Movie Review: Star Wars – The Twilight Awakens

ForceAwakensby Brad Nelson12/31/15
It’s no fun watching an old friend get old…and I’m not talking about Carrie Fisher. Hey, we’re all headed toward the Death Star trash compactor. The good news is that this movie isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The bad news is, it’s nothing new. It’s a reboot of A New Hope with a few elements of V or VI thrown in.

Star Wars, as a concept, certainly has a “look” and a certain motif about it. I wouldn’t expect a Star Wars movie to depart from it excessively. But it’s one thing to learn, say, a dozen or so words in the vernacular and use them creatively. It’s another thing to say the same thing using those same twelve words, perhaps mixing up the order a bit.

If you’d never heard of Star Wars, this movie would be new to you, perhaps even entertaining. You might wonder about who those old farts were (Fisher and Ford), but you could relate to the mindless action and the special effects that have climbed the mountain once again and crowded out any reason to have characters or even character development, let alone a novel plot.

The title of this review comes from an apt review I read over at A fellow wrote:

At no point, AT LITERALLY NO POINT, did I feel sad, frustrated, anxious, worried, or exhilarated during its belabored two hours and sixteen minutes. The characters felt like they could be potentially cloned from any PG-13 teen movie you’ve seen since Twilight hijacked the world and forced it’s twisted, disgusting version of acceptable adolescent stereotypes upon us. You could almost swap out the light-sabers, tie-fighters, and storm troopers and you’d have a great sequel to whatever the hell number Hunger Games we’re on these days (because that’s how interesting the rest of the plot was).

Despite the reboot of Star Wars: A New Hope, which this movie is, it still might have worked had the main characters (Rey, the ass-kicking female, and Finn, the black, goofy, clearly Americanized yute ostensibly playing a character from a “galaxy far, far away”)  been anything but Twilightish characters. Both of these actors are misplaced.

John Boyega, as Finn, is simply awful. But Daisy Ridley as Rey doesn’t even rate awful. She’s not awful, no more than celery, cucumbers, or rice paper are awful. They’re just not particularly filling. She reminded me of a stand-in extra who was the beneficiary of a case of mistaken identity and took the place of the real actor. I don’t make movies for a living, but I think they have stand-ins who do some of the work on set (such as standing-in for lighting and sound checks, etc) so that the primary actors can sit in their trailers eating M&Ms. The stand-in is someone who is about the same height, etc., so they are useful in this regard, but are not there for their acting ability in any way, shape, of form. They’re just taking up space.

It’s difficult to criticize any particular part of this movie, because if I did so I would be criticizing one of my all-time favorite movies: Star Wars: A New Hope. There is hardly a scene in The Force Awakens that isn’t a clone of this movie in some way. So I can’t trash the specific scenes, for they are remakes of the original for all intents and purposes.

But all of these scenes do not add up to much of a story, at least a proper Star Wars story. But there’s nothing out of place compared to a typical action movie these days where the plot and characters are rice-paper thin and the special effects and explosions are gargantuan. For the generations who accept this as good, they will not understand my criticisms any more than someone who thinks Dick-and-Jane books are great literature because they have never heard of Shakespeare.

Even so, even despite the cloning of A New Hope, it would have worked better had the cloning been more authentic. In The Force Awakens, the main evil guy is also masked, as was Darth Vader in A New Hope, although both wore different types of masks. But as one reviewer quipped, in the case of Kylo Ren — the masked antagonist of The Force Awakens — he looks better with the mask on. Despite the rather cheesy synthesized villain voice he’s given when his mask is donned, at least he projects evil. With the mask off, this dude looks like he just walked off a daytime soap opera and is heading for the hair dresser to work on his curls. In today’s girl-i-fied version of men, perhaps he’s considered dangerous looking. But to me, it looked like he might cry at any moment.

What ultimately saves this movie from circling the drain completely is a credible performance by Harrison Ford as Han Solo. No, he’s not given very good dialogue to work with. Yes, of course, he says yet again “I have a bad feeling about this.” But quite unlike his horrible walk-through performance in Crystal Skull, he does get into character in this one as Han Solo. You do get a little bit of the old Star Wars mojo now and again, almost despite itself.

Had they jettisoned the awful characters of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren, this might have worked as a Han Solo movie. But it certainly doesn’t work as a Princess Leia movie. Sadly, Carrie Fisher was not able to evoke even an inkling of that beloved character. And you get a whiff of C-3PO and R2D2, but they are cameo appearances, at best, and having nothing to do with the plot. And I understand that most Star Wars droids do little more than squeak and belch beeps. But there was something about the squeaking and beeping of R2D2 in the original trilogy that, while annoying at times, generally worked. But his stand-in is a roly-poly type of droid — more practical though this type of locomotion may be across Tatooine sands. However, there is little to no personality there…even for a droid.

