We Went to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Paddy Johnson and Michael Anthony Farley on January 7, 2016 Film + We Went To...

Star Wars, the Force Awakens

Star Wars BOOM

Plot Synopsis: So, the bad guys are at it again. The Empire’s been defeated, and in its place has risen the FIRST ORDER, a scary enemy that’s worse than the last one. They look even more like the Third Reich, have a bigger death star and an enormous new gun that destroys planets faster than ever. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker has vanished, so the Resistance needs a new recruit.

Could it be Rey? Played by Keira Knightley Daisy Ridley, this young, orphaned scavenger has much in common with Skywalker, namely employment and lost family members. She’s similarly made friends with BB-8, a robot that looks like Skywalker’s R2D2 but shaped like a two ball snowman. BB-8 carries appears to be USB stick that contains a map every evil doer with a connection to the FIRST ORDER wants.

This makes life difficult for Rey, who wants to do good by her new friend. But, she proves really good at fighting with the long metal stick filmmakers give her. Plus, she’s met a dream boat star trooper named Finn (John Boyega) who’s had enough of life as a slave in white armour. He’s black. Their escape from various headhunters brings them into contact with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca—still traders—and later Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)—now a general. Together they fight the bad guys.

Paddy: If this basic plot summary sounds remarkable for its lack of imagination, you’re not the only one who feels that way. The movie looks and feels like the original trilogy, but throughout, I found myself mentally editing the script, and re-imagining its scenes. Not a good sign.

Take what little there is of a script. Would it have been that difficult to come up with a reason for characters to say their lines past progressing a narrative? I’m thinking specifically here of conversations between Han and Leia, which consisted of weird furtive glances and exposition about their relationship that neither one of them would need to hear again. If the audience needed to know background on their relationship, couldn’t the writers just communicate that by having the two bicker like always? The writing was often shockingly lazy.

All that said, the movie’s much better than the three most recent productions. Thankfully there were no squirm-in-your-seat love scenes that tasked actors with discussing the basic tenets of democracy on a mountain top. And frankly, with the exception of Boyega, the acting was pretty good. So I enjoyed it, even though it’s objectively a bad movie.

Michael: This felt like a movie where about 1/1000th of the makers’ time and energy was budgeted for writing, and all other effort went into production. It’s more akin to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade than a work of narrative fiction. I saw The Force Awakens opening day and struggled with my conflicting desires to sit back and enjoy the spectacle or begin processing and formulating a response. Fortunately, this movie required so little thinking that I ended up basking in all the IMAX-3D explosion glory and saved my resentment for later. Mostly, I was looking for Lupita Nyong’o. It wasn’t until after the movie I realized they just cast her as the voice of Maz Kanata, the obligatory goofy animated character whose cartoonish interactions with actors is reminiscent of the loathed Jar Jar Binks. Didn’t anyone learn anything about the dangers of CGI characters from the disastrous prequels? Why would you waste having Lupita Nyong’o in your cast by not actually showing her? What movie was this again? Transformers 14: That Thing That Made Planet Go Boom: Age of Robot War?

Maz Petrillo

Paddy: Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t read more critics complain about the racial stereotypes of the Maz Kanata character. Is she not the equivalent of Whoopie Goldberg’s Guinan on Star Trek – the all seeing, ancient other with mystical knowledge. Here, Nyong’o, a black woman playing a character with Chinese characteristics complicates matters some, but I don’t think they negate the racial stereotypes that are perpetuated here.

Michael: I want to know how all these white people ended up on identical sun-drenched desert planets, but that’s a different story.

I’m also really confused as to why everyone thinks everything needs to be “rebooted” and that JJ Abrams is the man for the job.

Paddy: Some film critics have been more generous than us, but does everyone agree that JJ Abrams is all that? I’m afraid we’ll never be rid of him now that the movie has made a bazillion dollars at the box office.

Michael: I’m less upset about this than what he did to Star Trek… I mean, Jesus Christ! Product placement in the post-capitalist future? Gene Roddenberry is rolling in his space-grave. At least Star Wars has always been somewhat about creating new products to place—and many people have likened this movie to sitting through one long commercial designed to sell us on more Star Wars. It leads me to suspect that the point of these reboots is to recycle the same formulaic stories with progressively sexier stars and more “extreme” everything to make last decade’s merchandising obsolete. Obviously the entertainment industry is an industry, but it would be nice if Disney felt less like an assembly line.

But if we consider JJ Abrams as an auteur rather than factory worker, what is he trying to prove? Anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-dumber-and-with-a-bigger-budget? It seems like everything he touches is a vapid crowd-pleaser conceptualized by watching just the trailers for whatever movie he’s copying. I can’t wait for 2020, when we will undoubtedly see JJ Abrams’ Gone With The Wind, starring the CGI boobs of Megan Fox jiggling for 3 hours while the plantation Tara explodes in IMAX 3D, destroying all of the South in an all-consuming blaze of surround-sound and operatic score.

Speaking of which, I’m not sure what to make of Abrams’ penchant for destroying planets. Where did another Death Star even come from? Is the Empire now called “The First Order” to escape their creditors because they couldn’t pay off the first two? Why would you build essentially the same thing three times with near-identical design flaws?BB8

Paddy: Good question! I’m clearly not the Star Wars nerd you are, but I did want to see a different super weapon. A lot of time has passed since the first Star Wars were made. I feel like we should be able to imagine other types of scary destructive things.

Michael: And in defense of Star Wars nerds everywhere, I’d like to point out that stormtroopers aren’t supposed to be black—not because Star Wars fans are white supremacists—but because according to the on-screen Star Wars canon they’re all clones of Jango Fett, father of bounty hunter Boba Fett. Jango Fett and his clones were played by Temuera Morrison, a multiracial actor of Maori ancestry. Therefor stormtroopers should be played by Temuera Morrison lookalikes, who would be neither black nor white. Just as a clone of Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan should not have been played by super-white guy Benedict Cumberbatch in JJ Abram’s much-maligned Star Trek: Into Darkness. If you’re going to do something that’s entirely derivative, at least cite your sources correctly. It seems like Abrams has a problem casting brown actors. Which is insane, because New Zealand has an established film industry and there are lots of other Maori actors out there. Maybe it’s just easier to market action figures of black or white characters than minorities who are less visible in the media. And really, that’s what this terrible, terrible movie is all about.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: