Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Force Awakens a Second Time Around

Saw Force Awakens a second time.

Still enjoyed it.

It's fast and fun, with great new characters, but the story's kind of sloppy and recycles much of the original film. As I said in my original review.

It's no secret that the film was rushed and produced on an insanely tight schedule. Disney execs may have needed to make back their four billion dollar investment sooner rather than later. Igor granted a six month reprieve, but the film might have done with a full extra year to gel.

io9 has a round up of ideas that were being tossed around during development. We might have gotten Kylo Ren as a full-out Darth Vader impersonator, for example, or visited Darth Vader's old castle, or dove underwater to the wreckage of the second Death Star.

The story was still evolving well into production. Poe originally died in the TIE fighter crash, then got brought back by JJ. Maz was going with Han to the Resistance base, then doesn't, and inexplicably disappears from the film.

There are many of these sloppy bits, and they seem to be the result of last minute rewrites.

Birth Movies Death, my favourite new movie review site, has some great articles about The Force Awakens.

Andrew Todd, a filmmaker himself, wrote the article Star Wars, Storytelling, and Fixing it in Post:

"I don’t know how Abrams believed he fucked things up. Maybe the film didn’t move fast or smoothly enough. Maybe it didn’t make sense. Maybe Lucasfilm wanted to save stuff for sequels. But Abrams (or Kathleen Kennedy) clearly did believe he fucked things up, as hasty fixes were obviously deployed in production and post production to rebuild the story. The result is a movie cobbled together out of multiple versions of the script (see The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for more) and even of the production footage. When you watch the movie, you can occasionally feel that something just isn’t right. I guarantee you that J.J. Abrams feels it too.

"Now, I don’t want to be the guy who says “you can’t understand cinema until you’ve made a film,” because you totally can. But while you can identify filmmaking mistakes as a critic, as a filmmaker you feel them in your bones because you’ve probably made them too. You feel them in the weird omissions of information; in the equally weird over-explanation of other information; in the unmotivated cuts in the middle of scenes that could only exist to mask rewritten dialogue. Given that my only feature to date is Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws, which made all those mistakes and more, suffice it to say that I recognised nearly every mistake in The Force Awakens. And though our movie operated on a grossly different scale and timeline, I suspect that the creative problems were rather similar."

Read the whole thing.

Remember the lightsaber hand-off scene from the trailer that doesn't appear in the film? JJ's been open about that, too.

Kasdan and Abrams were pretty sparse with exposition, but I caught more on the second viewing.

They actually mention that the weapon the First Order has built is a hyperspace gun, so that explains how it can fire between star systems. Still a bit confusing: it's on a planet, right? Each time the gun fires, it consumes the sun. They were specific about that detail. When the sun goes out, it's ready to shoot.

But it fires twice.

Where did the second sun come from? Is this planet traveling about the universe? There was no hint of that. No sign of engines. If it can travel about easily, why does it need a hyperspace gun? It can just go to the target system. Resistance scouts found it easily, too, but wouldn't it have moved in order to suck a new sun? It wouldn't be where Fynn last saw it. That sun was consumed the first time it fired.

And if the Resistance has instant communication with the pilots attacking the Death Star III, why didn't they just email the map to the Resistance HQ? They seem fine communicating their attack information across the space waves, so why not the map? Where they in the same system?

A filmmaker should lay out where characters are to each other, so the action is intelligible. I think the same goes for planets.

So… still logic problems we shouldn't think about.

The first film had them too, but they didn't feel as obvious, and never bothered me.

Devin Faraci, the lead critic at Birth Movies Death and a guy with interesting and cogent views on film, has a great article up about the movie being, essentially, Fanfic:

"Most fanfic is, on some level, fan service. I’m speaking broadly here about a genre that contains billions of words and thousands of hours of fan films, but that’s mostly what fanfic boils down to - fans giving themselves what they want. Bringing together characters they like, killing ones they don’t, redeeming villains they love, exploring concepts barely glanced upon in the original property. They right perceived wrongs, give new endings and reconstruct emotions and relationships. Fan fiction often reminds me of masturbation - it’s the fans giving themselves what they want. That’s usually dramatically unsatisfying, and very often the best stories are the ones that drive fans the craziest. Getting what you want is fun at first, but it’s like letting a kid have free reign of the fridge - they end up with a bellyache and maybe even scurvy if you don’t step in soon enough. You gotta eat your vegetables, and fanfic rarely is interested in greens.