This movie is like a retrovirus. It has masked itself in the outer shell of the Star Wars motif. But inside there is no soul. There is no grand story to care about. The Force, despite being featured in the title, is not center stage, nor is it explored in any depth at all.

And I really thought going into this film that the most annoying part of the picture would be Daisy Ridley as Rey, yet again another ass-kicking female. And although she and John Boyega as Finn do the now stereotypical sex swap (he’s helpless and clueless, she’s a protective and smart ass-kicker), the largest disappointment was that this movie offered almost nothing new. It had a Death Star. It had a shield generator that had to be taken out. There was a fighter run down a Death Star alley. You can count the reboot elements as you go. There is almost no scene that is original.

Still, given all that, the one scene — and only one scene — that tickled my fancy a bit was when a squadron of X-Wing fighters swooped in to kick a little Stormtrooper ass. I thought the scene (which was near the end of the movie) had more mojo because I expected Luke Skywalker to finally make his appearance. (He didn’t.) But for whatever reason, that squadron of X-Wings evoked the mojo of Star Wars more than anything else in this film.

But it was a fleeting moment. There is at least one surprise in this, but even this is handled badly. The sad thing isn’t so much that this wasn’t a good continuation of Star Wars. I never expected it to be. But it is certainly sad that people who are so soulless can make so much money from relative junk. Oh well.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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14 Responses to Movie Review: Star Wars – The Twilight Awakens

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I heard that this was extremely derivative, primarily of the first movie. Like you I enjoyed the original and saw it several times, but seeing it redone for the sake of the diversity crowd (a female Skywalker and black male Leia, in effect) is obviously of no interest to me. But I will say that cucumbers and celery have their place in a variety of foods (and not just salads, at least in the case of celery), though they certainly would never be the heart of a meal.

    And a nitpick on the quote from the review, an error I’m seeing very frequently lately: “it’s” is a contraction of “it is”, whereas “its” is the possessive case of “it”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      a female Skywalker and black male Leia, in effect

      Haha. I wish I had written it that way in my review.

      Even then, I would have accepted a female Skywalker. That would have meant that she was playing a character with some heart and depth. Neither Mark Hamill nor Carrie Fisher were known quantities. Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness certainly were. But both newbies were brilliant bits of casting. Although Fisher plays a more one-dimensional “cross female” type of character, she does play it well. And Hamill…I still don’t know how he evoked that sense of innocence without looking like a puppy from a Disney animal picture. His unfamiliarity certainly helped in this regard because we were learning about him just as he was learning about the wider world outside his moisture farm.

      Luke wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. He didn’t always do or say the perfect thing. He was in no way necessarily on a character arc toward Jedidom. But he had a good heart. He wanted to do well. He wanted to do justice. Most of all, he wanted a little adventure.

      You get absolutely none of that from Rey. Seriously. There is no depth to her character. You know as much about the roly-poly droid as you do her. It’s a horrible movie in this regard. Perhaps it’s an offense to celery to say that most of the characters in this movie had as little substance for I can make some damn fine soup with celery as one of the main ingredients. You couldn’t even make gruel with the personalities of the main characters in The Force Awakens.

      And yet even though I might hope to taste steak when someone slips me a piece of celery, I don’t hate the celery. Celery is good. I like it. In the same vein, I don’t hate The Force Awakens because it’s not Star Wars. It’s as good or bad as any other thoughtless, low-brow, 13-year-old-oriented juvenile movie. But it’s not steak.

      But neither is it the rotten meat of The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks, and the rest of that prequel. As truly awful as John Boyega is as Finn whose one acting style seems to be to stretch out his face a la James Earl Jones in his transformation into a snake in one of the Conan movies, there is nothing in The Force Awakens to equal Jar Jar. And that’s about the best I can say about for it.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As long as we’re talking gruel, perhaps they can use the actors in a remake of the musical Oliver!. But perhaps the Widow Corny would have to be given a more important role.

  2. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    Brad, I’m a bit less negative about this movie in general. The faults that you described are irksome but not deadly. They are venial sins, as opposed to the mortal sins of Jar-Jar and Hayden Christensen . The casting picks for the dark transsexual Leia and the de rigueur lead butt-kicker were relative unknowns, and I’ll bet the moguls hoped for unanticipated magic from these two, as in days of yore. And, let’s, or lets, not forget that real talent like Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise is rare, so I’m not overly critical in that respect. The writing only sucked a little, in contrast to most current blockbusters. Only Marvel does it right.

    The bottom line is that I’ll be buying the BD and lining the pockets of these rascals even more. My wife and I kinda liked the new droid, too. The acetylene torch thumbs-up was precious.

