OK. I apologize in advance this is going to be pretty long, please bear with me and I hope I contribute to a stimulating debate!
After 2 viewings and 3 days of nerdy brainstorming I need to write some thoughts out of my head (slight therapy perhaps) and this is the forum I choose first
I'm an occasional poster so some might know my posts a little, I have a pretty good idea about a number of you guys here and I must say much respect, regardless of whether I agree or disagree of course. For the record I love the prequels, I might add not in the fashion of "sure they had their flaws, but..", and that will come into play in my reading of TFA, and I think that this film shed more lights on why I do consider the prequels are relevant films and not so easy to top. More on that later.
So, I'll start by saying that overall I like the film, I do think so now at least, I'm glad I went spoiler free and not really excited/obsessed over the last 2 years (having entered my 30's that sorta makes me feel good to observe this ;p ), so it was a pleasant experience discovering it. Mission accomplished in the most simple, but pretty meaningful, way.
That said, there is something of a... not really disappointment, but cold dissatisfaction that several of you guys have expressed really well already, so I won't make another list but rather try to add to these. In a way I largely support those well argued complaints, but I've thought of things that are actually in the movie that can temper these concerns, but not without conditions: these elements heavily depends on what the 2 next films will bring, and that's far from being a given as of now.
Where do I start? the "rehash" debate. While ep4 seems the most obvious, I wouldn't call it a ANH remake. More like a much expected mix of 4, 5, and.... surprise (or maybe not)... 3. Heavy ROTS, dare I say copycat, on several occasions... I'll get to that.
Obviously, they tried to recreate the thrill of ep4, fast moving fun that makes it a bit superficial but having the potential of gaining deeper meaning from the 2 sequels. In that regard, I'll say they succeeded, and that's what makes the movie flowing and quite pleasant to watch.
The problem is, they arguably rushed
to end it like ep5, just " 'cause ESBisthebestofalltiiimeee", without having the necessary time to build up the dramatic tension. Here, I assume they made the not-so-well-calculated bet that the 6 films gave the background to move faster this time, and in an interesting paradox I think that shows how much this film is actually quite new and fresh story-wise: we are not yet used to this new context and as a result, among other things, the death of Han and the conflict with Kylo didn't have the proper time to build its dramatic gravity to make us really be moved by it, it lacked meaning at this point, and it's a shame because it's, well, freaking Han Solo. To me and others I'm sure, it felt a bit like "oh well we couldn't kill him in 6, let's get this done"... well, 8 could certainly have achieved it a lot better.
Overall, I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually learn that the trilogy is pretty faithful to Lucas treatments after all, but I speculate that the murder of Han by his son would have been in the second film, with a younger Kylo, the start of the New Republic/FO/Resistance/Jedi Order and following incident happening more on screen in 7, but that they wanted the meat of the drama already in 7 instead with less politics and build-up. I'd bet his "not about spaceships" comment implies the unnecessary Starkiller base plot wouldn't have been in his movie. Just my two cents.
On top of that, the one thing I've not read online so much: I did see the imprints of ROTS somewhat all over the place, especially on my 2nd viewing. First, in the pretty clear intention of recreating its remarkable dramatic intensity. It's there in visuals, tone, music, pacing of the 3rd act, and more... I "feel" it unquestionably. The first sign of it for me was early on during the TIE escape, in terms of overall movement, enthusiasm, and specific stuff like the blue missiles bit... oh, and particularly here, heheheh.... the whole CGIIIIIII (sorry, couldn't resist :p ). CGI was great and as expected heavily present in the movie, let's put it aside.
