A Non-Fan’s Spoiler-Free Guide to The Force Awakens


Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.

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59 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I saw the original trilogy when it was re-released back in the 90’s/00’s (whenever it was) and not since. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the prequels. Otherwise, I know little of this whole Star Wars thing. Given this background knowledge (or lack thereof) and as someone who enjoys sci-fi grounded in reality, despises most of the fantasy genre, and loves the “Fast and Furious” franchise… how likely am I to enjoy this simply as an action movie?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

      It had good characters and dialog, the plot made some sense, and most of the jokes worked. So, if you liked Guardians of the Galaxy, it was nothing like that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Never saw GotG. Too silly.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

          Aw, I thought GoTG was a lot of fun. Lightweight, sure, and not all that ‘sci-fi’, big-idea-wise; but brisk and funny, a good mix of characters economically-drawn, and a neat visual aesthetic. I’d put it in the Firefly neighborhood.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

            It’s my favorite of the Marvel movies.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

              I hadn’t thought of that, but thinking over all the Marvel movies I’ve seen, I agree.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

              Ant-man was funnier, much less bloated, and actually not oppressive to sit through. GotG did have a better soundtrack, though.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I didn’t see Ant-Man, but re: “bloated”, it appears to have been 117 minutes, to GoTG‘s 121. I assume that 4 minute difference can be put down to the increased number of characters and locations; not sure what made it “oppressive”, unless that’s a general comment about how LOUD and FRANTIC pretty much every movie is nowadays.

                I won’t say GoTG WASN’T that, but I thought it moved along nicely, I enjoyed spending time in that universe, and I would return to it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                Bloated as in the kitchen-sink plot and number of characters and MacGuffins it wanted me to keep track of (and even care about.) Oppressive as in the number of pointless action scenes I had to sit through until something entertaining happened.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I think GotG’s problem was…it was a space opera movie in a universe no one knows.(1)

                That’s a high bar to get over. A lot of explaining, which did make the movie bloated, and a lot of handwaving and hoping people go along with it to keep the movie from being *more* bloated.

                All space operas, that aren’t set in an established universe, are going to feel like this. At least in the modern day…people actually demand to know what is going on.

                Which, oddly, brings this back to Star Wars and the fact a lot of fans are somewhat confused about what is going on in The Force Awakens, because Star Wars *didn’t* explain the situation…despite the fact people were perfectly happy to have *no clue* what was happening back when A New Hope came out. And Star Wars isn’t even a new universe…we just had a 30 year gap.

                Modern audiences want large, intricate world-building, so GotG has to slow down to explain that there was a war with the Kree, and there’s a treaty now, and this rogue guy is attacking, and the Kree won’t do anything, etc, etc. Instead of just ‘This guy is a villain.’.

                1) Okay, it’s *technically* in the Marvel universe and people know-ish about that on earth, but you have to be a fairly dedicated comic fan to know anything about *space* there. Fun fact: From what I understand, where the Kree and the Nova corps are, in the comics, are a *different* galaxy than ours. So they are, in fact, Guardians of Some Other Galaxy.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I haven’t seen Ant Man. Looks like it’s in Redbox, so I will have to check it out.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                The consensus I’ve heard is that it turned out much better than anyone was expecting, after the departure of Edgar Wright (it’s usually not a good sign when the director who’s been working on it forever is not the one who actually directs the film on-set).Report

              • Avatar Patrick in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I second Mike on Ant-Man.

                It was the most unabashedly “four-color comic” of the Marvel movies. Think late 70s early 80s before everyone got obsessed with making comic books all adulty and dark and brooding.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

            Zazzy insisted I’d have liked GotG, but I see green people and rock people and roll my eyes. But that’s on me.

            Never seen Firefly. Isn’t it vampires?Report

  2. Avatar El Muneco says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but have friends that have, and I’ve read a whole gamut of reviews (and haven’t avoided spoilers, so I know what happens).

    There was a comment on Slacktivist that captures the zeitgeist of the online commentary:

    TFA is a really, really good … tribute band.

    It has real talent going for it, and although it has a loving familiarity with the material, it seems shackled in some ways by having to tick off all the boxes on the set list. And you have a great time, but somehow end up wondering if the reason you loved the best parts was because those were the parts you loved all along.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to El Muneco says:

      That’s a good way to put it.

      HOWEVER. I realize that my comparison for the movie was not to the first three from my childhood but to the last three.

