Tag Archives: Princess Leia

Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

As I predicted, The Force Awakens was reasonably entertaining, but nothing special. A dumb-but-fun action movie that is an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours, but would be easily forgettable if it didn’t have the Star Wars name.

I try to look at The Force Awakens as being in the same category of Oz the Great and Powerful; more or less a work of fan fiction. If there are any nuances or character beats that add to your appreciation of the original, then you can incorporate those into your view of the work. But anything that detracts from your feelings on the original can be ignored.

If at the end of Return of the Jedi there had been a title card saying, “And then 30 years later, some other stuff happened,” that wouldn’t change how much you liked the original trilogy. So you should try to treat TFA as being the same thing.

Good Stuff

Looking at TFA as its own movie apart from the legacy, there were some good pieces to it:

– I really liked the characters of Rey and Finn. They were well-established, interesting, had clear goals and character growth. These are characters that you could build a great movie around. Creating compelling characters is the hardest and most important part of screenwriting, so we shouldn’t gloss over this. Lawrence Kasdan did a great job introducing characters worthy of Star Wars, even if the rest of movie wasn’t.

– BB-8 was totally dorbs. The animators/puppeteers did an incredible job of conveying emotion and character through movement, head-angle, and beeps. I think BB-8 is cuter and better at inspiring affection than R2-D2, which is some high praise.

– The action scenes were well-shot and visually interesting. They were exciting and clearly conveyed what was going on.

Contrast this to the prequels, where the action consisted of characters running in arbitrary directions like smurfs fleeing Gargamel, and then there’s some variety of meaningless glowing light, and everyone either cheers or is sad.

The action scenes in TFA also had clear stakes. You knew who were the good guys and the bad guys, what each side was trying to accomplish, and what would be the consequences if they succeeded or failed. Whereas with the prequels, you’re watching battle-droids fight clone-troopers, and thinking to yourself, “Uh, which army of unlimited faceless interchangeable sort-of-but-not-quite sentient slaves who have been programmed to kill and are secretly being manipulated by an evil mastermind as part of his eeeevil plan that makes no god-damned sense am I supposed to root for?” (Or when battle-droids fight Gungans, and you think “I know the Gungans are supposed to be the good guys, but they’re so annoying that I kind of want them to die.”)

Unfortunately while the individual scenes had clear stakes, the overall plot did not. But I’ll discuss that in the Bad Stuff section.

– This isn’t so much praise as a lack of a complaint, but I didn’t mind the presence of old Leia anywhere near as much as I was expecting to. For years I’ve been arguing including her in the movie was a terrible idea, because nobody wants to see Princess Leia old and fat and ravaged by decades of heavy drug use. But the way they actually used her in the movie was fine. It makes sense for old Leia to be the wise leader, a minor character showing up in a couple of scenes to dispense sage advice and send the main characters off on their adventures.

Had they limited Han to this role as well, with him and Leia running the resistance and squabbling but clearly still loving each other, that would have been fine. But alas, they didn’t. Which brings me to the problems.

Bad Stuff

First off, I need to make clear that this is the sort of movie where the more you think about it, the more problems you will find. So you really *shouldn’t* think too hard about it, because it will only detract from your enjoyment. (Unless you’re the sort of person who takes pleasure in picking something apart. Which, as I explained in my last essay, is much more common after The Phantom Menace.)

I could keep pointing out flaws all day, but because I don’t want to think too much about it, I’ll focus on a handful of the most glaring issues.

– The biggest problem is that there so many parallels to Episode 4, to the point that it became obvious, glaring, and annoying. You always knew exactly what was going to happen next because you’ve seen this story before. I won’t bother laying out all the similarities, because you’ve probably already thought about them yourself. (And if you haven’t, I suggest that you don’t, because it will just irritate you.)

