oh hi. spoilers!
the force awakens is not the redemption i was looking for.
it’s a good try, but all the bad things are sprinkled throughout like bits of sand getting everywhere and it's hard to feel strictly good about any part of it.
thoughts (from big to small)
- the biggest problem is the writing. it’s well reported that the script was being written as jj and co filmed, and it’s riddled with first draft-y issues at every turn. lots of things are spelled out in an unnecessary manner or clumsily conveyed. examples include:
~ poe tells bb-8 “it’s safer with you than it is with me” as he deposits the map. remember when leia just gave r2 the death star plans and it was clear by fact that she was giving them to a droid that this was the situation? not only do we not need to be told this, but it’s been very clearly, effortlessly established by a new hope.
~ poe telling finn “you’re a good man finn!” is a classic example of saying too much that is already conveyed by actions. he lets finn keep the jacket because he likes him. finn’s love of poe “what a great pilot!” is sort of in the same realm of “now THIS is podracing!” (though better acted)
~ every conversation between leia and han about kylo is the definition of clunky exposition. it's so nakedly written for the benefit of the audience rather than an actual conversation between old lovers with a difficult history.
~ c-3po would NEVER say something to the effect of ‘oh how i’ve missed you my old friend!’ to r2. c-3po HATES r2. or at least he pretends to. on the surface.
~ there are a lot of big mysteries left on the table like rey’s backstory, but i get the distinct feeling that these mysteries are mysterious because jj and kasdan simply don't know the answers yet, and had to establish something for ep viii and ix to unlock later. i love ambiguity and mystery in the star wars universe, but this is just faint suggestion with no sense of a substantial core.
~ the movie establishes an action-packed tempo for the first 30-40 minutes (i assume. i wasn’t checking my watch) which it cannot live up to for the remaining 2 hours. i’m not sure what the solution is (maybe get rid of the tentacle monster? even though i like it in isolation), but the shift in pace is undeniably jarring. i did really enjoy a lot of those sequences though.
~ it’s amazing to me that jj cites ‘the idea of who luke skywalker is after 30 years’ as his reason for making this, because there is virtually NONE of that in the movie. if that was jj’s true motivaiton, he must feel used, barely containing his rage at disney under a contractual veneer of satisfaction.
- JJ’s visual style is SO busy. it’s not necessarily wrong on a shot-by-shot basis, but as a whole it’s a little suffocating. not everything needs to be a perfect dolly into someone’s face followed by a whip pan. and with such a massive budget you’d think he could afford to go a little wider with his framing in general rather than relying so heavily on closeups. i hate to complain about infinite perfect dollies, but i sincerely feel that his hyperactive camera work often robs the performances of their spontaneity. it’s all too perfectly choreographed. when kylo ren does things, the camera is generally much less suggestive. he lets driver take the wheel. and those are the best parts of the movie. speaking of…
- kylo ren is the best part of the movie. from the day adam driver was cast, i questioned how his relatively naturalistic style would work in the star wars universe. it turns out it's completely refreshing and beautiful. he had to invent a personal history that wasn’t on the page and he utterly succeeded. his face is so evocative beyond what’s being said. the pain of his struggle (whatever it turns out to be) is so real. and working behind a mask and a modulated voice, it’s a bit miraculous. when he destroys the command console out of frustration and the other dude has to stand there while sparks fly, it’s the kind of scary aggression the series has lacked since jedi. and i LOVE the idea of a dark sider being tempted by the light. NICE.
- daisy ridley is a great find. again, she’s saddled with an incomplete character and i think she does a good job building personal history that may not actually be there behind the scenes. she has that great strength/vulnerability combo. for her FIRST movie, she’s remarkable.
- oscar isaac understands this material. he’s a natural fit. i think poe may be a little too perfect as a pilot, but i want him to take more prominence. particularly over finn.
- finn mostly annoyed me. when han tells him ‘yeah yeah i know’ i was thankful. finn is NOT jar jar binks, but i think it’s fair to call him a distant relative. he is obvious, overenthusiastic, clueless. i think boyega’s overbearing performance is the biggest problem, but he also has to say stuff a lot of stuff like “DID YOU SEE THAT?? DID YOU SEE THAAAT??” in a hoot-and-holler, super bowlllll!! kind of way. i really really wish i loved finn. the idea of finn, the frightened stormtrooper flying by the seat of his pants, pretending to be part of the resistance, is great. i think boyega fumbled the ball (droid).
