Thursday, January 14, 2016

My Review of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are sick to death of hearing about Star Wars and those who are so psyched about the new movie that they actively seek out 1,000,001 articles online discussing it. This post is for the latter type of person. I saw The Force Awakens last week and have been obsessing over it ever since. I feel that until I have completely spoken my mind about it, I will get no peace. In other words, this is going to be a long review/analysis. You might want to get yourself something to drink and have some snacks on hand.

Ready? Good.

I would give the film an 8 out of 10 rating for reasons that I will state below.


First, let me just say that like every other geek on the planet, I love Star Wars. I watched the original three movies when I was 6 years old and was completely enchanted by them. That being said, I don't remember a damn thing about the prequels that were made in the '90s and aughts. I saw them only once each at the theater and then never again (though I would give them a second chance if they didn't cost $20 each on Amazon Instant Video). I don't know what it was about them, but they didn't leave much of an impression on me. Which brings me to my first point:

The Charm Factor
Episode VII: The Force Awakens has all the charm that Episodes IV-VI had and Episodes I-III lacked. It is a very cute, family-friendly movie complete with naive heroes, an adorable new droid, and familiar characters returning. Add in a pretty good amount of humor and a very obvious, but wholesome, attraction between the main characters* and you get a film that could rival Dragonheart in its "feelgood" quality. There will be at least two more movies, and something tells me they will be darker than this one. But that doesn't mean they won't be charming as well. (Edit: I just found out that The Force Awakens is rated PG-13. I don't recall seeing or hearing anything in the film to warrant that rating. This is a PG movie if I've ever seen one.)

Finally! More Females!
As a woman who grew up watching Star Wars, I obviously looked up to Princess Leia. She is super tough and snarky and was definitely not your typical damsel in distress. But she was practically the only female in the franchise until the prequels came along and introduced her mother. I am ecstatic that there are a decent number of female characters in The Force Awakens. We now have a female Jedi who kicks some serious ass, a female X-wing pilot, a female Stormtrooper captain, and a female space pirate who commands a lot of respect. And Leia is now a general. This female fan is very pleased. Just the other day, my 6-year-old little cousin told me that she didn't like Star Wars because it was for boys. I hope her parents take her to see this new movie, because I think it would change her mind.

It's been 38 years; just admit that you shot first!
The Characters
And they certainly are characters. It's nice to see the old crew returning. Han Solo, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke are all back for this film, and just seeing them was enough to make me smile. (One question, though: Where's Lando? Billy Dee Williams has been recording voices for Star Wars video games and TV shows. It would seem like he'd be willing to reprise his role for another movie. Maybe we'll see him in Episode VIII?)

In addition to the old characters, we've got several new ones:

Finn: Having a Stormtrooper rebel against the Dark Side is something new to the franchise. Usually, characters switch to the Dark Side, not from it. Finn's personality is so sweet and jovial that it's hard to imagine him as a Stormtrooper--even one who only worked in sanitation. John Boyega overacts a bit in the role, but I think he will have honed his craft a little more by the time the next movie rolls out. Ultimately, this character shows a lot of promise. It will be interesting to see where Finn is in the next film since Rey has gone off to train with Luke.

Rey: I'm tempted to add "Skywalker" to the end of her name. She has to be Luke's daughter, right? She's too much like him not to be. But she's stronger than he was at her age. In fact, she's kind of too strong. Rey's use of the Force makes her practically invincible, which can kill the excitement a bit since you feel like she's never truly in danger. The movies can easily explain her super strength away by saying that she is not only Luke's daughter but also Obi-Wan's granddaughter (which would be AWESOME and is my current theory), but her character should have some weaknesses just to make her more human.

BB-8: Cuter than R2-D2. Yes, I said that and I'm standing by it. R2-D2 is snarky and funny. BB-8 seems more sentimental...and funny. I'm not saying that I prefer one over the other. In fact, it was my fear throughout The Force Awakens that BB-8 was introduced to replace R2. I am so glad that was not the case. I look forward to seeing them both in the next movie. I think the droid interplay will be hilarious.


Poe Dameron: He seems like he could be an interesting character, but since the audience spends about half of the movie thinking he's dead, he didn't get a lot of screen time. It will be interesting to see his character fleshed out a bit more in the next two films.


Maz Kanata: She's awfully nice for someone who is basically a pirate queen. I'm not a fan of CGI aliens. I always prefer actors in heavy makeup because it looks more real. It's kind of strange to hear Lupita Nyong'o's voice coming out of an animated, orange-ish creature with big eyes. I like Maz as a character, though. She seems very wise, and I can see her being a sort of adviser to the young heroes later on.

Alas, poor Vader! I knew thee...not at all, really.
Kylo Ren: The literal Darth Vader wannabe who has one of the coolest names to ever come out of the Star Wars universe. Or is "Kylo" a title rather than a name? Either way, I know some geek out there is going to name their kid after him, even though he certainly doesn't treat his parents well. (His real name is Ben, which begs the question: Is he named after Obi-Wan Kenobi?) I have heard many people call him a weak and wussy villain. I would argue that he isn't. He is actually quite strong; he's just nowhere near as in control of his Force abilities or his emotions as Darth Vader was. He is still conflicted about the choices he made in joining the Dark Side, but I'm predicting he will grow more resolute in future films. He was already heading in that direction at the end of The Force Awakens.

