Spoiler Heavy Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
WARNING! You will only get to see the new Star Wars movie for the first time once. So go see it. And if you want spoiler free reviews than you can find a bunch on the internet here, here, and here.
Once you’ve done that come back here for a spoiler heavy review and analysis. You’ve been warned.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally here. When Disney bought Star Wars three years ago and announced that an Episode VII was being fast tracked into development fans around the world freaked out. One year ago the first trailer dropped and kicked anticipation into lightspeed. The hype and positive buzz surrounding the film only grew from there as the film inched closer to release.
So how does the first Star Wars film in ten years hold up against the biggest hype train we’ll all never see the likes of again?
In many aspects it holds up quite well. Exceptionally well actually considering the impossibly high expectations and circumstances surrounding it.
But in others it falls as hard as Darth Vader did to the dark side.
Before we start, I will say this. Given the immense hype and the smattering of trailers and TV commercials that’s bombarded the public in the recent weeks, J.J. Abrams and Disney did an amazing job dangling the movie in front of the public without ruining it. The film has some really great moments and surprises for everybody that the trailers never hinted at or showed. Even if you’ve seen them all a hundred times by now, you know who you are, the film still entertains.
And the Force Awakens does this on the strength of it’s characters. The new main characters are all spectacular, well developed and fun to watch. They were my favorite part of the film by far and will be for most viewers as you can tell the writers put a lot of thought and care into their development.
John Boyega’s Finn is one hundred times funnier than Jar Jar Binks ever wished he was. By the end of the film, he was really nothing more than a dense stormtrooper with a big heart and a conscious who got himself in way over his head. Finn’s best qualities come out when he puts himself into the greatest danger like escaping from the First Order, or on the Millennium Falcon, or in his two great lightsaber duels.
The Rebels, now the Resistance’s, hotshot pilot Poe Dameron had the smallest part of the new cast but always seemed exuberant and eager. I would have liked to see more of him in the cockpit of his slick black X-wing, but then again I would have liked to have seen more X-wings in the film as well.
BB-8 is a scene stealer throughout the entire movie. Maybe it’s wise R2-D2 was shut down through most of the film as there’s no way he can compete with that adorable soccer ball of a droid.
Kylo Ren was also quite a surprise, but not for the reasons that are the most apparent. As much as he strives not to be, his character is the anti-Vader in almost every way. Emotional, witty and surprisingly funny he is also full of doubt as he finds himself pulled to the light side, something which he struggles to find the strength to combat. What a great way to flip not only Darth Vader comparisons but also the whole dichotomy of the Force and how it’s perceived in general. It’s not just the dark side that can pulls and seduce anymore, the light side is just as tempting it seems. What a great twist that takes what’s come before makes it new and interesting again. I also got quite a kick of his synthesized voice which sounded a lot like Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and his lightsaber temper tantrums. What better way to show Kylo as the spoiled brat he is than to have him slash everything with his lightsaber. It was also a nice touch I thought that under his mask he is quite the pretty boy which made for a nice visual contrast with Vader’s scared and ruined face.
The last great revelation was Daisy Ridley in her role as Rey. Like Luke, she begins the movie as a lost youth stuck trying to make ends meet on a backwards desert planet. Adventurous and resourceful, she braves the derelict ruins of Star Destroyers spelunking for scrap she can sell for food. She waits patiently on her seemingly adopted homeworld of Jakku for the family she can’t remember to one day return to her. It’s very endearing and gives Rey some vulnerability while also keeping her tough as she needs no one to protect or rescue her in a welcome change of pace. She is also quite plucky and scrappy when she needs to be and develops a great father daughter chemistry with Han Solo that the film never quite wants to awkwardly acknowledge. She has a lot in common with Luke on the surface but I was reminded more of the good qualities she shares with Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. What does that mean, if anything? I have no idea as the film seems dead set on revealing Rey’s backstory in a “I am your father” moment in Episode VIII. Seeing her escape on her own in the Starkiller base instead of being rescued was a great touch, and it was about time we finally see a girl kick ass with a lightsaber in a Star Wars film.
