Thursday, January 14, 2016

Star Wars the Force Awakens: Review

This review is more of what I didn't like more than what I did.

I have to say, I didn't love the film the first time that I left the theater. I enjoyed it more the second time. I do have a lot of complaints about the film that made it feel more like the prequels (PT) than the original trilogy (OT). While this movie was meant to allow fans to re-live the OT, instead of bringing something new to the table, it would have been nice to see SOMETHING new. I mean, even the TIE fighters went backwards in time. In TESB we were introduced to TIE Bombers and in ROTJ we got TIE Interceptors. In TFA we went back to normal TIE Fighters. True, they now have a gunner in the back, cool, but forgettable. Ren's ship wasn't that cool and too close to a Lamda-Class shuttle, the transport ships where not cool, the Snowspeeder wasn't cool. In fact, I think ALL the ships and vehicles looked like flying bricks. They where all just totally forgettable. I wouldn't want any of them displayed on my desk at work. I honestly had a lot of issues with this film.

The opening scene between Poe and Lor San Tekka was a weak way to start the movie. I was instantly bored watching the interaction between the two and the acting felt stale (especially from Sydow). I was reminded of the prequels opening scenes (TPM) and was getting worried that TFA was going to be another disappointment. The conversation between Ren and Tekka regarding Ren's past and family was hard to sit through because the acting from Sydow was so bad and the point of their conversation seemed to serve no purpose for that moment in time other than to talk to the audience. The acting from Sydow was probably as bad as it was from the terrible lines he had. The acting did get better as the movie went on, but it started pretty rough.

I loved that there were real Stormtroopers (instead of CG ones), more in-camera effects, sets and characters. Loved the designs of the troopers and the background characters (most anyways). I thought Kylo Ren stopping Poe's laser blast with the Force was awesome. That was something we have not seen before. However, I didn't like how plastic and toy-ish everything looked and felt. The sets, ships, costumes, props all took me out of the world and reminded me I was watching a movie on a sound-stage. It just didn't have that real-world, lived-in feel that the OT had. A major problem was the design and look felt like "looking cool" was the number one focus in its development, instead of function. In the real world, function pushes design, not the other way around. For instance, the USB stick that had Luke's whereabouts had this weird geometric design. Apart from looking like a poorly painted solid resin stick, its shape had no function. It didn't go in plugs or sockets with that same shape, like a key. It was purely aesthetic. When I look through the Visual Dictionary of props and costumes, all I see are props and costumes. I do not see a real world developed based on culture or art. I don't see function. I see things slapped together that are ugly and have no reason to being there. That's not Star Wars. That's PT.

The X-Wing was awesome as a real ship on set, but it looked like it was made of wood. I could tell it was a prop (aka fake). In addition to the ships, all the blasters looked fake. They were poorly painted by the prop department (Jamie Wilkinson, Richard Cheal, Toby Wagner). The weapons looked like plastic, the weight of it as the actor held it made it feel like plastic, and it was painted like a massed produced toy that is trying to appear weathered but the painter has really no experience painting. The pistol that Han gave Rey was the only blaster that looked like metal, but it to felt too lightweight and handled weird (like it's weight distribution was off). It was described to me as looking like a block of wood. It had no pleasing aesthetics to it, in my opinion. The weapons did not feel/look like "Star Wars Weapons". This same feeling went to the costumes as well.

The costumes on a lot of characters felt like "costumes" and not something that would actually be worn by that character or in that environment. This also reminded me of the prequels. Leia is a good example. Her costume was terrible. The seam on her arm didn't line up in the shot of her hugging Rey. It was a jumpsuit that didn't look like it fit, it didn't appear to move well with her, and didn't look comfortable. I didn't believe that this was an outfit that she would have worn. It didn't fit her personal style. She had really beautiful hair, but this ugly gray unitard. There are other examples, like the Resistance pilot's jumpsuits being too red and clean, their helmets didn't fit, the chest box being poorly painted and looked fake, but I wont pick apart every costume. In short, the costumes were too gimmicky.

