Let me start by reiterating with what most viewers have said about this movie. They have said this is a fan's film and I completely agree. The Force Awakens definitely brings the ambiance from the original trilogy back and along with the characters, it gives us what we love about Star Wars as a whole. With this movie we have action, conflict, humor, and purpose and that is what the original trilogy brought to us. It's also what the prequel trilogy primarily failed to give us.
The characters are fun and lively with a sense of adventure. You can't help but get excited when you meet these new characters and are reunited with all of the familiar faces. The story in itself is somewhat familiar, but that doesn't make it less relevant or by any means less fun. My hat goes off to Disney and to J.J. Abrams because they really exceeded the high standard set by us, the fans.
Now with that said, move forward with caution as this review does contain spoilers and predictions. If you haven't had the opportunity to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens just yet, I highly suggest you evade this like the Falcon and come back to read this once you've seen it. I'm on your team. Trust me, you don't want it spoiled for you.
Still with me?
What was done right?
There are a lot of things that The Force Awakens did right, but as I mentioned in the title, they couldn't squeak by without creating some problems. But before we get too head of ourselves with anything negative, let's focus on the positives.
I thought the overall story was great. Introducing us to the conflict between the Republic and the First Order was obviously similar to the previous struggles between the Republic and the Sith, but it still works. After all, history does repeat itself. We are brought thirty years from the defeat of the Empire and caught up by learning that Luke Skywalker has vanished into isolation, Han and Leia have separated, and the First Order has began brainwashing soldiers since birth to become Stormtroopers under the leadership of a Supreme Leader named Snoke.
I have read some criticism of this as some feel it's a little too similar to the original trilogy, but honestly the same struggle between leadership is what fueled the prequels, too. Originally we had the Rebellion fighting against the tyranny of the Empire led by the Emperor and Darth Vader. With the prequels, the Republic and the Jedi were at odds with a hidden Sith Lord and ultimately succumbed to his rise of power with the seduction and betrayal of Anakin Skywalker. Yes, it's familiar but it's only because it is really the only true template we have for this saga.
You can't deny that The Force Awakens feels like Star Wars. There's no other way to describe it.
The effects and costumes
We learned early on that Disney's approach to this new movie with Abrams was going to ease up on the overuse of CGI. In other words, they listened to the abundance of negative criticism over George Lucas' prequel trilogy and gave us back practical effects.
Aside from BB-8 being an actual working droid, we have real costumes, real sets, real ships, real Stormtroopers, real explosions, real locations, and much more. Obviously there is CGI utilized, but it's a lot more sparse and tastefully done than in previous films. The motion capture used for Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) was fantastic and it gives a more realistic feel for the animated characters. It's not the same as having actors stand in front of a green screen with nothing to talk to but an inanimate object. I remain hopeful that this same technique will be utilized for future Star Wars films.
It was exciting enough to learn that our familiar favorites Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker would be returning for this new trilogy. However, many of us didn't pay enough attention to how great the new characters could be aside from the quick fanbase that rose for Kylo Ren. The truth is the new lead characters, Finn and Rey, are definitely something to be excited about.
Finn, a defective Stormtrooper, betrays the First Order by rescuing Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron, from capture. After engaging in his first battle, and refusing to murder innocent civilians, he makes the decision to run. His only reasoning was to do the right thing. Pretty cool, eh? It is very cool and he quickly rises to become an engaging lead character. Despite being terrified of his former employer, he is determined and quickly becomes loyal to a group he was trained to destroy.
Rey is something completely different and although I did have some issues with the direction taken, she is by no means a bad character. We are introduced to her as a scavenger on the desert planet, Jakku, where she struggles just to have the ability to eat and obtain water. Overall Rey is independent, determined, and gifted. Gifted in ways I will talk about later in this review.
Aside from Rey and Finn, we did also have a great character with Poe Dameron. He isn't as involved as the latter, but he is a fun and confident asset to the Resistance and I definitely look forward to seeing more of him.
The new characters are great, but how did the returning characters fare? Well, the main thing I liked was they weren't utilized just for nostalgia. They had a purpose and were relevant to the story. Leia is now a General in the Resistance and has overseen operation since the fall of the Empire. Han Solo went back to being a scruffy looking nerf-herder which is apparently just what he does best. Although they didn't really serve much purpose, it was nice to see C-3PO and R2-D2 again, especially since R2 led us to finding our missing Jedi. There have been complaints about this as well, but I do like that Luke wasn't a central character for this movie. We only see him for maybe 45-seconds and that is enough. It sets up the direction of this new trilogy and gave enough attention to the new characters so we could be properly introduced. It also explains why Luke wasn't in any of the previews.
