So there's this film franchise that's been going around. Star Wars. You might have heard of it. It's kind of a big deal. There have been six film so far – seven if you include a made-for-television special. Arguably, only two-and-a-half have been "good ones." You might have heard that there's a new one out now. They're calling it The Force Awakens. A lot of promises have been made about it. A lot of hype made. Some people have seen it. Some people haven't. As someone who's seen it, I'm here to speak to those who haven't:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a good film.
It's not a bad film, but it's not a good film.
It's not un-enjoyable, but it's not what they promised. And they have promised, many, MANY things.
That should be enough, right? "Go watch the film if you want, but don't get your hopes up," right? But this isn't a world of analogue. This is a world of binary. Saying Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't good? Apparently it's the same thing as saying it's bad. No, not just bad. Horrible. Shit. The scrapings from the hamster tray. The worst thing since Cosmopolis.
If that's the way it has to be, then so be it! I shall stand as the Prosecuting Attorney, and hold it accountable for its crimes! And yes, there will be spoilers, because you can't go into something like this without presenting EVIDENCE! You can't just go in saying "Take my word for it," because words are bullshit without something solid! The people have a right to know what they're getting into. They deserve the truth!
For those who are unfamiliar, The Force Awakens is the story of a desert orphan with mysterious but powerful parentage, pulled into a galactic conflict – where noble underdogs must stand defiant against an overwhelming force of evil! And through that struggle, they glimpse a power far greater than they could have imaged, and seize upon their destiny.
If that sounds familiar, then congratulations, you've seen A New Hope and The Phantom Menace.
And there’s a primary frustration right there: They finally had a chance to take the series into a new direction – to give them some new threats to fight; new villains to encounter; to build upon the galaxy far away! Even though they're no longer cannon, they could have borrowed from the Timothy Zahn Heir to the Empire series or lifted from the Yuuzhan Vang books. But what do they do instead? They rehash everything. Death Star. Empire. Rebellion. Skywalker. Darth. Tarkin. Emperor. It’s the Star Trek Into Darkness approach: mash up some of the classic stories, throw in some new twists, but keep it the same old song and dance, and hope nobody’s the wiser. Arguing that The Force Awakens is nothing like A New Hope requires the same suspension of common sense as saying that Ice Ice Baby sounds nothing like Under Pressure.
Firstly, the lead protagonist is an orphan from a desert planet that's not Tatooine but is similar to Tatooine. And they go to a tropical planet that's not Yavin 4 but is similar to Yavin 4 – proceeding to a den of thieves that's not Mos Eisley but is similar to Mos Eisley. Eventually they join up with a group that is not the Rebellion but is similar to the Rebellion; to fight against a group that is not the Empire but is similar to the Empire. And there is a last-minute battle against an evil super weapon that is not the Death Star but is similar to the Death Star. In fact, the new super weapon – the Star Killer – is even MORE dangerous and badass. We know this because one of the characters ACTUALLY does a SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON between the two to illustrate the point – in a scene so ham-fisted that, had a character from Team America walked in and shouted "IT'S 9/11 TIMES 1,000!" it wouldn't have seemed out of place. But of course, it has one gigantic and exploitable weakness, because why not! This is Star Wars! Every gigantic super weapon has to have a gigantic exploitable weakness! Star Wars seems to mean doing the same thing over and over again, only expecting different results.
Thankfully we had the lovable traipses down memory lane to take our minds off the similar! Every time they unveiled – sometimes literally – one of the Original Trilogy alumni or props, a giant "PUT ON YOUR NOSTALGIA GOGGLES NOW" should've popped up. “Oh look everyone! It's the Millennium Falcon! You remember that? And hey, it's R2D2! Wasn't he the coolest back in the day? Let's remember all of those good memories and try not to think about how they got there or why they're only pointing them out now.”
Not that the film can really keep track of everything that's going on anyways. Half of the time it isn't sure who it's supposed to follow. Is it Rey? Is it Finn? Is it Kylo Ren? Could it possibly be Han Solo and Chewbacca – the darlings from the Original Trilogy? Or is it Poe Dameron – ace pilot and candidate for the title of New Han Solo – and his plucky droid companion BB8? We never really figure out, because just when we're getting used to one person or group, the story sets them aside with a casual assurance that "Oh, we'll come back to them later." In many ways, some of these characters, especially Poe and his X-Wing fighters, felt like they were only getting attention because there was anticipation of using them in spin-offs – think Jinx Johnson from Die Another Day, only more so. Same with villains like Phasma, who were spared so they could be the villains in those spin-offs and television show episodes. They're not characters so much as intellectual place-holders.
Which brings me to Kylo Ren and Rey: two of the worst written characters in the Star Wars universe since Anakin Skywalker and the pig and walrus crime duo from Mos Eisley in A New Hope.
