warning: full plot disclosure
Last night we watched Star Wars VII, on a DVD borrowed from our dear town library. Of all the Star Wars movies I have seen, well, this was one of them. JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens, and he cast a slew of British actors, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and ten seconds of Mark Hamil. I’m going to do a plot analysis, primarily to point out the holes, then a little on the pathos of the franchise. Lucasfilms teamed up (sold out?) to Disney, so the budget was “epic.” I stopped counting after ten executive producers in the credits.
Per usual, the opening scene is total chaos: storm troopers raid a desert village, torch the whole encampment, villagers run in terror. The storm trooper with a flame-thrower was overdoing it a bit, but I guess but someone had to be that guy. Behind another tent, a cute little robot, BBX, is receiving instructions from his person, a rebel fighter pilot. BBX is to roll off into the desert with his precious cargo, a map to the last Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker. The map was just handed off to them by some white haired British stage actor, seconds before he gets shot. The pilot attempts to escape but is foiled by the main bad guy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and dragged aboard the enemy ship. The dark side has been reborn in this episode as First Order, a blatant reference to the New World Order.
When Kylo Ren orders the storm troopers to slaughter the villagers, one soldier (who just got smeared with a fallen comrade’s blood) can’t do it, and his emerging PTSD facilitates the whole plot. The dark side needs to invest in trauma therapy, maybe with crayons. Not to mention target practice.
From here the action cuts to the desert, where foxy young Rey (Daisy Ridley) lives in a cavernous ghost ship, foraging other lost space crafts for parts to sell to a cruddy alien merchant with man boobs. BBX rolls right past her door, but is captured by a sand trader (remember those little guys?); she rescues him from a junkyard fate and he follows her home, smitten. It’s usually hard for me to assign robots a gender, but Star Wars robots seem to have enhanced personality chips. In the Japanese robot character Astro Boy, this is called kokoro, heart. BBX also has a mini-tazer for slowing down stupider characters.
So, up on the evil space ship, the deprogrammed storm trooper busts the rebel pilot out of jail and they make a smashtastic exit, blowing up a hangar bay and a few exterior cannons. The pilot’s name I forgot (I’ll call him Guapo Red Leader 1), the defecting storm trooper is FN 2571, but Guapo renames him Finn (played by John Boyega). They fly back to the desert planet–Jaka, I think—but get shot down. Finn is ejected before the crash, but Guapo Red Leader 1 goes down with the ship, right into a sand trap.
From here, Finn staggers across the desert for a while (I’ll assume he drank five gallons of water before defecting), and ends up in Rey’s village, where they cross paths just as bad desert traders and storm troopers close in. Ridley gives the best performance in the movie, because she’s consistent and looks like an elf. She’s also quite athletic, I believed she was doing her own stunts. Finn and Rey team up to escape in the Millennium Falcon, which was luckily left unlocked and gassed up. Apparently you don’t need keys or hot wiring ability to steal the Millennium Falcon, you just push the “up” button and take off.
Like a supernova turning into a black hole, the plot sort of collapses into itself at this point, and any attempt at logical storytelling breaks down. I’ll follow it a little, purely to point out the craters here and there. Rey, Finn, and BBX get sucked into the first space freighter they run into, piloted by (wait for it) Han Solo, and his trusty walking rug Chewbacca. An infinite universe, several republics worth of travelers, and the hijackers run right into the guy whose ship they just jacked.
Watching Harrison Ford revive Han Solo was like meeting an old flame twenty years later and discovering they’ve gained fifty pounds and a gouty toe. Sure, you’re older too, but at least you combed your hair before you left the house. He performed Han Solo like he was one week away from retirement; the phrase “dial it in” kept running through my mind.
Han Solo is transporting some giant scary squid monsters on the freighter, which Rey releases on two gangs of bounty hunters who appear simultaneously to trash-talk Han. The monsters instantly seize and digest the opposing teams in an orgy of tentacles and slurpy sounds. But when a monster grabs Finn, it decides to drag him around instead of swallowing him whole—guess that one filled up on extras. Rey rescues Finn, side wipe to the next shot.
Everyone escapes in the Millennium Falcon, off to find Luke Skywalker’s light saber, which is in the basement of a little old alien lady’s house. Her name is Maz Kanata, she’s 1,000 years old, and, despite being a computer-generated image, she’s the best actress in the movie. Shortly after Han’s crew shows up at Maz’s lively brewpub, Kylo Ren and a Star Wars happy meal full of storm troopers arrive to blow it up. In the ensuing melee, owly Maz’s fate is left undetermined, but her house and restaurant are destroyed. At this point, I was way more invested in her story than in Han Solo and his fan club’s. Oh, and somewhere in here it’s revealed that Kylo Ren is the evil spawn of Han Solo and Princess Leia (nice going, you two).
Watching the slo-mo destruction sequences, I thought no, this is not all there is to the universe. Somewhere else, there is peace, there’s no more samsaric bullshit. The hero’s bloody journey through this part of the galaxy’s getting a little old. Where are the planets where everyone communicates through heart-talk and the swords have been melted into singing bowls? I’d like to move there, before this upcoming presidential election.