Then, the final act... as much as Abrams blablahh about the duels in holy ANH and ESB, I didn't feel it at all. Instead, the duel screamed Sith' "battle of the heroes". Only (understandably) shorter and a little, just a little, more grounded. Most blatantly at the end of it, when Rey and Kylo hold each others arms towards the air right before the final blow. But also, when they cross the sabers near the cliff, exact copy of Dooku and Anakin "you have hate, you have anger, but you don't use them" moment. Finally, Rey repeatedly pushed the blade forward aggressively, parallel to the ground, very similar to specific moments of Palpatine against Windu. I actually do think this is very cool and interesting. (+come on, double bladed saber for Rey in 8
With all that said, the issue is this in fact does make sense, but at the same time exposes how much the whole mess-of-a-marketing campaign was unsurprisingly misleading and completely hypocritical. To some they insulted the prequels, to others like myself they cowardly ignored them on a PR-only level. Yet, they are in truth and facts hugely popular and lasting films, and pretty bold and unique, and I have no doubt that a filmmaker like Abrams can only dream of turning a Greek tragedy into a one of a kind blockbuster like ROTS, even if he might be critical of some clunky dialogues he'd change here and there and such. Purely rationally, there was no f***ing way Disney and LFL would not put elements from, and capitalize on, the highly successful (financially, critically, arguably artistically) latest Star Wars movie. Only they have been laughably coward about it because of a bunch of vocal bitter fan-boys in their 40's and some tabloids.
Here is the thing: this is the first Star Wars sequel that can be so unquestionably described as a mix of this one, that one, and this one. And actually there is something completely understandable here, if not pretty much unavoidable. It is the first post-Lucas movie, under Mickey Mouse no less, it HAD to prove itself legitimate and in that sense, be something of an homage first and foremost, before allowing itself to move on daringly (hence the pivotal questions: will they, and how?). That gave a pretty great, fun film and obviously a labour of love, but more than ever it shows how much all previous films were indeed one of a kind independent cinema, fueled way, way more by concerns beyond profit and dare I say, to a degree by the consciousness of a sense of responsibility in the story it tells.
As some said, this time it is slightly crossing the line, from poetry to "applying the proven effective receipt". I choose to be as affirmative mainly influenced by the point of vue of my girlfriend: I made her watch all movies (1 to 6 order) 2 years ago, she enjoyed it much, but she really got hooked and understood the meaning it can have a few months ago when she rewatched it all alone. She is quite fascinated by the repetitions and how they play out differently on specific aspects that brings significantly different outcomes, especially in the telling of the generational transmission, and transmission of the secrets, just like George openly insists on.
Interestingly, she came out of the theater telling all the things I pictured myself possibly nitpicking about prior to seeing the movie, but having anticipated this it ended up not affecting my enjoyment of the first viewing as much. And despite having seen them only 2 times, she said the repetitions were way more blatant, beat by beat, and thus less subtle in this film + the symbolism, like the Starkiller -red, white, black- Nazi gathering which I'll talk a bit more about, much more over the top obvious than any OT Empire iconography. Her biggest disappointment seems to be the killing of Han, due to its rushing.
Well, she is a smart lady and I care for her judgement (
). Moreover what's interesting and refreshing to me, hence why I bring it up, is that she is as much a casual movie-goer as a lover of the saga now, she doesn't know anything about the internet drama around SW, or the marketing of TFA/anything behind-the-scene, and had no time to build typical unreasonable SW-expectactions... she basically went only with fresh eyes and her education into the Dagobah cave.
One striking observation she made, which I haven't read elsewhere online yet, is that Adam Driver's Kylo portrayal lacks subtlety in the fact that he has obvious classic exterior traits of a villain: the mid-long dark hair with the bright tortured eyes and the strong nose etc... She finds that below the old fashioned corny surface, the hidden, human subtlety of casting Christensen precisely is his somewhat apparent banality, which leave all the room for the true concern, his inner conflict that deserves digging and questioning, while not underestimating it, in order to understand and hopefully learn something from it.
In that regard, it is quite ironic to witness how much they borrowed from the most controversial, if not maligned, performance in all Star Wars, again only carefully not claiming it but no less obvious and carefully done. And even more ironic is the recent comment by Driver caught on camera, "f*** yeah it's better than the prequels", which makes him slightly come across as an idiot here (no offense to the guy, just his comment). Clearly he was the most "prequel guy" in the whole picture (at times unmistakably mimicking Christensen), with arguably Oscar Isaac on the other side of the spectrum, who was pretty gloriously -70's baby-. Being the "prequel guy" is not even a bad thing, especially coming from me, but so it'd be wise for him to not be arrogant looking at the prequels as mediocre films easy to top, as pointed earlier.
