Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review of "Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens"

The new Star Wars movie basically cries out for a thorough review – in my humble opinion a lot went wrong here...

I list the aspects I liked with a "+" and those that displeased me with a "–" in front:

+  A female protagonist at last – heroine Rey
+  Amusing characters in principle
+  Beautiful sites and set decorations
+  Some self-ironic dialogues in the beginning which remind of the style of Episodes IV-VI

– The way how the female protagonist is handled is very clumsy:
  • Her WANT (the aim she is aware of herself throughout the story) is too weak and even unclear as the movie unfolds (!)
  • She does not possess any character flaws (like prejudices of any kind, egoism, cowardness, lack of responsibility, greed or the like)
  • There is not even a subtle hint as to where her strengthening in the Force comes from – by Rey and Finn, the subject is merely briefly addressed in marveling at their new abilities; Maz Kanata's later "explanation" remains general and vacuous w.r.t. that and is accepted by Rey who does not seem interested in going into the subject any further herself (maybe this is an – understandable – attempt of the author to avoid the issue with the Midi-chlorians?)
  • In contrast to all earlier heroes of the saga who were using the Force Rey does not seem to be needing guidance from some veteran with the Force, not even to beat someone as well-instructed in the Force as Kylo Ren
  • In the decisive moment of the story (plot point II), Kylo Ren's patricide, she is a mere spectator together with the other good guys
  • She is permanently fleeing and simply reacting, but not taking action which makes her look like a victim of the circumstances without a clear agenda of her own (WANT, see above)
  • By dragging along almost all the heroes of Episodes IV-VI (Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, R2–D2, C3PO, even Luke in the background), but mainly by reintroducing Han Solo, she is taking a back seat as the protagonist. Even the much more passionate and at least equally important actions taken by Finn and Poe add to this effect. This overabundance of players does not allow for a great depth of character of any of these. The characters are in utter dramaturgical competition to each other,  singularizing the plot
  • Rey, being "the woman", emerges from all fights without a scrape
  • Rey's relationship with Finn remains irresolute and unappealing
  • Rey's character arc is not clearly drawn: What prompts her to fight for the rebels in the end? Nothing! She remains in the "hero's refusal" attitude. Right up to the end she never explicitly dedicated herself to the "light side" (since a dedication often happens w.r.t. to a mentor figure, this is owed to her negative reaction to Maz Kanata here). She merely uses the "good Force" to defend herself against Kylo Ren

