Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens": review


So I'm back from an evening out with Ligament. We met at the large IFC Mall in Yeouido to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in a CGV theater there. It wasn't the biggest of theaters, but that's OK: we sat fairly close to the screen, so it was an immersive experience. Ligament's take, when the film was over, was that the film was fun, but she didn't want to come along with me to see the film a second time the following day.

Her mixed reaction mirrors my own. I've seen several friends and acquaintances react very positively to the film (see Lee here, and Justin here), but as much as it pains me to say it, I'm not quite willing to give "The Force Awakens" a thumbs-up.

To be sure there's a lot, here, that director JJ Abrams, an avowed Star Wars lover, has gotten right—exquisitely so. The movie trots along at a healthy clip; the dialogue is far superior to anything that that old dodderer George Lucas wrote for the prequel trilogy; the effects are, if not exactly as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped, at least engaging. Every time an old favorite character appears on the screen, the moment is done in such a way as to provoke applause from American viewers (I sat with a Korean audience, so there was no applause at all, alas). Many of the new characters fit into the universe of this new, rebooted story so seamlessly that old-timers like me can't complain. I also appreciated Abrams's respect for the theology of the Force (no midichlorians this time around, thank the dark side).

But I'm sad to say that there were problems—major problems—with both the characters and the storytelling. There were moments when I was, frankly, confused by what was happening on the screen, and I'm glad I'll be going back tomorrow to see the film again. Perhaps a second viewing will clear some things up. At least one principal good guy is given a lot of screen time, but by the end of the movie, I still have no real feel for who he is and what he's about. One of the main villains is utterly fascinating because we get only hints of him, but the other main villain can only be described as a crushing disappointment: he's emotionally unstable, childishly temperamental, and not even able to defeat an unskilled (well, untrained) wielder of a borrowed lightsaber. Despite his having made a strong first impression (he uses the Force to stop a blaster bolt in midair, and he does something later in the film that'll make certain fans howl in anguish), he just didn't strike me as anyone of consequence.

The problems don't end there. The dark rumors are true: the movie is indeed a rehash of 1977's original "Star Wars," with a bloated surrogate for the Death Star, housing a massive weapon that defies physics in an even more implausible way than the old Death Star's superlaser did. The script is written so that the characters are aware they're repeating history, but that bit of self-consciousness doesn't make the story any more appealing. I expected way better from Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (although I'm happy that Kasdan was brought in at all: his writing is what kept the original trilogy going). I also felt that the major battle sequence had no real emotional depth to it: it felt like a big Here we go again. To top it off, the older veterans felt a bit under-used in order to let the new generation shine (Daisy Ridley makes an impression, and John Boyega does, too, but Adam Driver, who has a goofy face that's tailor-made for comedy, struck me as wildly miscast); I would have liked to see the old folks a little more in the thick of things.

The movie was humorous thanks to a witty script, but it was also inadvertently funny. As I snarked on Twitter, the final scene of "The Force Awakens" reminded me of the final scene in that old David Carradine B-movie, "Circle of Iron." If you've seen "Circle of Iron," and if you see the new Star Wars flick, you'll know what I mean, and I'm not sure that this particular mental association is a good thing. Amusingly, there's an island in the movie that looked, to me, like a combination of Ireland and Dokdo. In fact, when I saw Daisy Ridley climbing up the ancient stone steps on that island, Dokdo was the first thought to pop into my head. Again: not the ideal mental association.

I'll give the movie another chance tomorrow; perhaps more pieces will fall into place after a second viewing. But all told, I found myself underwhelmed. To be fair, I had high hopes for this film—perhaps overly high. How can any movie match such lofty expectations?



Charles said...

The reviews have been largely positive, although some of the praise has been measured. I suspect that you might have had unrealistically high expectations. I'm trying to keep my expectations down for that reason. We'll see if it works. (I'll be going to see it on Tuesday.)

Kevin Kim said...


You'll find it just as hard as I did to dial down your expectations, I think, unless you're capable of a Vulcan level of self-control. So much hope was riding on JJ Abrams. Abrams himself indirectly dissed his Star Trek-related efforts by openly confessing that his heart has always been with Star Wars—a confession that only heightened people's hopes that he would be the one to respect the franchise the most. All in all, I think he got the general feel and tone of Lucas's universe right, but even after tonight's second viewing, I'm still iffy on the storytelling.

Charlesd said...

I just read your tweet on the second viewing. Where did you see the film, in a kindergarten?

Kevin Kim said...

Charles D,

Might have been, at that. It was Lotte Cinema City in Gangnam. Lots of Americans for this particular screening. It was almost like being back in the States, and I don't mean that in a good way.

John from Daejeon said...

The best "Star Wars" film this past week took place on the small screen and both Wil Wheaton and Bob Newhart killed it! I have never been a big Wil Wheaton fan until now with his entrance into the lexicon that was truly "fascinating," "logical," and, utterly, hilarious.

John from Daejeon said...

Here are some of the best "Star Wars" bits from the episode, including Wil's epic line. However, it loses quite a bit without Bob Newhart's "Star Wars" character and the girls reactions to the guys' insane love affair with "Star Wars" and its real importance in real life.

Bratfink said...

I'm with John from Daejeon! #TBBT

Bill thought I'd be interested in seeing this movie, but I disabused him of that idea immediately. I lost all interest in SW when I had to sit through that awful Hayden Christensen. Can't stand him in anything I've seen him in since, either.

And for the record, I thought Jar Jar was hysterical.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Wait - there's a new Star Wars movie??