The Force Awakens

Obviously we have to talk about this. The Force Awakens happened, and, even though it lacks a great acronym (TFA just looks weird. It shares more with TPM than ANH, ESB, RotJ, AotC, or RotS), I think it was pretty fun. This is going to be what passes for a review, with two important caveats:

I love this movie. I love this movie.

And second: Spoilers below. I mean, spoilers. 

The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars movie in 35 years. It’s better than Return of the Jedi. There I said it. It is not the best movie anyone has ever made, but it’s very, very good.

A couple of things I don’t know how to feel about, if I’m being super critical:

  1. The applause breaks. I mean, J.J. straight up put an extra four seconds of establishing shot on the Millennium Falcon. The first time, this was much appreciated, given that the entire theater erupted into thunderous applause, so loud we almost missed Williams doubling-down on the establishing shot with a little classic Rebellion theme.
  2. The amount of hooks placed throughout the movie. Most of this movie is a solid piece of work, but jeez, it fleshes out all the angles with little hooks – hooks meant to have other movies hung on them.

It’s the second thing that makes me squirm. I once talked (at length) about the fact that I won’t live to see the last Star Wars movie now that it’s in the (dubiously) capable hands of Disney. The biggest piece of their fully armed and operational merchandising plan is dropping next year – yeah, next year! – in the form of Star Wars: Rogue One. Rogue One is what they’re calling an “Anthology” film – it’s going to feature the story of the Rebels who facilitated the theft of the first Death Star plans – not expressly the guy who kicked in the doors and grabbed the datachips, but the special forces extraction team that gets the spy or the data or whatever it is out from under the noses of the Imperials.

Sound cool? Yeah. They’re exercising their will against a hook established in the original trilogy and they’re exploring a new direction for Star Wars. Well, a new direction for the films. I actually already experienced this adventure once, when, as Kyle Katarn, I infiltrated an Imperial base, killed a ton of Stormtroopers, and got picked up by Jan Ors in the Moldy Crow. But that’s more like an… Elseworlds kind of thing now. That was a nerd reference within a nerd reference, which is a Nerdception, which is, in and of itself, a nerd reference. Anyway…

My biggest beef was that the film didn’t do a great job of setting out longer term problems for our heroes to deal with. We have the inimitable Captain Phasma stomping around in all 7 some feet of her glory for a total of like, four scenes. We never see if she’s some kind of badass warrior or just ruthless enough to be promoted up the chain of Stormtrooper command. We never see anything to justify Finn’s terror of or rancor for her, other than the fact that she’s presumably in charge of the re-education (read: Torture and Brainwashing) of this new age of Stormtroopers. I was also sort of disappointed to see more Stormtroopers that seemingly didn’t really pose any real threat. I mean, some of it is to make Han look like a straight-up awesome-guy hero-man: he can pop shots off like a gunslinger and take out Stormtroopers at ease, whereas Finn can’t win a simple fight against a riot trooper despite being armed with a clearly superior weapon in the form of a lightsaber – and even within that, Finn is pretty friggen’ good with a blade! I mean, he knows more or less what to do with that thing. This is the first time we see a non-Jedi really go to work with a Lightsaber, and he holds his own, for a second anyway, even against a Kinght of Ren, which we can presume is a pretty serious accolade. Why are all his former compatriots still bumbling morons? Why, when the Resistance X-wings of Black Squadron come screaming in for an attack run on Maz’ planet, did the Stormtroopers holding Han, Chewie, and Finn captive just break ranks and not even try to secure their prisoners? Let’s assume for a second they had express orders to take them prisoner which is why they didn’t execute them on the spot – why didn’t they at least cuff them or put them under guard rather than just abandoning them? It’s a pretty silly little plot hole.

Oh, also, and this is a good one: the chances of  the main characters running into one another on Starkiller Base are close to impossible, unless, for some supercilious reason, the Imperial Remnant that makes up the First Order thinks exactly like the designers of the original Imperial super weapon space station things and always place these essential components within about two miles of each other: The Shield Generator controls, one of the main energy regulators that keep the whole thing from destroying itself, and the detention center. Like, why are these so close together? You can make the argument that the planet’s equatorial excavation isn’t all that wide at probably 1,000 kilometers but holycraplookatthatnumber! 1000 kilometers of excavated surface? How the heck did these guys run into each other? Fine, ok, it’s just destiny or whatever. I can literally Handwave that in the franchise that more or less created Handwaving in this context. You’re free to go about your business. Move along.

It’s a fantastic movie. I just wish Phasma, like, mattered, you know? That she didn’t just get thrown down a garbage chute for the sake of some laughs and a tidy wrap-up. Now the hooks they’ve presented themselves with Phasma are entirely related to the events leading up to her demise aboard Starkiller Base or some phlebotinum related to how she gets out of the garbage compactor, gets aboard the ship that presumably recovers Kylo Ren, and shows up in the next movie. It’s just thin, you know? It’s kind of like, despite my affection for Boba Fett, it was always a little silly that he basically did 3 things before he died: smack talked Darth Vader, almost shot Luke, and then is undone by a blind man’s slapstick. Hard the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter in that context.

I appreciate all the misdirection and the hooks and everything else. I also appreciate that Adam Driver managed to pull of Tortured in an Heir of Skywalker that doesn’t look like “whiny,” which is a tall order in this franchise. And even if the ending shot was a few minutes long, it was worth it for Hamil’s face, which, somehow, done got wizened up over the years! Most pictures you see of him look like he’d lost a fight with an electric razor while drunkenly eating all the Twinkies, but dude had a great moment at the end of The Force Awakens without saying word one.

I’m really happy that Star Wars is back. I mean shed-multiple-tears-on-multiple-viewings happy. I’m also scared, scared of the day when I’ve had too much Star Wars. I don’t know that such a day will ever come, but I know that the current arbiters of the franchise are like to drive it unerringly ever forward for a little while. The Young Han Solo movie will be a really remarkable moment. If they can make that not terrible, I will be impressed.