Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

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Ok so I want to get a couple of things out of the way right up top. First of all, spoilers. Spoilery spoilery spoilers. There are gonna be hella spoilers. Stop reading if you don’t want spoilers. The movie’s been out for like a week now if you haven’t seen it don’t read this review. Spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers. Ok, second of all, I’ve only seen this movie once. Normally I wouldn’t mention that while writing one of these, but Star Wars is Star Wars, and it’s a movie that I’m sure will warrant further dissection. I’m sure over the years I’ll watch this movie thousands more times and develop completely different opinions on things in it, but for now these are just my first impressions. Things I liked, things I didn’t, thing that stuck out, and how I felt when I left the theatre. Ok, let’s dive in.

I’ll start with the stuff I liked. There was a lot. I can definitely say I enjoyed myself the entire way through. I was both thoroughly entertained and emotionally engaged throughout the entire movie. I like most of the new characters, my favourite of which was probably Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Issacs. He’s not an overly complex character, but he’s a smug quick talking badass. He brings a little bit of what Han Solo brought to the original Star Wars. One of the movie’s biggest crimes is not keeping around long enough. I mean I don’t even think he meets our protagonist, Rey.

Yeah, let’s talk about Rey. I’ve heard some very differing opinions on Rey. People are saying she’s an amazing female protagonist in a world where we don’t see nearly enough. I’ve also heard lots of complaints about her character and backstory being too vague. In a way, those are both accurate. She’s very much the Luke Skywalker of the story, and if you go back and watch Star Wars, Luke’s a pretty thin character too. But he’s not supposed to be too complex. What he is is a vessel for the viewer. Someone who’s bored with their lives, and wants to go out into the galaxy seeking adventure and glory. We’re supposed to imagine ourselves taking the journey in his place, and feel great when he gets what he wants. And it’s not like his character didn’t become more complex later on. One of my favourite things about Return of the Jedi is seeing how this naive young boy has changed after all he’s been through, seeing the horrors of war, and gaining a sombre wisdom in the process. In this new movie, Rey essentially serves the same purpose as Luke did in the original. That’s why I guess I’m ok with her motivations being a little vague, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes over the course of the trilogy. Rey is a simple character, but an effective one. I liked her and related to her and rooted for her and all the stuff you’re supposed to. And yeah, if we’re gonna have the generic protagonist character, it’s great to see it be a kickass independent female, because movies like this have kind of been total sausage fests for the last like forty years. And then we end the movie with her going to Jedi school while also captaining the Millenium Falcon with Chewy as her co-pilot and R2-D2 as her droid? Badass. Incidentally, Daisy Ridley is a totally great actress and also so goddamn beautiful, my god.

Anyway, Kylo Ren was a great bad guy too. I mean they obviously knew they couldn’t top Vader in terms of sheer badass intimidation, so they decided to instead make him an interesting and vulnerable character. I like that he’s young and naive just like our protagonist, that he doesn’t have the best handle of the force at all times, that he lets his emotions get the better of him, and it’s an interesting twist to see someone trying to resist the light side instead of the dark. He’s not a guy with a red face and devil horns who’s evil for no reason, or an old guy who looks like Dracula who’s evil for no reason, or a weird coughing robot in a cape who’s evil for no reason. He’s a character with flaws and emotions and doubts and things that drive him, and Adam Driver’s performance is great. I also like that him being Han Solo’s son is just kind of told to you partway through, as apposed to being a big reveal.

Among other things I liked, the whole movie looked great. It’s one of those movies where almost every shot would make a good poster. From the crashed Star Destroyer in the dunes of Jaccu, to the new Death Star’s laser beam slowly streaking through space to blow up those planets (one of which I’m pretty sure and also really hope was Coruscant), to the barrage of X-Wings sweeping down over the lake on whatever planet that was with the chick with the big magnifying glass eyes, there’s a lot of beautiful cinematography. Probably my favourite action sequence of the whole movie was when Rey and Finn are fighting those tie fighters in the Millenium Falcon right after they first meet. It’s a fun, fast paced exciting scene full of lots of nice character moments. There were a lot of great practical effects, even if a few of them were a clearly tweaked with CGI, but it was a nice middle ground. CGI is never going away but if filmmakers can learn to use it only when necessary and incorporate it naturally it could lead to movies looking better than they ever did with CG or practical effects alone. Hopefully this and Mad Max: Fury Road are the start of that trend. I also thought the humour worked well, even though a lot of people are saying the Whedon-esque quipping was out of place. I mean, you’re right, nobody talks like that in the orig trig, but that’s because those are all like campy 70’s dialogue. It’s not like they could do that again now, so they had people talk like people talk now, and those moments of levity are totally in place with Star Wars. I actually think possibly my favourite moment was when Poe Dameron is being held in front of Kylo Ren and he just goes “so who talks first, I talk first, you talk first?” Either way it’s much better than all the robotic political dialogue from the trilogy that shall not be named.

