Let me start off by saying two things:
1) In high school I was a big Star Wars fan. Time has eroded this.
2) This review contains spoilers and assumes you’ve seen the film.
The Force Awakens is the first of the new new Star Wars trilogy of sequels and follows a new group of heroes and villains as they square off for control of the galaxy. After defeating the empire in Return of the Jedi the rebel alliance is now again trying to defend the freedom of the galaxy against the First Order — a group trying to reinstate the Empire (at least that’s what I think — the film never explains this). The First Order is helmed by new Sith Lord, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls, and I just threw up a bit in my mouth).
The First Order’s big plan is to blow up the enemies of the empire with their giant Starkiller (the name is a nod to what Lucas originally wanted Luke’s family name to be, the device itself is a souped up planet sized Death Star complete with a strategically placed weak spot for a skilled pilot to shoot into because this all went so well the first two times). Some have said that The Force Awakens is a loose remake of A New Hope. With the recycled story elements on display, it’s very tough to disagree entirely with that. Others have counter-pointed those who have viewpoint by asking “have you even seen A New Hope?”, which invalidates the cliche that there is no such thing as a stupid question because without the frame of reference to draw from critics of The Force Awakens wouldn’t be able to cite the scenes and plot points directly lifted from A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.
Upon my first viewing, I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but felt underwhelmed due to the sense of “been there, done that” during it’s climax. To further my sense of discontent is director J.J. Abrams promise to separate this film from the prequels (aka Vader: The Emo Years), that he failed to keep. That before-mentioned aspect of young Vader’s personality is handed down to his grandson Kylo Ren. The opening of the film shows Kylo as a destructive presence. His introduction for the series new villain is very powerful and commanding. I love the vocal effects they gave him. Then midway through the film he takes the mask off and we realize it’s someone from Girls. Adam Driver’s presence in Star Wars is tacky enough as it is and J.J. pushed my patience with this character by having him act like a pre-teen Pierce the Veil fan at times.
After he gets his ass whopped by that little girl at the end, I was over the character, but appreciated the realism that an emo kid sucks in a fight. I’m hoping Kylo will man up and train like Rocky to prepare for his next go round with Rey. I have read defenses of Kylo Ren’s emo antics being representative of someone caught between the light and the dark side of the Force, much like young men in real life who end up committing atrocities. For the sake of the story, I’m willing to roll with it because it does allow the character room to grow with as the series progresses. It’s unfair of me to say the character is complete garbage without seeing the character arc to completion.
It seems like I’m being overtly critical of the film so let me talk about what I liked: Daisy Ridley as Rey is a great heroine. I loved her story and where it eventually leads her. Her budding romance with Finn (John Boyega) has the same sense of fun as Han and Leia without deliberately cribbing from it; plus it’s cool to see a female Jedi. On the downside, I felt it a bit lazy to write that she can do everything from piloting the Millennium Falcon, performing every last damned bit of it’s maintenance, and defeating a Sith simply because of the Force. Star Wars’ trademark brisk pace allows for forgiveness of these oversights because going into detail about pilot training, electrical engineering, or taking personal defense classes would be counter productive to the tone. Some have criticized her as being a Mary Sue, but if anything she’s a JOHN CENA!!!!!
The best new character is hot shot pilot Poe (Oscar Issac, Drive). He’s got a natural charisma that John Boyega does not, and is overall a much more interesting character. We don’t get to see a lot of him in The Force Awakens, but he’s the perfect replacement for a rugged yet charming character like Han Solo. Hopefully the sequels will capitalize on his presence. The return of characters from the original trilogy feels like being reacquainted with old friends, as it should. The Force Awakens also makes it clear that this isn’t entirely their story. While I feel the new guard has a weak spot in Finn, Rey and Poe overcompensate for this. Also, there is a character named Captain Phasma, who is a nod to one of Abrams favorite films, Phantasm (of which he is currently working on a restoration of). I give him props for this for including this tribute in one of the biggest grossing films of all time. However, Phasma is a horrible tribute because there is more to the silver spheres of Phantasm than being shiny chrome. There is a scene near the end where Phasma is cornered by our heroes and spills her guts to them. If JJ really wanted to do a homage right, he’d have all kinds of blades and lasers hidden her armor to at least slice off one of their ears. I give JJ props for trying though.
And back to Kylo Ren: there is potential here. Ren’s desire to honor his grandfather by embracing the dark side will lead to an amazing villain creation if he achieves this goal; and I see no reason why he wouldn’t. I hope they play to the strengths of this character by giving him a cooler mask AND NEVER EVER TAKE IT OFF UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
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