Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review

I have never been more frightened to write a review in my entire life.  I think Disney could have saved millions of dollars on promotion by just releasing one trailer, and letting the Church of Star Wars fanboys/fangirls do the rest.  The indoctrination of the masses has reached epic brainwashing proportions, and it seems you can't even have a serious intellectual debate anymore.  Either you love everything about Star Wars, or you're an idiot, a loser and probably a bed wetter.  Actually, you can dislike Star Wars... as long as you're talking about the Prequels. 

But I'm not here to rehash my love of sci-fi/fantasy, imagination, creativity and respect for the mythos George Lucas created.  Nor am I here to talk about my utter disdain for J.J. Abrams as a director, as I did here, and here... and here.  I'm here to say that I finally found a theater that wasn't sold out, that had available parking, and post Christmas shopping stupidity to finally watch Star Wars Episode VII:  The Force Awakens.

The plot (non-spoiler):  It's Star Wars, thirty years after Return of the Jedi.

After watching with a very open mind, in my humble opinion (if I'm still allowed to have one), there were many elements I enjoyed!  And some parts... I didn't *ducks*  If you loved it, that's great!  I'm very happy for you!  But I want to be clear about why I didn't enjoy SOME of it, so I'd like to break down all the players (playas?) as clearly as I can, so I don't get beaten up by nerds/geeks for my lunch money.  And for the record, these are my opinions.  I'm not trying to jump on some bantha wagon of haters and I'm not trying to use any jedi mind tricks on anyone.  I can only hope you can understand my perspective.

The real hero of this movie is producer Kathleen Kennedy. I'm beginning to appreciate more and more how much influence a good or bad producer has on the final release.  Many years ago, an idiot producer named Rick McCallum played Yes-Man to every moronic idea from George Lucas and helped create three movies with very little substance but lots of pretty effects.  Today, we call them Prequels.  Another director I used to love, Zack Snyder, was guided to make the horrible appearance of Man of Steel.  Then you have Kevin Feige, who is the super genius that produced some of the greatest Marvel movies ever, (Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, etc).  And Gary Kurtz, the original producer of Star Wars A New Hope, helped prove there is good in Lucas after all.  Ironically, Rick McCallum was producer of the Special Edition.

Kathleen Kennedy's credits include the original Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jurassic Park, and many more.  And maybe they can't all be winners, *COUGH*indianajonesandthecrystalskull*COUGH*, but she definitely has proven she knows how to oversee and guide a project to create a fantastic film.  So, credit where credit is due... She helped reign in director J.J. Abrams, because it doesn't look like his typical style.  Maybe she helped him understand what a real color palette is, and convinced him not to use the shaky cam, and finally helped him recover from his lens flare addiction.  Or maybe they had many important meetings after reading my blogs.

Either way, giving proper credit, Abrams made a lot of fun ship battles.  There were some great moments watching the Millennium Falcon and X-Wings flying around.  And I have said in the past, he knows how to make ships look cool as he did in his version of Star Trek.  So for the most part, visually, surprisingly, it works.

Now let's talk story...

The credits list Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt.  I want to know exactly who wrote what for this movie.  I have a lot of respect for Kasdan for writing the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.  I respect Arndt for writing Oblivion... but that's about it.  Abrams helped create/wrote for Lost and Fringe, which are two shows I kind of liked... sometimes.  So I want to know what each person added to The Force Awakens, because honestly... the writing was just okay. 

There were some nice ideas, but for the most part, the plot was very thin, and a re-hash of everything we saw in A New Hope.  And I'm pretty sure they pulled the Devil/Super-Devil scene from Family guy, ("This here's your Death Star.  And this is the Super Death Star.").  Sure we get some interesting new characters that have a lot of potential, and there were some nice lines of dialogue... but some eye rolling lines of dialogue as well.  It does have a decent sense of humor, and lots of fun action sequences, but almost no backstory that gives any motivation and help us understand exactly what's going on and why.

"Oh Deeesher, you're such a hater and total idiot!!  Everything will be explained later!".  And that's fine, you moronic lump of clay but I prefer my movies to be reasonably self contained.  I don't mind ending on a cliff hanger, and I don't mind wondering about certain aspects of a movie.  I don't need everything spoon-fed to me, but I think there were plenty of missed opportunities to give us a solid foundation of characters and situations that we could clearly understand and care about much more. 

For example, think about Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars Ep. IV.  Between worrying if he could get to Tosche Station or not, whether his uncle would ground him forever for losing a droid, hoping he gets enough blue milk in his diet, and wondering if he can ever get off this sandy rock to have some excitement in his life as he stared into the beautiful twin sunsets of Tatooine against the powerful John Williams score, we really cared about Luke!  We wanted him to get the girl, and we were eager for him to learn more about The Force. 

