  Rather than bore you with some crazy long ass introduction I will simply outline my particular gripes with the film below.


1) The Technical: In the age of "Star Wars: A New Hope" Lucas had to do a lot with comparatively little.  The studios liked the idea of Star Wars, but they didn't really believe in it.  Additionally, Lucas was beset with a host of other unforseen issues, even budgetary and Union ones.  He had to get creative when it came to things like visual effects.  Despite the use of scale models and, what amounts to fireworks, Lucas managed to create something that would change the film industry forever, as well as the world.  J.J. Abrams had virtually unlimited resources.  I guarantee you, Disney was not going to let its recently acquired franchise fail.  I am fairly certain executives knew the potential for profit when they acquired it.  Anyone who has seen any of the extras from the original Star Wars films knows what Lucas did to enhance things in his films.  He drew a steel cable across a couple of logs and banged on it with a wrench in order to generate half the sound effects in the original films.  He held dat recorders to running engines with open manifolds to generate even more.  To drive the point home Lucas once said: "If a film has good sound design it ends up being %5 of the film.  If it has bad sound design it will end up being %95."  And while the sound design in "The Force Awakens" wasn't bad, it did not live up to the standard we've come to expect from the franchise.  How is it that Lucas, in the era of analog can produce something superior to Abrams in the era of digital?  The blaster fire was weak and anemic.  The digitally treated voice of Kylo Ren when he has his mask on sounded like nothing more than a teenager talking fast into a shitty walky talky.  Despite the fact that they seem to have stuck to the original sound effects for the Millenium Falcon and TIE Fighters, it didn't blow my hair back and make my eyes water.

The sets were breathtaking and beautiful, particularly those scenes that served as a backdrop for the Millenium Falcon flight scenes.  But the scenes where humans were the dominant presence were deeply lacking.  There were no alien scenes that are comparable to any of the scenes in any of the first three films.  CGI characters are detailed, expensive, and lifelike, but they lack dimension and character. The cantina scene in "A New Hope" is something that lives on the memory of almost every adult who watched that film as a child.  Despite the Oz-esque nature of the makeup and animatronics, I found them to be more believable than ANY of the aliens in "The Force Awakens".  Maz Kanata's looked more like a Starbucks in space than a futuristic pirates cove.


                 
2) Casting:  Adam Driver was simply wrong for the part of Kylo Ren. It reminded me of the first time I got a good look at Trent Reznor.  I was so

Kylo Ren
                                   Emo Ren on his way to a Morrisey Concert

disappointed to see him dancing around on stage in spandex shorts with his skinny, pasty, legs on display.  The person who wrote all of those dark, and often depressing, lyrics was not gothic badass drinker of blood at all.  He was a pasty legged geek with shit for rythm and no idea how to dance.  Kylo Ren was much the same way for me.  Firstly, the idea of him removing his mask at all was simply silly.  While it would have been unoriginal for him to wear the mask for purposes similar to those of Darth Vader, the idea that he could remove it whenever he chose appeared to be little more than affectation.  If it served no actual function, then he was just some idiot striding around a Star Destroyer wearing a mask and barking orders.  The only person who seemed to get the memo on the not removing of the mask is Captain Phasma, who by the way, is a completely superfluous character.  Though I am sure her shiny armor is sure to lure a bunch of kids into buying her action figure.
Once he took off the mask I was simply disappointed.  Adam Driver is a competent actor.  But is he sufficient to pull off  the mystique and fear that we have come to expect from arch villains?  No.  And certainly not enough to walk in the footsteps of a Darth Vader.  To make things worse, when one of his officers informs him that they have lost the BB-8 Droid, he responds in a deeply childish manner, which is to draw his lightsaber and cut apart a bunch of consoles.  Killing the officer would have been more Vaderesque, if not gratuitous and unoriginal, but at least it wouldn't have looked like a millenial Sith Lord having a tantrum.  After that moment I sort of felt like taunting this guy from a distance would do the trick. 

