Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Review (with Spoilers)

starwarstheforceawakensmovieposterAlong with the rest of the world (except for droids, because “no droids allowed”), I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens weekend. To put my opinion in a nutshell, the newest addition to the Star Wars Saga is enjoyable thanks to the compelling Star Wars mythos coupled with lightsaber action and a touch of humor, but the film is decidedly not great thanks to excessive parallels with the original. Read on for SPOILER-laden, geeky explanations.

Action hero humor a la Kasdan.

When think of the funnier moments in The Force Awakens, what comes to mind is Finn (John Boyega) bumbling over his lies, drawing a laugh from the entire audience. I found Finn to be some combination of Han Solo’s cool-guy comedic presence (though not as cool as Han) and Luke Skywalker’s boy scout heart, and it totally works for me.

Though it’s based on an shaky inference, I’d attribute these jokes to Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan wrote Episodes V and VI of Star Wars films as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark which has similar humor delivered by Harrison Ford (of course, Ford and Boyega’s performances are vital parts of the formula; and maybe it was other writers or actors who wrote and improv’ed these lines).

Blasters, X-wings, TIE fighters, and lightsabers—hard to go wrong there.

The action, as expected from Star Wars, is fun to watch.

There was a hiccup for me when Finn picked up a lightstaber and started swinging away; the movie established Finn was a natural with shooting, but wielding a lightsaber without Jedi reflexes seems like it’d result in lopping off your own arm. If Finn ends up becoming a Jedi in a later film, that would explain his instant proficiency, so until then—

Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) skill with the lightsaber, on the other hand, was believable. She grew up fending off scavengers and thieves with a stick, and she is strongly in tune with the Force; it’s no surprise she can stand toe-to-toe with an injured and poorly trained Dark Jedi (who, notably, isn’t awesome enough to be a Darth).

Speaking of the wannabe Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) stopping a blaster slug in midair was a cool moment. It seemed impressive at first ’cause I’d never seen any Jedi do this before, but then I remembered Darth Vader slapping blaster shots away like flies in Empire which makes Kylo Ren’s feat look like child’s play.

Gaps and loose ends.

The young characters are all somewhat interesting, but not developed much. We have a scavenger with abandonment issues, a Stormtrooper who’s too kind to shoot people (unless his target happens to be another Stormtrooper), and a Dark Jedi with an inferiority complex. That’s what we learn about them in the first third of the movie and that’s all we know about them by the end (well, we learn that Rey is Jedi material, but that’s an assumption 99.9% of the audience made before the opening crawl). It’s obvious they’re saving some major character revelations for the later movies, but I would have liked a tad more closure within Episode VII. Just tell us whose Rey’s parents are.

As for the returning characters, we’re given little of what they’d been up to in the last thirty years. It’s nice to know that they were happy for at least ten years—raising kids and training new Jedi, but there’s so much left to the imagination.

One thing we don’t have to imagine is that the heroes of the original trilogy, along with the other leadership of the New Republic, sucked at their jobs. After the fall of the Empire, the New Republic secures almost no peace or military dominance in the galaxy. The First Order just showed up and started slapping people around almost as easily as the Empire. It’s also weird that New Republic’s military is called the Resistance instead of the New Republic Navy or something less pathetic than the Resistance. I suppose the name helps the audience feel like they’re rooting for the underdog, but I don’t think it was worth sticking us with this name.

Han Solo: Gandalf (not dead) or Boromir (super dead)

My rule concerning deaths of beloved characters for any series: If you don’t see the body, there’s a good damn chance they’re still alive. This goes for Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead, and now Star Wars.

Considering Han Solo is impaled through the torso, falls into a bottomless pit of some facility, and said facility explodes into smithereens minutes, it seems a bit hopeful to think the notorious scoundrel is still alive. However, I can’t believe the director and writers would give Han Solo such an anti-climactic death. The emotion of the scene relies almost entirely on a sense of nostalgia built up over decades of being a pop culture icon rather than rely on the character development and pacing of the actual movies.

Speaking of nostalgia—

There were a bunch of moments which relied on nostalgia to make the scene interesting. Now I’m wondering how those scenes work if I were to re-watch the movie. Are there a awkward pauses when Han or Leia show up? Or does it flow naturally? I guess I’ll probably see in the near future.

Too much A New Hope, not enough new.

The Force Awakens goes out of its way to make itself parallel to A New Hope. There are, of course, substantial twists in the details, but the overall story arc is too similar. Rey, like Luke, is a mechanical engineering genius sensitive to the force. Finn, like Han, is a blaster-totting source of comedy who lies almost as often as he gets shot at. The youngsters are accompanied by Han Solo, a wizened father figure much like Obi-wan Kenobi in the original film.

The major plot points remain the same: Good guys hide secret data in a droid which flees to a desert planet; droid is found by a goody two shoe person sensitive to the force; said force sensitive person goes on an adventure with a father figure who tells them the Force is real, a comedic guy with a blaster, and Chewbacca; they get caught by the bad guys and escape; they blow up the bad guys’ planet-destroying weapon; high fives all around.

What changes the plot slightly is Rey. She takes Leia’s role as the woman in distress, but is capable of rescuing herself before anyone else lifts a hand (whereas Leia at least needed Luke to open her cell door).