If I wanted a greatly inferior blatant rehash of Star Wars, I could watch Eragon. I never actually watched Eragon, but I read enough of the book to realize some kid had written down the plot of A New Hope, did a find-replace to change “spaceship” to “dragon,” and hoped nobody would notice. JJ Abrams/Lawrence Kasdan did pretty much the same thing, only without bothering to change anything. This would have been a much better movie if it had its own plot.

– Having old Han in the Obi-Wan role was a huge mistake. Han is supposed to be a swashbuckling seat-of-his-pants devil-may-care cowboy. Not a grumpy old man. And his presence was additionally problematic in that he ended up being the one to drive the plot, with the main characters Rey and Finn relegated to spectators whenever Han was around. The movie would have been so much better if Rey and Finn had been free to make their own decisions, figuring things out for themselves, and moving the story forward on their own.

– Too many wildly implausible coincidences that ended up being hugely important to the plot. I won’t take the time to list them because that would just annoy you. But I will point out a couple of the most egregious: That in the huge vastness of the galaxy, Han and Chewie just happen to stumble across the Millennium Falcon at the very moment that Rey and Finn desperately need their help. And that in the entire vastness of the galaxy, the Mos Eisley Maz Kanata Cantina that they go to for help happens to randomly be where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden.

– The MacGuffin of the Rebellion and First Order both trying to find Luke just didn’t work at all. The movie never established why that was important to either side, so the audience didn’t know what was at stake or why we should care. And there’s no way this even *could* make sense. If the wise space wizard who is interconnected to all things decides it’s best for the galaxy for him to go into hiding, why would the heroes assume he’s wrong and try to find him? Or if he was hiding because he felt bad about himself and not because he believed it was best for the galaxy, that’s much worse. That turns Luke into a pathetic whiny bitch who is willing to let the galaxy burn because he wants to go off and pout. That’s totally inconsistent with Luke’s character in the original trilogy, and would retroactively ruin the good movies if you considered this to be part of the same series. (Which is why I don’t consider TFA that way.)

In practice, because this MacGuffin had zero emotional stakes, the plot ended up getting wrapped around the Death Star 3: This Time It’s Slightly Bigger And Has Longer Range. But we’ve already seen the heroes take on the Death Star twice before, so yawn. Return of the Jedi avoided being repetitive by focusing on the emotional struggle of Luke and Vader trying to turn each other. And the external visual action surrounding the second Death Star was very different from the first Death Star. It was about Han & Leia’s commando raid on Endor, while the space battle was relegated to supporting characters. But in The Force Awakens, we saw all the same stuff happen as had happened in Episode 4, and, well, we had seen that before.

– An untrained former storm trooper who wasn’t even very good at storm troopering holding his own in a lightsaber battle against a sith lord? Come on. If a random schmo is just as good at lightsabering as a master of the Force who has years of practice, what the hell is the point of the Force? And if we as the audience know that, why should we be scared of Kylo Ren?

– It’s just plain annoying that there are characters named Rey and Ren. “Don’t have characters with confusingly similar names” is one of those things they teach you in the first few weeks of an introductory screenwriting class.

Conclusion

The Force Awakens is an entertaining mindless movie if you don’t consider it to be part of the original Star Wars trilogy that you know and love. If you enjoyed the JJ Abrams’ version of Star Trek or the Michael Bay Transformers, You’ll probably like Episode VII. Just don’t think too hard about it.

Star Wars Episode VII

Ever since Star Wars Episode VII was announced, I was insisting it would be a terrible idea to bring back Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher.

Han and Leia are supposed to be swashbuckling sexy ass-kickers.  Seeing a grizzled and tired Han ravaged by age, or an old and fat Leia, completely undermines the point of the characters.  We want to dream of being like them, traveling the galaxy punching bad guys and having awesome sexy adventures.

That’s almost as terrible an idea as a movie featuring an old and decrepit Indiana Jones, which I still like to pretend never happened.

Even as various fan rumor sites were reporting that Ford and Fisher were in the cast, I clung to hope since there hadn’t been any official announcement.  I wanted the production team to be more sensible than the rabid fans.