      I was thinking that it was nice that someone was making a Star Wars movie like the ones I remembered from when I was a kid.

      They were a bit post-modern due to the sheer number of callbacks to the original three (and the “wait, was that a callback?” little touches) but they were in service to making the audience happy.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

        The second and third were full of callbacks to the first one too. How many times did someone have a bad feeling about this? (Not a rhetorical question: I’m betting at least one of you can quote every one of them.) The third one had a “blowing up the deathstar” climax too. And Lando Calrissian, the guy who was just out for himself until his conscience made him thrown in with the heroes: does he remind you of anyone?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Maribou and I talked about this particular point after lunch.

          I put the stuff that is lifted directly from Hero With A Thousand Faces in a somewhat different category than the stuff that throws back to the original Star Wars.

          So the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is a different kind of callback to the original than, say, a hero refusing the call. Lando, to use the example you gave, was stealing from Campbell rather than from the first one.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

            TFA already has a reasonably populated TVTropes page, which I’m sure contains many items of both types.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              Yeah, going through it now.

              Speculative spoiler follows: (My favorite of all of the callouts was the whole “we’re going to take our sweet time answering the dozens of questions you have” thing. It took us two whole movies to learn the relationship between two major characters in the first trilogy. And, now that I think about it, there was another relationship between two major characters revealed in the third. I’ve no doubt that we’re enjoying a similar set-up here.)Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

                We’re more getting a Game of Thrones vibe from the “later plot reveals” I’m pretty sure. As in: if you watched this movie, you know what the next movie is going to tell you.

                Show then tell, it’s a good storytelling device.Report

        • Avatar Ken S in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Harry Morgan?Report

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    It’s definitely hamstrung by its fealty to the original. At times it almost feels like pastiche, even. It’s an OK-to-good action flick trapped in a fan fiction body. I wasn’t bored, but it didn’t leave me dying for more.

    I’ll add this, especial for people with young children whom they’re thinking about taking to see it: its violence is that of a war movie.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

      A “happy” war movie. Not “Black Hawk Down” or anything that shows mostly blood and guts.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

      The more I think about it, the more I think the movie sucks. My suggestion: don’t think much about it.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        It’s instructive to recall the initial joyous reaction to The Phantom Menace as well. Hype is a strange beast. It was about a year IIRC until popular sentiment against TPM curdled irrevocably.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

          As much as people seem to be enjoying this movie, my son included, I hope that opinion of it doesn’t take a TPM-like turn. It’s not TPM-bad, but TPM was historically bad (and its two sequels even worse). This movie is more Twilight-bad than The Phantom Menace-bad, except it’s clearly fan fiction, so it might be more appropriate to say that it’s Fifty Shades of Grey-bad.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:


          1.We had a work outing to go see it. Everybody (even me) was excited to go, and afterward there was near-unanimous disappointment, and for the obvious reasons (Jar-jar, midichlorians, the virgin fishing birth, Jake Lloyd.)

          2. rec.arts.sf.written was also near-unanimously disappointed. There were long threads in which some dufus insisted that its numbers meant it was objectively a success, regardless of the fact that none of the posters liked it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

        “Sucks” seems a bit harsh.

        It was an apology that tried too hard but was made so expertly by so many people who were good at this sort of thing that you couldn’t tell how hard it was trying until you were walking back out to the car.

        There seems to have been an active decision to be safe (which, given the prequels, makes sense). They had an apology to make. They made it.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          I think it’s precisely on the level of Twilight. Whether “sucks” is an accurate adjective for a Twilight (or perhaps one of its sequels), or a movie on its level is the sort of thing that discussion is unlikely to resolve.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

            Lucy Stag described it thusly:

            Prequels: flavorless meat with broken glass sprinkled in. The Force Awakens: the right spice, but too much of it, and is this just tofu?— Lucy Steigerwald (@LucyStag) December 21, 2015

            Well, I imagine that JJ Abrams and his staff said “okay, we’re returning to the Monomyth and we’re going to explore the corners that the first trilogy left out… and the big one was “refusal of the call”. We saw two of the three reflections of the heroes refuse the call. They refused the heck out of it. Now, “refusal of the call” is probably the least fun part of the Monomyth. Let’s face it, it’s not why we bought a ticket.