– Major dramaturgical problems of all kinds, including:
  • The mandatory (Really? I don't think so! See e.g. "Die Hard") "Save the Cat" moment of Rey when she rescues BB-8 from a salvager could not be any weaker: She briefly talks to him and he quickly retreats (if this should have been her way with the Force already, this does not become clear due to the lack of a suitable marker pointing this out to the audience, e.g. Rey's own surprise)
  • Rey's reaction to the would-be murderer Finn is a bit overdone. She does not have a personal quarrel with him and does not even give him a chance to speak: She rushes after him as if stung by an adder and sandbags him...
  • The eponymic "Awakening of the Force" in Rey and Finn is only shown as a result, as their sudden inexplicable capabilities to fly the Falcon and fire its weapons, completely unspectacular and lacking any captivating marker like a gesture, a close-up and/or an audiovisual effect. In  every other movie, it was unambiguously clear when the Force was being employed. Here it is unappealing, ineffective, unstructured
  • Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the scene in a rather bland fashion, their introduction is unspirited. Rey must explain to Han how his Millennium Falcon works in order to establish herself as the new hero, script-wise...
  • The actual state of affairs within the family Han Solo/Leia/Kylo Ren (whose identity as Han's son is revealed in a colorless half sentence that is at some point even repeated in an equally unappealing manner) is shrouded in mystery such that Kylo Ren's PATRICIDE in plot point II leaves completely cold (!!!). After all, we don't know their backstory and their conflicts with one another! The murder, though suspenseful as a scene, completely fizzles out dramaturgically! Even disregarding the fact that we are talking about the cinematic death of the "Star Wars" icon Han Solo, this is a dramaturgical ultimate MCA
  • A backstory of Rey with Kylo Ren is being hinted at in a midpoint flashback, but does not make much sense since he is about the same age as her and thus cannot be responsible for her parents' disappearance. Even if he was, it is not explained (in this movie, but that's all that counts for a viewer ignorant of the sequels), rendering Rey's arguments and battles with him impersonal and lacking a deeper motivation
  • Kylo Ren is wearing a Vader-inspired helmet without requiring its breathing functionality, so he does it out of nostalgia, emulating him. However, we don't learn why he does so! Altogether, all new characters seem to revere the old ones, yet they consider them to be mythological figures (huh?), although this myth has taken place only 30 years ago (HUH?) which makes them look like mere "new editions" instead of proud individuals. This problem is intensified by the weak characterization of the new heroes – they are not properly fleshed out
  • Repeated "Deus ex machina" moments and other artificial, unsatisfying moments:
    •  At the midpoint, Rey flees in terror from Maz Kanata and her encounter with Luke's lightsaber into the forest (why?) where all at once BB-8 appears. Earlier in the movie, he seemed to be rolling about rather stolidly – his sudden speediness is not explained
    • When the fighting begins, Rey sends BB-8 away again to take shelter (huh?) instead of actively protecting it. From the viewpoint of the plot, this turn becomes clear immediately: BB-8 must disappear so that afterwards Rey must face Kylo Ren alone who must not find BB-8 with the desired information: Otherwise, he couldn't kidnap Rey and carry the unconcious girl to his ship – in utter tranquility and so obvious that all of the good guys watch him doing it – and subject her to an inquisition to great effect. Why not leave out the intermezzo with Rey and BB-8 in the forest? Because Rey wouldn't have anything to do there until Kylo Ren shows up later and her character isn't fit for a monologue!?!
    • After Kylo Ren's patricide, the newest Death Star is being sabotaged by the good guys and Rey and Finn flee into the woods on the Death Star planet where Kylo Ren catches up with them. Rey attacks Kylo Ren with Luke's lightsaber, gets flung to a tree trunk by him and loses consciousness. Finn takes over but suffers severe injuries. Seamlessly, Rey is on her feet again and continues the fight...!?!
    • Although he still does not have BB-8's information, Kylo Ren seems to mean to kill Rey (huh? She's the only one who can provide the information to him besides BB-8!). When Rey eventually uses the Force to fend him off, a deep cleft opens between them, neatly separating them, while the whole planet seems to fall apart. This is an unacceptable "coincidence" that obviously serves to avoid having the "good" Rey killing him in self-defense except the cleft owes its existence to Rey's workings with the Force which, lacking a suitable cinematic marker, does not come across
    • In what follows, Chewbacca (who has somehow escaped the inferno...) touches down with the Falcon in the immediate vicinity to take her and the wounded Finn on board – how Chewbacca found them also remains a mystery
    • R2-D2 awakens from his inexplicable slumber completely without cause with the rest of the star chart leading to Luke...
