My Thoughts on The Force Awakens


Can you spot the bait-and-switch?

I was disappointed with Star Wars The Force Awakens. When you’re saying and elongating the word “what” with an artificially heightened pitch, try to understand that what I’m going to write next isn’t meant to convince you of anything. I’m not taking the contrarian point of view for the hell of it. I genuinely walked out of the theater bummed out. Not angry, just deflated. The reasons, I think, have more to do with who I am as a person than the movie itself. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, stop reading.

It was just A New Hope
I don’t know when it dawned on me that The Force Awakens was basically a remake of A New Hope, (I think it was when Han took the kids to the cantina and I realized he was Obi -Wan) but once it did my excitement and interest dwindled dramatically. Instead of enjoying the film for what it was, I kept hoping that the film would somehow diverge from the script. It never really did. If they were going to play it that tight, they should have included a close-up of Kylo Ren toeing Han’s body gently before stomping it off the catwalk. I read up on how they decided to ditch the continuity of the expanded universe. Fine. Before I saw the movie, I thought it was a smart choice – a way to create uncertainty about the story lines. I didn’t read theories. I willfully avoided spoilers for this film. I was ready for anything. And then they gave me one of the two Star Wars stories I already knew. I wish Chewbacca ran down to the catwalk – somehow dodging all the blaster fire – and f*cking powerbombed Kylo Ren before Ren decapitated him, because there’s no way I would have seen that coming. The Force Awakens is the current iteration of Guns N Roses, but at least Axl Rose isn’t trying to fool anyone.

Star Wars is Jurassic World, but it’s also not Jurassic World
Jurassic World successfully rebooted the Jurassic Park franchise earlier this summer. In looking at what made the film successful, Grantland’s Bryan Curtis wrote:

The filmmakers decided, correctly, that people basically weren’t that interested in a new movie. They wanted to watch Jurassic Park again.

While this excerpt wildly oversimplifies the dino-movie’s success, it makes a key point about the conscious direction of that film: it wasn’t so much a sequel as an update of the original. Why was the Jurassic Park franchise able to do this so well? Its main attractions aren’t humans. In arguing against the park’s genetically cross-bred dinosaurs, Chris Pratt’s Owen says “They’re dinosaurs. Wow enough.” It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the franchise itself: the dinosaurs will always be the draw. Pratt might have been an entertaining aspect of the film, but he was just as expendable. Either of the Helmsworths would have been fine.

In my opinion, this kind of updating didn’t work nearly as well in The Force Awakens because continuity matters in the Star Wars universe in a way that is completely unimportant in Jurassic Park. Yes, it was pretty cool to see the same T-Rex that appeared in the very first film, but that distinction hardly matters. He/she/it is not a character. A T-Rex is a T-Rex. Star Wars was built upon its main characters. So much so in fact, that we all went crazy back in ’99 for the advent of three movies that would feature younger versions of only a small handful of those characters based on the implicit promise that the three films would explain how our beloved characters got to 1977 in a galaxy far, far away. What I got (continuity-wise) from The Force Awakens was aged Han and Leia, the Falcon, some Easter eggs, and a nebulous reference to the acquisition Anakin/Luke’s blue lightsaber. But it’s the why that bugs me…

The Star Wars movies are and always have been kids’ movies
I simply stated that I was in the minority in regards to my feelings on the movie the day I saw it. The two sections above are my primary gripes about the story telling choices, but there is another concern that’s entirely on me. I had a brief chat conversation with a former student who helped to clarify my feelings. He enjoyed the movie and had this to say:

Maybe it’s just different perspectives, because the original Star Wars was always in the past for me. This is the first time I get to see the story in a cinema experience. 

He’s right. But his insights only made me sadder. It pointed to something I had never considered going into the movie: though the The Force Awakens was and is marketed to everyone (including but not limited to Subway patrons and those possibly interested in purchasing a Chrysler vehicle), isn’t for me at all, it’s for my kids. And because I am a cynical jerk, I can see all the machinations and they rankle me.

The two new main characters are a woman and a non-Caucasian male who represent both a dramatic turn in the franchise’s casting practices and two generally under-served target demographics. Rey is the next in the line of the Katniss Everdeen survivor/savior archetype, but was never promoted as the protagonist in any of the trailers. You call it a twist, while I will call it a bait-and-switch because if we see a kid from a dessert planet holding a lightsaber, what is happening here becomes too obvious. When Han Solo fell into the dark abyss, I thought not of Obi-Wan, but of Optimus Prime who died in the aftermath of the first battle in Transformers: The Movie. He died so that Hot Rod might become Rodimus Prime (and plus too so Hasbro could sell Rodimus Prime and G2 toys). It’s true: Rey’s mentor must leave if she is going to come into her own, but it’s just as true that we can’t completely love her if our first love is still around, wise-cracking from the co-pilot seat.

