Movie Review: The Force Awakens – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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So, I recently did a pre-release review of the movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And, while I was harsh toward what could be presupposed of Disney and JJ Abrams being set loose on the Star Wars franchise – nothing could prepare me for how bad it could really be …

[Spoiler Alert – this movie was really spoiled!! Oh, yeah, and you may not want to read on unless you want to know that Han Solo … oops … I’ll stop there.]

Why? Because J.J. Abrams has apparently seen one Star Wars film, the first one to be made, Star Wars: A New Hope, and just attempted a remake. Complete with an orphan child on a desert planet riding around on a hover-vehicle tinkering with electronics, the pilot Poe putting his “help me Obi-Wan-Kenobi, you’re my only hope” map into his droid to avoid the imperial (First Order) forces, to the bar scene (with terrible music this time) where Finn goes to meet up with some pilots he can barter transportation with, General Akbar heading up the forces against the new Death Star (yes … a Death Star, just bigger and better – how … NOT original), to the ending with the Millennium Falcon flying off on its own mission … almost verbatim.

Okay – back to my traditional style of movie reviews: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (in Real-D 3D)!

The Good:

Well, as much as I would love to tell you a lot of good – there are a billion reviews out there telling you how amazing and fantastic the movie is – most of them without really saying why. There are few specifics to support the positive reviews and a lot of words that sound like lip service. But – the movie does have some great points (enough, in fact, to make you laugh, keep you entertained, and even be a little excited – but not ‘epic’). For example, there are some very cool action scenes in the beginning with the Millennium Falcon pulling a very cool 180 degrees in mid air, turning on its target. The scene with the three tie fighters in front of the setting sun was actually quite beautiful.

Some of the scenes (that I’ll detail a little further on), where they relied on audience intelligence to fill in (such as Rey’s trip through the force after touching the lightsaber), were really great. The other gaps, jumps, and pre-supposed knowledge from other characters were the result of what is most likely lazy writing … but I’ll digress on that, for now to focus on the positive.

There were great make-ups, WONDERFUL special effects such as Kylo Ren stopping phasers in mid-air, and excellent on-location shots taking us from planet to planet. The parts of the music that John Williams got right – he got really right! With a little bit of comedy, one thrilling lightsaber battle, and a VERY cool “force awakening” by Rey after touching Luke Skywalker’s old light saber – the movie provided enough “Star Wars” to keep fans happy …

That is – some of them (especially the newbies who didn’t grow up with the series).

The Bad:

In reality, this movie felt like some fan fiction work based on solely (as previously said), “A New Hope”. Sorry this is longer than usual – but there were a LOT of problems…

Filming Mistakes: This movie was riddled with both subtle, and many not-so-subtle filming mistakes that to anyone caring about the filmography and editing quality, was barely tolerable. For example, Rey goes from being behind a wrecked Star Destroyer as she’s flying away on her hover bike, to passing right in front of it (which was great for movie convenience, providing a good camera angle) – which may not have intentionally been an editing mistake – but it looked that way. When Rey first discovers the BB-8 Droid, the footsteps in the sand are somehow facing the wrong direction. When Rey is fighting Kylo Ren for the final time, there is a scene where she knocks down Ren with her final blow and he is only a few feet away. However, the ground caves in at her feet, and rather than Kylo Ren falling to his doom, he is now magically 100′ away. It could be “inferred” that the ground split apart (if you ignore the massive cave-in and shaking that would have knocked Rey off her feet)… but that wasn’t the case – this was just bad filming.

Another, blatant, lazy filming technique occurred in the very beginning when Finn held one of his dying brothers and had the three fingers of blood streaked across his helmet, distinguishing him from all others (which ended up looking stupid as if Finn was the only idiot who couldn’t keep his armor clean during a planetary raid – and apparently nobody else was going to tell him?? “Hey dude, you might want to, you know wipe that off your helmet”). As the movie progressed forward, every other storm trooper wore their bright-white, Mr. Clean (and surprisingly worthless as armor) suits while Finn’s continued to get dirtier and grungier. While this may have some metaphorical value, it did not appear to be Abrams’ intention and became a disrupting annoyance.

