Friday, January 15, 2016

The Force Awakens: First Impressions

(Originally Written for Jedi News)



Well, I saw it. Sooner than I had intended, but with the world ready to spoil everything I’m glad I was still in a relative vacuum.

I had originally wanted to wait until a second viewing to put my thoughts down like this – we all know how first impressions are, and how talking about them with other people can cloud our memory. However, my financial situation won’t allow it and any of you who are regular readers are I’m sure dying to know what I thought.

I’m going to split this into bullet-pointed sections because that’s how my brain is best processing everything that I saw and everything that I feel.

First, I’m going to stress that 99.9999etc% of these are my own personal opinions, and even the rare moments where I speak on an objective technique level are open to interpretation. I have no quarrel with people who feel differently unless they are the type of hypocrite who would put me down for disagreeing, and I reserve the right to change my mind about ANY of this with time, study, and distance.

Part 1: Spoiler-Free Summary of My Feelings

·         * Loved the basic story, hated the presentation.

·         * As a film, it’s well-made and enjoyable, if a bit generic. I ultimately enjoyed myself.

·         * As a Star Wars Saga film, it’s immensely disappointing, and if it still counts it’s my current least favorite.

·         * As a Star Wars Expanded Universe Story, it’s at least above-average and I like this direction a little better than the original after-Jedi EU.

·         * Would still have preferred George’s vision by a country mile.


Warning: Spoilers from this point forward.




 ***


Part 2: Things I Liked and/or Thought Were Well Done

* In general, the story of the Skywalker family drama was very interesting, and I’m very intrigued to see where it goes from here. 

·        * Seeing the Big Three melt back into their roles. Harrison WAS Han again. Carrie WAS Leia. Most pleasantly surprising of all – for the few seconds we got him, and without saying a word, Mark Hamil (the man who has been looking craggy and evil in everything for the past decade) WAS Luke Skywalker.

·         * Ewan McGregor’s four-second vocal cameo at the end of Rey’s vision.

·         * I like the concept that the First Order is a sort of relatively small terrorist organization that the New Republic sanctions a small task force to try and squelch. The execution of this idea however…more in the next section.

·         * Maz Kanata. One of the few new designs that feels like it belongs in a Galaxy Far, Far Away and a charming and interesting character to boot.

·         * Kylo Ren. What’s great about this character is that unlike the rest of the new cast where one could reasonably debate whether or not they’re the IV-VI cast with the serial numbers filed off, Ben Solo is explicitly TRYING to be Darth Vader and FAILING. I think this is a FANTASTIC character dynamic, and it’s one of the things I’m most excited to see play out in the future (especially if Anakin’s Force Ghost is involved – what a rude awakening ol’ Benny is in for).

·         * Related to the above, I’m glad that he’s not explicitly a Sith, he’s a “Knight of Ren” (which sounds like some BS Snoke invented to keep Kylo in line, and that’s fine with me either way). Thus the Prophecy still stands.

·         * I had a feeling we were going to lose Han. A) Harrison wanted it since Empire, and there’s little else they could have lured him back with. B) It wouldn’t be Star Wars without an old mentor figure dying for the new heroes. That’s not copying, it’s parallelism. Qui-Gon in Phantom, Obi-Wan in Hope, Han is as good as any in Awakens. While I didn’t like seeing Han die in the same way I didn’t like seeing the other characters die, the events leading up to the death and the death itself was a superbly staged and acted sequence and it made perfect sense for both characters involved, and Leia sensing it was perfect. My only complaint is the lack of a “Big No” from anyone but Chewie and the fact that we weren’t really given time to mourn at any point afterward (except for, again, a few seconds with Chewie).

·         * While I don’t feel very strongly one way or another about the lightsaber duel, I adored the moment of symbolism at the end when Ren and Rey were separated by the ever-widening chasm opening up in the ground (just like their ideals! Get it?). Now, the only question is: is this a rift between cousins or siblings?


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Part 3: Things I Didn’t Like and/or Thought Were Poorly Done

·         * The biggest negative for me was the direction. While not “bad”, it’s not “Star Wars”. The Cinematography was far too busy, especially during quiet scenes. We never really had a moment to take in the whole picture at any given moment. The dialogue was also far too modern and snappy. Overall, the tone was missing the essential George Lucas “Gee Whiz,” and that’s a big problem in terms of consistency if nothing else.

·         * Also related to the above, the production design felt, to me, uninspired. Nobody had ever seen designs like the ones featured in the other six films, especially Hope and Phantom, and yet here everything felt derivative of something else we’ve seen over and over. And aside from Maz, BB-8, and Kylo’s Excalisaber, none of it felt like it belonged in a Star Wars film. They felt more generic Sci/Fi.

·         * Speaking of “Nothing New”, my biggest fear going in was that it would be a complete rehash of New Hope. While I was relieved to see most of the story nods subtle enough to be taken as Saga parallelism, there are two (well, one and two halves) big offenders that should have been rethought. The most egregious to me is the Skywalker Map taking the exact same journey and having the exact same relevance as the Death Star Plans in New Hope. There must have been another way.

