RIP Carrie! 21-10-1956 – 27-12-2016.
What a difference a year makes! Feel free to read my original review first, this is more of a supplement to that post than anything else. As usual, some spoilers are ahead.
Why is the film bad?
I’ve had a lot of discussions with people over the past year, many of whom feel I was too tough with my assessment of the movie. In some ways though I was not tough enough. Yes there are no end to people on the internet who see themselves as film critics and they often have different criteria to what I do when I evaluate at a film. Another thing that people have done is to dismiss my evaluation because “it has great reviews by others”. That may be true, but often these “others” are reviewers for newspapers that are no more qualified than I am to review films – and many of them do it because they get early access to cinema films, and free review discs of movies. I have even seen reviewers in the past give the same film different reviews each time it re-airs on television!
So let’s first discuss what TFA is and isn’t. TFA is a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi. What it isn’t is a remake of Star Wars (aka “A New Hope”). Star Wars movies combine Action, Adventure, Drama, and finally Sci-Fi. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking of movie genres as singular, when in fact a good movie often draws from a variety of genre-specific motifs. George Lucas usually describes the SW films as “space dramas” or “space soap operas”. As a film it should slot into the Star Wars universe in a way that incorporates it well into the existing film canon, and also works well as its own film.
TFA does work well as its own movie. But how many other wholly derivative sequels could we say the same for? How many remakes are good but inferior to their predecessor? Some examples here may help. The Empire Strikes back is one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, it brings a fresh and entertaining story that expands upon the film’s universe, and it has its own style flair and creativity. Let Me In is a fantastic example of a remake that is better than the original. It also shows how less is more: by throwing out the subplot involving the adults, and focusing the film’s attention squarely on the main plot. But it’s rare, most remakes fall well short of their potential: Robocop, Red Drragon, King Kong, The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and The Three Musketeers just to name a few. If we evaluated TFA as a remake then it would fare better than as a sequel to ROTJ, but it still wouldn’t be a great movie either as it overcomplicates the plot with sub-plots that go nowhere, and never develops the story as well as Star Wars.
In the original Star Wars Trilogy, most people would agree that Return of the Jedi is the weakest of the films. One of the reasons why is recycling the Death Star sub-plot. The film’s main story is about defeating the Empire and reconciling Anakin and Luke. And on this part it does really well. TFA on the other hand is a direct sequel to ROTJ and recycles the Death Star sub-plot yet again! The main plot of TFA is to find Luke, and when they do the film ends.
In summary, the film is bad because it is a sequel to ROTJ that repeats the same sub-plot wholesale, as well as repeating the main plot of Star Wars wholesale as well. It doesn’t have its own creative flair, it doesn’t bring us new and beautifully designed planets such as Naboo, and it doesn’t understand the Star Wars genre as will be discussed in the next section.
What is Star Wars?
Star Wars is a 1977 film. Most kids today haven’t even seen the original film, in no small part due to the fact that only the revised 1997 Special Edition has been available on home video. But in addition to this, Star Wars in an Epic. It’s an original story from which other stories can be spawned. Each of the OT and PT are standard three-act movies. And they have their own genre in a way that combines the aforementioned genres of Action, Adventure, Drama, and Sci-Fi.
I don’t think a Star Wars movie needs to be a three act film, that’s more a description of the way they conform more than anything else. Most people today do not understand the three act film structure anyway, and can’t recognise when it does and doesn’t exist in a film. Many of the philosophies adhered to in the three act structure though still apply to all films. For example, your characters should experience luck or coincidences early in the movie, not later in the movie. You should make sure your audience is engaged and interested in the film’s plot early on. You need to define your reality, especially in a Sci-Fi film, early because to do it later leads to breaking the suspension of disbelief. For example, in TFA we see that Kylo Ren can stop a blaster bolt with the force – something we certainly wouldn’t accept late in the movie.
Problems with physics?
If we think of it just purely in these clinical terms we can also spot problems. The Starkiller base is not revealed to us until the second act of the movie. Now true, in the original film we don’t see the Death Star in all its glory until the second act either, but we are exposed to ever increasingly large space crafts as it is. In TFA we are instantly supposed to believe that a small group calling themselves the first order has gouged out a giant gash more than visible from space to construct their weapon? I think that’s where we loose the suspension of disbelief in this movie. With Coruscant we can at least believe that urbanisation expanded over time to cover the entire planet, but with Starkiller we have a purpose-built facility that can literally fit about six Death Stars into its gauge like marbles.
Another issues is when we see it suck in the mass of a nearby star with people still on-board the planet! Not to mention just look how fucking close they are to the star:
This is the case with a lot of sci-fi movies. I get to this point where I say “enough, this is fucking bullshit”. Note that just one scene earlier the sun appeared to be “normal” in the sky, yet if they were this close to it, besides the fact the planet would be engulfed anyway, it would fill nearly the whole god-damned sky! And this occurs way too late into the movie to suspend disbelief. To put it in perspective for you, if our Sun was the same size as the sun in the image above, the distance between us and the sun is about 130x longer than the distance shown. And the earth would be just two pixels across! And besides, the sun and stars are white, not yellow.
Yes Star Wars breaks some laws of physics, but they have to engage the audience first. Not doing it that way leads to the suspension of disbelief being broken. Holograms, Star Destroyers, Artificial Gravity, Landspeeders, Lightsabers and the Force are all introduced in the first act of Star Wars.
The movie is terrible. Yes people will enjoy it, especially if they never saw the originals and are unfamiliar with their story. But as a sequel and a Star Wars movie it fails dismally. In other Star Wars films, planets have their own distinct character – but in this film they do not. I thought we were on Tatooine when I saw the movie until I heard them say “Jakku”! That’s inexcusable when we’re put on a desert planet with Tatooine’s distinctive moisture vapourators.