Why I Hate The Force Awakens

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goofy

A friend of mine texted me a couple months ago. He told me he hadn’t been able to hold out any longer. He had just watched The Force Awakens. I asked him a simple question: “Did you like it?”

His response was perfect. “It’s Star Wars,” he said. “It’s more complicated than that.”

I knew what he meant. Star Wars has never been just a series of entertaining movies for us or a diverting way to shrug off reality for an afternoon. Those films spoke to us and fired our imaginations, they became filters for understanding our own complicated world and provoked us to ask larger philosophical questions about morality, purpose and meaning.

Those six films are invaluable texts to me, figuratively dog-eared and highlighted and practically falling apart from all the times I have pored over them searching for new secrets. They speak to me in a profound, almost spiritual way; they are my Holy BibleComplete Works of Shakespeare, and Plato’s Republic all rolled into one thirteen-hour saga.

So it pains me to report that after seeing The Force Awakens for myself, the only real complication is explaining all the ways it has failed me and framing that inexhaustible list of disappointments into something that doesn’t devolve into a total rant.

I’ll do my best.

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To those who know me well, the fact that I didn’t like TFA probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I don’t care for J.J. Abrams as a director. I find his films to be derivative, simplistic, and visually dull. His fondness for lens flare is baffling and his disinterest in a cohesive plot is frustrating.  To his credit, he does wonders getting engaging performances out of his actors and he often brings an interesting twist or spin on a familiar concept. But good filmmaking is about far more than skilled acting and a fresh coat of paint on an old franchise.

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If that’s Strike One against The Force Awakens, here’s Strike Two: we simply don’t need any more Star Wars movies. That may sound ludicrous coming from someone who just professed an undying love for the franchise, but crucial to that passion is the belief that truly great stories have a beginning, middle, and ultimately an end. While I have been a voracious consumer in the past of the extraneous novels, comic books, television shows, and video games that expand the galaxy far, far away and delve into every corner, the cinematic story of Star Wars has been told to completion. New films are being created not because there is a compelling story that must be told, but because these films will make a lot of money. Artificially extending a story for no reason beyond financial gain is Disney’s prerogative, but I am not duty bound or eager to follow.

Finally, Strike Three hit me as soon as I watched the first trailers. Whereas the majority opinion seemed to be awe and joy, I didn’t see anything in those trailers that I hadn’t seen before already in a previous Star Wars film. For a lot of people, that was a good sign that Star Wars was “getting back on track” and “recapturing the old magic,” but to my eyes, it just looked like they were ripping off the older films. I’ll delve deeper into this topic below.

x-wings and ties

I mention all of this because I want to make something clear: I definitely had a bias against this film before I finally relented and sat down to watch it. Despite that bias, I also fully intended to enjoy it for what it was now that my expectations had been sufficiently lowered. If I can enjoy Jurassic World or the latest James Bond movie for being mainstream popcorn films, surely I could enjoy this, I reasoned.

It probably shouldn’t have surprised me that I didn’t like it, but I was at least expecting I’d understand why so many other people did. Instead, I walked away from my viewing utterly mystified how this movie garnered such overwhelming praise among the critical community. It’s not just that it felt unnecessary and derivative; it’s a narrative disaster with lazy plotting and one-dimensional characters; it’s cinematically middling and unambitious; and perhaps most depressing of all, it is shockingly unimaginative.

I know that’s a lot of criticism to process at once, so let’s start big picture and condense down. Visually, The Force Awakens lacks any distinguishing characteristics. Its planets are a repeat of the same landscapes in Episodes IV-VI: a desert planet, a forest planet, and an ice planet. Its spaceships are a repeat of those we saw in Episode IV: TIE Fighters and X-Wings with new paint jobs. Ditto the Stormtroopers. Starkiller Base’s interior looks the same as the Death Star (the little of it we see, that is). The Resistance’s war room is a carbon copy of the one on Yavin IV. The alien characters and creatures are generally less memorable than the ones created for the prior films and those that are computer generated are less believable than Jar Jar or Watto from The Phantom Menace fifteen (!) years earlier.

