I’m Addicted To Nitpicking “Star Wars”
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
I can remember the times before I knew anything about criticism or cinema, and it was enough just to watch “Star Wars.” Look at those pod racers fly by! Look at those adorable Ewoks take down stormtroopers! Look at how spry Yoda is in this one!
But that was before the dark times. “Before the Empire.” As I grew up, I started to notice a funny feeling I got when watching certain scenes. I felt the urge to mock sequences and lines I’d never given much thought before. “Does Anakin really have to go on and on about how he hates sand?” I would wonder to myself. “Oh, look at me, I’m Luke, I just want to go to Tosche Station and pick up some power com-bluh-bluh-bluh” I would say.
It’s always been easy to make fun of “Star Wars.” It’s a silly series for children, and George Lucas has never been good at writing dialogue. “Don’t get cocky!” What does that even mean? Even so, the rest of the world and I have had ten years to practice criticizing “Star Wars.” The prequels are often reprehensible, and they deserve to be examined for flaws, if not mocked. Because it’s so easy to find fault in the prequels, it was only natural that many of us started taking a closer look at the original trilogy to see if these faults were only now making themselves apparent. To our relief, the old films are still masterworks, but they aren’t beyond ridicule. Not as bad as other films, to be sure, but I got as much practice lampooning “A New Hope” as I did “Attack of the Clones.”
As I sat down to see “The Force Awakens,” I was ready for the film to prove me wrong, and to do this it would have had to be truly perfect. I’ve watched the other films enough times to know their every defect, every gaffe that went unnoticed during the first hundred views. Is it any surprise that I immediately found faults in the new film’s glossy veneer?
The score is lackluster, and doesn’t pick up until the end. Even when it does, it’s all minor keys and simple melodies without any proper John Williams layering. This is on purpose (“The Force Theme” plays in full when Rey ignites the lightsaber, “The Force Awakens,” ah-ha-ha-ha I get it you guys), but it makes the film feel less a part of the franchise it’s supposed to be redeeming. The camera work is frenetic and full of panning shots. This is new, and mostly a J.J. Abrams mark of ownership. Old “Star Wars,” even the prequels, relies entirely on stark, powerful stationary shots of the actors, of which “Awakens” has approximately none. The film blows its load with Supreme Leader Snoke, who we shouldn’t see until at least the middle of the next episode. Most egregious, the writers revealed Kylo Ren’s ancestry far too soon. Imagine how powerful it would be to hear Han claim Kylo as his son a few scenes before his son kills him? Instead, the reveal is understated and unexciting. Snoke just throws it away, and any thrill that might have been derived from the moment belongs to eternity.
The mystery, then, is that I liked it anyways. I liked it much more than I liked any of the prequels, and I had a better time watching it than any other film this year aside from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I laughed along as Finn and Poe attempted to commandeer a Tie fighter. I loved Adam Driver as the bratty, insecure villain. I absolutely preened with joy at Domnhall Gleeson’s Nazi-rhetoric-spouting General Hux. I adored every moment of BB-8, and I chuckled over and over at Chewbacca’s physical comedy.
So — good movie, or bad movie? Good movie, obviously. But I wonder whether the shortcomings I mentioned are real or imagined. Surely others could see the problems I did.
I checked with my similarly “Star Wars”-obsessed friends, and yes, the film had problems, but apparently I was the only one who found that they occasionally broke the film.
Now I’m not saying that I was convinced to forgive a film just because everyone else did, but the thought struck me: could I have been too unkind to “The Force Awakens”? I’ve spent literally half of my life making fun of a series that I’ve worshipped for every one of my 20 short years. Could it be that my criticism has become second nature, a knee-jerk reaction that I have no control over? Perhaps. I know for certain that I enjoy doing it. Who wouldn’t laugh as Anakin fumes childishly that “If you’re not with me…then you’re my enemy!” Who can deny the chance to make fun of that whiny chump Luke as he reaches to touch a button on the Millennium Falcon’s dash and (I’m being so serious) prattles “What’s that flashing?”
After some thought, I’ve decided that I won’t let these nitpicks define my experience with “Star Wars.” If I did, I’d surely become frustrated and angry with George Lucas, which would lead to hatred of George Lucas, which would lead to suffering and the Dark Side. No thanks. I won’t let my yearning for quality filmmaking ruin what has always been my favorite fictional world.
It’s good that I can criticize these films, because it makes me a conscious consumer where otherwise I might be a foolish devotee. At the same time, I’m past the point in my life where I’ll hate a filmmaker as if his or her mistakes were directed at me, the viewer. So “The Force Awakens” has problems. So it may have elements I didn’t care for. It isn’t personal, and at the end of the day, it was a good movie, and thankfully had more things to praise than to condemn. I’m finally ready to once again judge a “Star Wars” film by what it does well, not by what it does badly. This is the philosophy that brought me back to the Greek tragedy of the prequels, and it’s the philosophy that I plan to apply going forward. Thank you, J.J. You brought back something I never thought I’d see again, even if you made it pretty different. Thank the Force, we’re finally back.