One of the epic tragedies of this movie was the misuse of old and new characters. In the bar-scene there were tons of new aliens, robots, and other creatures that, for the few brief seconds the camera whipped around in there, appeared to look really cool. None of them got as much screen time as Admiral Akbar – and we all know just how little screen time he gets! Rather than give the audience a chance to enjoy these new characters (where even The Return of the Jedi gave better screen time to the interesting characters partying with Jabba the Hut), the hard work and detail that went into them was totally lost.

From Rey rotating hands around on her light saber from scene to scene; long, obnoxious pauses without cause; erratic ship flying patterns not consistent with the design of the ships; and wasted screen-time opportunities – this movie fell flat. As for the 3-D, get ready for ONE scene (and I really mean ONLY one), that actually utilizes the 3-D effect to make a Star Destroyer pop out of the screen. For the rest of the movie – the 3D was useless. On a side note – this is not too different than the advertisers before the start of the movie that take their “made for television” commercials and make some small, digital alterations for a 3D screen. This is an ABSOLUTE waste! If you’re going to spend millions to produce commercials that could potentially be in front of the world’s largest viewing audience, at least spend the few extra dollars to make eye-popping ads for the 3-D screen that will wow the audience. Depressing – REALLY depressing.

Apparently, Disney wouldn’t even let the movie be pre-screened for the cutting floor, or for critics. Clearly … that was probably a really good idea…

Music: Even though John Williams was brought back to do the score – either he didn’t do it very well, or J.J. Abrams, once again screwed the pooch and didn’t properly synchronize epic moments of movie-time with the musical score. For example, when Luke first appears, it’s a perfect time to hold the scene still and play the excellent, well known ‘saga’-style Star Wars music. Instead, we get something random and without feeling, with Rey pointing a lightsaber at Luke (in a very non-metaphorical way of ‘here you go’), Luke looking like he’s contemplating whether or not he has to pee, and some doldrum music to put the audience to sleep. After the Death Star is defeated and the heroes go to fly away, do we get that hard-hitting, Star Wars marching beat? Nope – we get something else … and it just doesn’t pack the epic punch of any of John Williams’ previous scores.

While The Phantom Menace brought us some very cool music to introduce the Sith Lords, the music for Kylo Ren is anything but sinister. In many ways, it feels light hearted and comical and seriously detracted from the “evilness” of his character. The epic march and dark-toned music that John Williams usually produces just wasn’t there. Music contributes significantly to the flow and effect of a movie. Without good music – this movie had no good flow.

The Story: Wow – the plot in this film had holes big enough to fly the Millennium Falcon through! Setting aside the fact that this movie was almost literally a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope, the overall story-telling was splotchy and erratic. For example, the entire back-story of Rey on the planet, Jakku, was lost in the beginning without any explanation of the how or why she was there. When George Lucas ran the show, we at least knew Anakin was on Tatooine because his mom was a slave and was forced to live there with no way off. Sure, there was some little tidbit about Rey waiting around for her family to eventually show up and take her away – 16 years after the fact – but that was just lazy writing. Of course – we’re supposed to ignore the fact that Jakku, a previously, never-before-seen planet in the previous movies, seemed to somehow be a junkyard from some epic war that we’ll never know about. Lazy … writing.

Finn’s battle with his used-to-be-fellow storm troopers, after having run away, was awkwardly placed in the course of the movie and without much meaning (except to “conveniently” keep him from getting to Rey and saving her from capture). Not only do the storm troopers somehow now carry anti-lightsaber technology (in a world where only 1 lightsaber supposedly exists and is owned by Kylo Ren??), but some random trooper called Finn a traitor and attacked. Why? Did any of them even know he left (the generals were all pretty confused about it)? Were these guys close enough that the other soldiers cared? Who was the attacking storm trooper? Was there ANY purpose for this beyond convenience? Apparently … nope.

I went into this movie with an open heart and open mind thinking, “Hey, if it sucks, it’s still Star Wars, so it can’t be too bad, right?” Wrong …. very, very wrong. From the very beginning, there was nothing epic, exciting, or eye-catching that gave the movie any momentum. It just, fizzed out with a cruddy Star Wars summary intro and a “blah” beginning with characters whom we [the viewing audience] would NEVER get any attachments to. It was not only lazy writing, it was disheartening to those of us that care about what happens to a life-long commitment.