I didn't like C-3PO. He still fell short of the OT and remains in the PT. His voice was all wrong. It's like they added an echo or other effect to it that shouldn't have been there. His style of talking and dialogue felt like he was a preschool teacher talking to babies rather than someone who can interact with adults on their level. His slip saying "Princess" was dumb, as in a years time he is still making that mistake? A computer, mind you. It was a nod to the audience only that felt forced and unnecessary. It was also redundant as this was a comment made already in the first scene of the movie. His comment about his arm being red was also dumb. I am not sure if someone said "The audience wont recognize him with his arm being red, we need a line in there that explains it". Totally annoying. Irvin K. said several times while making Empire that he didn't want to have to explain to the audience the world around the story, but to just focus on the story. We never had an explanation on why his leg was silver or had a comment about it. I also didn't like that his whole costume wasn't chromed his standard gold. He was flat and looked, again, like plastic. Why, in the end was his arm back to his normal color? Painting his arm, or finding one with the right chrome look should be the farthest thing

I didn't like R2. I understand that he was made using all the R2 Builders parts, but he also looked wrong. He wasn't painted or made with the attention to detail and love as in the OT. The blue paint felt like spray paint instead of automotive paint, and his body looked like resin instead of metal. If he was really in low power since Luke left, why hadn't he been moved out of the way, say in storage, sometime over the last 15 years? His reveal when BB8 removed the tarp felt forced. It was a shot for the the fans. For nostalgia, more than for the story line. Things that are a "feel good" the first time you see it, but loose its magic the second viewing. His sudden re-wakening was a "what the heck" moment for me that didn't make sense and seemed too convenient. It really made his whole 'in-low-power' rather meaningless. Any explanation for him re-awakening, other than Luke doing it using the Force, is a bad one. He was out for two seconds then suddenly awake for no reason at all. I didn't feel sad that he was asleep and I didn't feel happy at his awakening. I just didn't care. '3P0's line of "..I don't think he will ever be the same again" is another "huh?" moment for me. He wakes up and seems to be his old self to me. The writer tried to make me feel sad that R2 was "gone" but it didn't work because he was back with no struggle and not out long enough to make his absence noticeable.

I didn't like Finn's dialogue when he was telling Rey he was part of the resistance. "Yeah, this is what we look like". Mildly humorous, to a select demographic of people but not when you see it again and again and again. Similarly the "oh my gosh that was awesome" scene between Rey and Finn after they destroyed the TIE fighters, escaping in the Millennium Falcon, was a moment that gets more annoying with each viewing. Finn as a Character in the story really added nothing for me. If he was removed, I don't think anything would have changed. His scene at the cantina felt like a huge flip for him. This whole time we see him wanting to be with Rey and help protect her and now he pulls a 360 and ready to leave her. It was like "Where did that come from?" I didn't believe it was something that Finn would have done, but went with it as that's where the movie was taking us.

Han playing with Chewie's Bowcaster: I really rolled my eyes on this. Seriously? Han acted like over the last 40 plus years that he had been with Chewie, that he had never seen Chewie's Bowcaster in action. Totally ridiculous. Han even takes Chewie's only weapon away from him in the middle of a battle so he can play with it. Not only does this remove the threat of the scene, but it's over the top comedy to the point of stupidity. I hated this. Han uses practically the same pistol the entire time we have known him, it is clearly his weapon of choice. He would never have taken Chewie's gun away from him, leaving him defenseless, so he could have a little fun. It was great to see the power of the Bowcaster, that was a lot of fun, but would have been cooler if left in Chewie's hands at all times. It would have made Chewie cooler, instead of Han stupider. That's what it did. A little comedy that sacrificed Han's character.

I did like Kylo Ren. Most of the time. The scene with him and Rey was good all the way up till she made a comment about talking to him through a mask (this was the second time we had someone comment about the weirdness of Ren wearing a mask. Redundant writing). This was a line added by the writers to manipulate Ren to taking off his mask for a big on screen reveal. BOOOO. In the Star Wars world, she should have been very used to talking to people, aliens, and other creatures wearing masks. It would have been as strange of a comment as her saying "coming from a man wearing a hat!" uh...OK...There could have been hundreds of reasons for him to be wearing the mask and she should have accepted it as common place as him wearing pants. The second problem I had was the fact he gave in to her little dare and took his mask off. This totally weakened Ren's character. When Vader's mask was taken off in Jedi we finally humanized him, and saw how weak and frail he was. This happened with Ren in this scene. He was intimidating before, now he is just a spoiled kid. We see how childish and weak he is. This reveal was too soon in the story. It would have been better if they waited till his meeting with Han on the catwalk to remove is mask, or never took it off at all. Han commenting that Ren didn't need the mask was another redundancy as we already established this when he first took it off with Rey.