It does bring up an interesting topic, because his performance seems to be overall well received, yet as I've argued, more conventional, safer by being less unsettling, and thus more "Hollywood"... Disneyfied if you will. Hehe. We may get something more polished but we may lose what refreshingly set Star Wars apart of Hollywood conformism. (Well, worthy of discussion for another time, the tricky differences and similarities/mutual influence between these 2, separated entities until 2012).
This leads quite naturally to the "cringe-worthyness" topic. We all have to be honest, we love these movies despite (or partly because of?) their clunky melodramatic serial scripts, this objectively happening since 1977, and not 1999. I really expected they would tone it down to counter the usual criticism. To an extent they did, all the actors are solid, hands down, and there's a partial change of tone, but still consistent overall. Yet here is the thing, there is still a lot of cringeworthy moments in this film, and I'm honestly not sure, about all of them, whether they are stylistic choices or failed attempts at being cool ... With Lucas it was very different; it is well documented that he went for a deliberate tone from the start, and particularly re-asserted in the prequels, especially with the infamous "romance" (in my book not precisely a romance). I have a sense of humor I guess, and I get some good laugh at how ridiculously kitschy the Anakin-Padmé scenes can be, and at the same time their relationship and many things that are being told through their dialogs has something very serious and relevant which gave and give me fascinating thoughts and discussions.
Certainly "Funny-bad" on the surface, unmistakably deliberate and the mark of a liberty taken by the artist, accepting himself as "the king of wooden dialogue", in doing his singular mix of high and low art-piece of popular cinema... and at the same time, deeper statements worth considering if one takes the time to look into it.
Now in this one, they managed to make some things less corny, only to create another kind of (heavily) corny elsewhere, which I'm not sure what to think of yet. Some of it in Han and Leia interactions, between brilliant and (forced, self-referencial) clumsy, or for example the whole gangs and monsters sequence felt a bit gratuitously silly. Hux big speech is by far the worst moment in the film for me, because really he just needed the little mustache and the troopers only needed to open their hands to make the Nazi sign... there you crossed the line JJ. In contrast to that, Palpatine in ROTS was absolutely over the top, but in a more whimsy, frankly burlesque way, and only after having been fascinatingly, down-played, manipulative in some of the best written scenes in the whole saga. Last thing, I agree Snoke is pretty boring, especially as CG-dude in the most practical film of all time
, and had they just used his ominous voice without showing his face in this film I bet he'd be an instant classic now... ah well, we'll see what he grows into.
I choose to be indulgent because it has indeed always been part of Star Wars, but my point is more that the people involved should better have restrained themselves with half-assed statements implying they were going to "right the wrongs" of the prequels "going back to the feel of the original". I think they only proved, and hopefully will humbly learn more, how tricky it really is to "get" the "Star Wars feel", in its old fashion exuberance and way of carving singularity out of archetypes and clichés. (... despite "having seen ANH in theater at 11 y.o.")
Now onto the story! I agree there is a sense of rendering the events of the 6 films pointless. Still, after some thinking I get a sort of reassurance, and hope, from the absolutely brilliant and successful opening crawl (and opening scene). It clearly states the rise of the first order is DUE to the disappearance of Luke. Then, Max Von Sydow says there can be no balance without Jedi. That to me is the biggest acknowledgment of the entire storyline, right under our nose during the 1st minutes of the film, while the most pointed one I've seen is the reference to the clone army (cool stuff by the way, nice world building around the training of the First Order army too).
So, based on this I can look at the state of the galaxy as a temporary storm, already compromising the fragile balance, that did emerge nonetheless. As the Force affects all living beings, I can accept the idea that it causes regressions, to the point for instance that Han falls back into being a scoundrel again... I realize I'm being very indulgent, and ok let's go for it....
But : this line of thoughts can only end up making sense if the next 2 movies address it, and it better be brilliantly addressed including taking into account many elements from the prequels to fit in a 9 movies epic (!). They have an enormous task here, and on several other levels.