·         * Remember what I said above that I liked about the concept of the relationship between the First Order, New Republic, and Resistance? Well, in practice, it just comes off as Rebels vs Empire again, with everyone treating First Order as if it were the Empire with the same power. In reality, according to the story, they have even less power than the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Also, I really hope they didn’t just blow up the New Republic, and it was only some of its most prominent leaders.

·         * The Starkiller Base. Oh, the Starkiller Base. Now, I would actually like the thing and take it as a believable next step in the arms race if it had been built up for VII and VIII to make its appearance in IX. After all, that’s what Lucas originally wanted for the Death Star, and the only reason it appeared in Hope only to be rebuilt in Jedi was because Lucas wasn’t originally sure he’d be able to make the others. Now, we know for a fact that no matter what, VIII and IX are getting made, so there’s no excuse for making the Base’s story EXACTLY that of the Death Star in New Hope.

·         * There are several close-up and loving shots of the Legacy Lightsaber being turned on with the wrong freaking button. Even hateboys would know better than that.

·         * Unkar Plutt. Not only do I despise the fact that Simon Pegg was let anywhere near an official Star Wars production after what he said about George and Saga fans, not only is he a hypocrite for jumping on the “practical effects” bandwagon only to play someone with a CG head, but in line with what I said above his head is a blobfish. No real character design, literally a blobfish. It’s okay to draw from nature, but at least twist it into something more original.

·         * Lor San Tekka. Not the character himself, I like him. You just don’t get Max Von Sydow to play a Jedi Acolyte (no telling from the film whether he was Force Sensitive or not, but he definitely kept the faith) only to kill him off five minutes into the film.

·         * Poe Dameron. I don’t have any real reason outside his name and he’s not a “bad” character, I just don’t like him.

* This film relies HEAVILY on having seen the other movies, at least IV-VI. Both New Hope and Phantom Menace were able to stand on their own in spite of their relation to the rest of the story, and Force Awakens should have followed suit. It has absolutely no ambition except to “recapture” what people felt seeing New Hope, and this is precisely why it ultimately fails for those of us who love and study the Saga intimately.

* ADDENDUM: This wasn't in my original write-up, but I has originally intended to mention along with the design, that we didn't really see new worlds. Oh, they had different names, but you could have just as easily used Tatooine instead of "Jakku", Yavin or Endor for that forested place, and Alderaan...well, no, you couldn't use Alderaan obviously, but the planet that had been turned into the Starkiller Base was the only new-ish planet biome we saw as a snowy forest planet with mountains, and I don't think it was given a name in the film other than Starkiller Base.

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Part 4: Things That Wouldn’t Bother Me if People Hadn’t Been Making Such a Big Screaming Deal About Them

·         * The effects. George Lucas always worked to pioneer special effects and bring things to the screen that people had never seen before. In 1977, he pushed model-making and compositing to its limit. In 1999, he pushed digital effects, animatronics, and editing to its limit. In 2015, J.J. Abrams used the same CG everyone else uses today augmented with practical effects that not only look faker than the masks in New Hope but seem to be purposely made to. The biggest offender is what I like the call the “Drinky Bird”, since its motions remind me of the novelty wobbling birds on office desks, and its authenticity isn’t much better. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to mention it, except all you could hear leading up to this film was the freaking effects.

·         * Captain Phasma. I’ve had conversations with people before the film came out, praising her as being the “First Female Star Wars Villain”. I countered with Asajj Ventress, popular Clone Wars antagonist. These people would amend that to “First Female Star Wars Villain in a Numbered Saga Film.” I bring up Zam Wessel, Padmé’s would-be assassin from Clones. “First Female Star Wars Villain, or Side Character in General, in a Numbered Saga Film That Intends To Cause A Recurring Threat to the Plot And Not Just Die in the First Act.” Fine. She must be someone VERY important. I see the film, and what does she do? Spend about five-ten minutes in Act 1 looking menacing, then disappearing entirely for the rest of the film until Act 3 where she gets easily captured and thrown down a garbage chute, fate unknown. By men. Yeah, bit of a letdown, right? And again, it wouldn’t strike me as anything more than natural for that type of character had her gender and her role not been brought up over and over again. Speaking of which…

·         * The diversity. Phasma was just one of many things that people were praising this movie for before its release in terms of how “We’re finally getting a Star Wars that’s not all white males!” Look, diversity is important and needs to be something that we think about in society, but this forgets to take into account that Star Wars was ALWAYS diverse. Leia was a complete subversion of the Damsel in Distress. Padmé was a strong and smart female character. Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu were very important characters. James Earl Jones and Ahmed Best lent their talents to memorable main characters, even if those characters didn’t match their ethnicity. The Galaxy as presented in George’s Saga had hosts of peoples from all walks of life, and they were portrayed by almost as many. Ultimately, The Force Awakens proves no more or less diverse than any of the other entries which, again, would not be even worth remaking on, had people not built it up to be more than it was.
 