            But in service to exploring the Monomyth, and apologizing for the last three movies, and telling a new story that directly ties into the old story, and subverting tropes along the way, there probably are too many masters. The failings of this movie deal with how many masters it has to serve. But, for my part, I’m glad the audience is one of the masters this time.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              Since there are already more than enough front-page reviews, I’ll put my draft review here, mostly blacked-out because of spoilers:Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Since there are already more than enough front-page reviews, I’ll put my draft review here, mostly blacked-out because of spoilers:

                Let me begin by saying that, while my super-fan son had something to do with it, it is telling that I went to see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens on its opening weekend. I haven’t seen a movie on its opening weekend, that I recall, since Attack of the Clones more than a decade ago. I generally hate seeing movies in crowded theaters*, so the fact that I went to see one of the most anticipated movies of my lifetime on its record-setting opening weekend is, then, a pretty good indication of just how excited I was to see it. I am not a Star Wars fan on the level of some of the people I saw this weekend, the people who stood in line for hours dressed in Star Wars gear or costumes to see the film on opening night, for example, but the movies and toys were a big part of my childhood, and I will always love them for that reason.

                Knowing that, you will understand how disappointed I am to have to tell you that it is not a good movie. It is at most a mindlessly entertaining action blockbuster in the Independence Day or Armegeddon vein. At worst, it is a poorly-constructed and confused mixture of fan fiction and science fiction clichés.

                Perhaps what disappoints the most is that it did not have to be as bad as it is. The story is built around two characters with a great deal of potential: a strong, self-sufficient, but emotionally damaged young woman who was abandoned by her parents as a young child in a stark, violent desert town, and a conflicted young man whose adolescent rebellion has led him into the arms of a charismatic cult leader. Their fates are intertwined by their connections to a mysterious and powerful force, the Force, connections which will result in their internal and external struggles impacting events on a scale far beyond their ability to comprehend, much less foresee. This, it seems to me at least, is the foundation for a really interesting story, one that could easily fill three films. Alas, if the first film is any indication, the story built upon this foundation will be so convoluted and unnecessarily adorned with references to the earlier films that it will never come close to reaching its potential.

                To see what I mean, consider that would not be an exaggeration to call The Force Awakens a shameless pastiche of Episode IV. The basic plot-structure and many of the elements are virtually identical: a cute, spunky droid is given a secret that must be delivered to the Rebels/Resistance. After being captured to be traded (perhaps for scraps), the droid, which is hunted by an evil power (the Empire or The First Order) led by a masked, seemingly magical, masked figure who is desperate to obtain the secret, is rescued by a teenager on a desert planet, who thereby becomes a target of the evil power. In their initial meeting, the masked Empirical/First Order leader recognizes that there is something special about the teenager, something that only those initiated in the magical world from which he draws his power could recognize, which makes her as important a target as the secret-carrying droid.

                In both films the teens escape the desert planet in the same damn ship, The Millennium Falcon; in both films they are ultimately aided by the same damn person, Han Solo, who in both films uses his knowledge of the galaxy’s underworld to help them. In both cases, while they’re hanging among his underworld associates things go horribly wrong and they are nearly killed.

                There are more superficial similarities as well: at one point in both movies the Millennium Falcon escapes pursuit by diving into the belly of a beast (though in The Force Awakens, the beast is figurative: a fallen Imperial destroyer). Hell, even the opening shot, with a large Imperial First Order warship passing us, is an imitation of the opening shot of Episode IV.

                Finally, as if an identical beginning and middle weren’t enough, both movies end with Rebels/The Resistance blowing up a planet-sized, planet-destroying weapons system with an X-Wing fighter attack that exploits a small, easily-recognized but poorly defended weakness in the system.

                Add to the pastiche some outright silliness on the level of the prequels, e.g., the surprisingly giant, surprisingly agile tentacled-beasts that actually save Han, Finn, and Rey from two groups of loan sharks out to kill Han, in an utterly unnecessarily part of the film that is little more than a nod to Han’s trouble with bounty hunters in the first two films and plays no real role in the plot, and some nonsensical plot elements, e.g., the First Order foot soldier and former janitor who understands an incredibly complex, planet-sized weapon system well enough to know precisely where its weakness lies, and you’ve got a hugely disappointing film clearly produced more out of fear of failure and fan anger than of a desire to tell an interesting story.

                My only hope for the next two films is that they’ve gotten all of the fan fiction out of their system and can start telling the interesting story of how the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren shapes events on a galactic scale.

                *Turns out the theater, the same one in which I saw the rerelease of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and two of the three prequels (I didn’t see Revenge of the Sith in a theater), wasn’t even half full.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                Chris: Since there are already more than enough front-page reviews

                What part of “palooza” is unclear to you, sir? Get thee to the post-editor like a good OG!

