Well everyone, the wait is finally over. We live in a galaxy where there is a Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. After years of jokes on The Simpsons, demands from fans, and contradictory statements by George Lucas, we finally have it.
I'll start by saying I loved the movie. It was great, it was just about everything I hoped for, and it brought Star Wars to a new generation of fans.
I'm not going to talk about themes and other deep merits in the movie, as we all know them and can read any critic's opinion any time. What I will say about the theme however is that I liked the repetitions and call-outs and mirrors that the movie had from/to/with the original film, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977/1997/...). Many people thought it was overdone to the point of being a too much like a remake, but I disagree. In my mind, singing an encore of the original ideas that fans fell in love with was necessary to get the taste of prequel film out of the mouths of the many tough-to-please man children (More on the Prequels in another article). So, onto the aspects of the film I liked:
[Editor: Major Spoilers Ahead] [Author: This is a review, of course there are, don't be stupid.]
What I liked about the film
The immediate thing that I'm sure jumps out to everyone is the return of the original cast. This of course is a winning point for everyone. Seeing Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa/Skywalker/Solo, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and even some sweet Yoda and Obi-Wan cameos (look it up) was beyond description as a blast. Granted, seeing the original cast again is not enough to be pleasing, as much as we might want it to be. There are many, many ways that they could have been given lackluster or illogical-to-character appearances, thus ending their careers on a rancid low note much like Orson Welles in Transformers: The Movie (1986) or Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve (2012). But that was not the case. Each character followed a natural progression into their older versions. Han Solo returned to being a rogue-ish scoundrel nerf-herder smuggler, later melting into a softy again, Leia became an esteemed General, wise from both her age and preternatural maturity from her younger years, balancing well her duties and attributes as a politician, a rebel leader, and a force-sensitive.
However, even more than Harrison Ford's equally joy-causing and depressing portrayal, and Carrie Fisher's stoic heroism, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker was absolutely the best performance in the film. Every word of dialogue was natural like they were Hamill's words, every action true and heartfelt. Hamill deserves to be honored forever for his performance. Peter Mayhew's touching return to Chewbacca (The wheel-chair bound giant had surgery so he could wear the rug again) was excellent, despite his infidelity to his wife (No, Maz is not his girlfriend, she is joking around and The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) is still canon in my eyes and you can't change that) and his lack of arm-ripping (also in the missed opportunity in ROTS; it's not carnage when they're droids) [Editor: The author apologizes for that allusion that only 40% of the readers will understand.]. C-3PO was great as ever, and while not being the same actor, R2-D2 was still the reliable joy (Kenny Baker, the original man inside R2, did not return to the suit, but was credited as "R2-D2 Consultant", which means they invited him to the set out of pity.)
However, I was also disappointed in this field. The question that I've only heard myself asking is: "Where the Fuck is Lando Calrissian!?" Seriously! Lando is a major character in the last two installments of the OT, and he blended perfectly into the already established cast. Lando blew up the second Death Star! In all of the [no longer canon] Expanded Universe novels he is still a major character! It doesn't make sense. Unless they are implying Lando died, which I didn't pick up on, then there is nowhere for him to go without explanation. We had Gial Ackbar (I'm guessing he's moved past Admiral) and Lando's Sullustan co-pilot in the movie, but no Lando.
About the Star Wars Universe
We were introduced to a good portion of new planets. They didn't go over board and try to cram too many in, and they didn't miss the mark on the other side of the spectrum. Sand planet, forest planet, tundra planet, etc. Fortunately, none of these were too close to their original trilogy counterparts. The progression of the Empire and the Rebellion was also great. It would be unrealistic for the original Empire to be holding on this long, and I think the First Order was a good replacement. Phasma was a cool character, echoing in the silent mannerisms of Boba Fett. This character, like Fett, is likely to be expanded. Hux was just the right level of Tarkin-ness, and I liked the dynamic he had with Kylo Ren.
