“The Force Ambiens” or Disney’s $tar Wars Fan $ervice
“A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man.” – Robert Warshow
“It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.” – Alan Moore
*SPOILERS AHEAD – YE BEEN WARNED* When being one of the few voices of dissent on what will be the highest grossing film of all time, I have to preface this criticism with some qualifiers (along with the fancy pants quotes you see above). I didn’t hate “The Force Awakens”. I thought it was okay. I don’t think you’re stupid for liking it, loving it, wanting to take a case to the Supreme Court to legally marry it, etc. We all have opinions and I’m just another idiot on the internet. But this idiot is part of a growing chorus chiming in on the Emperor’s various states of undress (sorry not sorry if you’re imagining a naked Palpatine right now). I find it necessary to the discussion of this important piece of filmmaking that us naysayers make our various beefs with Jar Jar Abrams’ Episode IV remake known.
Starting off with the easiest target, amirite? Desert planet, novice Force users, giant death ray thingee – I could go on but we all know TFA played Mad Libs with the Original Trilogy. It wouldn’t be such a knock against it if it weren’t so paint by the numbers. Say what you will about the prequels but at least they were entirely different stories with new locales. TFA gives us another desert planet (minus 1 sun), a snowy locale, and some places that look like Yavin 4 but aren’t Yavin 4. If you’re going to sell me the same story at least dress it up with a new vest or SB Dunks. This goes for the vehicles, too. The biggest advance in starship tech in 30 years was giving TIE Fighters and X-Wings a new paint job?
Speaking of unoriginal tech – Death Star 3.0? Does the Dark Side have a fetish for spherical super weapons? They’re already 0 for 2 on moon-sized planet-destroying projects so naturally the First Order’s logic must be “We have to make it EVEN BIGGER this time!” Weapons tech may be stagnant but thank goodness hologram science has advanced to the point of making giant lifelike projections. That should be really useful when “Jaws 19” comes to the Coruscant AMC.
But what irked me most while I sat in my $18 seat in the wee hours of the morning was Rey’s Super Saiyan God level of mastery with the Force. I was onboard with Rey as a scrappy scavenger with a mysterious past. Her mechanical mastery of the Millenium Falcon didn’t bother me one bit. But then it was coupled with multilingual skills (a facet I liked), Donatello-level bo staff skills, Jedi mind trickery mere hours after learning that the Jedi weren’t just myths, and (most frustratingly of all) Force-grabbing a danged lightsaber and making Jedi/Sith-trained Kylo Ren look like a youngling.
Max Landis’ video rant encapsulates a lot of what’s wrong with the character, the least of which is her gender. I’m all for women in the Star Wars Universe. Tough, heroic, bad-ass women. But when a supposedly humble character can breeze through her challenges like she’s got all the cheats turned on I don’t see what the stakes are or why I should care. Milla Jovovich’s super-powered Alice in the “Resident Evil” series comes off more complex. At this point, people handwave that complaint with two arguments: 1) “It’s obvious Rey has Jedi lineage/training that will become known in the next movie” and 2) “Her Force prowess is no more ridiculous than Luke or Anakin’s so chill out.”
And to that I say “Yousa talking big doodoo.” 1) So the audience is supposed to take it on faith that Rey’s “awakened” powers will be satisfyingly explained in the next 2 films? Movies have enough problems answering their own questions well, let alone carrying over baggage from other films. 2) Luke uses the Force to get a lucky shot in “A New Hope” but he struggles throughout the series, requiring the aid of his friends. Anakin’s podracing skill is noted before the big race and while his Mr. Magoo-like destruction of the trade blockade is too much to swallow, his high midichlorian count (yeah, I don’t like having to bring that up anymore than you do) didn’t manifest itself in Force-manipulation and Jedi mind tricks. Both Skywalker men had to be trained. Rey kicks ass in a matter of hours. The Force didn’t just awaken – it’s staying up all night on space cocaine giving Stone Cold Stunners to the Dark Side. If Episode VIII delivers a satisfactory reason for why the Force is so jazzed on Rey I’ll strike this from the list, but I don’t see it coming. How is Kylo able to freeze and knock out Rey in one scene, but then she resists his interrogation in the next?
Additional frustrating questions/observations:
- Why did Finn turn good? “Because it’s the right thing to do.” Funny that moral courtesy doesn’t extend to Finn’s Stormtrooper comrades who were also kidnapped and forced into the First Order. Brainwashed since birth and he cheers the destruction of his fellow Stormtroopers during his TIE fighter bro-out with Poe. I liked that he was called out as a traitor numerous times but I feel like he has switched sides so cleanly there won’t be any complexity in the character come Episode VIII.
- Why does Finn face off against a random Stormtrooper and not Phasma? I really wanted to see what that shiny suit could do.
