Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler Review

Having been officially playing for a day, Collider‘s John Campea of The Anniversary and Jon Schnepp of The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? have reviewed J. J. AbramsLawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt‘s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens:

The problem with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

A narrative is a synthesis. A protagonist and an antagonist pushing against each other, powering the story machine. Often, the conflicts are a conflict of interest, and they deal with that in their own way. That’s the story.

That’s how films are driven. And audiences will be a lot more forgiving of a film if the protagonist and the antagonist work as characters. Contrivances and forced scenes are a lot easier to swallow if we can at least understand why the protagonist and antagonist are fixed against each other. The old adage of “no story without conflict” is referenced so often because it’s imperative.

Without a convincing conflict between protagonist and antagonist, nothing else is convincing. Star Wars has worked with audiences because the fantastical world it builds is irrelevant – the characters have releatable desires, so the space battles feel important because they’re driving a conflict we can believe. That’s why Star Wars succeeds at storytelling. From the first shot, a conflict’s established.

The opening crawl tells us that the protagonist is fighting in a rebellion against an empire. The first thing we see in this civil war is a rebel transport ship, followed by a much larger imperial battleship. All in one shot. That immediately establishes the conflict and how powerless the rebels feel against the Empire, and how oppressive the Empire is.

Therefore, we can relate to it. From that point on, we want the rebels to succeed and for the imperials to be crushed, because it reflects real situations in the world. There are many oppressive governments resisting uprisings, and that’s what makes Star Wars a recognisable conflict. So when we meet Vader, we already understand what Vader wants.

In Star Wars, Vader wants to recover the stolen Death Star plans, while Luke wants to return them to Leia, the character that’s come between them. That’s synthesis. And it works brilliantly. Whereas Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has the same problem that just about every Abrams-directed film has.

The characters don’t have established motivations, which makes them difficult to feel any empathy toward. Alfred Hitchcock once said that motivations are irrelevant in fiction, and thus was propelled onto a pedestal Hitchock doesn’t deserve. Character motivations do matter, and it’s where Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens falls short. Remember: story-telling is building a house, and you need capable foundations to support it.

Without the foundations being capable, the whole structure doesn’t work. Motivations are the foundation of storytelling. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens doesn’t have them. While Han’s motivations aren’t established very well -Han seems to pilot Finn, Rey and Chewie just about anywhere Han senses may be convenient or just feels like going – Han’s a character I can put aside.

This isn’t about Han. I do consider Han the protagonist for being the first character credited and for Han’s familial connection to the antagonist, but Han’s not the antagonist. That’s Ren. And Ren’s motivations aren’t established at all, which makes understanding why Ren’s so hell bent on destruction difficult to understand (like his voice).

When we first meet Ren, here’s what happens: Ren arrives on Jakku, seeking the map to Luke; Ren intimidates and kills The Vicar and orders the Jakku village to be burned down. So basically, Ren’s seeking a MacGuffin. The problem is… so was Vader. Except the MacGuffin of Star Wars was the Death Star plans, and they’re recovered at the end of Act II – Luke’s accomplished Luke’s goal of returning the schematics to Leia, making Act III the resolution, as the Death Star schematics’ relevance pays-off in a battle sequence.

The Death Star schematics are never just a plot-driver – they provide the conflict but also the resolution. Whereas the map to Luke is itself not explained well and ultimately contribute nothing to Ren’s character. Instead, the map to Luke is established as being important early-on in order to lead Rey to Luke at the end. But finding Luke is completely irrelevant.

All Rey wants is to return Luke’s lightsaber, but Luke’s location could have been revealed through any arbitrary plot device. And that’s what the map is – arbitrary. Through Star Wars, Vader’s character is driven by the desire to recover the schematics to a weapon that will empower the Empire, and in Act III, becomes desperate as the Rebellion now has the power to destroy the Death Star. Vader’s developing motivations affect Vader’s actions and it makes Vader work as an antagonist.

But Ren is dispatched to Jakuu to for no reason other than to introduce something that’s only present for the purposes of nostalgic fan service. And Ren justifies this by claiming to fulfil Vader’s own wishes, even though it’s also acknowledged that Luke taught Ren the ways of the Force. Did Luke not mention that Vader found inner peace and turned to the Light? And why exactly did Ren turn his back on the Jedi?

