Friday, January 8, 2016

STAR WARS The Force Awakens: Review (Spoilers)

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

The Lead In
This is a fantastic first step back into the Star Wars universe.

The Force Awakens lives and breathes in the tradition of the original trilogy. It honors the classics -story-wise, stylistically, even with its cinematography- while still infusing it with the influence of modern storytelling. Elements of both the old and new are merged in a kind of 'torch passing' ritual.

It is, above all else, a true extension of the Star Wars universe and a very fitting next chapter. (Bless you, JJ Abrams. If anyone dares call you JarJar, I will tase them.)

More on the Nostalgia vs. Ripoff argument down below

Star Wars for a New Generation
Masterfully merges elements of both the old and new in a kind of 'passing the torch'
Successfully updates the universe in a fantastic tone for a new generation (Quips, humor, Poe's snark, showing the Millenium Falcon as outdated WHILE SHOWING IT'S STILL THE BEST)

I love the new cast of characters. They are funny and snarky and their interaction is so much fun to watch. Not only that, these new characters are essentially an embodiment of our generation. Just look at them. The way they talk, the way they react, the way Finn fantastically FANBOYS and how he gets all up in Phama's face -that's us. That's our generation. You wouldn't see Han or Luke or Leia do that. But you could see yourself doing that, couldn't you?

The moment I realized "Yeah, this movie is for us" was in the beginning of the film, when Poe is forced to face Kylo Ren and there's that moment of silence of those two just staring each other down. I remember thinking it would be the perfect time for some snarky quip. And boy did Poe deliver.

I am very much looking forward to watching these characters grow and develop, especially in their own right. I loved that the original characters had such prominent roles in this film, but I will also be interested to see how our new characters fair on their own.

Stormtrooper as a character, as a PERSON ("I made a choice.") I LOVE THIS.

The lack of excessive CGI was a heaven-send. I loved the feel and the look of the universe again. It was so natural, so original, so beautifully freaking authentic and STAR WARS IS ALIVE AND WELL, BABY!

The Extended Universe (novels) vs. the New Canon
So I've only read a handful of novels in the EU to date, but even I was a bit miffed that they dismissed it all out of the canon in preparation for VII. After all, it was filled with over 30 years of expansion, development, mythos, and worldbuilding (universe-building?). WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!

I think I understand. There is so much story, so much expectation tied up in all the EU, I think they wanted to give themselves room to breathe. They wanted the freedom to create a new story, without the restrictions of an already firmly established universe.

Now, one could say this was a bad thing. On the other hand, would we really be satisfied with a simple book-to-movie adaptation of a story line that already exists as the next trilogy in the saga? Readers -and fans in general- aren't really known for their acceptance regarding movie adaptations. And somewhere, deep down in our little fangirl/boy hearts, wouldn't it feel just a little...anticlimactic? I mean, who wants to sit through a brand new Star Wars movie for the first time -and already know the story?

Again, I haven't read much of the EU -yet- but I know enough about it to see that they did pull inspiration from it, like having a Solo child turn to the Dark Side and evidently the Starkiller Base is a likely reincarnation of a weapon from a novel as well.

The way I see it, they didn't necessarily want to dismiss the EU entirely out of the canon. There are obviously pieces and aspects of it they wanted to keep, but they wanted to tell their own story at the same time, so they seem to be creating a patchwork of new story and new characters while honoring the spirit of the EU at the same time.

I'm not only okay with this, I'm abso-bally-lutely excited about it! One of my favorite things about book-to-movie adaptations as both a reader and a writer is seeing how and how successfully they decide to change elements of the story from novel to screenplay, and this is basically that on steroids. Watching these new movies and continuing my exploration in the EU will be like a massive fangirl scavenger hunt.

On Han and Leia
Obviously, I have very strong feelings about whether or not Han and Leia would be a couple in VII. I've already received a few consolatory messages on this front because, let's face it, they weren't exactly together.

But I am okay with this.

Why? Because Han and Leia DID happen. My big fear was that Han and Leia would not have happened. Period. And that would be unacceptable, because it's so deeply ingrained not only in my head but in our culture. Han and Leia are one of the prime OTPs, everyone's favorite fictional couple (or at least in the Top 10).

