Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Seventeen Things That Annoy Me About "The Force Awakens"

When Star Wars first hit theaters in May of 1977, it was the first of its kind. As such, audiences just kinda rolled with it. The opening crawl and the capture of the Tantive IV was more than enough to get movie-goers on board. We knew that an evil Empire had taken over this galaxy far, far away and a plucky band of Rebels, led by Leia, stood to oppose them. Simple.

The Force Awakens didn't enjoy that same privilege. Indeed, the 2015 sequel came pre-burdened with over thirty years worth of missing chronology, a gap that writers Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams and Michael Arndt largely chose to ignore. Instead, they decided to sew a bunch of ambitious but superficial new story threads which The Last Jedi found virtually impossible to explore in any original or satisfying way.

Now, in reading this list, you might conclude that I completely hate this movie, but I don't. In fact,  compared to the prequels, I think this movie is a reasonably well crafted piece of entertainment. It's just that, whenever I'm watching it, stuff niggles at me like a splinter in my brain.

So, here then are "Seventeen Things That Annoy Me About The Force Awakens".

(17) Rey the Resplendent

 
So, right from the get-go, Rey, our main protagonist...
  • Understands both droid and Wookiee. 
  • Flies the Millennium Falcon like a pro despite the fact that she's never been at the helm. 
  • Instinctively knows what a Jedi Mind Trick and a Force Pull is...and knows how to perform them with scarcely any effort. 
  • Handily beats a seasoned Force user in a lightsaber duel.
Because if this, I find it virtually impossible to connect to Rey. Luke is my all-time favorite Star Wars character and its not because he's male, its because he's flawed. Indeed, for half the saga's run time he's moody, reckless and impatient but he learns from his mistakes, grows up a little bit and eventually becomes a Jedi.

As for Rey, she's already fully formed right from the outset. Where's the struggle, the change, the growth...her freakin' character arc fer Chrissakes?!?

It's one thing to have a boring, flawless protagonist, but the writers don't even bother to acknowledge this. Sure, we get a few token scenes where she finds some parts, goes home, cleans 'em up, sells 'em, makes bread and has a nosh while wearing a rebel pilot helmet, but none of this qualifies as character development.

Look, if you're gonna front-load her with all of these inherent abilities, at least give us some insight. Perhaps some peril befalls her in the belly of the downed star destroyer, and only through an uncanny combination of skill and luck she barely manages to survive. Then, during the flight from Jakku, she pulls another instinctive, but otherwise impossible, stunt which prompts a dumbfounded Finn to just stare at her and say "That was impossible! We should be dead...how did you do that?" Then she could briefly explain that she's always had this ability to do things without the benefit of training, as if these memories and talents have been bred into her.

After all, isn't this what the writers were alluding to? Unfortunately Rey's set up was so glossed over that The Last Jedi just saw fit to ignore it. Doing things my way would have at least quantified this intriguing mystery and obliged Rian Johnson to pursue it. Other than learning a few lessons about heroes and history, Rey feels just as two-dimensional at the end of Episode VIII as she did at the beginning.

(16) Poe the Perfect


It makes sense that this new trilogy introduces a fresh-faced, hot-shot pilot, but does he have to be the aerial equivalent of Legolas in Return of the King?

He has no problem piloting a T.I.E. Fighter, he miraculously survives certain death (see below) and during the defense of Maz's castle he shoots down about dozen enemy ships and countless ground troops in quick succession as if they're standing still.

Which leads me to my biggest issue with The Force Awakens: there's hardly any peril. Unlike the original trilogy, the heroes are all hyper-competent and the bad guys are a bunch of incompetent fuck-ups.

(15) "WHAT IS GOING ON  HERE?!?"


 
What exactly is The Resistance? And who are the First Order? When we last left the Rebels, they'd struck a decisive blow against the Empire. We felt content that the story was told and good guys had won the day. So, what the hell happened in the galaxy over the past thirty / forty years?!?

