Dear reader, for the past couple weeks I have been struggling with my review of The Force Awakens. That is not to say that I didn’t find the movie enjoyable, quite the opposite in fact, but I was unsure of how to make a compelling prompt that both complimented the movie while not giving an analysis of the plot that simply repeats every moment during the film. So, hopefully you will find this review insightful while still reserving your own opinions if you have seen it and hopefully those who have not can still get an idea of what to expect without going scene for scene.
I found this review very difficult to complete as while the film does maintain a 136 minute runtime, it packs as much information as possible into this period. I will try to touch on as much as I can during this initial review and this will spoil most if not all the major plot moments so for those who have yet to witness it please be wary. Let’s dive in
So, as is tradition in a J.J. Abrams movie, this one opened very strong. It mimics the scenes and score of the old movies in a way that felt nostalgic without being too overbearing such as being a carbon copy of the original (however that’s not to say this won’t become a reoccurring element in the movie that I will address in detail later). The familiar logo and even the formatting of the sentences received a warm welcome at the theater I was in on opening night and there was not a single face without a smile as the memories came flooding back to late nights binge watching of what we once thought was the only cinema experience we would ever receive. During the opening sequences something I noticed almost immediately was the differences in the Empire’s evil versus that of the First Order. The Empires brutality was almost always implied, we only ever heard of the atrocities it committed (Alderaan excluded). Something that comes to mind was the first act of A New Hope. In that installment we see the leftovers of the Empire’s dirty work. Sure the film opens with a CR90 corvette ship being boarded, forcibly, and we get a demonstration of the no compromise attitude of Darth Vader, but consider this: the ship that Darth Vader boarded was a rebellion ship, a group that at this point was going against the actual law of the galaxy, and while the regulations and structure of the Empire were ruthless, many systems and civilizations obeyed and even prospered under this rule. In addition, the Empire was also the majority of civilized systems (this is not to short stack the outer rim rather it is to point out the fact that rebel bases had to be located on backwater systems that were on the far reaches of the galaxy, such as Hoth, rather than any system that had a diverse population). Since the First Order themselves were not accepted as universal law in the galaxy, or hell even the majority, their acts in the beginning of this movie far outweigh the consequences of taking over the ship of a traitor alliance to the main rule of the galaxy. To elaborate further, and my first spoiler, the First Order massacres a small village for harboring an enemy. Since the man they were looking for (and did recover) was an enemy rather than a fugitive or traitor of the common law, killing the innocence in the village, on screen, shows that the First Order was cutthroat rather than imply it. To skip ahead slightly, the First Order was also willing and we were also shown, that they had no problem to execute a bombing campaign on nothing more than the location of their known enemies, and so much for holding their fugitive of the law prisoner like they did previously with Poe Dameron, or like the Empire did with Leia, rather they displayed that they were satisfied with search and destroy when it came to their loose ends, something just a bit more radical than the ideas of the Empire (they at least tried to capture people before killing them).
After the initial impressions of the First Order we are shown what I considered to be an incredible display of talent from the new generation of actors that in my humble opinion rivaled even that of the familiar faces during the film as well as meeting the earnestly of those faces when they first made their debut. Big compliment, I’m aware, however I stand by it. We are shown the craftiness and innocence of Rey, the uncertainness and traumatized conscious of Finn, and the white knight, pure of heart cockiness of Poe, all within a relatively short timeframe, however the movie does not feel rushed. The pacing of the movie is near perfect, at no point does it feel slow, while still maintaining the re-watch value of a movie that simply has so much in every scene that getting it all in one viewing is impossible. The dialogue has been considered some of the best in the franchise and I felt this is where the modernity of the film showed the most. For planets that are not earth they certainly seem to maintain our speech patterns post 1980. This at first felt like it would take away from the authenticity of the film however it quickly became something to be admired, as this type of dialogue opened up for interactions between characters that was not touched on anywhere near the extent it was in this movie: comedy. This movie is funny. Not Jar-Jar cringe inducing line funny because he’s wacky, but natural, fluid comedy that comes from both situations and one liners. BB-8 choosing between Finn and Rey got more laughs on a consistent basis than any installment thus far.