Supreme Leader Snoke: The uber evil overlord that we know nothing about at this point. His hologram is so freaking huge that I can only assume this dude is overcompensating for something.

General Hux: He veers more into the Nazi-type attitude than the admirals of Episodes IV-VI. He even has the Stormtroopers do a straight-arm salute (which isn't entirely unexpected given the fact that the Stormtroopers share their name with the Nazi paramilitary branch, Sturmabteilung). He's more devoted to the First Order than Kylo Ren is, so I anticipate a confrontation between the two at some point in the next two movies.


Captain Phasma: She appears to be in charge of all the Stormtroopers, and brainwashes "reprograms" the ones who don't follow orders quite as enthusiastically as she would like them to. She is definitely vile, but we don't see her on screen enough to glean any more than that. 

This Plot Seems Familiar...
Don't get me wrong; I liked the movie. But it seemed almost like a remake rather than a sequel. So many plot points echo A New Hope that I understand why some people were disappointed with it. There's a villain in a mask who speaks with a vocoder and chokes people with the Force. There's a hero from a desert world who is skilled with mechanics, is a pilot, and meets up with a droid carrying vital information that the villains want. Oh, and that hero is going to be trained as a Jedi. And of course, they blow up yet another Death Star, only this one is bigger and devours suns. It's just a little difficult to feel the suspense that the movie is going for when you know what's going to happen. And, frankly, I found the "remake" scenes to be somewhat boring because of that. I kept thinking to myself, "You can do something new, writers. No one's going to hate you for it."

There are theories that Disney just wanted to present a familiar story to draw fans of the original movies back into the franchise and also to show that they are departing from the style of the much loathed prequels. If that is true, I'm okay with that, even though I believe bringing back most of the old characters already took care of that. There is also a theory that history is repeating itself in the story line to show that new heroine Rey will be the one to succeed where Luke failed and put an end to the cycle of wars between the Republic and the Dark Side. I'd be okay with that too. But if these new movies are only meant to be semi-sequels/semi-remakes of the original three movies, I may be jumping ship. I feel that Episodes IV-VI have held up remarkably well over the years and do not need to be remade/rehashed/rebooted/whatever. Hell, they didn't even need to be remastered! (Why'd they do that, anyway?) So, if the next movie features Rey training in the swamps on a secluded moon with a muppet, my respect for these new films will plummet.

Han Solo's Death Scene
Yes, Han Solo is officially, canonically dead. I saw it coming, as did most people. Throughout that scene, I kept thinking, "Dude, do not trust your kid! Take the lightsaber before he changes his mind!" It's sad to say goodbye to such a familiar character, but the death scene itself was beautiful. The light in the background fading into dark as the sun was devoured by the new Death Star poetically represented the light fading inside of Ben as his dark side grew stronger and took control. It was great cinematography. And may I say that it takes balls to kill off a character who has been beloved by fans for 38 years. It was a turning point in the film. It sent the message that absolutely no one is safe, and that made things far more suspenseful than they were before.

Um, What Happened in the Intervening Years?
I know I sometimes space out during movies, so maybe this was answered and I just missed it. But it seemed to me that the movie never really clarified the state of the galaxy. The Empire fell, and then the First Order formed from the remnants. But is the First Order the ruling entity, or is the Republic in control again and the First Order is trying to seize power from them? The fact that the Republic's fighters are now called the "Resistance" makes it seem like the First Order rules, but it's hard to tell. Hopefully, the scrolling prologue of the next film will explain it.

Does Kylo Ren Know Rey?
I realize that Kylo Ren worships at the altar of Granddaddy Vader, so it's not unusual for him to choke people with the Force. But the way he choked one of his officers when told that a girl from Jakku ran off with one of his Stormtroopers and the droid that he was looking for gave the impression that he knew exactly which girl the officer was referring to. If Rey is Luke's daughter, that would make her Kylo Ren's cousin. Since he's several years older than her, he may remember her from childhood while she was much too young to retain any clear memory of him.

Whose Grave Is That?
I wish I could find a still shot of this scene because it would really help illustrate what I'm talking about. At the end of the movie, we see Luke standing in front of what looks to be a headstone. But whose headstone is it? If we're going off the assumption that Rey is Luke's daughter, then is that grave where Luke's wife is buried? I have so many questions, and waiting for the next movie to answer them feels like waiting an eternity.

That wraps up my analysis of The Force Awakens. I anxiously await Episode VIII because I'm hoping it takes the series in a more original direction (though, not so original that it ceases to feel like a Star Wars movie). I'll see you in 2017 for another review. Until then, go hang out in a cantina or something.

*I'm just happy that there is finally an interracial couple, especially since I originally thought that the Skywalkers were a multiracial family. I was 6 years old when I watched Episodes IV-VI. The whole time, I had been hearing James Earl Jones's voice and just assumed that he is the person I would see if Darth Vader ever took off his helmet. But at the end of Return of the Jedi, the helmet comes off and Darth Vader is revealed to be the whitest white guy the universe could ever produce. My reaction was something like this: Confused smiley 50. I was expecting James Earl Jones, not some guy who looked like Humpty Dumpty. I was young and ignorant of the fact that multiracial families were not exactly welcome in '80s pop culture. I know this now, but it still bothers me to the point that I frequently pretend Anakin Skywalker was black.

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