Friday, December 16, 2016

"The Force Awakens" Redux: One Year On

"They used two different fonts in the earlier films!
How can I complain that they chose the wrong one!?!"
In my "Initial (Bad) Impressions" post on Rogue One, I said that I'd "mellowed out" towards The Force Awakens, after initially disliking it, and that's more or less true. When I first saw it I was unimpressed. I enjoyed it more on rewatch. Then it came out on Blu-Ray and when I watched it then, I liked it less. Then I rewatched it again the other day and I liked it more. I wonder if it's a situational thing; when I settled down the other day and watched it over a beer (and perhaps a couple of whiskies) it seemed far more agreeable than when I watched it the previous time. I watched Star Wars (or A New Hope if you prefer) the other day as well, and I had a beer (and perhaps a few whiskies) then too and I greatly enjoyed it. I watched The Empire Strikes Back the following day stone cold sober and enjoyed it less. So perhaps when I say enjoying a Star Wars film is situational, I mean that it's best consumed with alcohol. Maybe next time I watch The Phantom Menace or, heaven forbid, Revenge of the Sith, I should do ten shots of vodka beforehand.

"My nose hurts."
As usual, my opinion seems to fail to align with the consensus, which I don't object to, but becomes exasperating at times nonetheless. When The Force Awakens came out, everyone was raving about it, and I was frustrated because, while I thought the film had strengths, it didn't deserve the level of praise people were giving it. A year on, it seems that there's been something of a backlash. Now when I say "something of a backlash", I mean "on the internet". I bet if you asked your average punter who didn't spend all their time arguing with people in comments sections what they thought of The Force Awakens they'd probably still say "I liked it" or "it was pretty good". I'm not saying I'd wholeheartedly agree; I just think that's what most non-internet-lurking viewers would probably still be saying. The denizens of the internet, by contrast, seem to have collectively (and it worries me how collectively these people think) decided that The Force Awakens was bad for various reasons and that, by contrast, the Prequels are good. For my part, I probably find the Prequels to be less enjoyable than ever now, while, as I say, I've softened towards The Force Awakens. As such, here are my thoughts about twelve months down the track.

Things I Still Don't Like About The Force Awakens

"I'm as real as Grand Moff Tarkin."

I don't like the idea of some know-it-all character who appears out of nowhere, is wise in the force, knows what all of the protagonists ought to do in order to fulfil their character arcs, and possesses Anakin's/Luke's lightsaber. She comes across as a stereotypical "wise old lady" to me and I think the character is a cheap and lazy invention intended to force a vague sense of mystery into the story. She's annoying.


There are only practical effects,
and those too weak to use them.
I hope they do something interesting with Snoke, because at the moment he just feels like "the Emperor's substitute". This is going to sound a bit mean-spirited, but I also wish they'd cast someone with a bit more presence than Andy Serkis in the role. I feel like he was cast just because he's an experienced motion capture actor and Snoke is a motion capture character, not because he'd be good at playing an evil supervillain.

"If you join our crew, you have to be
in the young adult novels about us."

Maz and Snoke

I still don't like how these characters are CGI motion capture creations. It seems unnecessary to me and they look too fake, which takes me out of the film when so many practical effects were used at other times, yet inexplicably were often relegated to the background. It doesn't make sense to me that they would leave detailed, believable practical effects work in the background, and have the focus be on computer-generated characters who look fake. There's a rumour floating around that Snoke is going to be performed through practical effects in Episode VIII, and I hope that's true.

Starkiller Base

Three years until Indy V.
This giant planet-destroying weapon is still an annoying rehash of the Death Star and I don't like it. I don't mind a snowy planet with an enemy base on it but it frustrates me that the film pulls a Death Star out of its arse halfway through. I also don't like Hux's over-the-top speech on it to the troops. I know it was meant to be over-the-top, but I still find it a bit cringeworthy, like one of those grandstanding speeches from New Who that are meant to sound impressive but aren't.