                Seriously: I urge you to make it an independent post, multi-block spoilerated as you see fit. Otherwise, you’ll just be making work for your overworked editors posting it for you (or dragged into a should-we/shouldn’t-we?). If I manage to get to the movie, whenever, I’ll maybe-possibly-probably want to post on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if several other OGs will want to say their says.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                My only hope for the next two films is that they’ve gotten all of the fan fiction out of their system and can start telling the interesting story of how the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren shapes events on a galactic scale.

                For what it’s worth, I hope this too.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

                Caution was the watchword, and caution killed the tale.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                @chris If it would provide encouragement and make the exercise seem more sensible to you, I’d be happy to delete the above comment after you’ve copy-pasted it.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                OK, I’ve just about finished, but realized I have no idea how to do that “unspoil all” thing or how to connected it to Star Warsapalooza.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

                On behalf of the Editorial Empire, I thank you! If you want to learn how to add the Reveal All button and do multi-block (de-)spoilerization, read this: https://ordinary-times.com/developing/2015/08/spoiling-you-some-more/

                If you don’t care to learn… then I can do it for you if you provide indications, but it’s not hard – and you may find yourself wanting to do it in the future.

                Connecting up to the palooza happens automagically if you add the same tags that the others are using (Star Wars, StarWarsVII)

                No need really to delete the above comment, but anyone preparing to agree or disagree with you violently ought to know there’s a bun in the oven even as we speak. If you link back to this post or the particular comment, there’ll at least be a pingback for those keeping score.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

                It is at most a mindlessly entertaining action blockbuster in the Independence Day or Armegeddon vein.

                Or the A New Hope (nee Star Wars) vein. Perhaps that’s the difference between fans and non-fans; I neither expected nor would have desired anything else. If I want a profound meditation on the nature of good and evil, I’ll look somewhere besides an Abrams-Lucas collaboration.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah. I’m a guy who can take or leave Star Wars.

                Star Wars is more important for *what it did* and when it did it than the actual movies, which are…good movies, I guess.

                The dialog sucks, the second and third movies retcon the hell out of the first by making the wise mentor into a near pathological liar. The third movie spends half of its time trying to undo the end of the second movie. The villains are almost cardboard cutouts of evil.

                But there’s plenty of good. The locations are pretty interesting. The look of a *used* ‘future’ was an important addition to sci-fi.

                And it’s right up there with Lord of the Rings movies showing movie studies that you *can* produce certain types of movies that were previously thought to be really bad ideas. Without Star Wars, we’d never even have had a Star Trek movie, so there goes that franchise too. No Blade Runner. No Terminator. (And without Terminator, we don’t get Aliens, either.)

                We probably would not have serious genre stuff *at all*, or had to wait for one of those movies to somehow get made *anyway*. Our 80s sci-fi would be stuff like Real Genius and Weird Science. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we still get Back to the Future and Ghostbusters.

                And the problem is, Star Wars is almost impossible to talk about objectively, because it was such a huge cultural milestone. (I remember the strange ‘Fandom Über Alles’ assertion that *The Avengers*, of all things, was being held up as some sort of pinnacle of movies and no one can say anything bad about it, which is nonsense, no it’s not. Star Wars, OTOH, really sometimes *is* that.)

                Having watched The Force Awakens, I have to say…it’s pretty much exactly the same the original trilogy, and, hell, there are some notable improvements. (The dialog sounds like actual real dialog, for example.)

                I think Disney gave people exactly what they wanted, even if now they think they wanted something else. We already *tried* something different under the Star Wars name, and, uh, everyone hated the prequels.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Sorry for the repeat, but I forgot that in comments you have to “spoil” each paragraph separately, so I quickly deleted unspoiled spoilers.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

              Here’s a review from Aidan Moffatt of Arab Strap…it seems to track pretty well with what many are saying (spoilers, obvs.)


      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Unlike the first three films, which so rewarded thinking?Report

  4. Avatar Dave says:

    Non fan?

    Roid rage in 3, 2, 1…Report

  5. Avatar Will H. says:

    Completely OT:

    I think your music pick is absolutely wonderful.
    Not really familiar with Liszt, though I’ve heard a few of his pieces before.
    Thank you for introducing me to this piece.

    Perhaps The Force Awakens would have benefited from a Liszt score.
    (That ought to tie it in well enough)Report