It’s finally here! After over a year of waiting, speculating, worrying if it will be good, hoping it will be awesome, The Force Awakens is finally upon us!
As I had stated in earlier posts about this film, I was very skeptical. Like many longtime Star Wars fans, I was let down spectacularly by the Prequel Trilogy, even though there actually were good points to those films.
But the more I saw in the trailers, the more cautiously optimistic I grew. Then 12.18.2015 arrived. I had kept myself spoiler-free (a rare thing), avoiding all and any reviews or assholes who wanted to spoil the whole movie or major plot points. I actually felt anxious…but in a good way. So I went and saw Episode VII TWICE, once in the morning with my whole office then again at night with some friends. When the theater darkened and that familiar Star Wars logo hit the screen with the iconic John Williams theme, no one in the theater was silent. So…how the hell was the most anticipated film in the last decade?
Warning, this is a very spoiler-heavy review. So if you haven’t seen this film yet, beware!
Ready? Let’s do it.
30 years have passed since the Battle of Endor. With Darth Vader and Emperor Sheev Palpatine dead, the Empire was thrown into disorder. The Rebels were finally able to crush the Empire and from the New Republic. The only problem with the Dark Side is that it doesn’t go down easy. From the ashes of the Empire came the First Order, an almost Neo-Nazi military regime led by the mysterious darksider Supreme Leader Snoke.
Luke Skywalker was at one point trying to reestablish a New Jedi Order, which included Han and Leia’s son Ben. That went terribly as Ben was obsessed with the legacy of his grandfather Darth Vader. Somewhere along the way, Ben was seduced to the Dark Side and slaughtered all of his fellow Jedi students, then taking on the moniker of Kylo Ren. This drove a serious wedge between Luke, Han and Leia. Luke went into self-imposed exile while Han went back to smuggling to escape his pain.
Now as the First Order continues to gain ground across the galaxy, the Republic-backed Resistance is trying desperately to find Luke before the Order so he can help restore peace to the galaxy at large.
Meanwhile on the desert world of Jakku, an orphaned scavenger named Rey finds herself drawn into the larger conflict when she happens to come across a BB-8 droid with vital data that both sides want.
Rey – The mysterious scavenger from Jakku was waiting for her family, but making ends meet by picking old starship ruins clean. She was strong, brave and could defend herself in scrap. She also had an interesting arc in Episode 7. Her only focus is to wait for whoever abandoned her to return. Even after meeting Finn, Han Solo and Chewie, that remains her only focus. Then she her first brush with the Force, which changes everything.
Rey is a great character, mostly because of Daisy Ridley’s acting. She made Rey likable and someone we wanted to root for. The reaction from the audience when she truly began to embrace her Force powers was phenomenal. Granted, I wasn’t a fan of how they totally Worf-Effected Kylo Ren to show how powerful she was, but it is clear that she and the former Ben Solo will; fight again when both are at the height of their powers. Rey’s journey in this film has many light years to go, but at the end of the film she appeared to be on the right path toward Jedi knighthood. Also, her parentage is a mystery. Many, like myself. believe that she is Luke’s daughter.
Finn – Finn also had a great story arc throughout this film. We find out through him that The First Order apparently steals kids when they’re toddlers and preconditions them to be Stormtroopers. So he has no memories of his family at this point.
Despite only knowing the First Order doctrine for most of his life, Finn is horrified by their murderous actions during his first battle. So he breaks Poe Dameron out of Kylo Ren’s torture chair and escapes with him to Jakku. Yes Finn was very much comic relief and seemed in over his head for most of the film, but then again so was Luke in the first two SW films. He had great moments of bravery helping rescue Poe and Rey from the First Order. Plus, his burgeoning bromance with Poe was a thing of beauty. Plus, he lasted much longer than expected against Kylo Ren in single lightsaber combat. Finn’s journey is just beginning in this new trilogy and I can’t wait to see where he ends up by Episode 9.
And on a side note, it makes me happy to see John Boyega as the male lead in 2015’s biggest film.
BB-8 – I didn’t expect to like BB-8, nor did I plan to. In my opinion, he looked like an excuse for Disney to sell more toys and take metric ass tons of our money. However, BB-8 won me over with his resourcefulness, his droid sass and his personality. Also, I liked that he was a pilot droid like R2D2, just smaller and more mobile.
Han’s Death – This was a huge moment in the franchise, and explained why Harrison Ford was so game to do all and any promotion for Episode 7. During the third act of the film, Han Solo tried to bring his son Ben Solo back from the Dark Side. But as it looked like Ben would heed his father’s pleas, he impaled Han with his lightsaber, killing the legendary smuggler in cold blood. As sad as it was, I actually had no major issue with Han dying. This was an important step in not only Kylo Ren’s journey but also in passing the torch from the old generation of characters to the new.