Speaking of Kylo Ren, I really enjoyed the character. It's in both the nature and the theme of Star Wars that history repeats itself, even in another galaxy, far, far away. Kylo Ren's start as a Skywalker/Solo showing promise and falling to the dark side was tragic and shows that the dark side is always a temptation and the talented are almost always misguided and confused. This was a plot twist that I did not expect, unlike that other one, and I'll admit it had me on the edge of my seat. I enjoy how they salvaged the story of Jacen Solo from the EU, albeit without his twin sister, brother, or aunt (To our knowledge) and I hope to see more of the character's story. Additionally of note, the name "Ben" obviously is to pay homage to Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi. Originally in the EU, Luke and Mara Jade's son was named after Kenobi, and Han and Leia's eldest son was named Jacen. Seeing as Luke doesn't have a son and naming Han and Leia's son something that had no meaning from the other movies would make no sense/not be touching.
When Ben Solo kills his father, it means that he has fully turned to the dark side and there's no going back. Now i'm not saying Han can just magically return (Star Wars doesn't really do that), but I my feeling is thus: Clearly, as part of the Skywalker family, Ben Solo is going to redeem himself by the end of the trilogy. It's already in how the character is written. Now thematically speaking, if Han Solo were revealed to survive (Say kept alive by Snoke to manipulate the Solos and Skywalkers) that would then mean that Ben still had light in him and could be redeemed. I don't see another way Ben could turn around after killing his own father, and I feel he has to turn around. Additionally, by the end of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980/1997/?) Han Solo is frozen in Carbonite and the audience is uncertain if he will return. This was the case (Despite *Lando's* assurance that Han was alive (Throwaway dialogue really, he could die in unfreezing)) because Harrison Ford was not yet signed on for the sequel, as trying to get Mr. Ford to return to the role each time is apparently harder than herding Nerfs, or describing Fantasia (1940/1999) to Helen Keller, depending on how well you remember dialogue from TESB and how easily you are offended.
Point being, seeing as Han Solo wasn't decapitated, the door is still open. Also of note, every character who has ever fallen into a pit after dying in Star Wars has always returned in some pathetic manner: Boba Fett, Darth Sidious, Darth Maul...
I guess what I'm really trying to say here is while the story and the story surrounding it were excellent, not only does it paint itself into a corner, but this isn't how Han Solo should die. He hasn't had time to truly reconcile with Leia, he hasn't saved his son, and he hasn't even seen Luke yet. If Han Solo has to die, it should be in a blaze of glory on the Falcon with Chewie, not stabbed by his son. It's a good story but not the ending that the hero to everyone of you reading this article (admit it; even if he's not your favorite movie character, every one likes Han). Or you could just not kill him and give the trilogy a happy closing.
Han Solo's dead. Until I can admit that, I'm going to keep denying it.
Back to the article. I'll make the rest of what I liked quick because everyone loves to hear negative things. The main characters were great. Perfectly cast, diverse as they needed to be without it being shoved in your face. They weren't straight rips of Luke, Leia and Han as they each had qualities from each. It could really be argued that Rey is Luke, Finn is Leia, and Poe is Han more than any other combination, but they're still unique. Everyone expected Luke to be the new Obi-Wan, but Han passed the mantle really well. If you couldn't see his demise coming, you were probably pushing the thought out of your mind as I was, but if you couldn't see it more and more if the movie progressed, you're the aforementioned person who can't grasp Fantasia (1940/1999). Even little things like his new-found interest in Chewie's bowcaster or the way he mentored Rey pointed it out, for some reason. Continuing. To balance out the four heroes, the quad of Kylo Ren, Supreme Leader Snoke, Hux, and Phasma perfectly echoed Vader, Palpatine, Tarkin, and Fett, and considering that was their in-plot mission, can't be called repetitive. Andy Serkis was great as the "mystery villain". Snoke is totally Palpatine:
Obi-Wan and Yoda's appearances were cool. R2 and 3PO had the right mount of screen time. J.J. directed well. It was a Star Wars movie.