It is at this point in my initial review of this movie that the spoilers will start to flow so if you haven’t seen the movie you may want to skip this section particularly. Something I felt other reviews haven’t touched on as much as I feel they deserve was the very interesting character dynamics between each actor. After being shown the premise of each characters psyche they are then basically paired up. There were quite a few mixed emotions in the air the first I felt started with the bond of brothers. Finn and Poe seemed to work extremely well together especially given the rushed inception of their partnership. The humor from each of these characters bounced from one to another extremely naturally and it made the separation and eventual reunion of the characters very strong moments. The relaxed and over confident attitude of Poe seemed to balance well against the undecided nature of Finn in a way that we didn’t see come even from that of Han and Luke and the connection these two had with each other felt just as strong as the end of the relationship between the old characters in Return of the Jedi. The next relationship we see is the obvious one between Finn and Rey. These two seemed to go together like bread and butter. Neither of them seemed to court each other too much; however that’s not to say Finn didn’t seem to show a clear interest in Rey from the start. The dynamic seemed to alter over the course of the movie into a more brother-sister form of relationship which leaves us with different options at the end of the movie which I will expand upon at the end of the explanation of the dynamics. Here’s where the relationships get slightly convoluted. Finn and Rey eventually pair up with Han and Chewbacca. If I have to explain Han and Chewbacca’s affiliation then exit out of this article and don’t come back until you better yourself. Just kidding! (No I’m not). We now experience a four person association that the film seemed to simplify into three people in a clever and canonical way. Chewie seems to be on the outskirts of this relationship, which really is no surprise as this is how he was in the OT. Chewie always seemed to only be close to Han and that’s the way he liked it, so when it became Han, Rey and Finn it seemed perfectly natural for Chewie to just let Han do his own thing with the newbies. So the dynamic of the relationship mainly focuses with Han acting as a father figure to the new characters which seemed to flow well and even as the movie progresses we see that Han is as understanding of Finn as he is Rey. HOWEVER! We see Han clearly show a bias towards Rey which is something else I expand upon at the end of this article. He does show more interest in Rey even going so far as to make her part of his crew aboard the Falcon as well as handing her a blaster that seemed to be as effective for her as a DL-44. A pattern starts to become apparent here that Rey is replacing Han. She can talk to Chewie, she can fly and fix the Falcon, and she shoots with a pistol blaster but this is an idea that, once again, I will address later. This moves us on to one of the shortest relationships but also possibly one of the best relationships in the franchise. Han and Kylo. Kylo, as we all learn is the love child of Han and Leia who was sent off to Luke for Jedi training to try and suppress his Grandfather’s (Vader) legacy but it horribly backfires. We see the familiar Han and Leia relationship accompanied by the original score for these two, something that becomes a tearjerker by the end. I started tearing up hearing that old music and seeing these two on the screen together and their moments do not disappoint. The last thing Han and Leia say to each other is Leia stating she “Hates when Han leaves” to which he responds “I know. It’s why I always do.” This time unfortunately would have more meaning than ever. Kylo, now revealed to be Ben Solo, has the runaway teen complex with his mother and father, and we get the idea that Han disappointed him in the past, perhaps by not being there, but this is not expanded upon. The mother and father trying to reunite with the prodigal son are brought to an extreme climax where the old parable has a quite different ending, and Han is killed at the hands of his son. Those last moments with Han were beautiful in so many ways, from the lighting representing the darkness consuming Kylo and Han, who in his final moments, does not seem to feel betrayal but instead feels only remorse for the relationship that was absent with his son. This lack of a relationship was a perfect dynamic in itself as we see many emotions flair from regret, forgiveness and ultimately acceptance at the stance the mother, father and son have taken against each other. After these events take place we transition to an entirely new relationship between the characters. Finn is left behind with Poe, Rey has gone somewhere completely new, and Leia and Chewie are ripped apart from the character that brings them together and ultimately have no one left that can mean as much to them as he did. So at the end of the movie we are left with many options on what can happen. Let’s look at Finn. Finn seemed to have a romantic then sibling relationship with Rey as the events of the movie turned less flirtatious into more life changing. He is left alone at the end however, but in the same place as Poe. Personally, I hope to see the Poe and Finn relationship expanded on, while Rey completes her training. We also are left with Rey who at the end is in a precarious position. She seemed to replace Han through many different methods during the movie however she also is revealed to be the new Jedi. While I thought the idea of her as Han’s replacement is cool I would honestly rather see her as this generation’s Luke Skywalker. I would rather see Poe and Finn be the new Han and Chewie but seeing as how the Falcon and Chewie are with Rey this scenario is kind of skewered. Don’t get me wrong, the parallels in this movie to the original trilogy may be overabundant in places but if Finn and Poe are supposed to have this dynamic, I think that Poe Dameron, who’s on screen feats are clearly that of the best pilot we’ve seen thus far, should get in the most maneuverable ship in the franchise. There are still options left here though. We could be seeing a completely new set up of characters, where there is no “new Han” and “new Luke” as many other critics like to allude to.