I also thought BB-8 worked well as comic relief. He wasn’t silly and obnoxious like Jar Jar, and they don’t overuse him at all. He’s like a smaller cuter R2. He has some great little moments, but he’s never around when they don’t need him. C-3P0 was used perfectly, too. They realized that by the time we got to Return of the Jedi he was getting a little annoying, and so they just give him enough time to pay fan service without actually involving him too much as a main character. And that first line he says where he interrupts Han and Leia’s reunion to make sure Han recognizes him with the new red arm was actually really funny. Speaking of Leia she was well handled too. I mean that’s about as good as you can get Carrie Fisher to look and act these days, but she was used very appropriately, and actually her reaction shot after Han’s death was the only part of that moment that worked for me. But let’s talk about the best thing in this entire movie; Harrison Ford. There’s no other way to put it. The man is back. I don’t think I’ve seen Harrison Ford give a shit about a movie in like ten years. I forgot how good it is too see him try. This is not just a grumpy old man throwing on a leather and jacket and pretending to play Indiana Jones again, this feels like Han Solo. And not only that, it feels like a Han Solo who’s grown since we last saw him. He’s older and wiser, but he’s still every bit the scruffy looking nerf herder we know and love. 

But now let’s dive into the stuff I didn’t like. My biggest overall gripe with this movie is that it feels wholly unoriginal. Not even unoriginal, as much as predictable. I was really happy with the trailers for the movie, because I thought it was amazing how little they were showing us. I was like “oh wow, for once I’m going to go into a movie and not know what the entire plot is”. But nope. Not only could I predict every plotline a mile away from having seen the trailers, I probably could have done it just having seen the original Star Wars before. Or really any movie. There are zero unexpected twists in this movie. Everything that you think is going to happen happens. There were even a couple of times where I was like “they’re not going to do that, it’s way too obvious” and then they totally did. I mean it’s basically the exact same plot as the original. With how secretive they were being with everything, I thought it would be more like, we think it’s going to end the exact same as episode 4, but then right before the third act there would be some huge left turn that nobody saw coming. I was waiting for it, actually, and then it was just like “oh, they’re just going to have a lightsaber fight and then blow up a Death Star. That’s something I haven’t seen before.” You know, I was watching something online where Max Landis was talking about this movie, and I thought he made an interesting point. He said, look, the prequels are bad movies, but they have tons of visuals, and locations, and character designs, and set pieces that are totally new and original. Whereas everything in this movie is something we’ve already seen in a Star Wars movie. It’s almost like a “best of” montage of famous moments we already know.

In terms of more specifics, I thought Han Solo’s death was really lame. First of all, I saw it coming a mile away. And when I say that, I literally mean as soon as it was announced that Harrison Ford was going to be in the movie. I mean, he infamously didn’t want to do Return of the Jedi. In fact, the whole reason they froze Han Solo in carbonite at the end of Empire was because they didn’t know if he would come back, so they wanted an out in case he didn’t. If Ford didn’t come back, you could say Han died while in carbonite, and we already got our emotional final goodbye seen when he’s getting frozen. And then when he did come back for Jedi, he wanted Han to be killed partway through. He liked the idea that Han was a nobody in the grand scheme of things, and that his death would drive home a point about the costs of the war. It probably would have been better than just having him dick around in the forest like a pussy with nothing to do for the whole second half of that movie, but George Lucas said, and I quote, “there’s no money in dead Han Solo toys”. Then Harrison Ford has spent the last ten years being a grumpy old man and generally refusing to do stuff, especially Star Wars related stuff. And so when he was announced to be coming back, and especially when he was so lively in the press tour, I knew the only explanation could be that he finally got them to kill Han Solo. Now, I’m willing to agree that that’s my fault for being a huge Star Wars nerd and that the average movie goer wouldn’t know any of that, but I feel like it was still pretty obvious. I mean he clearly fills somewhat of an Ben Kenobi role as the wise old mentor, and when has any Star Wars character ever walked out onto a long thin walkway over a chasm to confront the villain and had it end well? Taking into account how obvious it was for so long beforehand, I thought they dragged it out to the point where it lost all impact. I watched Han Solo die and felt nothing. I can’t help but think it might have worked better if he had just been blasted by some offscreen stormtrooper, or been cut off mid sentence by an explosion in mid-battle, or something unexpected like that. Instead it felt like they really tried to make it this big epic moment instead of just letting us react to it ourselves. I hate when movies are super manipulative like that. I care about Han Solo. If you just show me his death from an objective point of view I will feel something from it. Stop telling me where to go emotionally with all the music and the slo mo. Gawd.

