matril: (matril)
[personal profile] matril
Well, I'm sure you've all been dying to know my reaction to The Force Awakens. It's going to be very long and full of spoilers and rambling emotional rants. If you don't want to read through the whole thing, however, I can easily sum it up with one word.


First off, to be fair, I was not the target audience of this movie. I knew that from the beginning, as soon as they announced the new films. I was not disappointed or disillusioned by the prequels; I liked the story they were trying to tell and their shortcomings weren't, for me, enough to detract from that. So I never felt like we were "owed" a Star Wars movie to "make up" for the prequels, never demanded something that supposedly hewed more closely to the flavor of the original trilogy, made without any involvement from, you know, the man who created a galaxy far, far away.

More importantly, I love how Return of the Jedi ends. It is a beautiful, poetic, satisfying conclusion to the saga. I knew straight off that I would never be satisfied with a sequel trilogy that involved the original trio, not because nothing could ever live up to my exacting standards, but because I don't want such a movie to exist at all. Don't get me wrong - of course I understand the excitement of seeing Luke and Leia and Han again! I remember the first time I picked up an Expanded Universe book and felt the thrill of delight. Hey, it's Han Solo, flying the Falcon with Chewie! Awesome! I've missed these guys.

But after the initial glow had worn off, I realized how frustrating it was that, by the necessity of generating conflict for new plots, the books were keeping my beloved characters in a kind of purgatory of living through the same crappy misery over and over. (Kind of like how movie Spiderman keeps having to reboot and relive his origin story, watching Uncle Ben die over and over and over again because we just don't care about him moving on from that initial moment.) Leia and Han still bickered all the time; Han still chafed at the idea of being respectable and responsible and kept running back to the mercenary life. Luke couldn't seem to make any headway training new Jedi, and it seemed like Leia wasn't even trying to develop her Force abilities. Remnants of the Empire kept springing up everywhere, refusing to just wither away and die already. And everybody and their cousin was turning to the Dark Side.

I hated it. For me, the redemption of Anakin Skywalker and the triumph of the Rebellion marked the spiritual rebirth of the galaxy. Of course it wouldn't be easy rebuilding a benevolent government and establishing a new Jedi Order, but it would happen, unequivocally, because that's what the rejoicing and hope at the finish of ROTJ promised. Anything less makes their victory meaningless and hollow.

So how can you make a sweeping, epic tale out of that? You can't. And that's why I don't think these sequel movies should even exist, at least not in this timeline. I'd be perfectly happy if they set new films, three or even six more movies, one thousand years in the future. All new characters, with maybe a few Skywalker descendants in the mix, but no need to bring back the trio just to stomp all over their happiness and peace. If we're really desperate for more stuff with Luke and the gang, well, single standalone films might work for that. Smaller scale, nothing devastatingly dramatic, just the tales of recruiting new potential Jedi or making peace on the Outer Rim planets or something.

I'm not sure how much of my feelings about this are based in a rational understanding of myth and storytelling - a permanent resolution is clearly mandated by the narrative and tone of Return of the Jedi - and how much comes from a visceral "STOP HURTING MY CHARACTERS." Perhaps it's more of the latter. But it doesn't matter in the end. I disagree with even the notion of throwing the galaxy into chaos a mere twenty or thirty years after overthrowing the Emperor. So, the very idea of Episode VII-IX will make me angry.

Now let's talk about the movie itself. I wasn't super-inclined to go see it in the theater, but I knew if I waited even a few weeks, let alone months, I'd learn the entire plotline from the Internet without even trying. Plus, my husband really wanted to give it a chance, so we all went to see it yesterday.

It might surprise you to learn that it wasn't entirely garbage in my eyes. It was certainly well made. Obviously, directing is a strong suit for Abrams much more than it ever was for Lucas. Most of the actors gave fine performances, and I liked the new main characters for the most part. If they scrubbed off the serial numbers and made this a film series unconnected to Star Wars, I guess it could work okay.

I see why so many fans unreservedly love it. It's a crowd pleaser. It's also....derivative, safe, treading very little new ground, rehashing all the familiar elements of the originals without attempting anything truly new.