***



Part 5: Things That Require Additional Viewings and/or Context From VIII and IX

·         * Rey. I’m not sure how I feel about her yet. I’ve spoken to other people who consider her a “Mary Sue” (a character archetype usually seen in adaptations and fan works who has little personality other than being supernaturally better at everything than the original main characters while having no flaws other than what would endear her to the rest of the main cast). While that does seem to match my first impression, I’m wary of assigning something so negative and ultimately nebulous in concept to something I’ve only seen once. I’ve heard people say similar things about lack of personality to many characters in Star Wars who are brimming with it under a veneer affectation. Rey requires extensive further study.

·         * Finn. While his character arc is interesting and I liked some moments with him, it doesn’t always seem consistent or even completely clear to me. My final verdict on Finn will hinge on where he is developed from here.

·         * BB-8. Interesting design. In some scenes I feel negatively distracted by him being R2-D2 with the serial numbers filed off, and in other scenes I recognize that his personality is entirely different: While R2 is cool and focused, if a bit of a trickster, BB-8 is more like an excited Pomeranian. Multiple viewings and further development will tell whether I ultimately embrace or dismiss the little beach ball.

·         * Snoke. I love Andy Serkis. I hate the “Gollum-meets-Voldemort-meets-(Spider-Man Villain) The Sandman” design. I am VERY intrigued by the whole Wizard of Oz holo setup he has. I’m confused as to his ultimate plan (outside of the old standard of Galactic Conquest). Must investigate further.

·         * The Music. John Williams had a much subtler score than any in the Star Wars franchise, and while there were some melodies I liked, I had a hard time picking them out and nothing I fell instantly in love with like the other films. Then again, it took me many views and many listens to appreciate Across the Stars from Clones, so this will require more listens as well.

·         * The Force Awakens. Characters who are not trained, and some whose Force-Sensitivity are a mystery, are able to do things that the Jedi in their prime couldn’t do without much more training. It rubs me the wrong way, but I’m willing to forego judging it until VIII and IX explain a few more things.


***


This is about everything that I walked away from the theatre with. I tried my best to be as fair as possible, and not repeat the mistakes that led us to the Hateboy Hellhole that inspired me to start this column in the first place.

ADDENDUM: I just want to be a bit clearer here.

Because this is not George Lucas, the original artist, but a team of people doing their own thing; Because we don't know what, if any, of Lucas' original ideas survived; Because this is, for all intents and purposes, an adaptation; Because of all this, I feel that we as fans do have the right to be a bit more critical of this film and the ones going forward than when it was George making his original art for his original reasons. We can argue whether or not Awakens is truly "Star Wars" and worthy of the title where people who claim I-III or even Jedi is/do not don't have a leg to stand on.

THAT BEING SAID: This still does NOT give any of us the right to turn the tables and become the bashers we've worked so hard to fight. I am not out to ruin anyone's enjoyment of the film with my negative opinions - that's why I opened the article with the stuff I actually liked or loved about the film, and there was quite a substantial amount of it! I will NOT accept "Awakens sucks and that's all there is to it" speech any more than I'd accept it of I-III or really any movie or piece of art. Art is subjective.
 

44 comments:

  1. Thank you for your thoughts Nilbog. While I did like this movie, I also felt that it was a bit too much of a rehash of elements of A New Hope. Hopefully, the next installments have more of an original plot. I did like Kylo Ren quite a bit though. He is perhaps my favorite new character in the movie. It was also a joy to see Han for one last time. Unfortunately, he is not force sensitive so no Force Ghost for him.

    By the way, what are your thoughts on the crossguard lightsaber? I like it but something that puzzles me about is why did it take so long for the Star Wars franchise to come up with this? You think that such a small alteration would have been done years ago in some sort of expanded universe material. I think that's how we got the double bladed lightsaber.

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    1. I like it as a reclaimed artifact, though I don't necessarily buy it as a new piece of tech.

      Personally, I really want to see a curved-hilt saber concealed in a cane.

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  2. I must confess that I still have not managed to watch the movie.

    However, I think this is a really honest and fair "first impression" you have written. Really good job!

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    1. BTW, is there a way to support you? I am quite lucky at the moment (I have found a new job, and the unemployment insurance in my country is rather generous, at least in my case).
      I may sponsor you a second viewing, for instance.
      See this as a SW fan supporting another SW fan.

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    2. I appreciate the sentiment. I've actually had some ideas on how to turn some of these things into moneymakers, but it requires me being able to produce more and varied content, which I am unable to right now.

      ButvI have some things cooking, and once they look like they'll come into being, everyone here will be the first to know.

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  3. Funny thing is I don't *actually* disagree with you on a bunch, but I ended up loving it. Easily my third favorite after the original and Empire, mostly because of how much I fell in love with the new characters.

