Okay, I’ve been dying to post this but didn’t want to post a no-spoiler “oh it’s great” or “oh it sucks” review because, quite frankly, those belong on twitter. (Follow me on twitter, btw-@somnicidal for a wide variety of topics from nerd gaming to writing to whatever else strikes my fancy, or if you want to see just writerly specific stuff @authorpb- this one is much more focused has much less traffic, but is less likely to annoy you.) I figure it has been long enough for the moratorium on spoilers to be lifted-if it is that big of a deal to you, you’ve seen the movie and if it isn’t then you probably don’t care. If you do care, but haven’t seen the movie then I’m sorry, you probably live in my hometown of Portales, NM where there isn’t even a movie theater any more (for those of you who have seen the movie, imagine Jakku, only flatter and with more scrub bushes and you have a pretty accurate picture.)
This is also going to be a multi-part review because I don’t want it to be super long, and I have a lot to say about this movie, both in terms of the film itself, and more importantly to me, the characters. Each of the new characters will likely get a post entirely to themselves whereas the old timers will have to share one. It sucks, but I am sure they will deal.
This first post, I am going to be talking about my feelings and general impressions and lots of other vague largely indefinable things that make movies magic when they work and tragic when they don’t.
Let me start off by saying I wasn’t as excited as a lot of people to see this movie. I wasn’t down on it, but I wasn’t chomping at the bit. It looked like it was going to be a decent tent pole science fiction movie with lots of action and some decent character interactions but I as someone who isn’t into identity politics I wasn’t blown away by the leads all being “minorities” (though with women being basically half the population I think that’s a laughable term but whatever); I wasn’t offended either, I just didn’t really care, as long as the characters were cool and the actors portraying them did a good job. That being said, I do recognize that this is a big deal for some people who feel underrepresented and seeing the leads in such a major film is huge win for them and I think that is awesome.
Anyway back to the story at hand, no wait, let’s go back in time to a young boy named Patrick who was blown away by Star Wars and loved it so much that he walked all over his tiny town of Portales checking the change return in virtually every the phone booth, video game, and pinball machine in that tiny town to scrape up enough change to watch Star Wars (it was just Star Wars to me, not a New Hope yet) again and again and again back when Portales DID have a theater. That was a magical summer, and I scraped enough change out of those machines to watch it by myself twelve or thirteen times that summer (movies used to be cheaper in those days-and free range kids weren’t an oddity). I loved those movies. I wanted to be Han Solo. For a while, I was convinced I would grow up to BE Han Solo, all of my roleplaying characters for years after were some variation on Han Solo (now you guys know why I usually played Rangers and Rogues!) Empire blew my freaking mind (‘nuff said), and Return of the Jedi… well, let’s just say that we should have seen the prequels coming.
Okay, now back to the story at hand (really this time). This time around I had cash in pocket to pay for the tickets and such luxuries as popcorn and drinks and my lovely wife along for the experience. Our children were with their grandparents and it was the early afternoon showing on a Monday morning a couple of weeks after the initial mad rush so I was pretty much as carefree as is possible to get these days. In other words, perfect movie-watching conditions. We arrived early (whenever possible, I am an early arriver (two hours for a flight, 20 minutes minimum for a movie) and we had good seats, right in the middle.
Trailers commenced, and then the John Williams score and the crawl. It was perfect and then… four periods? Seriously, an ellipsis with four periods? I’m sure the originals must have had that too and they are just keeping the theme (I looked it up, they do, all save episode VI which apparently should have been called Return of the Grammar) but still, ugh and how did I not notice that? Or more importantly, how was I able to ignore it and why I can’t I now? Oh but hey, planet, cool.
This isn’t going to be a scene-by-scene review, as I mentioned above, really, just more of an impression and I am going to get to the meat of it. This post is really just to set the stage for the following posts and I have already rambled on much longer than I expected to.