All right, fine, team Han Solo is caught by storm troopers; cue incoming rebel air support, which makes the storm troopers spaz out and run away, allowing Han and his crew to make a bumbling escape. Harrison Ford splits the available male screen time with Finn, whose face is perpetually moist, like he just stepped out of a sauna. Finn and Rey make a good team, moving more naturally together as the action progresses. Somewhere in here they get separated and Rey is carried aboard the First Order ship by Kylo Ren, the whiny main bad guy.
A note about the whiny main bad guy’s outfit: it’s a cape and an Art Deco mask. The mask had some sweet silver curves though, kind of a Bauhaus design. When he takes off the helmet (pop! That’s for all you Lego Star Wars fans), instead of helmet hair he has a perfectly coiffed side-part wave. Call that plot hole #20, I stopped keeping track after 5. This guy must be Han Solo’s adopted son, because he looks nothing like Han or Leia. He can barely suppress his British accent, and his evil mentor is named “Snoak”(or “Snoakie,” as I called him). Snoakie is a CGI giant alien with a frightening halfway sewn shut mouth. This image was created to make people fear giant aliens. Here again, this Lucas/Abrams worldview grows old. I don’t fear aliens, I welcome them. They can’t be as war loving and blood thirsty as humans, no way.
About an hour and change into the film we get to see Princess Leia. I was confused about why she’s still a princess at age 70; shouldn’t she be queen by now? Her brother is definitely not king, and their dad is dead. Leia’s wearing an LL Bean winter vest and a new hairdo. Carrie Fisher aged better than Harrison Ford, but her face was still photoshopped hard on the DVD cover. I think they gave her extra hair and tighter cheekbones. She didn’t have much screen time, but she had far more than Mark Hamil, who had two minutes at the very end and no lines whatsoever—guess they didn’t want to pay him. Did he at least make day rate?
In the crowded rebel HQ scene—commanders planning the attack on First Order—everyone has fast, technical lines (“We need to hit the solar oscillator with rapid fire blah blah”), until Han Solo says, looking down at his shoes, “We can….uh…disable the uh, shields,” and JJ Abrams washes to the next scene. Of the cart-full of rotten gourds that make up this script, Han Solo’s line: “Escape now, hug later,” hurt me the most. And at least three times, someone choked out a variation on:“Don’t look now, but we’ve got company.”
Inside the dark ship—Deathstar 2.0, or something—where Han, Chewy and Finn go to save Rey (who has started to develop Jedi abilities, forgot to mention that before), the color scheme is black and red, standard satanic palette. The final face off between Daddy Solo and his malevolent spawn happens on a bridge over a void, a nod to ROTJ. Harrison Ford mails it in from the parking lot as his evil sperm sticks a light saber into his chest. I thought death by light saber through the heart would be instantaneous, but Han does some prolonged facial contortion and flails his arms around. He falls off the bridge into outer space, to float forever in a maudlin death pose.
Finn, Rey, BBX, and Chewy make it out of the enemy ship as the no longer dead Guapo Red Leader 1 (he jovially re-emerged a few scenes earlier) takes out the oscillating power sucking unit of Deathstar 2.0. The weapon the dark side was charging was a world annihilator, drawing all the energy from a sun—they meant to redirect it and destroy the republic. As usual, Death Star command is manned by a slew of surly Brits, none of whom survive the movie. Maybe they do; once the ship starts imploding, their fate is left undetermined. Rey goes out to the woods for some alone time, and gets confronted by Kylo Ren. They have a light saber battle royale; she leaves him with one leg left, lying in the snow.
As the movie winds down, Chewy is injured, Finn goes into a medically induced coma, and Han Solo’s corpse starts drifting through deep space. Rey gives Princess Leia an awkwardly long hug, then she travels to Luke Skywalker’s secret hideout to deliver his light saber, thus setting the stage for the next episode, when possibly they’ll let Mark Hamil have a line. He picked a great hideout though, a beautiful green sloping island, with a monastery and stone staircase as old as dirt. I wanted to be there.
After three full pages of wandering prose, I still haven’t touched on most of the production values. The underworld costumes are cool, the alien masks and hairpieces feel true to the older Star Wars movies, the dark side’s aesthetic is creepy. The robots, BBX and R2D2 (who finally wakes up from a decades-long electronic funk) are lovable little AI sidekicks who taze your enemies and defend your stash. The musical score is pretty standard Star Wars fare (classic themes for various chapters), and the CGI was impressive, especially one white and black highly contrasted mountain landscape. As a movie, it mostly entertained (distracted?), despite all the snark you’ve just read. I didn’t even touch the facial expressions that happened when anyone used the Force, and you know they were smushy.
I acknowledge the work that went into this movie, especially costume design, makeup, and sets. But in the end, The Force Awakens left me low, wanting to down a shot of whisky and stare at the moon. These new Star Wars episodes drive home the loss of a certain kind of wonder. I was very young when The Empire Strikes back came out, too young to know what a bad line was. That year I dressed up like Princess Leia for Halloween, and my dad was Darth Vader. Both costumes were homemade. There was no disbelief to suspend. A gazillion dollar budget and a boatload of special effects can’t bring back that wonder.