    The cinematography bothered me as well--I tend to chalk it up to Abrams more than anything else, so I'm curious where Rian Johnson takes it with the next movie. The dialogue didn't bother me--I agree it's not what we think of as traditionally "Star Wars", but I just don't see why that's a bad thing. It's a bit of a change, which to me is pretty good.

    Re: the "Mary Sue" comments, I don't think Rey qualifies as one. For starters, the entire point of "A Trekkie's Tale" was to satirize fanfic writers for having their author insert OC dominate and warp the narrative to be all about them and their wish-fulfillment. The only thing Rey has that comes close to that is how good she is at everything, but that actually falls in line with her character and her scavenger background. She's the kind of person who has lived a life dependent on adapting, and so she works her way around new things to learn how to use it. We see this with the Force, where she only gradually learns of her abilities and starts to try more and more, until by the end where she's able to get the upper hand against Kylo. But she's not an author-insert, she doesn't dominate the narrative anymore than Luke or Anakin did, and the other characters don't all instantly love her (Han shows a lot of initial annoyance that eventually gives way to begrudging respect). It's unfortunate, but "Mary Sue" has been too polluted by this point to mean "a woman character who is powerful" that it's hard to use it well anymore.

    Obviously we disagree with the diversity--I mean, honestly, two strong females and a few supporting characters do not a fully diverse world make. Especially if we're looking at the original three, which are horribly sparse on female characters (as I remember, Empire has *none* besides Leia), and only fare a little better with racial minorities. What's there isn't offensive, but it's only marginally better than the average. What makes Force Awakens special is that it goes *out of its way* to populate the film with diversity, from POC mains and a woman lead, to POC generals in the rebel base, to even one of the Stormtroopers (previously to this point assumed to be entirely male) be a woman. This was a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers and producers, and I think it's noticeable improved on the previous films in this regard.

    (also worth noting that Star Wars is historically an extremely patriarchal narrative--that's not even reading into it, just by Lucas's admission it's primarily about fathers and sons. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in this day and age I think it says something important to put a woman in the center of this previously patriarchal work and see what it does. Honestly, that alone would be enough to make this a more inclusive work than the previous films have been)

    On another note--I'm SO GLAD someone else caught the awful bird. That really stuck out to me on first viewing as a very bad "lookit me I'm practical", even more egregious when most everything else in the film was pretty ace. I'm not one to stress realism in effects (at all), but yeah, that looked embarrassing.

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    1. 're: Rey, that's why she's in the "requires further study" group. I didn't really get much of an impression of her aside from her pining and her abilities, which seem a little too advanced for someone without training, but we'll see when more of her "mysterious past" is revealed.

      And what bothered me most about her, and this is a co-point in the diversity issue, is that while the strong female characters in the original six were just strong without drawing too much attention to it, barely a minute goes by without someone looking at Rey's accomplishments and giving a "but...but a GIRL did this? You're a GIRL, how can this be?" Reaction. That's almost a step backwards in my book, and INCREDIBLY insulting.

      And I think Oola from Jedi had more to do and showed a stronger, more complete character than Phasma.

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    2. I didn't get that impression, actually? Finn exhibits surprise that Rey can handle herself on Jakku, but everyone else seems to take her gender in stride. Any other surprises would be because of her abilities, not that she's a girl.

      And part of this isn't so much diversity, but inclusion. Previously, women and minority characters in the Star Wars universe have always existed as the supporting characters to the white male leads. Even when they're written well, they've never been the main focus. Force Awakens changes that on both fronts (Finn & Rey are arguably co-leads here), and I do feel that's worth applauding.

      And come on, now, Oola had two minutes of dancing before she was fed to a rancor. I didn't think Phasma had much either (marketing was really heavy on her to her character's detriment--we've been told that she's coming back, so I'll wait patiently until then to really pass judgement), but she patently had more to do than that.

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    3. Eh, She had more emotion and tried to fight back.

      I guess it's just a matter of opinion.

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    4. Also wanted to comment that I've been rewatching the films the past couple weeks, and it's worth noting the prequels do a heck of a lot better than the original films in terms diversity and just having a lot of women and minorities throughout the films. It still sucks that the main characters are all white and like none of the women live past Episode III, so Force Awakens is still a step forward in that regard, but worth noting that the prequels do improve on the originals in that respect.

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    5. I always felt that the reason the women folk didn't live past episode 3 was because the message the film was giving us was that women are always the first to suffer in totalitarian societies. That's why the first two prequels pass the Bechdel test because the characters are living in a more egalitarian society.
      Frankly as a biracial woman I find the whole "WE MUST HAVE DIVERSITY IN STAR WARS!" argument to be annoying. No one does this to any other franchise (except Marvel), why single out SW? Instead of slapping more diverse characters onto SW, make new movies with diverse casts - but make sure you have a good story first and foremost.