While considering the options for the different directions each character could take, there is one character that now has a whole world of opportunity. Kylo Ren, throughout the movie, showed us what an untrained, unstable dark force acolyte looks like almost flawlessly. Many are saying that he is the Anakin Skywalker we should’ve had in the prequels and I’m mostly agreeing with them (though I blame the prequels script more than the actors interpretations, by this I don’t mean Adam Driver should’ve been Anakin rather they should have wrote Anakin more like Kylo). Throughout the movie we see a character aspect we have never gotten in any Star Wars movie thus far, that is to say a character who seems to be completely on his own with very little outside help and is so alienated by the ones who have tried to help him in the past or still care about him that even though he struggles with his decisions throughout the movie he ultimately decides to relinquish any relationship connections he has left. His journey is a solo one if you will (I’m not apologizing for that). Now, the only other character who has had this dynamic was Darth Vader in his debut. Let’s explore this for a moment. Darth Vader, even though he didn’t have anyone close to him (again, speaking about ANH since TFA is the first in its trilogy as well) he was his organizations leader. For example, think of any shot with Darth Vader in it from that movie. He was almost always surrounded by Stormtroopers or his admirals and captains. Now, Kylo is similar in this vain but only to an extent. When we see Vader in his pod, some of the only times he is alone, we don’t see what he’s thinking about or how he feels on the situation, and in fact the only time we see this is when someone walks in on him, so he’s not entirely alone in the scene. When we see Kylo alone we get full emotion and dialogue of what he’s thinking and no one wants to bother him so he’s the only one in his shots. Let’s consider the lightsaber duel as well. Vader does what Kylo does and they both go off alone to face their foes, but think about the ending. At the end of the duel between ObiWan and Vader Stormtroopers show up and we get all of our main heroes in the scene. ObiWan even loses the fight after acknowledging that the others are there and the motivation for the end of the duel is so the other people in the scene can escape. When Kylo takes on Rey and Finn, he is alone even in the end. No one came to his rescue during the battle and he was even left alone to die at the end of the duel and the only reason this didn’t happen was because one other person was like “go get him. Where is he? I don’t know he’s alone so you’ll have to find him”. Kylo feels like his grandfather is the only one who can relate to him, and unfortunately for him all he has is his burnt mask. So really, even though Kylo feels like his grandfather is the closest figure to him, he’s really not even there. Kylo has fooled himself into finding motivation to go to the dark side because apparently he’s either ignoring the fact that Vader redeemed himself and destroyed the Emperor and died saving the last Jedi, or the last Jedi himself didn’t mention that part. Either way it only means that the one character who Kylo feels an actual relationship to is nothing more than a delusion he came up with. This makes him possibly the only character that is so alone in his journey that he’s basically made an imaginary friend. The idea of Kylo being this alienated from everyone leaves a ton of room for development in the future. At the end of the movie we learn that Kylo has not completed his training but has passed the necessary steps to do so, and is showing up in the next movie more than likely ready to show what that red saber can really do. What we can only speculate on however is where his character will go from here. He was so alone that it seemed like he was competing for his Dark Lord’s attention with another but now it seems he may form a new bond. Dark Lords however are not known for playing nice so it’s possible that while his strength will grow his relationships will not. Where will that leave him if/when he gets to be on Vader’s level and realizes, like Vader did, that he has nothing if he has no one in the end? Let’s not forget when Vader found out he had a son his character did a complete 180 and it was no longer all about serving the Emperor but finding Luke. How will Kylo’s situation change when he’s already killed the person that wanted to bring him back to the light? Speaking of Luke how’s that conversation about Han going to go when Luke inevitably meets up with Kylo? I don’t know but I bet Kylo’s got a bad feeling about it (I regret nothing).
