Let’s chat about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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We did it (well okay, Disney did it). After 10 years without a Star Wars movie, we finally got to see the adventures of the Skywalker family unfold onscreen again. It felt good. And knowing that more movies are on the way feels even better. If you know me or have read my blog, then you likely know that I love all things Star Wars. I’m one of the prequels staunchest defenders and was beyond myself with excitement as this latest Star Wars transitioned from wildest dream to reality. While the movie has only been in theaters for about a week as of posting this, I’ve already seen it five times and plan to watch it again when I can. When I tell people that I’ve seen it five times (though still minor in comparison to some), many people remark, “Wow, five times? You must really like it?”

However, the answer to that question isn’t so simple. Let me start by saying that I never expected for the movie to be perfect (no movie is) and I do genuinely enjoy the movie. But my initial reaction to the film was not exactly positive. Let me explain. [Warning: Spoilers incoming]

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

First and foremost, the thing that disappointed me the most about The Force Awakens was the plot. Can anyone deny that it was almost identical to Episode IV? In both films, our main character lives on a desert planet. We don’t know who their parents are and they are more-or-less alone (especially after Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru die). While on the planet they encounter a droid who is carrying information essential to the future success of the Resistance/Rebellion (both of which seem to be small insurgents fighting against a much stronger Empire/The First Order). Upon understanding what the droid is carrying, both of our protagonists embark on a journey to return the important information to the underdog Resistance/Rebellion. To help them along their journey, our main characters encounter a wise, old mentor who can help guide and teach them. In both stories, the good guys learn that the bad guys are in possession of a giant super weapon capable of destroying planets (or even entire systems).

At least there wasn’t two suns

While returning the droid, Rey/Luke encounter the force on some level. Luke accepts the force immediately and sees his mentor die near the start of his adventure. Rey is hesitant to accept the force and tries to flee from it. Luke finds the rebels while Rey is captured by the First Order. While Rey is not at the Resistance base, they still came to the same conclusion as the Rebels in A New Hope: Let’s blow up the giant death ball (they even joke about this in Episode VII). Luckily for them, both bases have a weak point in the thermal exhaust vent and thermal oscillator.

Luke heads into battle in episode IV while Finn and Han go to rescue Rey. Luke uses the force to ensure the destruction of the Death Star while Rey witnesses the death of her version of Obi Wan and uses the force to almost destroy Kylo Ren (more on this later). Meanwhile, Poe Dameron is able to get inside the thermal oscillator and destroy Starkiller Base. The Deathstar/Starkiller Base explodes and the bad guys suffer a terrible defeat.With few exceptions, these plots are identical. Considering there were plenty of old (now defunct) Star Wars novels that they could have pulled from that weren’t carbon copies of the same old “let’s-blow-up-the-Deathstar” story, I’m sad that they couldn’t come up with anything more original.

I always liked Thrawn.

Furthermore, another problem with the plot is that context is literally nonexistent. From the movie, I know nothing about the new Republic or their relationship with the First Order or the Resistance (outside of a brief mention in the opening crawl). This problem is only made worse when Starkiller Base destroys “the Senate.” I have no idea what to feel because I don’t understand those planets importance to the Galactic political landscape.

In Episode IV when Tarkin blows up Alderaan, we quickly come to understand that this planet is both Leia’s home and a peaceful civilization. When the planet is destroyed, we feel a sense of her loss. Then we feel it again when Obi Wan clutches his heart and says: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.” In comparison, the Force Awakens shows us a group of… senators? Screaming before their imminent destruction. We don’t get to meet anyone expressly from the Republic, and there are no insights on the long-term ramifications of its destruction (both politically or emotionally). Books and future movies will hopefully cover this, but that’s no excuse for leaving it out of the movie in the first place.

At the end of Episode VII I am left wondering: Where’s the Republic’s army? Do they have one? Or is it just the Resistance? How could the First Order have built this super weapon without anyone noticing? Who’s really in control, the First Order or the Republic?

It’s a shame because Rey is a scavenger from a backwater planet and would have no idea what was going on in the galaxy, and yet no one ever explains anything to her. She could have been our conduit to understand the current Star Wars universe. I mean, would she even know that a republic exists?

I understand they didn’t want politics like the Prequels, but c’mon!