These things are given as back story, as an attempt to flesh-out Ren’s character and make Ren seem complex and interesting, but a back story is more than just vague descriptions of his past – character establishment requires being told why Ren took those actions, based on Ren’s world view. Ben explained in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi that the truth depends on our points of view. It’s one of the key scenes in the Saga, as it defines the ongoing conflict present: these character just disagree on certain aspects. Whereas Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens decides to insert a character – Maz – to explain that the First Order is simply evil’s new form, following the fall of the Galactic Empire.

And as soon as something is labelled as evil, it’s no longer complex. And when something’s not complex, there’s no space for relateability, and that makes me ultimately not care about what a character wants. So why should I care about anything else? Ren might feel an inner turmoil within him as he struggles with the Dark and the Light, but I prefer that to actually be developed, and not just used as an excuse for objectively incompetent storytelling.

Star Wars premiere report and pictures

On 15th December, Collider‘s John Campea of The Anniversary and Jon Schnepp of The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? shared their experience of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J. J. AbramsLawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) premiere.

Critics’ Choice Awards announce 2015 screenplay awards

The Critics’ Choice Awards have announced their best screenplays of the year:

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies by Matt Charman and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

“The mood is perfectly reflected in the screenplay by Charman and the Coens.” – Mike Smith, Media Mikes

Ex Machina by Alex Garland

“Named after the old literary term ‘deus ex machina’ (‘god from the machine’ — usually referring to a contrived and sudden resolution to a plot or character dilemma), the film is a heady piece of sci-fi, fleshed out with terrific performances, a smart script, solid special effects (especially considering the low budget) and expert direction.” – Jim Judy, Screen It!

The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

“If, on the other hand, you enjoy a Tarantino-scripted conversation or two or five — particularly in a period piece where the characters can’t make references to movies or TV shows — ‘The Hateful Eight‘ may well engage you as a darkly funny locked-door mystery that’s in no hurry to show its hand.” – Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

Inside Out by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley

“The script is tremendously complex, maybe the best -or at least the most elaborate- from John Lasseter’s factory to date.” – José Arce, LaButaca

Spotlight by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

“With a smart script, perfectly paced direction, and superb acting, this is a work that manages to be as entertaining as it is important.” – Mike McGranahan, Aisle Seat

Best Adapted Screenplay

The big Short by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay

“It’s not just a matter of abstracting the maths to the point where people are confused by their own bullshit (though McKay’s script illustrates this rather charmingly); it’s about people not having the basic good sense to read through the précis on the products they’re trading.” – Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

Brooklyn by Nick Hornby

“Screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley join star Saoirse Ronan in creating a united front against the clichés of romance, comedy and coming-of-age tropes.” – John Serba, MLive

The Martian by Drew Goddard

“The script is so technical it could be used as a survival manual for being lost in outer space.” – Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

Room by Emma Donoghue

“The wisest element of Donoghue’s screenplay and director Lenny Abrahamson’s approach to the material is the narrative’s point of view.” – Mark Dujsik, Mark Reviews Movies

Steve Jobs by Aaron Sorkin

“Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet create all the dynamic tension required to propel Aaron Sorkin’s minimalist screenplay into epic terrain, but the film is an inspiring success and a frustrating failure at the same time — much like the man himself” – Katherine Monk, Ex-Press

Top 10 Star Wars Deleted Scenes (Original Trilogy)

(Via Collider)

The Anniversary‘s John Campea on scenes deleted from Star Wars by George LucasStar Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.

Force Awakens thoughts before tomorrow’s big opening

(Via Collider)

The Anniversary‘s John Campea and The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?‘s Jon Schnepp give a spoiler-free post-premier review of J. J. AbramsLawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt‘s Star Wars: The Force Awakens before the midnight opening.

Awaken

A long time ago in a galaxy far,

far away….

Star Wars released its VII Episode today. That’s VII Episodes of C-3PO, R2-D2 and everything from that evocative Main Title, to the iconic medal ceremony. It’s also VII Episodes of Star Wars fans.

The Saga has endured good Episodes and bad Episodes, but even during the hiatuses between the Original Trilogy, Prequel Trilogy and Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars was never forgotten. It has always been loved. Star Wars fans are as loyal and passionate as Chewbacca is to Han Solo. There cannot be a Master without an Apprentice, an R2 series astromech droid without a 3PO unit. Star Wars fans recognise the magic of the Force, their own madness and the fact that since STAR WARS Episode IV A NEW HOPE From the Journal of the Whills (George Lucas) premièred on XXV May MCMLXXVII, Star Wars has been one of the most powerful Forces in the Galaxy.