     An unremarkable General Hux
                                    He's no Grand Moff Tarkin


Domhnall Gleeson was not a miscast.  He could have been a very effective and beleivable General Hux.  He was simply misdirected.  His performance was so forced, and so overwrought, at various times I wanted to laugh.  I thought it was cool that he was unphased by Kylo Ren, but I think that had more to do with Hux seeing in Ren what I saw. Nothing.  Gleeson looked small in his uniform, and his speech in front of the Storm Troopers right before he fired the super cannon was just weird, and more reminiscent of a Nazi rally than anything in a Star Wars film.

Lupita Nyongo, also not miscast.  She was misused.  Casting her as a litte CGi alien was one of the worst decisions I've ever seen in a voiceover casting choice.  Nyongo is famous, and beautiful, and her physical presence, even in heavy makeup, would have added so much cache and heat to the film.  It was a missed opportunity since I didn't even recognize her voice straight away.

Can I just say "SNOKE" really?  The master villain's name is SNOKE!?  I would have preferred Palpatine Jr. or Vader the 3rd over SNOKE.  Here is a tip: Don't give your villain a name that rhymes with JOKE, it's bad branding.

3) The story:  Let me get this out there and then move on.  I am sick of mega budget blockbusters that put absolutely NO MONEY into the writing.  Writers are not just guys who write words that actors then speak.  They are like percussion or bass in a band, they can set the tempo and pace of a film.  It is another one of those things that you may not notice if it is good.  Admittedly the dialogue wasn't awful, however, the film as a whole was rushed.  The delivery of some jokes was also rushed.  The timing was simply off, and made the jokes less satisfying.  The people who wrote the script evidently know next to nothing about foreshadowing.  I say "next to nothing" because the writers foreshadowed plenty, but the thing they were foreshadowing, often happened in the very next scene.  There was no clear 3 act structure in place and after an hour the whole affair seemed to just run on in no discernable direction.

You can get anyone to invest emotionally in a story, no matter how stupid or outlandish it is, but you have to follow one basic rule:  Once you set the rules of the world in which the story is being told, DON"T BREAK THEM.

Abrams broke a lot of rules in the Star Wars world.  We have Fin, who we don't know if he is force sensitive at all.  So far there are no indications that he is, and if he is then Rey buddy fucked him by going off to learn the ways of the Force from Luke Skywalker and leaving him behind.  Despite this, Fin is able to wield the Lightsaber on a couple of different occasions without and training in the Force at all.  And while there is no written or even stated rule about the use of these weapons, the Canon makes it pretty clear that weilding one without training is exceptionally dangerous.  So, what if I concede that it is possible for a non-force trained person to use a lightsaber?  It still doesn't explain how Rey manages to defeat a Dark Jedi who can Force Choke people and suspend blaster bolts in midair, in a lightsaber duel.  As a sidenote, the fight choreography for that duel sucked so bad.  I can't say it enough.  How much of a lazy ass do you have to be to have WORSE fight choreography than the orignals and the prequels?  No matter how naturally giften Rey is, she didn't even know she was force sensitive until like a day before she faced off with Ren.  Suddenly she is beating his ass in a lightsaber battle?  Why did he not use any other force powers?  Why were there no force powers used at all?  And then, to make matters worse, he offers to train her in the most paltry and un-villain like manner one could imagine.  

Lightsaber duel
Rey hurls insults at Kylo Ren and hurts his emo feelings


Another side note:  That lightsaber of Kylo Ren's was such a deeply stupid idea, I don't even know where to begin.  Even in the movie magic universe of Star Wars, it looked unwieldy and like the mask, something a teenager would choose because he thinks it makes him into a badass.  Someone needs to be a bro and tell him it just makes him look stupid.  Like that guy in "Grandma's Boy" who kept telling people he wanted robot legs.

I was willing to give Abrams a little bit of a break on the Star Trek films.  Once I learned of the difficulties he was having arising from the franchise being split between two different owners, I had some sympathy for him.  But what I've learned from watching "The Force Awakens" is what everyone has to begin to accept.  Abrams is simply not a good director.  Or perhaps he is simply to small of a director for such big franchises.  He clearly didn't do any homework other than watching the original films, because all he managed to do in this piece of crap is re-hash them, right down to the Death Star idea.  Even the attack scene with the X-Wings was undramatic and clap trappy.  Unfortunately, everyone who was so desperate for the Star Wars Kool Aid has drunk deeply of it and I wonder how long it will be before everyone sobers up.


About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
Editor-In-Chief
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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