Star Wars finally gets diversity and feminism (outside of video games, anyway)

The twist of The Force Awakens is that it’s politically correct by modern standards. The ranks of the Resistance are slightly more diverse with the pilots played by actors of various races and sexes, including ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who’s of Guatemalan and Cuban descent, and seems to be the #1 contender as the new Han Solo). I also recognized two of the ranking Resistance officers as Ken Leung and Greg Grunberg from Lost and Heroes, respectively.

In line with recent popular novels and films, Rey is a female warrior who manages to save herself and other people on more than one occasion. What I find refreshing about her is that she seems to have 20 or 30 more IQ points than certain other YA heroines (not smarter than Hermione, though).

Kylo Ren brings to mind J.P. from Grandma’s Boy

kylorenandjp

Kylo Ren and J.P.: Medium-length hair, long black coat/cloak, and nerd rage.

I didn’t notice this while watching the film in theaters, but it was pointed out to me soon after: Kylo Ren bears a passing resemblance to J.P. from Grandma’s Boy, primarily due to his hair and all-black outfit. He looks like a socially awkward guy in cosplay and, as such, he is the least menacing Dark Jedi to have graced the silver screen.

I’m assuming the social awkwardness was intended; Kylo Ren is supposed to be an angsty guy with an inferiority complex and father/grandfather issues, not a bad ass Sith Lord. Notably, rather than murder the subordinates who fail him like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren uses his (poorly made) lightsaber to destroy inanimate objects. Vader’s actions demand respect and fear, and all Kylo Ren manages to do is make the Stormtroopers feel awkward and walk the other way (giving the audience a few laughs).

Rather than having suffered through real loss and PTSD like Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren seems to have succumbed to the dark side simply because he wants power to compensate for his lack of self-esteem. Sure, his parents seem to have dismissive attachment personality disorder and probably weren’t very good at showing him love and support, but that’s no reason to become a Dark Jedi. I hope the later movies make him more sympathetic and somewhat justified in going dark.

Well, that’s my two cents on the mountain of pennies that is the internet. The Force Awakens is good but not great, and I have hope that the following movies are better.

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Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Frodo Skyler Anakin Julie Deadpool Regina

Some actors suck. That’s just a fact. However, there are times where actors, through no real fault of their own, get a bit of flack because of the roles they play. Here are six actors who I’d say are at least pretty good at their craft, but are somewhat marred by the personalities and actions of their characters.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White

Skyler White Breaking Bad Anna GunnSkyler White is a fairly intelligent and strong woman who happens to be married to a teacher-turned-meth dealer. She loves her children, supports her husband more often than not, and generally tries to do the right thing. Yet, because of the few times she doesn’t stand by her meth-cooking husband, many Breaking Bad fans grew to hate her. Some weirdos who didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that Anna Gunn was simply playing a role in a fictional television show actually redirected their hatred toward the actor. Ms. Gunn wrote about this unfortunate phenomenon as the show was wrapping up in 2013.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker

Anakin Skywalker Hayden Christensen Star Wars Revenge of the SithI believe the most annoying things about Anakin Skywalker were written into the character. It wasn’t so much Hayden Christensen’s fault as it was the intent of the writers to make Anakin a whiny teenager. While it’s true that Christensen hasn’t really shown us super great talent outside of the Star Wars movies, I don’t think his acting is as bad as people make it out to be.

I liked Christensen in Takers and Vanishing on 7th Street. Yeah, neither movie is great—the former lacked in character development, and the latter had an ending I didn’t care for—but, they’re okay, and it wasn’t Christensen who brought them down. If anything, he helped make those movies better than they would have been without him.

Aimee Teegarden as Julie Taylor

Aimee TeegardenFor whatever reason, after the first season of Friday Night Lights, the character of Julie Taylor becomes incredibly annoying: she becomes selfish, unreasonable, and never seems to learn from her mistakes. Well, I suppose she does learn one thing: she’ll never do better than the awesome Matt Saracen.

Before her final good decision at the end of the show, Julie Taylor pulls some pretty obnoxious stunts. She has an affair with a married teaching assistant her first semester at college. Then, to avoid going back to school, she intentionally runs her car into a mailbox and lies to her parents about it.

Yeah, I haven’t seen Aimee Teegarden in anything aside from Friday Night Lights, but from FNL alone I get the feeling Teegarden’s pretty good with the acting thing and probably no where as near as annoying as Julie Taylor (also, she’s adorable, so she’s got that going for her).

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Temporary Placeholder Names: Not a Good Idea

Cristin Milioti HIMYM Sebastian Shaw Return of the Jedi

Cristin Milioti from How I Met Your Mother and Sebastian Shaw from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Writing the first draft of my manuscript, I used about half a dozen placeholder names: boring character names and and way-too-descriptive place names.

I’m starting draft seven soon and, well, all these “temporary” names are still there. As you might’ve guessed, I’ve grown kind of attached to these names after having used them for so long. Still, I’m pretty sure I have to change them. Either that, or I can help a hundred agents stay on top of their eye-rolling exercises.

So, yup, temporary placeholders: (usually) not a good idea.