The Characters:

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Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is an absolute failure as a villain (and at the wrong angle, what could be an awesome mask looks like an aardvark…). Not only did he not look the part, the worst thing about his character – was the actor. Taking off the helmet and transforming from the dark, sinister, temper-tantrum throwing little brat to an older Harry Potter-looking character without the faintest hint of malice to him was … sad. Even Anakin made his transformation believable with a little darkness in his face and a cool scar. I watched the ComiCon panel with Adam Driver and just thought the guy was stoned. Apparently … not. Driver is just such an emotionless and seemingly 1-dimensional actor that he really hurt what could have been a great role. Ren was whiny, had poor timing, and in no way portrayed “Sith” vs. just a really, foul-tempered dude (more “I have a light saber and like to break machines” bad, than the typical “bad guy”, bad). The most I could get from this character is that he’s an ass for killing daddy, and he’s the reason insurance on cell phones is such a pain – people who break everything with their lightsabers RUIN it for the rest of us! Oh yeah – and he’s excessively, emotionally unstable – just as I suggested he would be in my pre-movie review.

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The Orc King … or um, Golem, or … Voldemort … I mean, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), was a travesty of CGI. The ultimate bad guy was more like the Great and Powerful Oz, with his giant figure portrayed under the guise of a hologram, than an actual Sith Lord villain. And, honestly … “Snoka?” Wow – I guess every $#@%^& director has his own “Jar Jar Binks”… (albeit the majority of characters in this film were unnamed or had only first names … another sign of poor writing).

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Rey‘s character (played by Daisy Ridley) wasn’t too bad – I was actually fairly impressed; that is, until she magically figured out that she could use the force to control people. Sure – in a very long and awkward encounter with Kylo Ren, during a battle of the minds (which, for the audience, was akin to a staring contest), Rey was able to read some of Kylo Ren’s thoughts. Next thing we know, she hears a radio signal to the storm trooper guarding her room (“conveniently” guarding from the inside vs. the outside like it would be for anyone else), and figures out that she can pull a Jedi Mind Trick – out of the clear blue! Instant Jedi … just add J.J. Abrams and a lack of ability to tell a story! The good part – she’s a great actor and PLAYED her role VERY well!! No sex and no selling out. Hopefully … they can keep that going!

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Finn (John Boyega) – okay, I originally bagged on the fact that they brought some random dude in to be the hero of the force … and I was right on the money. While Boyega was a great actor (I was very impressed), most of his time on screen kept flip-flopping from “I’m scared of the Order”, to “I’m gonna fight” … and back and forth and back … etc. (he seemed very confused / hesitant … almost more than the audience!!). The character could have been handled SO much better … but since J.J. Abrams was trying to remake the fourth Star Wars book, Boyega filled the ‘wimpy child’ Luke Skywalker role very well, sharing it with Daisy Ridley. Sadly, Boyega seemed to have magically developed a friend connection with Poe – but we the audience are supposed to assume that crashing in a Tie Fighter together will do that to people … ??? Regardless – Boyega is a great actor!

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Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), was a real disappointment. Worked up to be this awesome, female bad-ass who would really set a new level of awesome to the Storm Trooper storyline with her silver armor – her limited screen time was plagued with quick flashes of her mask-covered face barking random orders/making random statements (that we the audience already knew or were worthless) and her “please don’t shoot me, I’ll lower the shields for movie convenience because I’m really a great big wuss”. Pathetic (not the actress, the role). After having told Finn to come to her quarters to be spanked for bad behavior … what? Not spanked? Wow – at least THAT would have been more fun than “We gave him a psych eval and he passed.” Must have been a cruddy psych eval … maybe the First Order needs to quit using Dr. Phil for their staff evaluations! And, how does she end? The trash compactor … funny in its concept, lost in the passing scene (I’d at least expected to hear her cursing them as they shoved her down the chute or something to really clench the scene and bring some closure).

