Some slightly filtered thoughts that might sound like a review. Many spoilers.
Star Wars Force Awakens worked on me. The spell was cast, and it was the Star Wars I was looking for. Round about three minutes in, right after we meet Poe, and right after we find out some bad guys are about to land, I thought to myself “I think I love this movie.”
That is the talent of J.J. Abrams. The talent that I have personally, always hated. I see the strings, the aperture, the way he’s trying to suck me in with his flash and his big moments at the front that fool you into thinking you’re already in love with something you’ve never even seen. I hated it in every episode of Alias where he tried this trick, I hated it in Star Trek (2009). But boy howdy, did it work like a charm on me in Star Wars.
“Who’s that Stromtrooper.” My mind asked, knowing full well it was John Boyega, and that by the end of the film he and Poe would be giving each other manly arm pats. “Holy crap, that guy in the mask is powerful. What if he really IS Luke?!” I considered, even though I knew Luke was in an Abrams’ mystery box,a box not shaped like Kylo Ren.
I didn’t have a bad thing to say about the movie for the first half hour or so. I just enjoyed the ride, and it was good to get swept up with everyone else.
The Millennium Falcon escape was kinda dumb. I mean, really. Luke is the best natural pilot we’ve ever met (I’m sorry, what’s that you’re saying about Phantom Menace? I can’t hear you with my fingers in my ears), and all he could do at the end of New Hope was stay in formation and make that one last perfect shot. I get that Rey was a genius mechanic, the set up sold that perfectly, but “I can fly anything?” Really? Why? But wait, who cares, look at the chemistry between her and Finn!! They are so great! I hope they are both Jedi. I love this movie.
And most of the worst parts of the movie went like that. I was seeing the strings, so I thought, but honestly didn’t care. Because it was such a damn good time. And the characters. My god, the characters. Finn. So complicated and sweet. Rey. If I can’t have a Wonder Woman movie (Look, I’m not betting on that thing until it’s in my local cinema and my eyes are on it), at least I can have THIS awesome lady. Kylo Ren. Shut up everyone who is saying Kyo Ren is some man-boy embodiment of male privilege, or whatever. Go watch Jessica Jones for that. Kyo Ren is everything we ever wanted Ankin to be, but better, because he has no charted plot, no preordained choices, he can be anything and everything.
The end was a lot to swallow. A bigger Death Star. Ok, in for a penny, in for a pound, I did walk into a Star Wars movie. Wait, why is Kylo Ren walking across that platform over an expanse? WAIT! Why is Han following him?!?! Come ON guys, come on, we can do this another way, right? At least Han didn’t say ‘Join me,’ that’s something. I guess.
The lightsaber battle at the end was too much. Too far. Finn holding his own for a while only to fall, that makes sense, and plays right in the beats of his story and the larger theme. Rey holding her own doesn’t. Rey realizing in the middle of the fight that if she just ‘uses the Force.’ (???) that means she can beat Kylo Ren..... That is just insulting, to her character growth as much as to me in the audience.
We can do all the post hoc rationalizing we want, none of it will work. The story failed, simply failed, to earn that moment. And that’s when the whole thing fell apart. Because once the spell is broken, it all unravels. There were a lot of things it didn’t earn. Han’s death, Luke’s map. Finn’s dominance over Phasma. These moments just happen, no work, no fuss, just because we all know that’s where the story will end up. Why bother making anyone work to get there? Isn’t it more fun to just feel the feels, and not worry about why A connects to B? J.J. Abrams has always thought so.
Almost every thought I’ve had about the movie since walking out of the theater was how it could have (should have) been better. I’ve re-written the middle of the film in my head, so Finn and Rey get a few days alone on the Falcone together to make up their own rules to holochess (after all, both raised as slaves, neither of them have ever played a game like that). Where the pirates who attack Han work for him instead, and that maybe he IS something of a disappointment.
Other (better) people have outlined some of the structural problems of the film, and I’m not going to improve upon their work by repeating it (BirthMoviesDeath most closely aligns with my personal feelings). I will say I’m left most with a sense that one character in particular was underserved - Finn. Finn is a brilliant, inspired character played by one of the best actors of his generation. And he was... good. Fun. Nice to watch. That is not what we should be feelings about this man. He has more potential than anyone, much more than Kylo Ren, fenced in by the need for this franchise to be a family drama. Finn starts this movie with the blood of his fallen comrade on his face, failing, at the risk of his own death, to follow orders to slaughter innocent people. And he never, ever again gets to deal with anything approaching that level of challenge again. He bounces from happy, to scared, to loyal, to victorious all at the whim of the shot, the whim of the scene without ever being given anything to challenge him. This is inherently the same problem with all the characters; they just are, being moved around by the story rather than pushing the narrative with their choices, but he comes off the worst for it.
I still like it. Mostly. I mean really, it was a Star Wars movie. And did you SEE Hamill in those closing shots? Oh man do I love that guy. But it should have been better. It could have been all the fun of Jedi, all the myth of New Hope, and all the depth of Empire. But instead of that, they tried to ape too closely the beats of those movies, while completely ignoring what was below the surface, making those beats resonate. For me in ranks after the original trilogy, and before the new trilogy. But only just. Really. At least Revenge of the Sith had a comprehensible story.
I’m happy it was made. I guess it’s ok Abram’s directed it. Who else could have? But I’m most happy that someone else will be in charge from now on. If they keep wasting their potential like this, I don’t think the mind trick will work on me again.