Star Wars The Force Awakens is Overrated
That's the title of my review? Ooh. I've got a bad feeling about this. (html comment removed: more)Fanboys, hold tight with your pitchforks and torches for a second. I'm one of you. I said it was overrated, not bad. The title is clickbait. I liked the film. It's a good film. It's just not a GREAT film. I think it largely deserves the positive reviews it's getting, but I don't understand the gush. Perhaps the fans are thrilled to finally see a worthwhile sequel to the beloved original trilogy. I was, certainly, but it doesn't negate the major problems with the film, which I'll discuss in the "Cons" section of my review.
A little about my fanboy cred: I've been a HUGE Star Wars fan ever since I was a little boy. My parents still have a home video of me spouting on and on about Luke Skywalker. My dad kept asking me other questions to change the subject, but I only wanted to talk Star Wars. I remember the excitement in anticipation for Episodes I, II, and III, regardless of the many flaws in those movies. (I kept hoping that the next one would be good, but unfortunately it didn't happen.) Regardless of my disdain for the prequels, I'm still a fan to this day.
As I said, I liked the movie. Star Wars Episode VII has a lot going for it, so I'll touch on the positives first. Please note that the following will contain spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Already seen the movie? Then please continue.
- The directing/editing. J.J. Abrams knows how to direct action, and thankfully he went light on the lens flares. The pacing is really tight; not a single sequence drags on or is rushed. The shot compositions and camera work are a marked improvement over the prequels. There's a video clip of the producer of the prequels saying, "There's so much going on in every frame" as if that's a positive thing. A skilled director/editor will know when to clutter the frame and when to use minimalism for impact. Abrams and his team have done this.
- The action. One of the many, many problems with Episodes I-III is they are boring. Most of the run time is spent in exposition. An old film making rule is show, don't tell. George Lucas completely abandoned this principle when making the prequels. Lucky for us, Abrams showed us the action. Stuff happens in this movie, and the audience is trusted to fill in the blanks. Quite a few sequences are very exciting. The Millennium Falcon outmaneuvering a TIE fighter immediately comes to mind. The battle at the temple is well-shot and has a couple tense fights. The lightsaber fight, while problematic story-wise (see below), is very well-shot and tightly edited. It kept me on the edge of my seat.
- The humor. The original Star Wars movies are funny, and not because Jar Jar Binks steps in shit and says, "Poodoo." The humor in the original trilogy (OT) comes from the tension between characters and how they're handling tough situations. The Force Awakens is like this. The banter between Han and Chewie is often laugh out loud funny. BB-8's thumbs up moment got a big laugh, as well. I laughed when Han kept calling Finn "Big Deal." The humor is kid-friendly, but not childish.
- The visual effects. The movie is gorgeous to look at. A big deal was made over the fact that Abrams used location shots and practical effects wherever he could. The movie is an improvement for doing so. Actors can react to a physical object much better than a tennis ball on a stick. Where CGI characters were used, motion capture was the method of choice. Maz Kanata is seamlessly integrated, for example. One of the best effects scenes, in my opinion, is the scene in the first ten minutes where Kylo Ren stops a blaster shot in mid-air. We've never seen something like that before and the FX department did a beautiful job.
- The old cast. It was a lot of fun to see Han, Luke, and Leia. I can't wait to get a lot more Luke in Episode VIII. Harrison Ford's Han Solo steals the show. As I mentioned, his banter with Chewie is great. "Oh, you're cold?" was my favorite line. His relationship with Leia made perfect sense. Their relationship blossomed due to a traumatic event, and their son turned to the dark side. Of course they didn't stay together. Han's death needed to happen to give the series higher stakes. However, I felt it was telegraphed too much. As soon as he shouted "Ben!" you can hear his fate being sealed.