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Han Solo (Harrison Ford) …. WHAT THE F#$^$#@$#%#$%^^)^(&*? They sold this movie to the masses by including Han Solo from the beginning, putting him in every commercial, and thrilling the fans to… kill him.

WHAT?

Harrison Ford must have not only disliked being in the movie but requested this so he wouldn’t be forced to be a part of a poorly done remake any longer because 1) Kylo Ren killing his father WOULD have been his final transformation (countering Supreme Leader Snoka’s words), and 2) it was a waste of character development and storyline. Needless to say, Han Solo is Han Solo – he’s cool. Harrison Ford is cool. And, I for one, am grateful that Ford was willing to give us one last shot – it was almost a homage to his own character!!

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Princess / General Leia (Carrie Fisher): While it was nice to see Carrie back on screen and in the role – her part was all but meaningless and felt very superficial (as her primary role was to say that there was still good in Kylo Ren, foreshadowing the next 2 movies … as if the audience really needed that). Her supposed relationship with Han Solo (having gone far enough to have children and raise them), felt 1-Dimensional at best. The two of them would barely touch each other / physically interact (their hug felt REALLY uncomfortable) let alone do more than just stare blankly with smiles on their faces! And, either Leia is an idiot and can’t sense her own daughter (regardless of the force), or Rey isn’t her daughter and the story is just getting weird and needlessly complicated. I was disappointed to see Leia acting as a secondary character with a limited range of opportunities for being the tough, princess that she was in years past and becoming a “goofy” mom who … apparently shipped her son off to her brother?? (HEY – Force or no force … Luke was a flake … at least back then … and anyone shipping their kid off to live with their Uncle … well … just watch Gravity Falls…).

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Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)… all 2 minutes of painfully extended time watching Rey hold out a lightsaber in some odd … maybe meaningful … reason? Does the face say … “I have to pee right now,” or does it read, “Is this what my life has come down too?”, or maybe, “I was sitting on the couch 20 minutes ago eating Doritos, how the heck did I get back in this movie?”

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C-3PO and R2D2: *Sigh* … R2 was asleep except for the last 10 minutes of the movie in which he got about 4 – 5 minutes of screen time in the background. C-3PO was at least a little amusing – although his huddle up with R2 and BB-8 felt like a “Droids” spin-off more than the previous and entertaining screen time C-3PO and R2D2 had in movies past.

THE UGLY:

Storm Trooper armor = paper .. still (even under the First Order). But, at least they can shoot straighter (although, that only happens when it’s convenient to push the story along) – and the lack of explanation on why there are no clones … felt like a cop out.

Sith Lords apparently cannot figure out how to use their mind influencing powers (at least, initially), and still rely on torture devices (which prove to be meaningless, twice, in this movie). Worse … Kylo Ren developed mind “reading” powers (bet he could give John Edward a run for his money – but not by much!!).

The Storm Troopers attacking Jakku in the very beginning were disorganized and chaotic and looked and acted nothing like a military force. Distracting – and poorly filmed.

The Millennium Falcon that sat on Jakku with aliens desperate for parts, hidden underneath a thin blanket that covered part of the engines (and somehow made it invisible to the rest of the world??), hadn’t flown in years – but flew just fine when Rey and Finn stole it … and, um … what? Funny reference to get us to the Falcon – but still bad story telling.

Light Sabers are apparently only “occasionally” lethal … since Kylo Ren and Finn both withstood a barrage of attacks from each others’ light sabers.

BB-8: Cute, sort of. Pales in comparison to R2D2. Bigger than the toy model they make. Still impossible to understand except for the few folks in the Galaxy that somehow speak droid. Not as charasmatic as R2… wasted opportunity.

Kylo Ren does talk to dead people (in a good-evil internal struggle / I was actually brought to the dark side by my dead grandfather (who would not have supported that), and not by Snoka / schizophrenia). And, somehow – he has Vader’s old, burnt-up mask. But, how? Who kept that? The Ewoks? Did Luke go and retrieve it from the fire and decide to put it on the mantle where Nephew Ren ran off with it? What about Vader’s saber? Creepy …

Han Solo and Chewbacca still make a great team … oops, I meant “made” a great team – but running off to run some freighter to capture the Falcon (like the Falcon being caught in the Star Destroyer’s tractor beam in “A New Hope”), and return to a life of space-bandit because he lost his son was well … dumb. And, somehow, in 50 years of partnering with a wookie, he had never shot the plasma crossbow until now. Funny for the audience – stupid for the movie.

