Let us speak frankly and openly of ‘The Force Awakens’

Look, Chewie! It turns out Thomas Wolfe was completely wrong!

Look, Chewie! It turns out Thomas Wolfe was completely wrong!




OK, I’ve seen the new “Star Wars” now (I deliberately waited until a quiet Monday night more than a week after the opening, and was rewarded by not having to put up with a boisterous crowd), and if you’re much of a fan you’ve probably seen it now, too.

So let’s speak openly of what we’ve seen, which means we will speak almost entirely in SPOILERS.

Well, what did you think?

I’ll start…

First, it was great. I was not disappointed. No, not as great as seeing the first one 38 years ago, when Han Solo and I were both young and roguish and I wasn’t expecting to see anything that much fun; it was a miraculous surprise. That time, I drove away from the theater — the Park in Memphis — filled with the excitement of the Death Star battle scene, and could not shake the feeling that my sad little orange Chevy Vega was an X-wing fighter. The sensory stimulation was with me for some time.

This time I was more grounded as I left. I knew I was driving a Buick. But I did catch myself humming the theme music — rather loudly, so it was hard to miss.

No, I’m not kidding: Spoilers are coming right NOW

And it gave me goosebumps at all the right places — when the newbie heroes find the Millennium Falcon. When Han and Chewie come aboard (and Chewie was more fun than ever in this one; he’s obviously been working on the timing of his comically expressive shrugs and Wookie noises), when Leia steps off that ship and sees Han — even when C3PO and R2 show up.

And when, at the very end, The One is found. Which was a special delight for me because my son, who had seen it before, had tried to prepare me for disappointment by telling me he wasn’t in it. What he had meant was that he wasn’t really in it in the sense of participating in any sort of action or engaging with the rest of the characters. But that turned out to be a wonderful UNspoiler for me: There he was after all, and he was in it exactly as much as I would have hoped, since I was told from the start that the movie was about a quest to find him — it was in the trademark screen crawl at the start (which was the first occasion for goosebumps, I now recall). And there he was at the end! So the movie has that going for it, which, as Carl Spackler would say, is nice.

I had read that J.J. Abrams didn’t try to get fancy: He knew what the fans liked and he gave it to them. He was like Paul McCartney. You know how most rock stars hate doing their hits for their fans, and despise the multitude for not appreciating their new stuff? Not Paul. He’s always loved being a Beatle, and he’ll give you “All My Loving” ’til the cows come home.

And he delivered. No fanboy would have done it better. But at this point I will share a few quibbles:

  1. Was it absolutely necessary to follow the plot of the original quite that closely? Let’s see… Desperate character plants a software file in a droid because the bad guys are bearing down. Evil empire searches for the droid. Humble character (who is unknowingly chock full o’ the Force) rescues droid from creepy little scavenger creature. Heroes, including one who wants nothing to do with heroism, are borne to the rebel base by the Millennium Falcon, which offers mechanical trouble on the way. Then it turns out that the main threat to the rebellion comes from — a Death Star. OK, so it’s way bigger than a Death Star, but as Han says, yeah, so it’s big; so what? It turns out to have — you guessed it — an enormous, obvious vulnerability on its surface. Hit it and the whole thing blows. (Apparently.  the engineering standards in this galaxy far, far away were not very exacting.) And — a bonus — this vulnerable spot is WAY bigger than a womp rat. So you know this evil base is going to go kablooey. The only question is whether our heroes can get clear of it in time.
  2. Were those really quibbles, or were all those elements precisely what made it so much fun? I remain unsure.
  3. What a wuss of a bad guy! The first time he takes off his helmet, one can’t help thinking, What, they couldn’t get David Schwimmer? They had to go with this poor substitute nebbish? In the climactic fight, he gets beaten not just by a girl half his size, but by a girl half his size with no Jedi training whatsoever. There he is looming over her, wrestling for the light sabers, and she evidently has much greater upper body strength. My older son pointed out after the movie that he had been shot by Chewbacca’s crossbow weapon, which they had demonstrated several times during the film had quite a kick to it, so there’s that. He wasn’t at his best. But still, I’ll say it again: What a wuss of a villain.
  4. Speaking of which… We’re all looking for Luke because we need him, right? And we need him why? Because the Force was always so strong with him. But he was a slouch compared to this girl. She’s able to use Jedi Mind Control as effectively as Obi Wan himself, when she’d probably never even heard of it? I half expected it to backfire, and have the trooper slap himself in the forehead and say, “Those were the droids we were looking for!” But no. It worked. Worked so beautifully that they had a little fun with it. So what does she need Luke for? She’s got all the chops now. She’s got the mind control thing. She can already take out the baddest guy the Dark Side can whistle up. Why bother? Let him stay on his craggy little island…
  5. Oh, and the low point of the movie — when the beloved character is killed? Some people behind me gasped and cried out in shock. Really? They didn’t see that coming? I knew it was over when he walked out on that catwalk thing. I’m sad about it and all, but he was awesome to the end.