Design-wise, everything looks familiar. Too familiar. Another desert planet, another snowy one, another forest one, another cantina scene, another fight between TIE fighters and X-Wings, and yet another planet-destroyer that's trying way too hard to be cooler than the Death Star. Innovation is one of the key features of Star Wars design, always new settings, new ships, new alien races. Everything here looked the same as before, with a few minor insignificant differences. Yawn.

Everything that invites comparison to Episode IV ends up being a weakness, because it only reveals just how weak an imitation it is. We have secret information hidden in a droid, but unlike the Death Star plans, it's never clear why the map to Luke's location is so important to either side, nor why he made the map in the first place, nor why R2 chooses that particular moment to wake up and provide the rest of the map. It's all plot contrivances, only placed where they are because they have to be, not from any apparent inner consistency.

The OT had the Rebellion, this one has the Resistance. There was the Empire, now there's the First Order. Really? That's the best you can do, writers? Everything is a feeble clone of what we've already seen, and far less impressive.

Speaking of clones, their insistence on keeping stormtroopers for, I don't know, visual symmetry or something, raises so many questions. If this First Order isn't the legitimate governing force of the galaxy, how in the world would they have the resources and capability to kidnap children en masse from their homes and raise them as brainwashed soldiers? Not that I'm suggesting they should have clones instead, as funding cloning facilities is just as unlikely. What I'm saying is, I just don't buy the First Order as having any ability to present this kind of tremendous threat to the galaxy. It's all very fuzzy about what role the new Republic plays - they're funding the Resistance, but not directly leading it? Huh? It's clear that the writers wanted to basically reset events to go back to the Empire-Rebellion setup of the originals, but had to fudge a whole bunch of nonsense so they weren't overtly contradicting the events of Return of the Jedi. What a mess.

Lots of contrivances. Who was the weird little goggle lady who had Luke's lightsaber? Nonsense. What, did she dive into the gas core of Bespin to retrieve it after Luke's hand was chopped off? And why would it trigger a wild and crazy vision for Rey? There's no precedence for Force visions being triggered merely by objects. Lots of what they showed the Force doing here was pretty weird. If someone like Kylo Ren could use it to read minds, why in the world couldn't Vader do that to interrogate Leia?

Ah, let's talk about Kylo Ren. They were so cagey about his identity in the promotional stuff for the film, I just knew he was supposed to be somebody's relative. Once again they're trying to recreate the "I am your father" shock, but that will never happen. The only reason that reveal worked is because it was unprecedented. No one was expecting the reveal of a huge secret, because we already knew, quite comfortably, that Luke's father was killed by Vader. We didn't know there was any secret to be had. But if you cast all this mystique around someone, then we'll fully expect that a reveal is coming. And it was a tremendous meh for me.

In the Expanded Universe, Han and Leia's kids were so prone to fall to the Dark Side that it practically became a joke. Oh, what a shocker, here's another of their children turning evil again. Yawn. And then they'd come back again so easily, it was like the Force was a revolving door. Go evil, come back, easy as pie. Well, that really makes Anakin look pretty weak, doesn't it? Turns out it's not so hard to return to the good side after all, so what was his problem?

There's a thin possibility that this Vader wannabe won't turn back, but that scenario is bleak enough that I seriously doubt it. So he'll likely turn, but of course only at the last minute of the last episode. I feel zero tension regarding his fate. I think it was a pretty lousy way to finish off Han, too (though again not a surprise since Harrison Ford has wanted Han dead since 1982 at least, and it was probably the only reason he agreed to reprise the role). We knew, since it was the first of three movies, there was no way Kylo would be rejecting the dark side this early. So, not much tension there. Han was clearly doomed.