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    6. Well, it's applied to Star Wars because Star Wars happens to be in the public eye right now. Same with Marvel. And, I mean, making new movies with diverse casts is kinda what they're doing with Star Wars--it's not like we're re-editing in women and minorities in the older films. It's simply going "hey, these films have the opportunity to be more progressive, so let's go ahead and take that opportunity". It's what they're doing with Ghostbusters, it's what they did with Mad Max, etc. And I'm not sure how this isn't a good thing--yeah, it's not the only solution, and it's good to make new franchises with diverse casts as well, but this is part of healing the inequity in current Hollywood.

      And it's hard to make that read of Episode III, especially with how male-centric the narrative necessarily is. I also wouldn't call the prior two films 'egalitarian' just because they pass the Bechdel Test--narratively the female characters still exist as counterparts to the men, and really only Padme has a consistent sense of interiority to her. Women also aren't specifically shown to be oppressed during the original trilogy, so it's hard to argue that as an intentional arc throughout the films--certainly it's not a textual one.

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    7. The women characters are not counterparts to men. Aurra Sing and Zam Wessel are not just female versions of Boba Fett. And the point is, when a society becomes oppressive, women are the first to suffer, even if that society doesn't target women first and foremost. And this "diversity argument" was directed at Star Wars even when no movies were on the horizon. I liked Mad Max: Fury Road for its feminist themes but it also had a new story and new characters and you didn't have to watch the previous Mad Max films to understand it. My point is we shouldn't have to resurrect tired franchises (another Ghostbusters? Really?) to inject diversity into them, we should make something new that happens to have a diverse cast.

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    8. Sing isn't even a speaking role in the films, and narratively, yeah, Wessel is essentially a female Boba Fett. She doesn't have a character within AOTC other than being "the woman Jango hires to kill Padme" (and this is someone who loves the idea of her character). And again, it's very hard to read any kind of intentional "the society starts oppressing women" now out of the films--you have to go way into redemptive readings for that, and there's just not a lot of textual evidence for it within the films themselves. Women are pushed to the side in Star Wars because the films are just intrinsically patriarchal in their narrative stylings. We can still have good characters and moments within that, but the core of the films before TFA are very, very male-driven.

      And really? I don't remember any mainstream calls for diversity until TFA was announced. I read the occasional feminist critique of Return of the Jedi, but aside from that basically nothing because there wasn't a wide venue to be incorporating that kind of diversity.

      And yes, I agree, we shouldn't "have to" resurrect old franchises, but I just don't see why doing that and increasing diversity is a bad thing. Creating new franchises with female or minority leads is important--even though I don't watch them, I'm sure that's why stuff like Hunger Games or Divergent is noteworthy. But it's also important to take previously-considered "boy's stuff" like Star Wars and Ghostbusters and inject something new into them and removing the straight-white-male focus (the reality, of course, is that female fans have existed for these properties in droves since its inception--it's just that the properties themselves do seem to resolutely act as boy's franchises first and foremost, so it's nice to try and change that).

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  4. Oh, one other thing--I don't quite see the new characters as the originals with the serial numbers filed off. BB8 and Rey are obvious parallels, but the others aren't quite so clean. Poe is essentially the new Leia and Finn the new Han, but there's so much in each of them that doesn't cleanly fit the older characters--Poe's much more easy-going and charismatic than Leia, while Finn is easily scared and full of self-doubt, characteristics it's hard to map out on Han. There's obviously narrative similarities, but it seems to me purposeful to highlight the notable differences--as Maz says "you see the same eyes in different people".

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    1. I didn't say that I necessarily agreed one way or another with that debate, only that one could have it.

      Aside from Kylo and Maz, I really didn't connect with the new characters on this viewing. Now, admittedly, that's pretty par for the course for me and Star Wars, so further study is needed, but the difference is that I fell in love with the world-building that allowed me to rewatch it and grow to see and love all the characters. World-building that's sorely missing here. I want to see this one again simply so that I can be fair and give it a chance to show me things I missed, whereas I wanted to constantly relive the sheer joy I felt with the others (even Clones, which I'be gone on record as having a different non-visceral feel my first view, was a more magical experience for me).

      But, hey, glad you found something to connect to. Sincerely.

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    2. I'll definitely agree, the world-building was weak here. Part of that actually feels intentional (this is very much a film built within the existing Star Wars mythos that plays around with its iconography and tropes--at the forefront of this film is the question "what *does* it mean to be a Star Wars movie?"), but the loss of that pulpiness does show at times.

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    3. Which reminds me that I actually don't think it's necessarily a problem that this film isn't built for first-time viewers. Phantom Menace by its nature had to be (though I'll go on record saying it functions better with the original films in mind), but this is explicitly a sequel--Episode VII of a forty-year-old franchise that's attained an unheard of cultural pervasiveness--and I think we can bear to have a film as concerned with the mythos as this one is.

      Of course, I've also had quite a few friends go into this as their first film and love it (as well as some who weren't SW fans before and are now because of it), so there is that. Hard to predict, the ways of the audience are and all.