Episodes I-III weren’t for me, either. I was already 19 when the first one dropped and 25 at the time of the last. I never understood how my students could claim them as the best Star Wars movies. I do now. I didn’t realize it at the time because the three movies promised to connect the Darth Vader dots. I was all-in on that. Are Episodes I-III great? No, not by any stretch. I loved the palace door opening to reveal Darth Maul. I hated the Jedi fight in the arena. The love story was necessary, but eesh! Say what you want about the prequels, but at the very least, they tried to tell a different story. And maybe more than anything else (Jar Jar notwithstanding), that is why they are despised and maligned. Maybe that’s why The Force Awakens got an impossibly high approval rating during the first few days of its release. Maybe the only thing most Star Wars fans want from Star Wars movies is minor variations of the same things they already know and love. Maybe it took A New Hope 2.0 for me to understand that. I don’t know. I guess I’m just not one of them. I guess I’m in the minority.

17 comments on “My Thoughts on The Force Awakens

  1. B says:

    I’m kinda happy han solo died. It’s been known for some time Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die off in the series. He finally got his wish.

  2. Dustin says:

    Really, if I wanted to watch 4 with the ending of 6, I wouldn’t have paid $18 to do so… The only scene that felt right and not a complete rip off was the bar/cantina scene. I felt it was in good taste and paid homage to the original trilogy, everything else was garbage. So what you’re saying is our teen hero comes from a desert planet where he/she’s good with droids and ships? Right.

    What bothered me most was the dismissal of Han Solo… The supposed mentor/student or father/daughter relationship never really developed to where it felt like Rey was really connected to Han in my opinion. There was so much more that could’ve been done there. That and there was no mourning of his passing… No funeral pyre, no ewok party nothing. The greatest smuggler in the galaxy reduced to dying the same way the emperor and Darth maul did. Original.

    Then there’s JJ’s penis measuring contest with the Starkiller base…I understand the need to mention how big it was compared to the Death Star, but seriously??? How long did it take to write this script? I mean just make a different shaped ship and have it be menacingly acknowledged visually. Oh and “let’s hit it with some Xwings? Real original.

    All I’m saying is that if Rey goes and trains with Luke on some other bigger swamp planet, with Luke dying and later returning as a force ghost I’m done. Maybe he’ll get some dialogue at least.

    Seriously though, I hope someone takes the time to make a video playing the similar scenes side by side. I’d watch that. Or even cut up scenes from 4 and 6 to play like 7 does.

    • Phil Higa says:

      I agree with everything you wrote. It tried to do New Hope and Fellowship of the Ring at the same time and failed. Solo’s death was an attempt at an emotional climax, but it didn’t work because 1. We knew nothing about their relationship, and 2. Everyone who had seen New Hope already knew what was going to happen.

  3. Brady says:

    How did you feel about Kylo Ren? I think he was the best part of this movie.

    • Phil Higa says:

      Honestly, he was little more than a plot device. He’s the physical, visual representation of both Sith and First Order, but fails at everything. When he fails he breaks things. What about force choking someone to death? He was a badass in the absence of other badasses. He lost to a new force user straight up. Either she’s amazing or he’s a newbie. Possible, they kind of covered for it by having Snoke say Ren still has to complete his training.

      The larger problem with Ren is his backstory was done hastily and poorly. I am sure they will explain, but my first impressions are not good. He’s an entitled kid who’s obsessed with being Darth Vader. They’ll probably give him 2 standalone movies in a few years.

      • Dustin says:

        I cringed every time he threw a temper tantrum. So much potential, but really the bid bad in this movie was a emo kid with daddy issues.

  4. 20 says:

    I personally didnt hate the movie but didn’t exactly love it either. You’re dead right as far as the parallels between episode VII and IV. My gripe with it was that the big points of the movie (Han’s fate, Kylo’s lineage, Rey’s “powers”) were way too predictable. Even Alycia who is not a big Star Wars fan was calling stuff out 20 mins before it happened.

    I would hope that episodes VIII and IX would veer away from hitting the same points that the original trilogy hit, but based on how this movie went, you never know.

    I am excited to see who exactly Rey is. I hope it’s more than “just a student from Luke’s failed Jedi Academy.” The Finn and Poe characters didn’t do much for me.

