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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Fair warning, there will be SPOILERS later on in this review. Everything before the jump will be spoiler-free, and everything after the jump will have spoilers. I’ll make the distinction clear.

This is not the movie you’re looking for. Or maybe it is. Honestly, I think opinions are going to be all over the map for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For some, it might be a glorious return to that wonderful galaxy far, far away. For me, it was a fine and enjoyable film, but it wasn’t the be-all, end-all cinematic second coming that it was hyped up to be. Instead, The Force Awakens is a fun adventure full of familiar characters that easily entertains.

But if this really is the start of several decades worth of new Star Wars films, one after another, I’m no longer as excited as I was yesterday.

Movie Rating: 6/10 – Pretty Good.

There is definitely a lot to enjoy about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s definitely worth going to see, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. The new cast all acquit themselves well, meshing splendidly together and with the old, returning cast. Harrison Ford’s aged Han Solo steals the show, with ample support from the legendary Chewbacca. The two of them on screen again is worth the price of admission alone. Lightsabers blaze with iconic glory, the Millennium Falcon is as great as we’ve always know it to be, and this galaxy looks like the lived in, wildly varied galaxy of yore.

But the movie is far from perfect. There are numerous plot contrivances that seem to exist solely to bait the fans’ love for the franchise. Several seemingly important characters barely get any screen time, making you wonder why they seemed like such a big deal in all the advertising. And worst of all, what really took me out of the movie, was the inexhaustible desire to callback to and remember the original trilogy.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens does not take the franchise anywhere new. It revels in the old ways, while presenting just enough new material to guarantee the endless supply of new movies we’re going to get over the next several years (decades?).

But at the very least, Han Solo and Chewbacca are pretty awesome.

Join me after the jump for my full review. Be warned, I really get to rambling a bit. And this is the SPOILER cut off. Read the rest at your own risk.

You know who loves the first Star Wars movie? Everybody. But you know who really, really loves it, specifically? Disney, apparently. When they bought Lucasfilm and hired J.J. Abrams to direct, it seems the first and only order of business was to just remake A New Hope. They looked at the fan backlash to the Prequel Trilogy and decided they weren’t about to fall into that quagmire again, no matter how strong the creator’s vision might be. Instead, Star Wars: The Force Awakens goes out of its way to deliver one fan-pleasing moment after the next.

Obviously this was pleasing, I’m not made of stone

This doesn’t break the movie, but it bugged the heck out of me. Instead of a new and potentially interesting post-Jedi universe, we’ve once again got the Empire vs. the Rebellion, only now renamed the ‘First Order’ and the ‘Resistance’. I’m told some of the books explain the political landscape a bit better, but The Force Awakens is so afraid of more backlash that they don’t take any time at all to explain what the heck is going on. Apparently there’s some kind of New Republic? But maybe it gets blown up? How is the Empire still around and why are they calling themselves the ‘New Order’ when they’re exactly the same as the old Empire?

Speaking of which, they’re exactly the same as the old Empire! They’ve got Stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, and a giant, planetary super weapon. But the Starkiller Base didn’t have nearly the character or the scope of the Death Star, despite being bigger. What was the point of it being an entire planet, complete with land masses, snow, mountains, forests and the rest? What point did any of that serve besides a semi-interesting visual?

And at least when the Death Star blew up Alderaan, we knew it was Princess Leia’s home planet, and she had to watch it happen. This time, I have no idea what the Starkiller blew up or why.

Then the movie ends with another squadron of fighter pilots doing a Trench Run against one specific spot that will blow up the entire base. Come on! As if the cantina redux weren’t enough. Or the fact that the villain is dressed in all black, wears a metallic mask and speaks in a modulated rasp.

Red lightsaber? Check!

When they weren’t being subtle about the callbacks, they were shoving them right in our faces, like with the Millennium Falcon and R2-D2. The Falcon’s introduction was a literal smash cut joke with a rather flimsy set-up. So the Millennium Falcon, the most famous spaceship in the galaxy, is just randomly sitting on the outskirts of this junkyard? And the main heroes can power it up no problem and fly it like they were born in it, despite it being a junker for decades? It’s like the writers had established the main characters on the planet Jakku, then figured out a way to slip the Falcon in there later. Because the Falcon had to be there.

And then R2-D2 is literally unveiled to the audience — more on him later, because the treatment of R2-D2 is a travesty in this movie.

We didn’t even really get this scene proper! Stupid lying trailers

My biggest problem with Star Wars: The Force Awakens are all the fan-service callbacks. It’s like the Superman Returns of Star Wars movies. And this is a big deal for one big reason:

I fear that Disney is trying to weaponize our nostalgia.