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But perhaps most remarkable is the lack of interesting action sequences and set pieces. The TIE Fighter/Millennium Falcon chase through the ruins of a downed Star Destroyer comes the closest to being kinetic and gripping, but it’s a relatively quick scene and there isn’t much in the way of variety in this sequence or any sense of escalating danger. Navigating the wreckage could have offered up obstacles and perils on par with the asteroid chase in Empire.  

Similarly, the climactic lightsaber battle in the forest doesn’t take advantage of the setting to give its characters environmental advantages or disadvantages as the Naboo lightsaber duel attempted in The Phantom Menace, for instance. Because TFA‘s settings are so common place and so relatable to our own planet, there is a lack of grandiosity, of spectacle.

Even in the original trilogy, the locations are larger than life. The Death Star is a massive labyrinth with chasms and pits, closing doors, stormtroopers around every corner, and a trash compactor with a strange tentacled monster inside; Bespin is a gas planet with dreamlike structures floating in the clouds; Endor has trees so massive that entire civilizations can live on top of them, connected by drawbridges and huts. There is nothing in TFA that comes even close to those settings and no unique, unusual planet-specific threat for our heroes to overcome in any of these locations.

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That lack of imagination is probably my biggest complaint with The Force Awakens. And it extends to just about every facet of its production. The narrative is practically a carbon copy of A New Hope, the villain is a Darth Vader wannabe, the galaxy is still fighting the same war using the same ships with the same factions. There is no effort made here to project this story into a new era, to create something different and exciting, to use the original films as an inspiration and launching-off point rather than a nostalgic crutch.

This lack of creativity is frustrating for a number of reasons, but chiefly because it flies in the face of what Star Wars has always represented. Each of the original three films is a distinctive, unique entry from what has come prior; similarly, the prequels are about as different from the original trilogy as is possible while still being set in the same galaxy and using some of the same characters.

And cinematically, Star Wars has always pushed the boundaries of what is possible in filmmaking. The marketing for this film never spoke to the story that needed to be told, to the characters, or to any theme or idea; it was solely about how this Star Wars film was going to employ practical effects, as if the previous three films were all entirely green screen without any model work, on-location filming or props; for the record, that just isn’t true. And TFA is certainly brimming with digital characters and sets.

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The practical effects drum that Abrams and Kennedy beat around this film was essentially an excuse for a lack of innovation behind the scenes. Star Wars has always been about breaking out of the box of standard film practices and dragging the rest of the artistic and technical community kicking and screaming into the future, whether it was with the state-of-the-art special effects of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back, the editing innovations of Return of the Jedi, the fully realized CG characters created for The Phantom Menace, or the digital filmmaking of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

But Abrams’ film leaves no new tools, techniques or even inspiring visuals for filmmakers who follow in its wake. While there are some beautifully composed shots early in the film with Finn on the stormtrooper transport and the depiction of Rey’s lonely existence on the planet Jaaku, there is nothing revolutionary here; nothing that we haven’t seen in countless other blockbuster action films.

Compare this dearth with the cinematic bravado of another 2015 film, Mad Max: Fury Road. Although it was also heavily devoted to practical effects, it still managed to deliver its share of holy-shit visual spectacles to rival anything a computer generated image can do. Where was that level of innovation, of vision, of cinematic style and talent when it came time to make a new Star Wars film?

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My same criticism extends to the auditory realm: the sound effects and the film’s score. Star Wars has always been famous for spectacular sound design, whether it’s a howling creature, a bizarre alien dialect, a mechanical roar, or a strange weapon firing. But nothing stood out here as particularly new or different. Even Kylo Ren’s broadsword-ish lightsaber sounded pretty much like every other lightsaber in the saga.

Similarly, John Williams turned in his least compelling soundtrack to date, essentially a new mix of old scores pasted together from the original trilogy. If it was too much to expect another gem like “The Imperial March,” “Yoda’s Theme,” or “Duel of the Fates,” I would have been content with something on the level of “Battle of the Heroes,” “Luke and Leia,” or “Across the Stars.”