The rest of the movie was well paced. For a movie of its length it never felt like it dragged. The special effects were flawless, both the practical and the digital. The dogfights were amazing and made me want to be a starfighter pilot like nothing since the Hoth battle. And yes, I know that the Snowspeeders aren’t starfighters but the sentiment stands. The new main characters that were introduced will be covered in greater detail as mentioned above, and the lesser characters were interesting enough. I didn’t really care for Maz, she felt a bit like more of a plot point than a character, but from what I understand a lot of her parts ended up on the cutting room floor, so perhaps the inevitable extended cut will help redeem her.
Overall the dialogue was solid, there were some truly funny lines and some great interactions between some of the characters. There was a lot of humor, and I feel that is where all of the truly great lines were. In fact, thinking of the lines that stand out to me, I can’t remember and awesome lines, only funny ones. There were so many great lines in the original couple of movies that entered pop culture that they seem tired now, but at the time, they were mind blowing. I was really hoping for something like that. I really wanted Kylo Ren to have something impressive. A catch phrase, a tic, something. His tantrums were… that is a post for another day. And that day is here.
There were some scenes that didn’t really seem necessary in the film, the giant tentacle monsters (rathtars) in Han’s ship, for example. I get that it was necessary to get them off of his larger salvage boat and onto the Falcon but the two parties that came to collect off of Han could easily have served the same purpose. I see reference to the idea that Han was supposed to be Rey’s “mentor” but it didn’t really play out in the movie. Again, looking forward to an extended cut.
I liked the Starkiller base, I know a lot of people have given it grief, but honestly, a weapon like that you only plan to use once or twice anyway and I think it definitely had its desired effect. Think about a weapon taking out Washington DC, New York, LA, Seattle, Dallas, and Denver simultaneously (though more analogous would be the entire states surrounding them, since the natural resource loss would also be significant, not to mention the morale hit). That would be a pretty solid blow to the US. The base seemed to be on a pretty remote planet, that didn’t seem to have a ton of resources or population so I think that is definitely a win for the First Order.
Overall, aside from minor nitpicks (which all movies have, and all books, and all tv shows – my own works included), it was a good, fun, popcorn movie. We left the theater and talked about it after the drive. What we liked about it, what we didn’t. My general feeling when I left was, it was pretty decent. It wasn’t great, and I wasn’t blown away, but I didn’t feel like I wasted my time or my “movie pass”. People who are calling it a remake are just being lazy, it definitely isn’t that, but I do feel that it is something of a reboot (and not necessarily in a good way). The filmmakers spent a lot of time looking back and honoring the previous movies (and winking at the audience), and that’s great, but I would have liked some more time looking forward and being less self-serving. So, the today me probably wouldn’t walk all over town looking for change to see it again because to me it was just a decent action movie. The 13 year old me (due to the rating)? Maybe. Maybe my issues with it in terms of structure. In seeing the things they were trying to do and failed because of constraints in the allotted time which frustrated me wouldn’t frustrate that kid because he wouldn’t know better. I feel like perhaps Eve must have felt in having tasted the apple of knowledge. I find myself wondering if I were able to overlook those flaws, and be that kid again (FOUR FREAKING DOTS?!?!) perhaps it wouldn’t have been just a movie, it would have been magic for me and I would have been immersed in the universe that meant so much to a younger me. Maybe it is just the nostalgia of an older man wishing his knees didn’t hurt and he could run and hold that X-Wing toy out in front of him and see the lasers shooting out of it rather than knowing he’s just pretending. That, ultimately, my problem with the movie, it made me long for the older movies rather than the next one.
Anyway, that was my impression of the movie. It was a fine movie, but it wasn’t magic. I’m hopeful that Episode 8, will begin to look forward, having paid homage to those who came before will stand up and create its own magic and have ME look forward.
Come back next week as we begin our journey into the characters to find out my thoughts. Let me know which character you want me to cover first.