Movie Review: The Force Awakens

The following is a spoiler-free take on THE FORCE AWAKENS:
In a nutshell, in typical JJ Abrams fashion, Disney’s first outing in the STAR WARS ‘verse is heavy on explosions and visual effects but light on character and plot. Characters are flat, and come and go so quickly from the scene that it’s difficult to find anyone to identify with. Poe Dameron made a promising first impression and would have made a wonderful heroic character, but he never got the chance. Where in the original trilogy, the three main characters spent the entire second act working together towards a common goal as a unified team, in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Poe, Rey, and Finn never quite seemed to find their rhythm and spent more time wandering off doing their own thing than building a heroic team.

I felt adrift and disengaged from the film until Han Solo showed up. At last! Here was someone I had an emotional attachment to. Unfortunately, the old, familiar characters we know and love likewise seemed to wander aimlessly, as though even they were unsure what they were doing in the movie. Solo was in an entirely different story that seemed more interesting than the one the young heroes were pursuing. Yes, there was a unifying goal, but by the second act even the bad guy got bored with it and moved on to something else.

 
mcquarrie_earlystarwars_520It took a while for me to realize why elements of the movie felt so familiar. Abrams made the movie Lucas had originally intended Star Wars to be. I guess because I avoided all blogs, articles and potential spoilers, I didn’t realize that the inspiration for the story line was Lucas’s first draft of Star Wars in which the Luke/Leia character was a warrior “princess” (Rey) and Han Solo/Obi Wan Kenobi was an older mentor guiding her on her quest. Not only that, the look of THE FORCE AWAKENS was drawn from Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art from before the first actor was cast or the first set built.
 
Kudos to Disney for going back to the very beginning. I give that nod to early STAR WARS lore an “A” for effort.
 
Lucasfilm veteran, Lawrence Kasdan worked on the script and co-produced. Lucas/Spielberg protegee Kathleen Kennedy was one of the producers attached to the project.
 
In the back of my mind, I knew all that.
 
Was it good? Did I enjoy it? Did it live up to its hype?
 
Much of it was predictable, but I enjoyed it. Nothing could quite live up to this level of hype. I cheered when old familiar faces popped up. The story was too fragmented and at times seemed to ramble, while subplot and backstory were much more interesting and should have had more screen time. Some old friends were under utilized (R2D2, Luke Skywalker.) So were some new friends for that matter (Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma.) Some plot points defied logic.
It is the kind of movie you want to see more than once to go back and catch the subtle nuances, now that you know what’s going on and who the players are. I’m hoping to find it tighter and better crafted on second viewing.
 
Star Wars fans will not be disappointed. Action/adventure fans will not be disappointed. Personally, I didn’t feel the ending satisfied. It felt more like the second book/movie in a trilogy than the first. It was almost like Abrams said, “Hey, we’ve got two hours of material now. Time to wrap. Where can we stop for now?”
 
In short, Abrams was marginally more respectful of the Star Wars franchise than he was the Star Trek franchise. Dialogue was snappy and sassier than the traditionally stilted Star Wars speech patterns. Character development was minimal and it was hard to get emotionally invested in the new characters. There are too many questions unanswered, leaving fans scratching their heads and trying to play catch up before the end of the first act.
 
As a die-hard Jed-head, I have a love-hate relationship with THE FORCE AWAKENS. As a writer, I am by turns glad I didn’t have to write it and critical of sections that seemed like the writers had no idea where to go from there and fired off special effects hoping the audience wouldn’t notice the man behind the curtain.
I would still like to see a Joss Whedon interpretation of the Star Wars legend, though I feel JJ Abrams actually considered the fans expectations of the newest Star Wars movie. I can’t help but think Whedon could have done a better job and told a more satisfying story, given his penchant for effectively balancing character development, intrigue, and heart-pounding action, a balancing act Abrams has yet to perfect.

THE FORCE AWAKENS is an action-packed romp, but it lacks the elusive spark found in the other films in the franchise.

May The Mouse Be With You

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I was heavily influenced by Star Wars as a child. What geek wasn’t? I also can’t say I was surprised by George Lucas’ move last week to sell his film empire to Disney for a whopping $4.05 Billion. Anyone who watched Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular go in at Disney MGM Studios back in the 1990’s could see the writing on the wall even then.