Make no mistake, Star Wars is in the hands of the Empire now. At least the prequels were George Lucas trying to expand upon his creative vision. With The Force Awakens, I think it’s clear that Disney has little to no interest to take any risk with this franchise. They plan to release at least one new Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future. They fully intend to recoup on their billion-dollar investment in purchasing Star Wars wholesale. They are not going to risk turning off the fans by delivering anything less than a personalized love letter.

We still like X-Wing fighters, right?

Fortunately, Disney knows how to make entertaining movies, so I guess there’s still hope.

And not all the callbacks were that bad. The biggest one of all, bringing back the original cast, is working out great so far. Carrie Fisher is wonderful as a tougher, returned General Leia. And Harrison Ford’s return as Han Solo is worth the price of admission alone.

I’ve never really liked Harrison Ford, almost specifically because of his attitude about Star Wars. I get it; he’s a big, rich actor, but he’s always come off as so full of himself. Star Wars and its fans made you that big, rich actor, pal. Don’t be such a jerkass about it.

So I was very pleased to see Ford seemingly give it his all in his return to the iconic role. I was also surprised to see that he got the most screen time out of all the returning actors, nearly stealing the movie as the rascally Solo.

Best friends for life

To say nothing of Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. I’m so, so glad that Disney went to the trouble of bringing Mayhew back, despite his health problems. The actor may be hidden by a costume, but since Ford is back, it’s great knowing that the original Chewie is back as well. Their friendship is as strong as ever on screen, a credit to both actors.

(I hope I’m not the only one who likes to imagine that the two of them have somehow remained friends all these years.)

The less said about Luke Skywalker the better, both to prevent spoilers and just because, honestly.

The old actors weren’t the only stars of The Force Awakens, fortunately. I thought the new cast did a splendid job of carrying the film, so much so that Han Solo still only feels like he’s part of an ensemble. John Boyega as Finn is the real standout of the film. I love the trope of villains becoming heroes, so I really like his story as a Stormtrooper who ditches the First Order when he sees just how evil they can be. Finn is funny and driven by character, making him a compelling lead. I was a little disappointment that he wasn’t the film’s new Jedi though.

Oh you promotional material tease

Good thing Daisy Ridley does a fantastic job as Rey, the junker girl who quickly (perhaps too quickly?) learns to use the Force and fight back against the bad guys. I’m still not entirely sure how much Rey knows about her past, but that was probably intentional. I mean…come on…we all know she’s Luke Skywalker’s daughter, right? I was pretty sure even Leia knew it in the end (though, obviously, there could be another twist coming down the line).

I really liked Finn and Rey. I thought their friendship was well-developed, even if the movie had to rush through it (and everything else). And watching her become a true Jedi should be great going forward. I’m definitely excited to see where both characters go from here.

But the rest of the new characters were kind of a let down, at least some of them.

Random junker beast puppet was cool though

BB-8 was great, a stellar new addition to the Star Wars droids. He’s lovable and quirky, exactly what you’d want. And Kylo Ren was a pretty good villain. He’s not nearly as iconic as Darth Vader, or as instantly badass as Darth Maul, but he’s dangerous and well-defined. The surprise that he’s Han and Leia’s twisted son definitely gives him plenty of storytelling potential.

Also, it’s clear that Kylo Ren is the one who wiped out Luke’s new Jedi Academy, right? Causing Luke to go into exile?

But beyond those two, the rest of the new characters were disappointing. Po Dameron, hailed as the third character in the new starring trio alongside Finn and Rey, literally disappears for most of the movie. He has a great opening scene with Finn, but I guess that wasn’t meant to last. Then he magically reappears later, on an entirely different planet in entirely different circumstances. His bravado probably would have upstaged Finn a lot during the movie, though, so I’m glad he wasn’t around. But Po was not nearly as important as we were led to believe. It was like Disney wanted a scene with X-Wing pilots, but knew that neither Finn or Rey could be in a cockpit, so they needed to just create somebody new.

So much for you

Likewise, Captain Phasma was barely more than a cameo! Despite all of the hype, all of the build-up, all of the positive messages about having a female Stormtrooper, she barely has any screen time whatsoever! And when she does appear, she’s always standing in the exact same pose, and is little more than a Stormtrooper administrator! Total waste of a potentially very cool character. And her fate is just another callback joke, so that Han can reference trash compactors.

Supreme Leader Snoke is even worse. I get that he turned out to be just a hologram projection, but when we first see him as a giant person, I got flashes of a different, worse movie. Like, really? This was their big bad guy? This giant? And even though he was a hologram, his CGI face just looked dumb. That’s not the level of CGI I would expect from this movie. They couldn’t have had a normal, human villain? And every time Leia or Han said the words ‘Snoke’, it just sounded even more ridiculous. These characters, and the drama with their son, is a million times more interesting than whatever stupid new villain you’ve wedged into it.

Also, I guess that ginger Imperial officer was supposed to be important? He was no Grand Moff Tarkin, that’s for damn sure.

