Sunday, December 20, 2015

Recap and Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Okay, I trust that I've made it absolutely clear that this review will be filled with spoilers and I won't hear any whining about that in the comments section. 

This year, I didn't want an advent calendar, I wanted a Star Wars count down calendar. Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I saw in the theater (no snark about my age)  and that hooked me. It's a series that I have enjoyed sharing with my children (well with the notable exception of Jar Jar Binks). Sitting in the theater, the geek in me was shaking when the opening theme started. "In a galaxy far far away", scrolled across the screen and  I was flush with excitement, only to leave 135 minutes later bitterly disappointed. At almost halfway through the movie, I actually turned to my partner and told him that I was bored.  I mean BORED.  It simply didn't live up to all of the hype and I want a refund for the extra money I paid to see this in 3D as well. You guessed it, I'm blaming J.J. Abrams at least in part for this. I wanted big huge moments and light sabers coming through the screen to get me and not something I could have watched in my home comfortably pausing as need be for bathroom breaks or to get more butter for my popcorn.  I wanted to be absolutely blown away and stand cheering when the credits rolled across the screen. 

Okay, here's the deal, if you saw the original 1977 Star Wars, there really was no need to see this movie.  It essentially was one big reboot.  Han Solo quickly came to take on the role of Obi-Wan and Rey and Finn a combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.  It all starts with Poe Dameron, a skilled fighter pilot searching for a map to find a missing Luke, who it seems decided to isolate himself after the training of a Jedi blew up in his face.  Finding himself about to captured, Poe puts the information inside a droid and instructs it to get as far away from the battle as possible.  Does this sound at all familiar to you?  

It seems the First Order has filled the vacuum of the Empire and they even get their own Death Star - just a bigger version and therefore more scary.  Then we have Kylo Ren, who channels his grand pappy Darth Vader, hoping to be just as strong.  I just wanted to scream, dude, grand daddy recognized the error of his ways and was defeated. If you're going to pick a hero, wouldn't it actually make sense to pick someone on the side who won?  I will give the Force Awakens points for the epic Vader mask but I couldn't help wondering why Leia and Solo didn't get their precious boy the counselling he so desperately needed.  Have these two ever heard about tough love?  Geesh!  

The Stormtroopers hit the ground looking for the droid and Finn, who works in sanitation is just not up for the blood and gore.  Quick question, why would the First Order send a sanitation storm trooper into battle? Also, do sanitation and storm trooper even go together in a way that makes even the least bit of sense?  So, I'm down with the whole idea of not slaughtering innocent people and totally cool with Finn helping Poe escape the clutches of Kylo Ren.  When the two crash land, Finn just happens to run into Rey, who is in possession of the missing droid.  I know I shouldn't complain because R2D2 and C3PO ending up in the custody of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars is just as sketchy of a plot turn; however, having to see it happen a second time was just too much because as you may have already guessed, the force is strong with Rey.  Le Sigh. In fact, epic sigh.  

Finn is all about getting the girl while avoiding the First Order, so he pretends to be a member of the resistance.  To that end, when the Finn and Rey find the Millennium Falcon, the two take off.  It's not long before they run into Han Solo, who has been searching for his ship while naturally running a series of scams on the side. I guess some things never change.  Han is in for the mission and why wouldn't he be? Luke and Han go way back and then there's a little matter of Han Solo's son having gone totally off the reservation.  We get a quick pause for the seemingly necessary cantina scene and for Rey to get her hands on Luke's lightsaber.  This comes with visions of all the saber has seen and done.  As you might imagine, this is quite dark.  The next movie better explain why exactly Luke decided to leave his light saber behind when he went into hermit mode, particularly given that he knew that Kylo Ren had gone all dark side and angry.  Oh wait, I know.  Luke was doing his Yoda thing just waiting around for a Jedi to find him.  Yes, I'm rolling my eyes.  

So, a whole bunch of yada yada and it's time to blow up the Death Star  2.0.  The same bullshit applies about how invulnerable it is and therefore some member of the resistance has to board it. What I want to know is why no one in the resistance decided to question Finn in depth? Dude was making claims about knowing so much about the station and yet he was only a stormtrooper.  They didn't even consider for a moment that he could have a been a plant.  I wanted to scream can we please find someone with 2 cents worth of common sense.  Finn's big motivation to volunteer is to save the girl - a young woman he has known for a New York minute no less.  