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    4. I could go on all day about how this film does a disservice to the franchise by keeping old what should have been new and making new what should have been kept old, but in the end everyone is going to have a different reaction to it based on their tastes and experience. Best we can all do is be respectful when voicing ours. I feel I've stated my opinion as clearly and respectfully as I can, and I will keep it flexible enough for rewatches and added context to change my mind or not.

      Realize, I'm not shutting you down. I'm simply refusing to let myself belabor negative points and come off like some basher a-hole ramming my opinions down people's throats. Especially when, again, as much as I loathed some important aspects, there are plenty of things I liked and even loved about the film, and it's hardly a bad film by any means. I just have trouble seeing it as a true Star Wars film for the reasons I outlined (as an EU story, I'm more positive).

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    5. See, I just don't see the reason for the distinction, is all. Like I've said before, I don't see why Star Wars should be limited to George Lucas, when it has the potential to be more than that and to become a truly cultural phenomenon. I get the idea that there are some things that just don't make for that ineffable "Star Wars" quality, but Force Awakens I thought felt like a Star Wars film through and through. I feel like labeling it as "EU" only serves to denigrate its value to people. Like we're gatekeeping more than anything else.

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    6. Star Wars is already a cultural phenomenon.

      Force Awakens doesn't "grow beyond" because too much of it is steeped in what people falsely remember about Hope and Empire, when what should have happened and WOULD have happened if they kept George's treatments, is that the story would have grown beyond while keeping that pulp sensibility that makes Lucas films magical.

      But, again, we've never seen eye to eye on this, so I'm not going to belabor the point.

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    7. By "grow beyond", I simply mean that we get to see what other people do with the franchise. Whether or not that means going way beyond what we've seen already or just playing with the iconography to find new things within, I think Star Wars moving on to other creators and visions is important. We can debate all day about whether those new visions are "good" or "bad"--by all means, we should--I just feel what we shouldn't do is give them monikers like "true Star Wars". Again, it just feels uncomfortably like gatekeeping to me.

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    8. A) That's what the EU in general is for.

      B) Fine, save it for the spin-offs and leave the numbered Saga entries to George and his stories.

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    9. I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear--the issue is this distinction between what you deem "true Star Wars" and spin-offs and EU and all that. By making that distinction, we're intrinsically judging one thing to be above the other--that the Lucas films are the top-tier Star Wars, and everything else is lesser. That's certainly what the old approach to canon was, and that feels like what you're doing here by implying TFA to not be "true" Star Wars.

      And again, to me that's gatekeeping. That's saying only certain people have the rights to these stories, and if anyone else wants in, they have to be delegated to inherently 'lesser' stories. And why can't Star Wars be cultural? Why can't this be a thing passed on from generation to generation that lives and grows and changes with that? Other franchises get to do that--Doctor Who got to live past Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, and Star Trek got to live past Gene Roddenberry. Why can't Star Wars do the same?

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    10. Because Star Wars is a completely different animal. TV shows in general are built to a different form.

      Lucas is to Star Wars what Tolkien is to Lord of the Rings.

      And yes, you have the adaptations, but those are still reverent of Tolkien and trying to honor him, and only his son working on old writings makes new stories.

      What Lucas accomplished WAS something bigger and better

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    11. Because Star Wars is a completely different animal. TV shows in general are built to a different form.

      Lucas is to Star Wars what Tolkien is to Lord of the Rings.

      And yes, you have the adaptations, but those are still reverent of Tolkien and trying to honor him, and only his son working on old writings makes new stories.

      What Lucas accomplished WAS something bigger and better

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    12. Lord of the Rings was Tolkein alone, though. Star Wars is and always has been a franchise encompassing tens upon hundreds of creators--with Lucas up to this point as the head and the primary vision, to be sure, and this isn't to take that away from him, but to argue it as Lucas alone does a disservice to their contributions. I mean, just from a writing perspective it seems wrong to discount Kasdan or Hales, or the several people who helped polish the original film (or the rumored polish jobs on Revenge).

      The TV comparisons weren't accidental--I do think you could argue the behind-the-scenes process of the films as analogous to a television production, with Lucas as the showrunner carrying out his vision among many other creatives and collaborators. Now he's left the showrunner's chair, and I think it's fair to let someone else take the reigns.

      (even if we were to go the novel route, though, we could also bring up Sherlock Holmes or Oz, both of which far outlasted Doyle and Baum, and I think that's unequivocally a good thing)

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    13. And nothing of that changes the fact that Episodes I-VI are first and foremost Lucas´s films.

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    14. And nothing of that changes the fact that Episodes I-VI are first and foremost Lucas´s films.

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    17. And nothing changes the fact that the original Sherlock Holmes stories were first and foremost Arthur Conan Doyle's, or the Oz books were first and foremost L. Frank Baum's. And yet each of those properties outlasted their creators and spawned works that are as much or even more influential than the originals. I mean, you'd be hardpressed to suggest the 1939 MGM film is somehow "lesser" than the original books. Star Wars was Lucas's, but it's being passed to other creators now (something he was championing even before Disney's involvement). We can continue to debate whether those subsequent contributions are good or bad, but I just don't think we should be debating whether they are "true" Star Wars or not.

