WARNING: There are spoilers galore here. If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, you should just stop reading now. Here’s some newlines for those reading on Facebook. Update: The newlines didn’t work so I removed them.
OK, that should do it. Now on with the review.
Here’s a story. Tell me what movie it describes:
We start on a desert planet, where a droid that can only speak in beeps and whistles and yet exudes personality crashes from an orbiting ship. Our hero (who is strong with the Force but doesn’t know it) saves the droid from a small creature who wants it for parts and finds that the droid is trying to find its master, and the hero agrees to help. It turns out that the droid is carrying some very important information that needs to be taken to the leaders of a group of freedom fighters.
The hero meets up with an older man who acts as a father figure. We travel to a bar that features many individuals from numerous species. Eventually we make our way (in the Millennium Falcon) to the villain’s “lair”, which is actually a huge weapon that contains immense destructive power. It’s shown destroying entire planets. The older man and a younger man attempt to rescue the girl who’s been taken prisoner. She’s actually a strong character, not at all the “helpless damsel in distress”. They rescue her but the older man is killed by the lead villain, a man dressed all in black who wears a mask. He is strong with the Force but has turned to the Dark Side and, it turns out, has a family relation with one of the heroes. It also turns out that the lead villain is not actually in charge; he’s the servant of another, who appears as a huge hologram.
The younger man and the girl escape and rejoin the freedom fighters, and then return to destroy the enemy weapon with their X-Wing fighters. The lead villain survives.
Was it The Force Awakens? Or was it Star Wars (A New Hope) with a couple of things from The Empire Strikes Back mixed in? The answer is yes.
When the prequel trilogy was being written, it seems that Lucas thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story that’s nothing like the first three!”. This was a decent idea, but wasn’t terribly well done. Personally, I didn’t hate the prequels as many others did, but there was certainly room for improvement. Jar Jar Binks was worse than useless. Darth Maul was a very cool-looking villain but wasn’t as scary or evil as Vader. Vader was introduced as a leader and it wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that you found that he wasn’t actually in charge. The way that was done simply made the Emperor’s power that much more impressive – he can even control Vader! In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul was introduced as the apprentice so you never thought of him as being as powerful – Maul was essentially a hit-man. Natalie Portman was good and Hayden Christensen was OK (at best) but I didn’t find the chemistry between them was really there, which was unfortunate since their deep passionate love for each other was the supposed reason for Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. The dialogue was also terrible which didn’t help matters.
When writing Episode 7, it seems that J.J. Abrams thought “Let’s take the Star Wars universe and add a story JUST like the first three!” While I don’t think this strategy would have worked for the prequels, it did work for this one. There were a couple of scenes that were a little predictable for this reason, but because I’ve watched the original trilogy so many times over the years, it almost seemed like familiarity rather than predictability. It wasn’t that the writing was lazy so you could tell what was going to happen. The writing was good enough that you knew what was going to happen because it was entirely consistent with what you would expect.
At least, part of me believes that. There is a part of me that thinks it is lazy, since they didn’t have to come up with a story, just adapt one. I haven’t decided which part of me I believe.
Having said that, I do agree with some of this review, particularly when talking about the “How do we destroy the Starkiller planet?” scene. The First Order modifies a planet to be able to absorb the entire mass of a star and then use it as a weapon. First of all, not possible. But suspending our disbelief, this kind of terraforming would be centuries of work, and the rebels resistance figures out how to destroy it in about 3 minutes. If that one building is housing the only thing holding the planet together, perhaps it should have been more heavily fortified, or buried a mile underground?
Rey is a strong lead and given how masculine the original trilogy was (other than Leia, there were only 3-4 female characters who actually spoke and nobody for more than 30 seconds), I think it’s great that they chose a female lead. I also loved how Finn tried to rush to her rescue when he first met her only to find that she was perfectly capable of handling the situation herself. Her mysterious background was hinted at a few times – who were her parents? Is she Han Solo’s daughter? Doesn’t seem like it. Is she Luke’s daughter? Probably not – this would mean that Luke had fallen in love and had a child at some point, and as a Jedi he’s not supposed to do that. Given what happened to his dad when he fell in love, this sounds like a rule that Luke wouldn’t be likely to break. Personally, I hope she’s the daughter of nobody we know. Not everyone who’s really strong in the Force has to be related to the Skywalkers.
