I’ve refrained from writing this post for months, unsure of what exactly to say and afraid of the backlash. However, with the release of its Blu Ray and DVD, I finally want to publicly say, completely forward and without nuance…
I did not like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Now, I didn’t hate Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I will gladly admit that I was brought to tears of utter joy by its initial trailers (that music!) and was fairly entertained by many parts of the movie, especially the scenes involving Han Solo. However, I wasn’t swayed emotionally one way or another by the movie as a whole. My one word response to the film as that final compressed, spinning aerial shot of Rey meeting Old Luke in Ireland circle-wiped to “Directed by J.J. Abrams” was…
But then I let the dust settle. I watched the film again, a few days later, and while I enjoyed myself slightly more, I also hated the parts I disliked the first time upon seeing them again. If anything, my opinion got a little worse. This, combined with the outrageous level of hype and love shown for the movie by practically everyone has made me want to go all Kylo Ren on my computer. I’m all for being excited by a new movie, especially a new Star Wars movie. But once that movie is viewed by millions of people, I would hope and expect legitimate criticism, not blind loyalty and exclamations that because it is Star Wars and because it wasn’t made by George Lucas, therefore it has to be the GREATEST STAR WARS MOVIE SINCE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. (The same crazed, irrational fervor surrounded the most recent Jurassic Park film, which was awful.)
I find that statement (about Force Awakens being the best since Empire) extremely wrong because it begs the question that Return of the Jedi isn’t good. I have also come to like Episodes II and III, and to me, both of these prequel films are worth more than The Force Awakens ever could be. Oops. Did I say that out loud?
- Han Solo. Harrison Ford was great. His old Han was so much better than his old Indy. This was incredibly surprising because it’s basically a fact that he likes Indiana Jones so much more than Star Wars (hello, Indy 5!!) His interactions with Chewie and Rey were hilarious and sweet, and he got his wish that Han would be killed off, albeit 32 years later…
- BB-8 because he was cute and reminded me of my cat.
- Finn’s fight with that Stormtrooper (named by the Internet TR-8R), and the Resistance’s surprise attack on the First Order. That was an exhilarating scene, and that is probably the highest praise I have for anything involving the production of the movie.
- Rey’s vision when she picks up Luke’s lightsaber because it reminded me of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic…
- …and when she uses the Force to get his lightsaber in her fight with Kylo Ren. (Again, just like in the trailers, it’s John Williams’ use of an OLDER theme that sells it for me.)
- That final compressed, spinning aerial shot of Rey meeting Old Luke in Ireland that circle-wiped to “Directed by J.J. Abrams.” And I actually liked that Luke was in it for less than 30 seconds and remained speechless. It (and this is the only thing, really) made me want to see Episode VIII.
First and foremost, The Force Awakens was not written well. In fact, I’d say it was written fairly poorly. For all the hype surrounding the knowledge that the writer of Empire and Jedi (and Raiders of the Lost Ark) was returning after three straight George Lucas-penned screenplays, Lawrence Kasden failed to impress me. In fact, some of the dialogue was so wooden and flat at times that I actually missed the nostalgia of the Prequels and their clunkers. The plot of Force Awakens was a reboot/remake of A New Hope with some Empire beats thrown in for good measure. The Snoke scenes should have been mysterious and engrossing but instead seemed like transplanted Thanos scenes from the various Marvel movies; they just didn’t feel like Star Wars to me. And the rules of Star Wars were seemingly thrown out the window… How did Rey manage to use a Jedi mind trick if no one ever taught her what it was, and after the film made it clear that she didn’t even know Jedi were real? Usually, McGuffins are simple and subtle enough where their existence in the story isn’t brought into question… Except the plot device that drives The Force Awakens made no sense. Why was there a map to find Luke? He’s not an object. He’s a person. Who leaves a map when they don’t want to be found? And how could no one figure out from either piece of the map (in BB-8 and in R2-D2) where it led? Most the the plot points in this movie just seemed like sloppy, lazy writing.
The movie itself started out on a terrible footing. The opening scene was filled with as much exposition-heavy dialogue as anything in Phantom Menace, and was awkwardly staged and awkwardly filmed. The dialogue never got better after that, with constant references to the Resistance and First Order throughout, but without any clarification or history to give the audience a clue as to what was going on. Expositionary dialogue is a necessary evil, especially in a sci-fi world, but it is at its best in small doses. When it consumes a film and also confuses more than it than explains, the movie suffers greatly. I still have no idea what was going on; the only clarity in the film was that we’d all seen the plot and characters and beats before… in the Original Trilogy. Disney played it safe (you could argue killing Han wasn’t safe, but as it was long overdue and foreshadowed heavily, it was also the easiest shock they could go for while not doing anything too controversial), and as they pleased the most Star Wars fans because they went in the opposite direction of the Prequels, they largely succeeded. Two billion dollars is worth a lot more than my petty criticism.
But the worst two aspects of The Force Awakens weren’t deus ex machina Force tricks or the random CGI bartender who could have easily been a person in a mask or the lack of a noticable original score… it was the characters of General Hux and Kylo Ren. Both villains were clearly based on Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, but lacking their gravitas or imperious nature, they were laughably bad. It was as if J. J. Abrams REALLY wanted to impress Star Wars fans so he cast the two nerdiest, unassuming fans who came up to him at whatever convention he was attending to play the two villain roles, and then felt bad about his choice after seeing their acting but convinced himself that no one would ever notice because STAR WARS IS SO COOL.
Anyway, Hayden Christensen has been called wooden…out of his league… a terrible actor (among many, many worse things), but Kylo’s temper tantrums and moody attitude made Christensen look like Laurence Olivier. I know for a fact that statement will anger some people, but not once during Awakens did Kylo Ren make me feel anything at all other than annoyance. Even when he killed Han, it was broadcast a mile away because no one in Hollywood knows anything about subtlety, and I was more peeved at the story-telling than at the death of my favorite Original Trilogy character. And then he lost in a fight to a Stormtrooper-dropout who spent the entire movie getting beat up and a girl with no Force training (who obviously has a major connection to the Force, duh, I know!!! but still. Sloppy writing: it happened because the plot needed it to happen). Like I said, laughable.
And then there’s Hux. I don’t know who gave the okay to have the main military leader SCREAM to his troops with the most cliched, unoriginal dialogue imaginable, but I bet they thought they were doing something really friggin’ clever. I hate comparing things to Hitler, but I bet they figured their military general would give off a Hitler vibe if he yelled with the burning hatred of a thousand suns at his troops.
Except they cast a Weasley, so he gave off a Weasley-trying-to-be-Hitler vibe, and it was one of the worst acting performances I’ve seen in a mainstream movie in ages. (To get political for a moment, Hux is the Hitler that everyone thinks Trump is/will be.) Give me Hayden yelling about slaughtering Sand People like animals any day. Where is Dexter Jettster’s buttcrack when you need childish, idiotic filmmaking? Oh, right… It was in a better movie.
I am excited for Episode VIII. I want to know what happens next in the Star Wars universe. I want to see Rey’s journey. I want to see more of BB-8. I want to see Luke speak and be an Obi-Wan Kenobi to our new Jedi hero.
And I want to see LANDO. Please, Disney. At least bring him back in the next go round. He can even drink some Colt 45 on set. It’s gonna be great!
For everyone who loved The Force Awakens, I seriously am happy for you. And slightly envious that I can’t, so enjoy your Blu Ray and deleted scenes for me.