A brief departure from the politics here…
This review will be a full discussion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It will contain spoilers.
Overall Rating: B
Episode Rankings: 5, 4, 6, 7, 3, 2, 1
Ok, I think I’ve taken up enough space to have prevented anyone with lingering spoiler concerns to have clicked away from this review.
Here we go.
First impression: I was generally happy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA). Lodged somewhere between an apology for the Prequel Trilogy and a reboot, TFA was satisfyingly good. It wasn’t excellent.
There’s no particular order to the observations that follow.
Let’s start with the things that make this film a firm redemption/reboot of the franchise:
- It’s not George Lucas. I know, he gave us the Star Wars universe, but most fans know that it was the directors of the Original Trilogy that molded and shaped George’s raw material into a workable storyline. There was little, if any, “Lucas humor/lines” that pervaded the Prequel Trilogy. That’s a very good thing. (I know there are rumors of Jar Jar’s bones somewhere in the desert of Jakku, but I didn’t see them in my TFA watching).
- The throw-away references meant for “attentive fans.” Yes, we all get the “rhyming” callbacks to the Original Trilogy. They’re great and even the most passive Star Wars fan will see the parallels between TFA and the Original Trilogy. However, from Obi-Wan’s remote on the Millennium Falcon to the name “Starkiller,” it’s the little homages that made it clear that the film knew where it came from.
- The new characters. Look, it’s a new trilogy (hopefully) and we have to give characters time to develop. I have to admit I didn’t get a whole lot from Rey (Daisy Ridley) until her story started to come together by the end of the film. To the credit of each of the new characters, they were far superior to their Prequel Trilogy counterparts. I may draw some ire here, (and I’ll explain my critique below) but I think BB-8 was my favorite newbie.
- Returning characters. Harrison Ford stole the show (and is worth whatever ungodly sum Disney paid for him to reprise the role). Carrie Fisher felt a bit off when we first meet Leia again, but, l got invested in the character as the plot jumped along (more on this later).
- Snoke subverts the trope of “over confident bad guy doesn’t expect the plucky band of do-gooders to blow up his evil lair.” That made me smile. Hopefully he becomes a good rival for Luke Skywalker.
- John Williams is a master.
Now, for the critique. Remember, I’m giving the film a B, so, despite the following, I’m still on board. Ok, definitely spoilers from here on out.
- The story was a bit of a mess. I get that this was an “echo” or “rhyme” of the Original Trilogy with Han being the Obi-Wan-ish character dying at the hands of a character with whom he has an entangled backstory to advance the character development of the protagonist, but, in the case of Obi-Wan, we understand that he had been watching over Luke until he was ready to become a Jedi. I get it, this is trying to focus on character and not politics and story, but, what in the world is the First Order, the (New) Republic and the Resistance? I get it: objectively bad guys and scrappy underdogs, but the scrappy underdogs are being financed by the Republic? Also, where in the galaxy are all these Republic homeworlds located that they can be seen getting blown up from Maz Kanata-land but not cause massive asteroid impacts and seismic changes? While we’re on that point, if the Empire collapsed, how did the First Order have sufficient resources to build a Super-Duper Death Star?
- The new characters. Why would you promote Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) to General? I mean, I get he’s an analog of Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) who subverts the Tarkin arrogance trope by escaping, but still: does the First Order seriously have no one old enough to remember the Empire to promote to command rank? I guess he’s just being controlled by Snoke. As far as the other new characters, I am going to give some benefit of the doubt on Rey that we’ll discover Luke wiped his own daughter’s memory to protect her (or something) and engineered the whole story, but the “Finn as a traitor” thing was fairly abrupt. Also, our heroes stack up a –staggering– body count. For example, I get that Finn and Poe were trying to escape the First Order Star Destroyer and that they were coming under fire, but Finn decides to murder all of the First Order workers in the command center and takes a bit too much glee in doing so.
- Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was the angry adolescent Sith that Anakin Skywalker would have been if he’d turned evil and not gotten burned up. Ok. I got it. He certainly got the “conflicted, angry dark Jedi” thing down, but I just didn’t feel him being outwardly imposing.
