Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Star Wars marathon and The Force Awakens

A few months ago, in a theater miles, miles away...

A friend and I made the trek to Knoxville for the Star Wars marathon leading up to The Force Awakens.  I was in for a day full of Star Wars.  Seven films in a row with only about 10-15 minutes between showings (just long enough to refill our popcorn bucket, top off our soda, and use the restroom).  We got to the theater at around 3:30am and didn't leave until around 10:00pm.  16+ hours sitting in a theater with the same group of people (some of whom I assume skipped their morning shower to make sure they got there on time).  I suffered through the prequels, riffing via Twitter to help stay awake.  I relished in the joy and nostalgia of the original trilogy (except for the revised parts...Han shoots first!).  Then, finally, The Force Awakens!  From beginning to end, I absolutely loved it!  On the way home, my friend and I talked about the parts we loved most and the parts that we thought could have been handled differently.  But, overall, it brought the same sense of fun and excitement as when we watched the original trilogy.  The movie was by no means perfect, but Star Wars was real again!

Prior to watching The Force Awakens, I had purposely been avoiding spoilers, rumors, or even detailed breakdowns of the trailers.  I wanted to go into episode VII with only the knowledge of the previous movies.  And I think that my enjoyment of the movie was due in large part to the fact that I did not allow myself to get overly hyped.  I have been watching movies for 20+ years and whenever there is excessive hype, the movie rarely lives up to the expectations.  Knowing the impact that expectations has on movies, I avoided most media coverage leading up to the move.  But, following the movie, I was curious what other people thought, so I started reading most of the reviews as they trickled out.

While there were some reviews that glorified the return of Star Wars, most of the reviews that I saw were along the lines of "top reasons that The Force Awakens was disappointing" or "unforgivable mistakes in The Force Awakens."  Really??  "Disappointing?"  "Unforgivable?"  As a film critic, I absolutely understand that we must look at things with a critical eye.  And many of the points that were presented were valid points.  There were plenty of things about The Force Awakens that, when I got past the adrenaline and excitement, I started to question and started to say "well, yeah, I do wish that they had done a little more with..."  However, the more and more that I read the critiques of The Force Awakens, the more I found myself saying "oh, come on guys...that was one hell of a fun movie!!  Who cares if it wasn't perfect?!!?  It was Star Wars and it was awesome!"

There is no question that The Force Awakens was infinitely better than the prequels.  And, even with as bad as the prequels were, you will still find people who love them.  Not because they were necessarily good, but because of the emotion and sense of wonder that the Star Wars universe elicits.  Sure, the prequels can be painful to watch.  But, if you look at the original trilogy with a critical eye, they are pretty bad too.  But, I don't love the original trilogy for the cinematic elements or for the originality (much of what George Lucas did was "inspired," i.e. stolen, from other films/ideas)...I love it for the nostalgia.  Who didn't grow up wanting to be a Jedi?  Who didn't want to fly around space in the Millennium Falcon?  Who didn't want their own personal R2D2 following them around everywhere?  I fully acknowledge that the original trilogies are not necessarily great films.  But, you will never convince me to not like them.

Movies are supposed to be an escape.  A way to slip into fantasy and experience things that you will never experience in your own life.  I am certainly guilty of being overly critical of some movies.  But, despite all of my criticisms, I still always split whether or not I liked the movie from the actual quality of the movie.  So, for all of the articles out there talking about all of the things that The Force Awakens got wrong, I have a few things to say.  First...who cares?!!?  The movie was a hell of a lot of fun to watch!  Second, if the movie had addressed all of the things that these articles say it should have addressed, it would have been at least a four hour movie.  If that had happened, all of the articles would be saying that it was too long and that too much time was spent focusing on side details rather than focusing on the main characters.  Finally, I have rebuttals to many of the critiques.  I am not saying that these will fix everything.  And I am in no way claiming to be a Star Wars expert.  I'm not even saying that I necessarily disagree with the comments.  These are merely my "yes, but..." reaction to many of the complaints that I have seen put forth.  In case you haven't seen The Force Awakens yet, major spoilers below!!