The thing is, Han already died in the Empire Strikes Back. For all symbolic purposes, he sacrificed his life in the carbon-freezing chamber, and then he was reborn in Return of the Jedi. He is a transformed man after that. Softer, kinder, unselfish, opening himself to vulnerability. Leia changes too, over the course of Episode V and VI, to where she values her relationship to Han more than her pride or her need to protect herself. The Han and Leia of Return of the Jedi would never, ever, give up on their relationship for any reason, not even a child falling to the dark side. To be clear, I reject the very notion of their child turning in the first place because it betrays the sacrifice of Anakin and the wisdom of Luke and so on, but if I were forced to imagine a scenario where it happened, I would see Leia and Han drawing closer, gaining strength from each other. It's just too heartbreaking to think that they've been mostly separated all these years and don't even get to say a proper farewell when he dies. What a crummy way to end a relationship that I loved so much in the original trilogy.

And Luke, exiled like Obi-Wan?? The same Luke who refused to give up on his father, who he hardly knew, is supposed to have fled from his nephew? Blah. I'm sure they think they'll explain his motivations more in the second two films, but I just can't see any explanation that's consistent with his character. And again, how depressing that he couldn't rise above the mistakes of the last generation and ends up in the same position as old Ben on Tatooine.

Speaking of Ben...

Let's talk about how to reveal secrets in a narrative. First of all, there are two major divisions in categorizing secrets: secrets that we know are coming, and secrets that we don't know. Luke's parentage was a secret we didn't know was coming, and that's what made it so powerful. Not much of that in this movie. We know there's so much we don't know, and we certainly expect explanations or revelations at some point.

But not all revelations are created equal. There are secrets the audience is aware of but the characters aren't. Lots of secrets like that show up in the prequels, providing much dramatic irony. We know Anakin will fall; we know Padmé will be the mother of his children, Luke and Leia, we know Obi-Wan will end up exiled as a desert hermit. But no one within the story knows this. Delicious irony.

Then there are secrets that both the audience and the characters don't know yet. Like "I am your father," but also like when we find out, with the Rebels, that the second Death Star was deliberately designed as a trap to draw them in and then destroy them. We share Luke's horror, Lando's dismay, Ackbar's "It's a trap!" hysterics in the same moment as them.

But what about secrets that the characters know and the audience doesn't? Sometimes this works well, like in heist capers when we see the characters plotting but don't find out their plan until we're watching them go through with it. But in most contexts I find it just feels cheap, gimmicky, withholding. Often the dialogue and/or plot has to undergo ridiculous contortions just to keep the audience guessing, and it makes no sense from the characters' perspective. Who was that guy with the part of the map to Luke in the beginning? Everyone in the Resistance seems to know who he is, but we're not allowed to know, presumably so we're left wondering about Kylo Ren's identity as well. And oh, how contrived it was when Han and Leia are talking about him and keep saying "our son" instead of, you know, BEN, like they would naturally refer to him, all so that we don't get the big huge shocking blah blah blah reveal of his given name when Han confronts him. Except that name makes no sense. Why would Leia want to name a son Ben? She only ever called him Obi-Wan. Luke might reasonably do that, but Leia? Much more likely she'd name him Bail. It was yet another cheap nod to the original trilogy that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny.

I liked Rey; I certainly appreciated a strong female character as well as how thoroughly the background extras were populated with women just as much as men. But I'm afraid her traits verged a little too close to Mary Sue territory at times. Her pseudo-mysterious background (From how they cast her she's obviously related to the Skywalkers; probably Luke's daughter or maybe Obi-Wan's if they think that's really super duper clever tricky), her implausibly rapid acquisition of Force makes Luke look pretty feeble for needing to train with Yoda for an entire half a movie, doesn't it?

And Finn! I'm not opposed to the idea of a stormtrooper resisting his programming and trying to become a good person and all...but wielding a lightsaber against a sort-of Sith Lord without getting his limbs and head instantaneously chopped off? Don't expect me to see your villain as a scary threat if he's nearly beaten by an ex-stormtrooper.

Speaking of non-scary threats, Darth Snookums or whoever he was? Laughable. Just not menacing at all. This is what tore Leia and Han's son away from them? I don't buy it. Just a weird-looking giant who seemed like he belonged more in the Marvel Universe than Star Wars. And such a plot contrivance, conveniently there to prevent the galaxy from having the lasting peace that ROTJ promised.