Sounds like a lot went well. So what went wrong?
With any good thing there are some unfortunate things. This is just something that happens. I consider myself to be a pretty big Star Wars buff so I expected to have some gripes with this new movie. I was correct in expecting something I didn't like, but I have to say I am still pleased to see how little I have to complain about.
Kylo Ren is a complicated character. With complicated characters comes some... complications.
I appreciate him as a character. I'm not saying I don't. However, I wasn't too impressed by what he turned out to be. The big reveal of him being Ben Solo, Han and Leia's son, was predicted months ago and wasn't that big of a surprise to me. I knew he had to either be Leia's son or Luke's. Aside from learning his parentage, we find out that he was trained by Luke but seduced by the Dark Side and turned on his uncle. He ultimately defeated Luke alongside his Knights of Ren which forced him into seclusion, similar to what Yoda did after he failed to defeat the Emperor.
I wasn't as bothered as others are by how often he removed his mask, but I do agree that it did make him a bit less intimidating. In increased the notion that he is nothing more than a weak, struggling human. He is vulnerable to his emotions and is defeated by a girl with no training whatsoever, yet we are to believe he defeated Luke Skywalker and the rising Jedi? Sorry, but I didn't buy it. I wondered how many people who jumped onto the Kylo Ren bandwagon were disappointed with the way he turned out. I know I was.
Speaking of the defeat of Kylo Ren, we can now come back to Rey. I already said that I liked her character, but what I didn't like was how they handled her. I am in no way opposed to her becoming a Jedi or being revealed to be "the one" that could ultimately threaten the First Order, similar to how Luke threatened the Empire or Anakin threatened the Republic. What I didn't like was how she adapted so quickly to The Force and seemed to have these abilities, and knowledge of how to use them, with no training.
Other than being a lonely scavenger, we know nothing else about Rey. However, these issues will likely be fixed or explained in Episode VIII so I'm not panicking. Some theories have already popped up that she is Luke's daughter and had began training as a Jedi until being left on Jakku as a child to protect her, no doubt after Kylo Ren turned on his uncle. Another theory is that she is another child of Han and Leia and was hidden on Jakku to protect her from her brother and the First Order. Either way, both theories shadow the fate of Luke and Leia after the death of their mother, Padme, and the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire. It's also most likely the reason we don't know her last name, but I am wagering it is either Solo or Skywalker.
I don't hate these theories, but I just think Rey's fate was severely rushed and somewhat unrealistic. Unless she's the most powerful Jedi to ever exist, there is no reasonable explanation as to why she adapted so quickly, or why Kylo Ren and Snoke felt so threatened by her. They obviously know who she is and they cut away from Han Solo's explanation regarding Rey's identity when Maz inquired. She also was hugged quite close by Leia and I don't think it was because Han was killed on the Starkiller base.
For being such a "badass" Stormtrooper and given the hype the character got, she didn't really do much. She has very little screentime, succumbs to a former soldier and dooms the First Order's ultimate weapon, and apparently was just dumped into a garbage shoot. The chrome costume is cool and it's nice to see a female villain, but let's be honest with ourselves and admit that she was pretty useless. Hopefully she will become more in future films because I was excited for the character's potential.
Even with the minor complaints, I have to say that I did really like The Force Awakens. I have already seen it twice and am planning on at least one more viewing. I think any fears that we had about what Disney might do to the saga we love have been put to rest, at least to some extent. It was a good setup for future episodes and it properly brought us back to a galaxy far, far away.
For me personally, it left a lot of questions but I love movies that give me something to think about. Here are some big questions we were left with:
- What happened to the other padowans Luke was training? Han Solo said he disbanded the Jedi Academy he had built after Kylo Ren turned on him, but we don't know how many were training or what happened to them after Luke vanished.
- Speaking of the Jedi Academy, was Rey a former padowan? Did Luke know who she was?
- Will Rey train to become a Jedi with Luke?
- Did Leia and Han truly split over Kylo Ren's path to the Dark Side, or was there something else that caused them to part ways?
- Was Luke actually waiting to be found or will be be upset that he was located by the Resistance?
- Now that Han Solo is dead, who will permanently pilot the Millennium Falcon?
- Who are Rey's parents?
- How did Poe make his way back to the Resistance?
- What was the relevance of Max Von Sydow's character?