Star Wars fans are the Human celebration of Star Wars… the Saga itself is a celebration of empathy and positivity. Today Star Wars: the Force Awakens (J. J. AbramsLawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) officially premièred. Plus, it’s also available in III-D, following a Saga marathon in a number of cinemas. Episode VII’s release has been hyped following the release of a trailer on Monday Night Football. The Force visions foretell what is certain: the Force will surround the cinemas, penetrate the auditoriums and bind the audience together.

The concept of Star Wars Episode VII has been long desired since the release of Episode VI, RETURN OF THE JEDI on XXV May MCMLXXXIII. And now, it’s finally real. One expects Episode VII to be a celebration of the past, as well as the future. It’s said that this Saga will release I film a year until there’s no longer a desire for that. I can’t see that happening. Episodes I – VI have already been told. Episode IX will follow in MXIX. Hopefully Episode XII will follow that in MXXV, X years from now. If ever there were a time to become excited about Star Wars, now has never been more appropriate.

I for one intend to follow this Saga through to its end, and inevitably it will outlive me, and you.

Every generation has a story.

May the Force be with all of us… always.

(Original announcement here.)

RETURN OF THE JEDI by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas

It’s two days until the United Kingdom foreign preview release of Star Wars: the Force Awakens – Episode VII in the saga. At least, officially. There are some midnight screenings, but the official release date is still the 17th. Which is the date I’m sticking with regardless – it makes the counting-down easier. So, rather than going in release order like everyone else, I’m doing it in Episode order. Nyer. Here’s Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas‘ screenplay for RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Script supervisor: Pamela Mann Francis

Location script supervisor: Bob Forest

(Any post published after Star Wars: the Force Awakens premiers will be scheduled. I’m withdrawing from the World Wide Web until I’ve seen it, apart from the websites that I really need – university emails, online coursework submissions, etc. Comments posted will also not be read until then.)

Screenplay by LAWRENCE KASDAN and GEORGE LUCAS

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett

It’s three days until the United Kingdom foreign preview release of Star Wars: the Force Awakens – Episode VII in the saga. At least, officially. There are some midnight screenings, but the official release date is still the 17th. Which is the date I’m sticking with regardless – it makes the counting-down easier. So, rather than going in release order like everyone else, I’m doing it in Episode order. Nyer. Here’s Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett‘s screenplay to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

The working title was Star Wars IIThe Empire Strikes Back came to exist as a handwritten treatment from producer George Lucas after story conferences held up to November 1977. The treatment followed the same plot as the final film, except for Luke’s confrontation with Vader being prepared by a visitation from his father, Anakin. Brackett finished this draft in early 1978, much to Lucas’ dissatisfaction. Brackett wouldn’t complete a second draft due to death from cancer. Draft two was therefore written by Lucas, who had no other writers available. Lucas’ second draft was the first instance of Star Wars Episode numberings – “The Empire Strikes Back” became the subtitle of “Star Wars Episode II“. Unlike what was now Star Wars Episode I, Lucas enjoyed writing Star Wars Episode II: The Empire Strikes Back when merging Anakin with Vader, creating the twist of Vader claiming to be Anakin – inspired by the emotional weight created by Anakin visiting Luke. This inspiration helped Lucas write draft two quickly, followed by drafts three and four in April 1978. Han’s imprisonment in carbonite and uncertain fate emerged by the fourth draft to give the sequel a darker edge. Vader claiming to be Luke’s father caused a continuity problem – it’s debated amongst Star Wars scholars whether Vader had ever been intended as Anakin and if Lucas had even considered that possibility before writing Star Wars Episode II: The Empire Strikes Back‘s second draft. Though Vader reveals himself to be Anakin, nothing in the series had foreshadowed this – leading to the argument that Lucas improvised this twist, rather than planning it. Hence, the fourth draft was influenced by back story developed during the writing of drafts two and three; Anakin was Ben’s student and is Luke’s father, who was turned to the Dark Side of the Force by Emperor – who was now a Sith and not just a politician. Anakin was wounded by Ben during a fight on a volcano, and was resurrected as Vader. Ben hid Luke on Tatooine as the Galactic Republic became the Galactic Empire while Vader hunted down and killed the Jedi. Hence, draft four moved The Empire Strikes Back from Star Wars Episode II to Star Wars Episode V; the Saga was now a duology of trilogies. Draft five was written by Kasdan, who was hired by Lucas, working from material in draft four. Director Irvin Kershner also had creative input. Producer Gary Kurtz considered it a mature development of the adventure genre.

Nominee: Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay [1980].