I’ve seen every Star Wars film in the cinema dating back to A New Hope when I was seven. I’ve seen every Star Wars movie on opening day dating back to Jedi. (I begged my dad to take us to opening night of Empire but he wouldn’t do it. I can remember throwing a crying tantrum; I still stand by that as the right decision.) I’ve even seen a Star Wars movie at the Stag Theater at Lucas Ranch. (Sure, it was Episode I, but still…) So, suffice to say, like many of you, I was super excited to see Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
By now, I’m assuming that if you are a Star Wars fan you have seen The Force Awakens. Likely more than once. If you haven’t, seen it, then I implore you to stop reading now. Bookmark it and come back later, for sure, but don’t read any further until you’ve seen the movie. There are some spoilers below, and I don’t want to be responsible for ruining the movie for anyone.
You’ve been warned. There be spoilers below… Here’s the stuff I loved about the new movie, and the stuff that I thought could have been handled better. Please share your thoughts on the film in the comments section.
I rarely go out to commercial theaters any more, but there is just something near magical about being part of a Star Wars opening night crowd that heightens the experience. Beyond the cosplay of those opening night moviegoers, there is a shared joy and exuberance that no Pixar film, no Hunger Games movie, and no Marvel franchise receives. The shared, tense, excitement and murmuring when the Lucasfilm logo comes on screen; the lengthy applause at the first blast of the main theme; the cheering when a favorite character appears on screen for the first time…
“This will begin to make things right...”
What a terrific opening line. I mean, just the perfect subtle nod to the fact that things have not been right since the prequel trilogies (though I happen to like Episode III), and this was beginning a new journey that was going to get the universe back on track. After an opening scrawl that (THANK GOD!) didn’t include any mumbo jumbo about senate redistricting or intergalactic trade disputes, but rather succinctly defines what the film will be about—trying to locate Luke—this line establishes the film as something new for the fans to love.
While Finn and Poe are great as new characters, it’s Rey that owns the movie. And while they might not have been betting the entire farm on Daisy Ridley, she had a ton riding on her performance, and had she fallen short or flat in her portrayal of Rey, the movie would have seriously suffered. Fortunately not only does Rey come across as one of the strongest female characters in the Star Wars film universe—she lives in a fallen AT-AT walker and scavenges parts from an Imperial Star Destroyer!—she is real, believable, and oh-so-lovable. Whereas things happen to Leia—she gets captured, she gets rescued—and Amidala—she is thrust into a trade dispute and is the object of Anakin’s affections—Rey is proactive and drives the story. And unlike young Luke or young Anakin, she never comes across as whiny, but is always tough and determined and has been given decent lines of dialog with nary a “laser brain” comment to be found. She also seems established to be the main heroine going forward, set to be the next powerful Jedi and—my speculation—Luke’s daughter.
Han and Chewie
When I heard they were bringing the original cast back for this film I was a bit concerned. I was worried they would be too old or that they would be shoehorned into the plot in a meaningless way. Far from it, Han, Chewie, and the Falcon were integral to Awakens and were the perfect stewards to hand the film over to a new generation of characters. We also finally got to see Chewie’s mighty bowcaster—a fan favorite weapon—get some real action, something I’d been waiting for since Episode IV. Sure he did get a shot off in Jedi, but here the bowcaster saw some real combat. Harrison Ford also went on record years ago as expressing that he wanted Solo to die in Jedi, thinking it would be a fitting dramatic end to the character. Well Ford got his wish here, his death helping to propel Kylo Ren further down his path toward the Dark Side.
I was thrilled when I heard JJ Abrams was going to be directing the new film. I love his style, the way he develops suspense and tension, his deft use of humor, the way he likes to drop little hints and Easter eggs throughout his material, and his very Spielberg-ian storytelling style. I also know he has a huge respect and understanding of franchise films; his Star Trek reboot was terrific. He also said he was going back to practical sets, relying less on CGI and more on real. The results are definitely visible on screen as it feels like the original films before George tried to build everything in a computer. Sure, people are saying that Awakens is essentially a reworking/retelling of A New Hope, but I don’t feel that is necessarily a bad thing, as it puts us back in a known and beloved place, being the necessary vehicle to move the Grand Space Opera forward to the next act.
Besides Abrams the other awesome ingredient to the new film was writer and producer Lawrence Kasdan who has been involved in other films like Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Talk about a guy that understands the franchise and what makes great films. With him there acting like a Jedi Master to help and guide the Padawan Abrams, the film gets all the details and feel right. While we’re talking about getting the old team back together, let’s give some props to them having the foresight to bring John Williams back to score the new film. And to Williams for saying, “Yes!” Would it even be Star Wars without a Williams’ score? Fortunately we didn’t have to find out.