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  5. Now I have an image of BB8 being chased around by a Pomeranian back here on Earth, running for his (proverbial) life while the Pomeranian tries to catch the oversized "toy". :P

    I don't know what to think about BB8. I think he's trying to be too cute, (and I almost wish that someone - a Sith Lord - or Snoke himself, would smash him against a wall in the next movie), but he gets some good jokes in. The little thumbs up, in particular, is something that Artoo would never do, because he sees it as "below" him. (Artoo can be very condescending at times, based on his clicks and whistles. We only hear C3P-0's side of it, but we know it's there.)

    You've also gotta admire his bravery, in conspiring against Rey with a guy who is very obviously lying out of his butt. Rey is his most certain path to the resistance, and yet he puts his trust in Finn, because he seems like a nice guy who's trying to improvise his way around. I guess he feels some pity (or empathy) for Finn. Artoo would never do anything that stupid.

    (In fact, I get the feeling he'd sell out Finn at the first chance he got. :P)

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    1. Can't tell wether that makes BB a better or worse judge of character.

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    2. "I almost wish that someone - a Sith Lord - or Snoke himself, would smash him against a wall in the next movie"

      Jeeeeeeezus. That seems harsh.

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    3. Yeah, I agree. I can't believe I glanced over that at first. My fault.

      BB-8 doesn't deserve that kind of talk any more than Jar Jar does. I can think of only one character in the history of fiction that deserves anywhere near that kind of talk, and even then it's a bit much.

      I don't want to see that kind of talk again about anyone.

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  7. And part of this isn't so much diversity, but inclusion. Previously, women and minority characters in the Star Wars universe have always existed as the supporting characters to the white male leads. Even when they're written well, they've never been the main focus. Force Awakens changes that on both fronts (Finn & Rey are arguably co-leads here), and I do feel that's worth applauding.


    I applaud that the movie was able to have a white woman and a black man as the two leads. However, I didn't like how they were handled. Rey struck me as too much of a Mary Sue. She seemed to have little or no flaws. And they allowed her to be able to accomplish certain things - Jedi Mind Trick and use of lightsaber duel - because she was strong with the Force. Which is a bit lame in my book.

    Speaking of lame . . . why was Finn portrayed as a near incompetent boob? I liked the guy. He was complex and John Boyega gave a great performance. But he seemed to be borderline incompetent in nearly everything he did. They made Rey look like a goddess in compare to him . . . and I did not like that. Not one bit.

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    1. I disagree with the Mary Sue criticism I've seen bandied about a lot--for starters, Rey isn't an author insert (which I know isn't readily treated as part of the definition but was a crucial part of the point of "Trekkie's Tale"), and the narrative doesn't warp around her to make her perfect at everything. She does fail at times (gets captured by Kylo and all), it takes a little while for Han to warm to her, etc. It's true that she's a very capable character and has very *few* apparent flaws in comparison to someone like Luke or Anakin, but the way I kinda see her character is that she functions less as the 'everyman' like Luke was, and more of a wish-fulfillment character along the lines of Batman or James Bond--which is a kind of character that really doesn't exist much for women, and I think is an important thing to have.

      And I def wouldn't call Finn incompetent--he's shown to be rather resourcefull when he's breaking Poe out and when he's returning to Starkiller base. He's constantly scared and nervous about things, but that feeds into his character and the incessant fear drilled into him as a First Order trooper. He's essentially a broken soldier suffering from some heavy anxiety, trying to mask it with bravado and posturing (which of course Rey and Han see right through). I actually think his weaknesses displayed in the film make him a much richer character--not an 'incompetent boob' at all, IMO.

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  8. I loved your review of the film. As a lifelong fan, I feel too close to the Saga to give a fair review. For my part, I loved the movie greatly. My only point of contention is Luke is only in the last 90 seconds or so of the film, and I say this only because I'm creating that costume for our performance group.

    I felt the political situation was not clearly stated, with the assumption everyone would read the other material leading to TFA. But that material hasn't explained the Hosnian system nor the ultimate fate of Coruscant, which hasn't been mentioned at all.

    The diversity in this film is much better I think than the rest of the Saga. Yes, we have some women and diverse folks in the previous films, with the Prequels being better than the OT, with TFA being a step better. They are each representative of the eras they were made in. With a young woman as the "Luke" character, a young black man as a Stormtrooper, and a latino as the ace pilot ("best in the Resistance"), I was very pleased.

