Reviews

[Review] Star Wars: Episode VII


I guess I should say that I’m going to be doing a fair bit of spoiling here. But I don’t know what’ll get shown in the “previews” in various places, twitter, facebook, what have you. So what we’ll do is I’m going to talk about some other things first and THEN move into my thoughts. I don’t like going to movie theatres. They are just the most awful experience for me. This isn’t entirely on other people but it does spawn from their actions. I’ve mentioned this before but I just can’t not hear other people talking. When I’m in the mall and walking around I’m hearing just about every conversation going by. If I’m at work I’m getting bombarded by every inane conversation going down around me. Whether or not I “keep” the conversation running in my mind is another thing. Sometimes I decide that it’s boring and try to tune it out, but I usually fail. This is why I love headphones, they let me work. I don’t know how many other people have this issue but I can’t believe anyone gets anything done in an office environment. It’s just awful.

So in a movie theatre I’ve got one goal. I want to fall into the film. Once I start watching a movie I basically disembody. My attention is not so much focused on the film as it is within the film. Whenever a noise perks up it throws my body spatially back to where I’m sitting and it’s a bit like being in a car accident (I’ve been in a few). I’m started and annoyed, and naturally it’s never anything of value. If I am to truly enjoy a film I need silence. It’s one thing to laugh at funny parts, to gasp at scary or sad parts, or anything else like that. I’m not a robot, I think, I react to those moments too. They also take me out of the film momentarily, generally with a wrench to my heart or some other kind of punch depending.

When I can’t do this, when I can’t fall into the film, it’s miserable for me. Every minute that passes I get angrier, and angrier. Each person that talks becomes the newest source of my ire and I end up liking them less and less as a human being. In all the films I’ve gone to see with Liz I can’t recall a single thing ever being said by any person that added to the movie. It’s always something that could have waited until after. Each time it ruins the scene. Millions of dollars go into making these scenes have punch, to be funny, emotional, scary, what have you. They have people working long hours and under stressful conditions to make it all “work”. Then strangers basically shit all over it because they can’t keep their mouths shut for a couple hours.

For me Star Wars 7 was basically ruined as far as the above is concerned. I wanted to go see it and be immersed and I had to sit through people talking through every quiet scene. Exclaiming things that didn’t need exclaiming or just straight up ruining the tension by talking about what would be happening. It’s sad too because I feel like it tainted my opinion of the movie as a whole. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I gotten my time. I really wish movies were available at home on release. I just can’t deal with theatres anymore. I pay a lot of money to basically have strangers shit in my lap. That’s not my thing, I know some people like it, but I’m not a fan.

Now that I’ve ranted a bit I’ll talk about my feelings on the movie. I guess we’ll start with how it sounds and work backwards towards the plot. The sound design is astoundingly good. Whenever the movie was loud enough to drown out the people around me I could really taste the excellence. All of the music was excellent. Throughout the entire film I was thinking “I’d listen to this soundtrack anytime.” Actors wise everyone had delightful voices, I’m not saying that’s part of “sound design” per say, but it is easy to make a film bad by having one too many Bobcat Goldthwait’s in it. All the aliens were great, all the people were great, and all the SFX were great. Every blaster sound was crisp and sexy and every ship sound was awesome. This movie tickles my ears.

Visually the movie is stunning. That’s kind of a given these days I guess. But everything looks awesome. The blasters are cool, the locations are cool, and the…well…the cool is cool. The Starkiller base was awesome and I found myself instantly attached to it. “This is cool! This is like the most ominous thing I’ve ever seen!” When that ship destroyed the Republic after charging its weapon from a god damned sun I was like “Oh shit. I think I’m sold.”

That love was short lived. The pacing was off the chain and not in a good way. If they showed you something it was destroyed seemingly moments later. Beautiful Thai inspired structures housing lots of neat new aliens? Done. Five entire planets? Here and gone in almost the same minute. A planet converted into the raddest damn weapon ever in cinema (that I’m aware of)? Here and gone before it even gets to fire a second time. I’m surprised the Falcon even survived a scene. It seemed like they were dead set to just race to the end of the movie with no regard for anything along the way.