Though many will claim that such technical artistry is less important than characters and plot, I would disagree. A film is entirely dependent on imaginative and creative decisions of the visual and auditory varieties, but I am sympathetic to those individuals who value a strong script and further mystified that these individuals have largely been pleased with TFA‘s efforts in this department; it plays out like a rough draft in need of a few more rounds of editing.

As I mentioned before, narratively this film is almost a direct carbon copy of A New Hope and that’s a shame for a couple reasons: 1) because it’s creatively lazy to take the same plot from a previous film and repeat it over again and 2) because as soon as the viewer realizes what’s happening, there are no surprises; it becomes very obvious very quickly exactly what’s going to happen and who it’s going to happen to. There was no surprise to me that Han Solo was going to die, for instance, because I already saw that scene play out with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in the original Star Wars film.

I suppose the one advantage to reusing a plot from a great movie is that at least you can be assured of it making sense. So it’s even more frustrating that the few instances where the script strays from A New Hope, it makes such baffling choices. Rebel pilot Poe Dameron disappears halfway through the first act of the film and is believed to be dead until he randomly shows up in the third act just fine and dandy with no real explanation. Rey and Finn just happen to find the Millennium Falcon sitting around waiting for them on the planet of Jaaku; when they jump to hyperspace, they immediately run into Han and Chewie. Anakin’s lightsaber, lost over 35 years ago on Cloud City is just hanging out in a box for Rey to discover when Han takes the gang to meet Maz Kanata. The Republic has based its entire government on several planets in the same star system which allows Starkiller Base to obliterate all of them at once. Call these conveniences, plot holes or just lazy plotting; regardless, contrivances start to add up over time and break an audience’s immersion in the story.

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If you’d asked me before I watched the film to predict TFA‘s greatest strength, I would have said the characters. I assumed the combination of Kasdan’s dialogue with Abrams’ knack for getting solid performances out of his actors would make me glad to revisit the old gang and be introduced to the next generation.

Well, I got two of the three right. The acting is indeed very good and there’s some solid old school Star Wars dialogue that feels right at home. But the characterization is a shambles and may be the most surprising fumble of the film.

old folks

Let’s start with the legacy characters. When we meet Han and Leia, we learn that they, along with Luke, are not only failures but irresponsible failures. After almost single-handedly defeating the Empire as a ragtag group of Rebels, they bungled the resuscitation of the Republic by not delivering the killing stroke to the last vestiges of a headless Empire. Thirty-five years later, they are still fighting a version of the Empire and still–somehow–the underdog.

Meanwhile, Han and Leia have raised a child who is this new Empire’s strong-armed Dark Side enforcer. How did Han and Leia, knowing that Luke and Leia’s father was Darth Freaking Vader, still manage to completely fail at raising this kid right, and why did they give up trying? What is Han Solo doing hunting tentacle monsters when his son is colluding with dudes who have built Death Star III?

Leia has had thirty-five years to learn how to use the Force. She’s not powerful enough to confront Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and send the petulant brat to his room?

Meanwhile, Uncle Luke may actually fare the worst of the trinity. He allows his nephew to kill all the other students of his new Jedi Order and then just goes into hiding now that he’s unleashed Vader Jr. on the galaxy?

Seriously?

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I’m all for flawed characters, but they at least need to make sense and be consistent to their original characterization. This is behavior and morality that doesn’t correspond with anything we know of these characters; it completely undercuts the growth they each experienced over the course of the original three films and is a sloppy and lazy way to generate a new conflict for the next generation of heroes to face.

Unfortunately, Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren don’t fare much better as characters. Without clear motivations or a sensible backstory, these characters reach the end of the film as much a mystery as they began it.

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Let’s start with Finn. He’s a stormtrooper who has been conditioned since birth to shoot innocent people and be loyal to the First Order, and yet Day One on the job he decides it’s not for him. Besides the questionable logic of assigning a stormtrooper who has never been in a battle to accompany your Dark Side enforcer on a vital mission to uncover the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, it simply makes no sense why this guy turns traitor right off the bat. Beyond that leap of logic, it’s similarly baffling that Finn shows absolutely no signs of having experienced nearly two decades worth of Imperial conditioning. To claim that he just shrugged off his conditioning is a pretty big pill to swallow, but showing no emotional scars, no inner turmoil over his decision, no inherent bias against the Resistance or its heroes? That’s a pill as big as your head.

