Greetings, all (Season’s Greetings might be more appropriate)! It’s been some time since I posted a movie review, but with the release of Episode VII, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I couldn’t think of a better time to knock the rust off my pen and get back to it. So, here it goes.
SPOILER ALERT – Let me be very clear here. If you have not yet seen The Force Awakens, and you do not want any of the plot details revealed to you, stop reading NOW! During the week that led up to the viewing, I stayed clear of any and all reviews of the film. I wanted to go in with a slate free of details. So, if you want to afford yourself the same opportunity, DO NOT READ this until after you’ve seen it. In this review, I plan on letting it all hang out so there will be SPOILERS throughout. You’ve been warned!
Okay. I was eight years old when I saw the first Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) in the theater, so I was very excited to see the latest installment. Now that I have, it’s time to share my thoughts (not that you asked). Before I give my final score, I want to start with the film’s pros and cons. First:
Finn’s story: I love the idea of the storm trooper with a conscience. In the previous films, the storm troopers were clones that were bred and raised to be storm troopers. They didn’t question their upbringing, their mission in life, or their loyalty to the Sith or the Empire that followed. But now, thirty years later, storm troopers are no longer a clone army. Now, they are men (and women, another refreshing change) who, though they were snatched by the First Order at a young age, are capable of making choices based on their own morality. Finn is a storm trooper who, during his premiere mission, realizes that what the First Order is doing is wrong. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, Finn escapes the First Order and must deal with the consequences of that decision for the remainder of the film. I thought this idea was original and, for the most part, well-executed throughout the entire film.
Rey: It’s quite refreshing to see the newest Force-wielding, future Jedi warrior embodied by a young woman. Sure, we’ve seen glimpses of other female Jedi, even Leia herself has the Force (though we’ve never seen her use it), but the central Jedi character has always been a male (Anakin, Luke). Also, it is worth noting that Anakin and Luke were members of the same family. Based on the numerous clues and Easter Eggs that were dropped, intentionally, I assume, I’m going to take a leap and say that somewhere along this new journey of Star Wars films, we’re going to find out that Rey is a part of that cursed lineage, as well. Unfortunately, there was also some inconsistency with the character. But these last two points are fodder for the Con side of this review.
Visuals, Cinematography: As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, this film felt and looked like Lucas’ original trilogy. It was a nice and welcomed shout out to the style of film that made the original films such a joy to watch. As expected, the film was visually stunning. The space battles, though mostly underwhelming, looked fantastic. The space chase that I enjoyed the most involved Rey and Finn fleeing two tie-fighters in the Millennium Falcon. Not only was it nice to see the Falcon in action, but it was also the first glimpse into Rey’s piloting abilities, which were pretty spectacular, to say the least. This was the scene that made me regret not seeing the film in 3D. Oh well, that’s life.
The story (well, half of it, anyway): The original ideas (the aforementioned Finn story), Rey’s story, the reintroduction of Han Solo and Chewbacca, along with the phenomenal entrance of the Kylo Ren character, were all pluses worthy of mention. The revelation that Kylo Ren, the latest ‘dark side’ baddie, is the son of Han Solo and Leia, was a nice twist that made sense without seeming too contrived. Also, there were some well-placed references (the trash compactor) that were highly reminiscent of the original trilogy. These references were not overdone and reminded us of who these characters, namely Han Solo, Leia, and C3PO, were over thirty-years ago. Nicely done. Unfortunately, that was only half of the story. Catch me on the Con side for the other half. And speaking of the Cons…
-Grab a seat, this is going to take a while. It has been said that a movie is only as good as its villain. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to The Force Awakens, so that is where I will begin.