  • Another very regrettable dramaturgical shortcoming is the absence of any grand, quiet, solemn moment where "The Force Awakens"!!! Instead, the first traces of the Force, seemingly unprovoked, are squeezed into Rey's and Finn's rash flight-and-fight-flight, rendering it ineffective in that respect
– X-Wing flights, the highlights of earlier movies, are hastily cut and are no fun
– The fights are not well choreographed; they are unimaginative and dull
– This movie, aspiring to continue a cinematic myth, has no (discernable) theme to it! Given the missing will of the protagonist, this does not come as a surprise, since the theme is inextricably linked to this WANT
– Due to the lack of theme, there is no symbolism whatsoever which also points to a complete lack of deep structure. Consequently, the movie has nothing grand and is incapable of pointing beyond itself, inapt of transporting a universal truth. Even Luke's emotionally charged lightsaber seemingly arbitrarily changes its bearer: Maz Kanata (who avoids saying where she got it) ---> Rey ---> Finn ---> Rey ---> even Kylo Ren is interested (why? He has his own fancy one...) ---> Rey ---> Luke. And the way the icons of the old movies (Millennium Falcon, Androids, Vader's Mask) are presented is so uninspired that they do not stir any nostalgic emotions
– Kylo Ren's lightsaber is a visual treat, but not more: it does not possess any special functionality (as e.g. compared to that of Darth Maul, bringing about a completely new style of combat) and its crossguard-laser are most likely not entirely safe for himself either. Here, the visuals have outranked the story's logic
– The score only stands out when it cites the old "Star Wars" themes
– Some sequences are cluttered with unneccessary, doubled shots like Kylo Ren's patricide and the final sequence of Rey presenting the lightsaber to Luke: the suggested emotional depth does not exist! It shows, and that's why it appears artificial and too much. The aerial sequence shot at the end is neither very impressive nor does it constitute a stable final chord for the movie
– Very sad is the striking unimaginativeness w.r.t. the plot's motifs that are altogether copies of those from earlier movies, mainly Episodes IV-VI. Virtually in an inflationary manner compared to comparable remakes, the plot uses the familiar building blocks which are adopted almost unaltered. As if taking a poll on which scenes, turns and character traits of the old movies are the most popular and then patching them up somehow:
  • A beeping android (R2-D2/BB-8) that only some characters understand and whose reactions to it reveal what it said (that is still quite okay since the new android is rather quacking and comes in a new design)
  • A poor teenie from a desert planet whose parents are lost without a trace and who has a way with the Force (Luke/Rey) needs to discover and master his/her gift
  • The android (R2-D2/BB-8) carries crucial information of the rebels, gets found at a junk dealer's by the hero (Luke/Rey) and thus brings him/her into the galactic firing line
  • Han Solo is still involved in dubious business practices and is being pursued by creditors who are after his blood
  • Han Solo leads the hero to a peculiar drinking hole in which also the Dark Side has its spies and thus the bad guys learn of their whereabouts
  • A small, quirky creature that has a good rapport with the Force and acts as a mentor figure (Yoda/Maz Kanata), equipping the hero with a lightsaber
  • The antagonist wears a black helmet (Darth Vader/Kylo Ren)
  • The antagonist kidnaps and questions the woman (Leia/Rey) – are we heading toward an "I AM YOUR BROTHER!" here?
  • The antagonist is the apprentice of a powerful dark master who at first only shows up as a projection (Emperor Palpatine/Supreme Leader Snokes)
  • Family drama that pits a son against his father (Luke vs Vader/Kylo Ren vs Han Solo)
  • Death Star No. 3 is making its appearance and, again, must be destroyed by entering with an X-Wing and bombarding the weak spot, a task that only the best pilot of the rebels (Luke/Poe) can tackle
  • The Death Star threatening an important rebel base
– All the above shortcomings are equally mirrored in the, considering a movie of that scale unfortunately only mediocre/unremarkable quality of
  • the cinematography
  • the costumes
  • the dialogue (!)
  • the acting – which, admittedly, cannot rise above the level of the screenplay – and the screenplay is the problem!
–  Many of the dramaturgical shortcomings, especially the withheld information making it impossible to appreciate the characters' drastic actions, taken together with the lack of original ideas for the plot suggest that there is simply not enough material to fill three new episodes, likely even not enough to fill one!
–  Another absurdity: The lead actress Daisy Ridley (Rey) is only mentioned after the veterans Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke) in the credits! This movie is quintessentially a failed bow to the past...

 An altogether uninspired seventh and worst episode of the saga, leaving one at a loss. – CONSIDER THE COST OF THIS!!!

Even more unsettling than the bad quality of the movie itself is, to my mind, the fact that most critics don't seem to see it: Rotten Tomatoes Rating of 93%!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment