WARNING: This review will contain spoilers! Proceed with caution!
I finally saw the new Star Wars movie the day after Christmas. Prior to that, I had to almost entirely cut down on reading the internet to avoid spoilers, and I’m happy to report that I was successful. All I really knew about The Force Awakens going in was that it was supposed to be much better than the prequels.
So, did it live up to the hype?
Maybe? I have some complicated feelings about The Force Awakens. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like the new main characters, and being back in the Star Wars universe was pure joy. On the other hand, the movie was basically two hours of nothing but fan service, mashing up iconic characters, moments, and plot devices from the original trilogy into something precision engineered to hit older readers right in the nostalgia.
Here are some things that are awfully familiar:
- A hero who lives in poverty on a desert planet who happens to be a great pilot.
- The hero encounters a scrappy droid who speaks in a series of cute noises, and that droid is carrying information vital to the rebellion, who are battling against the forces of evil.
- The hero meets an ally and escapes from the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon, after taking down some TIE fighters using the Falcon’s Anti-Aircraft-style blasters.
- Han Solo and Chewbacca have to talk/fight their way out of a confrontation with some shady characters.
- The good guys go to a cantina filled with an assortment of exotic aliens with a catchy tune playing in the background.
- A cute, diminutive, thousand-year-old alien dispenses wisdom to our protagonist.
- The enemy has a super-weapon capable of destroying entire planets. However it has a single weak point that can be taken out by sending a strike force down to the surface to disable the shields, allowing a squadron of fighters to fly in and destroy it.
- The bad guy wears an expressionless black mask that modulates his voice.
- He is related to a main character and the two have a confrontation where he is called to turn away from the dark side.
- He is controlled by a shadowy figure of pure evil who often appears in the form of a holographic projection.
- He has a red light saber.
- Han Solo and our young male hero go on a mission inside the enemy base to rescue the female hero who is being interrogated.
- Storm troopers are highly susceptible to Jedi mind tricks.
And there are many other tiny nods to the original series.
And really, there basically had to be. What we all really wanted was to feel the same way we did when we watched the first trilogy, so I can’t complain too much about the new movie delivering that in spades. I worry, though, that it was so very very similar. Sure, some nods and fan service here and there are fun, but major sections of the plot were basically copy-pasted from the original movies. I guess it’s fitting because Star Wars itself was a mashup that borrowed scenes practically verbatim from previous movies, but it does make me worry about where the series will go from here.
But I’m also very optimistic about where it will go from here, and what that will mean. As I said, I think the new main characters are excellent. Fin’s origin as a stormtrooper deserter is fascinating, and Rey is just about everything you could ask for in a strong female protagonist. Poe Dameron, the hot shot fighter pilot, is also a fun character: imagine that, a great pilot who is not strong with the force!
Also, The Force Awakens, despite (or perhaps because of?) basically being a mash-up of the original trilogy, indicates to me that the folks in charge of the Star Wars franchise now know what it is that fans like about Star Wars and what we don’t. I was really relieved that they brought back comic relief in the form of witty banter rather relying entirely on sight gags and slapstick. Of all the things in the prequels that I didn’t like, I think it was the awful attempts at humor that bothered me the most.
Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the early establishing shots of Rey scavenging in the wreckage of a massive battle (and the later dogfight among the wreckage). What battle led to a field of Star Destroyer and AT-AT walker wreckage in the desert of Jakku? It is not explained and it never should be. J.J. Abrams and his team know that the greatest part of Star Wars is not the tip of the iceberg shown on screen, but the hints of a bigger universe full of stories waiting to be told.
All in all, I enjoyed the Force Awakens and I think it achieved what it set out to do: it brought back the feel of the original trilogy (although I wish it hadn’t copied quite so blatantly), and it laid the groundwork for new stories. I just hope going forward that the next movies can move ahead into new territory instead of endlessly rehashing the old movies. I’m cautiously optimistic on that front. If that happens, then I think we have a lot of great adventures to look forward to.
Some final assorted observations:
- I’m glad Han Solo got killed off (and totally saw it coming). From the small number of interviews I’ve seen with Harrison Ford, he seemed completely bored and borderline annoyed with how excited everyone was about Star Wars being rebooted (I got much the same vibe as I get from Peter Dinklage’s interviews about Game of Thrones, like the actor is annoyed that this of all things is what they’re going to be remembered for). Also, killing Solo was a nice mirror image of Vader’s redemption in Return of the Jedi.
- Boy those bad guys sure are Nazi-like. Star Wars is not known for its subtlety.
- What exactly is the rebellion rebelling against now? The Republic is the main government now, right? And they’re the good guys, right? So shouldn’t the “rebellion” actually just be called the Republic’s military?
- Star Wars bad guys need to hire better engineers who have heard of redundancy to avoid single points of failure.
- I thought it was a nice touch that when Starkiller Base was destroyed, it just turned back into a star (though the size was all wrong)
- The x-wings flying low over the water gave me all sorts of nostalgic feels about playing Star Wars video games.
- I was amused that Kylo Ren’s light saber was all raggedy, as if his evilness just couln’t be contained.
- I also enjoyed how many of the familiar ships from the original Star Wars were slightly tweaked, as if technology had changed, but only slightly, since the events of the earlier series.
- I really hope that Rey is not a long lost relative of the characters we know and love, and that she’s just an awesome, capable woman who is strong with the Force. There were thousands of Jedi back in the day, and they’re not all related, so Rey doesn’t need to be a secret Skywalker or Kenobi, or whatever.