Oh, and I forgot the last thing I loved, probably because it caught me off guard. I'll start off with a fun plot twist: I'm a millennial. In fact, I was born the day the prequel trilogy started. Shocking, I know. What this means is all of my life, I have had a full Star Wars universe. When I saw Boba Fett in TESB, I knew his backstory from the prequels. I've just about always known the Clone Wars Obi-Wan spoke of in ANH. For me, the mystique of Darth Vader, the Death Star, the Empire, Stormtroopers, the Emperor, and the Jedi was very short lived. I always had the full story for Star Wars.
But with TFA, I finally understand why Star Wars was so insanely popular. Not only did people love the characters, not only were the special effects great, but this new world to tell stories in was a mysterious one. My parents and everyone else in that time walked out of the theater with more questions they could count, filled with wonder and curiosity. This of course is part of the reason the prequels get a bad rep. It was amazing and shocking for me to walk out of a Star Wars movie with so little knowledge and so many questions. I couldn't believe it. It was awesome. Now, in contrast to the Original Trilogy, VII had events preceding it that make us wonder what happened in between. Essentially, Lucasfilm just bought them another forty years to come up with back story for the main characters and the galaxy and every single background character. By doing this, Luke, Leia, Han, 3P0, R2, and Chewie (Not Lando!) can live beyond their actors for a long, long time. If they created the sequel trilogy in the early or late nineties, or really any earlier than right now, they wouldn't have this opportunity. The gap in recorded time would not be enough.
Now it's time for me to talk trash.
What I disliked
Han Solo died.
Han Solo died.
Han Solo died.
Han Solo died.
You get the idea.
Remember all of the crazy, diverse creatures from Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba's Palace? Remember all of the cool species from the Prequels? (I'll jog your memory: Nautolans, Togrutans, Quermians, Dugs, Zabraks, Neimoidians, Lions, Tigers and Bears oh my!)
What species do you remember from this film? When I looked around on Jakku and in Maz's Castle, I admit, I was actually disappointed.
For the most part, all of the new species looked relatively similar and relatively human. Maz, the Jakku junk dealer, the huge spacer in the castle, the Crimson Corsair's (He was pretty cool though) first mate? They all looked like exaggerated humans with the same seven shades of green, yellow and human coloring for skin. They had minimal alien characteristics and were overall uninteresting. I was forward to creatures of the unique caliber of Rodians, Ithorians, Gran, Talz, Aqualish, etc. My guess is that the problem stems from George Lucas's lack of involvement. If you ever watch him at work in special features or hear other people talk about him, it's apparent he's an ADHD kid with a hyperactive imagination. George will walk into a room, tell the concept artist his vision down to the smallest detail, and then rattle off the complete back story of this character or species on a whim. He could come up with an answer or explanation for any question you had about his universe as if it were common knowledge.
"This one is Tessek, he's Jabba the Hutt's accountant, but he's really a good guy. His species is referred to as "Squid Head" which is considered a derogatory term, and they are actually called Quarrens. They live on the water planet Mon Calamari, an share it with the Mon Calamari, Admiral Ackbar's species. The Mon Calamari are generally the peace keepers..."
The point here is George Lucas has an imagination no one could match. While Star Wars VII was a great return with a great story and great characters, in simply cannot match Lucas' integrity as a world builder.
Rumors Swirling Around the Movie
Every major nerdy release will have rumors, and that's fine. Some of those surrounding this movie are to my liking and have grounding (Rey as Luke's daughter), while others are too far over the top. These are the rumors that just don't make sense with the movie. While they aren't the fault of the film makers or the film itself, I'm tired of them, and don't have much else to complain about. I'm tired of hearing about Darth Jar-Jar or that Rey is Obi-Wan's descendant. Darth Vader isn't alive.
As I stated before, Lando's lack of appearance upset me. Other than that, and the removal of the entire Expanded Universe, I really liked the movie and would recommend it to anyone who is a Star Wars fan, anyone, who likes movies, or anyone who likes being alive and doesn't have a long-standing vendetta against the human spirit. All of the issues I had with the film could easily be rectified in the sequels, or even the unavoidable special edition many of you fear.
So, have fun, may the force be with you, and go get lost in a galaxy far, far away.