I too would have loved to see the big 3 reuniting and they surely missed the occasion due to trying to make 2 films into 1, yet what I read through this turn of events is pretty great: it can be observed that the "Oedipal knot" is still affecting Leia, which causes that when she finally get a chance to reunite with Luke, it's at the expense of reuniting with Han who in turn pays the price by falling at the hand of their own son...... well, that can bring up some pretty heavy story, true to Star Wars and its generational questions deep core, but at this point I'm honestly pretty clueless, whether this interesting triangle situation just happen to be pure luck in how they wrote their script, or is it cleverly deliberate...
here is why: the heavy repetitions of situations, lacking the little but determining differences the prequels introduced in their own repetitions, make it difficult to know if it's simply lazy rehash, or a bold decision to start with the repeating of mistakes, for a very powerful and telling overcoming that will be grand but harder to do now that there is only 2 movies left, both of which must avoid further rehash in order to have any meaning.
In other words, TFA will prove to be a brilliant mystery-filled opening or the beginning of an eventually pointless repetition trilogy, in that regard it is completely dependent of its sequels, while the 2 previous first acts had more of a proper stop. It is where TFA is as much very safe and very ambitious, because they better have the whole thing well planned. Its cliffhanger ending and confusing nature are both its strength and weakness. What gets me optimistic is its very clear statement of "things are not what they seem", with Rey, Finn, Kylo, (Phasma too), introduced under masks, Snoke in holograph like Sidious, "Not-Tatooine, Not-Hoth, Not-Death Star, Not-Corsucant" etc.... This tells me that at least some of the confusing elements are done on purpose to be revealed later on.
but it won't be easy to figure it out, like now they will have to deepen the relationship between Han and Kylo in the absence of the former, not to mention fixing some superficial plot holes... will they be up to the challenge? That's some trial, and honestly Abrams, some of the "story group" guys, or K. Kennedy for that matter, don't really seem to be particularly bright intellectuals.......
Some of my doubts also come from this attempt at "bringing back the childhood", as much for the audience as for those making the films themselves. Abrams has a sort of selfish way of listening too much to his inner-11y.o., especially in his understanding of the Force (recent interviews), which resulted in "super powered Rey" that many seem unhappy about (the "reverse midichlorians effect"?). This tendency to look for a gone past is pretty much the contrary of SW ideology, I guess it's ok for the 1st movie, but moving forward they will have to be much smarter. Rian Johnson doesn't seem like such a nostalgic at least, so let's hope they study their mythology, philosophy, psychoanalysis or whatever can fuel their imagination to dare and avoid bleak repetition indeed, moreover screwing up the earned happy ending from ROTJ.
I was waiting for more Luke as much as anyone, yet there is something great about his scene: although Hamill is the voice-over star, one of his biggest talent in the OT is how crystal clear his facial expressions are (Sam Witwer rightfully points that out often), Binary sunset for starters, and indeed I saw a million things on his face in ten tiny seconds, and that's pretty true to SW storytelling that has always been beyond dialogs, and visual first... yet, mixed feeling obviously after all this wait.
Let's not forget the political aspect: it's pretty clear they wanted to avoid prequel criticism of -booooring-, I think it's a shame, but fair enough. Yet frankly, I think ANH was much more effective in its brief but on point political allusions. Me, a SW nerd, I believed for 20 minutes that they just blew up Coruscant, and I'm still not sure what does it mean that this system got blown up. There was the new senate, but does it mean another planet will take its place? So how big is the Republic? Or was it just meant to be the destruction of it so we have rebellion vs empire all over again? That's pretty sloppy. I just read a thing or 2 online from recent books and some exposition dialogues about it could have made a big difference without making it painful to watch. I also can't help wandering if Disney pressure (active or passive) will affect the political nature of Star Wars in favor of a broader dumbed-down "fight against evil dark side" ... after all, it's hard to defend that this big corporation is acting in the best interests of the people and common good, at least in the current economical model................... eh, I'm open to pleasant surprises. All in all the Nazi analogy is a bit safe, and somewhat outdated. But there is something interesting about the First Order still. -To be continued-
Side note: the french dubbing (my second viewing) was sadly pretty rubbish overall, just like for the prequels. Not completely failed, but hit and miss at best. Weirdly funny thing, the FN designation is coincidentally the designation of the nationalist (well, fascist) party here. On the other hand, the dubbing of the OT is legendary, those were the days...
F*** it, I spent my whole sunday afternoon writing this