"George Lucas gets this. When asked what he thought of The Force Awakens he said “I think the fans will love it. It’s the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.” The kids, Lucas was saying, love getting ice cream for dinner.

"And The Force Awakens is ice cream for dinner. It’s full of familiar things, sometimes with just a new name on them. It’s filled with familiar characters, who have - in true fan fiction style - reverted to fan-favorite versions of themselves. Han and Leia have been reset to their pre-Jedi selves, a move that is enormously unsatisfying for people who want to see these characters grow and change but enormously satisfying for fans who want to see the characters behaving like their favorite versions of them. It’s a film by fans for fans, filled with endless winking references and stocked with recycled versions of unused concept art that will be familiar to the hardcore. When making the first Star Wars Lucas hated that Mark Hamill ad-libbed a reference to THX-1138; in The Force Awakens one of the main characters is named after George Lucas’ favorite experimental short in film school. Another is named after the company that published Star Wars books.

"At its best fanfic uses existing characters and settings as shorthand; you know Kirk and Spock, so a story featuring them allows you to get to the meat or explore emotions without doing a lot of heavy lifting. This is what The Force Awakens does as well, using the perpetual motion machine of nostalgia to power a story that’s all shortcuts. Even the new stuff is built out of the material of the old stuff, denying audiences the shock of discovery but giving them the comfort of familiarity. It’s a fan giving the fans what they want."

Hilarious! Read the whole thing.

Faraci also wrote a review of the film I'm simpatico with. It's well written and more observant than mine:

“It’s another Death Star,” says an X-Wing pilot at a briefing, talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Starkiller Base. He’s immediately told it’s not - this thing is 17 times bigger than the Death Star, and it's not a space station, it's a whole planet. This sort of functions as a metaphor for the entire movie, which is kind of a reboot of A New Hope, but bigger and more sprawling and also containing elements of Empire and Jedi.

"The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie for remix and remake culture. It’s not a remake or a reboot, but it’s a movie that tells a story not entirely dissimilar from the original Star Wars, except that many of the familiar beats and moments have a spin put on them. It’s not a princess who hides valuable data in a droid and is tortured for it, it’s an X-Wing pilot. This time it’s a Stormtrooper dressing up as a rebel. And the kid growing up on a backwater desert planet would rather stay there waiting for her family than escape and follow in their footsteps."

I had been thinking that it was too obvious Rey was Luke's daughter, and that they were setting up a reveal for the second film where Rey and Ren have a showdown. Rey gets to say, 'Didn' yew kill mah brotha?" And Ren says, "No, I AM your brotha!"

But watching it a second time, it seemed even more unlikely she was Leia and Han's daughter. There were just too many instances where she should have been brought up, if so. But then, if Maz new the truth about who Rey was (she says she does), surely she'd mention it to Han, and Han to Leia. If they've got Luke's daughter with them, that's a significant piece of information. Perhaps it was cut, along with the rest of Maz's footage at the Resistance base.

I was also thinking Ren's probing of Rey's mind is what awoke her Force abilities, but that's not so: Rey specifically says she does not understand how she knew how to pilot the Falcon during their thrilling escape from Jakku. She's got powers and abilities that appear out of nowhere, which she shouldn't have, and she knows it.

She sells it well enough I don't mind, but if this was a self-contained story, I'd say such insta-ability was antithetical to the creation of drama. Without training, she seems to have Force abilities greater than Anakin / Vader, Luke, Obiwan, Yoda, or anyone else, instantly. Luke's journey seemed slower and more difficult. But this is part of a trilogy, so I'm expecting there's an explanation as to what's going on, and that this is all part of a greater story arc.

Somehow the Force was awoken in her.

Force ghosts, perhaps? Good spirits? Guardian Vader?

I have no idea.

I'm just hoping they don't glide over it in the sequel.

The first one is still the best, as I argue here. For inside scoop on making the series, like the role his wife Marcia played, see this post.

Thinking of seeing Force Awakens yourself?

Read this before you do!

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