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Old 2017-01-10, 08:50 PM   #5
inflatable dalek
Duke of Kidderminster
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Kidderminster UK

Finally saw it!


It's one of those films where I think it will take a second viewing to nudge it into me either really liking it or finding it unmitigated crap.

I certainly like the way it unashamedly does something that's different for the franchise but very much in keeping with its original ethos: In the same way Lucas originally did the perfect distillation of every pulp serial of his youth this does the same with every Mission war film ever made.

The cast were fine despite the characters they were playing being a dour bunch (more on that in a minute), the set pieces were impressive (though my mother started laughing loudly at the--IHHO--stupidity of the ramming sequence at the end) and there was little you could point at and call outright bad.

But at the same time it felt unsatisfying. Largely because I don't think this type of movie is a good fit for Star Wars. At least without toughing up the opposition a lot more, you can't really do a dark gritty war film when the Empire still can't shoot anything right in front of them and a guy with a stick can twat them at ease. The actual war part of Star Wars has always been a bit silly and this doesn't quite bridge the gap between that and the film it wants to be.

The seriousness also makes for quite a dull bunch of characters, as noted the performances were fine (though how someone raised first by Mads Mikkelsen and then Forest Whittaker wound up with a cut glass English accent I'll never know), but they're incredibly serious and have very little humour or warmth to them. Again, probably realistic but many of the great war films this is aping had fun larger than life characters as well.

The blind guy was the biggest example of this, a possibly insane blind kung fu master who thinks he's a Jedi? Great silly idea. But there was no ooomphhh to his performance and he seemed to be napping at times.

The robot probably did best out of the heroes, I suspect the fact his dialogue could all be altered easily in post meant a lot of reworking during the extensive changes, certainly he seemed to shift between being a bit of a bastard and being C3P02.

The other big flaw is it was too long: You could easily have made the planet with Dad on and the planet with the plans one and the same and ensured both of the film's main plot threads climaxed together (rather than, as happens, finishing off the one that wasn't a foregone conclusion first). It would certainly have made sense for there to be a copy of the designs at the place where the Death Star was designed and the big shield being over a top secret lab makes more sense than the records archive.

A few people on twitter suggested it had to be two separate missions to bond the team and ask the tough questions about the two lead's motives... but the war films this is aping usually just have one central mission and have to bond the team and payoff the plot threads within that, so I can't see why that couldn't have been done here with some better writing and structuring of the plot. Plus tropical planet was a fairly fresh thing for Star Wars whilst we've had storm planets before, skipping that would have been fine.

Darth Vader seemed like he'd been smoking some good weed before his main talky scene didn't he? Again, I suspect a character who's lines are all ADR anyway meant they bore the brunt of the attempts to lighten the tone. Possibly the performance didn't help there, the new actor (I'm guessing they didn't get Hayden Christian back despite otherwise being faithful to the prequel trilogy actors with returning characters) was camping it up far more than Dave Prowse ever did.

Other thoughts:

The names of Mads and wife bugged me for being familiar during the screening, of course they're named after Galan and Llyra from the Headmasters comic! Spelt one letter differently in each case (trademark reasons presumably) and I'd have put one down to a coincidence (or just a Planet of the Apes TV show gag in the former case), but together and in a relationship? Has to be deliberate. Shame the daughter wasn't called Kord.

I wasn't expecting Tarkin to have such a big role (possibly not even that much smaller than in the original), I was expecting to find it awkward but--whilst I never thought for a second "That's a real face"--I actually bought into it. Probably helps there's so much motion capture in Star Wars anyway (including of otherwise normal looking types like Serkis in the last one), I wonder whether it would have stood out for anyone who didn't know Peter Cushing?

Oddly Leia felt less convincing at the end, though of course, that's got a weight to seeing it now. Especially considering that--as ADR is usually one of the last things done on a film--that one word voiceover might have been Carrie Fisher's last work even if we've still got one more film with her in to come.

I guess the last few minutes was part of the reshoots? Up to then it's almost fastidious about not contradicting anything from the original--would anyone have really minded if the Death Star had blown up a planet?--but the last action scene basically throws all that out the window and makes the Vader/Leia conversation that opens the original very strange ("I'm on a diplomatic mission!" "Dude, you literally just fled the battle. I watched. Look, there's the guy I chased aboard with the plans. Hello again there! By the way, I've been working on some quips. Would you like to hear one?"), I guess someone thought just transmitting the plans to the ship wasn't exciting enough?

I'll bet Admiral Fish was Ackbar at one point before changes downed that ship.

Would have been nice if at least one of the team had made it out alive. Once the tone they're aiming for sinks it becomes a bit obvious they're all doomed so at least a minor subversion of that would have been refreshing.

Bail Organa gets a very oddly dramatic "TA DAH!" introductory shot, as if everyone knows who he is. With all respect to Jimmy Smits I'm not sure he's that well remembered. Even from the Prequels he's no Samuel L Jackson or even Jar Jar Binks. The lack of explanation of who he is for people that don't remember his three minutes in a film 11 years ago makes the very clunky exposition heavy conversation about his "Jedi friend" all the odder.

He's certainly aged better than Obi-Wan in the same timeframe though.

I did like the small scale threat of the director, he's entire ambition was just to save face and keep his job and it's only having lots of soldiers that makes him a threat. I thought a flaw of Force Awakens was the supposedly impressive villains all seemed a bit rubbish (Kylo Ren: Handy if you want a wall or a pensioner stabbed, terrible at everything else), here you've got a desperate guy struggling to keep his head above water and no one treats him as anything but that and it works much better.

There's some great black comedy from how everything he does--starting with forcing someone to build his death weapon who doesn't want to do it--makes the situation worse and worse.

Not sure why he needed to go to Plans planet himself at the end though, he could have just phoned them up and asked for a copy of the information to be sent to him surely?

Oh, and visually I really liked how the Death Star had a real imposing presence in this that it's never quite had before. I really do think the TF films could pull off a full scale Unicron now.
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