The Dim-Post

December 28, 2015

First thoughts on The Force Awakens

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:35 pm

Firstly, that was a fuck-lot of ads we had to sit through until the movie started. I think it clocked in at about half an hour. Half an hour! We paid almost fifty dollars to sit in the dark and watch ads for half an hour! I hope the revenue was worth it, Embassy, because my Netflix account costs less than a third of that a month and has zero ads and that’s where my movie dollars are going from now on.

Secondly. That was okay. I mean, it was fun. I enjoyed it. But it was a jaw-droppingly lazy film. My first impression, walking out was that the original Star Wars films are filled with so many iconic crowd-pleasing tropes that any competent filmmaker can just recycle them with minor variations into an enjoyable movie. It is a weird quirk of cinematic history that the prequels were written and directed by George Lucas when he was an ageing billionaire studio head who still conceived of himself as an auteur but had lost any aptitude or inclination for making movies yet had total control over the franchise, thus the laughably terrible second trilogy – otherwise we’d have figured that out by now. 

Lucas’s films were always ground-breaking in terms of the technology though. Jar-Jar Binks was one of the first digital characters, and those prequels were very influential in terms of digital technology and computer graphics (which is partly why they’re terrible: I watched a ‘Making Of’ documentary about Phantom Menace on a plane once; the shooting process was Lucas in a studio surrounded by about a hundred flunkies laughing at all of his terrible jokes while the actors performed in a vast green-screen stage and just drifted around in its emptiness, delivering lines with a sense of boredom and futility that pervaded every scene no matter how much CGI crap Lucas threw in the background behind them) .

But it was still new, and there’s nothing new in the new Star Wars, nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times in other movies in technological terms, and very little we haven’t seen in the previous Star Wars movies in terms of the storytelling. So maybe that’s the future of Star Wars – that it’ll be like the Bond movies and do pretty much the same thing each time over and over forever. That’d be a shame. It’d be fun to go along thinking you were going to see something totally mind-blowing and new – like the AT-AT walkers on Hoth! Or that speeder-bike chase through the forests of Endor! But given that Disney’s just made a billion dollars in the last week off this movie, they don’t actually need to push the envelope so they probably won’t.

28 Comments »

  1. My hope is that this one was all about reassuring the fans – “See – we can do Star Wars! All those bits you liked in the original ones – here they are again!” – and that they’ll be more original in the sequels. I acknowledge this level of optimism is not fully warranted. That said, the single most common comment I’ve heard about this one has been “it feels like Star Wars again!”

    Comment by Josh — December 28, 2015 @ 10:16 pm

  2. You’re a bit harsher than I would be. JJ has apparently babbled on about “going backwards to go forwards”, and I get that he’s in a difficult position; the prequels made a ton of money and had the blessing of Lucas himself (since he made them) but were shit. As a starting point: awkward.

    I think JJ has done some really good things here. Sure there was nothing outright revolutionary in the technical side, but does that matter? He made a commitment to use practical effects and location shooting as much as possible, and the result was something that felt epic and cinematic, rather than like you’re watching above average video game graphics but with real humans.

    Comment by steve — December 29, 2015 @ 1:50 am

  3. I think Matthew Yglesias has it right – we can’t properly evaluate it until the next movie comes along. If it’s an amazing new story then that will justify this. If it’s a remake of Empire then this will look unjustifiable and lazy. http://www.vox.com/2015/12/22/10641652/star-wars-the-force-awakens-episode-8

    Comment by danylmc — December 29, 2015 @ 5:36 am

  4. I’m normally on the cynical side as well, but I managed to suspend that for this movie, it was good, not great, but if only to take the terrible taste of the prequels out of my mouth, it worked.And hopefully it can show that movies need to have proper locations, props and acting rather than just CGI…
    But yes I noticed the ads as well, ridiculous, although (can’t find the article) apparently Disney is charging cinimas more to play Star Wars than other movies, so the actual profit margin for the cinemas is much lower. Don’t you love capitalism

    Comment by max — December 29, 2015 @ 7:40 am

  5. Just thinking about this now, isn’t this, almost, the same career trajectory of Peter Jackson? Lord of the Rings was groundbreaking and great, whereas The Hobbit was awful (I still can’t bring myself to watch the last one).