OK, that’s all — and I’m stretching to come up with those, just to get a conversation started.

Really, truly, quibbles aside, I loved it. Just as I was supposed to…

24 thoughts on “Let us speak frankly and openly of ‘The Force Awakens’

  1. Bill

    OK.I’ve only seen parts of the first star wars, but thanks for this synopsis.It sounds GREAT to quote tony the tiger…

  2. Dave Crockett

    Four of us children of the late ’60s LOVED it! I intentionally had steered clear of any potential spoilers, so all the surprises came as such. My own ponderings include:
    1. How the hell did ‘Ben’ locate the helmet of his late grandfather? I thought Luke had created a pretty effective pyre
    2. How does BB8 manage to maneuver with that roly-poly construction, especially when he was negotiating steps?
    3. How much better CAN they make the special effects? They were amazing, even in ‘Real D’.

    We saw the flick at a 1 p.m. Tuesday matinee at one of the new theaters in Myrtle Beach and were floored that we could find a theater so clean, neat and nicely equipped that only hit us us up for $5/head admission! Even the medium popcorn and drink only came to $10!

  3. David Carlton

    I saw it with family in Sumter this past weekend (Yes, I was a South Carolinian again for a few days); I had never seen any others besides the first (which was one of the greatest joys of my moviegoing life), but my niece boned me up on *The Empire Strikes Back* and *Return of the Jedi* as prep. I was struck most of all, first, at how greatly improved the special effects were over the earlier installments, and, secondly, what a thrill it was to see Han Solo again, and how devastating it was to lose him. Otherwise, same old same old (though Rey is great, even if she’s a Mary Sue). One critic complained that it was a Harry Potter version of the saga, meaning that it had stripped the mythic depth of the original and made it into a children’s movie. Given that Harry Potter is permeated with mythic tropes (and, speaking as a fan, I find it a saga with far more emotional and moral depth), I found that bizarre–but then this guy thought the prequels were pearls cast before swine, so whatever. I’ve never quite understood the cult, and understand it less now. It was satisfying, but it doesn’t have me on the edge of my seat waiting for VIII.

  4. Doug Ross

    Won’t see it. Never saw the originals except for one my son asked me to take him to long ago and it was pretty awful with Jar Jar Binks and amateurish acting.

    But I did see The Big Short yesterday and it was the best movie I saw this year.

  5. Norm Ivey

    I felt like I’d seen it all before, and I know I’ve seen better 3D (but at least they weren’t gimmicky with that aspect). I had read recently that Ford was not offered a contract for the next flick, so I figured he was due. He could no longer believably pull off the Erroll Flynn side of the character, but Finn should fill the void nicely.

    Who are Rey’s parents? I’m thinking Luke and some as yet unknown woman. I don’t think she’s Kylo Ren’s brother because there was no recognition, and no moment between her and Han.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Just saw it in an IMAX theater yesterday. I had to stay away from the blog for awhile because I didn’t want to spoil anything. The IMAX itself was a very cool experience. First reaction: the movie was great. J.J. Abrams did a much better job than Lucas did with the prequels.

    Small criticism – I would have liked for Rey to struggle a bit more with the force. She’s almost too much of a natural. Remember in the first movie, where Luke is learning to use the lightsaber against the little remote training device? He struggles with it at first. It’s helpful to have a main character that has to work at something because the payoff when he accomplishes the goal is much bigger. If everything comes naturally and easily, then there’s not much drama.

    (To further illustrate the point: even in Empire Strikes Back, Luke can’t lift his X-Wing out of the swamp, which enables Yoda to have a “teachable moment”.)

    So that’s a small quibble. Overall, Rey is a great main character. Her parallels with Luke are well-done. I like that Abrams developed her character along with Finn. I actually care about what happens to them. Contrast that with the Prequels, where there was zero character development.

    As for Kylo Ren, I think he’s a well-done Star War antagonist. I don’t mind that he isn’t super-burly. It’s not necessary for him to be some big muscle-bound bad guy. I like that there’s a back story of him being trained by Luke, but then turning bad. Hopefully, Abrams explores this more in the next movie.