- han solo. return of the jedi han solo is my least favorite han solo. he became weirdly goofy and soft and dramatic. this han solo is not quite that one, but he definitely has that han solo in him. props to ford for coming back and doing his best, but there are so many moments that read as too cute/winky for me, both in writing and performance. (“i like that!” after using chewie’s crossbow is very han-ish, but how has han never fired chewie’s crossbow before, or even seen how it works???? and it never pays off beyond that moment. completely random) i LOVE the idea of an old han solo who has ACTUALLY AGED, like the before sunset or something. and there are glimmers of that. seeing an old man with the spirit of a scoundrel who never stopped scoundreling.
- han’s death is so telegraphed and doesn’t appear to reverberate through the other characters. when rey gets into the driver’s seat at the end, chewie doesn’t so much as bat an eyelash. it’s just strange.
- captain phasma is a british woman. and that’s IT. she delivers none of the intimidation her outfit suggests. she’s sort of the biggest dud of the new characters, because she folds so easily under threat and i can’t tell you anything about her.
- supreme leader snoke. he’s just a very large, voldermortish guy. he’s quick to frustration (the emperor would never show his hand emotionally the way snoke does, it’s weak) and visually so unimaginative it hurts. if he’s a big alien, at least make him less humanoid! i’m afraid for the inevitable showdown in ep ix. it’s probably going to be rey jumping around a giant cgi person.
- i'm okay with maz kanata. i think the animation is good and the performance is solid. but i don't love her yet. dunno if we'll ever see her again.
- max von sydow is great example of how hard it is to make this stuff work. i’m glad he’s only in the first scene because his conviction about this world isn’t strong enough to come off the screen and make me believe. he’s also stuck saying exposition, so i don’t completely blame him.
- bb-8 is FLAWLESS.
other BITS AND BOBS
- rey’s flashback/flashforward was interesting. sort of on par with the cave in empire. very game of thrones season 2 finale. i have little idea what it all means but i’m okay with that.
- flying the millennium falcon for the first time was fantastic. and trying to fix it. perfect moment when rey discounts it as a piece of junk.
- the attack on maz's palace/cantina was pretty great.
- i thought starkiller base would do something to distinguish itself from the first and second death star. other than design and magnitude, it doesn’t. very puzzling. ps. did they succeed at destroying the senate with that first shot? i'm confused.
- lightsabers have never been better realized. i had a true sense of how the blades felt and worked, not to mention they actually LIGHT things. the magic of powering them up is still there. and we finally get to see what happens when you power one into a person.
- i think this is probably the best version of the falcon and x-wings ever. their maneuvers and explosions are so subtle. the wonders of technology…
- why does rey suddenly change her mind about wanting to hang onto bb-8 after decisively not wanting him to follow her around? i’m okay with a change of heart, but it seems random. i wanted one event, however small, to motivate her change.
- why is bb-8's piece of the map so important? visually, it appears r2 has so much info including the outer perimeter of where luke is, i don't understand why they didn't just COMB that area. maybe it's too massive. i'm not sure. but r2's role in this and his convenient shutting down/turning back on feels cheap and unnecessary.
- luke's weathered face is Great, but that moment is DRAGGGGGGED out so horribly. how long can someone stand there holding a lightsaber? patton oswalt and several people built this up as the best final shot ever, but i don't think it holds a candle to empire's image of the shattered family gazing hopefully into the galaxy, or even jedi's lovey dovey group photo.
- hope is not lost. i believe ep viii will be better. different writer, they’ve had more time to figure stuff out, and we know more about what everyone wants. it’s not a bad foundation. i’m optimistic.
the more i think about it, the more disappointed i am that jj and co didn't come up with anything new on a macro level. killing the emperor seemed to have no effect. but they CAN'T do a FOURTH death star. they CANNOT. so we're good for viii in that respect.