Kylo Ren suffers similar logic issues. He’s angry and sullen and a total brat, but is it ever revealed exactly why he hates his father enough to ACTUALLY kill him? Why does he turn against his uncle Luke and murder the other students? You can tell me that I have to wait until the next film to get these answers, but that’s ludicrous. Unlike Darth Vader, Kylo Ren is revealed to be family very early on in the film (and in probably the least dramatic way possible–standing in a featureless room talking to a bad CGI hologram of Supreme Leader Snoke), so if we’re supposed to think of him as Han Solo’s son and not just the evil, faceless bad guy ala Episode IV Vader, we should know a little more about him and his motivations in THIS film, not the next one. As it stands, he comes off as a not very threatening villain who is evil JUST BECAUSE.

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And the reason he comes off as not very threatening (despite being trained by Luke, killing a bunch of other students, murdering his own father and being able to hold a blaster bolt in mid-air for ten minutes) is because it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s getting his ass handed to him by Rey. This scavenger from the planet Jaaku is waiting for her family to return to her after at least a decade of being stranded. It stands to reason, given the lack of originality in this film, that she is either Luke’s daughter or Han and Leia’s other offspring, and that it was decided that since the three of them are SO terrible at raising children, maybe they ought to just dump her somewhere and let her raise herself.

Apparently, letting children raise themselves works great, because without any formal training, she’s already more powerful than any other character in the film, including the aforementioned Kylo Ren. She can fly the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo, she can use the Jedi Mind Trick almost as well as Old Ben Kenobi, she can outduel Kylo Ren, and pull a lightsaber to her hand using the Force even when Kylo is pulling from the other end.

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Obviously, Anakin and Luke are powerful characters in the Star Wars saga as well, but certainly not that powerful that quickly and certainly not that accomplished at that many things. Anakin and Luke are both good pilots in the first film, but it is explained that they have been training as pilots their whole lives; Rey is a scavenger who can barely afford a half portion of food each day; how would she have any experience flying a starship?

Both Anakin and Luke are pretty lousy at fighting with a lightsaber until their third films, by which time they have had appendages chopped off. And as for mastery of Force powers, Anakin is clearly more accomplished than Luke by his second film, but he has been training for ten years as a Jedi padawan. Luke is barely able to pull his lightsaber out of the snow in the Wampa cave in Empire, let alone win a tug of war with a better trained Dark Side acolyte or pull off a Jedi Mind Trick.

Rey is not a character so much as she is a plot device. If the only logical answer to her ridiculously fast mastery of everything is that the Force is controlling her like a puppet, that’s not a compelling character to follow. We’re not watching her fail and pick herself back up again; we’re not seeing the necessary struggle that any character be they strong or weak in the Force must undergo to defeat a conflict. Her talents and powers come out of nowhere whenever a challenge presents itself, and that’s a shame because watching characters legitimately overcome challenges is far more compelling and exciting to watch than the movie equivalent of typing in a cheat code and automatically winning.

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If you loved The Force Awakens, then nothing I have said or can say will change your mind; nor should it. I have no interest in ruining anyone’s good time. Believe me: I know what it feels like to love a Star Wars film that someone else hates, and ironically, I find myself on the other side of the divide now and it’s a lousy place to be.

I’m telling you all of this because it’s not my intention to be contrarian; I would honestly prefer to share the experience that so many others have had in embracing this film, but I also have to be true to myself and what I value from an artistic work, and The Force Awakens fails on just about every conceivable level for me.

The last three thousand five hundred words may suggest otherwise, but I don’t enjoy writing about things that I dislike. Some critics relish the opportunity to sharpen their vocabulary and spear anything that they find distasteful. I wrote this review to gather all my thoughts in one place and to reach out to others who may have been similarly disappointed but struggled to articulate why exactly.

