Star Wars: The Force Awakens is almost impossible to discuss without spoiling something, which meant that my review had to be necessarily vague, constraining itself to what we’ve seen in the trailers and basic general knowledge about the film. But I have lots of thoughts still to share, so this article will be filled with spoilers. There’s a lot to discuss in The Force Awakens, both good and bad, and yes there’s actually a bit of bad. I may have given the film an A in my review but I have more than a few complaints, some of which are entirely a reflection of my own views of the franchise but others are legitimate issues with the film itself. I’m not going to dive back into the fact that I consider The Force Awakens to be (really good) fanfiction, but it’s safe to say that the events in the film felt somewhat inconsequential to me knowing that we weren’t seeing the true vision of George Lucas. But I don’t want this to turn into a nitpicky, whining article, because there were many things I loved about the film. And then there are just some observations and questions I was left with after my first viewing. Of course, my feelings on all of these might change the more I see the film, but let’s take a look at some spoiler filled thoughts about The Force Awakens.
SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS AHEAD…
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- I can’t say enough about Finn and Rey, both as individuals and as a pair. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have great chemistry, and they really helped make the movie for me. I loved the way Finn wears his heart on his sleeve, whether it’s his shame and fear participating in the First Order slaughter of the village at the beginning of the film, or his excitement at shooting down TIE fighters in the Falcon. As for Rey, her appeal as a character is more subtle. It’s great that she’s so handy as a pilot and mechanic, but she has a soulful quality to her. But I really liked them together. One of my favorite moments was right after they escaped in the Falcon, and they rushed to meet and heap praise on each other for doing such a great job. It was such a sweet bit of genuine emotion, and I’m very curious to see more of them side by side in future films.
- I also really liked Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Maz Katana, one of the few CG characters in the film. She was a good change of pace in the movie, coming at just the right moment in the story to offer some sagely wisdom and advice, but was also just a fun character. It’s great to see someone like Han a bit intimidated by such a small figure. I hope we see more of her, because there’s definitely some mystery to the character. I’m certainly very curious how she came to be in possession of Anakin’s lightsaber.
- BB-8 was simply a lot of fun. He’s got so much personality and it’s such a different personality than other droids we’ve seen, though he’s still no R2-D2, and having him as a practical effect really helped the quality of the acting from those sharing a scene with the little droid. But I especially got a kick out of his devices and gadgets. The little blowtorch thumbs up he gave Finn was adorable, but I really loved the way he shot out lines to secure himself as the Falcon looped and twisted through the sky. Of course a ball-shaped droid couldn’t hold onto things, so he’d need a way to secure himself in times like that.
- There was a lot of fan service in the film, a bit too much for my taste, but I did love C-3PO’s (re)introduction occur while interrupting a tender moment between Han and Leia. Some things never change.
- The Falcon escape sequence, with Rey and Finn at the controls, was brilliantly executed. It was the perfect way to bring the pair of characters together emotionally, but beyond that it was just downright visually impressive. It really felt like they were escaping by the seat of their pants, rather than some elaborately choreographed action sequence. Every moment, from Rey dragging the Falcon along the ground before she got a handle of the controls, to the final brilliant maneuver where she positioned the ship so Finn could take out the final TIE was simply gripping, highlighted of course by the acting of the two leads. The rest of the ship-based action may have actually paled a bit in comparison, especially as the larger battles tended to descend into visual chaos at times (by design I imagine).
- The key returning member from the original trilogy might have been John Williams. From start to finish Williams turned in another masterful score (which I have been listening to all day). His music is the glue of these films, and I hope they can at least keep him involved for the main entries in the saga if not for the spin-offs. No one can capture the emotion of a moment the way Williams can, and he crafted some excellent new cues for the film. Rey’s theme in particular is a highlight, capturing both the resourcefulness of the character as well as the deeper mystery within. The music of Star Wars has always been about more than just hummable themes, and if the day ever comes when Williams isn’t involved the movies will shine a bit less brightly because of his absence.