Rey and Finn fight Kylo Ren too easily.
Yes, but....Kylo Ren had just been shot with Chewie's bowcaster (which, the entire movie had been throwing storm troopers 20 feet...give or take).  Also, Kylo Ren had just killed his father.  Sure, he was already heavily seduced by the dark side.  But, one of the main points of the movie is that Kylo Ren was struggling with the pull towards the light.  In fact, right before he kills Han, Kylo tells Han that the struggle is tearing him up inside.  Even though Kylo ultimately makes the decision to kill his father, it is still a very emotionally draining experience.  Previous Star Wars movies have established that, even though emotions might make the force stronger, they also make it more unstable.  Think about how erratic Anakin was when he was fighting Obi-Wan at the end of Revenge of the Sith.  Think about how impulsive Luke was when he was fighting Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.  So, during the final lightsaber battle, Kylo Ren was fighting with a damaged body and a clouded mind.  As far as Rey not having any Jedi is that any different from Obi-Wan telling Luke to "use the force" to hit the exhaust port on target on the Death Star?  At that point in A New Hope, Luke had essentially no training in the ways of the force.

The Force Awakens basically repeats the same story as the original trilogy.
Yes, but...that is one of the biggest things that Lucas got wrong in his prequels.  Rather than telling a story with familiar themes to tie into the tone of the original trilogy, Lucas relied too heavily on characters to force a sense of familiarity (for example, Anakin building C3P0).  The Force Awakens might follow the original trilogy a little too closely for some critics...but it is the tried and true story of a hero's journey.  There is nothing new under the sun.  But, The Force Awakens managed to tell the story in a fun and exciting way!

The New Republic is destroyed too quickly.
Yes, did Alderaan.  We never get to know anything about Alderaan beyond Leia's plea to not destroy it.  Also, in A New Hope, the disbanding of the Galactic Empire (the Empire that the entire prequel trilogy was setting up) was given barely more than just a line in passing.  That does not necessarily mean that it was not annoying in A New Hope and that it is not annoying in The Force Awakens...but it is at least consistent with the pacing and consistent with the focus being on the protagonist, not on a distant governing body.  From what I have seen, there were additional scenes that gave more insight into the New Republic, but they were eventually cut.  While I would definitely love to see those scenes to have a more comprehensive view of the current state of the Star Wars universe, I am not too upset that those scenes were cut.  If they had been left in, it either would have slowed down the pacing too much and felt entirely out of place, or there would have had to be even more scenes tying them into the main characters that we are following.

Luke is only on screen for a short period of time with no dialogue.
Yes, but...if he had been introduced earlier, then it would have only made sense for Luke to go with Han to try to stop Kylo Ren.  This would not have allowed for any character development of Finn or Rey.  Also, if Luke had been introduced earlier, there are too many things that would have needed resolved (such as addressing his sense of failure for Kylo turning to the dark side).  While I do eagerly anticipate seeing Luke train Rey, I am glad that it will be in the next movie (hopefully a large portion of it...much like Luke and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back), rather than trying to force it into The Force Awakens.

Han and Luke will never be together again.
Yes, but...ok...this one does suck.  I keep hoping that Han had some force in him too (which is why he was so inherently good at so many things that he did in the original trilogy) and that he will be able to return as a force ghost.  Or, that he is still alive and was brought onto the ship with Kylo so that Snoke can try to use Han to find and destroy Luke.  If Han is gone forever, then that does undoubtedly suck.  But, at least his death will have served the same purpose as the deaths of Quai Gon and Obi-Wan...the old man spurring the new Jedi into discovering their strength in the force.

There was too much setup for episode VIII.
Yes, but...not so much that The Force Awakens cannot be enjoyed on its own.  Sure, there are a lot of questions that are still unanswered.  But, that just builds anticipation for episode VIII.  If you are going to do a trilogy, it can be a difficult balance of setting things up to build anticipation for future movies while at the same time having a self-contained movie that can be enjoyed even without the sequels.  Yes, there are a lot of unanswered questions...but I feel like the main pieces are resolved enough to enjoy the movie on its own.  Also, if everything had been answered, The Force Awakens would have either been twice as long, or there would be complaints that there is nothing left for episode VIII to do.

