Posted by: bkivey | 14 January 2016

The Post Awakens

I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. I’m not a big Star Wars fan, although the first film blew me away, but that was 1977 and I was 13. I saw the two sequels in theater, but have never seen the subsequent movies and know almost nothing about them save that almost no-one likes them. My sci-fi interests run more along Star Trek/Babylon 5/Firefly lines, but the movie has gotten good buzz. I thought I’d wait awhile for the crowds to thin out, but realized that unlike 1977 when there was no home media and the movie ran in theaters for the better part of a year, Disney couldn’t start selling to the consumer market until the theatrical run was over. I didn’t want to wait too long.

I might see a movie every 2 -3 years, so I splurged and went the IMAX/3D route. The nearest IMAX theater is a 20 mile hike from the house, but for the 1230 showing the traffic was reasonable. I’d avoided looking up the movie online, and people I know knew I hadn’t seen it, so I really had no idea about the plot. A trailer aired during last years Super Bowl, but it looked like a lot of people running away from explosions; so hard to tell anything about the movie.

I’m assuming that nearly everyone who wants to see this film has done so, and there will be spoilers.

$18 bought admission, a pair of 3D glasses, and what looks to be a pass to a showing this coming Saturday. The theater had comfortable seats and maybe two dozen people scattered about. At 1230 the lights went down and the PSA’s and trailers started. One of the trailers looked like a really bad print because everything on the screen was blurry. Oh yeah, 3D. On with the glasses. Now I could see clearly that if movie trailers are to be believed, the world is full of giant things loudly blowing right the hell up. Isaac Newton has been replaced by Micheal Bay.

On to the movie:

  • I liked that after the splash screen, the movie jumps right into the action.
  • The BB-8 droid was a little distracting, because I was trying to figure out the engineering. Is a rolling ball really an efficient method of locomotion? What about ice or mud? In a largely bipedal universe, what about stairs? There’s a shot of the droid rolling down stairs, but try rolling a large ball up stairs. Maybe it uses the wheelchair ramps.
  • Daisy Ridley and John Boyega breathe life into their characters, and there is some chemistry between them. They’re entertaining to watch. The Finn character gets most of the best lines, but bad news for him, by the end of the film he’s firmly in the Friend Zone.
  • J.J. Abrams borrowed some pages from the Joss Whedon playbook.
  • A good chunk of the movie consists of frame-by-frame reshoots of the original film. Director Abrams specialty is reviving moribund movie franchises, and this may be a case of giving fans what they want, but it’s also kind of lazy. Rather than experiencing an original film, you often feel like you’re watching the 1977 film with a bigger budget. This tends to subtract from the value of the movie.
  • The script is OK. A lot of the humor depends on the actor’s ability rather than any intrinsic humor in the dialogue. John Boyega is very good at this.
  • Pacing is OK. At 140 minutes the movie doesn’t feel overly long, but there are places where tighter editing would have helped. The story doesn’t really get going until about 2/3rds of the way in.
  • Casting is the best part of the movie, and that’s not a bad thing.
  • The Kylo Ren character sure has a lot of hair for a guy that wears a full-head helmet all day.
  • Speaking of which, when did Solo and Leia have a son? Is this canon, or something original to this film?
  • 3D is generally used to enhance the cinematography rather than distract you from it. There are some very effective uses of 3D, including a shot of a Star Destroyer that had me wanting to reach out and touch it.
  • Character motivation could use some help, but I suppose you have to save something for the sequels.
  • What was a side quest in the original, the search for a Jedi master, is the main plot point in this film. Likewise, the main point in the original, destroying the Death Star, is almost a side note in this iteration. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. Without the Death Machine of Damocles hanging over the Rebel’s heads, the movie turns into Saving Private Ryan.
  • It seems everything the Empire builds blows up real good. You could make a fortune in the Star Wars universe selling fire suppression systems.
  • I’d thought the next film might be about how our new heroes find Luke Skywalker, but the ending negates that idea. Still, the ending worked well enough, and gives a sense of how the sequels will unfold. ‘Train you I will, Rey’.

There’s a fair amount going on the film, but I couldn’t really enjoy it, because I just couldn’t get past the complete and utter disregard for basic physics. I can suspend disbelief for spacecraft swooping around like aircraft, noise in a vacuum, and the implications of the inertial dampers required for the shown maneuvers, but there were moments that took me out of the movie:

  • You would not jump in a car that had been sitting for years and drive across the country. You certainly wouldn’t do that in an aircraft, and you sure as hell wouldn’t do that with a spacecraft. I don’t care how robust the engineering is, it’s not feasible. If it had been established that the craft was in use, then there’s not so much of a problem.
  • The energy required to accelerate (or decelerate) an object the mass of the Millenium Falcon to light speed in a fraction of a second is astronomical. If you tried that in an atmosphere, you’d likely blow half the atmosphere away. In any case, you and your ship would be plasma. All that energy has to go somewhere.
  • It’s clear that any weapon that destroys a star for power is a one-time use device in that solar system. And even if the Empire Planet Buster is the size of a small planet (as shown), even a dwarf star would be many times larger and heavier. So where does all that mass go? I’d thought they might have something like a tame black hole, have it suck down a star’s atmosphere to build an energetic accretion disk, and then use the polar jets as weapons. But nope, we’re shown the star being destroyed entire.
  • It’s not apparent where the Death Machine is in relation to the Rebel base, but as there is sunshine at the base, we can assume it’s not in the same solar system. Well, hell. The Empire can fire that thing, and it will take months if not years for the energy to reach the base. And if you’ve destroyed a system’s star, destroying the planets is pointless.

These aren’t nit-picky points. They’re places in the movie that had me going ‘What?!’, and took me out of the film. The movie would have been just as good, and more watchable, without those distractions. I understand that folks in the movie business are a lot more interested in exciting visuals than whether something is even remotely possible. And there’s a lot of good science fiction where the viewer or reader is asked to accept one (or a very small number) of impossible things. As long as those impossible things work in a consistent way, most people will suspend disbelief. Star Wars has a bit of a problem in how it presents itself. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantasy that acknowledges that it’s a fantasy, but Star Wars is a fantasy that wants to be taken seriously, and that leads to things like the above mentioned points. It’s a bit of a stretch.

Overall I give the movie 3 stars, losing one full star for the physics problems. The story is decent, the film moves along well enough, and the 3D is worth the money.






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