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The Force Awakens: My belated thoughts and my favorite reviews - Chris Blattman

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The Force Awakens: My belated thoughts and my favorite reviews

I meant to write this a week ago, but I’m preparing two new classes, meaning I’m reading in a frenzy and making up the rest, and haven’t had the time to blog.

One benefit of the delay is I had a chance to see the movie a second time. That sounds kind of pathetic, but it’s even sadder when you consider that, with two toddlers, I only see two or three movies a year in the theater.

It also means this is part original review and part round up of my favorite comments and memes. Which I of course read obsessively.

Naturally there are spoilers (what else would you expect?) but even though everyone who cares has seen the movie by now, I put everything below the fold.

Maybe the most common critique is that The Force Awakens is a formulaic rehash of A New Hope. This is to me the biggest disappointment. Did they really have to start with yet another desert-world orphan blowing up, in the end, yet another large spherical weapon with one fatal weak point?

The best retort so far:


Source. The full review is amazing.

Another favorite review has to be the Vatican’s (yes you read that correctly), whose daily paper blasted the film as calling the film “confused and hazy” and, even worse, opining that it “fails most spectacularly” in its representation of evil.

I agree. I don’t know why they had to make the main villain be a whiny millennial who looks like a young Professor Snape, taking orders from a giant Voldemort. Could they not come up with better villains?

A few tweaks could have made a big difference. The slave-child-turned-Stormtrooper-turned-mutineer story and emotional arc could have been more emotionally powerful and interesting. A peek into the most faceless (literally) of the franchise’s institutions. But Finn goes from slightly goofy Stormtrooper to slightly goofy mutineer to slightly goofy rebel in minutes. Maybe Stormtrooping is more like a frat house than a military, and the more sensitive goofy types who don’t fit in just leave. That’s how shallow the character feels.

The fact that the protagonists are a young woman and a black man has been much applauded, for good reason. Call me cynical, I’m more surprised they did not have an Asian protagonist, given how big the movie market there has grown.

I am not being cynical—look at blockbusters in the last few years, and you will see more and more token nods to China. Executives plan this out. The could be one reason why the only place the movie is not breaking box office records is China. There is a Disney Vice-President somewhere saying “I told you so.”

Speaking of race, the single best commentary on The Force Awakens was by Tyler Cowen. Self-recommending.

On a related note, wasn’t it odd that the sole Oscar-winning actor, a black woman, was cast as a CGI character. Kudos to her, as she somehow still managed to be the most interesting personality on screen. Everyone likes Daisy, but her two expressions seem to be “pouty” and “big bared gritted teeth”. (Now that I have pointed this out you will not be able to enjoy the movie ever again.)

I was actually pleased that the politics was left confusing at times. American movies have an annoying habit of over-explaining the context with clumsy dialogue since the average audience member, presumably, hates not knowing what is going on. I am perfectly happy trying to muddle out the difference between rebel and resistance and republic without an obvious answer.

Vox has had very reliably interesting comments. Such as how this movie is really an extended setup for the next movies, and we will have to wait for those to judge this one. Or why the rehashing of the original Star Wars plot is such a shame.

Overall, the movie has the feel of a corporate overlord. A (dare I say it?) autocratic empire dictating the plot line. Fortunately they are not terrible at their jobs. Contrast this to the slightly mad dictator who gave us Jar Jar Binks and Episodes I through III. It’s like they took the movie franchise from Robert Mugabe and handed it to the Chinese Communist Party. Well, I’ll take heavy-handed oligarchy over personal rule any day.

(See how I brought this back to my course on political development? Smooth.)

In the end, I am not sure if I have more or less hope for our race after this week. Humanity’s tacit agreement to abide by a no-spoilers-on-social-media rule was one of the greatest acts of social cooperation I have witnessed. And we used it up to keep you from learning Han Solo is killed.

Finally, a parting thought: Whatever our complaints, it could have been much, much, much, much worse:



19 Responses

  1. “Did they really have to start with yet another desert-world orphan blowing up, in the end, yet another large spherical weapon with one fatal weak point?”

    there was that extraordinary scene where all the rebel leaders stand around their hologram and say to each other, in effect, “so we’re doing this again?”

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