    Hunger Games is in a league of its own, and I enjoyed it for what it is, not as the last great hope for mankind, as some reviewers think. I only bring this series up because at least Jennifer Lawrence transmits real anger and believable ferocity. Rey, not so much.

    Happy New Year, all Stubborn Ones! I smell positive change in the air. P.T. Barnum, that most beloved oracle, was correct in his signature quote.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ve read quite a few reviews of The Force Awakens since writing my own. I must say, a lot of people have been harsher than I was. I meant to tone mine down a little, for we don’t live and die by movies. Yeah, it sucks to see more cultural Vandals spoil something good, but life goes on. Somewhere out there is another George Lucas who will tell a good story and create another artistic blockbuster instead of what we have here, a carefully crafted commercial blockbuster aimed, at best, at juveniles or the juvenile taste.

      Still, I’m impressed that so many have diagnosed the problem: lack of story and character development, replaced by an orgy of special effects and little but juvenile dialogue and acting. It’s always comforting to know that there are many people out there who have not gone quietly into that cinematic good night. There are people who remember what quality is.

      They are venial sins, as opposed to the mortal sins of Jar-Jar and Hayden Christensen .

      I agree, Tom. I admit that although I was bored about 30 minutes into this movie, I was not as deeply offended as I was with Jar Jar Binks (LOL…they refer to the director as Jar Jar Abrams now), Hayden Christensen, or the awful casting of Jake Lord as young Anakin.

      Yes, in essence, it’s nice that the film makers didn’t leave a steaming pile of crap on our front stoop. What they left, however, was rice paper…a shallow, thin, non-nutritious vapid substance. There is no Star Wars story here. There is almost no character development. The Force as a concept is basically non-existent. The heroes’ journey is gone. The entire character development of Rey, such as it is, consisted of her not selling a droid for food. (Are droids really something more than machines?)

      Regarding the leads, one criticism I read that I thought was spot on was that for the first time, Star Wars has become an affirmative action film: we have a black, a hispanic, and a female in the leads. It was not “The Force” at the center of this movie but Cultural Marxism.

      I’m not sure why you’d buy this in Blu Rey, Tom. To each his own. But the movie is certainly good for a laugh. Again, there is no Star Wars story here. There is no journey being made. The Force is not a factor. It’s ludicrous, for instance, that a sanitation worker Stormtrooper is able to pick up a light saber for the first time and best, or nearly best, this movie’s equivalent of Darth Vader.

      And Rey’s journey to her Jedi powers happens in an instant. I guess Jedis don’t need years of training…just a moment to close one’s eyes and “feel” the Force. This is the worst kind of juvenile writing and it’s always disappointing that more people don’t have higher expectations.

      • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

        I agree with everything you say, Brad. I only watch movies such as this when I’m in the mood for mind rot and no intellectual challenges. May the farce be with me.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        And Rey’s journey to her Jedi powers happens in an instant. I guess Jedis don’t need years of training…just a moment to close one’s eyes and “feel” the Force

        Silly you! Didn’t you know that women are more “in touch” with their inner being so it is much easier for them to connect with the force than those out-of-touch men who are so confused by their emotions.

        • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

          I’m officially offended.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Official offense noted and filed. (Sorry, I don’t know how to do one of those Smiley Faces)

            The link below, makes Brad’s critique seem generous and my comments innocuous.


            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Well, a bit more rant than a review…something I was trying to avoid. But his points regarding “girl power” are spot-on. What I put down to a lack of character development the Cultural Marxist types would see as the Grand Exposition of True Essence…sort of like the idea of Long John Silver having an eye patch and a parrot on his shoulder…the very essence of a character…of a caricature, that is.

              And caricatures aren’t bad things, per se. John Wayne certainly played a certain “type.” But his type was backed up by believability. Had he climbed into an anachronistic jet fighter in, say, The Searchers (much faster than a horse), and piloted it instantly and masterfully through the gullies and canyons of Monument Valley in search of his niece, we might not have laughed at the Duke (goodness forbid), but we would have recognized something was very seriously wrong.

              Which brings me right back to what I think is the true organizing Force of this movie: undeveloped, unrefined tastes. Juvenilism. And when I call The Force Awakens an expression of a juvenile culture, I’m not using hyperbole.

              One of the most instructive moments in this movie regarding this is when the clone warrior (sort of a clone of the bad acting of Hayden Christensen, not an actual Clone), Aldo Ray (sorry…I mean Kylo Ren..yet another bad-guy in a mask…although he had no need of it for breathing purposes as Anakin did) has a temper tantrum on the bridge of his ship and takes a light saber to the control panels and tears them up pretty good.

              Contrast that with the slow burn that Darth Vader does on the Death Star when Admiral Motti talks some trash about The Force, using such provocative words as “sorcerer’s ways” to Vader. Suddenly Motti finds it a little difficult to breath.

