REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Anyone who knows me knows I love Star Wars and was highly anticipating the new movies coming out.

Over the years since the original trilogy came out, I’ve intentionally avoided reading the Extended Universe novels because I knew that someday we may get movie sequels, which we did.

I was ecstatic when I heard that Disney had bought LucasFilm and they would be doing not only a new trilogy, but also anthology spin-off movies as well, and that we would be getting new Star Wars movies every year instead of every three years with years’ long gaps in between trilogies.

Episode VII, The Force Awakens, was easily my most anticipated movie of this decade. I actually reserved tickets so I could see it on Christmas Day, something I’ve never done for a movie before.

I went on a week-long social media blackout from the day it released in theaters to the day I went to see it for fear of spoilers.

Suffice it to say that I was very much looking forward to The Force Awakens–

and left the theater sorely disappointed.

The Force Awakens is poorly written, poorly acted, is devoid of original ideas, completely squanders the legacy of the original movies they were supposed to build on and, much like the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek “reboots”, misses the essence of what makes Star Wars what it is. The first George Lucas-less Star Wars movie is a swing and a giant miss.

If you want a mish-mash of the original trilogy rolled into one movie, with pretty much no original ideas or locales, with a villain who is a pale shadow of Darth Vader and all the other Sith Lords in the prequel trilogy, and who ends up being almost laughable by the end of the movie, you’ll probably like The Force Awakens.

If you were excited to see the original characters make a return only to see them treated like window-dressing and not necessary to the derivative plot, you might not like it, because that’s exactly what happens in The Force Awakens. Yes, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Luke are all in this movie, but guess what? They’re really not necessary to the story (other than maybe Luke who doesn’t make an appearance until the very end). They’re fan-service, and Abrams didn’t seem that interested in hiding that fact with a story devoid of anything resembling a new idea (think of yet another Death Star, but bigger), forced humor in sometimes inappropriate places, flat characters, and lots of overacting from the two main new characters, Rey and Finn. There wasn’t one new character, human or alien, that I cared about by the end of the movie. No, there’s no Jar-Jar Binks equivalent in this movie, but I honestly would have preferred that to the forced humor that peppers The Force Awakens that is rarely funny or even chuckle-worthy.

I’m now going to try and lay out some examples of what I’m talking about. Obviously, there’s going to be MAJOR SPOILERS in the rest of my post, so continue reading at your own risk.

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LACK OF ORIGINAL LOCALES

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about The Force Awakens (TFA) is the lack of original locales. The movie starts out on a planet called Jakku. Cool, a new planet, right? You get to see new places and new aliens that you’ve never seen before! Is that what you’re thinking? Too bad, the joke’s on you. Want to know why?  It looks just like Tatooine, except without all the cool stuff about Tatooine like Jawas and sandcrawlers and moisture farms and Hutts and seedy space ports and pod races. Think Tatooine, but with all the cool and interesting stuff about it absent. That’s Jakku. If I were to show a long-time Star Wars fan who hadn’t seen the new movie a Jakku scene in TFA and ask them what planet they think that scene takes place on, I can guarantee you they would say Tatooine. Creating another desert planet was pointless and added nothing to the movie because essentially, Jakku is pretty much indistinguishable from Tatooine, but without any of the stuff that makes Tatooine iconic and interesting. It’s bland, boring, and unoriginal.

What about other locales? There really aren’t any. There are some scenes shot on a snowy Hoth-like location, some scenes on a foresty Endor-like location, but you’re not really told what planets they are or why they’re important. It felt like they were trying to fit in as many nods and elbow-nudges from the original trilogy as they could, but you’re left guessing why these places are important during the short time the characters are there. This leads to the next disappointment about TFA:

LACK OF EXOTIC AND INTERESTING ALIENS

There aren’t any. There’s a brief attempt somewhere in the movie to recreate something like the cantina scene from A New Hope, but it falls flat. As I sit here and write this, I can’t think of one new alien species from TFA that was memorable or stuck out to me.