I'll start with Kylo Ren. Kylo – fucking – Ren. Diet Caffeine Free Darth Vader is more like it. No, seriously, there is NO flavor to this Sith! He has NO motivation! He has NO rationalization for being evil! He wasn't an orphan! He's not scarred! He didn't have a rough life! He had two parents who loved him, a family that cared for him, a face and limbs that are ALL intact, the best life imaginable, and training from one of the BEST and MOST FORGIVING Jedi in the galaxy. He's an emo fuckboy who listened to one Black Flags album and decided he was going to be hardcore. His sole reason for being evil is because he WANTS to be! He prays to the skull of Darth Vader to make him be the best bad guy that he can be – I'm not even fucking exaggerating! One gets the impression that when they were writing his back-story, in the section for "Reason Why Evil," someone wrote down "Because" until they could think of something to fill in later and completely forgot. And so, now, “because” is his reason for doing everything.
Which brings me to Rey! No last name. Just Rey. I used to D&D with people who would do that – who would make a character with no last name, in order to make them extra-super mysterious. It didn’t work then; it doesn’t work now.
Honestly, I couldn't quite put my finger on why this character gave me such a bad taste at first. I mean, there was nothing about her that I *shouldn't* have liked! She was a lonely orphan abandoned in a terrible wasteland, making her way on her pluck and guile but never being bothered by it. A scavenger alone in the wastelands, she could out-fight *groups* of people twice her size. She was an amazing mechanic and an instant crack-shot. She had a mysterious past. She could speak Wookie AND Droid (yes, that's right, she could speak to Droids without a translator.) Everybody loved her and wanted her to be part of their side, including Kylo Ren. She knew how to pilot the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo himself – arguably the most popular character in the Star Wars universe – who was so impressed that he immediately offered her a job as his co-pilot. Not only that, but she's a Force user with a mysterious bond to Anakin Skywalker's light saber (don't ask me HOW they managed to dig it out of the wreckage of Cloud City.) Without a single day of training, she was able to figure out how to do Jedi tricks that not even Luke was able to do without Yoda's training. And despite this handicap, she was able to go toe-to-toe with a Sith who had trained for YEARS with MASTERS – a Sith who was able to stop laser blasts in mid-fucking-air – and absolutely fuck his shit!
And then it hit me: Of *course* she's the only one worthy of wielding Anakin Skywalker's original light saber! Of COURSE she's the only one worthy of piloting the Millennium Falcon other than Han Solo or Lando Calrissian! Of COURSE she's the only one who could possibly find Luke Skywalker. She was always MEANT to do those things! Rey is a Mary Sue! Her only characterization is her blinding awesomeness! Her only purpose is wish fulfillment! She is everything the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Superstar made fun of, only not in the least bit ironic!
At this point, it should become clear that they gave so much attention to making the film LOOK like a Star Wars film that nobody bothered to give any thought to the story! The actions proceed not because they logically should, but because they have to. Kylo Ren doesn't kill who he kills or acts how he asks in any logical way. He acts evil because he *has* to act evil. The Star Killer sabotage team was able to breach the planetary defense shields like they did not because it made any sense, but because they HAD to. Kylo and Rey have a rivalry because they have to. The Millennium Falcon was on Jakku because it HAD to be on Jakku for Rey and Finn to find for their escape. R2 had a map of the galaxy that nobody else had, and woke up precisely when he did, because he had to. People behaved as they did because that's what the story demanded. Heavy-handed flashbacks and outright statements replaced narrative revelation. Everything happened for a reason, and that reason was simply to keep the story going – even if it removed all tension; even if it didn't make any sense. When the story dictates the action and not the other way around, that's Lazy Writing!
Because of the laziness in the narrative, there's a grandness missing from The Force Awakens. The Original Trilogy was the story of a young man's journey of discovery against the backdrop of a galactic civil war. Like in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, what we were seeing was a small portion inside a story that was bigger than everyone else – and we, the audience, were invited to join along. But with The Force Awakens, the Skywalker struggle was the fulcrum, and every event – the whole war between The Resistance and The First Order – hinged on that story. The MacGuffin that everyone was after wasn't the plans for the new Star Killer, but was a map to Luke Skywalker. Destroying the Star Killer was the distraction from the main story. Hell, the First Order only used it because they couldn't find the map to Skywalker. It was a waste of a weapon, a waste of tension, and a waste of time – and it was our time that it was designed to waste.
And the final crime, for which this film cannot be forgiven: While the Prilogy was designed to set up all the events for the Original Trilogy, The Force Awakens undoes ALL of its accomplishments! The defeat of the Empire at Endor; the death of The Emperor; the romance between Han and Leia; the liberation of the Galaxy; even the redemption of Darth Vader – they were all for nothing! The galaxy is in the exact same shape that it was thirty-plus years ago, for the sole purpose of providing the audience with something familiar. For that symphony of nostalgia. Only now, everyone's older; only now, everyone's a little more tired. It used to feel like they were fighting with a purpose. Now it just feels like fighting for a purpose.
If I have to credit The Force Awakens for one thing, it does one thing that surprised me. It reminded everyone of something brought up in A New Hope but long forgotten: that Han Solo might have been an amazing pilot, but he was one LOUSY smuggler!
For a lot of people, that might be the greatest crime of all.
The Prosecution rests.
Half-Life: Seven years
- Also, the unmasking of Kylo Ren is the most anti-climactic thing since the opening of Al Capone's vault.