Poe Dameron – Poe was a great, fearless and quickwitted character. His backstory wasn’t mentioned too much during the film, but he has a lot of potential as an X-Wing pilot. However, he kind of disappeared for most of the movie after his escape from the First Order with Finn. Here’s hoping he gets more screen time and character development in Episode 8.
The Visuals – As we all know, the Prequels were green screen city, leaving us and the actors very disconnected from the overload of CGI backgrounds. This film had the right mix of practical locations (like Skellig Island for Luke’s exile planet and an Abu Dhabi desert for jakku) and CGI.
Dialogue and Chemistry – One of many people’s problems with the Prequel Trilogy was the terrible dialogue and the lack of chemistry between the leads. The Force Awakens corrected a lot of that. Each scene with the leads seemed to crackle. There was humor that didn’t feel forced and made the audience laugh!
The Mystery Box Misdirect – The Force Is Strong with who again? As noted in posters and marketing, it seemed like Finn would be the first New Jedi of the new Star Wars generation. However, even though he was wielding a lightsaber a few times during the film didn’t mean Finn was Force-sensitive. Nope! It was Rey who had all the Force potential, and even untrained she showed how powerful she was. Yes, it was a bit unrealistic how she with no lightsaber training could best Kylo Ren who had been training since he was young. But still, the moment when Rey embraced the Force was awesome to behold. Typical J.J. Abrams misdirect. Only this time, the mystery box maneuver finally paid off.
Kylo Ren – It was pretty much a given that Kylo Ren was either scion to either Luke or Han and Leia. Now we find out that he is Ben Solo, the troubled son of Han and Leia whose obsession with Darth Vader caused him to fall to the Dark Side. I really liked his display of powers and his tantrums (typical Skywalker). The freezing of Poe Dameron’s blaster bolt in mid-air was pretty awesome.
We then learn that Supreme Leader Snoke had a hand in his fall to the Dark Side, and Ren is now his apprentice. Kylo Ren also has a strained and almost competitive relationship with General Hux within the First Order. The two clearly dislike each other, but at the same time need each other to defeat the Resistance. A deeper exploration of that relationship would be nice in the coming films. Why Ben wants to emulate his grandfather’s dark legacy is a mystery. Also, why did he turn against his family and slaughter all his Jedi academy peers? These are all questions that remain unanswered as the film drew to a close. Ren is fighting the call of the Light Side, and killing Han was his attempt at severing all ties to his former family. Since he still has much to learn about the Dark Side from Snoke, we will see where he ends up by Episode 8.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
Now despite all the good parts of The Force Awakens, this is still very much a J.J. Abrams film. In short, while he has made good films, Abrams in my opinion has never made a great film. Many issues in this film have are typical of his film-making style and prevent this movie from being great.
Backstory and Worldbuilding – The Force Awakens answered many questions, but left some rather gaping holes in backstory and plot. For instance, who is Supreme Leader Snoke and why are we just hearing about him now if he’s such a powerful Dark Side user? Why didn’t Leia ever get trained to be a Jedi? How much of the Galaxy has the First Order conquered? Why wasn’t Luke trying to stop Kylo Ren and Snoke instead of wallowing in self-pity on some island world? If Rey was left on Jakku as a child by her bio family, then who raised her until she was old enough to fend for herself?
And Maz Kanata, as much as I liked her, what alien species is she? Plus, I really could not tell you any names of where Maz Kanata’s castle was or the location of the Resistance HQ or even Luke’s secret exile world without looking them up online. We should have gotten a clear sense of these planets’ names as well as the length of time it took to get there, which leads to another issue.
Hyperspace Magic Jumps – This has been another problem with Star Wars films, but it came a cross more blatantly here. We never got a sense of how long it took to get anywhere in the galaxy. Space is huge. Maybe give us a hint that jumping from one world to another would take a few days. During those long stretches we would see why Rey and Finn bonded so well with Han and Chewie.
Captain Phasma – Many of us were excited by Captain Phasma’s potential, especially with her being played by Brienne of Frakking Tarth! (Gwendoline Christie). She had an impressive look and costume. However, Captain Phasma did a whole lot of nothing in the film. She had maybe 3-4 lines before getting tossed into a trash compactor, which never got shown! Let’s hope Episodes VIII redeems her lack of use in Episode VII.
Poe Dameron – Like I mentioned earlier. Great character, but not enough screen time. More Poe in Episode 8!
Kylo Ren – While Kylo Ren had good aspects, there was still lots of things about him that didn’t add up. For instance, he was accusing the Resistance of being thieves and murderers when he straight up butchers an entire village with his Stormtrooper buddies in the beginning of the film. Also, he’s a whiny emo brat when things don’t go his way. Also, Ren got beat by an untrained Force sensitive. In fact, he got his ass kicked. If not for Starkiller base breaking apart she’d have killed him. Way to be a badass Ben Solo!
Plus, Kylo Ren killed Han Solo, which means he has to DIE.
