Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Star Wars Review

Finally saw Star Wars. This will be me talking about it, because I'm sure everyone wants to hear my opinions!

Well, they might be a bit unusual.

First, though: spoilers ahead!

All the spoilers.


Force Awakens is by far the best film JJ Abram's ever put out. The movie is... not bad. The DP is great, the effects are mostly great, the actors are mostly pretty good, the sets are great, the music was fitting, and the directing has been carefully cut into pieces and arranged to be as unbad as could reasonably be managed. The writing is awful, but in an inoffensive way.

It is radically better than I expected, which is nice. It is... not bad.

Now, let's talk about some thematic stuff, because this is where the movie interests me most. Obviously, any thematic stuff is in here on accident or because JJ Abrams saw the cover for a book or something, but there's still some meat here.

First, the villain. I like him.

Now, let's be clear. The guy is a doofus. He's a pale shadow of Darth Vader. But that's the point! That's great! There's no way for a new dragon to step into Vader's shoes, and this is an open, in-world admission of that. I like the fact that the mask makes him look vaguely intimidating, but he's a snot-faced kid inside. I think that's fantastic. It fits in-universe as a scared boy stepping into radically outsized shoes, and it fits in the metafilm as an admission that nobody's gonna match Vader, and it fits in the mythology of the Force: villainy isn't born from strength.

I like the overall arc of him killing his father, and his father basically letting him do it. I think the progression was bad, the dialog was incredibly overweight, and the moment-to-moment writing/directing was pretty abominable, but the overall arc is fantastic. The idea that a scared kid needs to kill his father to prove himself, and his father just lets him? That's powerful. That's good.

Unfortunately, it's extremely hard to build a villain up from "scared little kid". It takes a lot of screen time to grow up, and they aren't going to give this kid that amount of screen time. So he's never likely to feel like a real threat. It's easier to work backwards: show a badass, reveal he was a scared little kid. Because of that, I don't think this villain will ever really work. This is especially true since they gave the heroes a massive power boost and brought them up to his level already, meaning that he has to grow substantially faster than the heroes, but with a fraction of the screentime.


The overall concept of the movie was good. JJ Abrams is no good, and everyone knows it. Forcing him to recreate the original Star Wars movie is a great way to keep him pinned and reasonable, and then you can rely on editors to save the film. A tried and true Star Wars approach.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make much sense. It undoes the original trilogy, and nobody in-world has any explanations or concerns about how it happened.

I understand that Disney needed to use their existing actors before they die of age, and that Disney needed to make a "return to Star Wars classic" movie. But I just can't accept this nonsense setting. You have to reaaaaally stretch to explain it, and even if you do, it ends with "and that means the original trilogy basically accomplished nothing."

The big bad is awful, just the least interesting villain I've ever seen. Clearly they just wanted the Emperor again, but it's really dull. It's made worse because it makes no sense. Where did this ultimate big bad come from? Everyone talks about him as if he's always been around, but that again degrades the original trilogy.

It's a very "Dragonball Z" plotline.

Now, I think it would be really interesting if the villain turns out to be making Kylo suck on purpose. The idea of training a Sith lord wrong in order to bring his fear and anger to a peak, then fixing the mistakes... is an interesting one. I don't think that's what's in store, but it could have been an interesting idea. Still, the villain is nonsense.

"But where are they supposed to find a villain if-"

Uh? Exar Kun? The backstory could have been "Kylo Ren was in training, stumbled across a Sith holocron, and OH SHIIIIIIIII"

I think that could have been equally compelling. And there's a lot of cool reveals built into that. For example: Kylo Ren keeps asking for guidance from a hologram. Then it's revealed it's just the holocron, and he's just searching it. There is no super villain Emperor equivalent: everyone just thinks there is, because Kylo keeps bringing them in to see this really intimidating holocron. And it's really good at administration: they ask it what to do, and the computer spits out an optimal answer. Everyone thinks it's a real person - maybe even Kylo.

This would be an amazing way to instantly level him up, a real Bates Motel moment. We go from thinking "how is this Sith Lord so bad at everything" to "HOLY SHIT HE'S HELD THE WHOLE EMPIRE TOGETHER WITH THE POWER OF HIS DELUSION!"

Look, if we're gonna talk about movies that Could Have Been, let's talk about the nonsense map. Of the many things in this movie that didn't hold up, this was a biggie. So, here's a simple alternative:

Luke's teachings failed, and Kylo was seduced by the dark side of the Force. Everyone was killed. So Luke goes in search of the original temple to try and find clues as to how to teach better. Fine, great. The original temple is in the galactic core. Nobody can get in safely without a map. Luke left R2-D2 behind as an anchor, to help keep him oriented and to "catch" his messages. R2 has spit out a number of map fragments over the past decade or so, but rather than saying "we can't pick out these stars", they say "we know which stars they are, but we can only get this far. We need the map for the black holes deeper in to get any further."

And BB8 holds the first piece. The one that just gets you started. The rest is already complete.

This offers a lot of cool ideas. Diving through stellar debris. The Empire - oops, 'Order' - trying to brute-force find a path by sacrificing ships. Our Jedi-to-be having to feel her way through an area that's drifted since Luke went through, using the same techniques he used. This is a good, concrete-but-not-blatant "following in his footsteps" analog.

Look, the movie could have been a lot of things. Thousands of people have given their suggestions on what the movie should have been or how it could have been made better. Adding mine to the stack is no big thing, but I did want to say one more thing:

This is the first sci fi movie in a while that made me want to write my own stuff. Not fanfic, but things with some of the same themes, or pieces inspired by the holes in this movie.

That makes this at least a successful sci fi film. I know the director is worthless and any new ideas were included on accident, but at least I was inspired.


Isaac said...

This is the first sci fi movie in a while that made me want to write my own stuff. Not fanfic, but things with some of the same themes, or pieces inspired by the holes in this movie.

There's a good argument is that this kind of creative inspiration is what really cemented the original popularity of Star Wars, so that works for me.

Craig Perko said...

Yeah, I recommend seeing it, if just to remind yourself that the prequels didn't kill Star Wars completely.