Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Farce Awakens

So far, I have seen The Force Awakens twice but by the time you read this it may already be three times. This blog is going to be about this film so if you don't want to stumble across plot points its probably best for you to stop reading now. For those who stay, may the farce be with you.

My thesis in this blog is very simple: The Force Awakens is a terrible, ridiculously badly written film that, as a story, is just pure farce. Secondly, it is also tremendous fun and I can see why people like it. But what about that rubbish storyline?!!

After all these years we finally get back to where we were (those of us old enough, at any rate) at the end of Return of the Jedi (that's the one with the teddy bears). Its now thirty years later and JJ Abrams has been tasked with making episode four all over again to make lots of money from people who just want the same thing rehashed bringing a new episode to the screen. But what's this I see before me? We have a funny, bleepy droid who is carrying vital information, a bad guy in black robes with a red lightsabre who wears a mask, a crazy pilot guy, a callow youth on a backwater planet who goes about her business but seems called to higher things. And what's this? There are a lot of bad guys in big star destroyers who also control a large planetoid that's capable of blowing up whole planets? Don't tell me, they have to penetrate its shields and blow it up at the climax of the film, right? What? They do? I've seen this film before in 1977. It was called Star Wars.

But its not enough that Abrams' "thinly disguised remake of Episode 4" (to quote Irvine Welsh) basically steals at will from the three Star Wars films people actually like (there are some echoes of The Empire Strikes Back too in the forest scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren). No, Abrams thinks he is up to the job of adding something new. That new is called Finn. And I truly feel so sorry for John Boyega who plays this character. Finn is the worst stormtrooper in the world. We see him in the opening scene as a division of stormtroopers lands on a planet to capture some information on the missing Luke Skywalker. Finn doesn't do much and despite being a stormtrooper barely seems able to fire his blaster. His buddy dies and then he decides he doesn't want to be a stormtrooper anymore. His boss notices he isn't as on it as the rest of his stormtrooper buddies and so asks him to report for assessment. 

At this point the worst stormtrooper in the world decides to run away and he kidnaps an important prisoner (the aforementioned crazy pilot guy) and they make a highly implausible escape from a star destroyer. (No force field at the exit? Even the star destroyers of 1977 had that!) Thereafter the worst stormtrooper in the world, who just wants to run away from the First Order, manages to spend the rest of the film being rubbish at everything... including running away. I genuinely do not know why this character is in the film or what it is those who wrote him into it thinks he adds. I think they just wanted to add a new guy and this was the best they could do. Unless there is to be some huge revelation in following episodes (which would be increasingly implausible the more pointless Finn gets) it seems to me that the character is just a joke, a bad joke without depth or purpose. He is Jar Jar Binks. Who cares if Finn lives or dies? He's just a bad stormtrooper who ran away.

This brings us to Rey, our callow youth of choice with a higher purpose in this installment. There is not much character development here. We are told that not Luke was left on the planet of Jakku (but not who with or how she is even still alive at this point) and she keeps mentioning how she has to wait there for someone to come back but, nevertheless, she decides to embark on a reckless adventure across the galaxy with the worst stormtrooper in the world and not R2D2 (actually called BB8) in a handily parked Millennium Falcon which, although it seems to have been left standing for years, here works perfectly. It seems pretty clear that in one of the next episodes Rey will be revealed to be a Jedi. Indeed, so desperate to tell us this is this film that it has Rey breaking out of jail on a star destroyer by telling the guard to let her go free. Abrams does not seem able to wait for the money shot here as George Lucas did all those years ago. Rey is a Jedi so let's not monkey about pretending we don't know, right? Never mind that she goes from somebody waiting for something whilst collecting scrap to someone using Jedi mind tricks in very short order and without ANY training. Even Luke had to do all that running and balancing stuff.

Oh, did I mention that Han Solo and Chewbacca are in the film? Han tries to play it like the old days but he's over 70 and broke his leg in filming so he doesn't so much run anymore as shuffle. Chewie looks about 30 years younger. Someone must have given his shagpile a good wash and brush up. He looks like a new Wookiee. (What Leia looks like we cannot say because people are being nasty to Carrie Fisher about it on the Internet. All I'll say is the filmmakers clearly didn't want her in the film much so she gets a few meaningless scenes where she looks suitably sombre.) Han seems to be in this film for three reasons: so old fans can cheer at his ridiculously stage managed entry into the film, so he can confirm to our new characters that, yep, all that Jedi shit is really real and so that he can die. The last one, so some say, was at the insistence of Harrison Ford himself. Even so, the way that Han Solo dies is very un-Han Solo. This is the guy who shot Greedo and lived the life of a smuggler and yet he confronts his killer (and son) who has use of The Force on a high platform with no weapons drawn? Has Han gone senile? Ok, Han has to die but this was basically a suicide.

And what of this son, Kylo Ren? We are told that he went berserker on Luke Skywalker and all his other trainees during Jedi training and we see some of this berserker in a couple of scenes of the film when things don't go according to plan. Kylo Ren is a very strange character. At the beginning of the film he can stop blaster shots in mid flight. We also see him manipulate matter and minds. And yet when ikkle Rey comes along she can block his mind control and beat him in a lightsabre battle. Kylo Ren has had some Jedi training with Luke Skywalker and some training (although not completed training) with the mysterious Snoke (who is the Emperor character of this film). And he gets beaten so easily by the girl from the scrapyard? We are meant to swallow the idea that Kylo Ren is haunted by the lightside so that he cannot go completely dark and this all seems set up for the character to go full Darth Vader at some point, return to the light, and all is well. Time will tell on that. As far as this film is concerned though Kylo Ren is a completely unconvincing character that must bend and twist to the whims of an incoherent plot.

What more is there to say? As I already intimated, the film is, despite all this, really good fun. This is despite the fact that Luke Skywalker's lightsabre is fortuitously found in a trunk beneath a bar very like the one in Mos Eisley. Good job they found it or Kylo Ren would have killed both Finn and Rey at the end. The bar owner, who seems to know everything, apparently due to the fact she is a bar owner because no other reason is given, says that the lightsabre is calling out to Rey. Well, of course it is. The threadbare plot demands it is so. Rey is given a vision of both the past and the future. She seems not to remember this when the future part, a lightsabre fight with Kylo Ren, occurs. Some say that Rey is going to turn out to be daughter of Skywalker. Isn't that just very unimaginative? These are but small points as is the fact that when our heroes have escaped and the not Death Star has been destroyed (very very easily) much as the Death Star was before it our droid heroes BB8 and R2D2 come together to show us the map to Luke which is what this flimsy film was supposed to be all about. Yeah, I forgot too but don't worry, the script didn't care much either. The film ends with Luke Skywalker on a diet turning to camera as Rey, the girl formerly known as the person who needed to be waiting on Jakku, hands him his lightsabre which she found on a planet she might never have gone to.

What a load of absurd nonsense with little genuine sense of peril or dread. In this case, though, incoherent absurdity is not at odds with enjoyable fun. Lucky for Disney. The farce seems to be with them.

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