I gotta’ vent about Star Wars – The Force Awakens and this seems like the place to do it.
SPOILERS AHEAD – If you haven’t seen it yet, please avoid this article like the plague…
…ye’ be warned!
So I’m having to grapple with myself and the die-hard SW apologists over The Force Awakens. I’ll admit, I’m not the world’s biggest SW fan, but I grew up with the original trilogy (even though I was only 3 when ESB came out) – when I was a tyke, Darth Vader was my favorite character. That’s about the extent of things. I own the scores for the TOT as well as the films themselves as they are important pieces of cinema and worthy of being in ANYONE’S film collection.
The prequels were terribad. I’m not even going to address them as that’s been done countless times. I had high-hopes for TFA; a return to the magnificence that was Empire Strikes Back. Sadly, what I watched was nothing more than a valentine to A New Hope. Something that was technically and artistically well-crafted on physical-scale, but completely and utterly lacking in a storytelling and writing. If you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan, nothing I’m going to say is going to sway your opinions.
And that’s okay. I get that.
But the fact remains that The Force Awakens has a few flaws that, for me, as an avid cinephile, spoils it to the point of almost dislike, not because I’m ambivalent towards the series, but because I recognize that the series *IS* good and what it’s capable of being!
If I had to sum the film up in one word – that word would be “Lazy.”
Lazy in plot and in characterizations.
Aside from the recycled plot from A New Hope, my biggest qualms were with the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren.
Rey was a character possessed of nothing but strengths and no weaknesses to be found. Some have argued that she was afraid, and that was a weakness, but the thing is, that fright was unfounded. She was capable of getting out of every scrape with zero repercussions or harm. She did it with explicit ease. She was never in any jeopardy. The closest we got to Rey being in trouble was her not being able to afford her E-Z-Bake Space-Muffins. She knew how to fly and fix the Millennium Falcon, despite never setting foot in it. She was able to start utilizing Jedi abilities nearly instantly, despite the fact that her (assumed) father, Luke Skywalker, coming from a pedigree of highly powerful Force users, took the course of nearly three films to master.
People dismiss this argument as nothing more than whining and stating that “she’s probably the daughter of a powerful Jedi (again, hinting that Luke is her father), and we have two more films to go to explain things, so it’s not a problem.”
Yes. It is a problem. That’s now how film works. It’s a visual medium. What we see on the screen at the time is what is given to the audience at face-value. It’s the ultimate truth. Saying “we have to wait until the other movies” is a cop-out. It’s an excuse for lazy writing. And before I hear “It’s the introductory film, like A New Hope was for the saga!” let me nip this in the bud as being bunk. Lucas didn’t have a trilogy planned, which has been vetted by producer Gary Kurtz many times. He had one film. The whole “Chapter IV” at Narrative Scrawl was put there for nostalgia to the Flash Gordon serials Star Wars was based on.
As far as the new characters, I was more invested in a Finn and I found him to be a more fully-realized and interesting character. He had legit, grounded fears, was truly in jeopardy, had self-conflict and a balance between being skilled and being incapable.
Rey not so much.
She’s handed the keys to the Millennium Falcon at the end of the film. Why? Because she showed up. It’s the film-equivalent of a Participation Trophy; you were here, here’s a prize. It wasn’t earned. She became a Jedi-Han-Solo; the ultimate Star Wars wish fulfillment character; a Mary Sue.
Which brings me to Kylo Ren. If Rey was nothing but strength without consequence, poor Kylo Ren was only powerful as the story allowed him to be. At the beginning of the film, he is shown as a very-powerful Sith Lord, capable of stopping a laser blast in mid-air, and holding it there for a full five minutes, before allowing it to strike whilst interrogating an enemy. This is something even Darth Vader, arguably the most powerful Sith, failed to demonstrate. But then later on when fighting – oh yeah, Ren – he is incapable of pulling a lightsaber to him without serious effort, let alone wrestle it from a n00b who just discovered their Force capabilities. He was trained in lightsaber combat but failed against someone whom never had any training (and don’t say we need to wait until the next film; if it wasn’t on screen in any way shape or form, it’s a logical assertion that she hasn’t had any), again playing at both he’s only as powerful as the immediate setting calls for and highlighting just how broken a character Rey is.
These fallacies are what keeps The Force Awakens from being a great film to me, to simply being an okay-film. There are far worse films out there, to be sure, and with the exception of the blatant CGI of Snoke, the film is well-crafted.
The excuses of “Well, it’s Star Wars, it isn’t that kind of movie” and “It’s a comic book! What do you expect?!” aren’t gonna’ wash with me. I guess I expect a film to have a modicum of continuity and balanced structure with regards to characters and their development.
But maybe that’s asking too much.