Finn had really made a complete transformation … he didn’t want to kill people anymore. He was running away from the First Order. Mind you … he was fine with killing all the people he had been raised with and told to love his whole life, but – he was reformed. WHAT?

The Millennium Falcon is invincible! It can crash land and blast through trees without so much as a scratch. But, an X-Wing fighter can be grounded through a couple of phaser blasts??? A REALLY bad movie convenience.

Han’s dead, Chewbacca’s sad, Leia and Rey are hugging because … um… that’s … what they do? Finn is on death’s door … but hey – let’s fly off in the Falcon for Adventure! Woohoo … Solo who? Han what? It’s the Falcon … party time! Oh … okay … they went to go find Luke … I guess that’s a worthwhile mission. I just would have thought Chewbacca might be a little depressed … Maybe someone who knew Luke could go find him … one of his old friends, like Chewy, or Leia … or old Admiral Akbar??

Dialogue – what made the other Star Wars movies really good? Really? Think about it – they had some GREAT dialogue, great conversations, and great insight into the force. This movie felt rushed and too “action-y” for dialogue. Not too different than what Abrams has done, and is continuing to do, to the Star Trek series.

The Death Star, Part III: Does EVERY Death Star have to be built with a ventilation port? At least this one was covered up – but be assured, the laughter and the sighs intermingled with the disgruntled sounds of those hearing the one thing that most people seemed to have hoped would not just be repeated: “It has a thermal ventilation port!” Really? Original … NOT!

The movie went on too long … and here’s why: Think back to Han Solo’s death, hear Chewbacca cry out … and imagine if the saddest of the epic Star Wars music started playing and the camera panned in to follow Han down into the mist below. Then – Kylo Ren looks back up at Chewy and the gang, his eyes with dark circles, his skin darkened, and the same, yellow tint that Anakin had when he truly became dark …

And thus, ends the movie. That would have been jaw dropping epic. We didn’t need to see Luke. We could have jumped to that as a single scene if needed. The saber fight between Ren and Ray could have happened sooner. We didn’t need to know that Supreme Leader Snoka wanted Ren to finish his training … so many ways to finish. So many opportunities to make it REALLY good – so many ways to give the audience an epic, original movie that would be ‘Star Wars’ epic awe inspiring … and yet, so many failures.

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CONCLUSION

Poor filming, bad timing, and a horde of other problems … I am saddened to say that this movie was really bad in a lot of ways. I give this movie a 2 out of 5 stars. 1 of the stars is because it’s Star Wars (not because Abrams or Disney earned it)! The other 1 is to at least recognize some of the good stuff, albeit few (great acting, good CGI/graphics, and some wild action shots). Listen – I am not being a hard core “geek” fan – I am just reviewing this movie no differently than I would any other (although the failures in this movie really stole away from what I had hoped for our children’s futures, sharing in the same hopes and dreams as those who came before them). By the time this movie reaches Cinema Sins or Honest Trailers – you can bet – they’ll tear it apart even more!

Should you see it in a theater? The audio was not epic. Although it was supposed to be shot in 4k Ultra – it didn’t look like it. More than 60% of the movie seemed watchable without 3-D glasses (at least Real-D). I think the real answer lies in the audience’s reactions. Listening to the interviews of those who watched it – the audience sounded a little dazed and confused. Watching the audience get up and rush out of the theater the second the credits started was … unusual. Most times, at least a few people stick around for the credits and watch till the end. This time – the theater was emptied.

If you liked what J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek – you’ll like his take on Star Wars. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend spending money on this in the theaters. That gamble … that hope that it will pay off … could leave you feeling a little bummed out. Although … dang … that ‘Aluminum Falcon’ is pretty awesome!

J.J. Abrams has to go …

There is no try, only do!

 

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