The First Order – Yea, the First Order of Assholes were crap villains. All they did was kill and destroy everything in their path. As terrible as the Empire was, they at least had some order (pardon the pun but it stays). The First Order seems not to have a direction of any kind. Other than emulate the Empire, wipe out the New Republic and the Jedi, what is their ultimate goal? Plus, some newer designs on the Stormtroopers would have been nice.
And given how egotistical most Dark Side/Sith are, why would Snoke want to be a second-rate version of what Palpatine built? Wouldn’t he want something more in his own image?
Alien Wallflowers – This is a recurring problem with Star Wars films. Just like in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, we get some type of bar/cantina/sail barge with a vast assortment of aliens who will never be main characters. Its always humans taking the leads. When are we finally going to see an alien character as lead in a Star Wars film?
Snoke’s CGI – I was very disappointed by Supreme Leader Snoke’s CGI. He looked like a bad mix between the I Am Legend Vampires, the new Ninja Turtles and Doomsday from Batman vs Superman. In short, he looked amateurishly done. I expect better work in Episode 8.
Jakk-ooine – If Jakku had an identity outside of being a desert world with defined locales and species like Tatooine, then I wouldn’t have mentioned this. However, Jakku felt way too much like a Tatooine clone. The planet had no real distinction aside from its pockets of unnamed settlements and the downed Star Destroyers. Tatooine in the two times it appeared during the Original Trilogy felt like a fully fleshed out world with settlements (Anchorhead, Mos Eisley to name a few), indigenous species and then some. Jakku didn’t have any of that, which goes back to the movie’s worldbuilding problem.
Everyone understands Droid-ese – In the Original Trilogy and even the Prequel Trilogy, only C3PO could succinctly understand all of R2D2’s droid warbles. That made sense given that C3PO can understand and speak over six million languages. Anytime R2 had to speak with a person, his words would come out on some computer readout. Yet in The Force Awakens, Poe and Rey could understand BB-8’s warbles like they were the Timmy to BB-8’s Lassie. That was far too convenient and an example of bad writing.
The New Republic – We got no sense of the New Republic, its size and scope, or even what its capital world was. Even worse, why wouldn’t The New Republic openly oppose the First Order? If the First Order wins and gains more ground, then no more New Republic! Also, when those New Republic worlds were destroyed, did that completely end the New Republic or just a few of its worlds? That wasn’t clear at all. In A New Hope, Alderaan was a very important world and was stated as such many a time even after its destruction. None of the worlds that the Starkiller base destroyed even had names. Again, the New Republic was poorly defined, which gave the audience little reason to care about its five planets getting vaporized.
Luke’s lightsaber – So Maz Kanata had possession of Luke’s first lightsaber which he lost decades ago in his duel with Vader on Cloud City. When Han asked Maz where she got it, Maz basically said that was a story for another time. In short, they writers don’t know. The explanation doesn’t have to be long or fully detailed. But an explanation beats a Deathstar-sized plothole like that!
R2D2’s convenient reboot – So R2D2 was in low power mode the entire film until the last 5 minutes. Then he conveniently boots back up just in time to reveal that he had the other piece of Luke’s Where’s Waldo map that will locate him? How utterly convenient. Thanks for the big help, R2!
Starkiller Base – Another Deathstar? Really?!? Yes, I know, the Starkiller base is a planet that got converted into a superweapon. But if it looks like a Death star and fires like a Deathstar, then its a damn Deathstar. What also didn’t work was how the Starkiller base found another star to drain. There was no indication that the starbase even changed locations after destroying all those New Republic planets, so when did it move?
While the film had its flaws and plotholes, The Force Awakens was a fun and exciting film. The action was gripping and drew me in. I’d totally see it a third time…which I probably will.
Agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. The gravitas of Hans’s death was nice, the chemistry and dialogue felt correct, the lack of detail irked. I enjoyed it; it was an easy movie to watch. I will watch again, to see it in different lights.
I expect the upcoming movies to be better, because of this issue: I felt like some of it was forced, as if this “first movie in thirty years” had to check some boxes before it could really take off. Introduce a world and some new kids, reveal some beloved characters, create the conflict. I felt like it could have been longer, in order to take the proper time to build relationships instead of a “hey, people! It’s Han Solo and Chewie! RIGHT? You’re cheering now, yes?” rhythm. Subsequent movies will not have to deal with this.*
There was also some simplification of conflict. These are the good guys; root for them because they’re wearing brown and beige. These are the bad guys, and you know it because we said so and they’re obviously Nazis and one of them sneers a lot. The Empire SEEMED evil but it was also bureaucratic and concerned with maintaining control, via intimidation or force. The Order, as you said, has no real apparent goal aside from crushing their enemies, seeing them driven before them and hearing the lamentation of their women.
* What I want to know is: WHERE IS WEDGE ANTILLES? This is important, folks.
Wedge’s whereabouts are important details! The Empire was indeed evil because of its racist treatment toward non-humans as well as its obsession with siphoning resources toward useless superweapons.