I caught the Force Awakens just a couple of hours ago in 3D IMAX. On the whole, it was a treat. If you liked what JJ Abrams did with the Star Trek movies and you like the original Star Wars trilogy, you’ll probably dig this movie. If you felt Abrams was recycling too much and his Star Trek scripts were messy, then it’s going to be like trying to ignore a splinter in your finger.
The acting was mostly good, as was the casting. There were a few awkward scenes, but certainly not on the level of the prequel movies. And really, Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo seemed to be one of the weaker links. His timing just feels off and he comes across as a guy who knows he’s playing Han Solo (again) rather than Han Solo. It’s just this inescapable bit of self-awareness that he almost never quite gets away from for most of the film. John Boyega as Finn is probably the next weakest link. He can’t seem to settle exactly on who his character is or wants to be or why. It’s possible he just didn’t know when he was filming. He has decent chemistry with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, but he, too, has the same distracting self-awareness Ford showed when reprising Solo.
The film was gorgeous and easily the best looking, most appealing in its cinematography, and most interesting in its designs of all the films. BB-8, the little spherical droid, is an adorable addition to the franchise and represents what Jar Jar Binks might have been if done correctly. The fight scenes brought a sense of lethality to them that none of the other movies had. Blasters are powerful and deadly weapons, especially when fired from spacecraft, and the Force Awakens demonstrates this without becoming more violent than the Abrams Trek movies.
Another smart decision was a removal of the wire fu-type of combat we witnessed in the prequels. The fights now feel more chaotic, more dangerous, and less a dance.
At a run of a little over two hours, you won’t be bored. There’s plenty of real tension and good laughs. But while the story moves quickly, it is ushered along with some questionable character motivations and sloppy exposition. This is not a 10 out of 10 movie, but it is easily one of the better Star Wars movies.
I really, really wanted to fall in love with this movie and I enjoyed the hell out of it for the most part, but like Abrams’ Star Trek films, there are just too many things that don’t add up or seem too easy. Here’s a list of the things that just bugged the hell out of me.
- The First Order – We don’t really learn a lot about these guys or why they do what they do. Yes, there’s a scene with an evil speech to a parade ground full of storm troopers, but it doesn’t make sense. The First Order doesn’t make sense. The troopers don’t have names, but ID numbers, and are supposedly taken from their families at an early age for training. And while they are certainly better shots than the troopers from the original trilogy, they remain rather incompetent and almost a self-parody. There’s one scene in particular where Adam Driver’s Ren is throwing a temper tantrum in a room with his light saber and a pair of troopers coming down the corridor hear this, stop, look at each other, and then go the other way. Finn, himself, undercuts the threat the First Order should pose with how easily he shirks years of training (brainwashing) and decides to not kill for the First Order and eventually turn traitor. But we’ll get to Finn in a moment.
- The Republic and the Resistance – Apparently, these are and aren’t the same thing. It’s confusing. The Republic exists and has a senate running the government, but the resistance is still around and functioning, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). What is it resisting? The First Order? Shouldn’t it be protecting the Republic? We are never shown Leia receiving orders from the Republic, so the whole thing just raises too many questions perhaps answered in some supplemental material. Neither organization, First Order nor the Resistance, has an intelligence service worth bantha poodoo. It seems like all the Resistance’s resources are focused on locating Luke Skywalker, rather than keeping tabs on its mortal enemy, the First Order, and the Order’s construction of a planetary-sized super weapon. So other than being Luke Skywalker, Luke’s importance to these groups is not explained and dubious at best. Yes, it would be nice to have a Jedi Master around, but that really should take a back seat to a weapon that can destroy planets light years away in an instant.
- Characters are way, way too trusting – Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron almost immediately becomes bros with Finn when Finn (alone) frees him from imprisonment aboard one of the First Order’s Star Destroyer-type vessels. He never once questions if Finn is a spy or if its all a trick to track him back to the rebel base. On the junk planet, Rey and Finn just run inside the Millennium Falcon and fly away. The alien who owns it and seems to run the junk settlement has no guard or protections in place, apparently, to prevent anyone from doing this. Finn, a traitor, is more than well-received by the resistance when he finally arrives at their base and is (somehow) able to provide them detailed information on the super weapon that they accept as truth without any suspicion and then use to launch a desperate strike. Furthermore, they trust this admitted traitor to lead a mission into the super weapon to disable its shields and, again, everyone is on board, despite Finn not even explaining how he will disable the shields.
- Finn – His character doesn’t make sense. He’s been a storm trooper for a long time now and has been trained enough that they are willing to take him down as part of a strike team to capture Poe Dameron, but he apparently only worked in sanitation and had never killed anyone for the First Order. And after watching the Order gun down some villagers and one of his squadmates die, he immediately thinks to break Poe, who he knows nothing about, out of holding because he needs someone that can pilot a TIE fighter, which they steal almost as easily as he and Rey steal the Falcon later on. Finn eventually takes up Luke’s blue light saber a couple of times and gets his ass handed to him once by a storm trooper armed with a stun baton and again by Kylo Ren. I don’t even know why anyone even trusted him with a light saber in the first place.
