Caution: spoilers ahead.
In the spacelike darkness of the theater, the opening fanfare was the kind of rush I haven’t felt since 1999, when I went to see “The Phantom Menace.” But, as with that movie, I’m sad to report I’ve spent the last few days trying to talk myself into not being disappointed by “The Force Awakens.” Even fellow Texan Ted Cruz’s endorsement of the movie hasn’t helped me shake reactions that have been nagging me since I saw it Friday afternoon.
Is it really progress to have a main character in a “Star Wars” movie be black if the movie has the racial sensibilities of a “Fast and Furious” installment? Stormtrooper defector Finn is the rowdiest of this crop of star warriors, shouting through his adventures to the point that Han Solo has to tell him, during a stealth mission in the enemy base, “Bring it down.” You don’t see Han Solo throwing a flag on white girl Rey for excessive celebration.
And did I hallucinate Finn telling BB-8, “Droid please,” as an obvious stand-in for “Bitch please?” This is a line that should live in infamy. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that Lando didn’t say, after the second Death Star blew up, “Di-no-mite!” after the second Death Star blew up.
Speaking of which, where’s Lando? Did the producers think this “Star Wars” wasn’t big enough for two black guys? It’s not that Billie Dee Williams is dead; he was on “Dancing With the Stars” a short, short time ago.
Did we really need two scenes in a row of Rey asserting that she didn’t need anyone’s help? The first time Rey resisted being led by the hand by Finn, it was a charming callback to Princess Leia’s resentment of being “rescued” by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. The second time, when this scene was rehashed moments later, it was an uncharming reminder that blockbuster-makers nowadays feel obligated to prove how undistressed their damsels are. Unlike Leia’s witty comebacks, it told us little about Rey’s character, other than that she exists in a major movie in 2015. (Or that Finn is amazingly bullheaded.)
How did Rey know to use Jedi mind tricks against the Stormtrooper guarding her cell? We saw Kylo Ren conducting Force-enhanced interrogation of Rey, but there was no scene of him demonstrating mind control – just mind reading. Presumably a future movie in the franchise will explain Rey’s familiarity with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s technique by revealing that she saw “A New Hope” as a kid. Which would also go some way toward explaining where she learned to use a lightsaber like that. Clearly she’s Somebody Important’s kid, so God knows her midi-chlorian count is off the charts and all that, but even Luke “Star Wars” Skywalker had to endure blindfolded training against one of those little “Phantasm” spheres before he knew his way around a lightsaber.
Why, exactly, did R2-D2 wake up when he did? The answer can’t be “proximity to BB-8,” since the limbless little guy was bouncing its gut off the bigger droid earlier in the movie. If the answer is “It took Artoo until the very moment everyone had returned from the Starkiller mission to retrieve from its stores the rest of the map to Luke,” that’s what’s called “plotting that relies on coincidence,” which is also what’s called “bad plotting.”
For that matter, why did finding Luke require the part of the map that didn’t show where Luke was, when they already had in their possession the part of the map that showed where Luke was? It’s not like this was an episode of “Get the Picture,” where a small piece of the image made sense only in the context of the larger image. The map that BB-8 was carrying wasn’t of a corner of Dagobah; it showed a path among multiple planets. If the top minds of the Republic couldn’t figure this out, I can see how the Dark Side came roaring back.
Do people buy Han Solo as a 70-year-old smuggler? I understand that the movie rests somewhat on the premise, reflected in Finn and Rey’s early-Solo-esque disbelief in the Force, that everybody’s forgotten about, well, “Star Wars,” but there’s not a character we encounter in this far-flung galactic adventure who doesn’t know who Han Solo is. He’s a hero of the Rebel Alliance’s most triumphant battles, presumably ensconced as the husband – or at least mate – of a general for decades, and, when his son Kylo Ren betrays Luke, he dusts off his jacket, tousles his hair roguishly and returns to the life of a crooked-smiled scoundrel always only one step ahead of space pirates and bounty hunters? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see a lion-in-winter Solo, a Solo who had been touched by the passing of 30 years more than cosmetically?
Why did “The Force Awakens” repeat the mistake of “Return of the Jedi?” No, not the Ewoks – the inclusion of two simultaneous climaxes, diluting both? In the case of “Jedi,” it was 1) the retread of “A New Hope’s” climax in the form of the Battle of Endor to destroy the second Death Star, and 2) the man-to-man-to-man hate-triangle slugfest among Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine; in the case of “The Force Awakens,” it is 1) the assault on the Starkiller weapon, which, as the second retread of “A New Hope’s” climax, is far too predictable to be exciting, and 2) a reverse retread of “The Empire Strikes Back’s” catwalk scene, in which, this time around, it’s the son who breaks the father’s heart. Does anyone who watches the visually impeccable destruction of Starkiller feel anywhere near the elation they shared with Luke while watching the 1970s-tech explosion of the Death Star?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about “The Force Awakens,” from Kylo Ren’s mask, which, like Rey’s sand-person getup, feels of a piece with the original “Star Wars” aesthetic the way the final scenes of “Revenge of the Sith” did; to an extended, unbroken shot of dog-fighting from Finn’s on-the-ground perspective near the Mos Eisley Cantina 2.0 (Maz Eisley Cantina, anyone?); to the movie’s thrilling conclusion, our at-long-last reunion with the golden thread of “Star Wars,” the heart of the Force, C-3PO’s beloved Master Luke. (Though where was Luke’s goosebump-giving speech from the movie’s second trailer?) Nothing rose to the level of intolerability of the prequel trilogy’s revelation that R2-D2 could fly all along, and even if this movie was a disappointment, given Disney’s plan to milk its new property, it’s safe to paraphrase Yoda and say there will be another. And another. And another…
*Top image: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 walk across the Jakku desert. Image courtesy of Disney.