My thoughts on
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” -Obi Wan
I really wanted to enjoy Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I truly did. The possibilities seemed endless when the film was announced. Would we finally get to see the Expanded Universe fleshed out on-screen, or would we get an all-new chapter in the Star Wars saga? Unfortunately we didn’t get either of those things, instead we got A New Hope 2.0 with updated special effects.
Let’s take a look at the beginning where Star Wars: The Force Awakens began to go awry, but before we get started I have a few suggestions:
- Read Neil’s Movie Review on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He is pretty much on point with a lot of my feeling for this film and has a kick ass synopsis that I am not even going to bother trying to replicate here. Partially due to the fact that I am so amped to spew venom at Disney, That a Dilophosaurus on crank with access to unlimited Newmans could not keep up with me. But mostly because Neil hit a home run on his review.
- There will be spoilers. The movie has made a kabillion dollars this past weekend in the Box Office, ! highly doubt anyone clicking on a Star Wars link has not seen it yet. But I thought I’d throw it out there.
- Keep in mind The Star Wars franchise means a lot of different things to different people. A New Hope was released in 1977, 2 years before I was even semen. I grew up with the original trilogy, and that’s all I had. I was able to witness the monumental “Luke I am your father” on Betamax with fresh eyes. Fast forward to 1999: Napster, Ricky Martin and the Teletubbies were ruling the world when The Phantom Menace was released. A whole new generation was exposed to the Star Wars saga in an entirely different way than I was, and may be more familiar with THAT take on a galaxy far far away than with the OT.
With that out of the way here we go.
The Phantom Menace: New Management!
Disney buys Lucasfilms and Lucasarts for 4 billion dollars.
Late in 2012 it was anounced that Disney had purchased the Lucas properties for a pretty hefty sum. My feelings were mixed on this, as Disney was a bit to family friendly for my liking and change is not always a good thing. But honestly, Lucas was stingy with the franchise and never seemed to want to do films, and while the original trilogy were works of art, the prequels failed to live up to expectations. Hard. So when Disney CEO Robert Iger said “our long-term plan is to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years,” I was ecstatic. I mean some Star Wars is better than none, right? We already had Jar Jar Binks, whats the worst that can happen?
Disney tosses aside decades of canon
OK this. This is probably the worst thing that could happen. Technically the novels and such were not officially canon, but for thirty years Del Rey, Dark Horse and others using the material followed guidelines set by Lucas and created an incredibly deep Expanded Universe. Many people forget there was a time before prequels and the cartoons, and that if you wanted a Star Wars fix your choices were to either re watch the original trilogy or pick up the books or comics. To many, the Yuuzhan Vong story arc in The New Jedi Order series is perhaps the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back.
With the Disney acquisition Lucasfilms President Kathleen Kennedy had this to say about the EU:
“We have an unprecedented slate of new Star Wars entertainment on the horizon,” said Kennedy.
“We’re set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging.
This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before.”
While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded.
Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe.
For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels.
The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series,
and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s.
Demand for past tales of the Expanded Universe will keep them in print, presented under the new Legends banner.
So essentially three things: Lucasfilms will cherry pick whatever they want from the EU, but ultimately none of it counts, and Kathleen Kennedy feeds off the tears of fanboys everywhere.
I get it, the expanded universe puts Disney/Lucasfilms in a weird spot. If they stuck with the EU they would just be adopting old stories from a complex and overcrowded back catalog, and any inconsistency would be met with outrage from the Star Wars community. Or Lucasfilms could just treat it like a band-aid – rip it off real quick and get the pain out-of-the-way so they can go about their business. Disney did the bizarre thing and did neither, opting to copy much from the EU without adopting it entirely. So not building on that legacy of work, but also not doing something completely new or different.
Callbacks or Plagiarism?
So fans of the EU are going to see some elements of what they read become bastardized and wedged into the new film. That ends up being par for the course, as Disney also crammed in as many parallels and outright cribbed moments from the original trilogy as well! Here is what got taken/adapted from the EU:
- Kylo Ren/Ben Solo-Organna. In the Legacy EU the solo’s had twins that were Jedi’s Jacen and Jaina. Jacen Eventually fell to the Dark side much like Kylo in an effort to finish his granfathers work. What muddies this up is that Luke also had a son named Ben after Obi Wan Kenobi in the books, and the film heavily implies that Rey has some sort of connection/lineage to the Skywalker clan. Why Else would she have such a strong reaction to Luke’s lightsaber? If you want to dig deeper Kylo also bears a strong resemblance to a young jedi apprentice that betrayed Luke – Kyp Durron.
- Starkiller. The First orders “new” super weapon that can destroy planets just by sucking the juice out of the sun. It’s basically a take on the Suncrusher that first appeared in the Jedi Academy series, but honestly we all know it’s Death Star part deux.
- Supreme Leader Snoke. The mysterious leader of the first order voiced by Andy Serkis appears to borrow elements from Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Heir To The Empire series, but perhaps more interesting Snokes appears to be a Muun which is the same race as Emperor Palpatine’s mentor Darth Plagueis.
- Luke’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order. In the Jedi Academy series Luke sets off to rebuild the Jedi Order and is faced with betrayal numerous times but ultimately is sucessful in his attempt. In The Force Awakens, perhaps the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy is taken down by his padawan and the mysterious Knights of Ren.
- The First Order. A group of loyalists that looked to continue the fight much like the Imperial Remnant from the EU. Unlike The Imperial Remnant, The storm troopers of the First Order appear to be issued blast armor, a Blaster Rifle, and a copy of Mein Kampf.