Seeing his son, Han Solo is all forgiveness and Kylo Ren is all help me daddy. Help me daddy.  Yep, that's the beginning of the end for Solo, who finds himself speared by a lightsaber.  I get that they had to move the old generation out for the new to take over the battle but Han Solo deserved so much better than this.  Also, it really made me wonder if Star Wars is capable of having a parent child relationship that isn't dysfunctional as shit?  Parents are either absent, incapable or just plain evil.  To have Solo's life ended by patricide is just another layer in horrible parent child relationships in this series.  I made a quick note to self not to watch this with my kidlets, lest they look at their father and get ideas when he tells them to take the garbage out.

Much was made of the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens decided to catch up with the rest of the world and have Black characters.  John Boyega dealt with the racism thrown at him admirably; however. his character ended up in a stasis tube at the end of the day, sacrificing himself for a White woman. Thanks but no. Really, No.  Yeah, I see the Empire Strikes Back set up here but I could have done without the whole must save the super special White lady cause she is super special.  Then there's Lupita Nyong'o, (whom I love) who played Maz Kanata - essentially the wise negro in an alien costume.  She's there to encourage Rey to embrace the Force and be true to herself - essentially to develop the character of the super special white lady.  Not to worry White Folks, your great epic space odyssey is not in danger of becoming too inclusive. For those who are just itching to point out Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac, though the man himself is Latino, there's nothing about his character that is made to be read that way.  It's a common tactic by the media for inclusion cookies which Star Wars is not getting from me..  

In terms of gender, Rey isn't too bad as a heroine.  She's independent and doesn't want to be lead around by the hand of the big strong man.  Rey is also a highly capable pilot and even amazes Han Solo with her effectiveness and intelligence.  When Solo and Finn show up to save her, Rey is already in the midst of saving herself which is a nice change from having the female character wait around for rescue.  We know the reason that Rey is special is the Force. It's Rey who finally completes the mission to find the missing Luke Skywalker after all the menfolk have failed. Here's the problem, other than a brief conversation with Leia and of course Maz Kanata, Rey is essentially surrounded by men the entire film.  There's no way that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would pass even the low standards of the Bechdel Test.  This is 2015 and the Star Wars universe still has gender issues.  I suppose we should give some thanks that at least in this incarnation, Leia is no longer the only woman in the universe but that certainly isn't saying much when it comes to women is it?

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that Rylo Ken spent most of Star WarThe Force Awakens in crip face. Darth Vader, as we saw in Revenge of the Sith, was gravely injured in his fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  During the fight, the then Anakin Skywalker lost both of his legs above the knees and his left arm.  He also had cuts from Obi-Wan's lightsaber all over his body.  Anakin's body then tumbled into into molten lava which surprisingly didn't finish him off.  In Return of Jedi, Vader takes off his mask for the first time, wanting to see his son with his own eyes before dying.  There's not much about Vader/Anakin when he meets his end that is able bodied. His entire suit is one big disability aid, allowing him to breathe, walk and even fight. The entire character of Vader posits disability as dysfunction and evil.  Rylo Ken, walks around in a mask he doesn't even remotely need because he is fully able bodied.  On several occasions, Rylo Ken actually removes the mask with no consequences. For Rylo Ken, his dark suit is nothing but dress up and a mockery, though he intends it to be a tribute. It continues the negative associations with disability that Star Wars has had since the introduction of Darth Vader.  It's hard not to see disability as somehow evil and dark when it looms so large on the screen. Even though Luke Skywalker lost his hand at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it doesn't come to symbolize his being in the way that Darth Vader's suit does. Luke didn't even have any adjustment time to his prosthetic hand on the screen. Luke's disability is a non factor, leading one to believe that when disability is absolutely associated with a character, it is because of evil or even darkness. 

I'm not going to tell you not to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens because if you're anything like me, it wouldn't matter how many bad reviews you read, you'd probably see it anyway.  It is after all Star Wars and it would be against geek law to avoid it unless of course you're a Star Trek fan, in which case you get an automatic pass.  I suppose if I had been unfamiliar with the series, I might have gotten caught up with Star Wars: The Force Awakens but having watched these movies from childhood, I really wanted to get lost in something new.  Even seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo, which came with a wicked wave of nostalgia, wasn't enough for me to get caught up in the story or buy the hype.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens did have a few moments of comedy but not enough to distract from the repetitive nature of the story or the bad special effects.  Go and see it because you know you have to but try and remember as you walk out of the theater feeling disappointed, still in search of the childlike wonder that this series used to inspire that I did tell you so.