- One little moment that I really enjoyed was the reunion of Finn and Poe. I love that these two men, former enemies who spent only a few minutes together, greeted each other with a big hug, and kindness and happiness at seeing the other one alive. It’s not the sort of thing with cosmic significance, but little touches like that in a movie make me happy. So many films shy away from showing emotion, so I was happy to see some from these two characters.
- I liked the premise of Luke as the film’s MacGuffin, the plot device which sets the film in motion. It added the right amount of mystery to proceedings, wondering not only where he might be but why he left. I also appreciated how everyone knew his (and Han’s) name, as legendary figures from the rebellion. I assumed pretty quickly that Luke had been Kylo Ren’s master once upon a time, and that Ren’s turn to the dark side had driven Luke away in remorse, but its predictability didn’t make the development any less fitting. Of course Luke would take the Yoda/Obi-wan route upon failure, going into exile until called back into service.
- Speaking of Luke, the film’s final scene was probably also my favorite part of the whole thing, especially the moment where he and Rey finally meet. There’s so much emotion in that moment, both for the characters and the audience. Rey is wondering whether she’ll be accepted and her questions will finally be answered, while Luke isn’t sure if he’s up to the task of taking on another apprentice (I hope to god he calls her a Padawan at some point in the next film, having found the term in a book somewhere) after what happened with Kylo Ren. They’re both full of self-doubt, and they can both help make each other whole. As for the audience, after spending the entire film talking about Luke, it’s an emotional release to see him at last, especially after the death of Han.
- Ok, so let’s get to Han. He was really the third leg of the stool upon which the film sat, along with Finn and Rey. Harrison Ford slid so easily into the role it was uncanny, and he anchored the film’s attempt to return to the feel of the original trilogy. I appreciate that J.J. Abrams and company were willing to kill off one of the original members of the saga, and it made the most sense that it’d be Han. Han’s death would have the most impact on fans (he’s the most popular among the original trilogy’s heroes), but it’s also hard to imagine Harrison Ford signing on for a three movie (or more) deal. I’d be willing to bet that if the script hadn’t originally called for Han to die off he would have requested it, given the fact that he wanted Han to die back in Empire Strikes Back. While I don’t want to see a character I love die, I’m actually somewhat satisfied that he’s gone. It clears up space for Rey and Finn to take on more of the storytelling load, and also for Luke to return to the fold in a big way. If you’ve got Harrison Ford in your movie, he’s got to be the star, and Han’s death actually makes things much simpler going forward. But above all else, I loved the emotion Ford put into Han. Han was never my favorite (I preferred Luke) because I felt like he wasn’t particularly relatable, but seeing Han struggle with the fallout of losing his son to the dark side, and being estranged from Leia, made him much more human than he ever was before.
- Rey is definitely my favorite character in the film, and I got a kick out of seeing her experiment with the force. Her repeated attempts to “mind trick” the stormtrooper were hilarious, and got some of the biggest laughs in the theater, but simply watching her figure out that she has powers and can use them was an emotional experience. And obviously when she force snatched Anakin’s lightsaber out of Kylo Ren’s grasp and proceeded to kick his ass, it was the moment we were all waiting for….
- Having said that, Rey’s discovery of her powers did not mesh at all with what we’ve seen before. She goes from not knowing anything about the force and thinking the Jedi were a myth to pulling lightsabers through the air and doing the mind trick in a day with no guidance? I don’t buy it, and it was way too convenient for the story. It worked in the flow of the moment, but looking back on it her sudden mastery of her abilities makes no sense.