Kylo Ren: As I stated earlier in this review, Kylo Ren’s initial scene in this movie is awesome. He used the Force to stop a laser-cannon blast in mid-air and held it there while he tended to other business. Visually, it was a cool, unprecedented event that inspired fear and (was intended to) set the tone for rest of the film. As awesome as Ren’s predecessors were (Maul, Vader), we’ve never seen either of them freeze a laser blast in mid-air. This feat alone set the stage for Ren to be the “baddest, most powerful, dark lord” yet. In fact, one of the main plot objectives of the film was to find Luke Skywalker because he was the galaxy’s last hope of training a new class of Jedi to fight the likes of Ren and the First Order. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, Kylo Ren’s character turns out to be an inconsistent, pouting, “bad guy in training”, one in dire need of more tutelage. Ren’s ability to stop lasers was one of a series of simple parlor tricks that didn’t go too far beyond mind reading and telekinesis. Ren threw more than one temper tantrum in the film, and for a guy who was supposed to be such a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with, it appeared that he may have been sleeping during his lightsaber training classes. His lightsaber skills were so deplorably low rate that both Finn and Rey, two characters who had never even seen a lightsaber before this adventure, were able to compete with him in a lightsaber duel. In fact, Rey bested him. Why did we need to find Luke Skywalker again?
Starbase Killer: A bigger Death Star doesn’t necessarily mean a better Death Star, does it? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, haven’t the bad guys tried this approach twice already? What makes them think that just because the Starbase Killer is bigger, it can’t be destroyed if someone goes down to the planet, disables the shields and allows a small fleet of X-Wing fighters to fly inside and shoot up the core? Sound familiar? It should. It happened in Episode IV and Episode VI. Are you getting an idea as to why only half of the story was good? No? Keep reading, young padawan.
The Resistance Fleet: Um, can we get a few more X-Wing fighters? Some more pilots, maybe? Hasn’t anyone designed a better fighter than the X-Wing? What happened to the Y-Wing fighters? The First Order seemed to have enough resources to construct a few new Cruisers and a Starbase Killer. The resistance seems to have put way too much effort into looking for Luke Skywalker. Hopefully, when and if Luke does return to the fight, the first question he asks will be, “This is your fleet?” And speaking of Luke…
Luke Skywalker: Throughout this film, the stated goal was to find Luke Skywalker so he could train new Jedi and help the Resistance defeat this treacherous, new enemy. News flash: Rey defeated Kylo Ren, without Luke Skywalker. The Resistance destroyed Starbase Killer, without Luke Skywalker. The film rolled right up to the final scene without Luke Skywalker. Granted, the First Order is still out there, but as far as this film goes, allow me to repeat a question I asked earlier: Why did we need to find Luke Skywalker again? According to the story, Luke ran off after Ben aka Kylo Ren, turned on him because Ren couldn’t resist the dark side. Apparently, Luke couldn’t handle it so he ran off to some secluded ocean-filled planet to cry in his soup. Boo-hoo. You’re a Jedi, Luke. Get over it. Of course, in Luke’s defense, this is a trend in his family. When his father, Anakin, couldn’t deal with his responsibilities as a Jedi, he gave in to his dark tendencies and converted to the dark side. I’ll give Luke credit, he didn’t go that route, but his nephew, Kylo Ren, did. And what is it with some Jedi thinking that they have what it takes to train the next generation of lightsaber-wielding knights? Obi-wan thought he could train Anakin, which did not end well. At one point in this film, Kylo Ren offers to teach Rey the ways of the Force (during their lightsaber fight in the woods). Are you kidding me? You couldn’t break her will with your mind-probing powers because she was too strong for you. Give me a break, Ren! It seems as if Yoda was the only Jedi equipped to produce well-trained warriors and, unfortunately, he didn’t leave behind a manual that outlined an effective Jedi pedagogy. So, why did we need to find Luke Skywalker again?
Storm Trooper armor: Okay. This one will be quick. What good is storm trooper armor when all it takes is one shot from a blaster to kill the wearer? You would think that, in the midst of building a Starbase Killer, the First Order would invest in better defensive material for their troops. Just saying.
