Well I have a blog on the internet, and as Al Gore pointed out to me, part of the terms & conditions for that is talking about Star Wars…
Spoiler Free Review
(seriously? you haven’t seen it yet?)
I’d rank it at least as good as Return of the Jedi and it’s definitely the best things JJ Abrams has ever directed. Practical effects make the world feel real and people actually act this time instead of the wooden cutouts we had in the prequels. Action is generally filmed well enough to keep track of what’s happening. The plot… kind of as well. All in all, an entertaining ride that an entire family could enjoy.
It’s a star wars film, what more do you want?
This movie sucked! My eyes still haven’t stopped bleeding after the 2nd viewing (in 3D just so I could see every fleck of crap).
. . .
Yeah I’m totally joking.
Like most of Abrams works, SW7 ended up having a very good, very strong first half, only to strain itself during the final half. When the doomsday weapon is introduced, that is where the movie goes wrong.
I thought the “search for Luke” was an interesting way to start the movie and brilliant bit of meta plotting. Many viewers will be “searching” the movie for something familiar to latch onto so making the plot a search for the central protagonist of the most beloved trilogy ends up aligning the movie’s story with the audience’s emotions.
And for awhile the movie follows this parallel quite well. We don’t see much of the pilot Po, but of what we do, we get to like only to have him taken away, similar to BB-8 who is loyal to Po and hates having to be away from him. Then later on, after Fin & Po have a brief outing, we lose the more favorite character only to be stuck with a “substitute” wearing Po’s jacket so the audience laughs when BB-8 shocks Fin because we’re wanting the more entertaining guy around too! Likewise the audience is given a chance to meet & get to know Rey before following her story path just as BB-8 ends up following her after meeting. Heck, later on when Kylo Ren throws a tantrum, blowing up government property, the audience shares some frustration with him because we’re wanting to get to Luke too.
Then the doomsday weapon is revealed and the link between audience & story is broken. We had no idea such a thing was around, indeed the audience ends up feeling cheated and our resulting questions now parallel the movie’s flaw: A doomsday weapon? Why have we been looking for Luke instead of this thing? Before we could at least imagine how he might be useful to the good guys, but what good is he going to do against the ultra-mega cannon? How could this have gone unnoticed for so long?
Still it didn’t have to be all bad. When Fin revealed that he was previously a janitor for the empire, I grew excited. One key theme of the original trilogy is (just like Tolkien) the importance of the humble. Star Wars: A humble farm boy and his little, unremarkable droid work together to blow up the Death Star. ESB: A tiny, humble little being called Yoda teaches the protagonist the ways of the Force. RotJ: The humble Ewoks help bring down the Empire. So in this movie, Fin seemed like a great opportunity to introduce the Almighty Janitor to the Star Wars universe. Instead he’s… just kind of there, not quite the Load of the group but barely doing enough to warrant being a main character. Still the actor does well with what he is given, though I felt the storyline of “redeemed stormtrooper” one that could have been more richly used.
Rey I actually liked and not just because she was such a cutie pie. If anything her character reminded me of Kaylee (from Firefly), albeit one that has spent a lot of time alone in a desert without anyone to socialize with. Her growth from hermit to member of society I enjoyed a little. The big problem is with her force abilities. Obviously, if you’ve read my treatment of episode one, you know that I too think one of the obvious ways to show a person is strong in the force is to have them demonstrate some force abilities untrained. The problem started coming when Rey demonstrated ALL of the force abilities untrained. Some I could understand but I draw the line at the mind trick. As Snell pointed out, the mind trick is borderline villainous for the Jedi in the first place. The IMPLICATION that any potential jedi could do that without training is quite horrific upon reflection. If she didn’t go train with Luke at the end or was less scrupulous as a person, the havoc she could wreck on people is… well just watch Jessica Jones for the implication. (again, this moment happened on the doomsday weapon – another sign it should have been cut)
Po Damn (or whatever his name was) – generally likable, reminded me a lot of Wash (from Firefly – hmm… actually this movie kind of is the love child of Star Wars & Serenity isn’t it?) and left me wanting to see more of him which is good from a character. Kylo Ren… yeah I liked him as a villain wannabe and the meta commentary of his efforts to “live up to” Darth Vader both in and out of universe. (I just hope they don’t continue it.) The classics were ok. Han Solo was pretty good though I wished he had shown more emotion at his death scene. Yeah Solo doesn’t cry, but when confronting your estranged son and being stabbed by him… well the biggest badass has earned at least a single tear then. Leia wasn’t bad, though part of me wished they had made the scars of the war & years more visible on her in a literal way and not just metaphorical. Luke was on screen for five seconds and I had a greater sense of the long conflict weighing on him than on Leia (save for maybe her gravely voice). At least Chewie was good as always.
But all in all I have to admit that the movie does a LOT right. The humor? Works, alternating between subtle and overt and never does a gag overstay its welcome. The effects? Practical, making the universe of Star Wars feel far more like a real place you could visit than the pretty Potemkin Villages we were shown in the prequels. More importantly, MOST importantly, JJ Abrams actually SHOWS the audience things on screen instead of TELLING them what is supposed to be going on (as, again, the prequels did so much). In the end, the movie is strongest when it is building upon the legacy of the original trilogy (like if it was a real place, with a real history rippling out into the future) instead of copying and replicating the original trilogy. It’s an ok start, let’s hope the next movie they can move forward.