I don’t feel like looking him up. Here’s a cool shot of Finn instead.

I enjoyed watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was entertaining. The new characters were cool, the old characters were great, and the whole aesthetic was quite enjoyable. But I have too many nitpicks, too many little problems here and there with the film. It didn’t gel for me, it didn’t really do anything new or risky with the franchise. It seems to me that Disney is more than happy giving the fans what they want and taking their gleeful money. And they plan on doing this very thing for a long, long time to come.

I have a bad feeling about this.

————–

Oh right, I was going to talk about R2-D2.

What the heck did they do to R2-D2 in this movie?! Come on! I realize he would totally steal the spotlight from BB-8, but they hobbled R2 worse than a gundark in a droid factory. First of all, he goes into some kind of robo-hibernation when Luke takes off? And then at some point after that, somebody decided to put a sheet over him? Isn’t that kind of insulting? They just throw him into a corner somewhere and toss a sheet over him?

Second of all, that sheet was only there so that R2 could have a ‘big reveal’ for the fans. Out of nowhere, with no context or set-up, BB-8 just happens to roll over to the sheet and slowly pull it off. Such an inelegant way to re-introducing R2. The only thing they could come up with was literally just pulling a sheet off of him?

Not to mention the fact that BB-8 should be fully aware of R2-D2. When C-3PO first showed up with Leia, he already knew BB-8 by name. And why shouldn’t he? BB-8 was the companion droid of Po Dameron, the best fighter pilot in the Resistance. Po likely spent a lot of time in that base where they were storing R2. Why only now does BB-8 pull the sheet off R2?

A bitter feud

And third of all, R2 just magically comes back to life in the end?! He just turns on when all the action is over and provides all the Dues ex Machina information they need to find Luke? How does he even have this information? Did Luke take R2 with him when he went into exile, then decided to send the droid back once he’d found a place to live? Who even mapped Luke’s movements? And if someone mapped Luke’s movements, why would they need a map to find him again? How does that map get broken up into multiple pieces? Why? Is it really as simple as attaching the final piece like a puzzle into R2-D2’s version of the map?

If R2 had such vital information stored in him, why did he shut himself down? Why did they just toss I’m into a corner with a sheet covering him, like he was an old piece of furniture? They don’t have ways of digging into droids to get information out of them?

Man, I may have enjoyed this movie, but I could nit pick it to death. Good thing nitpicking doesn’t lead to the Dark Side.

——————

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About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on December 18, 2015, in Movies, Reviews, Star Wars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. When you think about it Phasma is just like Boba Fett, hyped but never actually does anything in the movies.

    Also about the whole Rey getting good with the force too quickly…

    [Warning: Rant]

    I can understand Rey having more raw power with the force, that’s something that comes from birth and genetics and what-not, so it makes sense that she was able to overpower Ben Solo (not going to call him Kylo Ren, that name’s to cool for that Vader-Fanboy) when he tried to interrogate her or when she got the saber instead of him, i’m ok with that, but I’m just going to say it, and I don’t care who doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t have won that lightsaber battle.

    The guy was trained by Luke himself and apparently killed the previous Jedi Order, even if injured he should have been capable of taking out someone who haven’t even seen a lightsaber before, hell he even said she needed training, and then the force apparently managed to give her years of experience in lightsaber combat.

    By winning they completely took away the stakes for the future movies, Snoke said something about “completing his training” but it doesn’t matter, Rey will star training under Luke and if she managed to defeat him now, with actual training there’s nothing he can do against her, so even if we know that “the light side will win” I can no longer look at Ben as a threat to her.

    And if they decide to also remake “The empire strikes back” and have him cut her hand or something it will ring hollow, since with both training there’s no reason for the fight to go different from the last time, unless in the next movie for some reason Luke refuses to teach her and she goes against him untrained again, but that still doesn’t suit well with me, since again, we know that with a little bit of training he is done for.

    With Darth Vader we knew that Luke was outmatched at the beginning, we saw him as the ultimate threat, and when Luke lost we knew he had to become stronger to have a chance, but here? She already has the victory, so Ben is just bothering her until she eventually faces Snoke.

    [Rant over]

    Overall I agree with you, it was a good movie but it felt by the books and uninspired, hopefully now that they have all that setup out of the way the next one can have a more original story, because I REALLY liked the new cast and they deserve better.

    • Who knows, maybe we won’t see a repeat duel between the two of them. Plus, you have to remember, Kylo Ren didn’t want to kill Rey. He wanted to turn her to the Dark Side, so he was holding back in that battle. He also didn’t think she was a threat, so again, holding back. Plus, Rey spent her life on Jakku in those junkyard conditions. She was proficient with her staff, so it’s easy to believe she would know how to handle a melee weapon.

  1. Pingback: Hench-Sized Comic Book Reviews – 12/19/15 | Henchman-4-Hire

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