Revealing that Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) was Han and Leia's son was also too soon. I didn't like how they commented that Ren was Han's son, I think, seven different times throughout the movie. Totally overkill. Snoke says " with your father" a "what? Han is his father?" moment, followed by "..Han Solo." Yes, thank you, you covered that already with your first line. Snoke really wouldn't need to clarify that for Ren anwaysy. He know's who his father is. You're talking down to the audience now. I would remove the line about it being his father, and just left "Han Solo". People, in the real world, don't go around calling each other "Brother", "Sister" etc. Writers use this as a way to explain to the audience that there is a relationship between the two characters. So they have their characters say something stupid like "Our son". Han shouldn't have said "I saw him. I saw our son". It would have been better if the line was "I saw him, I saw Ben". It would have been more real, and would have had the audience going "who's Ben? What's his relationship to Han and Leia?". Hint at it, don't beat us over the head with it. If we didn't know about Ren's and Han's relationship yet, the comment from Ren to Rey regarding Han ("he would have disappointed you") would have also made the audience wonder how Ren knew Han. It would have engaged the audience more, made us care more, than handing it all to us on a silver platter.

I did like Chewy in this movie. He was a lot more interactive and his costume looked more like the OT than the PT costume. Thumbs way up there. I really wanted to see him kick some major butt after Han died. Let's see a Wookiee angry! Common Chewie, pull some peoples arms out of their sockets! However, he seemed to get over loosing Han too quickly. Yes, there was one shot, very brief, of him morning. However, knowing how sensitive Chewie is, this would have majorly depressed the Wookiee. I mean the relationship he had with Han was bigger than just partners. They were best friends, they were family. He totally should have hugged Leia, instead of tending to Finn back at the resistance base. Rey should have run off with the injured Finn, instead of hugging Leia. I don't recall Rey having a scene with Leia at all, so the embrace felt forced and only for the audience. Of all the people in the universe that Leia had in her life, why would she want to seek comfort from Rey, someone who she never meet before, then someone like Chewy, who she's known for around 34 years?

Han's death...for a major character from the OT, someone, we the audience, have grown to love; his death was rather weak. I felt nothing when he died. I didn't care. I knew he was going to die as soon as he first stepped onto the catwalk to 'talk' to Kylo Ren. The foreshadowing was really obvious. I knew it was coming the whole time, so when it happened, it was no surprise, and I didn't care. There was no emotion for the audience in this scene. The performance from Adam was better than from Harrison. I believed Adam, saw his conflict and felt some of his pain. Harrison just seemed to stand there, with one line inserted here and there but he really had nothing to say. The writing and direction of this scene should have been way better. The long shot of Han falling made his death so impersonal. Take a page out of Peter Jackson's book when shooting death scenes.

Starkiller base...sigh...another Death Star, only bigger, and made out of a planet. But we have seen it before. Twice! More than that actually, when you take into account how many times fans have seen the OT. It was a huge disappointment that we were not getting anything new here. I mean, let's take a second to think about this. The Death Star got destroyed essentially the same way twice. Something that a single star ship with a few torpedo's could destroy with a simple chain reaction. In the new Starkiller base they incorporated all the same vulnerabilities and weaknesses as the original design. That's like rebuilding the Titanic exactly the same way and it sinking again and again and again. How did they not learn anything? Even Han makes a joke about it for crying out loud (another line of dialogue I would have taken out. I think this line, in one shot made the whole story, plot, and universe into a joke. It was almost a stab at the audience that we are dumb and will swallow anything you give us, even the same movie all over again). The Starkiller base had a minor role in the film and was too easily destroyed. Not once did I feel like the characters or the universe was threatened by it. There were no shouts for joy when it blew up. It would have been better if A) the attack failed and they didn't destroy it, becoming more of a threat in later films, or B) left it out all together. As is, since we have seen this already, I never felt like our characters where ever in real danger, everything just all laid out perfectly in line so there was no struggle.