Rey: I mentioned earlier that the character of Rey displayed some inconsistencies. The most glaring being the fact that at the onset of the movie, she believed the Jedi to be a myth. However, an hour into the film, she uses a Jedi mind trick. Um, where did she learn that? Where did she hear of it? Did I miss that Jedi lesson in the film? Also, and I admit this isn’t an inconsistency, but could we have any doubt at this point that Rey is a Skywalker? I could be wrong (turns out I was), but there were a few incidences that hint to this eventual outcome. One: She’s always had visions of a world filled with oceans (um, isn’t that where she found Luke?). Two: Luke’s lightsaber called to her (I thought his last lightsaber was green). Three: She was left on Jakku and she doesn’t remember her family. Four: She has the Force. Five: She (and not a member of the Resistance) follows the map that, finally, leads to Luke. Um, why her? Also, which family has the entire Star Wars saga been focused upon? The Skywalkers (“The Force is strong in my family” – Luke Skywalker). Why stop now?
Han Solo’s death: While I have no problem with Han Solo being killed off in the movie, I do have a problem with how little time was devoted to the mourning of his death. I mean, Han Solo is iconic. He is arguably one of the greatest characters in Star Wars, no, science-fiction history. Can we mourn him a little? There was a two-second frame of Chewie sitting solemnly, but that was it. Ten-minutes later, he and Rey are buddy-buddy in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, with no mention of Han being gone. Pardon my other English but, wtf? Further, after Kylo Ren sticks a lightsaber through his father, and Solo falls off the ledge, Chewie has a clear shot at Kylo Ren, which he takes. He shoots Kylo Ren. Once. Once? Kylo Ren falls to his knees, clearly wounded and, for the moment, defenseless. Um, Chewie, you’re holding a laser weapon. Last time I checked, lasers are beams of light which tend to travel pretty darn fast. I’m certain that, in your rage, you could have pumped a few more shots into Kylo Ren before the storm troopers forced you to defend yourself. I mean, Han Solo has been your partner for over thirty-years, let’s show an appropriate emotional response. I don’t care if Ren is Solo’s son. He just murdered your best friend right in front of you. I was so disappointed at Chewie’s underwhelming response to witnessing Han Solo’s death. Okay. I get it. If Chewie had killed Ren at that point, then the movie would have been pretty much over, right? Yes. I agree. So how do you fix that? You don’t write such a gaping chasm of a pothole into your script. Give me a break. Epic fail. Of course, Han, what did you expect? You had a son with a woman who belongs to the galaxy’s most dysfunctional family. Oh well. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re the MAN. R.I.P. Han Solo. You will be missed…you ol’ scoundrel!
The Story: The biggest problems with the story are the beginning and the resolution, both of which have played out in earlier episodes. Here’s a quick story. Try to recall in which episode these events take place. This shouldn’t be too difficult, the hints are in parentheses. In the opening of the film, the bad guys (The Empire, or the First Order) capture the heroine/hero (Princess Leia, or Poe Dameron) mere moments after the heroine/hero has placed vital information (Death Star plans, or the map to Luke Skywalker) into a droid (R2-D2, or BB-8), and has sent the droid away. What follows is a series of events where the bad guys spend a great majority of the film searching for the droid in hopes of retrieving that information (which they fail to do) so they can crush the good guys (The Rebellion, or the Resistance), which they fail to do. Unfortunately, the similarities between the openings of Episodes IV and VII are far too transparent to miss. Alas, the resolution follows suit. As I alluded to earlier, the resistance destroys the Starbase Killer in the exact same fashion in which the previous two Death Stars were destroyed. Same plan, same attack pattern, same odds, same result…same story. Also, with the exception of the aforementioned space chase/battle with Rey and Finn in the Millennium Falcon, none of the space battles were particularly new and exciting. Yes, the style of the original three films was present, which was great, but nothing especially novel happened that hasn’t already been seen in the previous films. Maybe the reason the Resistance is having such a hard time defeating the First Order once and for all is because they haven’t changed their game plan in over thirty years. Another gaping sinkhole in the writing.
Final Rating: Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I give The Force Awakens a 5. On a four star scale, that’s a 2 out of 4. Not spectacular. Still, it’s Star Wars, so I’m sure that I’ll be in line to see the next one when it’s released in a couple of years. That’s all for now. Feel free to comment. Until next time…