I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. I had previously suggested I would wait until it was in the cheap theatres but my totally reasonable proposal that Smokey and the Bandit needed a reboot and was a better movie than the original Star Wars appears to have garnered minimal traction so I figured, what the hell, I might as well jump on board the bandwagon that never rests. Besides, I was given a cinema gift certificate for Christmas and a Star Wars flick is as good an option as any to spend extra gifted dollars to watch the IMAX 3D option. My wife had Friday off so we whisked ourselves away to the theatre for a mid-morning date night. Such is the exciting life of we married with children types.
I Prefer Star Trek to Star Wars
It’s no secret that I am not an uber Star Wars geek. I never saw the original movies in theaters or at all as a young child despite being perfectly aged to have done so. I didn’t feel terribly put out by that then and I still don’t now. I’ve always been far more partial to Star Trek when it comes to my Science Fiction franchises and my passion for Smokey and the Bandit is well established, if not well read.
I have since seen all the six Star Wars movies and have listened to them behind my head in our SUV while journeying to various camping destinations over the past couple of years. You gain a special appreciation for a movie if you only hear it in audio thirty-two times. Such appreciation is not always good. And while I never saw the original trilogy in theatres, I did pay to see all three prequels in theatres. I’ll never be mistaken for a lucky man. So while I am no Star Wars enthusiast I am by no means a hater. Hopefully this gives my opinion a semblance of impartiality.
SPOILER ALERT (If you don’t want to know stuff about the movie, stop reading now.)
Okay, enough with the ass-covering. Let’s get to it. Was Star Wars: The Force Awakens a good movie? The quick answer is, “Meh. It was okay.” The longer answer is that The Force Awakens is a testament to just how bad the prequels really were. Those awful prequels set in motion a series of events that ultimately framed how Episode 7 would come to fruition and subsequently be reviewed. They simultaneously led to the eventual sale of LucasFilm to Disney and the lowering of audience expectations so much that J. J. Abrams was able to remake A New Hope almost verbatim and earn kudos for doing so. The simple fact that he didn’t make anything as disappointing as The Phantom Menace is apparently all anyone hoped for. He succeeded and will be loved forevermore for not inflicting further embarrassment upon the beloved Star Wars.
As someone who has never understood the fanaticism surrounding the Star Wars franchise, I remain perplexed by the forgiveness in its audience. How is it that Star Wars movies are guaranteed billion dollar generators when they clearly are poorly written, poorly acted, somewhat silly, children’s movies? Just in the sci fi – fantasy genre alone I’d argue several recent comic book based movies are far superior to any Star Wars movie, yet even the most popular of these fail to exceed the billion dollar mark. Hell, if Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had been a Star Wars movie penned by Mark Hamill the damn thing would have broken box office records. The cult of Star Wars has given the franchise an unending supply of black checks to cash. People flock to it like no other and I doubt many can logically explain why. I sure can’t.
Okay, So They Remade Star Wars: A New Hope
With that in mind, I was still really surprised at how openly derivative of A New Hope this new movie was. This surely endeared it to many fans longing for a return to the “real” Star Wars but this seemed overdone. This wasn’t just a movie with a few nostalgic scenes and insider jokes tossed in for the old timers, there were literally entire chunks of plot that were basically a direct re-filming of the original Star Wars. There are also bits that clearly mimic Empire Strikes Back and even some prequels material. That may appeal to some, especially the diehards, but it left me apathetic to the entire movie. I was hoping Abrams would breathe new life into Star Wars, not take a stroll down memory lane.
Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is J. J. Abrams, after all, the same genius who thought it wise to remake, and ultimately bastardize, The Wrath of Khan. It seems Hollywood’s Sci Fi wonderboy has no original ideas and simply relies on blatantly ripping-off the existing canon of whatever franchise he’s been given control of. This saddens me. There’s no doubt that fans of successful franchises are hard to please and thus creators are in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Abrams has been given control of two icons of Sci Fi moviedom, charged with revitalizing both. This is no trivial burden. Many an established pro could easily wilt under such pressure. I don’t envy him. Still, for all the hype surrounding the man, the results are kind of, well, weak.
I enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens fine enough. I don’t regret seeing it. It didn’t leave me incredulous like I was after seeing The Phantom Menace or Revenge of the Sith. But I definitely wasn’t thrilled by it. In fact, the first third or so of the movie was kind of boring, to be honest. It wasn’t embarrassing or stupid but it was a little dull. And even when the drama and tension managed to build it was only marginally. For an action movie, I was rarely excited, likely because I’d seen it all before.
The one part of the entire movie that did manage to surprise me, and as a result excite me, was the killing of Han Solo. Thankfully I’d not heard about this moment beforehand and had no inkling of it happening leading up to the big moment. I mean, killing Han is a big deal. But even that turned out to be woefully underwhelming. It was emotional and a great twist but it came with limited tension built up between Han and his son. If you’re going to kill arguably the most popular character of a multi-billion dollar media franchise and by his son no less, surely such an event deserves more suspense and drama than a couple lines throwaway backstory between Han and Leia before a short confrontation on a mystery platform in the midst of a bigger scene.
This is the Star Wars equivalent of killing Spock. It deserved more story development and gravitas and certainly a more heroic end. Spock saved the Enterprise. Han, well, Han just died. This would have been far more amazing and satisfying had their ultimate confrontation gestated for a full movie and a half like with Vader and Luke. And an “I am your father” reveal would have made for a fantastic climax. Instead the first time Han and his son interact in the first movie in which we learn of said son’s existence, he kills his father. Such a letdown and such a wasted opportunity.
At Least They Killed Him Dead
That said, it appears that Han is truly and fully dead. Gone forever. He was impaled by a lightsaber and fell into the void of the new death star planet. He does not possess the force, so there won’t be any Obi Wan style ghostly appearances to impart wisdom on the younger characters. Nor, thankfully, is there a Genesis planet to bring him back to life. There’s much to criticize in Hans death scene but at least Abrams had the guts and wisdom to kill him dead.
And speaking of platforms, who the hell keeps designing these giant death star things with railless walkways across a structural abyss? This seems a peculiar engineering scheme to begin with, but to repeat it in every successive structure seems even odder. And for the love of god, is there nobody in the Empire with the cajones to stand up and say, “You know guys, I’ve been thinking. Maybe putting all our eggs in one basket with these death star thingies isn’t such a good idea. Kind of makes us vulnerable a bit, you know. Like one lucky shot and our whole plan to, um, leave the masses quaking at our feet kinda goes tits up. Or at least maybe we should rethink how we build them. You know, stop making them so susceptible to complete destruction when attacked by half a dozen rebel fighters and what not. Just a thought.” Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on the audience that keeps lapping up this lack of imagination and credible suspension of belief.
Oh, and while I’m complaining, Star Killer Base is a horrible name. Death Star was awesome. You created a bigger, deadlier, cooler Death Star and gave it a name that sounds like something born of a random word generation. The purpose of the damn thing isn’t even to kill stars so why call it that?
George Set The Bar Very Low
Hmmm. It’s starting to sound like I really did hate this movie. That’s honestly not my intent. Like I alluded to earlier, I’m just thrilled it didn’t suck. As are many of you, I suspect. Had this movie been terrible, like prequel-esque terrible, I would have just given up on the entire franchise. I’m very glad it wasn’t. Sure there were a lot of flaws but by and large they’re nitpicky flaws, which is a hell of a lot better than the flaws in those prequels. That alone makes this film a ringing success. Thanks for resetting the bar so low, George.
I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3 ¼ Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. It’s a decent enough film though I felt it borrowed too much from its predecessors. But the fact that it didn’t scar me, alone makes it a success and worthy of a pickle weighting to the good side of half. Go see it. Go enjoy it. Keep everything in perspective and you’ll come away relatively satisfied.
We saw it on IMAX in 3D which had its moments of impressiveness but by and large likely wasn’t necessary. A few scenes, typically with big ships, were very cool in 3D and the rings around the one planet were neat but otherwise, I don’t think 3D or even IMAX drastically improved the appeal of this movie. It was enjoyable enough, but without using a gift card to do so I wouldn’t have paid the premium for this format.