Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for a few days now, and most of the world has contributed to its massive opening weekend, I thought it would be a good time to talk in great detail of what I thought about the film. My original review wasn’t very good since I wasn’t sure what exactly I could go into detail about what, so I’m dedicating this piece to spoiling everything in the new Star Wars film. Obviously, if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, which you should since it’s a really solid film, avoid this article since I’ve giving away every major plot detail as a means to analyze and dissect it. For the few that have already seen Disney’s mult-billion dollar gamble that payed off, stick around and enjoy some interesting points I’m about to make about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I hope you enjoy. Again, MAJOR SPOILERS follow. You’ve been warned.
I think what was easily my favorite part of The Force Awakens was Kylo Ren, the new baddie in the Star Wars universe. I talked in the review about how he was the most complex and interesting villain that Star Wars has ever created, and I can now go into greater detail about his character, and why he works so well. The big reveal that Ren is actually the son of Han and Leia wasn’t entirely shocking, since one of these new characters HAD to be the offspring of the Solo’s. This makes Ren’s backstory all the more interesting, since we’ll obviously get more of this character’s backstory in the later films, and how his training with Luke went horribly wrong, and was seduced by the Dark Side. There have been a few critics who noted how Abrams brilliantly handled Kylo Ren the way Anakin Skywalker should’ve been handled by George Lucas in the prequel trilogy. Ren is a guy who respects and adores Darth Vader, and his legacy, even going out of his way to wear a mask similar to Vader’s, even though he doesn’t need it. Like Anakin before he turned into Vader, he acts out like a child from time to time, destroying the environment around him if he doesn’t get what he wants. Lucas portrayed Anakin as just whiny and irritating, Abrams portrays Ren as the tragic and sad character that Anakin should’ve been, and it’s one of the more fascinating characters that I’ve seen in a major release all year.
This character is highlighted in my favorite scene of the film, which is the scene when Han Solo is killed by his own son. It’s a scene that is shocking for both the audience and the characters, as it’s the sudden end to one of cinema’s most beloved characters. I think it was a brilliant and ballsy (if not totally unexpected) move by the filmmakers to kill off Solo, especially since this is the first we’ve seen of the character on-screen in 32 years. The scene was littered with cool but not-very-subtle symbolism leading up to his demise, but for a big budgeted popcorn flick, Abrams had a really artful approach to the scene. We have Solo approaching his son on the bridge, confronting him about what he’s become, and how General Snoke (Andy Serkis in the film as this trilogies new Emperor-type) is manipulating him for his powers and that he’ll toss him away when he doesn’t need him anymore. You start think that Ren is beginning to realize this, as his eyes begin to swell up. But as the sun begins to set, signifying that the planet/mega-death star is ready to cause some shit in the galaxy, Ren stabs his father right in front of him, and allows him to drop to his death.
What’s fascinating about the scene is not really the story of that unsubtle symbolism, but that it’s all about character. Solo is trying to be a father to his son, telling him that he can come home and redeem himself, but to Solo and the audience’s surprise, there’s no going back for this character. As I was discussing this with a friend of mine over text prior to writing this, we talked about how Ren killed off a character like Solo, that there won’t be a sympathetic and triumphant return to being good, like Vader did in Return of the Jedi. This is a character that will continue to become more and more evil, and will ultimately have a tragic but not an unexpected end once this trilogy is over. I can’t wait to see how that demise is portrayed in the next couple of films.
Let’s now dive a little bit into the other new characters of The Force Awakens. The first one we’re introduced to in the film is Poe Dameron, a stoic Resistance fighter pilot with a heart of gold, whose played by Oscar Isaac. Once he’s captured by the First Order in that first sequence, he’s soon rescued by FN-2187, a Stormtrooper gone rogue whose played by John Boyega. I really liked their escape sequence, again because of the character and not the story. If you’ve watched most of the projects that Abrams has been behind, both television and film, you begin to realize a pattern that his stories aren’t all that great, but the characters that inhabit the stories are extremely memorable. Anyways, back to the escape sequence. It works a lot due to the back-and-forth between Poe and that rogue Stormtrooper, who is nicknamed Finn during their escape. I was kind of hoping for a bit of a buddy side-plot between the two before we get introduced to the other story elements in the film, but alas. Finn and Poe get separated from each other for the majority of the film, as Finn finds the ship thinking that his new friend is dead.
One of my many complaints with this new Star Wars film was how underused Oscar Isaac was in this film. He’s been considered to be this generation’s Al Pacino, judging by his performances ranging from the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year (which feels like a film Pacino would’ve done with Sidney Lumet back in the late-70s) and one of 2015’s best films, Ex Machina. I’ve begun to fall in love with Isaac as a performer, but was incredibly disappointed to find out that he’s only in a handful of scenes in the film. Hopefully Rian Johnson will include this potentially awesome character in the next installment in this franchise.
Speaking of new characters, I loved the character of Rey, whose played wonderfully by newcomer Daisy Ridley. My only complaint was that her story and her journey felt extremely rushed in the beginning of this film. We see her scavenging for parts to sell for food to survive on the planet of Jakku, and is all of a sudden thrust into this new adventure with Finn, as the First Order is after him and the droid BB-8, which as the map that leads to where Luke Skywalker is (I’ll get to him in a bit). There’s no room for these characters to fully establish their relationship until the middle of the film, which they use the Falcon and that overlong sequence at the Jabba’s Palace knockoff as a means to grow their relationship. I would’ve liked to see a switch of sorts with the character. While that sequence with Poe and Finn breaking out was fun and exciting, some of that could’ve been cut out in favor to grow Rey as a character more and more, and have the relationship between her and Finn grow as well, so we feel invested with the two as they’re being chased by the First Order.