I was mildly surprised at Lucas’ announcement that he was donating the entire kit and kaboodle to an educational charity. Once the initial shock wore off, even that made sense. Lucas has always been a big advocate of education.

With the promise of episodes VII, VIII, and IX to come with a new release every two years until… well, even die hard fans like myself are willing to keep a wait and see attitude.

But I have to ask myself when was the last time that a Disney production captured the heart and soul of generations of rabid fans like Star Wars? Sure, we’re all fond of certain Disney memories, but as someone who remembers the days when Walt Disney’s vision still guided the company, I have to say the current incarnation is a soulless machine in comparison.

Lucas himself has been on a dark path for a long time, starting with changing the original film to have Greedo shoot first. (shudder) A part of me can’t help but feel that Lucas has taken his final steps to the dark side by making this deal with the Empire.

I’m going to have to take good care of my VHS copies of the original trilogy. Some day, they may be the only record of the films as they first were shown.

MTFBWY

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What are your thoughts on the Disney/Lucas buyout?

BRAVE

I took my four-year-old daughter to see the Disney/Pixar film BRAVE this afternoon. At my husband’s urging we went on a Mommy/Daughter day out. There were several reasons my husband knew we’d love it:

  • It’s set in Scotland.
  • The main character is a fiery, unconventional young woman.
  • A GIRL is proficient with sword and bow.
  • Both my daughter and I were riveted by the previews.

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it’s one of the first genres to open up to the idea of the warrior woman. In fantasy, warrior women were six foot Amazons of the type parodied by Jim Carey in the old TV show “In Living Color.” Science fiction opened the door to smart, savvy women who can outfight, outfly, and outshoot any average man, while still hanging on to her femininity. As a petite woman myself with a sword and a shoe weakness, that is what I liked about Merida.

The fiery-haired young princess, much to her mother’s annoyance, would prefer to be  flying across the countryside on her trusty horse “Angus,” rather than learning comportment and manners and other “useless” skills.

Both my daughter and I (each with older brothers to keep up with) can relate to Merida’s lament. The boys got to have all the fun and excitement, while my mother expected me to “be a lady.” Being demure, calm and ladylike was never in my nature. In my rambunctious household, the only way to respond to being pushed was to push back harder. The only way to be heard over the noise was to get louder. The only way to get what I wanted was to go after it myself. I felt like an utter failure my entire childhood until, like Merida, I rebelled. My little girl is very like Merida…and me. She would rather plan her future as a Pink Ninja, saving the world with a sword in one hand, a ray gun in the other. She’d like to look chic and girly while doing it, so she’ll wear pink body armor, thank-you-very-much.

I love that Disney has finally given me a princess that I can relate to.  Over the decades, Disney’s princesses have gone from being hand-wringing victims, sweet and helpless, waiting for Prince Charming to show up and rescue her from the evil machinations of those who would do her harm, to the fiery and independent young woman who is willing to defy her mother and fight for the right to choose her own fate, with bow and arrow if need be. Merida is the first Disney princess I really would like to see my daughter want to emulate.

Like many independent-minded, unconventional young ladies, Merida brings her problems on herself. However, she also quickly realizes what she’s done and she sets out with the same single-minded determination to put things right… on her own. In the process, Merida learns that some of the lessons her mother had been trying so hard to impart are, in fact, quite important and useful. Once Merida is able to tame her own independent streak, she redefines her priorities and makes amends with her mother. Once the two women, more alike than not, stop trying to force their own way on the other, each finds a new respect for the other. Merida proves herself the essence of the woman her mother wants her to be, but on her own terms.

For a firebrand with a fiercely independent streak, facing life on your own terms with the support of your loved ones is what it’s all about.

To my daughter, Brave is a fun movie that she thoroughly enjoyed as she watched from her Mama’s lap, snuggling and cuddling through the scary parts and dancing and waving her imaginary sword during the swashbuckling bits. When it comes out on DVD, she’ll watch it endlessly.

I wonder if she’ll want a Merida costume for Halloween this year.