This is the basis of a hero's journey!  How about Guardians of the Galaxy?  As a young boy, we see Peter Quill's mother die and suddenly he's taken away and in that very short scene, we choke back the tears as we instantly care about what happens to this character.  Steve Rogers from Captain America, was a little guy who got beat up all the time and did all he could to save everyone including jumping on a grenade, even though he didn't know it was a dud, long before he ever got his super powers.  Or how about the 1978 Incredible Hulk TV series, where in the first 5 minutes, Banner dreams of his wife and their wonderful marriage, and her sudden death as he wakes up in bed alone.  THOSE are powerful moments in character development! 

Now in Ep. VII, we get Rey and Finn, who make very sudden rash decisions based on... what???   Someone suddenly getting a conscience for no apparent reason, isn't quite enough for me to care about what happens to them.  Someone living alone on Not-Tatooine, collecting junk for muffin powder, isn't really pulling at my heartstrings much.  I care just enough to keep watching, but I'm not really emotionally invested in them like I should be.  As it was, in my theater, there were moments of lol, but nobody cheered, because there was no real attachment to these people.  The entire movie is set up for sequels, which I think is just poor writing.  A New Hope is awesome, because we care about what happens to those characters, and we don't need to see the other movies to understand it.

The acting was good and the new cast did a great job, but the older classic characters felt out of place.  It was as if older people were just pretending to be Han Solo and Leia.  Ironically, Chewbacca and C3PO still felt like Chewbacca and C3PO.  I think we could have had a movie that focused on the legacy of those classic characters, without actually seeing them.   The galaxy is a big place, and with the Force, lightsabers, X-wings, TIE Fighters, and even the Millennium Falcon, there was enough to help us understand and accept this as a continuation of the story.

So, sure it was enjoyable, but it didn't feel like THE GREATEST MOVIE IN THE HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND!!!  It felt like a way overly hyped fan film.  It just didn't make me feel like I was eight years old again.  I have plenty of other movies and TV shows that do that.  If I had to rate it, if Slave Leia is a perfect score, and Jar Jar is the lowest, I would give this an IG-88.  Sure he looks cool and plenty of details to examine, but he didn't really do much and we don't know anything about him, (assuming Disney destroyed all canon regarding him as well). 

And for all you idiots that think I'm not open minded enough to see this objectively, I will remind the members of the jury how I was really excited about the new Star Trek movies, and I was disappointed, and how I really didn't think Avengers would work, but I loved it, (read all about it here).

And now, since it seems I have failed in my teachings... I will go into hiding for thirty years.  If you need me, I'll leave a partial map in my droid.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why I Hate Star Wars

Okay, I'll confess to a bit of click bait with this title, because I don't hate Star Wars.  The fact is, I want to love it!  But in my professional opinion, there is definitely a great disturbance in the force.  Sadly it seems, most eager fanboys/girls are too weak minded to see the Jedi mind tricks being used on us. 

"...omg omg omg look it's an X-Wing!!"
"...Look, it's Han Solo.... *squeeeeeee*!!"
"...I feel like I'm 8 years old again!!"
 *le sigh*

In the interest of full disclosure, I really enjoy my sci-fi (shocking, I know).  Since I was a wee little nerdling, I have loved things filled with imagination, and creativity and always look for something exciting and different and maybe even inspiring.  That's just how my brain works.  So long ago, it was easy for me to jump on the Star Wars bantha wagon with everyone else, collecting way too many toys and action figures and cards and bed sheets and toothbrushes and mugs and props and.... you get the idea.

What made Star Wars fun for me, was that it was new and different.  George Lucas invented a universe of great characters, places, and an exciting mythology that helped us easily forget about the real world.  And once that template was created, it opened up millions of possibilities.

But with such a vast universe to choose from, can all the stories be great?  I think the Prequels clearly answered that question.   There are definitely plenty of trash compactors trying to crush the life out of you in a galaxy far, far away.

"Oh Deeesher, you're just a hater and jaded by the prequels too much...!"
Untrue, my young Padawan.  There are a few aspects about the Prequels I liked!  I think Lucas could have created a great series from them, but sadly he had too many Yes-men blindly loving everything he did *COUGH*rickmccallum*COUGH*

When Lucas first began writing The Star Wars in 1974, the script went through many re-writes until he fine tuned it into something epic for the 1977 release.  During filming and editing, he was constantly being pushed, and everything was on a budget and producers were wheezing menacingly down his neck through a thick dark breath mask.

Then in 1999, when it came time for the prequels, Lucas quite literally owned the galaxy.  He essentially became Emperor and could do what he wanted at his own leisurely pace.  He had producers throwing millions of dollars at him saying we can make this bigger and put more and MORE AND MORE things on the screen so it will look like the most amazing thing ever made!  But they forgot to put any heart and soul into it.  Nobody ever said to George, they have a bad feeling about this.  Nobody ever seemed to suggest that he was going to... The Dark Side.