And both of the secondary villains were ridiculous goofy cartoon characters who almost made me laugh out loud. First we got the angriest most over the top scenery chewing Imperial officer dude ever to make a speech at what looks exactly like a nazi rally. Then, we got a giant CGI video game boss with a melty face. LAME!!!!! The climax was really disappointing too. I liked that we had Fin jump in to fight Kylo Ren and get quickly bested before Rey picks up the lightsaber, even though again it was something I predicted going in. But for some reason the fight between her and Ren just didn’t do it for me. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly. I did like that the choreography was much more simple than the prequels, but I feel like Kylo Ren was way too easy to beat. I mean I get that he’s injured, and that also he’s somewhat inexperienced, but while I was watching the fight I kept seeing moments where he could probably have killed her pretty easily but didn’t for some reason. Like there are several times when he strikes her blade and it knocks her off balance and leaves her totally open and he just doesn’t make a move. It reminds me of the fight in Empire, where you can tell that Vader is just toying with Luke and could kill him at any minute if he wanted to. But the characters in this fight have completely different motivations. Kylo Ren is super angry and definitely trying to kill Rey. And then she just wins at the end cause of the force? I mean it was one thing when Luke took a moment of silent meditation to help his chances with firing the photon torpedoes down the Death Star’s exhaust port at the end of ANH, but now it can just make you amazing at sword fighting in seconds? It felt a little convenient. That, combined with them blowing up a death star for literally the third goddamn time and it was all a little underwhelming. And don’t be the asshole who tells me that’s not technically a death star. I don’t care what you call it or how big you make it, I know a death star when I see one.

Fin was pretty disappointing too. I mean he was fine, I just wish they had developed him more. It’s ok to have one blank slate protagonist, but you can’t have two. If you’re gonna make it a two-hander one of them’s got to have an interesting character, and he didn’t. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to like him. It’s a super interesting idea for a character, a stormtrooper who realizes what he’s been trained to do is wrong and defects to fight the Empire. Or, I’m sorry, “First Order”, whatever. Stormtroopers have always just been the stock bad guy cannon fodder who you’re not supposed to feel bad about our heroes murdering by the dozens, and  I thought it would be really fresh and exciting to see things from their perspective. Admittedly there’s a tiny bit of that at the beginning, but it’s before we’re even properly introduced to the character. Maybe we could see some arguments as to why the stormtroopers think what they’re doing was right, but instead they’re just evil. Maybe we could see Fin struggle with the decision to abandon his life, and we would have some really compelling reasons for him to eventually switch sides, but instead they just gloss right over it. Maybe he would be conflicted about fighting and killing stormtroopers after having been one himself, but instead he just blows a bunch of them away while escaping from the hanger in the tie fighter and doesn’t even react to it. Maybe he would have an aggressively different perspective on the whole war than our other main characters after having been a part of both sides, but instead his whole arc is just that he kind of has a crush on Rey. I mean don’t get me wrong, John Boyega is great and he’s a lot of fun to watch and he banters well with the other characters, it just feels to me like a missed opportunity to do something really interesting that we hadn’t seen before.

And you know what, that’s a pretty apt metaphor for this entire movie. They took everything you like about Star Wars and reduced it to an equation. It’s all very nice and pretty and well packaged but there’s something kind of empty about it. Even when Star Wars was bad, it was always interesting. It was always exciting. It was always something you hadn’t seen before. Now it’s just a Marvel movie. Now it’s just this product, this thing that they’ve carefully crafted to appeal to as many people as possible. And you know what, they did a great job. A lot of the things I’ve complained about are nerdy nitpicky things, and you can do that to any movie, but in all honesty this movie is really good for what it is. It’s well acted, well shot, has interesting characters, some good laughs, and is all around entertaining. It just doesn’t feel special anymore.

The Marvel movies are a great comparison. When I was a kid, those movie where always a big deal for me. They would only make like one every year or two, and there was only a good one like once every three years. But it was exciting. There were always different. You never quite knew what you were gonna get, and you had plenty of time to try to guess. And then they started making these MCU movies, and at first it was great. They were finally taking these movies seriously, and trying to build a larger continuity with over-arcing plots, and they were even pumping them out more frequently. But along the way something was lost. Along the way someone figured out a formula for this. And now every Marvel movie feels the exact same. And as a comicbook nerd it’s still cool to see these characters up on screen, but the magic is lost. They’re all just so homogenous now. And this Star Wars felt the same way. They figured out the formula and they’re just going to keep pumping these out and they’re all going to be fine but they’re never going to interesting ever again. It’s like the difference between going to a restaurant you’ve never been to before and trying something you’ve never had, vs. getting the usual from your favourite spot. Yes, with the latter you have a consistent guarantee of quality, but it just gets boring after a while. I don’t know, maybe I’m the asshole, it just feels like everything unique and exciting from my childhood has just been turned into corporate cookie cutter bullshit. I won’t be so harsh as to say that this movie has no creative spark whatsoever, J.J. clearly has a passion for the source material, it just feels so smoothed down, like a board room full of execs came around to sand down all the edges and consistently make sure no one was talking any risks at any point.

So at the end of the day, this is a solid movie. I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a good fun modern day action movie. But as a Star Wars fan, as a huge Star Wars fan, as a literally-I-own-eight-different-versions of-the-original-trilogy-on-various-formats Star Wars fan, it just left me feeling kind of empty. Maybe it’s my fault for building it up, or expecting it to feel like the originals, but I just left the theatre like, “Oh. Ok. I guess Star Wars is just a movie now.” And that makes me a little bit sad.

Overall Rating: Also the Luke reveal at the end was total weak sauce/10

 

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