- Speaking of things that make no sense, the Starkiller Base was a disappointment. I felt like none of the aspects of this “new Death Star” worked. It’s design is supposed to be a planet hollowed out and converted into a weapon, but that was never clearly portrayed, making some of the early moments that combined Death Star like corridors with open air mountains and landscapes confusing. Its weapon was beyond silly, soaking up a star to fire its energy across the galaxy to destroy other solar systems is pretty convoluted. Not to mention the visual inconsistencies in people from multiple planets being able to see the Starkiller’s weapon firing across space as well as the destruction of another solar system, despite presumably being light years away. And assuming the weapon is some sort of beam, how does it curve and split at the last moment to hit multiple planets at once? If the wanted a space station that can destroy entire star systems, why not make something that targets that system’s star and causes a chain reaction that sends it supernova (see Star Trek: Generations). Really, the Starkiller Base was perhaps the most fanfictiony thing about the film, a blatant attempt to one-up the Death Star by giving us something bigger and “more impressive” but functionally equivalent. It was too over-the-top for my tastes.
- I said in my review that The Force Awakens had too many characters, and I felt like a few specific characters suffered a lot from lack of screen time. Captain Phasma, heavily marketed in the leadup to the film, was basically pointless, simply a part of the First Order command structure rather than some sort of interesting character. Supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis’s character) is obviously being set up for larger things down the line, but he was pretty uninteresting this time out in his few scenes as a hologram. And I certainly don’t understand the secrecy around his character in the conversations before the film was released. Even Poe Dameron felt underused. But the character who suffered most was Leia. I didn’t like the way she took a backseat to Han after they were reunited. I would have liked to have seen her go with Han, Chewie, and Finn to rescue Rey. She is a General after all. I mean, I get it. This was Han’s story, but I feel like she should at least have been there when he confronted Kylo Ren. I’m sure we’ll see more from her in the next film, but Leia should never be put on the sidelines like that.
- For the most part, I thought all of the story beats worked, but there was one sequence that I felt could have been completely skipped (maybe in favor of more character time). The showdown aboard Han and Chewie’s cargo ship felt completely superfluous and out of place. I’m all for the way in which Han and Chewie were reintroduced, but fighting the two bands of smugglers in addition to the Rathars felt like it went on forever. And I especially felt that after so much complaining about computer effects in the prequels and trying to keep things practical, the Rathar attack sequence undid a lot of that. It felt a lot like the unnecessary snow monster sequence in the first Star Trek reboot film, also directed by J.J. Abrams. At that point in The Force Awakens all I wanted was for Han, Rey, and Finn to get right to the conversation they eventually had on the Falcon, but instead it was delayed for an action-comedy sequence of no importance.
- Now we come to the point where I lose anyone who is still reading this. I didn’t like Kylo Ren. I’ve never been one for villains in the first place, and while my school friends obsessed over Vader and Boba Fett I was always much more interested in Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie. But I appreciate a good villain, whether menacing and invincible like Vader or scheming and manipulative like Palpatine. But Kylo Ren just didn’t do it for me. I understand him, I just didn’t find him compelling. I get that he idolizes his grandfather, at least partly because he’s trying to block out his father’s influence, hence the mask and voice modifier, but his imitation of Vader felt silly to me. I found him much more interesting with the mask off. But even then, he’s supposed to be this conflicted character, and his confrontation with Han is supposed to be this great pivotal moment in his life, perhaps his last chance to choose the light side once and for all, but I didn’t feel like that moment was earned. It’s supposed to be an emotional moment, but he came off as whiny and childish. Whiny and childish are fine aspects for a character to have (look at the prequels, or real life), but they don’t translate very well to big emotional decisions. Perhaps if his murder of Han had come at the end of Episode VIII or IX it would have had more punch, because we would have seen more of his journey to that moment, but as it was it felt too soon. He had some moments I enjoyed, particularly between him and Rey, but overall I felt Kylo Ren was a disappointment. (I did, however, appreciate the fact that the Kylo Ren is Ben Solo twist was revealed early in the film.)
