[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]
Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.
First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt. Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.
What I Liked:
- THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
- The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
- The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
- BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
- The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
- Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
- The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said before, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of what has gone before.
- Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
- The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
- Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
- Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
- General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
- Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.
Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):
Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.
Let’s Talk About Rey:
The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?
Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good at everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?
But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?
Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.
We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.
It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.
It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.
But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.
Onward to Episode VIII!
And that’s how this fanboy sees it.