Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Real Reasons The Force Awakens Fails as a Star Wars Movie

In a word: development.

George Lucas had the vision and ability to unfold scenes that were slices of an epic story, not just connected pieces of one story.

In IV, consider the first scenes with Luke and his uncle and aunt. There are conversations about washing droids, cleaning up, going to town, fixing water harvesters. They talk about dreams and hopes for the future. It's not only the content; it's the pacing ... not only the pacing, it's the flow. The first Luke scenes don't seem like an integral part of one main story - though they are. They seem like the middle of another story and a typical slice of life during that story. Until the first visions of Leia in the hologram there is no feeling of being part of a "plot". From the hologram until C-3PO mentions that R2 ran away, again there is no feeling of rushing forward in a plot. When exciting things happen, it feels like worlds of different stories are intersecting and getting caught up in each other.

You get the same feeling watching Luke fight the battle ball - it's a slice of a longer time period, making you feel that much time has passed, and Luke has experienced similar events, and many more will come. When Leia is interrogated, same thing. In VII, the interrogation scene we saw was the only one that happened. In VII, every scene felt like it existed only to get to the end of the scene - okay, got it? Let's move on to the next. The process of getting there was clean and executed quickly and antiseptically. The movie needed to tell you this to move the plot forward.

VII gives us just one scene that feels like a slice of time - the scavenge scene and the cleaning of what was scavenged. It lasts about 2 minutes. Even the meeting of Rey and Finn is a sequence of bursts: a fight, then a challenge, then seconds later we're on the run. Then 40 seconds of trying to fix the ship, then a capture. Then a brief exposition by Han, and then another challenge/fight. After the scavenge scene, VII NEVER feels epic. It always feels like a rush to finish a story that is already completely scripted. Even the one scene that should have been filled with wonder - Maz and Rey and the lightsaber - was a rushed scene to get to the point, and then to the end, and then we run off to the next action sequence.

Remember V, with Luke training on Degobah? There was no rush to get to the end of it; it felt like slices of weeks of training. Remember VI, with the walks through the woods? Even in I, II, and III there were (a few) scenes of patience: they may have been terribly acted and poorly scripted, but they were scenes that gave you the sense of epic, long-haul, world-building, not just plot-driving.

That's the first reason.

The second reason is one that others have mentioned: There is nothing new in this movie, other than a female protagonist. Every Star Wars had new ships, new worlds, new creatures, new weapons, new plots, new conflicts, new robots, new costumes, new discoveries, and so on and on. What was new in VII? Takodana looks a lot like the moon from IV, as does its cantina. The Starkiller world has snow, which could have been interesting, but we didn't get to see any of it. The rest was just everything we've already seen.

Again: it was an enjoyable sci-fi movie based on the Star Wars story. The acting was great, there were good lines, it was fun to see a tough, non-sexualized capable heroine. But there was no character development, no epic story, and nothing mystical, at least not until the very last frame. Maybe, maybe, the next movie will give us something more than a very good Star Wars version of a Marvel movie.

See here for my initial review.


David Klein said...

Excellent analysis! I couldn't put my finger on the problem but you described it perfectly.

In addition, there were *many* scenes which were almost repeats of previous movies. This could have been positive as many viewers are nostalgic, *but* the repeat scenes were always much poorer than the original.

And don't get me started on the totally lame light saber battles :-(

Clay B. said...

Great analysis!

wolflarson71 said...

"There is nothing new in this movie"

The same exact thing was said about Empire Strikes Back, arguably the most admired movie in the series now. See this recent video by Stuckman arguing there are many new elements:

Yehuda Berlinger said...

My complaint about nothing new was primarily about the artifacts of the movie - the weapons, ships, planets, clothes, and settings - rather than the plot. I admit that I mentioned the plot, and it's true.

The video you point to doesn't address the artifacts, and I stand by that; however, upon reflection, I have to mention that Rey's staff and the odd weapon that can block a lightsaber, were both new. Kylo's lightsaber has crossbeams. BB-8 is new. Using the force to stop a laser beam is new. That's really about it. As for the plot. the video does a good job defending it, but I only agree with it about 65%. It glosses over that, while ELEMENTS of the Star Wars theme are present in each movie, there are significantly more plot point retreads in TFA from ANH then in any of the other sequels. The plans in the droid is really just shoving it in your face. The death star was a retread in RotJ, and it's one of the reasons that RotJ was the least of the original trilogy. Doing it again in TFA was not necessary.

In any case, the video doesn't touch upon my main complaint, which is the pace and lack of character moment. Except that the video says the characters are great, and I disagree with the video there. He is correct about the great acting, and the nice moments of character reactions; he didn't even mention Rey's reaction when she first used a blaster and killed someone, or her reaction to being asked if she was okay by Finn, when Finn was the one who was knocked on his ass. but these moments are not the same as patiently paced filmmaking. The scene of Han telling Finn and Rey that the force is real is in no way equivalent to Obi Wan talking about the force and Luke's father to Luke. The former was rushed. The latter felt like real time. And that was my point.

Thanks for the link.

wolflarson71 said...

Thanks for watching the video and nice additional thoughts.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Yet more:

I suppose I have to add that the creature selling Rey food was sort of new, although he reminds me a lot of the restaurant owner who Obi-Wan consults with in AotC. Maz is newish, I guess. The snow world with trees was sort of new; Hoth was a snow world, but it had no trees.

Still, altogether not much. There could have been many new aliens, new ships, new weapons, real new worlds, and so on.

There were, as I said, many good things about the movie. The lighting (particularly the blue/red mix turning to red on the bridge) was something I noticed. The fact that the characters were always framed, rather than the explosions, was not; I admit that that's a good thing. The acting and directing were both good. The script wasn't bad; but it wasn't strong, as it goes hand in hand with the improper pacing and poor character development. The camera-work was excellent. Sets were well done; I may have to have repeated viewing to pick up details that I missed.

I will watch the movie again, which is more than I can say for many of the Marvel movies.