Han and Chewie find the Millennium Falcon too easily.
Yes, but...that is directly addressed with dialogue from Han.  He says that if they were able to find the Falcon so easily, the First Order won't be far behind.  Essentially, Han and Chewie weren't able to track the Falcon because it had been out of commission for so long.  Once it was turned on again, they were able to track it.  Besides, there was all the time spent on Jakku fighting the tie it's not like the Falcon was found 5 seconds after it was fired back up.

Rey is a "Mary Sue."
That does not even deserve a "yes, but..."  How does Han, a lowly smuggler in A New Hope understand Chewie, Greedo, or Jabba?  How does Anakin understand R2D2 in the prequels?  How do any of the characters know how to do any of the things they know how to do?  Calling Rey a "Mary Sue" is just your sexism showing.  Just because she is intelligent, skilled, and intuitive does not make her a "Mary Sue."  For more on why the "Mary Sue" argument is ridiculous, check out the io9 article here.

Starkiller base was too easy to destroy.
Ummm....easy?  Coming out of lightspeed in the planet's atmosphere is easy?  If the Death Star had a fatal flaw in the exhaust port, surely something exponentially bigger is going to have an exponentially bigger flaw...which was protected with the shield generators...which would not have been able to be brought down were it not for Han coming out of lightspeed in the planet's atmosphere.  But sure...that was easy...

Finn resists the First Order Stormtrooper brainwashing.
Yes, but...obviously he has some link with the force.  If that is in fact true, then that's an easy explanation.  If Finn does not have any connection with the force,'ve got some 'splaining to do.

Leia is underutilized.
Yes, but....ok...this one does suck too.  She is not the focus of the plot, so her scenes might not have had as much direct impact on the development of the central characters (Rey and Finn).  But does suck that she didn't have a larger role and that her scenes with Han were not more emotionally fueled.  But, in the original trilogy, most of Han and Leia's interactions were built on dry, snippy remarks.  That was their defense mechanism for hiding their feelings in the original trilogy, so it makes sense that they would use the same defense mechanism to hide their pain.

The force is lacking.
Yes,'s the force awakens...not "the force jumps out of bed ready and rearing to go!"  The force is only awakening.  It is a process.  If it had jumped in too heavily, there would be people saying there wasn't enough buildup in bringing back the force.  Give it some time.  Let the force have its morning coffee before taking on the dark side.

Captain Phasma is drastically underutilized.
Yes, but...she is essentially the Boba Fett (or Darth Maul, or General Grievous) of this movie.  Yes, some of those characters received more screen time in their respective movies.  But, they were there as a plot device for a secondary character to have a primary antagonist.  Phasma is Finn's antagonist.  I highly doubt that she is dead and I fully expect the two of them to have more encounters, each with growing intensity.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all of the grievances that other film critics have had.  A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of reviews with "unforgivable" (or a similar word) in the title to denote how The Force Awakens had failed miserably to live up to expectations.  But, these are some of the most common complaints that I have seen throughout.  My responses might not fully justify all of the perceived shortcomings the movie had.  And I am in no way saying that the movie is perfect.  But, what I am saying is that it was ridiculously fun to watch and people need to remember that movies are here for our entertainment...and when you are overly critical, you ruin your ability to enjoy movies.

Also, as a reminder, I watched The Force Awakens at the end of a Star Wars marathon.  I was in the theater for 16+ hours.  I stayed awake for seven Star Wars movies in a row, surviving on popcorn, Twizzlers, and soda.  And even after being exhausted and dealing with a room full of body odor and farts...I still loved the hell out of The Force Awakens!!  Not because it was a perfect movie.  Not even because it was a better movie than the original trilogy.  But, because it brought me back into the Star Wars universe with laughter, excitement, and tears. (well..almost tears.  I didn't actually cry when Han died...but was close to it).

If you enjoy movies, conventions, comics, games, cartoons, Star Wars, or just about anything sure to check back soon for all things geekery!!  In the meantime, follow me here, on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

No comments:

Post a Comment