Maybe the remnants of the Imperial fleet retreated to some distant corner of the galaxy, re-branded themselves and eventually came back with a vengeance. And maybe the New Republic, weary of conflict, just let them do their thing, underscoring the dangers of capitulation. Maybe the Resistance sprung up because Leia recognized the impending threat and could see where things were headed.

Unfortunately, everything I just typed above is an assumption. I've never read any supplemental Star Wars books and I flat out refuse to. Frankly, if I gotta read an effin' novel just to give this movie some badly-needed context, then things are clearly flawed.

All we needed were a few quick lines of dialogue to flash-paint in a few details and we would have been fine. Instead the producers leave us fumbling in the dark and assume that we'll give a shit about what transpires, despite the fact that there's scarcely any frame of reference.

(14)  Finn the Fickle


Like all of the other grunts, Finn was hypothetically brainwashed since birth to be completely loyal to the First Order. So why is he the only one to freeze up, go rogue and start slaughtering his fellow soldiers? What makes him so special? Sure forcing someone to go from sanitation to mass murder is pretty extreme, but this is never explored.

Instead a very interesting story thread is left twisting in the wind. And since modern blockbusters don't believe in dialogue and character development anymore, we'll likely never know Finn's story.

(13) First Order Stormtrooper Helmets Are Apparently Strictly Ornamental 


As if stormtrooper armor wasn't useless enough, Finn tells Rey that their helmets don't filter out toxins, just dust. Um...why? One of the selling features of original stormtrooper armor is that it's vacuum sealed and the wearer can exist in open space for a brief time.

Nit-picky? Sure. Idiotic?  Definitely. Worse still, this dumb-ass reference only seems to exist to legitimize Rey's "gas-trap" scheme, which doesn't even materialize anyway.

(12) "I LIKE this thing!"


You mean to tell me that after forty fucking years, Han has never, ever used Chewie's bowcaster? Mondo bullshit like this makes me suspect that Abrams was shining us on every time he professed to be a massive Star Wars fan during every interview.

(11) Starkiller Base



Okay, so, an enslaved galaxy producing a moon-sized battle station in the original trilogy is far-fetched enough but how did the First Order get the manpower and resources to convert an entire planet into a super weapon? If my suspicions RE: the First Order existing on the fringe of the galaxy for decades are accurate, then this concept becomes even more ludicrous.

I think it would have been better if the New Republic built the thing as a defensive weapon against the surging First Order, with Leia protesting its construction. Then maybe the bad guys could bomb in and steal it. The fact that it gets blowed up, Death Star-style is also pretty boring.

It would have been a lot more interesting if the Resistance only managed to disable it. That way the producers wouldn't have to wrack their brains coming up with yet another improbable mega-weapon for Episode IX.

(10) Hux's Rant

 
Look, I know the Empire, and now the First Order, are just a bunch of thinly-veiled Space Nazis but isn't Hux's apoplectic speech a tad on the nose, not to mention comically over-the-top? Seriously, who's he trying to convince here? If Mussolini was in the audience he'd be like "Dude, take it down a notch!"

(9) Science Fantasy...To The XXX-TRM



Star Wars was never been known for hard science, but its getting ridiculous now. In an effort to let the heat blow over, Han takes Rey to Maz Kanata's backwater planet because its supposed to be out of the way. Well, if that's the case, how the hell can they see the core planets of the Republic getting blown up by Starkiller Base? And, um, wouldn't the entire solar system be boned if the base drained the closest sun of all of its energy?

(8) "TRAITOR!!!"...To Good Storytelling

  
The stormtrooper who throws away a perfectly good blaster to engage Finn in melee combat is a fucking idiot. And why doesn't he at least flinch when Finn produces a rare, notoriously-deadly weapon like a lightsaber? Shouldn't this clown be taken aback ever so slightly?

And instead of using a random nobody like FN-2199, why didn't the screenwriters use this as an opportunity to explore Phasma and Finn's mutual animosity? Instead, we get a pointless sequence featuring two unrelated characters who whale on each other just for the sake of an obligatory duel.

(7) Pop-Up Poe

 "What took you guys so long?"