              And one of the supreme moments of either V or VI is when Luke escapes his father. The newly-appointed admiral on Vader’s command ship then has to tell Vader the bad news. He had (I believe) earlier seen his predecessor killed by Vader for having similar news. Vader just shrugs…perhaps giving you the first inkling that Vader is having some sentimental thoughts about his son. Perhaps Luke’s escape is not just a dreaded thing for him right at that moment. It perhaps delays something he does find to be an unpleasant task. But it would have been a cringe-worthy thing indeed if he had thrown a child-like temper tantrum.

              Whatever the case may be, imagine Vader going ballistic and having a 10-year-old temper tantrum. It was out of place then. And, to me, it was out of place for Kylo Ren to do so. Yet does anyone see this as out of place anymore? Have we all acclimated to the juvenile culture?

              Thanks for the link, Mr. Kung. That was a most enjoyable read. Smiley faces are made by typing (excluding the quote marks) a “:” [colon] and a “)” [right parenthesis] together with no space between them. Like this: 🙂 But since these things are over-used and somewhat juvenile, you could skip learning them altogether and let your writing do the talking for you. It’s more work but good practice. 😉

              • Timothy Lane says:

                One important difference between Vader getting angry and Ken doing so is that the former would punish the actual target (“Apology accepted, Captain” from The Empire Strikes Back), e.g.) and even accepts having his anger in the original halted by Grand Moff Tarkin. But Ken, evidently (I have no idea when we’ll see The Force Awakens), is angry at everyone and everything — like an Occupier or Black Shakedowns Matter activist. Or a jihadist.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Contrast that with the slow burn that Darth Vader does on the Death Star when Admiral Motti talks some trash about The Force, using such provocative words as “sorcerer’s ways” to Vader. Suddenly Motti finds it a little difficult to breath.

                “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

                This is the best scene in the whole series, in my opinion. It’s the combination of the controlled, somewhat sarcastic, voice with the small twist of Vader’s crooked finger and extended thumb that does it.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    “Apology accepted, Captain”

    You just reminded me, Tim, that there is almost no wit in The Force Awakens. Yes, Han creaks out the creaky old line “I have a bad feeling about this.” But the dialogue is mostly…well…juvenile and undevelopd. But that “apology accepted” line is one of the jewels of the original trilogy.

    Yes, Aldo Ray (Kylo Ren…whatevvah) was like an Occupier. Can’t you just hear him leading the chorus of “First Order lives matter!”? Sheesh.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is the best scene in the whole series, in my opinion.

    In other words, Mr. Kung, instead of throwing strained peas against the wall from his highchair, someone had learned the art of drama, wit, understatement, and evoking interesting character traits. (What we used to call “making a movie”.)

    Listen, I realize that movies have always been about making money to a large extent. Often movie moguls and producers — even in the Golden Age of Hollywood — have tended to look down upon popular tastes. The saying was often that they’d rather make money than win an Oscar. So making your main villain act like a typical yute might make good financial sense.

    But the reality is, if you tell a good story, have good characters enlivened by good actors, have some compelling settings and nice camera work, and do enough of the technical stuff right, you will make an awful lot of money and perhaps win an Oscar or two as well.

    Sure, there were probably some people who marveled at the original Star Wars: A New Hope because of the special effects. But I think often this was because many people haven’t developed the skill (and it is a skill, one I am constantly working on) to talk about other aspects that made the movie good. They know what they like, but I think one of the easiest things to talk about is “the cool special effects” rather than the essence of Star Wars which Joseph Campbell talked about (in collusion with George Lucas) which was the hero’s journey — a wonderfully iconic and human thing.

    There is no hero’s journey in The Force Awakens. It just a jumble of actions scenes spliced together in the reel. It is, at most, what James Delingpole wonderfully described as a mindless caricature of “girl power,” at least in regards to the main character. No wonder I thought she was so paper thin.

    And lest I be dismissed an a misogynist, I’m not against girl-power, per se. It just has to be believable. Rey (played by actress Daisy Ridley) was no Linda Hamilton in Terminator nor a Sigourney Weaver in Alien. I have never criticized these films for having a strong female character. I only insist that the characters be believable.

    What you get in The Force Awakens is little more than the shorthand code for “girl power.” And that’s being very generous indeed, for that would then mean that the movie makers did indeed have a point and didn’t simply lack skill or have undeveloped juvenile taste as is my main criticism. Yes, one could say that going with the stupid “girl power” shtick is the display of juvenile taste. I won’t argue with you there.

    But this is no hero’s journey. We don’t care about Rey. We know nothing about her. She doesn’t develop her skills and, more importantly, the motivation to use them (for justice, revenge, adventure, or whatever). For all the depth of her character (and bland acting), they might have simply used a stick figure and saved more budget for the one thing these movie producers generally do well: special effects.

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