    Comment by Tim C — December 29, 2015 @ 8:58 am

  6. Good summary in my view. I didn’t like Fin at all – a particularly flimsy character. It was like Teletubby saving the world and I tend to agree with some cynics that said he was just in it as a token person of colour. Darth Vader’s off shoot was also pretty flimsy but at least did the dirty at the end. OK to watch but not involving. I wonder what Skywalker eats on a grass covered rock out in the ocean?

    Comment by Brown — December 29, 2015 @ 9:20 am

  7. Just thinking about this now, isn’t this, almost, the same career trajectory of Peter Jackson? Lord of the Rings was groundbreaking and great, whereas The Hobbit was awful (I still can’t bring myself to watch the last one).

    There’s this really interesting documentary called ‘The Five Obstructions’ in which Lars von Trier challenges a fellow director to remake the same movie five times with different obstructions. Like, one time it has to be animated, another time it has to be ‘in the worst place in the world’, another time it has to be shot in Cuba with no shot lasting longer than half a second. And the director finds really ingenious solutions to all of these problems and makes great films. But one of the obstructions is that he has no obstructions and can do whatever he wants, and he makes something banal and pointless.

    That’s what seems to happen to all of these guys – Lucas, Jackson, the Wachowskis – when they make a mega-franchise hit. They get too powerful, and no one is going to tell Lucas or Jackson that their script needs a rewrite or that their ideas are terrible or that they have to cut an hour out of their movie or it’ll be taken off them and cut by someone else. They can do anything they want, so they end up with these self-indulgent failures – which are then promoted with gigantic global marketing campaigns, so still make a ton of money, so the film maker can reassure themselves that ‘the fans love it.’

    Comment by danylmc — December 29, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  8. Acting, what acting. A lost 135 minutes of my life.

    Comment by Stephen — December 29, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  9. That’s what seems to happen to all of these guys – Lucas, Jackson, the Wachowskis – when they make a mega-franchise hit. They get too powerful, and no one is going to tell Lucas or Jackson that their script needs a rewrite or that their ideas are terrible or that they have to cut an hour out of their movie or it’ll be taken off them and cut by someone else.

    That’s probably right. It was The Lovely Bones that cooked Jackson’s directorial goose. Not the anticipated return of the Heavenly Creatures‘ auteur extending himself beyond a cult audience.

    Comment by Joe W — December 29, 2015 @ 11:09 am

  10. Well, there’s the twentieth anniversary of The Lord of the Rings movies coming up in five years, so maybe it’s time to re-cut and get the re-release(s) ready?

    Comment by Tim C — December 29, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

  11. So much to agree with here in the comments, my head hurts. I felt ripped-off. Even being told “it’s an almost identical plot to the original” didn’t lower my expectations enough.

    Casino Royale (2006), it wasn’t.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — December 29, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

  12. I gave up on Star Wars when I went to Return of the Jedi and found it had Muppets in it. Decided to give it another chance for The Force Awakens, and find that the bad guys have built this enormous space fortress fitted with a planet-destroying weapon, but our heroes are able to find the built-in flaw that will enable it to be destroyed by a small squadron of fighters seconds before it was due to blast the rebels’ planet. It makes Bond movies look imaginative.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — December 29, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

  13. ” I wonder what Skywalker eats on a grass covered rock out in the ocean?”

    Probably the same sort of thing that Irish monks ate for four hundred years when they lived on Skellig Michael.

    Comment by Delia — December 29, 2015 @ 8:37 pm

  14. Here’s a magic trick that can be re-used. Ask when the main feature starts. Don’t go in until then. It’s saved me endless ad watching, although it does involve talking to a human when getting the tickets. So far, it’s been worth the trouble.

    I saw in in Oz though, unfortunately with a group that likes to see the ads, my in-laws (yet another nail in their coffins). There were like 20 different Star Wars cash-ins. Why did we put ourselves through it? IDK. I should have got them to text me when it started. It’s usually just after that ad about not using your mobile phones.

    I also saw it last night in 3D for comparison, at Lynnmall (been intending to check that theater out). It cost $10, the ads were all local to around New Lynn (yeah yeah, ok I used the auto machine, because I had to try it too). But the 3D SUCKED. I hated it, and I usually don’t. They used polarization AND color and that just gave me a headache, and it looked shitty – all the color was off, and it was dim, and my right eye seemed blurred and my neck got sore because it had to be held at the exact right angle. Not doing 3D there again. It added very little and detracted a great deal.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — December 30, 2015 @ 12:03 am

  15. I came out of the film buzzing and after 30 minutes when the excitement had won off I started to realise how similar to A New Hope it was. I then felt a bit ripped off. But meh, execution is at least as important as orginality, I suppose. And I don’t think I’ve watched an Abrams film where his execution hasn’t been spot on.