And so this piece serves as my once and final say on the film; focusing on hatred towards something is counter-productive and only fills your life with anger and animosity. It’s far more rewarding to concentrate one’s energies on those works which mean something to you and share in the joy that comes from communicating your passions with others.

And that’s really the silver lining to all of this. Watching films that disappoint us crystalizes our appreciation for the storytelling that does truly move us. It helps us articulate what we actually enjoy about art and what we are looking for when we confront a new creative work. I’ll have more to say about this idea later, but for now, thanks for sticking with me until the bitter end. The Force is clearly strong with you.

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “Why I Hate The Force Awakens

  1. I don’t want to hate “The Force Awakens”. And honestly, there are some aspects of it that I actually enjoyed. But you pretty much did a good job in explaining why I had so much trouble with this film. Also, I suspect . . . I fear that the destruction of the New Republic, which we never got a chance to see, is a set up for Disney’s version of the Rebel Alliance/Empire conflict. Or should I say . . . the Resistance/New Order conflict? I hope I’m wrong. But I’m a fan of Episode VIII’s director, Rian Johnson. But I fear he has been saddled with the task of recycling the Original Trilogy conflict.

    • Thanks for reading, ladylavinia! I’m also a fan of Rian Johnson. He’s a talented director and an accomplished visual storyteller. And despite my overwhelming distaste for TFA, it has a couple of really fun, entertaining moments and a solid cast of actors.

      The one benefit to TFA playing it so safe and being such a blank slate of a movie is that it’s entirely possible someone with more vision could define these characters, their galaxy, and the conflict in Episodes VIII and beyond.

  2. The Force Awakens has brought in new Fans, that’s what matters most, to me what’s always made the complaints of Prequels haters irrelevant is that the Prequels brought new fans. So The Force Awakens is a success regardless of how we older fans feel about it.

    i personally enjoyed the film, but ti’s not Lucas.

    • You’re absolutely right about that. More fans is always a good thing. And like I said in the piece, I don’t hold any grudges against people who enjoy TFA. I think it’s awesome that Star Wars can still speak to people after almost forty years.

  3. Although many deny it, this was indeed a soft reboot for Disney to start on it’s own story. They didn’t buy the Star Wars we love, they bought a name to make movies under. I’ve observed that those of us disenchanted with TFA are those that expected something new an original, not the safe play they performed on us, that was also agravated by the deceivious marketing campaign. Hopefully (and from what I’ve been hearing, we can expect so) Rian and then Colin will take things in new directions, otherwise, even Disney fanboys will get tired of the rehashing.

    • Well said, Gerardo. Although, I’ll say this: I didn’t find the marketing to be particularly deceptive. I was only exposed to the trailers, but I saw in them what I saw in the film. Namely, familiar planets, familiar space ships, and a heavy dose of nostalgia. Of all the complaints I have about TFA, I wouldn’t say that the trailers promising me a better movie was one of them.

  4. There’s so much here I would like to respond to, but my main point is very similar to Gerardo’s point. I feel like fans (like you) who were disappointed that there was nothing new in TFA forgot that there was a lot of hate directed toward the PT. Disney was well aware of that hate so they decided to go back to what they knew worked, the secret sauce. And that was the OT and especially ANH. I think common sense told me early on that Han would die, that Disney would play it safe, and I should accept that.

    If the next two follow ESB and ROTJ, I’m sure there will be outrage so I’m hoping that that doesn’t happen. Like others, now that they’ve set the foundation and reeled in some other fans, hopefully they can be a little more original.

    That said, did you like the trailer to Rogue One? I’m interested to see where they go with that.

    • Thanks for reading and especially for commenting!

      I certainly understand why the Powers That Be decided to play it safe, but I don’t condone it. They could have also innovated and attempted something more original. Star Wars wouldn’t exist in the first place if George hadn’t bucked the trends and set off to tell his own story back in the 70s.

      Being original/innovative/creative and making money don’t have to be mutually exclusive pursuits. It’s not like the prequels didn’t make money. They were HUGE hits, especially Episodes 1 and 3. And an accepting audience for those films has grown in the past decade (Clone Wars and Rebels has certainly helped as well).

