The Force Awakens has arrived to spread cheer for Star Wars fans everywhere! And now that we’ve celebrated Episode VII, we can move on to Christmas!
Significantly, the creators of The Force Awakens broke their silence and began to explain spoilerly things this week. If J.J. Abrams can talk about spoilers, I figure we can too! A week gives you time to process all the feelings you might have concerning something you waited for 10 years. This review in two takes (The Good/The Bad) will have:
Let’s go chronologically. I loved the opening crawl. “Luke Skywalker has disappeared...” Short, sweet, and to the point, it immediately felt like a proper Star Wars introduction. Followed by the planet covering appearance of the Star Destroyer Finalizer (yes, that’s its real name) you knew you had a movie going for the esthetic of the original trilogy. The whole opening sequence hit the right notes. Poe Dameron was likable, BB-8 sympathetic, with Kylo Ren and the First Order immediately established as evil. The first part of the movie does the right thing by giving the audience time to acquaint themselves with the new trio of Poe, Rey, and Finn. Poe and Finn provide comic relief in a serious situation. Their interaction and Finn’s with Rey allows Rey to carry all the gravity of her situation and being the new central character.
After establishing the beat with the new characters, the return of Han and Chewie also comes in well timed. For old fans, if you enjoyed the opening of the movie, the nostalgia of seeing Han stand in the Millennium Falcon cockpit sealed the deal. Harrison Ford is fantastic, carrying his old persona like a comfortable suit. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) actually gets a character upgrade from his previous appearances, going from sidekick to partner. Han and Chewie’s interplay (especially sharing the bowcaster) makes them feel like the old friends they should be while adding some simply fun fan elements.
The movie is called The Force Awakens. At some point, the Force needed to wake up. It does in the interrogation standoff between Rey and Kylo. It’s a moment that establishes that you’re watching the right actors play these roles. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver establish a clear and resonating contrast between our new light and dark Jedi. It’s a powerful moment to watch Rey find her power while Kylo realizes his power might not be as infallible as he seems to feel up to that moment. Adam Driver manages to be both less imposing and more troubling without his Darth Vader homage helmet. It’s a credit to his acting.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t be Star Wars without good ole’ lightsaber battlin’. The production value and attention to character detail are on full display in the Finn vs Kylo vs Rey sequence. There’s no fancy sword play, just three people trying to beat on each other with laser swords. It’s interesting and plausible to see the non-Jedi Finn wield the lightsaber, since it’s been established that Stormtroopers have training on a sort-of anti-lightsaber riot baton. We heard Obi-Wan speak to Rey briefly the first time she held the lightsaber and in another original trilogy throwback we see Rey “let go of *her* conscious self and act on instinct”. The moment she force-called the lightsaber to her hand and ignited it… my favorite moment in the whole film.
As Han would say, “That’s the real trick isn’t it?” A big measure of the film’s quality for old fans is whether you care about the new characters. I do, a lot. I walked out of the movie ready for Episode VIII. There were laughs, there was sand in my eyes, and there were a lot of great questions left to be answered. The Good? Star Wars is back, it’s exciting, and we found the right new generation to carry it forward.
Finn. Okay, Finn’s not all bad, but he was the weak point in the new cast for the first half of the movie. I loved a lot of the light heartedness of the new movie, but at some points (mostly Finn points) it didn’t feel authentic. Why is an indoctrinated soldier so nervous about escaping the First Order? Why is he asking his very new friend if she has “a cute boyfriend?” If he’s abandoning the First Order because of the weight of his conscious, why is he so school-boy hyper in general? Despite his very real problems with the First Order at the beginning, he still acts very respectful of his commander (which makes sense for, again, an indoctrinated soldier). Then, suddenly, when he confronts her later on he acts like a giddy idiot. Finn and Rey were great together. John Boyega convincingly acted his connection to Rey and his (often misplaced) concern for her well-being. On his own, though, at times Finn came across, dare I say it- a little Jar Jar like.
Starkiller Base. I’m not even sure it was necessary to the movie. I loved Kevin Smith’s pure fan boy, moment by moment love (and expletive filled) fest review of The Force Awakens, but even he got exasperated by a third world destroying weapon getting blown up by a rag tag group of space pilots. I have to join in his call to the First Order (or, really, the filmmakers). Guys, don’t build another one, it never works out! For an outside perspective, I asked my wife how she felt when the Republic got blown away in a 2 minute sequence. And I quote, “I knew it was bad.”
This is a huge flaw in the story. First, it doesn’t make logical sense that the First Order simply wants to obliterate the Republic. Second, since logic isn’t going to drive a Star Wars movie, there is zero (zero) emotional significance to the moment where you watch five planets get blown to oblivion. It’s there as a set piece to show off the power of Starkiller base, which needs to be shown, because you don’t ever have context for why there’s a Starkiller base! The first Death Star, created as a threat to control a rebellion. The second Death Star, created as a trap to finish a rebellion. Starkiller base, created because it can blow sh#$ up!
Han Solo dies. I don’t mean that in a whiny fan boy, “Oh God! Why did they kill Han?!” sort of way. Given way more than healthy thought, Han’s death fleshes out a comment a friend made coming out of the movie. “It was definitely Disney.” That comment stuck with me and I couldn’t figure out why until J.J. Abrams gave me permission to write this review by discussing spoilerly character motivations. In short, in the story writing process, Han dies because it gives his character purpose. That purpose? Demonstrating how far gone Kylo Ren (his son) has gone to the dark side.
It’s character driven to the point of throwing away the moment, which is very Disney. I hate that Han died, but it’s an existential loathing of being a fan for 30 years and having to acknowledge that Han Solo has died. The moment in the movie, honestly, I didn’t feel that much. When Han stepped out from around the column and looked at the back of his son standing in the middle of (another) giant industrial chasm my internal reaction was a resigned “Ah crap, he’s gonna die.” He didn’t die for a plot reason, it didn’t add any context to the story, and it certainly didn’t convey a real (even tortured) emotional connection between father and son. I can’t help but feel that for a little tighter writing a big moment was missed.
Here’s my only what if. What if Kylo had found Chewie setting up the explosives? What if Han stepped in right as that intimidating, unstable lightsaber got lit up to cut our big ole’ walking carpet down? What if Han called “Ben!” in order to stop him from both killing his best friend and basically an uncle, with all the history of that potential murder between the two of them as Han tries to bring his son back to the light? How much more weight and visual impact would it have carried for the new characters (Finn and Rey) to see the Chewie, Kylo, and Han standing together in that uncertain moment. In other words, what if Han dying meant something more than Kylo Ren being a really bad guy?
The end. Okay, so this is a good and bad. I’m sticking it in the bad category because, again, I feel like it could have been a more significant moment. Having Rey find Luke was a perfect ending for the first movie of a new trilogy. Having that ending drag on with questionable staring and sweeping vistas took the air out of it. I acknowledge this is small compared to Starkiller base and Han. Still, I think the emotional impact of the end of the movie would have been well served by brevity.
There you have it. My full, unadulterated thoughts on the movie I anticipated for 10 years. Mostly good, some bad, still love Star Wars. What did you think? Please leave your comments here on our blog page!