- Finn endangers the Resistance to save Rey. He lies and says he knows how to shut down Starkiller Base to rescue a girl he just met. She ends up escaping Kylo’s interrogation chamber on her own and is practically on her way to hijacking an Imperial – oops, excuse me – a First Order ship when they link up with her.
- So the First Order kidnaps children because somehow it’s easier to rip a child from his loving family and train him to fight instead of pressing “copy” on the clone machine? Hell, President Snow only took 2 kids from each district and that brought revolution – imagine stealing whole armies worth. Doesn’t seem like a great long-term strategy for galactic supremacy.
- Do they only kidnap humans? As long as we’re kidnapping babies why not kidnap Wookies, Wampas, dang Rancors, etc. I know the old Empire was supposed to be racist but wouldn’t it make sense to have the pro-Human folks use other species as their child soldiers?
- Are they really all kidnapped? Wouldn’t they have recruits? Even ISIS has recruits.
- Why is Hux giving a speech? They’re Stormtroopers – they don’t need to be motivated. They’ll do whatever you want them to do.
- Some have commented on the First Order’s conspicuous Nazi influences but I felt (especially from the opening scene) an ISIS vibe. Destruction and murder of innocent civilians in a desert setting, the kidnapping of children, Kylo’s robe-y attire over Vader’s more mechanical/samurai-influenced look. Hopefully I’m imagining things. I definitely don’t want “War on Terror” politics entering my fandom. Looking at you, “Dark Knight” trilogy.
- Han’s son goes psycho so he grieves by smuggling monsters? Jeez, we like Han because of his attitude – not his occupation. Was it necessary that he return to his Episode IV hustle? You would think getting frozen in carbonite would turn him off from the black market.
- Kylo Ren is a dork. From Emo Kylo Ren on Twitter to images like the one above, fan reaction hasn’t been one of fear to Darth Vader 2.0. He takes off his mask, revealing JP from “Grandma’s Boy” instead of a dangerous Sith apprentice. The temper tantrums didn’t help.
- Where do you go in a trilogy when the main villain was beaten by a novice in the first movie? Where is the credible threat for 2 more films? Rey is on her way to train with Luke Skywalker himself while Ren licks his wounds. Are we supposed to believe he’s going to present any match to her at this point?
- Han’s Death wasn’t earned. It was used to create stakes ala Obi-Wan’s death but it just doesn’t have the same impact for our story, nor does it pay proper respect to one of the most (if not THE most) popular characters in the Star Wars universe. I don’t have a problem with Han dying but sheesh, couldn’t you have saved it for the next one?
- The film has been praised for its “diversity” casting and while I applauded John Boyega (who is amazing in “Attack The Block”) in a lead role, I felt he was wasted here. He gets rescued by Rey the entire movie and just when you think he’s going to have a heroic moment in a lightsaber showdown with Kylo Ren, Rey single-handedly takes out Ben Solo. Is Finn a Force muggle? Could they not have been co-heroes?
- Why didn’t Finn name himself?
- Lupita Nyong’o was covered in CGI to be Yoda 2.0. God forbid she would’ve been cast as Rey. We all know Hollywood can’t have more than one black main character.
- Where’s Lando?
- “Droid, please!” isn’t a meme yet and I don’t know why.
- Ultimately, does TFA feel quotable or epic? Does it tap into your Jungian consciousness like the Original Trilogy (and to a lesser extent the prequels)? Or is it just Disney-approved Star Wars fan fiction?
And finally, here are my “old man gripes”. These are my most ludicrous and cantankerous complaints (not to be taken too seriously):
- I don’t like BB-8. He’s too much of a wannabe Wall-E/R2-D2.
- The chess board fan service was too much. Was that scene so beloved that it had to be called back to?
- Where are the wipes? I want 30+ wipes, dang it!
Maybe George was right. Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and was so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a new trilogy that they didn’t stop to think if they should make a new trilogy. ROTJ ends the saga so succinctly, you could see why the prequels were a safer route. Lucas’ notes for the direction of Episodes 7-9 were ultimately unused by Disney. Lucas-haters rejoiced but I’m of the opinion that maybe the man who created this entertainment empire/cultural touchstone (with some underrated help from his first wife) had some insight into the continuation of the Skywalker clan.
I have seen the film twice now and I have softened on a few things. I found the acting very stiff on first viewing but I was far less critical the second time around. I really enjoyed Chewie getting more screen time and C-3po was probably my favorite fan service moment of the film. Despite her Force superiority later in the film, Rey’s crafty piloting of the Millenium Falcon is one of my favorite Star Wars moments. I really wanted to love this movie and be apart of the phenomenon. I love the Star Wars franchise and while I’m not well-versed in the world beyond the movies I craved a new experience in a galaxy far, far away. Instead I got a bumpy ride over well-tread ground. Maybe I’m asking too much of a glorified, toy-selling, money-printing, sci-fi fantasy pastiche. I just hope the House of Mouse delivers something better next time.