There are so many things I could talk about with this movie, but for now I’m going to stick with the two most important aspects: The characters and the story.
Rey was so good!
Ah, but Finn was fantastic!
And oh man, I loved Poe so much!
And BB-8 was incredible, and so was Maz Kanata, and Chewie was funnier than ever and how about Han and Leia and general Hux?!
Can all the characters be my favorite? I seriously don’t want to decide between any of them. Rey and Ren are definitely the main protagonist and antagonist, but I would watch the movie from Finn or Poe or Ren’s perspective as the main character/main protagonist in a heartbeat. That’s how solid their characters were and how good their performances were. Props to Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac for stellar first performances. I think about how whiny Luke was in A New Hope and how much he grew and I ended up loving him by Return of the Jedi; it makes me excited to see how these new characters grow as well.
Can we talk about Kylo Ren? I said that I would watch the movie from any of the four main character’s perspective, and that’s especially true about Kylo Ren. He becomes more impressive each time I watch the movie. He is clearly the antagonist of the film, but his struggle with the dark side is equally as compelling as Rey’s struggle with the light.
Obviously the original films and the prequels were about Darth Vader, but in the original films I never felt like I could watch the story from his perspective. He was a formidable villain and ended up having a powerful story arc, but it was Luke’s story. Now, we are watching the beginning of Ren’s journey, and it’s portrayed with such emotion and humanity that it’s just as much his story as Rey’s.
This is really impressive because typically the “bad guys” are either sympathetic or scary, and achieving one makes the other impossible. This is not the case with Kylo Ren. He is obviously on the dark side and is intimidating and powerful, but still I connect with his struggle and pain. I can’t think of too many antagonists that are believable, relatable, and formidable all at once. Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to see how Kylo Ren’s journey unfolds.
Here’s where the film got into the most trouble for me, especially during my first viewing. For the seventh film in the Star Wars saga and the first new film in ten years (if you don’t count the Clone Wars animated movie), The Force Awakens could have been about anything! So at first it was strange to see us going back to such a familiar plot line and spend so much time on the old cast.
There were also a few (though not excessive) nostalgic “winks” to the audience. Han says “I have a bad feeling about this.” Leia asks Han rhetorically when he’s ever been helpful and quickly adds “and don’t say the Death Star!” While onboard the Millennium Falcon (yes, the new ship is the Falcon instead of an actual new ship), Finn accidentally turns on the Dejarik board (3D space chess) that Chewbacca and C-3PO played in A New Hope, along with a few other moments.
As far as plot similarities go, A New Hope and The Force Awakens mirror each other in a lot of ways. The main character lives on a sand planet and longs for something more, The Republic and the Empire are reborn as the Resistance and the First Order, there’s a new Death Star with a similar weakness, there’s secret information hidden in a droid that both sides want, and force acuity manifests itself as being a naturally talented pilot (e.g. Luke and Anakin).
At first, these seemed like major obstacles in the way for enjoying The Force Awakens. I wasn’t sure if I could get past them or justify them enough to qualify the film as a success in my mind.
Now there’s nothing wrong with parallels; they’re a common and powerful storytelling device. I just couldn’t decide after one viewing if the parallels were strengthening the story or merely for cashing in on nostalgia. There’s a real danger in relying too much on nostalgia. And now the Star Wars characters are so famous that they are more like icons than anything else. It’s extremely risky to take icons like Luke, Han, and Leia and c-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca that are so well-known and beloved and personal for fans and try to write them fresh again. If done poorly, it comes across more like fan-fiction than a movie script.
Could I have done without so much focus on older characters like Han and Leia and R2? Yes. Because the new characters were strong enough to carry the film on their own. Could I have gone without the nostalgic winks to the old films? Yes. Because there were so many fantastic new moments! Could I have done without the Death Star 3.0? Absolutely. Does it ruin the film for me? No. And here’s why.
I was able to understand/explain the parallels in a satisfying way, and I think it works for the Star Wars story as a whole, which I think is the filmmakers’ intention. And the character of Maz Kanata explains it. To paraphrase, she tells our heroes that the Force has always existed, though it’s taken different forms throughout the ages. The empire and the rebellion, the first order and the resistance. It’s all telling the same story. It’s all part of the Force fighting for control and balance. For me personally, this is a very satisfying way to view the film and Star Wars as a series. We are seeing the same essential battle between the light and dark side of the Force play out and manifest itself in new ways across generations. This is building the Star Wars universe and creating themes that should carry over into the all the movies, and I think that’s pretty cool.
It took me a bit to realize/accept that it was trying to be the bridge between the old films and the new. So instead of going with a brand new formula and characters and timeline, they were trying to stay consistent with the original films and call back to them. Viewing The Force Awakens as a connector to the original films makes it much more appealing than viewing it as a copy, and I think that approach is supported in the film.
And again, keeping in mind that this is the seventh movie, it makes sense that the stories should flow together and pick up the threads that the sixth movie left. In short, if it’s not too late for that, I stopped seeing obstacles and started seeing a coherent story with stylistic choices that I could appreciate.
All of this is opinion; I definitely understand if people can’t get past certain elements of the movie or were disappointed. Again, I wasn’t sure where I landed at first, and my opinions changed over time. This is how I have ended up viewing The Force Awakens.
Overall, I think the The Force Awakens successfully catered to the “old” generation of Star Wars fans and the “new” generation. I loved Rey and Finn and Poe and Kylo Ren and I wanted to be all of them at once. I think as a child Rey would have been my hero and at some point I probably would have had a crush on Finn and Poe. I’m sure the new generation who are introduced to Star Wars through this film will have a similar reaction, and so far, the main characters seem like fantastic role models for kids. I also loved the original characters and I was still invested in their stories after all this time. It was good to see them and be back on the Millennium Falcon again. I think this is an excellent bridge from the 6th movie to the 8th.
So that’s what I think. Let me know what you think! What did you love and hate about The Force Awakens?