FORCED AND INAPPROPRIATE HUMOR AND DIALOGUE AND BAD WRITING

I don’t mean inappropriate in the sense of being crass or vulgar, I mean inappropriate in the sense of bad timing and being not funny. Example:

In the beginning of the movie, there’s a scene where the First Order (the bad guys) is wiping out a village of innocent people because they’re looking for something they believe is being hidden in the village. It’s dark and somewhat violent and is supposed to be a serious moment in the movie. They capture one of the villagers who Kylo Ren (the main bad guy and a Sith Lord) believes knows something (which he does) and the stormtroopers bring him before Ren. He’s on both knees before Ren after the stormtroopers rough him up a little bit. The villager and Ren stare at each other eye to eye for a few wordless moments, adding drama to the scene, and instead of some hard-hitting dialogue which the scene seemed like it was building up to, we get the villager trying to be funny asking Ren which one of them is supposed to talk first. It was an awkward attempt at interjecting humor at completely the wrong time and deflated the serious tone of what was supposed to be an important scene. Much like this scene, throughout the whole movie, the humor that Star Wars movies have always had felt forced in TFA and felt at times more like something you would see in Spaceballs instead of Star Wars. There was too much of it and almost all of it was done badly and at the wrong time. This was just one example. Bad writing, bad dialogue, overacting, and many awkward attempts at humor, trying to recreate the comic relief which seemed to come naturally in the original trilogy, were all throughout TFA. Star Wars isn’t supposed to be a comedy, it’s supposed to be a space opera. TFA succeeded at neither.

KYLO REN LOSES THE WORST LIGHTSABER BATTLE IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC, THE EMPIRE, AND THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE

Remember the original trailer for TFA that we all saw where Kylo Ren lights up his red lightsaber with the cross-blade? Remember how cool that was? When I first saw that, my reaction was, ‘Wow, that guy is the new Sith Lord and I bet he’s a total bad-ass with that lightsaber. I can’t wait to see what he can do.’

Well guess what?

Kylo Ren is a total pussy. A girl who had never used a lightsaber before almost kills him in a one-on-one lightsaber battle. It’s easily the most ludicrous (yes, Spaceballs ludicrous) thing I’ve seen in a Star Wars movie. Darth Maul would have been laughing at this guy as he flails his lightsaber around screaming like a lunatic trying to take out this girl who’s never used the weapon before–and failing miserably. Any Sith Lord would have been ashamed at Ren’s lightsaber skills because they were pathetic. Anakin may have been annoying and cocky in the prequels, but there was never any doubt about his skills with a lightsaber, even when he was a Padawan. Ren’s skills were a joke and it was a joke that this was put into the movie and I was expected as a long-time fan to take it seriously after the lightsaber clinics that Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Obi-Wan, and Yoda put on in the prequels. J.J. Abrams lowered the bar for lightsaber battles in Star Wars movies about as low as they can go.

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Kylo Ren, the Barack Obama of Sith Lords. You think he’s going to be cool……

At least Ben Kenobi knew he was outmatched when fighting Darth Vader and chose to die with dignity instead of dying an ignoble death unworthy of a Jedi. Apparently, lightsaber skills with the Sith aren’t what they used to be from the good old days of the Clone Wars. If you come into TFA expecting the orgy of highly-skilled lighsaber fights that we got in Revenge Of The Sith, you are going to be very disappointed. Speaking of ignoble deaths:

HAN SOLO DIES LIKE A DOG

I figured at some point during this new trilogy that Han Solo would die since Harrison Ford tried to have him killed off back in Empire Strikes Back. Instead, George Lucas had him frozen in carbonite. Solo still got to play the martyr, but without actually dying. He was then brought back and was better than ever.

Yes, Solo is killed by his son Kylo Ren in TFA. The circumstances and manner of his death lacked impact given that Solo and Chewie’s role in the movie weren’t that important in the first place. If you’ve never seen the original trilogy, what you’ll see is an old guy who you probably don’t know or care much about getting run through by a lightsaber after he foolishly tries to convince his Sith Lord son, who routinely murders innocent people, to not be a Sith Lord. (Because that’s always worked so well with Sith Lords in the past, other than Vader, and then only after his son was at the point of death at the hands of the Emperor. It’s just like converting a jihadist to Christianity apparently. Luke did it, right?) And then we see Leia’s complete indifference the rest of the movie that the love of her life and the father of her child has been murdered. There is zero reaction or emotion from Leia after Han is murdered. That’s probably because she already knows that they will contrive some way to bring him back in Episode 8.

