- (Also known as Star Wars: Episode VII–The Force Awakens)
- Produced, Co-Written, and Directed by J. J. Abrams
- December 14, 2015 (Hollywood) / December 18, 2015 (US)
Thirty years after the Battle of Endor, the First Order has taken the place of the Galactic Empire as the Resistance led by General Leia Organa and veterans of the Rebel Alliance search for the missing Luke Skywalker.
Controversial as they may be among some fans, the sequels in my opinion got off to an adequate start with The Force Awakens. I’m not saying it was a great start, but it was certainly promising. While this was more or less a remake of A New Hope in broad strokes. It said to me they were aiming to recapture and continue the feel of Star Wars under George Lucas. But it is not without its flaws.
This was an attempt to move the story into a mostly post Skywalker Saga era. But it relied too much on the Skywalker Saga for its story. At some point you need to leave the dysfunction of the Skywalker Family ruining the entire galaxy behind if you wish to continue the Star Wars universe.
The chief villain of the story is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who has serious daddy issues as he is the son of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess (she will always be a princess) Leia (Carrie Fisher). The problem with Kylo Ren is that he is not dark and dangerous like either Grand Moff Tarkin or Emperor Palpatine or even Darth Vader who he wishes to emulate. He comes off as a petulant and angry child. He’s more whiny brat than evil villain with Jedi abilities.
And there’s talk of the Knights of Ren, which Kylo Ren is the leader of, but we never see them. I’m not sure if they needed to do anything other than follow the character around like celebrity bodyguards. Why even bring them up if they’re not going to be seen in some way? What was the point? I like the idea of him having his own group of superpowered individuals, but it amounted to squat. It could not even be bothered to include diddly it was so lazy.
Our hero of the story is Rey (Daisy Ridley) who was clearly meant as a gender swapped Luke Skywalker. She even lives on a desert planet (here Jakku). Abandoned for reasons not hinted at anywhere here, she pines pathetically for parents she has not seen in decades and not since she was very small. Luke was a dreamer stuck in his life by protective relatives as well as responsibility until events forced him to take action. Rey could easily do as she wants at any point prior to or during the film but does not and allows herself to get pushed along by events. That is not the biggest issue.
Each character in the original film had a distinct role to fill. Each had their niche, but the characters here do not have that. To a large extent anyway. Rey takes on many of the roles previously split up amongst the group. Rey is the hero, the pilot, the damsel in distress that can save herself. And with little introduction to it, Rey is more Force capable than Luke was by the end of Empire.
And Rey has no real character arc. Luke had to go through a bit of a hero’s journey in the first two films. There is some character growth for him between Points A and B. He even had to learn mastery of The Force. Rey on the other hand starts out as awesome. And she doesn’t change that much as a character between the beginning and the end of the film. You can argue about how brief Luke’s time was with his training, but at least he got some training in order to manipulate the force. Rey is resisting Kylo Ren and doing Jedi mind tricks without even a training montage.
We got attempts at replacing the legacy characters with new characters. BB-8 was the new R2-D2. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) was the Han Solo (Harrison Ford) replacement but was more of a safe bad boy than Solo was. Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), with eyes like a cat’s butthole, was the new and better Yoda. Not all were meant as replacements for existing characters, but some clearly were with others filling out the cast to make the movie bigger.
And worse, the legacy characters were treated as afterthoughts. Admittedly this was Disney’s attempt to start a new series but given the many decades fans had invested in this, they needed to treat legacy characters with respect rather than as afterthoughts to be pushed aside. A little fan service was certainly needed. For example, maybe have Han and Leia remain a couple rather than Han having lost all his character growth from the original three films.
And the humor was far too heavy. This wasn’t a comedy but things were too light. Finn (John Boyega) takes up a significant part of the story, but he was much more comic relief. Admittedly he was trying to find this place outside of the first order, but it doesn’t excuse general goofiness for much of the story. It made his move from sanitation to trooper illogical even in a space opera universe.
By the credits it certainly looks like Finn and Rey are being set up for some kind of romance. It also appears that Finn has force abilities and could quite possibly become a stormtrooper turned Jedi which would have been intriguing. After all, he goes toe to toe with Kylo Ren and while not victorious, he certainly holds his own.
They tried to create a cool new character and that fell flat. Captain Phasma (a waisted Gwendoline Christie) was an attempt at a cool character in the mold of Boba Fett. Boba Fett did nothing really in his first two live action appearances yet somehow managed to be a standout character that everybody remembers to this day. He had a cool design and just came on screen and you knew he meant business. Phasma was no bad ass. The trooper that Finn faced off against for all of 30 seconds or so was much cooler than Captain Phasma could ever hope to be. And that’s kind of sad. Then again, he had a much better introduction.
General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) was this film’s equivalent of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. The character was okay, but Gleeson is no Peter Cushing. He lacks the demeanor of aristocracy and authority as well as the general experience of turning tripe into cinematic treasure.
As for plot, there is a lot of coincidence in this movie. Rey and Finn meeting is not an issue but them getting on the Millennium Falcon that just so happens to be on Jakku after passing through several hands after it was lost by Han and then meeting up with Han and Chewie is. And Rey having saved Poe’s droid BB-8 and Poe having helped Finn escape the First Order is as well.
That would not be bad if there was an implication that the Force was guiding everything as it’s been implied that the Forces does have a hand in reality from time to time but that’s not here. It’s just all coincidence. The right people do not meet but rather they stumble together. Not much feels strongly connected.
To further emulate A New Hope, we have a super weapon called Starkiller Base but the whole mention of that pops up after the film is very well underway. It doesn’t even seem to be a thought on anyone’s mind. It’s as if it was added in when they realized they needed a big threat for a climactic end. Perhaps they felt like there was a need for a great battle and ripping off the Death Star was the best option. A big space battle is not necessary for an epic feel. Empire was more epic than this with no big space battle.
Heck, there’s even a trench run in the final battle just like in A New Hope. From a marketing standpoint/business standpoint mimicking what came before when under new leadership is a smart move. The flaw comes in by doing it only in a surface way which is often the case here. They ape the previous material but do not understand what was beneath the surface.
What this movie gets right is edge of your seat thrills and hair raising escapades. It’s fun and action packed. And as with all the Star Wars it is visually stunning. All of the films have prevented science-fiction visuals. That at the time they came out with never seen before. And this is no different. The Force Awakens continued the Star Wars tradition of visual awesome.
I remember the cheer that went through the theater when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) appeared on screen in the closing moments of this movie. That was perhaps the most perfectly executed element of the whole film as he had been teased from the very start. Those few seconds were what everybody really came to see. And it was an emotional high I doubt can be duplicated again. An absolute perfect ending for this film even if there were issues with everything else.
Despite my numerous issues with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I feel that it was a good start to a new set of Star Wars films. It set up many elements that one could get excited over and overall had that old-school Star Wars feel. As a fan of many decades, I must recommend this one.
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