Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens


OK, let’s get the most important part out of the way right off. It does not suck. After waiting about three decades, there is finally a Star Wars film worthy of standing next to the original trilogy.  Continue on for more detail and I’ll try to keep it spoiler free.

Like I lot of people, I went into this movie with a mix of anticipation and worry that I was about to be hoodwinked once again. Yes, George Lucas had moved off to his Scrooge McDuck vault to swim in his money, but JJ Abrams had been responsible for the wretched Star Trek Into The Tulips. Fortunately, these fears proved to be unfounded. There weren’t even all that many lens flares! You don’t even notice them!

This did not happen

The biggest worry was that the movie would be an exercise in nostalgiabation. This was an issue not just with the prequels which felt the need to reveal that Darth Vader is also C3PO’s father (the force was not strong with that one) but also with Into Darkness which seemed almost entirely an exercise in winking to the audience and nudging them in the ribs. Fortunately, The Force Awakens hits just the right mix. Yes, there are some little Easter eggs and shout outs, but they all make sense in the context of the story.

Yes, some of our favorite characters have returned but it isn’t like Crystal Skull where Indy seems pretty much the same but older. A lot has happened to these characters. They’ve evolved and changed. It’s a new chapter in their story not just a repeat of an old one. They aren’t just showing up, doing the same things and repeating a bunch of catchphrases like Arnold in the Terminator movies.

Snakes? Why did it have to be snakes?

Just as importantly the movie is centered around the new characters that will be taking up the baton from the original crew. And none of these characters is a simpering child or a horrible jive talking long-eared frog. The introductions have one issue that peeved me a bit: they don’t use characters’ names. I knew Rey and Finn from the pre-movie hype but it takes forever to actually hear their names in the movie. And I’ve got no idea what Max Von Sydow’s character was called or who he was supposed to be. I know having characters woodenly insert each other’s names into the dialogue is one of those hoary cliches but there is a happy medium between improbable exposition and having the audience spend a half hour trying to figure out who the Hell these people are.

Seriously, who is this guy? He seems familiar.
Seriously, who is this guy? He seems familiar.

That quibble aside, there are two new characters at the heart of the movie: Finn and Rey (who I assume has a last name but I don’t know). John Boyega as Finn has the larger journey having to make several difficult choices along the way. Boyega does a great job showing his evolution from a man who is just trying to save himself to one who stands and fights. Daisy Ridley as Rey Whateverhernameis also does a great job. Her story seems like it still has a ways to go in the upcoming movies.

Run away! Run away!
Run away! Run away!

This movie also gives us the adorable new droid BB8. Unlike the new comic relief character from the prequels (who shall not be named) at no point do you want to hide your face or chew off your arm to escape him. We saw a lot of him in the pre-release hoopla but until you see him onscreen you really can’t appreciate how tiny he is! He’s leeeeeedle!

OK, not quite that tiny.

Also joining the fray is Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac. We don’t learn much about him other than he’s awesome and handsome.

Smoke me a Sith, I'll be back for breakfast.
Smoke me a Sith, I’ll be back for breakfast.

I won’t get into our returning characters because that would get spoilery. You’ll enjoy seeing them but have questions about how they came to be here that won’t all be answered.

Our new bad guys are Darth Snape aka Kylo Ren and his mysterious giant CGI Gollum boss Stimpy err Snoke. Much in keeping with our modern sensibilities, Kylo is constantly taking off his mask and making you ask how he manages to not painfully get his hair caught in it. Isaac’s performance is a bit weak. There are emotional moments that didn’t really work for me largely because i wasn’t getting much from him.

And there are definitely moments that are supposed to be very emotional. They didn’t quite work for me. I, for one, really saw them coming so they just didn’t have as much impact as, say, Ben dying in the original movie. The plot is also fairly weak. If you asked a random person to tell you a plot for a Star Wars movie, most of them would probably give you something close to this plot. But the movie is mostly about the meeting the characters and getting to know what’s going on in the universe. The plot mostly just sets the characters in motion and gives us an excuse for lots and lots of great action.

Not that I'm complaining
Not that I’m complaining

The greatest weakness of the movie is the nature of the baddies. There is no Darth Vader here. None of these bozos really feels like a threat. Kylo Ren keeps taking off his mask and turning into Oscar Wilde. He seemingly always about to cry and probably writing a lot of low-grade poetry about his angst. Great High Commander With Clusters Snoke is a cartoon that looks like an out take from Lord of the Rings. Domhnall Gleeson is suitably evil and scene-chewing as General Hux but at the end of the day, he’s just a guy with no special powers. Also, I’d guess at least half of the people in the audience never got his name. For this movie, the weak villains and paper thin plot were adequate because the real focus was on meeting all the new heroes and finding out the state of the universe. Next time, we will need a higher class of villain to really drive the plot.

Overall, this is a marvelous movie. Maybe not the best of the year, I’d put Fury Road ahead of it, myself, but certainly worth watching over and over.

  • seth_e

    Spot on Apthakid. I think that when the smoke clears this will rank 4th behind the original trilogy, but far ahead of the I-III set.

    Here is my quibble, what was the point of the Captain Phasma character? She could have been completely omitted from the movie without it making a white of difference.
    Also, as for Snoke being giant… is he really giant, or does he just project giant-ness?

  • Aphthakid

    I think Phasma is meant to be the Boba Fett of this movie. I expect her to be back with a more significant role in the next one. And Snoke could totally turn out to be a Wizard of Oz situation where he’s really some little, inoffensive looking thing since he’s apparently very mysterious. As long as it isn’t a Zardoz situation where he turns out to be an almost nude Sean Connery flying around in a giant head. I’m hoping the villains really step up their game in the next one. This one could skate by mostly on introducing the new heroes and updating the general situation, but the next one is going to need a higher class of baddie.