And they DID happen. They were together, they were happy (even if they drove each other a little crazy), they had at least one child, they continued their fight to free the galaxy from the Empire's continued oppression side by side, they were parents together, and they probably would have lived happily ever after (with daring adventures and epic space battles, granted) if their son hadn't turned to the Dark Side.

Even though Han and Leia weren't technically 'together', they were still in love. They were still each other's one and only. There was even still hope, I think, that they would have found a way to be together again. And this all boils down to one very important thing:


Denial of Han's death
My worst fear was realized. The entire week leading up to this I had been trying not to think about the possibility that Han would die. Deep down, I knew it was going to happen. Deep down, I knew, but I was not prepared. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I still wasn't convinced until the credits rolled that he wasn't going to pop back in somewhere. The dread settled when the base exploded, but the lightsaber, the fall? "He can survive that. They can make it work. They can still bring him back." There's still a spark of hope in me, born I'm certain of pure, stubborn, blessed denial. So I'm still coming to terms with it. I'm trying to look at it from a writer's viewpoint, rather than that of a fan, because I'm still too close.

The Force Awakens broke my heart.

And I still loved it.

Cons of Han's death
The more I think about it, the more I'm of the opinion that they made this happen too soon. Don't get me wrong; I'm broken-hearted over this. I'm still not okay with. I'm still trying to come to terms with it. But I do believe it's a good move for the story.

The biggest reason I think this happened too fast is because of Rae. While she's kidnapped by Kylo Ren, he senses that she thinks of Han like the father she never knew. I love this irony. I also think that's a seriously strong feeling for Rae to have from just the short time she's known Han. The closest thing they had to a bonding moment was when they were flying the Falcon together and that felt more like Rae attempting to bond while Han thought of her as an upstart kid (and probably more than a little jealous that she could fly his ship better than him. Which, it must be admitted, was kind of fantastic.) So I feel like there wasn't really a decent opportunity for Rae to actually develop that kind of sentimentality toward Han.

Certainly not enough for her to be more affected by his death than Chewie. Because, seriously, when they got back to the Resistance base, Chewie walked right past Leia, and it was she and Rae who had the heart-breaking bonding moment over his death. Sorry, but Chewie should have gone straight to Leia. I don't feel like Rae had sufficient amount of time with any of the characters to make that confirmation of Han's death okay.

I originally saw this with a friend of mine (you all remember the Library Ninja?) and she pointed something crucial out. There was no down time in The Force Awakens. More specifically, there was no travel time. They jumped incredibly fast from planet to planet, system to system, and spent virtually no time in the living quarters or cooling their heels chatting or actually traveling. In the originals, a good amount of character interaction was developed in these moments of hyperspace travel. Think of Chewie and R2 playing virtual space chess. Of Obi-Wan tutoring Luke in the use of a lightsaber and Han bashing hokey religions. Of Han and Leia flirting while trying to repair the Falcon on an asteroid in the middle of nowhere.

There was none of this in VII.

The Force Awakens was a fast-paced, action-packed film that almost didn't give you time to catch your breath. I understand this is what people have come to expect from blockbuster films. This is part of the brilliant job the crew did on updating the series for today's general audiences.

I wonder if they did almost too brilliant of a job. I wonder if they played VII too much to general audiences -if they focused so much on making a film everyone could love- I wonder if they didn't play to the Star Wars audiences enough.
The one true thing this film lacked -in my opinion- was the very much needed character interaction between Rae and Han. We were told they had a special attachment, but we weren't shown it.

I'm a writer. One of the first rules you learn, on the biggest rules there is, that is pounded into your skull by every writing teacher, writing book, critique buddy, and reviewer is SHOW, don't TELL.

"The little things? The little moments? They aren't little."
                                                                -Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn

This was the egregious error The Force Awakens made and I think it was a direct result of the movie being so fast-paced -to play to general audiences, mind- that we didn't get just a few slower moments to step away from the escalating blockbuster action for some genuine and much-needed character interaction.

I think that general audiences aren't going to necessarily notice or care about this flaw. I think that general audiences aren't going to pick apart and analyze every millisecond of this film to see how it stands on its own and compares to the originals. I think that general audiences don't have the propensity to latch onto a film with such zeal and passion and fervor that it lasts for 40 years.
I think that the Star Wars audience is smarter than your average cookie. I think the Star Wars audience is responsible for its enduring success. I know that the Star Wars audience is going to notice and is going to care about it.