- The new cast. Poe is a fun character, but I'll hold my judgment until we see more. Finn is my favorite new character. He has a lot of the best lines and I could relate the most to him. I was worried when I saw him with a lightsaber on the poster, thinking "How could he go from a stormtrooper to a Jedi in one movie?" Luckily, he didn't. He stood up to Kylo Ren and was beaten almost immediately. Rey is the key to the new trilogy, and if she doesn't work, the movies won't work. I'm holding final judgment until I see her full arc, but I do have an issue with her character. (See my "sexual politics" con, below.) BB-8 is great; he's cute and funny without being childish.
- The reveals. This movie inevitably was going to have a lot of reveals for nostalgia service. Most work well. Threepio's reveal is a lot of fun, and very funny. You've seen Han and Chewie's reveal in the trailer, and when it happened in the movie, my fellow theater-goers cheered. I was moved, though I'd seen it before. My favorite reveal, however, was the Millennium Falcon. Rey calling it junk was a funny callback to Luke's reaction to it in A New Hope.
Though I enjoyed the movie a great deal, it has problems. Some are minor but some are not. I'll start with the largest flaws and then scale down to the minutiae.
- The story. The story is a re-hash of the original Star Wars, more or less. It's too safe of a formula. Where the original Star Wars wasn't original either, at least it took its themes and motifs from a variety of other sources, like Flash Gordon, various American westerns, and samurai stories. The Force Awakens takes all its cues from Star Wars so it becomes too self-referencing and it doesn't seem as fresh. The Star Wars universe is huge; retreading the same story makes it smaller, not larger. Another Death Star? Call it something else, it's still a Death Star. This idea was already old hat in Return of the Jedi. I would have liked to see something new.
- The villains. The villains' performances are fine, but they're not given enough to do. The First Order is not fleshed out enough. You understood the Empire vs. the Rebels in the first thirty seconds of Episode IV. The First Order vs. The Resistance was still unclear at the end of the movie. For a movie series with black and white morality, you need a black hats versus white hats story. Gwendolyn Christie's character wasn't used much; hopefully we see more of her in the next movie. I did greatly enjoy Kylo Ren, however. His struggle between light and dark was what Anakin's character SHOULD have been in the prequels. If the series is going to redeem him, however, killing your own father is a hell of a sin to overcome. We've already seen a redemption story in Anakin; hopefully Ren's goes a bit darker and ends in tragedy.
- The sexual politics. I'm excited to see a badass female Jedi, but the problem is Rey didn't earn it. In order to atone for past sexism, Hollywood and feminism are over-compensating with their female characters now. A character is typically only a strong woman if she's a badass, but you can't show her working for it. It's bizarre, and it's a bad message for little girls. Rey didn't earn her Force powers, she's just awesome because she's a woman. Han Solo flew the Millennium Falcon for decades, yet Rey, after one flight figured out how to fix it better than he did? Kylo Ren was trained (albeit incompletely) by Luke Skywalker yet Rey beats him in a lightsaber fight? Perhaps it will be explained better in the next movie, but as of now it seems cheap and pandering.
- R2D2's role. This is another issue that may be fixed in the next movie. I found it way too convenient for Artoo to spring back to life when he did. Why didn't he just give up the map earlier so Luke could help with the battle? Perhaps Luke putting his hand on Artoo in the flashback was meant to deactivate him until the right time. As of now, however, it just seems too easy.
- The music. John Williams' score is fine, but compared to the original series, and even the prequel series, this score seemed a bit phoned in. The OT's score is legendary and instantly recognizable. The best part of the prequels was the score, especially the incredible Duel of the Fates. I'm having trouble even remembering any of the music from The Force Awakens. It's not bad, it's just forgettable.
Final verdict: The Force Awakens is a fun, entertaining movie. Fans of the original trilogy will probably like it. I did. Although it's well directed and beautiful to look at, the re-hashed story and character flaws prevent it from becoming an "A" movie. It's a solid B-movie with an A-movie's budget. I can't wait for Episode VIII, and I'm hoping it fixes some of VII's problems.
Story: ★★★ of 5
Action: ★★★★★ of 5
VFX/Art: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★★★½ of 5
Originally published December 28th, 2015 at www.digitaltyrants.com. This is my most read article, by far, so I thought I'd share it here. Thanks for reading!