- To be honest, my issues with Kylo Ren highlight a general issue I had with the film: it didn’t feel like it did anything new. Love or hate the prequels, you have to admit that they’re different than the original trilogy, both in style and substance. They have different themes, a different setting, and a different message, to which some Star Wars fans strenuously objected. But that’s part of what I love them so much, and which shows the potential of the Star Wars universe. It’s such a rich playground, and there are so many things that can be done with it, it’s a shame that a lot of The Force Awakens felt like a bit of a retread. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it unoriginal, but it definitely felt like it had nothing new to say. I honestly found the idea of watching Luke train Ben Solo, the film that might have taken place between Return of the Jediand this one, to be more compelling than the story we got. I wouldn’t trade Finn or Rey (or Poe, for that matter) for the world, and I think there’s enormous potential going forward, but I think The Force Awakens spent too much time looking backwards and not enough time pushing the envelope.
- I really liked the humor level in the film, which was a return to the style of the original trilogy, but I did feel like the humor itself was a bit too “jokey” for me. I know that’s kind of a vague term, and I’m not sure how to describe it, but many of the laughs felt like “jokes” rather than character-based humor. Han’s enthusiasm for Chewie’s bowcaster, for instance, or the sequence when Finn didn’t understand that Han was gesturing to Rey behind him, both felt stiffly written, as though the goal was to make the audience laugh rather than to let the characters act naturally. There were plenty of perfectly executed laughs (anything involving BB-8, Han giving Chewie crap for being cold, etc.), but there were some that just came off as awkward to me.
Questions and Observations
- Do you think that the First Order destroying the Republic Senate and a planet that looked a lot like Coruscant (but wasn’t) was a shot at George Lucas and the prequels? It certainly felt like a pointed statement about how they’re wiping out people’s memories of the prequels, full of Senate negotiations at the heart of the Republic, allowing the movies to move forward without the burden of government and political wranglings? It didn’t seem to serve any emotional or plot-based purpose in the movie other than to show how powerful the Starkiller Base was, so my only other guess was its symbolic significance to audiences.
- Do you see a romance developing down the line? If so, between whom? Clearly Rey and Finn have a connection, and she gave him a kiss on the cheek, so things certainly seem to be leaning that way. But I also felt like they were setting things up for a potential connection between Kylo Ren and Rey, which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen. He seemed so intrigued by her, and she’s very much his equal/opposite, so it’s definitely possible. There’s a trend these days towards tortured villains who are just a step away from redemption, especially when they’re tall, thin, pale, and have dark hair (see Loki), but I hope that’s not the direction the films go. Finn and Rey are compelling enough, we don’t need some kind of love triangle in there too. (I am, of course, assuming that Kylo Ren survived. But I figure everyone assumes that at this point.)
- Why did the First Order care about finding Luke? If he’s been vanished for years, he’s clearly not causing them any trouble. I would say it’s a personal vendetta by Kylo Ren, but Snoke is the one calling the shots. Why does Snoke need Luke found? It has to be more than just wiping out the last of the Jedi, as was suggested in the opening crawl.
- So Rey is Luke’s daughter, right? I feel like all signs point to yes. Abrams said they deliberately withheld Rey’s last name, and it just seems so likely that it’s Skywalker. Luke and Rey’s mother (Mara Jade? Probably not) could have abandoned her to head off on some dangerous mission, and then for some reason were never able to return. Her abilities would make some sense if she were Luke’s daughter, as would the feeling I got from her vision that she had a connection to him and Anakin. I even felt like he might have been watching out for her and guiding her through the force. Of course, if she is a Skywalker, they hopefully won’t play up any romance between her and Kylo Ren. The series has had enough incestuous kisses already.
- There was an awful lot of blood in The Force Awakens. After decades of bloodless violence, since blasters and lightsabers theoretically cauterize wounds, blood has returned for really the first time since Obi-wan slicing off an arm in the Mos Eisley Cantina. I don’t have a problem with that, it was just an interesting choice to see wounds bleed that hadn’t bled before.
What did you think of The Force Awakens? Who were your favorite characters and who do you wish we’d seen more of? What’d you think of the various twists? How well did it mesh with the previous films in the franchise? What are you excited to see going forward? If you could make one change to the film, what would it be? Or is it perfect as-is and I’m just crazy? Let me know all of your spoiler-filled thoughts in the comments!