Some Thoughts On ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

12.23.15 4 years ago 132 Comments

People keep asking me when I’m going to review Star Wars, and to be honest it seems a bit silly at this point. For one because it’s already out and most people have seen it, and for another because it’s not the kind of movie that feels like it needs a review. Reviewing The Force Awakens is sort of like reviewing a ride at Disneyland. “I liked the part where I went ‘WHOOAAAA’ but not the part where I went ‘awwwww!’ It was a little slow in the middle, before we got splashed with the water and it took our picture.”

I also didn’t want to write an essay or a hot take on it, because… ugh. Let’s just not? Forever? Framing your political point around Star Wars isn’t good for anything but SEO.

NONETHELESS, I do have some thoughts and observations (lucky you!) about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Before we get to those, it should be pointed out that this movie had to be so many things to so many different people, and maintain so many different strands of continuity, and was so sure to be micromanaged to death by so many paranoid investors expecting to make literal billions of dollars that you would’ve had to have massive balls and be completely insane to take this job. So credit to J.J. Abrams and his big, psychotic testicles. And yeah, it was weird and quasi-sacrilegious to have the same guy directing Star Trek and Star Wars, but the upside was, J.J. Abrams has already walked that tight rope, of possibly becoming the archfiend of quasi-fascist fanboys for years to come. So he had at least dealt with that pressure before, and had a giant cushions made of money to land on if he fell.

Under the circumstances, he did a pretty fantastic job. I wasn’t around for Episode IV so I can’t really contextualize, but looking back on it from 2015, The Force Awakens feels like the second best Star Wars movie.

And now, some thoughts. (There will be spoilers, obviously.)

Fan Service!

The Force Awakens had a healthy amount of callbacks to the original series, as expected, but they were well done. And let’s be honest, it’s a Star Wars movie. Of course there were going to be callbacks. The Millennium Falcon just sitting there under a tarp was a little clunky, but for the most part, J.J. and company spliced the callbacks into the story so deftly that Spectre felt like a drunk swinging a rusty axe by comparison.

Actually, I minded the fan service a lot less than the actual fans. In my theater, people clapped at the god damned logo. Now that’s brand loyalty. I understand getting goosebumps because of the score (probably the best and most fitting movie theme music of all time), but the logo? Get it together, people. At this point, being “a fan” of Star Wars is like being a fan of General Motors, or Tide. It doesn’t make you special. So the people who think Star Wars fandom is this cool little club tend to be particularly annoying. The girl next to me, who was way too young to have seen any of the originals in the theater (as am I, but at least I’m honest about it) would violently shake her boyfriend’s arm every time a recognizable character showed up. Oh my gosh, honey, that’s Han Solo? Do you recognize Han Solo is? YES WE RECOGNIZE HAN SOLO WILL YOU SHUT UP SO WE CAN ENJOY THIS PLEASE?

People clapped when heroes won fights, they shouted out encouragement during the fights, they yelled at bad guys – it was an all-around solid argument for Netflix. It wasn’t kids shouting either, always full-grown adults. You’re 45 years old! Let the kids have their fun like you did! (And also the cynical 30-somethings staring daggers at you, we like fun too!). in any case, Star Wars‘ power to turn movie audiences into pro wrestling audiences is both awe-inspiring and intensely obnoxious. Who knew the only thing separating us from total anarchy is a thin veneer of not seeing pictures of things we recognize?

Am I Seriously Getting Emotional About Han Solo?

Before The Force Awakens I would’ve told you that there were approximately 1.5 good movies in the entire Star Wars franchise, and I didn’t have especially fuzzy childhood memories about it. Just knowing how many “What Star Wars Means To Me” thinkpieces I would have to wade through had me puking preemptively.

SO, when Han Solo showed up, and I found myself feeling emotional about it, it was completely unexpected. It’s not like I didn’t know Han was going to be in the movie either. Imagine catching yourself saying “awww” during a Zales commercial and that’s basically what I felt like. So wrong, and yet… so warm…

Turns out, my disdain for callbacks, nostalgia pimping, and Disney is no match for my emotional soft spot, old men reminiscing about past glories. Somehow I never put it together before that Han is basically a loner ramblin’ through the galaxy in an old muscle car, whose best friend is a giant bipedal dog-man. Hits all of my buttons.

Nazis Will Always Make The Best Villains

When you call the bad guys “storm troopers” it’s not as if the Third Reich allegory is hard to suss out, but J.J. really doubled down on the Nazi imagery. That rally? That looked straight out of a Leni Riefenstahl movie. Nice. Nazi references will never be played out to me. As I’ve said, I will watch anything where the protagonist’s motivation is to stick it to Hitler.