    The politics though…how the hell do you make a $300 million dollar film and get away with such a lame effort. SUrely they could have added a bit more depth than Nazis in space again. Ironically some reviewers are now defending Lucas’s prequels because while shit, at least tried to do something new.

    My guess is that given this is pretty much the only critique of the film (the lack of originality), the sequel will address this.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — December 30, 2015 @ 11:02 am

  16. I think those who call it “a soft reboot” have it right. Disney wanted to re-establish the base from which to proceed for a new generation and so deliberately repeated the original success.

    They however employed a poor story teller to do it. A better director could have made exactly the same script with considerable more flair and imagination than Abrams is capable of. Abrams is a mechanic who assembles snippets of tropes he thinks are cool without much original imagination or creative spirit.

    Comment by Fentex — December 30, 2015 @ 11:10 am

  17. I’m a big fan of Star Wars, but I found this one to be very, very boring. The technical aspects were great and the acting decent, but the plot was a total snorefest (especially after the superweapon is revealed) and the character designs were extremely thin. Rei gets about 5 mins of character set up and the whole rest of the cast combined gets another 5 mins. Contrast to Luke who gets about half an hour and Anakin who gets about an hour.

    I think most fans are in Phantom Menace mode at the moment and will recognise later on that this film has swung too far in the opposite direction in order to prove this sequel trilogy isn’t going to be like the prequels. I’m surprised that critics are rating it so highly though, I mean it’s a very competently made film, it’s done what it wanted to do, but it’s just not very interesting.

    I read my phone during the ads and previews which helps and I also saw it at a provincial theatre which meant only about 10 mins of ads – half of them silent.

    Comment by Korakys — December 30, 2015 @ 1:54 pm

  18. @ fentex

    I don’t think you can blame Abrams. He made the fantastic Star Trek reboot. That was tightly scripted and well made. He didn’t have weak actors – why do ‘recent’ Star Wars keep skimping on talent for lead roles? i.e. Anakin and the latest Darth whatever. I suspect it’s a cultural issue in the star wars hierarchy that puts reggae momma muppets in place of character actors that made this only ok as a movie.

    Comment by insider — December 30, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

  19. We’ve been watching the 3 prequels…and then watched: IV: A New Hope – the original Star Wars movie from 1977. I saw it in 1977…..nd my feelings about it then came flooding back to. I loved the special effects and the adventures on space stations and other planets…….but gawd it was awful. Harrison Ford’s acting was dismal…..though he was somewhat better than Mark Hamill…..and both of them were somewhat better than Carrie Fisher… I could have made a decent table out of the wood in all three of them.

    As for Chewbacca…..someone shoot it and put it out of its misery. Supposedly savage and violent the character lacks even rudimentary cunning and bashes away at the steel door on the rubbish disposal on the Death Star, all the while whining like a baby. I nearly turned the bloody thing off……..and should have. The ending was pathetic. All smiles and hugs after Ford had made it clear how unreliable and shallow Solo was.

    The scenes between Luke and his sister, Leia, are just creepy in hindsight.

    Comment by Steve Withers — December 30, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

  20. I meant to add….I like the new movie….though they could have killed Han Solo off much earlier and been better off. But I guess they had to wait until the end to make his death the only way Ren was going to get closer to Snoke……and I think Solo understood that and allowed himself to be sacrificed to save his son. This way, the dialog between them on the bridge actually makes some kind of sense…..and couldn’t really have happened any earlier. But I wish it had.

    Comment by Steve Withers — December 30, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

  21. @ Delia 8.37

    Good, interesting and educational reply. Thanks for the link.

    Comment by Brown — December 31, 2015 @ 11:30 am

  22. @insider

    I don’t think you can blame Abrams. He made the fantastic Star Trek reboot.

    Calling it “fantastic” establishes, I think, that you and I will never agree of Abrams abilities.

    Comment by Fentex — December 31, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

  23. As for the quality of it, I force myself to remember that it is, after all, a movie and a franchise directly aimed at small children. Like Enid Blyton, Lucas couldn’t probably give two shits about the opinions of anyone older than 11. Since I was about 6 when the first movie came out, it naturally had a special place in my heart. At only 12 years old I already found Return of the Jedi quite badly done. I mean FFS the galaxy is saved by primitive dwarf sized bears. My own kids like the prequels more because *they’re for kids*. Of eps 4,5,6, they like 6 best because of the cute bears. From memory, I liked Luke more than Han because “he’s the good guy”. The reasoning wasn’t really any more sophisticated than that at 6 years old.

