Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!! Oh man, this movie is going to be so great! There’s no way they could mess this up!
The movie is set in motion when Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) set off to escort the impossible droid BB-8 to … gyaaah, I can’t spoil it!
This is the most anticipated movie of the internet era by an absolutely staggering margin. Every movie since the turn of the century, every movie Fandango.com has been around for, this moved more tickets online before its first commercial showing than any of them did their entire runs. They got the guy who directed that great 2009 Star Trek reboot to direct this, they used 100 percent practical effects, nothing can possibly go wrong here.
You’d have to be inhuman, you’d have to have never understood the significance of having a soul, you’d have to literally be the Grinch to say anything against this movie. Really. If anyone tells you anything bad about this, cut them out of your life. Don’t worry, they’ll be few — there’s nothing even remotely bad to say.
There was no way this was ever going to live up to the hype.
J.J. Abrams has this thing about his movies’ plots where he hides every detail of them, even if they’re not all that interesting. Star Wars, in its entire series before The Force Awakens, only had one major “no-spoilers!” moment. It’s always been about fantasy elements and visual effects, and no movie worth watching was ever ruined by knowing the ending anyway. But for The Force Awakens, as it did for Star Trek Into Darkness, this painstaking secrecy creates an almost paranoid desire to know the plot down to its most minute details, and creates an expectation that the plot’s minute details will actually be worth knowing. Between the mouth-watering trailers meticulously devoid of any plot details, geek-oriented publications dissecting every frame grasping for possible plot details and rabid fans eating it all up and driving the publications to publish even more, there’s no way this movie’s plot wasn’t going to be a bit of a let down.
Maybe this empty feeling is just because I don’t have this movie to look forward to anymore. The Force Awakens had so much mystique because of the expert way its marketing was being handled, and that’s all gone now. The shroud of secrecy has been lifted, as all shrouds eventually are, and it really isn’t surprising that the shroud was nicer than the secret. It happens, and most people knew somewhere in their mind it was going to happen here.
But it’s still so exciting! There’s going to be more Star Wars! They messed it up the last time there was going to be more Star Wars, but that was because George Lucas was only making them for money. Now we’ve got competent filmmakers driven by passion instead of greed, and…
It’s not that great.
It’s actually really, really disappointing.
The plot is a major problem. Attempting to stay out of spoiler territory, which is impossible because of the marketing/fan interaction that has turned literally any plot point into a spoiler, let’s just say it follows the original Star Wars uncomfortably closely, and becomes almost offensively predictable once you catch on. The problem with Extended Universe stories is that, almost uniformly, stories set after Return of the Jedi revolve around either Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turning to the dark side, invalidating the entire movie, or the remnants of the Empire building a bigger, badder Death Star, and I was happy to hear they weren’t going to go with an Extended Universe story for that very reason. But now, here they are, having copyrighted the name “Starkiller Base,” and you can fill in the details. To be fair, it is even cooler than the Death Star, but this wonderful, seemingly limitless universe has existed for almost 40 years now, and “evil empire destroys planets” is still the only story they’ve really told. Even worse, there are a couple of scenes at the end that only exist to advertise for Episode VIII, much like Marvel has been doing with their movies. It’s entirely boring and unnecessary when Marvel does it, and it’s even more boring and unnecessary here, when every movie is going to begin with an expository opening crawl anyway.
The new characters are also poorly executed for the most part, and the movie is kind of all over the place as to what it wants to do with them. Spoiler alert — Jar Jar Binks isn’t in The Force Awakens, but there is a completely useless character who is really only there for comic relief, and it’s Finn. If you ask me, Finn and Poe Dameron (the scintillating Oscar Isaac) should have been combined into one character — named Poe Dameron. There is nothing Finn does in which he isn’t accompanied by Dameron or Rey, who could perform all the tasks in question themselves, and his character arc is messy and unclear. Worse, they brought in Oscar Isaac, one of the two or three best actors in the entire world right now, and gave him about five minutes of screen time. Dameron is puckish, charming and self-reliant, and he simply disappears from the movie early on while the much less entertaining Finn does exactly what he would have been doing. To muddy things further, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) essentially takes over as the main character once he’s reintroduced, despite repeated promises to focus on the new characters.
The only character that was done well is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He is every inch the character that George Lucas wishes prequel-era Anakin Skywalker was. He’s a liberal force user with astonishing power but no polish, he’s obsessed with the dark side and prone to fits of rage, he kills without mercy or conscience but also obviously has some level of internal conflict. His character is just as interesting as it is menacing. The nature of the dark side as an addictive power source that requires one to be more and more evil to access it, and that of the sith as a creepy death-worshiping cult, is captured beautifully through his character in a way it hasn’t been since the end of Return of the Jedi.
In hindsight, Abrams was very much the wrong man for this job. He gets a pass for Star Trek because it was so great outside of this, but Star Trek Into Darkness was way too much a fan service film, and The Force Awakens has a ton of that DNA. Familiar plot elements are introduced in the same corny, stumbled-upon-it way they are in his first Star Trek movie, and the updated hyper-space visuals are straight out of it as well. Given Abrams’ fetish for destroying celestial bodies, it’s little wonder The Force Awakens has an elaborate Death Star knockoff, and a small miracle there isn’t more lens flair. His obviously large influence drags this movie down, but makes me excited for Episode VIII, which will be helmed by the spectacular Rian Johnson.
This movie isn’t bad. It’s already one for the history books financially, and it’s still Star Wars in a way that the prequels aren’t. The idea that there is going to be a new Star Wars movie every year with different settings and stories and directors is still a comforting and enticing one. But this movie left me feeling hollow inside, and I don’t want to see it again.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Please, just let me eat my burrito. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.