      A sequel to Return of the Jedi was ALWAYS going to make money. Why not take the opportunity of not really needing to worry about B.O. grosses to push the saga forward into new and unfamiliar territory?

      It didn’t need to be like the prequels to be different from the originals. It just needed to tell its own story and use the original source material as a jumping-off point. I’m not saying it’s easy, and it might have ended up making a lot of people angry, but if the goal is to tell a good story, you don’t worry about that. If the goal is instead just to make money and be popular with a mainstream audience, then mission accomplished.

      With most franchises, I’d say “good for them” but I’ll admit to holding Star Wars to a different standard.

      • I see what you’re saying, I just think it reflects a naive pov. I have quite a few friends who have the same issues that you have listed and i wonder where they’ve been these past 3 years. As soon as Disney acquired lfl, you had to be ready for a different star wars from what GL gave us, and some of that means playing it super safe, trying to please the majority, and make the most money possible. I’m sure as time goes on there will hopefully be more “outside the box” (which is why I think Rogue One could be a gamble for them) but for TFA I was ready for what they did. So I was able to let go of a lot and enjoy it by the second and third time watching it.
        The feedback you have reminds me of when Disney decided to make the EU into Legends which totally made sense to me but got some fans really, really angry.
        I hope you know I’m not trying to argue or start a fight, I just get baffled and confused by this argument that I’ve heard from you and others. I guess my personality is to shrug my shoulders and accept and make the best of it so maybe there’s that. I feel like if you can’t change it, then enjoy what you can. (BTW I loved Rey and her theme)
        All that aside, I do like your George Lucas/George shot first initiative. I do feel horrible about how he had been treated and I don’t understand that either. I like so much about the prequels and they actually are the reason I’m as big a fan as I am today.

      • Well, like I said in the piece, I was certainly biased against the film from the start. There was nothing in the genesis of it that appealed to me and quite a lot that turned me off before I even sat down to watch it.

        Ultimately, I wasn’t the intended audience for this film, and I’ve come to peace with that. I still have six great Star Wars films that I can revisit and enjoy and like you said, with Disney making these until the end of the time, there may at some point in the future be a Star Wars film that will appeal to my particular tastes. If not, though, that’s okay; I’m fine with what I have; I don’t necessarily need more.

        Thanks for the kind words on the George Shot First initiative and for your great feedback about the piece. It’s always fun to talk with passionate fans and come out of the conversation feeling good about both sides of the argument. If we can’t be civil and respectful, we have really missed the point of these movies in the first place! 🙂

    • Oh, and the trailer for Rogue One looked very cool! I’m definitely interested in these spin-off films more than the continuing saga. There’s an opportunity there to do some unique, interesting stuff and bring in some exciting artistic voices and visions.

  5. I can agree that I would have preferred to see more new locations/vehicles etc. in TFA. It certainly lacked Lucas’s hand at pure imagination. But I can’t fault anyone for not being George Lucas. Honestly though, I had to stop reading this article once I got to the John Williams portion. Rey’s theme alone matches any theme in the whole saga. Add in Kylo Ren’s theme, March of the Resistance, and Jedi Steps and it is some of William’s best work, hands down. There were parts of the film that I would have enjoyed seeing envisioned in a different way. But I can consider absolutely no part of it lazy. Every decision was made with love and intention. It may not have been what some of us wanted 100% of the time, but lazy? Not a chance.

    • It’s possible that I didn’t give the John Williams soundtrack a fair shake. To be honest, it was something that I didn’t think of until I’d already written the piece and was editing it for publication. I think the fact that the sound mix was so muted and the score never really grabbed me and forced me to pay attention as it so often has in the other six films caused me to discount it. Given your strenuous defense, I feel like the least I can do is give it another listen, but perhaps as an isolated soundtrack instead.

      I’m sure that J.J. Abrams had the best intentions making TFA, and I don’t see any reason to call for his head. He seems like a decent guy and he made a movie that he wanted to see, and you certainly can’t fault anyone for that.