Does Everyone Have To Be Related?

On that note, maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but the idea that the people in a story are important because they’re blood relatives doesn’t do much for me. That’s a very aristocratic storytelling method, isn’t it? “The circumstances of her birth and lack of training didn’t matter, you see, because she had that pure Aryan, uh, I mean Skywalker blood coursing through her veins!”

Also, you mean to tell me that the fate of the entire galaxy is completely wrapped up in this one f*cked up family’s internal drama? We already did the Daddy Issues thing in the first six movies, didn’t we?

I guess I understand why it helped the plot that Kylo Ren was Han’s son (Luke’s nephew, Vader’s grandson… god dammit, are you really making me envision the Solo family tree in my head right now?), but there’s no reason Rey also has to be a relation (I guess they didn’t fully spell this one out, but it was hinted heavily).

If the Dark Side is the Nazis, it’s becoming painfully apparent that the good guys are benevolent monarchs. In fact, isn’t this whole damned series about the line of succession? And hey, as long as we’re lionizing the constitutional monarchy, why can’t John Boyega use his natural English accent?

It’s strange that all of the other Storm Trooper crew had British accents, except for Finn, who sounded American (sorta). Presumably because he was a good guy. This in the midst of this very pro-monarchy story. The Force Awakens kind of sums up America’s conflicted relationship to Mother England. Yep, I wrote that, and I’m sticking to it. There’s a thesis there. You’re welcome, liberal arts majors.

Can We Simplify The Force A Little?

I don’t consider myself a strict literalist, I’m not sitting there picking apart the science of fictional ancient spaceships like Neil deGrasse Buzzkill, but I do feel like the Force could be juuuust a bit less ambiguous. It sort of reminds me of Superman, where first he was just super strong and could jump high, but as it went on they just kept adding random powers until he could eventually make ice cubes with his breath and literally turn back time.

Ditto with the Force. I liked when Kylo Ren could freeze the blaster laser using the Force (it’s kind of like chi!), but now he can read minds too? Also, if he can use the Force to choke people from across the room and freeze bullets midair why does the climactic battle still come down to a medieval sword fight? I mean, I guess it’s better than them shooting lightning bolts out of their hands and grunting, but I think we could simplify. Maybe limit the Force to across the room choking, Jedi mind tricks, and occasional telekinesis. I’m not asking for much.

Only One Shot Of The Ship?

I saw The Force Awakens in 3D because it was the only available screening at the time, and for the most part, the 3D was the usual mix of not adding much value and being hard on the eyes. There was however, one shot, of the Star Destroyer (I had to Google that) coming towards the screen at a diagonal, that, in 3D filled up the entire auditorium and caused an audible gasp to ripple through the theater. It was that impressive.

And yet it was only that one, three second shot! Another one would’ve been a callback we all could’ve agreed on. And obviously, I’m a big fan of anything than can shock a roomful of Star Wars fans into shutting up for a few seconds.

Oh, That’s What Was Missing, A Writer With A Sense Of Humor

Han shouting “That’s not how The Force works!” might have been the funniest line in the entire Star Wars universe, and emblematic of a film that was easily the funniest of the series. Compare that to “My, Ani, how you’ve grown.”

A little humor goes a long way when it doesn’t feel forced and pathological (*cough* Ant-Man! *cough, cough*), and The Force Awakens showed how fun Star Wars can be when someone’s not treating their world of pew-pew spaceships, dog men, and bad guys in giant helmets as if it’s the most serious thing in the world. Lighten up! It’s fun! The Force Awakens didn’t force anything too jokey, it was just self-aware enough to let some comedy happen every once in a while. Kind of like life. The scene of the Storm Troopers turning around in the hallway when Kylo Ren was throwing a tantrum was a particular highlight.

Moreover, for the first time in the Star Wars franchise, a Star Wars movie had dialogue that actually sounded like words humans would say. Remember that obnoxious “Four Rules To Make Star Wars Great Again” video that was going around earlier this year? Conveniently missing in that beautiful expression of misplaced fanboy possessiveness was the simple rule, “make the characters feel like people.”  (He was right about Star Wars being a Western, I’ll give him that).

Natural dialogue (more natural dialogue, anyway) turned out to be the X-factor. It helped that they cast really well, from Daisy Ridley to Adam Driver’s hilariously emo Kylo Ren, but moreover, believable character interactions allowed me to remember how much I actually enjoy this sandbox that George Lucas built. Weird that when George Lucas isn’t around meddling with characters and writing terrible dialogue, you start to remember how brilliant he actually was in starting this all. And now that the guy from Looper is directing the next one? Well… I’m into it.


Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.

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