But I love the character of Rey, who not only looks to be a strong female lead that young girls can look up to, but one that can hold her own and doesn’t need to be the damsel in distress. I love that she has Jedi origins, and I can’t wait to see what the filmmakers can do with the plot element in the later films. I didn’t know a thing about Daisy Ridley till about a few months ago, and she’s already become one of my favorite young actresses that I’ve seen not only this year, but in the past decade. I hope she can escape the Star Wars curse and have a career of her outside the galaxy from a long time ago…
Let’s dive into other things that I wasn’t crazy about with The Force Awakens. Captain Phasma, who is supposed to be this trilogies equivalent to Bobba Fett, is practically a background character. This is primarily disappointing since Gwendoline Christie, an actress best known for her work on Game of Thrones, is wasted in a role that could’ve been a really cool opportunity for a badass female villain, but that wasn’t the case. There’s so many new characters in this film and so much that’s happening that a lot of characters like Phasma and Poe Dameron end up getting underused and forgotten by the time the movie is over. The character of Phasma is expected to return to the franchise, so hopefully that character will be able to grow into her own, along with Poe.
Probably my least favorite part of the film was the middle of it. The film had a strong 40-50 minutes of fast-paced editing and action that kept my interest directly toward the film, and once we got on the Falcon and saw the return of Solo and Chewie, it sadly began to not be as great. There was nothing wrong with the performances by the two, it goes back toward what I was talking about with peers, and that’s the amount of fan service that clouts the picture. While it’s great to see these two beloved characters back, they’re introduced in a way just to have the audience clap for them, acknowledging that they are indeed back. And to no surprise by me, the audience went crazy when Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew appeared on-screen, with Han saying, “Chewie, we’re home”.
There’s nothing wrong with doing things for the fans. One of the reasons why this film worked on so many levels was because Abrams is a fan of Star Wars, and was able to make a Star Wars film that was for the fans and is appreciated by them. My biggest problem with the film is that there isn’t really much in the film that can stand on its own without the looming influence of the original trilogy over this film. It’s a strange blend of both the first Star Wars film and The Empire Strikes Back, a creative choice that has several many pluses and negatives. The blend of light and dark parts in the film works, but my biggest complaint is that the film takes too many notes from those first two films, and there’s not a whole lot of stuff in the film that feels totally original or unique about it. A lot of the imagery we see in the film is stuff that we like is because we’ve seen it all before, and it makes us feel good as an audience. The Falcon’s in there because it’s an iconic piece of film history that registers with audiences, and all of the characters that we’ve seen before that are in this film are there for that exact same reason.
But those characters coming back work, for the most part. As mentioned before, Abrams is incredibly strong when it comes to character, so watching Finn and Rey interact with Han and Chewie is a blast, and helps prevent the film from falling apart during that lackluster middle section. The reason why the middle is so dull is because the story in the film, to be honest with you, isn’t all that great. Yes, the original trilogy was great because of the characters and set pieces, and the same could be said with this film, but those films were original ideas with original imagery that wasn’t just recycled imagery. The Empire 2.0 is looking for Luke Skywalker (the only reason being Kylo Ren’s obsession with Vader) and BB-8 has the missing map that will help lead the Rebel’s 2.0 to his location. Rey gets BB-8 and along with Finn, they go on a mission to find the rightful owner of the droid, fight off the Empire 2.0 (with some casualties along the way), and find Luke, which they do at the very end. Oh, and Han Solo dies, Finn almost dies, Kylo Ren gets a big scar on his face, and Rey is a Jedi now. Got it?
But as you begin to look back on the film, you begin to realize that this film didn’t need a good story, as it’s still a really fun (albeit flawed) film that is one helluva ride without one. As mentioned by other critics, as well as by LucasFilm, Disney, and Abrams in subtle but apparent ways, this film needed to accomplish one thing and one thing only. Make a movie that is far superior to the prequels, and bring Star Wars into the 21st century in the right way. Star Wars as a franchise has been hurting for 16 years, when we were introduced to Jar-Jar, the trade federation, and midichlorians. The public’s opinion of Star Wars has been jaded for quite some time, and Disney’s $4 billion check to George Lucas to buy the rights to the franchise was a hail-mary from both parties to save this franchise from being the butt of jokes on the internet until the end of time. That’s why the film is primarily collected with imagery that’s familiar to us. Lucas tried to do something different with the prequels and failed miserably with it. We needed to be reminded with imagery that is familiar to us, and that’s why the film relies to heavily on the original films. We love those first three films (well, first two for me) and we needed to see that replicated on the big screen once again.
And since Disney’s multi-billion dollar gamble appears to have payed off (the film has reportedly made $240 million at the domestic box office this weekend as of writing), so hopefully the next film will be able to establish itself as something that’s totally unique, original, and different. It could work because there’s a talented filmmaker in Rian Johnson whose making this next film (not some old hack like George Lucas) who has made some of the most original and unique films of the past ten years, as well as directing some of the best television in that time (He directed the best Breaking Bad episode of all time). All Disney needed was a safe, fun and exciting film to get the fans excited again, get general audiences excited for Star Wars, and introduce the franchise to a younger generation whose probably never seen the original trilogy. And in the end of the day, that’s all that really mattered to Disney with this film, and it’s payed off gloriously for them, and payed off in satisfaction for both myself and the audience. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next, because it looks like its going some pretty exciting places next. May the force be with Disney as they continue to make another solid (but hopefully better) Star Wars film.
So that was my extremely wordy analysis/spoiler discussion of The Force Awakens. Did you like the film? Did you love it? I’d love to hear what you thought of it in the comments.