It's got physical immunity and magical immunity.
Han's Ship and Takodana

The sequence in which they're being chased around Han's other ship by the "rathtar" monsters doesn't feel right; the closest thing I can compare it to is the fight with the rancor and the sarlacc sequence from Return of the Jedi, but more drawn out and using annoying CGI. This combines with the boring stuff featuring Maz on Takodana, particularly Maz's mysterious-sounding dialogue and Finn and Rey's simultaneous freakouts, which makes the middle of the film feel slow and turgid to me. If something different happened between Rey and Finn leaving Jakku and the Resistance arriving to attack the First Order on Takodana, I'd find the film more consistently entertaining.

The Lack of Worldbuilding

"How many assholes we got here?"
It still bothers me that the film doesn't go into more detail about why the Resistance is the Resistance and how the Republic and the First Order relate to each other. This is spelt out in spin off material, and I've looked it up and it seems to largely make sense, but the film still suffers due to lacking these pieces of explanation. It would have only taken a few remarks here and there to fill in the details.

The First Order can't afford the special
pen pockets the Empire uniforms had.

Some of the Dialogue

I think some lines in the film, especially quippy exchanges between characters, are a bit unbelievable and are less funny or clever than they think they are, like "You have to hide" "You have to leave" and "You're not hauling rathtars on this freighter are you?" "I'm hauling rathtars." This takes me out of the moment a bit because in my experience real people don't speak like that.

Anyway, those are my continuing gripes with The Force Awakens. Moving on...

Things I Like About The Force Awakens!


"Gosh, it's rather nice out here in space, eh what?"
I like Rey. I think she's an effective protagonist; she's fairly likeable and pleasant and competent. Her rather delusional belief that her family will one day come back is a less effective piece of characterisation, in my opinion, and some of the character's critics argue that she's too competent, but I think her competence is either self-evidently explained or sets up things that I expect to be explained later. I think it's a bit rich to say that she's "too competent" or is some kind of flawless female empowerment symbol when she's psychically overcome by Ren on Takodana and carried off in his arms in a classic "damsel in distress" pose. That makes her seem pretty vulnerable to me. She also accidentally released the rathtars, didn't she? I'm looking forward to seeing her being trained by Luke in Episode VIII and I hope they have an interesting on-screen relationship.

"They brought me back using CGI."
Poe! (and to a lesser extent Finn!)

I like Poe. I think the character again comes across as likeable and I rather wish we got to see more of him in the film. Again, I hope more use is made of the character in Episode VIII. I think perhaps that he's a little too glib towards Kylo Ren at first, but by and large I think his characterisation as a cocky but not overconfident pilot is effective and his relationship with Finn is good. Finn is probably my least favourite of the new three largely because I don't think his characterisation is particularly consistent with his background (he seems awfully humorous and normal for an indoctrinated soldier) and I think his role as comic relief is heavy-handed, but I find him somewhat endearing and he has an good rapport with the other two.

Supporting Characters!

Isn't having your whole body roll
an incredibly inefficient way of moving?
I like aspects of the use of Chewbacca, even if I think he's used for comic relief too much, and I somewhat enjoy the sparing use of R2-D2 and C-3PO. I think BB-8 was an effective invention as well. I particularly find that having C-3PO talk to BB-8 in a familiar way makes the viewer feel more familiar with the character, which is sensible. Han and Leia are the two I can take or leave, really; it's nice to see them, but their presence still feels perfunctory to me, like they don't really need to be there.

Ship, sweet ship.
It Looks Nice!

As some modern films are (and many aren't), The Force Awakens is largely a visually pleasing film. I'm not talking about the use of camera angles or anything in particular. I just think that the film quality, the texture of the sets and costumes, the use of colour and so on make the whole thing quite appealing and in some respects comfortable to look at and watch even if I think some of the designs (particularly for the First Order's gear) are not entirely successful (seeming somewhat like arbitrary tweakings of what has come before).


Did he shoot this wearing a green glove?
As should be evident I've mellowed, and that's largely due to the film's pleasant look and effective characterisation, the latter being a strength of The Force Awakens which at first glance Rogue One appears to be lacking. One thing I want to see in the next film (besides plenty of Luke) is for Rey to interact with Poe in some capacity. I'm interested to see Episode VIII and I hope that something interesting is done with the next step of the story. Then again, I said that before. I still think The Force Awakens is flawed and could have been better, but let's say that I can live with it.

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