      However, as I mentioned before, the particular sensibilities that J.J. brings to a film are not ones that I tend to value very highly. It’s not necessarily an objective fault of his so much as it is a subjective matter of taste for me.

      Despite our different views on the matter, I appreciate your feedback. And thanks for getting through as much of the piece as you could manage. I’m well aware that it’s a hefty document to tackle.

  6. Omg, I have to agree with Keith on the Jedi Steps. AMAZING piece of work. I also love Rey’s theme and March of the Resistance. But the Jedi Steps take the cake. I really wish that could be it’s own piece and not attached to the end credits because I could listen to it on repeat.

  7. Thanks for sharing another thoughtful piece on Star Wars here! I agree with virtually all of your criticisms and articulated some of them back in December in an attempt to analyze my feelings towards the film after my initial viewing of TFA at the end of one of the 7 film marathon viewings. I found that the film’s flaws stand out especially harshly at the end of such a marathon where the virtues of its predecessors are fresh in mind. However, for me, subsequent viewings allowed me to greatly improve my appreciation for TFA’s charms. I looked back over what I had written in my criticisms of the film and realized that most of the severe problems stood in relationship to what came before.

    When I looked at TFA as its own thing and did not compare it to the films that Lucas made, I could better appreciate it as an entertaining film with some flaws and some traces of artistry. Indeed, for me, while it cannot measure up to any of the six Lucas authored Star Wars films, it stands head and shoulders above virtually any of the blockbuster films that get cranked out each year – including the other stuff that Disney produces (such as the overrated Marvel films). A vital exception from last year would be the amazing Mad Max: Road Fury that you mentioned above. It definitely eclipses TFA, but it also eclipses the films that I have in mind when I elevate TFA over standard fare.

    If I set aside comparisons to other Star Wars films, the remaining plot holes seem less damaging and are things that tend to disappear for me in my experience of the film in subsequent viewings. I’m not sure how this works for other people, but I find that many minor issues in a film (especially pacing problems) become almost invisible to me upon additional viewings as my subconscious already expects these things, and they lose the ability to jar me out of the experience.

    Regarding the score, it was definitely not up to my expectations for John Williams music. I remember leaving the theater and sadly realizing that I couldn’t remember any new themes from the music. Still, like the film itself, I found that the soundtrack grew on me – even more so. Rey’s theme is really special and Williams develops it masterfully from its quiet beginnings into something approaching the epic towards the film’s end. I really love Kylo Ren’s theme, too. Despite my coming to really love the soundtrack, it still think it lacks a certain visceral punch that accompanied the other Star Wars soundtracks and that was surprising to me.

    While I do enjoy TFA now, I did find it disappointing, and I think it could have been so much more. I am excited to see what Rian Johnson will do with the material that TFA established. I really enjoy his films, and I think he has the sort of director as author approach that could pay off richly with the characters and setup that TFA provides.

    • Hey John! Thanks for returning to the blog and sharing your thoughts. This is a great response and shows a level of patience and respect on your part as an audience member that I honestly envy.

      I also think that you’re absolutely right about the effect of plot holes and pacing on first viewings vs. subsequent viewings. Every story has plot holes and one man’s irreconcilable lapse in logic is another’s shrug of the shoulders. Unfortunately, these were deal breakers for me in my first viewing of TFA, and I’m not particularly excited to revisit the film any time soon. I think I would have been more dismissive of plot holes had the creativity and imagination really won me over, but instead, I found the film flat and uninspired, and so my attention shifted to the flawed plot mechanics and the lapses in characters’ logic instead.

      I might be coming around to the soundtrack. I’ve been listening to it off-and-on, and I think that outside the context of the film and its strange audio mix, there is some interesting, subtle work on Williams’ part, especially with Rey’s theme. I’m not ready to favorably compare it with the other six film scores, but taken on its own merits, it certainly has some standout moments.

      I’m curious about Rian Johnson’s interpretation but not ready to jump on any bandwagons yet. He’s a talented filmmaker and I’m interested in what he brings to the table, but I’m also OK just ignoring whatever comes after Lucas’ output if it doesn’t strike my fancy. The only way Disney is really going to get my attention is if they start taking some risks by returning the series to the creative wellspring it once flourished in. That’s going to mean going off the reservation and exploring uncharted territory, and even with Johnson at the helm, I’m skeptical about the level of freedom the beancounters will allow.

