Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars VII

(I'm writing this immediately following my viewing of the film opening night, but out of respect for people who haven't seen it yet, I will wait a few days before publishing.)

My thoughts on the new Star Wars movie are simple. It was a hugely disappointing remake of the original film.
Seriously...the plot was nearly identical.

I haven't yet read any reviews, or heard any opinions from critics, so these thoughts are entirely my own.

First of all, and probably most importantly, the pacing of the film was terrible. It dragged along with no clear direction or incentive.  The more bad films I see, the more I am convinced that proper pacing is the most critical element of a good film. For an enthusiastic amateur like myself, it's hard to explain exactly why the pacing was off, but you definitely feel it when it is. Some parts drag while other parts feel rushed, but worst of all is when plot elements are forced into place, with no logical path as to how or why. Plot devices that are too contrived don't feel genuine. When the pacing is good, you don't really notice because everything about the story flows naturally. Unfortunately I felt bored through most of The Force Awakens, and was constantly raising my eyebrow at things that didn't seem to work. In my opinion, the two critical things to create good pacing are a finely crafted script, and expert editing, and The Force Awakens didn't have either.

One of the elements of the film that especially didn't feel genuine was the humor. Although Star Wars is a sci-fi adventure with humorous elements, it is first and foremost a drama. Dramas must feel real and sincere, regardless of the context or setting.  In order to feel sincere, humor must be earned, and it has to develop naturally. Introduce humor too early and you tell the audience that this isn't to be taken seriously. That was the problem with The Force Awakens, they introduced humorous elements almost immediately and they felt out of place. Before we knew anything about the characters, they were cracking jokes and spouting off catchphrases and witty one-liners. It felt more like a comedic homage to Star Wars rather than an actual sequel.

As far as the acting goes, I will say that I was impressed with Daisy Ridley, but everyone else was disappointing, including the veterans of the series. Harrison Ford really seemed to be phoning-it-in, and John Boyega was just painful to watch. I typically love Domhnall Gleeson, but he felt terribly miscast. He was very much a paper-thin mustache-twirling villain. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren was a little more least until the mask came off, and then he was not at all convincing.

My biggest complaint about the film is that it didn't make me feel anything. I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn't care about their mission, I didn't feel like there was anything at stake, and worst of all, there were never any moments that made me want to cheer for anyone. There was just no feeling to the film at all. I got more feels from the trailer than I did from any part of the actual film. I don't know who edited the trailer, but they need to give J.J. Abrams some lessons.
As a side note, I find it odd that some of the best moments from the trailer, didn't make it into the finished film.

I'm not convinced that every great film must follow the textbook plot phases of exposition, rising and falling action, climax, and resolution, but there is no denying that this approach is effective. The Force Awakens kind of muddied those all together focusing too much on the rising and falling action, and lost the climax in the mix. Losing the climax really makes the resolution feel shallow, and leaves the audience with some level of dissatisfaction. A perfect example of film climax is in the original Star Wars. Amid the tension of the Death Star battle, Han Solo literally flies into action, allowing Luke to fire that final torpedo, and the audience is still in awe as the Death Star spectacularly explodes. The build up of tension takes quite a while, and the climactic moment takes all of ten seconds, but leaves the audience feeling totally satisfied. There was no clear moment like that in The Force Awakens. The final victory was too fragmented between the characters, and even after the big battle had been won, there were still other smaller battles just starting. Again, poor pacing, and no clear climax.

Based on his other films, I had almost no faith in J.J. Abrams when he was announced as the director. Despite that, I knew that he was a fan of Star Wars, and hoped that if he was ever going to break his pattern and do something especially well, it would be this film. Unfortunately my lack of faith has just been reinforced yet again. J.J. Abrams has no idea how to make a good original film. All he knows how to do is borrow elements from better films, and stitch them together into a hollow imitation. Very disappointing. As a long time Star Wars fan, I prefer to believe that the Timothy Zahn books are the true continuation of the films.

I give this film 2 stars out of 5.

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