Speaking of which, Leia sure does have bad luck with the Force. Her father and her son were both mass-murdering Sith Lords. It’s cool though because her Resistance fighters totally blew up another Death Star thingy that destroys planets. Which leads me to my next point:

THEY CREATED YET ANOTHER DEATH STAR THINGY THAT DESTROYS PLANETS

Because the two Death Stars in the original trilogy that could take out giant Rebel frigates and whole planets in one blast just wasn’t good enough. Now we have one that’s even bigger that can destroy MULTIPLE planets in one shot. OH NO!!!! It’s OK though because guess what? IT HAS A FATAL WEAKNESS JUST LIKE THE FIRST TWO DEATH STARS!!!! How original. Yay, the galaxy is saved once again.

I wish I were joking, but this is seriously the plot from TFA and how the movie ends, complete with a Death Star-like trench run that is supposed to be reminiscent of A New Hope. The lack of imagination and cashing-in on nostalgia are glaring and obvious. There is literally nothing new here, and what is there isn’t pulled off nearly as well as Lucas did it.

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……but he ends up being a total pussy.

REY’S SUDDEN AFFINITY WITH THE FORCE

No explanation is given as to why a girl with zero training or any experience in the Force whatsoever suddenly is able to perform Jedi mind tricks, use telekinesis, and defeat a Sith Lord in a lightsaber battle. All of the sudden she can just do it. She goes from zero to sixty with no warning and no explanation. Traditionally in Star Wars, these are things that take time to develop. In A New Hope, Luke was close to 20 years old and clueless about the Force until Kenobi started to teach him. Even young Anakin in Episode One wasn’t able to do any of the stuff Rey was doing by the end of TFA. Anakin was born stronger in the Force than anyone in the history of Star Wars, and by eight years old, he could pretty much just use the Force to not get himself killed racing pods until he got some training from an actual Jedi.  If Anakin could have performed Jedi mind tricks as a boy, he obviously could have persuaded his slavemaster Watto to set him and his mother free. Oh wait, they don’t work on Toydarians, that’s right. You get my point. Again, Abrams looked clueless.

If I had to boil down my problems with TFA into a few sentences, it would be that I left the theater feeling not like I had just watched a space opera, but a mediocre action movie with Star Wars characters in it. It felt like a kid (J.J. Abrams) who finally got the keys to daddy’s Corvette without really understanding how to drive, other than you turn the steering wheel and step on the gas pedal. It was a director who, much like he did with the Star Trek movies, focused on the most obvious elements of Star Wars without understanding its essence. Star Wars is not an action series–it never has been, despite its amazing action sequences. Star Wars has always been a space opera first and foremost. J.J. Abrams either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.

I haven’t written off the Star Wars movies in my mind completely yet, but I’m on my way if this is the new direction Disney is taking it. Much like he did with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, J.J. Abrams basically took A New Hope, hollowed it out, and remade it in his own image.  I strongly disapprove.  If these next two movies don’t seriously impress me, those Extended Universe novels that I’ve been neglecting all these years are going to start to look very attractive. They already kind of are.

Timothy Zahn…..Heir To The Empire…..Hmm…….

VIDEO: Obama demonstrates that he doesn’t read the Bible.

Watching this is painful.  Obama has taken to quoting the Bible to support his policies. Except that he doesn’t read the Bible, as evidenced by this video. So maybe it would be a good idea to not throw around Bible platitudes that make that really obvious, Mr. President. Stick to Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky. It’s clear that’s more your comfort zone.

In case anyone is wondering, there is no verse in the Bible about throwing stones in glass houses.

Mark Hamill reveals that droid in Star Wars trailer is a practical effect, NOT CG.

Very cool.  I’m not anti-CG in movies, but it needs to be done tastefully, unlike the Star Wars prequels.

“And when they were demonstrating how they did this thing, live on set — because it’s not CGI, that’s a live prop — I was just amazed. They let me play around with it. [Laughs] I was running it all around at the creature shop up in Pinewood. I’m telling you, it’s an absolute delight. And not having thought that I’d ever go back there, to go back into that world, is just – I get the chills. It’s just so much fun.”

http://www.polygon.com/2014/12/12/7385691/star-wars-droid-force-awakens

Zelda for Wii U out-Twitters the whole Playstation Experience.

Showcasing the new Zelda at the Game Awards Show is one of the smartest things Nintendo has done with Wii U so far.

The Game Awards show, the one that featured Nintendo rather prominently and ended with some brand new Zelda U footage, was arguably a bigger online success story than the entirety of the PlayStation Experience, which took place on Saturday and Sunday.

http://www.zeldainformer.com/news/zelda-u-overpowers-the-playstation-experience-on-twitter#.VIzZMyvF-Sp