Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
*DANGER* SPOILERS WITHIN!
The Force is strong with this one. A thankful change from the prequel trilogy, J.J. Abrams new addition to the Star Wars movie franchise is a well made movie. The film succeeds in all of the ways that matter for a Star Wars product. It has a mostly coherent plot. It has interesting characters, scenic, beautiful locations. It has really exciting battle sequences, too. As a fanatic of all things Star Wars, I do have complaints, however. Certain aspects of the film appeared to me to be either incomplete, or perhaps, just not very well thought out. All in all, though, J.J. Abrams pays enough tribute to the formerly canon novels and games to placate existing fans, and alters the events following Return of the Jedi in such a way that places you in an adventure that keeps you loving Star Wars for another generation.
When it comes to amazing looking locations, few movies do it as perfectly as and of the Star Wars films have done it. Hoth, Dagobah, Coruscant, Bespin, Tatooine? They were all pretty amazing. The planet of desolate desert planet of Jakku very closely resembles Tatooine from Episodes IV, I, and II. In fact, when all I had to go on was trailers, I thought Jakku was Tatooine. (I was deliberately not reading theories and reading the new canon novels so everything would be fresh and exciting. I also thought Finn was going to end up being a Jedi because of the trailers showing him with a lightsaber.) D’Qar, home base to the First Order, and also a planet sized weapon, looked incredible, too.
The battle scenes are also very well done. Unlike the prequel films, the sequences utilized computer graphics to improve what was in the scene instead of becoming the whole scene. I was also pleased to see Finn pick up a lightsaber and fight, despite not being a Jedi. Up to this point, I’d only read about that happening in the novels. There seems to be an idea that non-force users cannot use one. It just has a power switch. On it’s own, it’s merely a weapon. Anyone can turn it on. You may not win a fight against a force user, as shown in the film, or deflect blaster fire, but you can use it. I was also impressed with the X-Wing combat in this movie. I liked that they all didn’t look identical as with the previous movies. These were more personalized for each pilot, which I thought was a nice touch. They’ve also changed the shape of the engines. Both the combat and the ships look far more polished
Okay, complaint time. Finn, played by John Boyega, goes from trained, lifetime First Order
storm trooper, to rebel sympathizer in a few short hours. If the first order is an off-shoot of the Empire, priding themselves on perfection and brutality, as lore suggests, how could he not know what they do? I refer, of course, to slaughtering villages and torturing people, blowing up entire star systems, you know, that sort of thing. He obviously knew what the weapon on D’Qar was designed to do, enough to bring suggest a plan to destroy it. And we’re expected to believe that when a collection of prisoners are ordered to be executed on Jakku, that it shocked him? According to the lore surrounding this character, he was thought of as one of the best troopers under Captain Phasma’s command. So, he’s one of the best, but completely sheltered from the violence? He’s exemplary, but works in sanitation? So he’s what? The First Order’s perfect Storm Janitor? The whole origin of Finn contradicted his situation. It wasn’t well thought out or very coherent. I would think that he’d either have shown signs of empathy for years, which would have been noticed and been cause for him to work in sanitation, which would have made him quite unlikely to be on a combat mission like the one on Jakku, or he’d have trained himself to show nothing, to act cold, in which case, I doubt he’d be so trusting and chummy to everyone he meets throughout the film. I feel like the writers tried to hard to have it both ways and it didn’t sit right with me.
Daisy Ridley was a good choice for the character of Rey. I believed her trudging through the sandy Jakku, scrounging for parts to trade for food, sleeping in a broken down AT-AT. I was mildly surprised when she was revealed to be the “new” Jedi. The trailers and promotional images showed her not with a lightsaber, but some type of staff, so I didn’t expect it. I thought her natural use of the force was interesting to watch. In the novels, naturally gifted force users exist, but they haven’t really shown anyone (besides Luke on Hoth in Episode V do it in the a movie. Teaching to quiet her feelings in order to mind trick her guard, or resist Kylo Ren’s mind reading, or execute a force pull with her lightsaber towards the finale was exciting and enjoyable. My only real problem with Rey was her character’s devotion to waiting for her parents to come back to Jakku to retrieve her. After so many years, and such a pitiful life on that barren rock, I think she’d be willing to go looking for them out in the galaxy once given the chance, instead of returning to wait around on some Outer Rim shithole.
As much as I didn’t really like Adam Driver as Ben, I enjoyed him as Kylo Ren. With the mask on, he was menacing and unpredictable, without it, whiny and transparent. As far as his story, I liked that Kylo Ren turned out to be Han and Leia’s child, though. It payed homage to the canon novels, in which Han and Leia have three children, twins Jacen and Jaina Solo, and the younger Anakin Solo (who was killed during the extra-galactic, Jedi hating, Yuuzhan Vong). In that pre-Disney universe, Jacen Solo is turned to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Caedus. He kills Luke Skywalker’s wife Mara Jade along with millions and millions of people across the galaxy, making Darth Vader look somewhat warm and fuzzy by comparison. Eventually he is killed by his own sister, Jaina, who had to learn new tactics from of all people, Boba Fett. The similarity of Kylo Ren to Darth Caedus paid homage to the books I devoured as a young man and it made me very happy to see that Disney at least tipped their hat to the old canon instead of crapping all over my youthful obsession with Star Wars lore.
And my final critique of the movie is that at the end, after all the looking and searching, we finally see Luke Skywalker, and he doesn’t say a single word. He and Rey just stand there staring at each other while she holds out his misplaced lightsaber and the movie closes. I think he’d at least have said something. “How did you find me.” “That’s my Lightsaber.” “Nice to meet you.” “We have a lot to talk about.” Anything would have been better than nothing.
My complaints are small and nit-picky. The movie did everything required in order to breathe fresh air into a nearly forty year old movie series. The old cast appearing in The Force Awakens provided a neat link between the old and the new. While the new protagonists feel a tiny bit forced, and onscreen chemistry Daisy Ridley and John Boyega works much better than Hayden Christiensen and Natalie Portman who had no chemistry at all. All in all, I think this new Star Wars is excellent. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s fun, and it’s deliciously geeky. Those complaints almost keep me from making it a four star movie. It’s really, really enjoyable but it just isn’t a perfect movie. There are little issues throughout that get under my skin just enough to keep it from a full five stars. It is definitely worth seeing in a good theater… again.
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