I get that you don’t want to reveal the entire story in the first act, but a little information could have gone a long way. Here are some other potentially puzzling omissions:

  • How long has Luke been missing? 10 years? 10 months? The length of time he’s been absent makes a huge difference in what we can infer about the importance of finding him. How old was Kylo when he abandoned Luke’s teachings? I hope these questions will be answered in the next movie.
  • Who is Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow’s character)? Since he dies in the opening scene of the movie, we know very little about him. Why did he have Luke’s map? Why was he on Jakku? Does he have a connection to Rey?
  • If Stormtroopers are taken at birth and brainwashed, why did Finn rebel against his “programming?” He isn’t willing to kill for the First Order, but had no issue killing many other troopers (likely his friends) who were in the First Order. What makes Finn so different?

Next, I’d like to talk about the “convenience” factor. I’m all for Star Wars movies using convenient plot devices to keep things moving along, but I feel like I should also point out some of the absurdity associated with said plot devices. For example, R2-D2 waking up just when they needed the rest of the map. Maybe R2 was somehow connected to Rey, but even so, it’s awfully convenient. Or how about Han and Chewie almost instantly finding the Falcon after it flew away from Jakku? The First Order was literally chasing the Falcon at Jakku, and yet somehow Han and Chewie were able to find it faster? Even the Rathtars instantly eating everyone, except for Finn seems a little convenient (I know, I know… it’s a movie. I should expect nothing less).

Furthermore, Episode VII had a lot of curious inclusions that left me feeling confused. Look at the battle at Maz Kanata’s watering hole. Finn, Han and Chewie were all fighting together and it was great. Then out of nowhere, one random Stormtrooper with a lightsaber-like weapon tosses his fully-functioning blaster aside to engage Finn in an epic duel. Ignoring the fact that he could have just shot Finn and been done with it, why did this Stormtrooper even bring that strange shock baton? Was he expecting someone to be carrying anything other than a blaster? His choice makes little-to-no sense in the context of the battle. If anything, that weapon looks like a policing tool. But I guess in a world where you give an untrained, unproven coward a laser sword, equipping your soldiers with an electric shock baton doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. And then what was the point of having Han, Finn and Chewie getting captured only to have the Resistance show up and miraculously kill their captors almost immediately? Why not just, I don’t know, not have them get captured?

Oh, and then there was C-3P0’s super significant red arm…

But why?

Moving on, I have to ask, Leia and Chewie were friends, right? So when Chewie returns from Starkiller base and Han does not (spoiler!), wouldn’t it make sense for the two of them to comfort eachother? Chewie lost his best friend. Leia lost her husband. Rey lost… Some guy she met earlier that day? But no… Leia goes and gives Rey a big, long hug. Will this be of future significance? Maybe, but it just felt off. Even if they wanted to foreshadow something to come, the whole exchange was disingenuous. It seemed like Leia wasn’t mourning Han at all (and that makes me sad).

Also, again with Leia, why is it that only Rey and Chewie leave to find Luke? Who was the Resistance planning on sending to find Luke before Rey showed up? Leia clearly missed Luke, but nah, let’s just send those two.

My final (major) qualm with the movie was Rey. I love that Star Wars has a strong female lead (even if they did rub it in our face a little too much), but I didn’t love how strong in the force they made her. She received no training (that we know of) and yet could pull a lightsaber out of the snow that’s at least 15 meters away? She could manipulate people through the force (how would she even know that’s a thing people do?). And she was able to defeat Kylo Ren, a TRAINED force user, in lightsaber combat? Sure, you could argue that Kylo Ren was weakened and Rey was skilled with a quarterstaff so she wasn’t completely unprepared… But with zero knowledge of the force, Rey is pulling off stuff that took Luke two movies and several training sequences to accomplish. Is she just naturally that much stronger than everyone? I don’t like it.

Dishonorable Mentions:

  • “That’s miiiiiiinnnnee!”

    Finn is quite the coward. This gives him an opportunity to grow, but for the most part, I didn’t like this aspect of his character or his constant over-the-top excitement. At times, he seemed almost incompetent.

  • Captain Phasma seemed like a major character. Her costume was awesome. Her screen time? Not so awesome. Conversely, Simon Pegg’s character Unkar Plutt, had more lines and almost more impact in the movie (and he was awful).
  • Kylo Ren was incredibly menacing until he removed his mask. I didn’t particularly like how immature he seemed near the end of the film. But this gives Kylo room to grow and I do like that.
  • I’m all for nostalgic references to the older movies, but it was too much. I don’t need to be reminded of the original trilogy every minute of the movie.

