Monday, December 21, 2015

Spoiler-Free Notes on The Force Awakens

Yes, I saw the movie on its opening weekend. (Mainly because I don't want to have to leave the room while all my friends discuss it.) I may have some much more detailed spoiler-heavy analysis later. Here, however, are my first thoughts.
  1. It was, overall, pretty OK. (John Scalzi, as often happens, has a good analogy.) I went in with absolutely neutral expectations. I was not surprised either pleasantly or unpleasantly. I am not sorry to have seen it. I would not spend money to see it again.
  2. I specifically had no expectation of seeing anything that would have the kind of impact that the original had. It's not just that I'm REDACTED years older. When Star Wars came out in 1977, literally nobody had ever seen anything like it. What we think of as the SFX Blockbuster Movie Genre did not exist. Science fiction on the screen was still a niche, and not a respectable one either. The number of SF movies that were both critical and popular successes was one (the overrated 2001: A Space Odyssey).
  3. As a movie, it was vastly better than The Phantom Menace, which is the only one of the prequels I've seen. It was better than Return of the Jedi, which again is not the highest bar--I'm looking at you, Ewoks. I have a much more critical opinion of The Empire Strikes Back than most people seem to; I'd put this one not too far below it, or even on a level.
  4. As an exercise in nostalgia and fan-service, it was great! Look, sound, feel, and music all said Star Wars. If you want all your boxes checked off, The Force Awakens will check them. The cost of this, however, is that it's profoundly unimaginative and unoriginal--I'd even call it "derivative", verging on "rehash". To be clear, I'm not talking about the return of the original characters; I'm talking about the plot. There were some twists, but I'd guessed most of them (with, I admit, partial accuracy) weeks ago.
  5. The biggest script weakness is that there's nobody whose desires actually drive the story forward, which means that there's no real conflict--only characters running away and/or reacting to stuff. Compare to the original, where Luke is the protagonist, and the film revolves around his goals:
    1. When we meet him, he wants to get the hell off of Tattooine. But there is a conflict, because he also feels responsible to his aunt and uncle, and anyway it all seems impossible.
    2. After his family is killed, he wants to be a Jedi like his father and deliver R2-D2. But there is a conflict, because the Empire is hunting R2-D2 and, by extension, him.
    3. Once he gets to the Death Star, he wants to rescue the princess. But there is a conflict, because duh.
    4. In the climax, he wants to destroy the Death Star. But there is a conflict, because lasers and Tie fighters and the attack run and Darth Vader all disagree. (Notice, also, that the conflict between Vader's wants and Luke's wants gets more and more direct through the film.)
    I couldn't make the same sort of analysis of The Force Awakens. There are 2.5 main characters; the .5 doesn't do much, and the other two spend most of the movie trying to avoid conflict. The result is a series of scenes rather than a story. I will stipulate that many of the scenes are pretty good.
  6. The plot holes are moderately enormous. While watching the movie I could ignore them, and they didn't reduce my enjoyment substantially, which is the minimum that I ask.
A really good screenwriter could have made a much better movie out of this basic material. It wouldn't have made any more money, however, and The Force Awakens is at least a recovery from the depths of the prequels. I hope that the sequels will bring a real storyteller into the process; I'm not anticipating it, though.


  1. I agree on most if not all points. I enjoyed the spectacle, enjoyed the nostalgia (and the many appeals to said nostalgia). If it were a stand alone movie then it would have been only moderately successful.

    1. Yeah ... that's kind of a problem, isn't it? As an exercise in nostalgia? A-. Marketing? A+. In and of itself, meh. I gave it the same B- rating you did.