    There was also some good comedic relief in the form of Finn’s interaction with Han Solo. Contrast that with the comedic relief Lucas attempted of Jar-Jar Binks and physical comedy which didn’t work at all.

    The whole audience laughed when Finn was getting carried away with the “I’m in charge, I’m in charge” line and Han tells him to calm down a bit.

    Overall, great movie. For me, the best goosebump moment was right at the beginning. I’m sitting in a dark theater, and the classic blue letters of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” are on the screen for a second, and a second later the big John Williams fanfare hits you right in the face.

    I love that part.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, and that moment was almost ruined for my elder son, who had been waiting for the moment his whole life (after having been bitterly disappointed by the prequels).

      Some obnoxious child behind him greeted that part by loudly going, “Da-DAH! Da-da-da-DA-dah! Da-da-da-DAH-dah, DAH-da-da-DAAAGGHHHH…”

  7. Scout

    I liked it alot but was also mildly troubled by the redundant plot. Still I did like it alot. I found myself wondering though why Leia or Han or someone in the resistance didn’t pull Rey aside eventually, when her ability with the force had become apparent, and say – OK, tell us what you know of your family – just who exactly are you? I spent the first half of the movie thinking she was maybe a twin of Ben Solo, but when Leia didn’t appear to have a clue – I started suspecting she must be a kid of Luke’s. However I have since read some theories on the internet by people who apparently devote their lives to such things and there is a pretty significant theory out there that she may be Obi Wan’s grand kid. Also these people who do nothing but analyze these things have apparently determined that in the flashback/visions she had when she touched the light saber that there is a scene of her very young dressed like a jedi in training – so they suspect she was at Luke’s school before he shut it down. So maybe she does have some training……that she somehow doesn’t consciously remember????

    I dunno, but it was good. I am sad about Han though.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “I liked it alot but was also mildly troubled by the redundant plot.”

      Yeah, it was pretty much a carbon copy of A New Hope.

      – Bad Guys chasing droid with secret plans;
      – Young and reluctant hero pulled into big conflict;
      – Main bad guy wears a scary black mask;
      – Young hero helped by Han Solo and Chewie;
      – Bad Guys building giant super weapon that destroys whole planets;
      – Giant super weapon has a glaring weakness which good guys exploit;
      – Giant super weapon is blown up, everyone cheers!

      I wouldn’t have minded seeing the bad guys stop trying to build giant super weapons that destroy planets. You know, after two Death Stars are blown up, instead of building a third one, maybe it’s time to shake up the playbook.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          They’re just Keynesians. Building a death star every 20 or so years has a big multiplier effect.

          1. Brad Warthen

            Right up to the mall nuts it gets blown up, they can employ all those guys in the useless white armor, marching around and shouting “Resistance is useless!”

            No, wait… That’s the Vogons.

            Do you suppose they’re deliberately leaking the plans that reveal the huge vulnerability, just so the rebels can blow it up and they can start on a new one?

        2. Bryan Caskey

          This just made me wonder: Do the Storm-Troopers get paid? Do they have a Storm-Troopers union that advocates for better working hours, better armor, better pension benefits? It seems like the Storm-Troopers are victims of the Robber-Baron Dark Side Sith Lords.

          Bud, we need you on this, stat!

            1. Bryan Caskey

              Amen. What exactly does that armor protect against, anyway? One shot takes down a Storm-Trooper every time.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Riffing further on Bryan’s point…

            John Boyega’s character says he was chosen to be a trooper at an extremely early age, and all he had ever been taught was how to be a storm trooper.

            Yet throughout the film, he exhibited behavior that seemed inconsistent with that backstory.

            For instance — when he first sees Rey, she is beset by some bad guys, and despite his own problems, his immediate response is to rush to her rescue. Really? Is aiding damsels in distress a value they drill into you at Storm Trooper school? For that matter, aiding anybody under any circumstances? I would have thought their training would have concentrated on such things as obeying without question when told to kill everyone in the village.

            Throughout, he acted like a guy who had had a fairly normal upbringing and was filled with bourgeois, even noble, values, for whom being a trooper was a brief parenthesis, and one to which he was ill suited.

            But where did his decent impulses come from?

  8. Barry

    Took my family Saturday- actually they took me.

    We really enjoyed it.

    I also enjoyed debating with my 15 year old son our “edits” to the movie had we made it. That’s what is fun about Star Wars movies. You can debate stuff like that for fun and enjoy it because there are so many possibilities.

    The special effects were fantastic and very believable.

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