WHAT DID WORK

You’re still here? Even after all of my ranting? I’m impressed. The truth is, for all my doubts and issues with the new movie, there was more in the new Star Wars movie that wowed and amazed me than disappointed me. The Force Awakens brought us several new characters that far exceeded my expectations.

Let’s start with Rey. I just finished telling you how much I didn’t like her character, but actually, I loved her character! Star Wars has needed a strong female lead like Rey for a very long time and Daisy Ridley nails the performance. Rey is strong, self-sufficient, smart and does not need to be saved. I can’t wait to learn more about her journey to become a powerful Jedi.

Finn is another pretty good character. Though I wish he was more subdued, I’m excited to see him grow in the coming movies. While it was only implied, there seems to be a developing relationship between Finn and Rey and I think that’s awesome. Kudos to Abrams for pushing the boundaries on Star Wars. Hopefully, the universe will only get more diverse with time.

And don’t even get me started on Poe Dameron. His character is immensely fun to watch with everything from quick-witted one-liners to jaw-dropping space theatrics. I heard a rumor that Poe was originally scripted to die early on in the film… I am so glad that was not the case.

Additionally, all of the original actors did great service to their characters. At each showing I attended, Han Solo was met with roars of approval when he first appeared on-screen. Despite his age, Harrison Ford did an excellent job portraying our favorite smuggler, even until his untimely demise. The same could be said about Leia and Chewie, and Luke… Well, Luke left me speechless.

Not to cheat the bad guys. Kylo Ren, General Hux and Supreme Leader Snoke all gave great performances. Adam Driver did an excellent job of showing Kylo’s struggle between light and dark. Domhnall Gleeson’s portrayal of Hux was also on point. It evoked a younger Tarkin with more vigor, but just as much venom.

Hux’s speech both scared and impressed me.

I should also mention how much I enjoyed the addition of new force powers, like Kylo’s ability to hold a person (or a blaster bolt) in place, or pull information directly from someone’s mind.

The real star of Episode VII, however, had to be BB-8. Not only was it more fun to watch than R2 (no disrespect), but it brought a level of emotion that’s not often seen in droids.How long until I can buy a BB-8 theme lighter? I need to know.

Outside of the characters (which I would argue was the best part of The Force Awakens), Episode VII got a lot of things right. The sound was amazing all across the board. John Williams did not disappoint, and the sound effects (like the Falcon’s laser cannon) were very satisfying. Seeing Chewie’s bowcaster do some serious work still brings a smile to my face.

Visually speaking, the movie was great. The CGI was detailed and the practical effects were blended well. Here’s hoping Star Wars wins another award for its costume design, because the aliens at Maz Kanata’s dive looked incredible.

Some aliens.

Another thing that worked in the Force Awakens was the writing. Like other Star Wars movies, Episode VII is very quotable. I liked many (though not all) lines from the movie. Here are some of my favorites:

“Look how old you’ve become.” – Kylo
“Something far worse has happened to you.” – Lor San Tekka

“Same thing I always do, talk my way out of it.” – Han
“Chwaargh.” – Chewie
“Yes I do, every time!” – Han

“…From inside the hangar? Is that even possible?” – Rey
“I never ask that question until after I’ve done it.” – Han

“Where are the others?” – Rey
“You mean the murderers, traitors and thieves you call friends? You’ll be relieved to hear I have no idea.” – Kylo Ren

“We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the force.” – Finn
“That’s not how the force works!” – Han
“Chwargh!” – Chewie
“Oh really, you’re cold?” – Han

“I am being torn apart… I want to be free of this pain… I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?” – Kylo Ren
“Yes. Anything.” – Han
“Thank you.” – Kylo Ren

CONCLUSION

I hope that, if nothing else, this post illustrates why some people might have been disappointed by the film. I mean, my list of the bad is longer than my list of the good. But don’t let that deceive you, I do like this movie. At least, I like it now. After my first viewing of the film, I was left with nothing but doubts, failing to see what the movies did right. It didn’t take long, however, before I came to see that Episode VII is indeed Star Wars. My initially confused thumbs have invariably turned upward. What the movie might be lacking now only leaves room for a grander story to develop in the future.

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