  5. Brett says:

    So you’re telling me a gigantic deathstar was defended by about 50 tie fighters? Shouldn’t they have used some of those resources on more tie fighters – I don’t know – maybe like 5000. And that top secret info is shared with every janitor working the graveyard shift? That’s a failure of internal controls that even the most inept startup can avoid. And the reward for saving the universe for the heroes is despair? Han lost his son, then his wife, then his life. Luke, the resistance loving rogue squadron leading youth, decided to move to Scotland and let the first order build a new space destroyer while he meditated on what to eat for lunch. Leia got to think to herself “these emo thin skinned fucks”.

    They avoided the prequels so ardently that they avoided the best script. The empire should have been teetering on defeat – they should have gone underground and been a looming darkness like Palpatine was in the prequels. Instead, the empire loses two of the greatest Sith Lords in history and they rebounded better than ever. Because there was such a big talent pipeline after Vader force choked everyone who messed up. This is like saying the Bulls were better when Jordan and pippen left. Right. Eat shit Abrams, you’re dead to me.

    • Phil Higa says:

      Let the hate flow through you!

    • Phil Higa says:

      I think that was the biggest oversight in the entire film. The movie explained nothing about the 30 years between 6 and 7. The pacing of the film didn’t help: 90 minutes of get this thing to the resistance, then “Ope, lasers in the sky just took out 5 planets, yo!” One site I saw had a list of 25 questions for the movie or something and it’s clickbait-y, but most of the questions are legitimate. Not a good sign.

  6. Richard says:

    Character development was clearly not a strong suit in this film. Kylo Ren wasn’t feared by his own men as Vader was, and I don’t believe he was meant to be feared yet. He is currently going through a similar internal battle that Anakin went through in episodes 2 and 3. He’s pushing himself to go dark and be like grandpa but the light keeps pulling at him. In the scene where he throws a tantrum and the troopers are walking down the hall and hear him then turn around was hilarious. They may fear his power but not him. Unlike Vader, failure wasn’t a death sentence. Vader was the embodiment of fear, Ren isn’t.
    There were more questions than answers with this movie and that is what will keep the masses going, I’m most intrigued by Supreme Commander Snoke. Very curious what direction they go with him considering that he is the true villain of this story.

    • Phil Higa says:

      Totally agree with your first sentence, and that’s probably part of what has me all riled up. I don’t know if it was on purpose, but I feel like the comparison between Vader and Ren can be described by wrestling terms. Vader is a monster heel like Lesnar. There is no doubt of his badassness; he is hated beacuse he is feared. Ren on the other hand, is the chickensh*t heel like Seth Rollins. You can hate him because you despise his character, not because you fear his skill.

  7. Zach Souza says:

    Yeah totally got the new Hope vibe from the movie, but enjoyed the ride nonetheless. Could make an agrument that every story is just an adaption of the “Hero’s journey” but hey lol

    Read this really interesting fan theory though that if it turns out to be true might make it a little more appealing to you :p

  8. Dustin says:

    R2-D2 – BB-8, Yoda – Luke, Obi Wan – Han Solo, Death Star – Starkiller, Luke – Rey, Jakku – Tattooine, Boba Fett – Capt. Phasma, Moff Tarkin – General guy, Emperor Palpatine – Supreme Leader Snoake

    I’m just saying…

  9. matt says:

    There was too much fan service but I guess it was done to draw back in those who may have been turned away by 1-3. I’ll blame it on JJ since he did the same with Star Trek but we don’t need anymore in the next movies.

    I think the actors were left to tell us who their characters are and nailed it. Rey is obviously resourceful and can take care of herself to an extent but needs to step it up when dealing with the FO. The fact she realizes she’s Force sensitive confirms for her that she’s a part of something bigger. Finn wants nothing to do with who he was raised with and commits to fight back only when he realizes that their evilness goes beyond killing villagers when they take out 5 planets at once. He’s still young in his free world and can be reckless when trying to get it done but he’s willing to figure it out. Kylo obviously is still trying to figure things out as you can tell how he handles bad news and goes beyond the FO’s goals by doing his own thing. He’s enticed with the Dark Side, possibly with the intention to kill his master once he’s strong enough. He comes off entitled and I hope that steers him towards being a bad guy that doesn’t rely on the FO. I’ll be pissed if he ends up turning to the light, we had our redemption story in Anakin.

    Other than that, everything else happened to quickly and sometimes things were just too convenient. I’m sure how the lightsaber got into that box will be a sub plot in the upcoming movies, with a possible return of Lando. *crosses fingers* The First Order are idiots just like their predecessors, a third Death Star?? I mean, they accomplished their mission by destroying the Republic homeworld and fleet but I guess you stick with what works instead of trying something new that won’t be a one-off.

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