All of these are minor grievances and shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the film if you can let go of the expanded universe and keep an open mind.
Blind we are, if creation of this clone army we could not see.
There is an issue I have with Kathleen Kennedy’s earlier statements. If you are going to use elements of previous stories that’s great, but don’t just rip off old parts and throw a new coat of paint on them! This is where I really start to have issues with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
For starters lets look at the cast: We have Poe Dameron that can fly anything and laughs in the face of death, Sound familiar? Well don’t worry Poe, Kylo Ren took out your competition in the brash wise cracking fighter pilot category. So I guess we are stuck with the poor mans Han Solo.
Next up we Maz Kanata, A wrinkly diminutive creature that spits out wisdom and advice whether you want to hear it or not. She may not be a muppet and she may not be green but she is most certainly a rip off.
Then there is BB-8 so cutesy it makes you want to puke. He essentially mimics R2-D2 for the two hours plus as R2 sits around collecting dust. Why you wonder? Because Disney is already going to sell an ass-load of R2 merch and they need them some of that BB-8 money in addition.
While I feel Daisy Ridley was a bright spot as Rey, her story is alarmingly familiar: an orphan with untapped potential in the force that just so happens to be dropped on a desert wasteland, finds a droid with secret information, and must get it back to the resistatnce. She also is a crack pilot, though she has never left her home-world. Stop me if you have heard this one before..
Finally we have General Hux, who is essentialy Grand Moff Tarkin 2.0; both were in charge of the doomsday weapon, loved genocide and loathed their co-workers. If it wasn’t for Snokes/Palpatine, this version of space Hitler would throw the force out on its ass, much like real Hitler did with organized religion.
…and that just the character similarities folks.. Let’s take a look at the story:
- Hide the plans in a droid. Being a Droid is a shit life. you get menial tasks, are terrorized by wookies, and sold for parts if you are lucky. Early on in Star Wars: The Force Awakens we see Han.. err Poe Dameron hide the map to Luke Skywalker’s location in BB-8 because it will be safer with him.. Of course Poe promptly gets captured claims he has no knowledge of said map and torture ensues. Meanwhile BB-8 wanders the dunes until he is captured by some alien and then is reluctantly taken in by Rey. Ren discovers the droid has it and the first order kills a shit ton of people, Rey escapes her desert planet. This is exactly what happens in A New Hope. Leia hides the plans in R2, get captured tortured etc.. Then Luke reluctantly takes R2 after purchasing C3PO. Vader discovers the plans are in the droid and the Empire slaughters a shit ton of people. Luke escapes his desert planet.
- Stars of mass destruction. No we aren’t talking about Lindsey Lohan, we are talking about another iteration of the Death Star, the Starkiller. Much like the Deathstar from The Return Of The Jedi it required Han Solo, Chewbacca and their special orphan hero to destroy the shields so that the resistance can do their job.
Once again complications occur, less favorably for Han this time around, and all seems lost for the resistance pilots. Miraculously the shields come down (again) and a young fighter pilot blows up the exhaust port (again). Perhaps the Empire/First Order should seek new contractors for their “ultimate weapons”. Maybe place a ton of anti air guns near that damn exhaust port? Hell, even a toll booth might at least slow down all of the rebel pilots flying into that thing over and over!
- Don’t look at anyone funny. Perhaps it was intended as an homage, but once again we find our heroes in a cantina searching for info and guess what? Han is immediately questioned about money he owes. Again.
- The Panic room. Yet again we get a scene where the head honcho’s plan their assault and lament their impending doom. This scene on D’Quar is a complete rehash of the scene on Yavin in A New Hope. Replace Luke with Poe, and the Deathstar with the Sunkiller and it’s the same scene.
- Get off of there. When Han calls out Kylo and traverse the bridge above nothingness, I cant help but think back to the other father and son moment in The Empire Strikes Back. We also get the reveal that Kylo’s birth name is Ben, Which can be confusing, considering the EU and also the last reveal we had with a Ben was Obi Wan under similar circumstances. Which brings me to..
- False Idols. Han Solo was to Rey as Obi Wan Kenobi was to Luke. Both were mentored for about an hour or so then forced to helplessly watch them murdered as they screamed “Nooo”.
Essentially there is way too much homage in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and not enough new content to consider this a new chapter in the Star Wars Universe. Much like Abrams work in Star Trek, the film suffers from JJ’s cut and paste technique to play to fan service. Abrams has not done anything fresh since Lost, and how did that turn out? Say what you will about Michael Bay but at least he does his own thing.
Only The Sith Deal in Absolutes
Despite it’s flaws, Star Wars: the Force Awakens was entertaining. It was beautifully shot and the IMAX experience was truly amazing. Generally speaking for most films the 3d IMAX experience is a novelty that rarely adds anything to the film except boosting the studio’s bottom line. That isn’t the case here, from start to finish you feel as if you should be ducking from the blaster fire. Outside of Gravity, you’d be hard pressed to find a film that takes advantage of the IMAX experience as well as The Force Awakens managed.
The other strength of this film is its cast. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were superb as Rey and Finn, and their characters give us a reason to be invested in for the upcoming films. We were also able to see most of the old cast reunited, and they did not disappoint. Harrison Ford slid right into his role as Han Solo as did Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Their reunion on-screen was a memorable one and a highlight of the film.
Despite the films less than inventive storyline, I feel that The Force Awakens sets solid foundation for the franchise going forward, It’s just disappointing that to really enjoy this film you almost have to view it as a reboot of the series instead of a new chapter.
With all that said at least there wasn’t any pod racing this time around.