Snoke: Just the worse CGI of the whole film. Awesome as a huge presence and made me think "maybe he really is that large". Then we see that he is just a hologram, so more than likely he is just presented that large to be intimidating like the Emperor's hologram was in Empire. However, it worked better in Empire 'cause you only saw his head instead of his whole body like we did with Snoke. Being a hologram I would have rather seen it in its traditional blue hue with static glitches in it like we are used to seeing. Granted you could argue that over the last 30 years they improved holo-tech so much that it appears real now, but if that were the case how come over the last 30 years the improved tech didn't spill over to their TIE Fighters, or X-Wings, or Starkiller Base for that matter? Want me to believe it, stay consistent. Perhaps maintaining the original look of the holograms would have masked how poor the CG was for this character.

Rey and Finn using a lightsaber like "pros" is something I think everyone had a "What the heck" moment. We saw earlier that Rey could take care of herself, so that wasn't too far of a stretch. Especially since when we first see her battling Ren she isn't doing so well. It's just when she calms herself and lets the Force flow through her, controlling her moments and over powers Kylo Ren that lost all believably with me. Similarly, Finn with a lightsaber against Ren should have been no contest. We should have seen very little effort from Ren, almost like he is playing around with him (Like Vader with Luke on Bespin). Because I didn't believe it, I didn't like it. UPDATE: I have watched the movie three times now, and paid closer attention to these scenes. Both Rey and Finn are not pro's with the Lightsaber. Most of the time they are defensive blocks then aggressive attacks. Still, Finn did get in a lucky hit on Ren, and Rey did end up overpowering him.

Finn lying on his back on some random table unconscious...I mean, he did just get his back ripped open by a Lightsaber, so let's lay him wound down on a dirty table. I would have changed this to Finn in a Bacta tank. That would have been a great opportunity for nostalgia and bringing the two worlds together. It is subtle and believable since we already saw this as a way of healing the body. It may have made us care more about his condition. A medical Droid would have also been good to add to this scene. You know, something to show that he wasn't just left on a table by himself to die. I don't even think he was in the hospital wing of the base.

Now the music. I would have to agree with comments I have heard from others. If you where to ask me how I liked the music score I would honestly have to say "What music? I don't remember any." Totally forgettable. I really didn't notice any music the first time and barely did the second. It is the music and sound that really drives the emotion of a scene and since that felt so lacking (or too quiet) in this film, I can only point to the music score not being strong that really took away the potential emotion from all the scenes.

Little things I didn't like: Sound effects seemed to come from the PT library instead of being new or from the OT. The languages that the aliens spoke seemed to be taken from video games and sound too cartoon-y. The monsters on Han's freighter. Totally dumb, nonthreatening, and looked like they belonged in Men in Black. The Millennium Falcon got beat up at every corner but took no damage. Lightsaber calling to Rey...uh, no, the Force is calling Rey to the Lightsaber. The wood box that the Lightsaber was in, to me, again looked like a prop than a real box. Maz Katana crawling on the table to get a closer look at Finn. 'Maz's glasses'. The shot of people looking outside at the Starkiller's beam right before their planet blew up. This is a PT clip that didn't work then, not sure why it was done again here. Chewie tackling Phasma. Trash compactor joke. Finn excited about capturing Phasma. Han was right, "bring it down". R2D2 having the rest of the star map this whole time. Way too convenient and took away all the suspense. "Oh no! we only have a portion of the map, what are we going to do?" (insert suspense) "No worries, R2 has it. Here you go" (suspense gone) "Oh, that was easy, thanks". Rey standing there holding out Luke's Lightsaber for what felt like forever. I mean, it's a great movie shot, but in the real world, people don't do that. I asked myself, "why are you still just standing there? Hello? Rey, Luke, say or do something. You're not statues." As the camera pulled out for the Helicopter shot, Luke SHOULD have approached Rey and went to take the Lightsaber from her and as he went up to touch it...then the credits.

All in all, this movie was better than any of the PT films. It did give myself and lots of fans a new hope that we can get more Star Wars. It was great that JJ tried to take the world back to what we experienced with the OT. However, it is unfortunate that they didn't take more risks with designs and storyline. The humor is dated and at times too childish to be timeless as the OT. The costumes, props, and sets were too clean, and "costume-y" like the PT and not enough like the OT. I feel the problem is that they tried too hard to make a "Star Wars movie" instead of a movie in the Star Wars Universe. Does that make sense? The movie was still fun and I would love to see it again and will buy it when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

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