And now, many years later, after so many painful memories of the Prequels.... there has been an awakening.

Suddenly, Lucas the Hutt sold the entire franchise to Disney.  And honestly, this didn't bother me.  No, really.  I was okay with that, because I know Disney movies can be fun!  Between the original Pirates of the Caribbean, and more recently the Marvel movies, like Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Captain America.  And going back even further to Tron, The Black Hole, and Dragonslayer.  Disney might give Star Wars the breath of life it needed. 

But that was before the dark times...

Many years before the Disney deal, Lucasfilm officially announced there would never be another Star Wars movie.  So at that time, the Expanded Universe featured in the books and comics were officially canon.  In those days, many die-hard fans knew exactly what happened to Luke, Leia, Han, and even their children.

But with the announcement of a new movie, Disney suddenly created a new fate for those characters, and wiped out the EU stories... all of them.  So every one in the Expanded Universe suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.  I'll miss you most of all Mara Jade!

Then they said the new movie would be based on an outline originally conceived by Lucas himself.  Again, I had very mixed feelings about this.  But I was curious and open minded.

But their journey to the dark side was complete when they hired a director... J.J. Abrams.

There are so many great directors in the world.  But I honestly don't think Abrams is one of them.  And for the record, I'm not just talking about the lens flares.  I'm mostly talking about shaky cams during action sequences.  I'm talking about the bland color palettes he often uses.  I'm talking about how he can't seem to properly light a scene.  I'm talking about how many apologies he has made for his directing in the past, (such as gratuitous shot of Alice Eve in bra and panties, lens flares, trying to keep Khan storyline a secret etc).  I'm also talking about how one nerdy fanboy shouldn't oversee Star Wars AND Star Trek.  I wrote about it here if you're interested in reading about that kind of thing. 

But the one thing that makes me feel Sith to my stomach, is how nauseatingly obsessed everyone has become!  Sure Star Wars was popular after it's original release, but that was a more civilized age.  Some people rolled their eyes at my fanboy-ism, and that was okay!  But now, it seems every 30 seconds, there is another Star Wars reference somewhere.  From every commercial on TV/YouTube, every constant fan theory, meme, viral video and salivating fanboy/girl telling everyone how this is the most awesome movie in the world, before they've even seen it... how can I escape to a galaxy far, far away, if the real world is covered in Star Wars?  How can I continue liking something, when everyone is shoving it down my throat and telling me how great it is?  I feel as if I'm drowning in Star Wars. 

And therein lies the basis of my hate.

1.  Re-hashing old characters that should remain young and epic in our memories.
2.  Deleting unique Expanded Universe characters and stories we loved.
3.  Hiring a sub-par director.
4.  Cramming more and MORE AND MORE Star Wars in our face so we can't breathe.
5.  Millions of overly obsessed fans gulping down every drop like it's blue milk meth.
...it feels more like a painful obligation.  It's suddenly stopped being fun and unique.

But there is good in it.... I have felt it.

There is so much potential in this modern mythology, I'm always eager to see something new from this franchise.  We have such a huge galaxy to explore, and I can't understand why everyone is so focused on the same characters ad nauseam.

Like what you might ask?  Perfect examples are here:

Or, how about this:

Holy crap that looks freakin' AWESOME!!!  I want to know more!  I want to learn about these characters and this story!  If you didn't know, this was the BioWare game, Kights of the Republic.  You get a lot of unique interesting stories and characters, all taking place hundreds of years before Luke Skywalker was ever born.

And if you do love the original trilogy and want to relive those moments, listen to the radio show.  Hearing so much new and impressive details recreated through only sound, really makes me smiles:

And for the record, I wasn't a fan of the animation on Clone Wars the series, but the stories just got better and better!  It's all available on Netflix now, and I highly recommend watching.  It gives you depth and detail to the characters and events that Lucas could never show in the Prequels, with some fantastic action!

But honestly, if you need Star Wars to feel like you're 8 years old again... you're doing something wrong.  I have had many of those moments in the last few years watching some movies and television shows.  Specifically, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, The Flash, Doctor Who, Iron Man, Captain America, Tron Legacy, Ant-Man, Spider-man (the first two Tobey Maguire versions), Ash vs. Evil Dead... well, maybe not that last one so much.  But still VERY FREAKIN' COOL!!

So I'm sorry if I'm the one rolling my eyes by your seemingly single-minded over-obsession.  I was there many years ago, but I've moved on with my life.  I'll watch the new movie, but I'm keeping an open mind.  And for those of you that think I can't be objective, I say HA! to you, because I expected Joss Whedon to fail at making Avengers!  I was pleasantly surprised and I wrote all about it here.  But it's never easy to love something that makes me feel like I'm being brainwashed to enjoy it.

Now let's all take a moment and study other important aspects of this franchise....

*le sigh*