Despite being written off as dead, Poe Dameron miraculously materializes back at the Resistance base with zero explanation. Honestly, if blatantly-lazy storytelling like this doesn't bother you, then you might be part of the problem.

(6) Maybe It's Him, Maybe Its Mandalore

 "HuuuNNN!!! Rrrowoooaaarrr...!!!"
Translation: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!"

Why does Chewbacca look so goddamn well-coifed? I know that wookiees are long-lived and all but its been forty years and he looks better than he did in Jedi. What kind of galactic Benjamin Button shit is this? Will he look like Lumpy in the next trilogy?

This could have been a good opportunity to make him look a tad scruffier, perhaps sporting a distinguished grey streak. Instead he looks like a wookiee version Sofia Vergara.

(5) The "Dialogue"

Finn: Not anymore. The name's Finn and I'm in charge. I'm in charge now, Phasma. I'm in charge.
Han Solo: [to Finn] Bring it down. Bring it down.

Han Solo: I'm trying to be helpful.
Leia: When did that ever help? And don't say the Death Star.

I don't know what's worse, the blatant fan service or the contemporary humor which sticks out like a sore thumb. 

(4) The REAL Traitor

"HALT! Or I'll ask you to halt again!"

Despite Phasma's bad-ass appearance, she ends up folding quicker than Barry Allen on laundry day.

Why would a fanatical military leader, who's likely conditioned to resist torture and intimidation, voluntarily lower the Starkiller Base shield, risking its destruction and the lives of countless allies? It just smacks of script convenience.

Since the First Order models itself after the Empire, Phasma must know that they don't suffer failure, let alone outright capitulation, very lightly. At the very least, The Last Jedi shows us that Phasma suffered some pretty major repercussions for her surrender.

Oh, wait, she doesn't. Like at all.

(3) Convenience Earthquake

 
I really would have preferred just about any other way to break up the Rey / Kylo fight. What is this, The Search for Spock?

(2) "What, That Walking Carpet? *Ugh*, He's Soooo 1983."

 
Why does a sad Chewbacca (Sadbacca?) just drift past an oblivious Leia at the end of the movie? Shouldn't they console each other first before Leia goes to Rey?

You had one job, Abrams! Well, admittedly you had a lot of jobs, but putting Leia and Rey's grief before Leia and Chewbacca's was inexplicable. 

(1) Not Particularly E-luke-sive.

 
If Luke was so hell-bent on never, ever being found then why did he leave a map to his location floating around out there in the galaxy? And why did he deliberately plant a part of it in R2's memory banks? I know Mark Hamill is famous for playing the Joker, but is he also auditioning for The Riddler?

And just because a computer is in "low power mode" it certainly doesn't mean that you can't see the files it has on it. Even if Luke buried the map deep in R2's memory banks or password protected that shit, surely one talented Resistance slicer could dig it up?

Fun fact: if you were to tear Branson, Missouri out of a map of the United States and then give it to someone, they'd still be able to travel to Branson, Missouri.

Finally, how does R2 know precisely when to "come to" at the end of the movie?

Honestly, so much in this flick completely baffles me.

***

Because The Force Awaken was so derivative of A New Hope, I think it's solely responsible for this current Last Jedi fan schism. People lost their shit over the new film because it didn't spend its run time aping Empire and hand-picking the most popular fan theories.

And, honestly, I don't blame writer/director Rian Johnson one bit. When he sat down to write Episode VIII, he knew that he'd end up with a boring, predictable, workmanlike story that added nothing new if all he did was fill in the blanks. This all adds up to an important lesson. You can add as many fancy eaves, towers and parapets as you want to your house, but if the foundation is rotten, it's still gonna collapse.

I don't envy the writers of  Episode IX since, in my opinion, they still need to address the questions lingering from the first film while giving people a satisfying and reasonably-original conclusion. And if the third film fails, this whole new saga is gonna founder under the weight of unrealistic expectations while sullying the classic trilogy that came before it.

Oh, for the record: I have a very simple solution to all of this. Just invent a time machine, go back to 1997 and convince George Lucas to let three talented directors helm the Heir to the Empire trilogy.

Done. 

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