The Could’ve Been Better
If you’re going to make a Stormtrooper captain that is going to wear shiny armor custom made from the salvaged chromium from a ship once owned by Emperor Palpatine (source Wookieepedia) and also make it the first known female Stormtrooper, AND cast a fan favorite from Game of Thrones to play the part, then you’re setting some high expectations for the character. As it is Phasma is completely under-utilized and gets no opportunity to show why she may be special. They could have easily rectified this by making Phasma the trooper that fought Finn with the Z6 riot control baton against his lightsaber. As it is Phasma currently just seems she was an elaborate set-up for a garbage compactor call-back joke.
The Force: All Too Easy
It took Luke years of training to learn to use his Force skills, but in this film it seemed like Rey and Finn took to things—especially lightsaber combat—far too easily. Jedi and the Force would have been gone for nearly 60 years at this point, so it seems unlikely they would have ever heard of a lightsaber, let alone seen one and known how to wield it so expertly. Also, we saw the way-trained Jedi mow through people in Episode II and III, but here both Rey and Finn were able to stand against Kylo Ren, someone trained directly by Luke and also likely further by Snoke, and who knows enough about the Force to construct his own lightsaber, albeit an unstable design. Sure, it appears that Rey may have had some Jedi training in her past, and maybe she is SO powerful in the Force that she can just suddenly tap into it at any time, but their sudden skills seemed too convenient. Kylo would have cut through Finn like he was a stalk of wheat wafting in a breeze and would have likely just frozen Rey with the Force—as he had done moments before—before dispatching her. And while it was an exciting moment to see Rey call Luke’s lightsaber to her across the snowy field, she Force-pulled it out of Rey’s mental grasp across a decent distance. Remember how much Luke struggled to call that very saber to him across a distance of about four feet with no Dark Jedi competing against him?!? All too easy…
Star Wars expert and fellow Resi reviewer, Dennis Burger, offered this counterpoint to consider: “Remember that Kylo Ren had just taken a bowcaster bolt to the gut when he fought Finn and Rey. It's amazing that he could walk at all. And as evidenced by Finn's earlier melee duel, it's pretty obvious that Stormtroopers go through extensive melee training. It's not all that surprising that they were at least able to trade a few blows with Ben.”
Another Death Star?
Look, we get how cool it is to be able to obliterate an entire planet with one shot. And if anything is cooler than blowing up one planet, it is taking out five at a time Death Star shotgun style, but, seriously, enough with the Death Stars and Starkiller Bases. Also, just from a financial standpoint, where does the Empire keep getting the untold gobs of money it takes to fund these projects?!
Huge BOO! to Denis Lawson
You might not know the actor, but you likely do know his character: Wedge Antilles. Wedge is the only Rebel pilot to survive all three of the previous—IV, V, VI—films, having fought alongside Luke at the original Death Star, and again on Hoth where he blew up an AT-AT, and then again at the second Death Star. Wedge has gone on to be quite a heroic pilot in the expanded universe. But would have no place in the new film, right? Umm, no, in fact Wedge played a significant role in the novel “Aftermath” which details events leading up to Episode VII so you could say he would be a perfect fit for the new film. JJ thought so too, and he asked Lawson to reprise his role of Wedge for this film. Lawson’s answer? “It just would have bored me.” Really?! You’re so busy doing other stuff, Denis, you couldn’t be bothered to reprise your role in what will likely be one of the biggest films of EVER?! Lame, sir.
Sure they have some cool updated armor, but their combat skills haven’t really improved much. I expected the highly skilled, hand-selected members of the First Order to move and fight like Delta operators. These guys should have Special Forces skills, well-coordinated team tactics, fight-fire-and-move battle maneuvers, and miss very rarely.
I’m actually OK with the fact that we don’t see Luke until the very end; in fact, the film’s ending left everyone ready and eager for Episode VIII. And that the final spoken line of dialog is, “May the Force be with you” felt perfect. But it just felt like the movie was building to something grand and then…end. Finn is grievously injured, and comatose (or something) so why isn’t he soaking in a Bacta tank or something? I mean, surely medical technology has advanced in the 30-plus years since Empire, but Finn just has to lie there and hope for the best. It also seems incredibly unlikely they would let Rey go off essentially alone to get Luke. I mean, Luke is clearly important to the New Republic, and Leia has been searching for her brother for years and now that they finally have his whereabouts they just let this brand new, relatively unknown girl head off to find him? Without any escort ships for protection or anything? Also, it looked like the Falcon was in lightspeed for like two seconds before they were at Luke’s planet. Was it really right next door all the time? And then Luke is just standing there pensively looking out over the ocean. Maybe he felt Rey coming, but I thought she would find him inside some cool Jedi temple or something, maybe checking out some Holocrons and then find him inside deep in meditation or something.
So, that’s it. Share your thoughts about this film and what you’re expecting from Episode VII in the comments section.