    So I think the modern generation are going to like Rey and Finn. I kind of liked their freshness, in the end. They were both characters without guile – this is what kids whose alternate watching is The Wiggles are after. As a 40-something, it’s about time I got over expecting Lucas to be tweaking my nipples every time he sets out to make another billion.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 1, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

  24. Danyl, I think you’re onto something with the ‘The Five Obstructions’, necessity being the mother of invention etc etc.

    A lot of people seem to assume that the key to creativity is being as unconstrained externally as possible, but the Family Guy, The Hobbit, and the Star Wars prequels bear testament to that not being the case at all.

    Comment by RHT — January 1, 2016 @ 9:32 pm

  25. Shhh, Ben, you’re ruining the plot….

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 2, 2016 @ 7:48 am

  26. On a separate but related note. When it transpired that Darth Vader was Luke’s dad, they decided to ‘do Christmas’ together but it didn’t go well. On Christmas morning, each time Luke wen to to unwrap a gift Darth Vader would blurt out ‘ipod!’ or ‘Bike Helmet!’ Each time he’d get it right. and finally someone turned to Vader and said ‘How did yo do that?’
    Darth Vader replied:
    ‘I have felt his presents.”

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 2, 2016 @ 9:29 am

  27. It’d be fun to go along thinking you were going to see something totally mind-blowing and new – like the AT-AT walkers on Hoth! Or that speeder-bike chase through the forests of Endor! But given that Disney’s just made a billion dollars in the last week off this movie, they don’t actually need to push the envelope so they probably won’t.

    Those things looked mind blowing and new to me when my mind was also new and easily blown. It’s an increasingly difficult envelope to push. There’s little by way of any kind of visualization of effects or events that hasn’t been done heaps now. So mostly it’s down to stylistic differences now. Also, it has to be stuff that looks cool *to a child*. Many things that are cool to older minds are far too abstract to appeal to kids. You have to be able to see the laser blast flying or beaming through the air. You need to be able to be able to see the enemy, for the reaction shots. Flying weapons need to be manned so that it’s dramatic if they’re destroyed. Hand to hand combat needs to be made possible somehow, and the enemies need to be an appropriate size, and they will always spread out sufficiently so that you can leap about among them. Vehicular combat must be within visible range. Numbers must be comprehensible – no fighting group should have more than seven people in it. We should not have to remember more than about 10 locations – a galaxy with tens of billions of planets isn’t going to seem like something that a few hundred rebels are going to be able to liberate. Bad guys, no matter how senior, will always personally fight, and their superpower should typically be sinister, rather than effective. Gadgets should always have old-schoolness that makes then instantly recognizable. Guns look like guns – a prosthetic eye operated miniature gun would be a cheap shot. You set off bombs with a big button, not an app. You have to throw your hand bombs – they can’t be a tiny programmable drone, even though there are lots of them flying around doing strangely mundane things like delivering letters. Despite personal flight being clearly possible in Star Wars, no one actually will, because that would make the Force look a bit weaksauce. You can have a rocketpack, but only if it’s clunky, even though there’s things flying all around you without any kind of rocketry. You should certainly be able to safely get off your ship on an asteroid without a spacesuit, just a little oxygen mask will be fine for the vacuum. No one will ever wear safety restraints or helmets, except in a fighter ship. In any other ship you can run around even when it’s doing tumbling maneuvers, but fighter pilots are unfortunately cursed to have to deal with heavy G, despite probably being the people most like to be subjected to extreme levels.

    These are the constraints imposed by children’s sci-fi. The other stuff doesn’t work. There is highly conceptual sci-fi. Kids don’t like it. They need to be able to relate to it. They can relate to a motor bike or a hover board. Not so much to a missile, or the tedious work involved in software development, or actual astrophysics. They can relate to the hollywood OS, because that’s sort of what games are like – overengineered, robust and massively simplified. Guys talking about their linux kernel recompilation – not so much.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 2, 2016 @ 1:45 pm

  28. My understanding of The Lovely Bones was that it was spoilt for choice.

    Lynne Ramsay would have been better.

    There’s the classic tale of Godard and À bout de souffle. Having to cut its length he had no option but to cut without any coverage.

    Comment by NeilM — January 2, 2016 @ 5:22 pm


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