What I thought about The Force Awakens

Spoileriffic, so steer clear if you’ve not yet seen it.

Han-Solo_1d08eb2e

Last night, after one viewing (from an email to Mike):

London and I just got back from the movie. Two biggest impressions: it was a hell of a lot of fun. And it was COMPLETELY unexpected. In fact, it kinda dynamited a lot of stuff I thought I knew about the Star Wars galaxy. It feels refreshingly unfettered. Definitely nails the, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, they became heroes” thing, that the prequels kind of undid for the OT. Dunno yet who, if anyone, Rey and Finn will turn out to be related to. I hope no-one. I hope they just came out of nowhere.

The thing is, it was so weird that I’m having a hard time deciding what I think of it. In some ways it feels like it hearkens back to ANH where you have a bunch of semi-competent doofuses running around raising hell. But it does not feel as structurally clean as the other movies, even the prequels. There are some things that start and then go nowhere, like the attempted release of poison gas on the Falcon – which is no big deal, because it was over so quickly – and the bit where Finn goes off with the smugglers, which feels like kind of a cheap attempted heart-string tug since it doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, the whole section at Maz Kanata’s base felt a little flabby.

I do like it that we really don’t know much about the galaxy at this point, especially who exactly Supreme Leader Snoke is, what he is, or where he came from. Even so, I think he was a bit overused. I liked the slow reveal of the Emperor in the OT – first just a mention in ANH, then a hologram in only one brief scene in ESB, and so on.

I have to go run a late errand before a store closes. Lots in my head to unpack.

poe-dameron-force-awakens

This morning (from a chat with Mike):

So, for ages I’ve argued that the prequels have a pretty brilliant underlying structure, especially ROTS. But that elegant structure is largely ruined by the clumsy moment-to-moment execution. TFA is sort of the opposite: the moment-to-moment execution is great, with lots of spontaneity and funny moments and quotable lines, but the larger structure is less elegant. Of the two failings, I’ll take TFA’s any day.

I laughed out loud in the theater several times. Don’t remember doing that in the prequels. Like the Avengers movies, it delivered a very enjoyable experience. People will forgive a lot if they’re having fun. Me included.

John Boyega nearly stole the movie. I loved how he was clearly just making stuff up from moment to moment and hoping to not get found out or killed. Rey is such a great character. It’s nice to have a female protagonist for a change. It was equally nice that the movie didn’t make a big deal of her being a woman. [Occurred to me later: in much the same way that Mad Max: Fury Road never made a big deal out of Furiosa being female and disabled. This is just how the world works now. I like it.]

I just loved the general sense of regular people kind of flailing around, fumbling through saving the galaxy. Very ANH. I sooooo hope that Rey and Finn don’t turn out to be related to famous people. Given Rey’s flashback under Maz Kanata’s castle, I think there’s a decent chance we’ll find out more about her family in the future. I don’t mind having that mystery unravel, as long as it points somewhere new.

Rey and BB8 on Takodana

This evening, after a second viewing:

Just got back from seeing it again. Here is a thing I did not expect: I enjoyed it MUCH more the second time around. And I think I know why.

A small part of it is that the first time around I was trying to “solve” the movie, and it kept going in directions I didn’t anticipate.

A slightly larger part is that I have been conditioned for literally decades that Star Wars movies may have small-scale surprises but the overarching ‘saga’ plot goes in expected directions. TPM was the most jarring break from this, what with taxation of trade routes, etc, but by the time it came out we all knew some of the basic plot elements. After that, AOTC and ROTS had small-scale surprises but we all knew how they were going to end – each movie had to both follow in the footsteps of the one before it, and end at ANH. That limited the scope for universe-shaking revelations.

This expectedness-of-plot, together with the fairly tight (not to say rigid) structure, means that the prequels had a sort of stately inevitability about them, like oil tankers or continental drift. (Or at least that’s how it seems looking back on them from a decade out. At the time I probably felt quite differently.) But now I look back and think, “Oh, of course Character X did Y, they had to for the story to get to Z.” Some of this may just be over-familiarity with the story. But I think a lot of it is down to the characters in the prequels all being Important People with Grand Destinies, as Mike wrote about back when.

TFA is not that at all. It feels very much more seat of the pants, for lack of a better expression. I imagine it’s how ANH felt to most people back in 1977. But it’s not how Star Wars movies have worked for my adult life.