This was a bummer for me because the movie sort of treats you like a passenger. You, along with Fin and Rey, are basically fans of Star Wars that are being introduced to the world at large. You don’t belong here. As is made abundantly clear with both of them (and the audience…in my experience) losing their minds each time a keyword from the original series is prodded. Oh my word! THE Han Solo?! THE Millennium Falcon?! THE Luke Skywalker?! THE Darth Vader?! C-3PO! HOLY SHIT IS THAT R2-D2?!

You are all wondering this brave new galaxy, visitors who want to basically absorb everything around you. This beautiful world that reminds you of a better time. But each time you get settled into a location it is obliterated utterly. I can only hope that this pacing won’t carry into the 8th and 9th films because it’ll be a tough pill to swallow. I don’t think I’d be able to marathon 3 films that move along at such a breakneck pace.

The acting though is pretty damn good throughout. Fin is wonderful and I’m kinda sad someone like him hasn’t been in all the movies. Rey is cool. Once they got over the “I’m a strong independent woman that don’t need no man.” thing they did in the beginning I liked her. I’m not saying that’s a bad message to send people, but the way they presented it was a bit uncomfortable. You’ve got Fin, someone whose been abused and controlled all his life, scared and alone meeting the first person who has ever shown him any level of interest. The first person who has ever treated him like another person. Of course he’d be clingy! This isn’t about the patriarchy, these are the actions of someone broken. Once they stopped the whole “Look the man is trying to save her but she’s the strong one.” and moved onto teamwork and both of them growing as characters I was much happier. I worried the entire film was going to be about Fin being awkward and her being grumpy at anything with a Y Chromosome.

I was more disappointed with the arrival of Han Solo. I don’t think a single person on this Earth expected him to survive this movie. It really felt like he was introduced for no better reason than to kill him. I’ll explain in a few paragraphs (if that far) what I’d have preferred they done but ultimately its over now. Because it was so glaringly predictable it lost a lot of the punch that could have been achieved. It’s like seeing a horror film where one person is a famous actor and everyone else is a nobody. You won’t be surprised when other characters die, they are only there to die.

Up until he dies his acting is spot on though. Harrison Ford is a wonderful actor. I don’t know if he’s a nice guy or anything but his acting abilities have never disappointed me. He just comes across as a really fun, really neat person.

Carrie Fisher did a great job as Leia again. Her position at the head of the rebel army seems real fitting. I’ll be honest, even with people tearing me away from the movie she was able to nearly get me wet in the eyes at least once. I really felt like she was heartbroken with her son. Kylo Ren is pretty much fine with me. Adam Driver does a fine job as the villain, again, in a moment I’ll talk about how I wish they handled him, but ultimately he’s just fine. When he stopped that blaster shot in the beginning I was like…holy shit. This is the raddest thing I’ve seen (this is before the Star Killer base, naturally). His lightsaber is cool to me and it really does show he’s learned from his ancestors. His grandfather lost his hand (and…well most everything else), then his uncle lost his hand. He’s not interested in getting his hand sliced off.

The fight scenes were real good! Now that I’m thinking about it. Rey versus Kylo was a delight for me. As was the shorter fight between Kylo and Fin. And lest we forget the Fin versus Fwip Stormtrooper. “TRAITOR!” That guy, whoever that was, pretty cool!

Anyways. Let’s talk about what I wish had been different and then close out with my concluding thoughts on the movie.

Firstly, when Kylo stops that blaster shot in the beginning I was floored. That was just so cool. But I think it would have been pretty great to show us just how ruthless the First Order are. When they bring the guy up who shot the blaster they should have walked him up to the blaster shot and slowly pressed him against it to get information. Then, when he doesn’t crack, they walk him off with them (as they did) and then the blast continues onwards and hits the fountain like it did in the original. This would have been really tense and fairly clever.