Finn is an interesting character and while I like him, he’s one of the biggest mysteries of the film. He’s been training to be a stormtrooper for almost his entire life. During that time (15 years? 20 years?), I can’t imagine the brainwashing that would have to be part of their training in order for them to do what they do. When your superior tells you to murder an entire village of innocent civilians or help operate a weapon that’s going to destroy an entire (inhabited) planet and you do it without hesitation or remorse, that’s some strong mind control. So how did Finn escape it? Thousands upon thousands (if not millions) of stormtroopers are under the complete control of the Empire / First Order, and yet Finn simply says “Nah, don’t think so” and escapes it? Nah, don’t think so.
Poe is a talented-bordering-on-cocky pilot who’s no relation to Han Solo but let’s face it, he’s as much the Han Solo of this movie as Han Solo is.
Kylo Ren is a villain who is a bit of a mystery himself. We know his parentage from fairly early on but we don’t know how old he is until Rey gets him to take his helmet off and we find that he’s not much more than a kid who looks like a young Severus Snape. He’s strong with the Force but obviously not that strong, since the untrained Rey is able to see into his mind while he’s trying to look into hers. He’s also not that skilled with a lightsaber since both Rey (still untrained) and Finn (the Star Wars equivalent of a Muggle) are both able to hold their own in lightsaber battles with him. You could even argue that Rey beat him. Yet he’s been able to become one of the top people in the First Order. During his conversation with Han Solo, it looks as if he’s going to give up the Dark Side and go home with his dad. I admit I didn’t foresee what was about to happen (strong am I with the Force, but not that strong) and so I was a bit disappointed that turning him back to good was this easy. Of course, the thing he had to do but wasn’t sure he was strong enough turned out to be something else, and he was strong enough. Han Solo’s death, while something I didn’t see coming and something I’m still not particularly happy about, was absolutely necessary in the development of Kylo Ren as a villain.
Harrison Ford nailed Han Solo, which is pretty impressive after 30+ years. Chewbacca was Chewbacca. Maz was Yoda with English lessons. Mark Hamill had second billing and was in the movie for maybe a minute and didn’t speak. Marlon Brando is impressed.
Unfortunately, not all of the characters were that effective. The Supreme Leader was too comic book-y as a non-human hologram. C-3P0 was entirely comic relief and R2-D2 was the deus ex machina – we need the rest of the map and R2 just happens to have it, and just happens to wake up at just the right time after years (?) of sitting in “low power mode”. General Phasma was supposed to be the leader of the stormtroopers but the only difference between her and any other stormtrooper was the fancy uniform.
Not only was much of the story similar to Episode IV, there were a number of spoken lines from the original trilogy repeated in this one. Obviously the biggest were “I have a bad feeling about this” and “May the Force be with you”; inclusion of those was required though I’m surprised the latter was only used once. But there were a few throwaway ones as well, ones that wouldn’t have been noticed if you didn’t realize it was a repeated line but are very cool if you do. While on the Starkiller planet, you can hear a stormtrooper in the background say something like “We think they might be splitting up” which is a direct quote from a stormtrooper in a similar situation in A New Hope. Leia’s claim that “There is still light in him” was another, though I thought that was too similar to Luke telling her that there is still good in Vader. A good one was Maz talking to Rey, and telling her “Find your friend”, reminiscent of when Yoda offered to do help Luke do just that on Dagobah. The next line from The Empire Strikes Back is “I’m not looking for a friend, I’m looking for a Jedi Master!” which is accurate in both movies.
Question: Where did Maz get Luke’s light saber from? His first one fell into the clouds on Bespin when Vader cut off his hand. His second one (that he built himself), he threw away once he cut off Vader’s hand. (Aside: Nobody’s limbs were removed in this one. Odd.) I suppose he could have grabbed it again once Vader killed the Emperor but Maz specifically says that it belonged both to Luke and Anakin / Vader so it must have been the one from Bespin. She also said that how she got it was a “story for another time”, so hopefully that other time occurs in Episode VIII or IX.
Had Han really never used Chewie’s crossbow until now? After at least 30 years together?
I guess I can’t give the movie an A++++ since there were some issues with it. But it was fun, it was exciting, it was funny, it was well written (far more than the prequel trilogy), the bad guy was sufficiently bad, and it was reminiscent of the original trilogy. Everything you’d want from a Star Wars movie.
Only a little over 500 days until Episode VIII comes out!