- Consistent rules, unintended consequences, and hyperdrive – Anytime Abrams tries to put a new twist on an established tech, he screws it up, like with the warp transporters used in his first Trek movie or Kahn’s blood in the second. So, while the First Order’s super weapon is impressive and able to wreak Death Star-level destruction on multiple worlds across the galaxy at the same time (taking from the EU books, more or less), there’s a far more dangerous weapon. According to Abrams movie, the Falcon is able to fly through hyperspace and come out within the lower atmosphere of a planet with no serious repercussions or detection. This essentially means that anyone could crash a significantly large vessel or missile into a planet or planetary installation at many times the speed of light and utterly destroy it. Shields don’t even seem to matter, because the shields were why the Falcon went there in the first place. Oops. In other Star Wars material it was explained that gravity wells, like stars, prevented hyperspace travel until one got far enough away from the turbulence they generate to enter hyperspace. Abrams and his crew should have thought this through to its logical conclusion, but didn’t. Also, the Resistance could have loaded the Falcon with an entire strike force of elite fighters to go with Han and Finn, but didn’t, because “story.”
- Tractor Beams – The First Order doesn’t seem to have them anymore. If they did, Finn and Poe would have been caught right away as soon as they left the docking bay in the stolen TIE.
- Capital Ships – We don’t see any of the Resistance’s capital ships, just the First Orders, and the latter don’t participate in the final battle. Nope, the Resistance sends a squadron of X-Wings to take out the planetary-sized installation protected with gun batteries, TIE Fighters, and (presumably) capital ships, but no cruisers, corvettes, etc. Just like with the Trek movies, we’re left to head canon our way through the reasons why there aren’t other ships (besides the Enterprise… in Earth orbit).
- Han and Leia are Ren’s Parents – Han and Leia are Ren’s parents. The story goes that Ren turned to the dark side while under Luke’s tutelage and sabotaged Luke’s new Jedi academy. Don’t ask me how. I find it really hard to believe. Ren is a powerful and competent force user (as an adult), but he is petulant and relatively unskilled compared to Luke. This is all told in exposition, more or less, mind you. We just have to accept that Han and Leia’s son went bad and Luke goes into exile because he feels bad about it. That’s fine, but what worries me more is that Han and Leia never mention a daughter. Logically, if Rey is really their daughter, even if they don’t recognize her as an adult, they would have mentioned having a daughter when they were discussing why they seperated (because of Ren going bad). So in my mind, Rey cannot be Han and Leia’s daughter now. If it later turns out that she is, then I’ll call BS. Two people do not discuss how they lost their son to the dark side and broke off their relationship without mentioning their other child. Also, if she is Ren’s sister, he should be able to recognize her with the Force at the very least. Hopefully, Rey will turn out to be Luke’s daughter and avert this problem.
- Luke went into the exile – The most criminal thing the Jedi do, with Yoda being the biggest offender of all, is they go into exile where no one can find them anytime they screw up. I don’t buy that this fits Luke’s character. I don’t know why he left R2-D2 behind to stay in low power mode until some randomly determined time with an incomplete map. And I’m really confused why anyone would go into exile, but leave this obscure set of maps behind to find him or her later for unknown reasons. Luke only appears at the very end of the movie and has no lines (a mistake, in my opinion). The movie then closes with Rey offering him his old blue light saber back. He really should have had a line and the entire map subplot is silly. You don’t need a map in space. It’s space! You just need some coordinates or the name of a star system. The route the map defines is also so irrelevant, that Rey just gets the completed map and goes to see Luke. It’s in no way treacherous or a means to setup the next movie.
- Adam Driver is not menacing, but Kylo Ren is – So long as Driver keeps his helmet on, he’s intimidating. Once he takes it off, he’s like Anakin’s scrawnier younger brother.
- Captain Phasma capitulates way too easily – Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) shuts off the shields protecting the First Orders super weapon because Solo, Finn, and Chewbacca capture her in her own base and hold her at blaster point. She doesn’t try to trick them or play tough or counter them with the logic that they won’t shoot her, because they’ll draw the attention of the entire facility if they do. Nope, she shuts down the shields, fully trusting that the traitor, the wookie, and the strange scruffy-looking man won’t just murder her after the fact. Just watch her escape execution in the next movie, despite selling out her entire army to protect her own life.
- Rey – I liked Rey. She’s capable. Smart. Determined. But her character arc is too simple and as childlike as her character. The problem with her is we don’t know enough about her situation or her disposition. We never see her doing tough or questionable things to survive in Jakku. We don’t see the tragedy motivating her (to stay) like we did with Luke (to leave). And we don’t see her apprehension toward accepting her destiny as a force user until much later in the movie. Basically, as a character, she was not set up very well by the script. We needed to learn more about her and how she lives her life before she gets the call to adventure. And I don’t think anyone watching the movie really bought than an adult woman who has struggled on her own to survive in an alien junkyard for most of her life would still believe she needed to hang around for when her family comes to get her. I don’t think she’s a Mary Sue, by the way, at least not on her own. If you composite her with Finn, then you have a Mary Sue.
- One death is a tragedy, several billion is a plot point – The First Order destroyed multiple planets, unprovoked and by surprise. The Resistance celebrates their victory at the end of the movie. No. Bullshit. Don’t buy it. This is not a nitpick. Billions and billion of people were murdered by the Order and this fact gets glossed over worse than Poe’s return from Jakku.
- Rey versus Ren duel – Watch this one again. It plays out like a Soul Calibur match. Rey opens with the same lunging attack at least three times and Ren defends it the same way at least three times. It really felt like footage was being recycled or reused with a different angle.
So, these are my late-night, initial reactions. Maybe you agree with them, maybe you don’t. Maybe you know some others. I know I left out some stuff about Rey, but I’m tired now.
Still was a fun movie worth checking out, despite my nitpicking.