Friday, December 18, 2015

My spoiler free Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

So, I saw the movie last night.  Technically, it opens today, but there were lots of shows last night.  Let me say first off, that I was "concerned" about the movie.  Part of this, of course, is that the prequels were all mediocre movies... and that's being charitable to call them even that good.  The problems had to do with sloppy, careless plotting, stilted, unconvincing dialogue, really bad pacing and bad acting with characters that were unlikable and had no chemistry with each other—and all, if not most, of those problems could be laid squarely at the feet of George Lucas himself.  Who, of course, was not going to be involved in any significant way with the new movie.  But still; the legacy of that kind of failure is still enough to be concerned about.  It's not like even the older movies were flawless, although at least they were quite fun.  Most of the time.

The previews also made me nervous, due to the obvious possibility of the SJW Convergence Theory.  What in the world happened to all of the white men who starred in the original Star Wars movies (as would be expected in a movie made in America?)  Was this going to be Diversity™ Star Wars?  This fear was exacerbated tremendously when I read Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy's blatant SJW entryism, as quoted here:
They are really, really making a huge effort across the company to put more focus around casting women and putting women in positions of responsibility, with directing and various other positions inside, different lines of business in the company. It’s not just about casting female protagonists. It’s gotta be across the board throughout the industry. I think Hasbro, who’s making toys for a while, they were perhaps a little reluctant to move too quickly with something that’s been such a successful boys line. I think they’re recognizing that selling to girls is just as effective as selling to boys. More and more the lines are being blurred as to deciding ahead of time that some things are for boys and some things are for girls. I think that’s a big part of the conversation. It’s all of these areas that are contributing to change really happening. Over the last several years that I’ve been in the business it seems to me that this has been a topic of conversation every few years. Then everybody thinks it’s a trend or that it’s a significant change. And then it doesn’t really move the needle. I think that’s — hopefully— what’s going to begin to happen now. It’s going to be real change. And not just perceived change.
This had the potential to be very bad.  This is Sad Puppies all over again, except writ very, very large on a cultural phenomena.  This is The Lone Ranger all over again; a movie that failed mostly because it couldn't stop continuously insulting its own primary target audience.  Kathleen Kennedy is more worried about being "inclusive" to women than in creating a quality product.  As Vox Day puts it in SJW's Always Lie, this is the social justice convergence in action.  To whit:
The public schools can no longer educate, so people are turning to homeschooling. The universities can no longer provide liberal arts educations, so people are becoming technology-assisted autodidacts. The banks no longer loan, the state and local governments no longer provide basic public services, the military does not defend the borders, the newspapers no longer provide news, the television networks no longer entertain, and the corporations are increasingly unable to provide employment. 
Even as the institutions have been invaded and coopted in the interests of social justice, they have been rendered unable to fulfill their primary functions. This is the great internal contradiction that the SJWs will never be able to positively resolve, just as the Soviet communists were never able to resolve the contradiction of socialist calculation that brought down their economy and their empire 69 years after Ludwig von Mises first pointed it out. One might call it the Impossibility of Social Justice Convergence; no man can serve two masters and no institution can effectively serve two different functions. The more an institution converges towards the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice, the less it is able to perform its primary function.
This was a very worrisome development for Star Wars.  And it couldn't have come at a worse time, with the CEO of Sam's Club in the news for openly admitting that she discriminates against white men, and her boss, the President and CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc. doubling down and backing her up in the news literally this week; the Diversity™ Star Wars which has gotten rid of all white men that it could, except when casting them as villains?

Luckily, however... Kathleen Kennedy had enough sense not to mess with talented people.  And the talented people, who lack some sense, didn't let it keep them from writing, casting, directing and otherwise making an enjoyable movie.  The new Star Wars is quite good.  Very good, in fact.  I'll be seeing it again at least once more this holiday season, probably twice more, and it now became only the third "must buy" Blu-ray released in 2015 (the second Avengers movie and Jurassic World were the other two.  Yes, I already have them.)

To address the specific problems with the prequels and how this compared:
  • The plot was relatively tight.  It left plenty of questions unresolved, but that gave the movie more of a cliffhanger like feeling rather than a, "wow, the writers are really, really sloppy and maybe even kind of retarded" feeling, like we had in the prequels.  There weren't any weird open loops (that weren't obviously deliberately left open for subsequent movies in the series), there weren't any truly gaping plot holes, there weren't any "wait, what in the world is happening, and why?" moments.  On further reflection and viewing, will I find some holes?  No doubt.  Star Wars is and always was the visual representation of pulp fiction.  But it was a competently structured plot.  The same was not true of the prequels, at all.  About the only one I can really think of after watching it once, late at night, was that Finn's defection (which was obvious from the trailers, so I'm confident that I'm not spoiling anything significant here) seemed more like a just-so story that had to happen almost immediately, so we really have no idea why he came to that conclusion.
  • The dialogue and chemistry between the characters wasn't quite as infectious as between Han, Leia and Luke, but it was pretty well done.  The characters are likable characters, and they talk and behave like real people.  They're even funny, quite often, although not in an overtly comedy type fashion.  My wife commented on the chemistry specifically between Rey and Finn; the characters played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the two leads.  I actually didn't necessarily get a sense of romantic interest chemistry between them, though—they kind of came across to me a bit more like a buddy movie relationship, or at least the beginnings of one.  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, maybe.  They were too unevenly built to be credible romantic interests: Rey was bizarrely hyper competent and successful at pretty much everything that she did, while Finn was more the comic relief—despite his on the surface more serious background.  To be fair, if I hadn't been a bit red-pilled by now, I might not really have been able to put my finger on this, though.  It would have left me with a vague sense of cognitive dissonance that I couldn't quite figure out.
  • The movie was exciting and paced quite well.  Stuff was always happening.  It wasn't always action, but it wasn't ever really much in the way of boring, talking heads exposition.  This was probably the single biggest killer of the prequels—although that's not meant to diminish the impact of numerous other fatal flaws.
  • The prequels were generally completely ignored.  I can't really recall anything that specifically referenced something from the prequels, and it didn't really feel anything like the prequels.  In fact, remember watching Jurassic World earlier this year?  It was as much an homage and a remake of Jurassic Park as it was a sequel to it, and it also made basically no reference to JP2 or 3.  This has that same feel.  There are many beats in the script, the overall structure of it, and even numerous specific scenes that almost feel like a remake and update to Star Wars as it does another movie simply set in the same setting.  (As an aside, when I was a kid, and the movie came out, that's what it was called.  There was none of this Episode IV: A New Hope business; it was simply called Star Wars without any subtitles at all, and that carried forward beyond the release of The Empire Strikes Back (it was about a year later that the Episode IV and A New Hope stuff was added.) Since I'm a rather crotchety, opinionated and stubborn old fart, I tend to refuse to use the subtitles and just call the movie by its original title.)
  • As an aside, it didn't introduce anything at all that would invalidate my "1,000 years after Jedi RPG setting" either, which was a bonus.  Then again, it didn't really give me anything new to use, either, like the Knights of the Old Republic games did.

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