While I think The Force Awakens is a great movie and a fantastic new step for the Star Wars franchise, I think it pandered just a little too much to general audiences and I think this one error -because it is involved with such a crucial piece of the story- is going to hurt it with the Star Wars audience.

Now for the glimmer of hope: My understanding is that there are maybe a dozen deleted scenes for the film. I'm crossing my fingers that some of this will contain that essential interaction between Han and Rae and that all will be right with the world. 

Villain Hating
I've never hated a villain before. Usually, people have at least that one character that they just love to hate, that one villain they just want to strangle. I never have. For me, villains are just a natural part of the story. They're despicable and evil but they belong. Without them, there wouldn't be a story, and so I am very lenient toward and accepting of most villains.

I hate Kylo Ren.

I hate him so much. I want him to die a painful, miserable, guilt-stricken death, fully realizing the horrific atrocity he has committed. I have never before hated any character with the passion and intensity with which I hate him.
At the same time, I don't want Han Solo's son to be irredeemable. I don't want to hate Han Solo's son.
Which just makes me hate Kylo Ren even more.
Which makes me feel guilty, because of how much I love Han Solo, and because I see how much Han Solo loves his son. I see the torture and the struggle in Ben. I see the little boy that Han must have seen -trapped, tortured, lost. I want to pity him. I want to believe -like Leia- that there is still light in him.
And at the same time, I know I will never, ever forgive him.

Curse you, Kylo Ren. CURSE YOU!

Nostalgia vs. Ripoff
Everyone's seen the argument that's taken the Internet by storm. I'm in the nostalgia camp. I don't feel like this was a ripoff so much as a way of reconnecting us with the classic Star Wars we know and love, while at the same time setting us up with a new set of characters and journeys. I think it was a smart move, both for the storytelling and in business sense. It essentially assured success and at the same time did a beautiful job of passing off the torch from one generation to the next.

I also think they better give us something better in Episode VIII. Otherwise, there will be no redeeming it. The nostalgia trip only works in this film because it's been 32 years; it's a re-introduction, the ice-breaker after a very long break in a relationship. Now that they've done that, a retread of Empire would just be lazy, and I don't think they're stupid enough to do that.

You hear that, minds behind newest Star Wars?! I have faith in you. Do not take advantage of it.

What I Want To See In VIII
First and most important of all, I want to see originality. I want a story that doesn't borrow so heavily from those we've seen before it. I want VIII to take us in a new direction. I do not want a repeat of V.

I want to see more time taken to really get to know the characters. For conversations. Give them a little travel time, because they are bouncing around an entire galaxy. Give me genuine connections with the characters, outside of the action and drama. Give me those important little moments.

Rey, Poe, and Finn are all fun and fantastic characters. I want to see good character development for them. I want enough time to be taken out of the action for them, for us to see what they're like and how they deal with things without the burst of adrenaline. I want to understand them better.

I don't want plot holes. I want a good explanation for how Rey can already have control over the Force, which has already been established to take intensive training. I also don't want her to be a Skywalker. Please, please, please don't make Luke her father. Don't even make Luke her uncle. That's on the brink of unimaginative for this franchise.

Something new. Exciting. Daring. We've already talked about the nostalgia vs. ripoff, and I really hope that with VIII they push some boundaries and create their own elements to bring into the universe.

Final Verdict

This movie exceeded my expectations. I believed that Disney would pull off something amazing rather than ruin the franchise, but even I was beginning to have doubts -to dread- as to whether or not they could produce an amazing expansion of the Star Wars universe, rather than just an amazing film.

It wasn't perfect. It had flaws. There are some issues I have with character interaction (or lack thereof), storytelling gaps, and I'm sure everyone has a pet peeve or two about it. But the most important thing is this:

I came away from The Force Awakens with something I never thought possible- 
A deeper love and a greater appreciation of the Star Wars universe and its characters. I am on such a Star Wars high, it's not even funny.

And that should be all you need to know right there.

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer


  1. I liked it. And I like that this episode gave us lots to talk about. Happy New Year to you. :)

    1. I was just thinking that may very well be the best part. Happy New Year to you as well!