  8. Thank you for this review – you crystalized many of the reasons that I came to hate TFA. Like you, I was ready to put aside my biases and enjoy the film (what Abrams did to Star Trek was at the top of the list).

    I made it through about 30 minutes, up until the Falcon is just sitting on a used ship lot somewhere and that Han lost it, and the movie started falling apart. Once they got to Maz’s place and Han didn’t want to take a map to Luke to Leia? That was pretty much where the movie turned for me. Who are these characters? They appear to be Luke, Han and Leia but they don’t bear any resemblance to the characters at the end of Jedi. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they took these heroic characters and dumped them into a Lifetime movie about a school shooter – and made the lead villain into the child of Han and Leia. I’m assuming Disney wants to still make money off the original trilogy – so why in the world would you basically destroy the ending of Jedi – with the Emperor gone, Luke ready to restart the Jedi, Leia ready to train, Han ready to stand with them….no, it’s all gone Worse, tear these three characters apart and reverse them back to the beginning of New Hope.

    Is it all so the new characters will be set up as the “bestest ever”? I have to believe that. What the hell does Luke need to teach Rey? She already knows it all! Poe’s already a better pilot than Luke or Han. Finn magically stops being a Stormtrooper – and somehow sees Han as a hero, despite years of indoctrination? The less said about Kylo Ren the better but apparently Luke, Han nor Leia ever told him about Vader’s redemption?

    There’s no myth to the story any more – it’s not a space opera, there’s no grand themes. It’s not about a world far away – there’s Finn asking Rey if she has a boyfriend and saying “Droid, please.” So great, it’s like every other movie out there. Who cares who Rey’s parents are when I don’t particularly care who she is?

    The biggest failing? They had Hamill, Ford and Fisher, all there. All of them can still act, they still look good, and apparently, still like each other. So what do they do? Kill Han before he ever sees Luke again, before the three of them, the iconic trio, are ever in one scene together. Not even one. Han never kisses the princess and their scenes together are a pile of lousy exposition and references to nothing that happens after New Hope. Luke? Well, he gets to stand on a rock and wait around for Rey to show up.

    But hey, congratulations to Disney. After TFA, I may see 8 and 9 in a theater, with every spoiler I can get my hands on because I do not want to sit a theater ever again like I did for TFA and watch a beloved character slaughtered for NOTHING, in the stupidest manner possible. But I will not give Disney one dime for some book that’s supposed to explain how we got to this hellscape of TFA (the corporate line? Oh, Luke, Han and Leia had “years of peace.” Right.). I’m not going to see Rogue One and see the OT further rendered null. I’m definitely not seeing the “young Han” movie, especially after Kasdan participated in killing the old one. And they can keep making SW movies until I’m dead. I don’t see any reason to see any of them. It’s just a superhero franchise now. And I pretty much can’t stand those.

    I’m betting once “young Han” ages a few years? Disney will proudly announce they’re remaking A New Hope. Just wait.

    • Thanks for checking out the piece and sharing your thoughts, CultureVulture. I think the big takeaway here is that yes, Star Wars should always start in media res, and yes, the characters should be different than they were the last time you saw them. But there has to be some kind of internal logic for the characters to progress in this fashion.

      And seeing Luke, Han and Leia as they were in TFA was really more of a regression of those characters to their ANH personalities than anything else. That’s not only a pretty cynical interpretation of those three, but it also feels completely unearned.

      • Exactly. The whole Original Trilogy was for what again? It’s trying to have it both ways – new people over here, go watch them. Oh, the old guys are over here and you shouldn’t care about them because hey, we didn’t. We destroyed everything they did and tore their characters apart…and I just cannot figure out why it was done. The whole plot could have been set up without destroying the OT and its characters. The new characters are basically cyphers that I don’t care about – and if I did, well, this movie tells me not to care about anybody because just wait, their characters will be destroyed too.

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