The other main character that’s worth mentioning is Han Solo and his huge role in the film. I was worried that age would have caught up to Han Solo as it had Harrison Ford but those fears all flew out the window quickly. The Han Solo in the Force Awakens is still the lovable scoundrel he was in the original trilogy. He’s still down on his luck and constantly facing long odds with only Chewie, his blaster, and his quick wit by his side.
It sucks he had to die.
Part of the fun of watching The Force Awakens is to identify all the callbacks to the previous movies, there are many, and how director J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kashdan play with them. The Force Awakens does stay awfully close to the main story structure of A New Hope. Secret plans are hidden in a droid that must be returned safely to the good guys before he falls into enemy hands. Before the plans are delireved a cantina is visited, a new planet destroying super weapon is tested and some talk about the Force’s role in all this is explained. Eventually the plans are delivered but not before our female lead is captured and rescued while a small fleet of X-wings launches a desperate attack on a looming threat.
By the time Han Solo walks out to confront his son who he’s failed to raise on the straight and narrow in front of Rey and Finn on the Death Star 3.0 you know he’ll soon be following in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s footsteps. It’s a powerful scene that hits hard because it’s so connected to A New Hope.
But it could have been amazing if the film had done anymore than wink about Han’s and Kylo’s father-son relationship. As far as the films go, (I know in the Expanded Universe this is all old hat) it’s a lot for audiences to take in that not only did Han and Leia have a child named Ben, but that he was trained to be a Jedi and eventually turned to the dark side. If we were never told these events took place we’d be hard pressed to believe them as the film never really develops their relationship to a point that’s believable. Even cold hearted Leia treats the loss of her son to the dark side in the same stoic way as when she lost her home planet. The whole father son reveal falls flat as it seems rushed and loses any of the poignancy required for a death of this magnitude to truly resonate.
Which is another problem the film has in that the second half comes off as too rushed. Too much is happening with the X-wing attack, Rey’s rescue, the destruction of the shield generators, Kylo Ren, Han’s death, and a great lightsaber duel for any of it to stand out.
Compare that to the film’s first half which though brisk, was expertly paced and kept things interesting and moving forward. The first half is pure joy and Star Wars nostalgia as The Force Awakens fills in the gaps of the last thirty years since Return of the Jedi. Seeing Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters back on the big screen is a thrill as is reintroducing the Millennium Falcon and learning what Han and Chewie have been up to in the years since. It also helps having BB-8 around as he’s a much bigger player in the first half than the second. Actually whenever BB-8 was around the movie seemed stronger. He’s that good.
A major complaint I have with the film is that it seems too interested in leaving a trail of story related bread crumbs into Episodes VIII and IX. There is a lot of blatant mystery the film sets up but flat out chooses to ignore, at least until further sequels. For instance, how did Luke’s lighstaber get into that wooden box? Who was the old man at the beginning? Who are Rey’s parents? Han and Leia? Luke perhaps? How was she able to become so proficient in the Force in such a short matter of time? What was the relationship between Luke and Ben Solo? How exactly did the Force Awaken?
There were a few small things that really bugged me. Captain Phasma got the true Boba Fett treatment in that she looks cool but doesn’t really do anything and gets taken out like a punk just the same. I didn’t like Supreme Leader Snoke though I am getting a Wizard of Oz vibe from him and his huge holographic projection. The new Death Star was taken out waaaay too easily with only a handful of X-wings and despite the hope of some kick ass space battles, my favorite, the dogfights here were over much to quickly for my liking. And Luke. It would have been nice if he would have said something or if not then at the very least end the movie right after his reveal instead of holding on his straggly beard for what seemed like an entirety in the wind.
Don’t get me wrong, The Force Awakens was still a good film and I really enjoyed it. It’s the funniest Star Wars film by far and had great action pieces. Seeing the scale of everything filmed with actual actors and props was so effective in making the film seem as real as the originals were. I liked the final duel in the snowy woods where the trees replaced the bamboo groves of old samurai movies. Watching Rey climb the long and winding stairs towards Luke at the end for some good old fashioned Kung Fu training was fun, and seeing her wear the pistol Han Solo gave her, slung low on her hip like Han made me smile.
The acting was top notch all around and it’s clear the franchise is in good hands with this new core group of actors firmly established to take the franchise into the future for many many more years to come.
I can’t wait to see it again. The Force is strong with it.