[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.
January 1st, 2016 at 5:07 pm
A lot of people have posted similar complaints about the movie mirroring episode IV. The way I see it, this was a *partial* re-boot in a time when far too many things are being rebooted. (Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Spiderman in every single decade, and remakes are happening of classics that do not need it. I don’t take issue with this partial re-boot, as it still progress the stories of our beloved characters, while hitting familiar themes and action sequences from the originals. this movie will make new fans, and please old ones.
As far as the overpowered nature of Rey, once again a popular complaint, we have to acknowledge a few things. First, her beating Kylo Ren. He was seriously hurt, shot from a bowcaster, which they went out of their way to show was a powerful weapon. He was hit from it in a moment of emotional distraction, having just killed his father. Second, We do not know what level of training Kylo Ren has had, as Snoke seems to have been waiting for KR’s commitment to the Dark Side, and will only now complete his training. That he has a lot of power, has been demonstrated, I give you. Third, we do not know that Rey is completely untrained. She may have supressed memories of anything before Jakku. Also, her life of scavenging and picking apart systems from the wreckage of the star destroyer give credibility to her mechanical background, and running with those types all her life, she has flown several ships, only within the atmosphere, as she stated herself. Lastly, she seems to have a bloodline, and a strong one. There are many theories out there. I am going with her being Luke’s daughter. That’s where the clues are leaning.
This is a long movie, with a lot of info to soak up, and more explanation would have been handy here and there. Subsequent viewings, when the *shock and awe* wears off, will allow more details to be noticed. I am at 3 so far…
January 4th, 2016 at 11:00 pm
Thanks for the read and the comment, Billy. If we were not so married to an episodic structure for the series, I would agree with you on the reboot part. But, this movie is Episode VII, which means it’s a part of a whole. And in that sense, I think the story felt far too similar to Episode IV, to the point where I was predicting the course of the story while I was seeing it for the first time. For all of its incredible mediocrity, the prequel trilogies at least kept us guessing. So, they (‘they’ meaning Disney) went back to the well. But hey, if you are going to steal from something, steal the best bits from your own series. It worked before, and it’s certainly working again now.
As for Rey, I have no problem with her being highly competent in many ways. She’s a cool character, and fits right into the Star Wars universe. My only concern is that she never seems particularly challenged in this story, and when she is pitted against a criminally weak villain like Kylo Ren, the conflict falls a bit flat. I hope the ‘training’ Snoke talks about is effective, because Ben needs to up his Dark Side game to be considered a credible threat to Rey or anyone else.
And let’s talk about the bowcaster shot. Let’s leave aside that Han has never fired it until now and keeps talking about how powerful it is (which seems unlikely considering how long they’ve been travelling together). We see it able to blow up several bad guys at once, causing small explosions when it lands a hit. Chewy, in his rage at his best friend’s death, sights, aims, and fires at the killer…
And it hits Ben with less force than a regular blaster, hurting him, but not blowing him off the bridge and into the bottomless pit like it should have (and likely in several little pieces). Ben had his lightsaber out, ignited, and was facing in Chewy’s direction. Could he not deflect it with his saber? Or absorb the power into his glove like Vader at Cloud City? Or better yet, freeze the bolt in mid-air like he did at the first of the movie? Poe’s shot came from behind, when Ben was unaware, and from a much shorter distance.
But all that aside, I think that Finn and Rey should have faced Ben at full strength and had a harder time of it. Neither of them have had any training in how to use a lightsaber, We can then hand-wave Finn’s ability to the fact that he is a trained warrior, and that covers at least some hand-to-hand skills. And then we further hand-wave Rey’s sudden skill because she is obviously more in tune with the Force anyone else we see in the movie until the last two minutes. Then when she defeats him, it seems like something has been accomplished.
January 1st, 2016 at 6:19 pm
So, as a comment: Killing off Han wasn’t a necessity because Obi-Wan died in Ep IV. Killing off Han was a necessity to get Ford to even come back at all. While it seems a little hollow, when you think about it: Solo sacrified himself to help his son achhieve his greatest wish.
It’s a very powerful moment, for me.
January 4th, 2016 at 10:21 pm
Thanks for the read and the comment. My point about Han is that the main character (previously Luke, but in this case Rey) can never get off the Death Star without someone they know dying. That’s written into the DNA of Star Wars, it seems. It was a powerful moment to be sure, especially now that I’m a parent. Had I not seen it coming light-years away, it would have been even stronger. It just felt like the movie was trying hit the same beats as Episode IV, which then demanded a sacrificial hero. I understand the real-world pressures that brought us to this point, sure, but if you’re going to kill off Han Solo, at least give him a send off better than that. Perhaps he could have stopped Ben from doing something horrible, or given the Resistance a few extra critical minutes to get out of the blast radius, or something more than being played a fool.