I have almost no opinion about Poe, as we spend half the movie assuming he's dead. If we were supposed to get attached to him I certainly didn't see it. BB-8 was fine, C3PO's cameo did what it was supposed to, nothing more or less, and Leia was fine in the scenes she was in, even if I hated what they did to her son and her relationship with Han. Another lazy reset button, having him return to his smuggler ways. I don't buy it. It seems like they wanted no growth, no movement forward, no lasting happiness and peace for the trio. And that's just not a Star Wars movie I want to see.

I'm trying not to begrudge anyone else their enjoyment of this film, as I certainly tire of people telling me I shouldn't like the prequels. But my disappointment here has very little to do with what I think of the prequels, and much more with what I think the message of the original trilogy was. I'm honestly baffled that people aren't bothered by the outright nihilism and despair of a galaxy that just can't seem to pull itself out of darkness, and a family who spits out a Dark Side-devotee every other generation. I don't want to live in that galaxy. As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing but an flashy, expensive fan film.

Date: 2015-12-27 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had the same sort of "well, I might as well see it before too long" feeling (even if it was strangely refreshing and perhaps even a little productivity-enhancing being very judicious about what online sites I was looking at beforehand), although I managed to hold off until Wednesday. That let me get back to the little home town theatre where I first saw Star Wars itself (I was young enough then to barely remember the experience) and The Phantom Menace (it was a considerable relief to like it a lot more than the first overreactions had it.)

Anyway, I can see the point of "it's a good time at the movies" (although I'm halfway tempted to suppose there's a big slice of the general audience that enjoyed "the prequels" as much in pretty much the same way), and in some undefinable way the actual experience of The Force Awakens didn't seem as implacably opposed to "saga appreciation" as I'd feared it would. By the end of Wednesday, though (and I only saw the movie in the afternoon), before I read the spoiler reaction thread on the Prequel Appreciation Society site, I had a deflated sort of feeling thinking back to its not-as-deft version of the original Star Wars (no matter how many snappy one-liners Finn and Han were tossing at each other in a "we can write clever dialogue" sort of way) that could have had something to do with that "just looking at the original trilogy" viewpoint you mentioned. In a way, I can kind of feel sorry for those fans devoted to the previous novels. When they got around to "this is so much better than the new movies" I put the novels behind myself, but the story they valued has been brushed off... for something not that much different.

I have heard George Lucas started getting ideas for a "sequel trilogy" while working on the Clone Wars animated series, and that when he hit some snags getting started on it himself he shrugged and sold Lucasfilm, whereupon those ideas were abandoned for something "safer." I can wonder if they'd have been a more interesting, and perhaps even more positive-to-start-with "synthesis" of the previous "thesis" and "antithesis," but in a way those hypothetical ideas can be anything we want them to be...

Date: 2015-12-27 10:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've come to realize that the reasons I love Star Wars are very different from the reasons the average person loves Star Wars. It allowed me to love the prequels, but it leaves me finding this new film barely even watchable. It feels very lonely, particularly when so many reviewers just can't resist including snide jabs at the prequels.

Date: 2016-01-05 08:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Personally I'm hoping that the big twist with Rey is that ... she isn't the daughter of anyone we ever heard of, she's just a force-sensitive random person. Why would you ever think otherwise? (/innocent look) Or if she has to be related to somebody, she can be Captain Phasma's daughter so we can get a juicy dilemma where she's torn between the biological parent she's been wanting all these years but who no longer really exists as before and the spiritual parent who's here right now (Luke, I'm assuming -- he HAS to train her after that setup). I did find her crazy Force abilities a little irritating but am hoping that it will turn out that she has a tendency to try and do too much too fast; as a certain character once said "Your overconfidence is your weakness" and maybe that will be true of her. And the visions and mind-reading are certainly taking the use of the Force in a different direction, so I don't think the new movie was quite as unoriginal as all that.