    Everyone's performances were very good in my mind. I felt affection for each character. Rey gave me the Skywalker vibe, and certainly was a natural as a pilot and nacent Force-user. (Is she the Awakening we heard of?) What's interesting is she was written as ambiguously as a Solo or Skywalker. She could go either way, or ::gasp:: be someone entirely new. Finn was cool. He had a list of skills, given his training as a trooper (and sanitation?). His fear of the First Order is genuine, from his immersion in it. His sudden fear in the opening battle makes sense, as his 'programming' may not have worked as designed. I like his earnestness and respect of his new comrades. Poe reminded me of the ace character from "The Flying Tigers" with John Wayne. What I really liked was his portrayal and dialogue delivery felt 1940s to me. Kylo Ren was a very interesting character. Using Ben as his name was cool. Funny thing was my visualization of Jacen Solo was this guy in TFA. Also some of the timbre of Kylo's voice reminded me greatly of Hayden Christensen. Snoke gave me nothing for the moment, other than his existence. I am curious to learn more. As you said, the classic heroes return was brilliant. When Han stood in the Falcon cockpit again, it was Home again. Leia was beautiful. Luke, without a word, owned the final scenes. Maz Kanata was delightful.

    BB-8 gave me the puppy-like presence. He was more energetic than R2 perhaps, but I also hoped that BB-8 would have a different energy than R2, which I think he did in the end. R2 and 3PO were cool. R2 felt natural to me. 3PO ironically felt a caricature of himself, with Anthony Daniels over-playing himself a bit. I wished they were in the movie more, as the Saga was supposed to be told through their eyes (here is where the prequels needed more of those two....).

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    1. I had to add a second part as I was too wordy....

      The effects felt typical. I was not too impressed nor let down either way. There is a TON of CG as noted by the FX reel released recently. Abrams stated in one interview there would be 'thousands' of CG shots. The amount of practical effects versus computer effects didn't seem all that different in the end. Certain small things were practical effects (the self-rising bread being one). Funny, the water bird didn't bug me. As a whole, this movie let me get immersed into the setting without failing any more than the previous movies.

      The editing was an artifact of Abrams presence. We need to give him a break and let his presence be known as Kershner and Marquand were. The editing was quick and one could say 'busy', but it didn't hurt me. I'm still surprised that this movie feels sooo fast at 2 hours 15 minutes. I'm not bored.

      I'd like you guys to know, this is the most I've thought of this film. I've seen it 10 times, and I'm not bored or offended in any way. As a nearly 50 year-old, I'm touched by the homage to the past, the fan-service they are trying to accomplish (and did), but presenting some new heroes for the kids to love too. Though this is an Abrams movie, it was heavily massaged by the story group I'm sure and the overlords at Disney. A critical perception of this movie would be to call it a 'safe' production, taking few risks. There are some, but very calculated by the corporate masters. But how nostalgic do you make it before it becomes a parody of itself? How 'new' or 'modern' do you make it before losing the older audience and fans? How 'cute' do you make it to get the toy crowd and kids interested? I think Lucasfilm had to make a lot of tough decisions to satisfy everyone, from Disney corp to Disney stockholders, to old-school fans, kids, new grownup fans, critics and film folks. Overall I think it did a great job. I'm glad to have it as part of the Saga and can't wait for 8 and 9.

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  9. As a nearly 50 year-old, I'm touched by the homage to the past, the fan-service they are trying to accomplish (and did), but presenting some new heroes for the kids to love too.


    I simply wanted the Saga to continue. I didn't want a "homage" to the past. A "homage" to the past is not art. It's cashing in on sentimentality.

    I didn't want a Force sensitive character like Rey who is able to achieve certain abilities - Jedi Mind trick, lightsaber skills - with no training whatsoever, because she is supposed to be "strong with Force". That is ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is that aside from handling a blaster rifle, the Finn character seemed unable to be competent at other skills.

    But the most ridiculous aspect of this film is that the plot bore TOO MANY similarities to "A New Hope". Too many for me to have any respect to J.J. Abrams as a filmmaker.

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  10. As a nearly 50 year-old, I'm touched by the homage to the past, the fan-service they are trying to accomplish (and did), but presenting some new heroes for the kids to love too.


    I simply wanted the Saga to continue. I didn't want a "homage" to the past. A "homage" to the past is not art. It's cashing in on sentimentality.

    I didn't want a Force sensitive character like Rey who is able to achieve certain abilities - Jedi Mind trick, lightsaber skills - with no training whatsoever, because she is supposed to be "strong with Force". That is ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is that aside from handling a blaster rifle, the Finn character seemed unable to be competent at other skills.

    But the most ridiculous aspect of this film is that the plot bore TOO MANY similarities to "A New Hope". Too many for me to have any respect to J.J. Abrams as a filmmaker.

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    1. "A "homage" to the past is not art"

      That's a limiting statement there. If well-executed and with actual purpose to the homaging, I don't see a reason why it *can't* be art.

      To pull from another long-running science fiction franchise, Doctor Who every now and then indulges in episodes (usually anniversaries) that aim in part to be a loving homage of the past history of the show. Now, if that's all it is, yeah, then it's dull and unengaging and we get snoozefests like "The Five Doctors". If there's a point to it, though, and we're using the past to say something about the future, then the episode actually becomes engaging and we get something more akin to "Day of the Doctor".

      Now, we can beg to differ here, but at least to me Force Awakens felt like it was doing more of the latter than the former.

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