- Maz Kanata and Snoke. Just when I thought that JJ had learned from the errors of the prequels, he introduces two major CGI characters. Yeah, they look great for 2015 CGI. But there’s a reason Empire Strikes Back Yoda makes us feel like he’s a real “person”: because Yoda wasn’t a bunch of 1s and 0s. This was one of the most detested parts of the Prequels and it tragically persists in TFA. We can only hope Maz got killed off when her castle got blown up (I doubt it). Regarding Snoke: there’s a chance we can have a real, live, Sith lord in Episode VIII. Please let him be real and not some CGI manifestation (yes, Andy Serkis is amazing, but go back and watch Lord of the Rings and tell me that Gollum’s animation hasn’t already started to look dated).
- The costumes. Ok, First Order are Nazis. Got it. My problem with the costumes was just that they felt cheap. Not sure how best to describe it.
- Why are the First Order bad guys? Yep, we see them massacre a village. But, are they in control of something? We knew the Galactic Empire were the bad guys because they were totalitarians who exterminated a peaceful planet as an interrogation tactic without batting an eye. The problem is, TFA establishes that “The Republic” is the big, legitimate government against whom the First Order is fighting. We’re led to believe that the First Order is some remnant of the Empire and that the Resistance is the group of terrorists being financed by the Republic. So, I get that blowing up star systems is generally a “bad guy thing,” but there’s a big difference between blowing up defenseless planets and waging war (before you tell me I’m wrong, the dialogue clearly made the point that the destruction of the Republic homeworlds was not just to decapitate the government, but also to eliminate “the Fleet,” ostensibly a reference to the military struggle between the First Order and the Republic). The reason that I bring this up is that, yes, I get it that the First Order are the bad guys, but they lack the soul-crushing totalitarianism we see with the Galactic Empire. I get the “crazy fanatic cult” vibe rather than the “oppressive government” vibe.
- Han’s death. I get it, I know Harrison wanted to get killed off in Jedi. My actual problem (aside from Han being a great character) was that his fall down the reactor shaft was reminiscent of only two other Star Wars deaths: Darth Maul and Emperor Palpatine. Good guys don’t fall in Star Wars. We can anticipate Han showing up in Episode VIII in some kind of flashback narrative capacity.
- C3P0 was just as annoying as ever. Then again, I don’t know whether that’s a negative or just his character.
- Han’s freighter fight. So, Han and Chewie were the only crew left on that big ship hauling CGI digimonsters across the galaxy? It was a great callback… to Firefly… more than Star Wars.
- The dialogue. First, I get it, we need to be colloquial like the kids “cool” and “awesome”… great. Without being too puritanical, why did Finn need to say damn? Just caught me offguard.
- I have no idea what the hyperspeed superlaser is or how it works. I know the Extended Universe had similar stuff, but part of me is interested in knowing what the hell is going on with the technology.
- “The reconnaissance flight confirmed” what Finn reported. So, you’ve had the giant superweapon under surveillance for some period of time? Was Starkiller base secret? How did you have such complex plans if it was? Did the Republic take no action because it was overconfident that a Super Duper Death Star would not be “the ultimate power in the universe?” The screenwriter rushed this point and I wasn’t pleased about it. You wanted a Yavin IV climax. Fine.
- Someone who knows science better than I do should explain how Ben Solo has jet black hair when his parents are Han and Leia.
Things I anticipate seeing in the next movie:
- Hux, Ren, and Phasma all are back along with a CGI in-person Snoke.
- Is Snoke Darth Plagueis? Probably not. A clone of Palpatine? Probably not.
- Unfortunately more Maz Kanata
- A mopey and conflicted Luke Skywalker.
- A lot of flashbacks to Luke’s bungling of starting a New Jedi Order.
- Is Rey Luke’s daughter? Yeah, probably.
My one things that would have improved TFA
- Hux should have been Thrawn.
Conclusion: Better than all of the prequels, behind any of the Original Trilogy. A solid reboot of the franchise (and a superior reboot to the one that JJ did with Star Trek).