Han and Leia were interesting -- obviously they weren't able to show them earlier on because the actors are thirty years older, but it never occurred to me that they hadn't been together for a long time. I assumed they were together until their son went over, and probably for a while after that, and that they ultimately separated because of the sheer difficulty of the situation, much how parents who have had children die have a higher rate of separation -- they can't see the other person without seeing their child as well, and it's too painful to live like that every day. Also, Leia wants to find Luke because he's her brother and the First Order presumably wants to kill him. The First Order was weird, and I would have appreciated a couple of sentences clarifying just what relationship it had to the Republic. Given the over-the-top Nazi imagery (it wasn't even subtext, really, just text, and I really hope they lose that feature in the next movie because it was so annoying) I was thinking of the Republic and the First Order as essentially rival countries, only with each "country" encompassing a fair number of star systems -- rather like how when the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke apart the resulting countries weren't necessarily friendly with each other. (In fact, the kidnapping of child Stormtroopers sounded an awful lot like the Nazis' kidnappings of blonde Polish children. I have to say, Finn recovered from that brainwashing reaaaaally fast :)).

As for what woke R2 up or where the lightsaber came from, not a clue. This movie was fun and if it didn't have Star Wars attached to it I think I'd probably put it in the same mental box as Guardians of Galaxy or something similar, but considering the backstory it has, it's written a lot of checks that the next two movies will have to be really good to cash. Kylo Ren could turn out to be awesome or he could be a joke, the Big Reveals could be epic or they could be really disappointing. Abrams won't be directing those, though, so there's hope for some originality yet.

Date: 2016-01-05 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Whatever kind of in-world explanations they create for all these circumstances, I just can't imagine being happy with them, because the out-of-world explanation is so painfully transparent:

"I've always wanted to tell a Star Wars story about a stormtrooper who fights against his programming! And a Force-sensitive, last-hope-for-the-Jedi orphan in the desert who knows even less about her parentage than Luke! Who's also a girl!! And more of Han doing smuggling stuff! But wait, this story is set after the Empire falls....welp, guess we need a faux-Empire and a faux-Rebellion. Better hit the reset button." :P

The idea that Han said something like "I went back to doing the only thing I'm good at" is such a load of hooey. Multiple times in the original movies people point out what a great leader he is, how naturally he settles into working with the Rebellion. Why are people so eager to see him regress that they would sabotage his relationship with his wife (at least I assume they were married at some point) and take him away from the noble cause he fully embraced in Return of the Jedi??

Also, I'm aware that Leia's role was limited by the out-of-universe circumstances of Carrie Fisher's health, but for heaven's sake, why couldn't she be a wise Jedi Master? That wouldn't preclude her from running the resistance; it would in fact be a huge asset. And why, why, why, did she send Rey No-Acknowledged-Connection-to-Luke to follow the map while she, THE SISTER OF LUKE, didn't go?? And why was it all about Han and his relationship with their son and no mention of Leia seeking to talk to him and try to redeem him? People are raving about Rey being a great feminist character and I guess that's fine, but why did Leia's role have to be so diminished? Couldn't they at least have made reference to her amazing feats? Nope, as far as the Jedi are concerned, she was just a womb to produce Force-sensitive progeny. And then her progeny failed anyway.

Rey....sigh. Don't mind a powerful female Jedi by any means, but two minutes after she's learned she's Force sensitive, she's already performing a flawless Jedi mind trick? I guess all those other Jedi who needed weeks or months or years of training were just big dumb losers. As far as I can see, Luke won't have a thing to teach her. Also, the final sequence was the longest, most ridiculously drawn-out thing I've ever seen. The only reason R2 woke up then was because the other plot strands had been resolved, so let's go ahead and address the Macguffin that really had very little to do with the rest of the film. Like we were supposed to be filled with tension about what Rey would find on that planet. They could have cut it out entirely and simply shown her flying off to find Luke. We all know what would happen next. You can start with that in the next movie. But they just had to include an over-dramatic reveal of old bearded Luke. Stop it, movie. You're trying too hard.

Erm, yeah, obviously these two weeks of thinking on it haven't done much to soften my views.....


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