The next thing is the Starkiller base. This was a profoundly interesting set piece and a genius idea. If the planet the rebels are on was destroyed their organization would be relegated to the stars. A mobile enemy is far more dangerous than one that is grounded. Additionally this would mean the star the Starkiller base is around would be depleted (as it was drained to a dark husk, somehow, in the film). So the base would need to move. This provides you with a really cool impetus for the second film. Especially if we find out that the rebel base that IS hit is not the main one. Perhaps via bad information or maybe the rebels knew they’d be followed. So basically, we keep thinking the rebel base is going to be obliterated in this movie and then after the blast is fired the rebels watch a far off planet explode.

In either case, that would have been fun for me. Really tugging people along and not giving them a hint to what was coming until after the big moment has concluded.

Nextly, Han Solo and Kylo Ren. What would have been really clever here is to make everyone think that Han Solo is going to die (as we all did anyways) and make it really seem like he will. Then we get to that “will they, won’t they” moment. We hear the lightsaber flash on, maybe Chewie screams or something. Fires at Kylo who jumps back revealing he turned on the saber in Han’s hands. Han holds onto the saber, the burning blade from it mere inches from his heart. He looks up to his son and realizes that he teeters on the edge of light and darkness (much like Luke, or Darth before him). Another blaster shot from Chewie, Kylo tugs the saber from Han’s hands and slashes the blaster shot out of the sky. It explodes blinding him for a moment. When he regains his vision Han has backed out with Chewie.

Enraged by his failure, Kylo goes after Rey and Fin, just as he had before. But instead of having a tough time fighting because of his injury, he has a tough time because he is furious with himself. Furious at his weakness. It clouds his vision and hinders his control of the force. Ultimately this weakness is what leads to him losing to Rey. He sees this as a sign that he must kill his father, that his decision not to is what lead to his facial injury.

Additionally this startles the audience because EVERYONE thought Han would die! If he didn’t see it as a sign to kill his father it could be a great turning point for him in Episode 8. During an altercation of some sort he accidentally wounds his father. Holding him in his hands, just as Luke had Darth, but instead of this being the moment of his father’s salvation, it becomes his damnation. Turning him to the dark side, truly.

That’s all I remember from the film that bothered me, not much really. And nothing I said above is “better” objectively. It’s just things that would have been better for me. My experience at the movie theatre was bad, arguably terrible. But my current feelings is that the movie was good. I feel like a movie feeling good, when my time watching the movie is terrible, suggests that the movie was otherwise great. It’s not the best film I’ve ever seen, and I don’t think it’s the best star wars ever made (since its basically a retread of Episode 4), but it is leaps and bounds better than the 1st prequel film.

The action was solid, the actors were solid, the plot was solid. Everything about it felt impassioned and almost no scene was plagued with data. Lucas had a big problem with thinking “more == better” when really too much data leads to a difficulty parsing out the noise. Before you know it you aren’t sure who to be listening to, who to be watching, or even why you are trying. It feels disrespectful to the viewer. All the remasters of the original films came across to me as a direct insult to anyone they were marketed to. Suggesting that we couldn’t handle the more reserved original releases or that we need things to constantly be in our face to remain focused.

The prequels pushed this further. Everything felt loud and childish, obnoxious and rude. This movie was loud and boisterous when it needed to be and quiet and contemplative when it needed to be. The pacing was still too fast but I never found myself insulted by the movie. It wanted me to have fun, and it was a fun film. I’m going to give it a great but it’ll be sorta limited to the time between now and when I get to “really” see it on digital release. Once I can watch it without people invading my space or my mind I’ll know for sure.

Final Thoughts

A solid film that, while moving a bit too fast at times, bleeds passion from all the actors and behind the scenes workers. Certainly worth your time, possibly not in theatres if you are anything like me, but eventually.

Overall Score 4