by Brad Nelson 12/31/15
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 IMDB.com. 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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