So about halfway through the film I realized this could also be called StarWars: John Williams Awakens. The movie was brilliantly composed but this came as no surprise because he upheld his legendary reputation of creating moments out of a lack of action. There were so many scenes that can bring tears to your eyes not because something terrible was happening on screen but because each person could just be standing there and the music would play at just the right moment to emphasis the context. Two examples I can think of are when Han and Leia reunite for the first time, that old familiar song plays and even though they’re just standing there smiling at each other you’re immediately having every scene play back through your mind in an instant. The one that makes me tear up in this movie the most though, and what I’m dubbing and one of the best shots in StarWars history, is when Rey uses the force to get Luke’s old lightsaber (originally Anakin’s) to fight Kylo. The silence of the score beforehand leading up to the moment she comes into contact with the weapon is extremely intense when the characters and scenery now becomes silent and the score, the same song that plays when ObiWan told Luke to use the force, is slowly faded in to make this scene an outstanding accomplishment and solidified that John Williams still knows exactly how to capture a moment.
Now that we’ve explored some of the movies more positive side I feel I should address the giant elephant in the room: “what was the bad?” The bad was simply this; if you told me a summary of A New Hope and switched some names around you could get this movie. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is unique and different in many ways, but the basic formula is the same. Now I know about the monomyth, that is the Heroes journey.
So obviously, because this is the start of a new trilogy it’s going to mirror the monomyth that A New Hope did. This movie however does take it a little further in a way that really can’t be denied. They made Tatooine II, Super-Sized Death Star, wanna-be Vader and Tarkin, Emperor who only communicated through hologram for now, they did the same method to destroy Death Star III (that is there’s something that leads straight to whatever blows it up), and they even put the map to Skywalker in BB-8 like they did with the Death Star plans in R2 and then had him scour the desert for a bit to be picked up by the hero. There are similarities, more than what could be called simple homages to the originals, but the execution of the plot is where the movie is drastically different, and the overall goal of the film is something that is also altered, so you can’t call it a carbon copy. In this movie they are looking for someone specifically and the bad guys come along to mess it up. In A New Hope they are not looking for anyone they wanted to return a droid and when the bad guys messed it up they had to improvise. When the bad guys come in TFA to mess things up the overall mission is still the same regardless of the similarity of the need to survive. In this vain the execution of the movie as well as the individual goals of each character is different from the movie it was modeled after despite the similarities between the two.
So wrapping up, I have to say this so far has been the longest article I’ve written so far and I still don’t feel like I’ve touched on everything. In fact, the lighting, theories and Starfighter sequences may very well become their own posts, but I’ll save it for another time, when everyone has seen the movie. As I write this it was announced that Star Wars has officially past Avatar to become the #1 highest grossing movie of all time and it has not even released in China yet. So if that’s any incentive for those who have not seen the film, go see it. It is fantastic and appropriate for all generations so there will be no demographic left behind in this movie. I won’t even begin to get into all the things I could possibly say to praise this movie as the reviews are already out there so rest very assured that if you set your bar high in this movie you won’t be let down. It’s different, that’s for sure, but it feels like a Star Wars movie. All the magic is there. The franchise is going strong and will continue to be ahead of the game, and some of the spin-offs excite me just as much as the main films. (We’ll talk about Rogue One later).
So there it is! Some of my thoughts on The Force Awakens and I’m sure I’ll be talking about this movie for a long time to come! Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.