But the official announcement just came, and Ford and Fisher are indeed in the cast.  Which is highly disappointing.

I didn’t have huge hopes for Episode VII.  It seemed incredibly unlikely that it would live up to the original series, and questionable whether it would even match the extremely low bar of the prequels.  But this latest news is making me reduce my already diminished expectations.

(They also announced that Mark Hamill is in the cast, but I don’t mind the idea of old Luke.  Luke’s journey was going from immature punk kid to wise Jedi master, so seeing him old and passing his knowledge on to a new generation is a fulfillment of the promise of his character, rather than a betrayal.)

Movies We Still Care About – 1983

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Return of the Jedi
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • Scarface
  • A Christmas Story

Other Notable Movies

  • The Right Stuff
  • Risky Business

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Terms of Endearment (Winner)
  • The Big Chill
  • The Dresser
  • The Right Stuff
  • Tender Mercies

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Return of the Jedi
  2. Terms of Endearment
  3. Flashdance
  4. Trading Places
  5. Wargames
  6. Octopussy
  7. Sudden Impact
  8. Staying Alive
  9. Mr. Mom
  10. Risky Business

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. Risky Business (98%)
  2. The Right Stuff (98%)
  3. National Lampoon’s Vacation (95%)

Movies We Still Care About

Return of the Jedi

Many people consider this to the be the least of the original trilogy, and some will even go so far as to rank it among the prequels in quality.  (Which is just plain crazy.)  But I would argue that this really has a lot going for it, and is the equal of the other two.

Yes, many people find the Ewoks annoying.  But it’s not like they’re Jar Jar.  They’re cutesy and a bit silly, but what’s wrong with that?

Moreover, the Ewoks fit into the overall theme of the movie, which is that love and respect are more powerful than hatred, fear, and oppression.  The Empire treats the Ewoks with contempt as beneath their notice.  Luke, Leia, and Han treat the Ewoks as friends, and in doing so are able to use their help to defeat the Empire.  (They do lie about C3PO being a god.  But that wouldn’t have worked if they weren’t treating the Ewoks with respect.)

Jedi also has the moment where Darth Vader, the #1 biggest and best known villain in modern mythology, is redeemed through love.  That’s the entire point of the whole series, and to dismiss Jedi is to throw that theme away.

On a personal note, Return of the Jedi is the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater.  That’s what gave me a life-long love of film.  And to this day, the Jabba’s palace/barge sequence is my all-time favorite sequence in the history of movies.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

This is one of those movies that people just like to hang out with.  It’s the sort of laugh-a-minute thing where people have such affection for it that their like for the movie becomes part of their identity.  Consider that in the Blink 182 song “Josie,” the fact that the singer’s girlfriend is up watching Vacation at 3:00 AM is evidence of how great she is.

Scarface

The quintessential tale of someone who comes from nothing, and through his willingness to break the rules and be tougher than everyone else, rises to the top.  Then he becomes a victim of his own excess and is destroyed.  It has become a favorite of rap culture, which is a bit weird considering how it turns out, in one of the all-time most memorable endings in film.  Say hello to my little friend!

 

A Christmas Story

Another of those movies that people can watch over and over again.  For many, it’s a tradition to view this every Christmas, and it brings people back to their childhood.  The fact that it can do so either through people remembering similar childhood experiences as are portrayed in the film, or through remembering watching the movie itself, is a testament to how much this has become part of our culture.

Other Notable Films

The Right Stuff

Like with biopics, movies based on well-known true events tend to have their legacy overshadowed by the legacy of the actual events.  The Right Stuff was quite popular when it came out.  But today, people interested in the story are more likely to view the early episodes of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, or any of the tons of documentaries about the early space program.

Risky Business

We all remember Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear to Old Time Rock and Roll.

But the rest of the movie is not so memorable.  For example, check out this clip from Tosh.0, where two girls who made a video recreating that scene admit they’ve never seen the movie, and are shocked to find out what it’s about.

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.