You Will Remove These Restraints and Leave This Cell with the Door Open
I Thought of ‘Up In Snoke’, Which Isn’t Really Applicable to the Tone of This Review, but Now That I Thought of ‘Up In Snoke’, I Can’t Think of Anything Else. So Consider This My Reservation to use ‘Up In Snoke’ for a Future Star Wars Movie That Actually Features Plot Points Involving Snoke
a kindly review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
by David Clemmer
Star Wars movies go like this in release chronology: great, great, er…good, shit, fucked shit, fucked shit that’s a little darker therefore evincing possible internal bleeding. I don’t need to go into detail about any of this because you, indisputably, feel the same way, and I, arguably, would be unable to divorce myself from comparing the prequels to different bodily afflictions that use your BMs to tell you to go to the hospital.
Less-gross analogy here (arguably): Saying that something is better than the execrable prequel trilogy is like saying something that’s not a McDonald’s Fish Filet is delicious after eating nothing but McDonald’s Fish Filets for ten years. So, you can go ahead and chalk this one up to a big, long, ‘Duh.’ A dumpster fire is objectively better than Episodes I-III, to the point that not even the edited-down fan-edit can save it. Like, once you’re not eating Fish Filets and sitting criss-cross-applesauce inside an actual dumpster that is on inextinguishable fire, most things just feel better—even if it’s eating a burger from Red Robin while sitting in an air-sealed ’90 Volkswagon Jetta in 102º F weather.
Let’s move on from my analogy game altogether, shall we?
I got to be a guest on the podcast this week, so you’ll hear my thoughts alongside those of Jason and Robbie’s—which are, more or less, in confluence. Also, I’m not the first person to write about The Force Awakens on the internet.
Therefore you already know that a lot of people are saying it’s good, go see it. We all said that on the podcast, and I’m writing it now. It’s fun, it’s good, and it feels like a Star Wars movie.
After the ‘Read More’ line are a bunch of spoilers. If you’re on the actual page for the review, I’ll pad the spoiler parts by putting them after this wall of .gifs.
Yeah, I’m sorry for that.
Let’s start with the grand statement: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a good movie. (Near) Standalone. The main characters are almost instantly likable and relatable, the plot is simple without being too bare-bones basic, the actors are emotive and energetic, the screenplay is dramatic and funny and it pushes the story along at a good pace, it looks good, it sounds good, and it just simply is good. Like, guys…we live once again in a world where Star Wars is a good thing. Let’s just stand back and appreciate for a moment that this movie is parsecs better than the best moment of the prequels.
Not to mention better than Return of the Jedi. You fucking heard me; don’t look at me like that. I mean, R of the J is still a fun spacey romp that completes a hero’s journey and ties everything into a neat little square knot, but come on: there’s so comparatively little excitement within Jedi in comparison to its predecessors. I’m digressing. Let’s get back on track, shall we?
Okay, I want to first address the bantha in the room: Han Solo.
An alternate subtitle for this movie could be The Ford Awakens. Harry F-Dawg has been asleep for thirteen years, which is a time span that includes that, uh, the, uh… the last time he reprised a role he’s globally known for.
I feel the same way, buddy.
When I saw his sleepy mug in the Force Awakens trailer, I feared that he would be all whatevery and meal tickety. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn’t true. Despite age and ostensible burnout, Harrison Ford returns to the role of Han Solo with the same charm and daring as when we last saw the character. Unlike when he picked up a whip and a fedora again, he doesn’t read like Harrison Ford being Harrison Ford because Steve and George are paying him oh-god-illion dollars. He reads like an aged Han Solo. Like, whoa. Cool. Han Solo is back.
Then, the bigger bantha in the room: The Death of Han Solo.
I mean, Han Solo is dead, guys. He’s dead. Han Solo. He’s dead. Run through with a lightsaber and tossed off a catwalk into an extremely Star Warsy space-chasm. He’s fucking dead.
Months ago I was reminded of that time Harrison Ford wanted Solo to die in Re-Re o’ tha Jay-Jay, and thereafter predicted that Solo would die in Force Awakens—or, at least, in the next three movies. On a Lucasian note (‘[…]it’s like poetry; it’s, sort of, they rhyme‘), it makes sense to have the older, wiser mentor to the protagonist die à la O-Dubs Kenubs in A New Hope. On a businessy note, it makes sense that Harrison ‘Please God, Stop Casting Me In Things’ Ford would acquiesce to a vivified return to his old character on the grounds that his old wish was granted.
As of my writing this on the early morning of Sunday, December 20, 2015, it would be easy for me to lie that I totally called that. Except, I totally did call it. Listen to the TFG episode. Points to me!
I am validated! I challenge thee, oblivion!
Han Solo’s death, though, affected me immensely. For one, it was a great scene. Adam Driver lets down his perfect, lush acting locks and deepens Kylo Ren’s character far deeper than we saw Vader’s deepen in A New Hope and The One Where the Empire Strikes Back. For two, oh my god; I was never a fanboy by today’s standards, but I was always a fan. Since I was four years old, Han Solo has been among my favorite action/fantasy/sci-fi heroes. And I just watched him get murdered. For three, holy shit; the creative forces (sorry) behind the franchise these days just told us that this is a new generation and that the old ways are dead and gone.
Guys…Han Solo is dead.
Quick note before moving on: I’m not a clap-at-the-movie-screen kinda guy, but when the Millennium Falcon was revealed in that little, ‘No, that one’s garbage!’ fakeout, I joined the theater in a round of applause. Terrific and nuanced introduction to a familiar icon.
