Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The earliest movie I can remember seeing as a child is Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
(Unlike most children, my favorite scene was actually the Sarlaac Pit - still not sure what that says about me.)
I spent a lot of time playing Star Wars with siblings, cousins and friends. But there were no female heroes for me to play as. I didn't want to be Leia; I wanted to be a Jedi, or maybe a Sith. I wanted a lightsaber.
So imagine my reaction to The Force Awakens - the Star Wars movie I always wanted as a child.
Rey is everything child-me wanted - a female hero who can take care of herself, rescue herself and keep the audience rooting for her the whole time. Daisy Ridley carries the role off with much grace and poise; Rey is wonderfully tragic, courageous, and, most importantly, believable.
Nor is Rey the only wonderful character this movie has at its disposal. I have plenty of great things to say for Finn and Poe as well. Finn too is such a real character, a man with a heart of gold and a strong moral compass. He knows what's right and what's wrong, and he will always choose right in the end, even when it puts him in danger. He provides comic relief that isn't forced, but instead makes us like him even more.
In Poe, we got another great character who unfortunately got way less screen time than he deserved. He was dashing and charming, with an easy, likable manner. He may be the best pilot in General Leia's forces, but I bet part of his influence comes from his likability. Hopefully, he'll get the screen time he deserves in Episode VIII.
Oh and then there's BB-8, everybody's new favorite droid. The design team deserves so many props for BB-8's creation, because he carries emotion so well for a robot that just makes assorted sounds and has no face. It reminded me a lot of Pixar's achievements with WALL-E. I mean, that thumbs up!
I think you can guess now why I enjoyed this movie so much. Characters, characters, characters.
The Dark Side had them too, though our new villains come with some major question marks. I've heard both sides of the coin on Kylo Ren - the argument that he is too whiny, and the argument that he's exactly what he's supposed to be. Ultimately, it comes down to this: we're always told that fear, anger and hatred lead one to the Dark Side, and yet the Dark Side users we see (Palpatine, Vader, Dooku, Maul, etc.) are all very cold and emotionless. They are in control, which is exactly the opposite of what we're led to expect.
Kylo, on the other hand, is EVERYTHING I would expect of a young man whose descent to the Dark Side is in progress. He rages, he's tormented, he has so much emotion. For the first half of the movie, before we see his face, he is everything we want in a villain.
Then he takes his mask off, and suddenly things become a lot more complicated.
That move better have been deliberate on Abrams' part, because I felt that Kylo Ren ceased to be threatening after he revealed his face. A masked villain is only scary because we don't know what's under the mask (see: Vader). I definitely think the mask had to be off in That Scene, but he really should have put it back on to confront Rey and Finn. Saying all that to say - I actually liked Kylo Ren quite a bit, and I look forward to seeing his character development in Episodes VIII and IX. I have a feeling he's got a lot of growing yet to do.
While TFA lavishes time on Kylo, it spends far less time on its other three antagonists: Snoke, Hux and Phasma.
By now most people have probably heard the theories regarding Supreme Leader Snoke. I was personally in favor of the Plageuis theory, but Andy Serkis recently denied it (though that doesn't mean it can't still be true). I'm definitely curious to see where he goes.
I found Hux to be a very compelling and interesting character. His speech to the First Order troops, so deliberately reminiscent of Nazi rallies, was one of the scenes that raised goosebumps on my arms. Unlike Kylo though, we got zero backstory on Hux. I hope that changes.
And Phasma. She was the most under-utilized character in the movie (save perhaps Luke - but I don't think that could be avoided). I have to admit that I was disappointed, because I love Gwendolyn Christie and I was so excited to see her on screen. Here's to hoping they rectify that.
This review would be incomplete if I didn't mention Han, Leia and Luke. I thought the use of all three characters was very well done. And ugh, that moment when we finally saw Luke - it was so perfect.
Whew. Now that all that's out of the way, let's talk about something I didn't really care for - the plot.
If the characters hadn't been so amazing, I probably would have found this movie exceedingly repetitive. It's basically a mash-up of the three OT movies (though mainly Episode IV). Did we really need another Death Star? Really? REALLY?
And it wasn't even introduced well - at least with the Death Star(s), we knew they were a big problem from the beginning. There was build-up. Anticipation. Starkiller Base appears halfway through the movie with no prelude, destroys a system of planets, and then gets blown up in the space of about an hour.
Speaking of Starkiller Base, let's talk about those gaping science problems. I know Star Wars plays it fast and loose, and I'm willing to forgive a lot. But REALLY? You can see the Starkiller beams from light-years away? In real-time? Not to mention that the "planet" that is Starkiller base suddenly turns into a new sun? If poor science draws me out of the movie on the first watch-through, it's pretty bad. (Semi-related question: if Starkiller base consumes an entire sun to fire, how does it travel from star to star? How did they get in position to consume the star to fire on the Resistance so quickly? Double star system? But wouldn't the destruction of one star destabilize the other? I NEED ANSWERS!)
Nor was this my only major problem with the plot. What the hell happened to Poe? How did he get off Jakku? I don't buy the one-sentence explanation at all, given that he had no money, no nothing after crashing the TIE fighter. Jakku doesn't seem like a place where he could get easy passage off-world.
For all that it's repetitive and hole-y, the plot does have great pacing, and the dialogue was fast-moving and witty. Many of the scenes were chill-inducing, particularly That Scene and the final lightsaber fight.
I also have to give a lot of credit to JJ & team for a perfect cocktail of CGI, makeup and puppetry. The worlds felt very real, without an overwhelming use of CGI. When that initial First Order ship obscured Jakku and sent out fighters...what a perfectly shot opening scene.
To sum, TFA was everything I wanted in a Star Wars film. It wasn't perfect, but it gave me characters to love and root for. I laughed, I cried, I got chills multiple times. When the end credits rolled, I wanted Episode VIII immediately. I don't think I can give the cast & crew higher praise than that.
Other Assorted Thoughts:
- Kylo's opening scene was one of the best scenes and most terrifying scenes of Star Wars.
- Maz Kanada was amazing and better not be dead. Also, how did she acquire the Skywalker lightsaber?
- Rey is definitely Luke's daughter. Too many clues to ignore (natural mechanic and pilot, Skywalker lightsaber attunes to her over Kylo Ren) but the thing that seals it for me is that R2 "woke up" almost immediately after she set foot on the same planet. Luke is obviously waiting for her.
- Speaking of, I would lay money on Rey having had some form of training as a child that she doesn't remember, for whatever reason.
- That first Millennium Falcon flight...
- What in the world was going on with C-3PO's arm?
- Did you catch Daniel Craig's cameo? If not, you'd better look that up - he's the stormtrooper in the scene where Rey escapes
- I have a theory that Kylo draws power from pain. We'll see if that bears out.