12.18.2015

The Forced Awakening

With hundreds of reviews written about The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the biggest franchise of all time, why read mine? No doubt you can find someone's opinion online to match exactly what you want this movie to be, or how you yourself felt about it--nevertheless, here are the thoughts of one girl who fell in love with the series when she was ten years old and has basically been obsessed with it ever since. Because of Star Wars, a passion for filmmaking began that led me to my path in college, and eventually my career as a video editor. Star Wars was a part of me, and I never have shunned it.... even when the world hated it. The prequels were a major part of my formative teenage years, and I was always willing to defend them to the death. A few years ago after studying film criticism and revisiting them, I finally came to admit their flaws...yet they still owned a place in my heart.

And then the news of Episode VII came along. The movie to right all the wrongs of the past. This was the movie to get it right; to bring Star Wars back into the hearts of the people. After a year straight of hype and anticipation, did it finally accomplish what it set out to do? For the mass public who turned against Star Wars and bemoaned how much they hated the prequels, the answer is yes, absolutely. For me? Stunningly to my absolute shock and bewilderment, not at all. To be fair, I had the highest of sky high expectations for this film.... but once the glowing reviews came out, I knew this movie was basically a sure thing. When the crawl came up I was delighted to be seeing a brand new Star Wars film once more, something that after Episode III, I thought would never happen again. Finally watching it at last, I kept waiting for the moment that I would fall in love with this movie...and it just never happened. Instead as I sat there, I felt myself feeling more and more detached. I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole thing was... well, forced.

That's not to say it doesn't have it's moments, nor that it doesn't show promise for where the series has yet to go (if they dare to deviate from the formula that is.) Prior to seeing the movie, I concluded that I would love the movie despite the trepidatious reviews of some critics, as long as the following three things happened. 1. I wanted to feel that there was a reason for this movie to exist, as Return of the Jedi already ended the series so perfectly. 2. I needed to love the characters.  3. I wanted to have fun.

Without getting into specifics, let me address how the movie measured up against my demands.  Earlier in the year I had read interviews by JJ Abrams where he mentions him and Lawrence Kasdan "trying to come up with the story." Watching The Force Awakens, it's incredibly clear that they were making this up as they went along, and when in doubt, recycled. Lucas's grand storytelling arcs are gone, and in their place is a pale imitation. As such, the story feels incredibly disjointed from the story threads of the other six films, other than reshashing several elements that worked in the past. Lines about trash compactors didn't get me giddy, they were just too easy. Everything was. The Force Awakens is not an organic or natural progression to the story of George Lucas's Star Wars that I knew and loved... instead, it's basically calculated fan fiction without a pulse.

Onto the characters. BB-8 was the breakthrough star of the film. I absolutely loved him and would have loved if he had been utilized even more. I thought John Boyega was fantastic as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe was great as well, but needed far more screentime. Daisy Ridley did well, but wasn't given quite enough personality as I wanted. She still somehow comes off as a blank canvas by the time the film ends. As for the old... Harrison is now grumpy ol' Han, but does most of the heavy lifting, while the other two members of the original trilogy trio get considerably less to do. And goodness gracious, couldn't they have tried to tone down Carrie Fisher's voice at all? She looked the best she could, but chainsmoker Leia wasn't exactly what I envisioned

As to whether or not I generally had fun? My reaction to The Force Awakens is undoubtedly the result of hype mixed with YEARS of hearing how terrible the prequels are. Because of these endless debates with haters, I can tell you the flaws those movies have by heart (and admit to them,) but I can also tell you the strengths that everyone conveniently forgets. In seeing a film so lovingly fawned over as The Force Awakens in "finally giving the world the Star Wars movie people deserve," I can't help but think "this is what you wanted the whole time? A remake?" Hurl all the insults you want at the prequels, but their stories were their own and they connected to the story of the original trilogy in a natural way, yet a different way. They didn't try to be the originals and everyone hated them for it. Their republic was night and day different than the Empire in IV, V and VI. But people hated that. So now we get more of the same. While The Force Awakens is technically a better made film Episode I, II or III (there are no poo jokes, barrage of CGI, silly dialogue or monotone delivery of said dialogue here) its obviousness at its reveals, and its over-reliance on what worked before rob it of all its integrity. It has, in a sense become "marvellized": bland, crowd pleasing, and like an episode of a tv series that has no meaningful arcs. My precious franchise has turned to the darkside. It's more machine now than man. Twisted and evil. But at least it will please the fans right? Because that's all that matters anymore. Just not this one.

With all that incredibly harsh ranting aside, I can't in my heart of hearts give this a negative grade. As I said, on a technical level this film gets a lot right, and in time, with my expectations out of the way it may grow fonder to me. But at this moment in time, I can't help but feel that the story of The Force Awakens is an incredible disappointment. A far more interesting and perhaps less obvious movie exists within the backstory of the film, so I can only hope that future installments explore that more and take bigger risks...but with the bosses in charge I can really only expect safe bets from here on out. And lucky for the huge majority reading this, that's probably just up your alley. EMILY RATING: 7.5/10

Addendum: I saw the movie again on Saturday, and enjoyed it much much more without the expectations that this was the second coming of Star Wars in the way. It still has some flaws that I cannot overlook, but I would in fact give it a half grade higher now and go with 8/10

For more of that initial reaction, check out my appearance on Baconsale below. Spoiler alert: I channel my whiney Skywalker to harp on a lot of things.

3 comments:

Johanna said...

Well, bummer. I will be interested to hear from you after it's settled. I'm sure some of it had to do with the build up. We'll see how it wears....that's the key of any great movie, right?

Sarah said...

I'm sorry it didn't live up to your expectations. You sound less disappointed than I expected though. Are you just resigned to what it was? Or are you more depressed about it than you are letting on?

Taylor Greene said...

Strange. I felt Daisy Ridley carried the movie (Harrison Ford did fine and had fun with his role). John Boyega did well overall, but consistently over-acted. Gwendoline Christie underacted but then again she's limited by her lines, screen time, and a helmet. Peter Mayhew (FINALLY) got to give some badly needed color to Chewie. BB8 was a success. Oscar Isaac did fine but deserved more screen time. I said the same thing about Carrie Fisher's voice + a BOTOX comment. Adam Driver did decent. Casting Greg Grunberg was a HUGE distraction and a mistake imo.

Cinematography, acting, script, directing, CGI were all great. Some story elements were missing: Kylo's backstory deserves SO much more as does the political backdrop (just an extra line would have been nice). The catwalk scene deserved perfect execution which it didn't receive. I found the 'in-your-face-male-chauvinism' a little over the top, but Abrams delivered it well. Overall the film was extremely entertaining.

The prequels had the heart of Lucas but a lot of random 'stupidness', sequels had the heart and body. The Force Awakens felt like it had the formulaic body but, as you say, was missing the magical Lucas pulse. The setup for the next film, however, is strong.

I felt like your 'meh' after the first showing so naturally I went again and upgraded to imax this morning. I could give it a better critical eye on the second viewing as my inner-Star Wars geek had time to munch on the story line.

My grade: 8.5/10