I really liked our new characters. Rey and Finn had wonderful energy and drive, and were exciting to watch. Poe Dameron too. Rey, our obvious ‘Luke’ analog, has a mystique about her that I could empathize with consistently without getting a huge shovelful of backstory and exposition. As of the end of this movie, we still don’t know much about her. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that the’s related to L. Sky. I mean, how…? How could that not be a thing? (cut to 2017: shot of: me eating my words)
Update: During the recording of the podcast, I had a revelation. A vision. A picture in my head. A picture of this! Jason and Robbie speculated whether Rey and Ben were siblings or cousins, and then another option hit me: What if she’s not the descendant of a Skywalker at all? What if she’s a descendant…of a Kenobi? During her Force-vision when she touched Luke’s light saber, both Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor are heard echoing through the vision. Eh? Eh? Anyway…
Finn was a great development as a concept of this movie. He’s a Stormtrooper. A fucking Stormtrooper. One of the heroes in his movie is a self-actualized bit of aimless cannon fodder, and it’s totally believable and acceptable and neat. He may have been a little too instantly an individual, considering the implied brainwashing and conformity alluded to by Captain Phasma, but, whatever. In his first ten seconds, before he even takes off his helmet, he’s more relatable than Qui-Gon, Young Obi-Wan, Li’l Orphan Ani, Padme, and Senator Palpatine put together, throughout the whole running time of Fandom Menace.
Even Dameron shows more character in his intro scene than the prisoners of the prequels. His smartass confidence, even in the face of evil, was the quintessential rebel attitude.
And, from their Pixar days, Disney has whimsy down to a science, so li’l ol’ BB-8 was just as much a joy to watch as R2-D2 was previously.
Except when he looked deep into the flames, and there did see his own true heart, and with that beautiful golden beast of fury did set it upon his foes, dead of eye, quick of action.
Adam Driver seemed a little awkward as Kylo Ren at first, especially in his first unmasked scene. But after that he stepped up. While masked his posture was dangerous and his form imposing. His jittery lightsaber and his robes were badass, and he got to do some cool shit. However Kylo Ren’s greatest strength so far as this installment is the character design itself. Following Darth Goddamn Vader and Emperor Fucking Palpatine is a rough gig, because Vader is a stone-cold enforcer and Palpatine is an evil sadist. Kylo Ren is an unready, insecure, and impulsive manbaby. He throws tantrums when shit happens and he has real moments of losing control of his own emotions. He represents the chaotic nature of the Dark Side very well, and in that, Driver nails it.
My prediction for Kylo Ren: I think he’s going to pull a Vader side-switch much earlier and not just die a savior, but end his run as a good guy and ally. I think he’ll realize his grievous mistakes and turn to the Light Side. That’s my gut feeling.
There were small negative points here and there. Some of the plot points felt a little too convenient. I mean, I know this is Star Wars, where the droids escape to the exact same remote planet that houses the old guy they’re looking for, without knowing they were doing that, and happen to run into the son of the guy that the old guy used to hang out with… But Maz Kanata having Luke’s light saber that he lost in Empire? She does say that it’s an interesting story ‘for another time,’ so its extremeness is addressed, but, it’s shit like that that feels like the script needed to get from A to B as fast as possible. Which is ultimately fine.
But other than Kylo Ren’s immaculate helmet hair, Carrie Fisher’s complete woodenness, and wasted casting opportunities like Max von Sydow and the guys from The Raid (or so I hear), there were two big complaints for me: 1) Starkiller Base and 2) Snoke.
Starkiller Base felt a little too much like the Death Star, which was, sadly, its point. I would have liked to see something new and different happen with that, but, no, just like A New Hope, the X-wings triumph and the thing blows up. I liked it as a broad concept, but they used it exactly like they used the previous toy they had.
Snoke was right in the neutral zone as far as mystery and intrigue go. Remember in Empire when you get five seconds of Vader kneeling in front of a giant hologram of the Emperor? That was just enough for us to go, Whoa, who’s this guy? He’s Vader’s boss? Whoa! Literally, whoa! But, other than tossing a little significance toward the Skywalker name, the Emperor serves no purpose to the plot. That’s fine, because he’s just a little teaser for what’s to come. Supreme Leader Snoke has three whole damn scenes of basic relevance but no plot-driven significance. He was there to sound-board Kylo Ren’s failures, which we were already picking up on with his interactions with our heroes, General Hux, and the burned up Vader helmet.
Snoke was window-dressing, and too much of it. And I didn’t like his CGI face, and I don’t like his name. I haven’t a real reason not to like his name, but it feels Harry Pottery, and mermermermer. At least he wasn’t named Darth Nefarious or Lord Darkblack or something Lucas would doodle on the page. Hopefully he’ll get better and more involved in the plot in future movies.
If Snoke looked exactly like this, it would have been more interesting.
There were other little flaws here and there, but here’s my thing, and you’re going to probably groan for any number of reasons: It’s a Star Wars movie. The saintly originals were nothing more than actiony spacemagic melodrama with super-relatable characters on an adventure, and that’s exactly what The Force Awakens is. I’m not one to pontificate about what Star Wars or any franchise is ‘supposed to be,’ and I’m not doing that now, but the concept is broad enough to make the claim: these movies are about character drama in a fun and entertaining space adventure. That’s all. The original trilogy was full of flaws, but we don’t care; Star Wars movies are fucking fun and nothing else. There was never a moment where I noticed a plot flaw or something in Force Awakens where I was taken out of the world and not able to just accept it.
I look heartily forward to the next installment. This new world where a Star Wars movie is something to look forward to is an exciting one, and I feel like a little kid again.