But the biggest part is that I did not realize how embedded in the Expanded Universe I had become [Proof here – Ed.]. I mean, through the RPG, novels, comics, TV shows, and so on, I’ve actually spend many, many more hours in the EU than I have spent watching or even thinking about the movies.

So the first viewing of TFA was super-jarring because almost all of that stuff that I though I knew was gone, like fundamentally overturned and undone. So not only was I trying to ‘solve’ it like I would any sort of logistically complex, swashbuckling movie, I was also trying to ‘decode’ it in terms of what we might call the Star Wars Mythos, but my decoder was running an EU codec, which just didn’t apply at all.

So – and this seems incredibly ironic to me now, only 24 hours later – on the first viewing, TFA struck me as just plain weird, because (to me, at the time) it didn’t feel like Star Wars. But that’s only true from a certain point of view – my conception of Star Wars had been seduced by the EU, and to a lesser extent by the prequels.

Today I flat-out loved it precisely because it felt so damn Star Wars – not the EU, but the old movies, and particularly A New Hope.

I laughed just as hard at the funny bits, and I actually got a bit teary when Han and Leia were talking about their lost son, and when Han’s last action was to touch his son’s face. That didn’t happen the first time (too busy decoding), and I didn’t expect it this time.

Most of all, the movie made me want to stand up and cheer – for Poe when he splashed 9 TIE fighters in a row on Takodana, for Finn whenever something he tried actually worked, for Rey most of all when Luke’s lightsaber flies into her hand instead of Kylo Ren’s. Hell yeah.

Now I can’t wait to see it again.

Mike made most of the same points – in fact he commented during our chat this morning that either of us could have had the conversation solo since we were both saying the same things at about the same times. His fuller review is here.

Also, the structural problems that bothered me last night did not bother me on the rewatch. Possibly they were not that problematic to begin with, but I was shell-shocked and just casting about for something to blame for my confusion.

Anyway, great movie. I think it puts Star Wars back on the right footing, in just about every possible way.

And I still can’t wait to see it again.

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One Response to What I thought about The Force Awakens

  1. Jarrod Davis says:

    I was a bit less thoroughly-versed in EU lore – I had read the Zahn novels, of course, and a handful of the first round of properties that had come out, plus Dark Empire, and KJA’s Jedi Academy books, but not a great deal more beyond that. So to me, this *felt* the way the EU always *felt* to me, even if the events and characters were different.

    I never realized how much Star Wars was about *feeling* until George’s schlock felt so bad.

    Thinking about it again now, the Prequels “feel” like a Star Wars theme park ride. Yeah, all the elements are there, technically, but it’s just a plastic facade. You can’t go behind the walls, because they’re just movie-set flats. I don’t know if either of you ever got to go to Star Trek: The Experience in Vegas. Part of it is walking in a group down the halls of the Enterprise to the bridge of the 1701-D for a little thing that happens. And it is a very faithful recreation of the bridge. I’m sure all the proportions and colors are spot on.

    And yet…. and yet… It’s not quite right. The panels are a shiny plastic, like they came out of a factory in China and were snapped off of piece of sprue and screwed in place. They weren’t matte like they were covers for important equipment installed at Utopia Planitia by skilled workers. The sound didn’t sound like the bridge, not at all the way I wanted it to, the way I needed it to, the way I knew it should.

    In TFA, like the original trilogy, everything felt fully fleshed out. I felt like I could have walked into any room in Maz Tanaka’s place. I felt like Starkiller base had a full set of rooms that could have been explored in all the detail I desired. None of which is true, of course, but I *felt* it.

    Of course, that’s just one layer of a very multi-layered film. Thinking back on it now, half a day later, I’m amazed how much I instantly loved all the new characters. Poe won me over in just the opening. Finn’s arc was much more complex, of course, and played out more over time, but was even more satisfying because of it. Rey is instantly charming and hot, of course, but she also handles that viewer POV role so very well. Her resourcefulness reminds us all of how we get through the day, making hard choices sometimes. Her wistfulness touches our own as we wish we could travel more… go have adventures. And her joy at discovering what she’s great at, THAT she’s great at something, and then getting to use that.. isn’t that something we all feel?

    She’s so much of ANH Luke, and yet so different. It’s just brilliant. I can’t wait to see it, and to take the girls to see it. Thank you JJ and Larry Kasdan and Michael Arndt for bringing your A game when we all really needed you to. 🙂

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