on The Force Awakens (major spoilers)

I want to discuss the entire movie, but I also recognize (and seriously appreciate) the internet’s commitment to avoiding discussing spoilers. I won’t be the one to ruin that, so all my spoilerriffic comments are below this cut.

To add a fourth hand to my non-spoiler post, there are some bits of Star Wars that it was kind of IMPORTANT stayed exactly the same. The title crawl is there; the movie starts with a scene involving a Star Destroyer, there’s a Wilhelm scream (not so much a Star Wars cliche, but I understand the original trilogy helped bring it back from obscurity to where it is now), someone says “I have a bad feeling about this”, and there’s a bottomless pit to fall down.

What I’m most impressed with is the characterization of the movie. Finn’s personality gels almost immediately in his first exchange with Poe Dameron (“We’re doing this?”) and John Boyega’s performance is consistently amazing from there as a guy way in over his head. The movie takes (and perhaps needs) a bit longer to establish Rey’s surroundings and personality, but it’s nevertheless done, and her character arc is what drives the whole movie. (and once again, we have a female character who repeatedly saves her own damn self.) We even see glimmers of personalities amongst the resistance’s individual X-wing pilots, which is something the original trilogy never did. Harrison Ford is in top form as Han Solo (despite the senile uncle persona he’s been adopting for the press tour), and yet he manages to not overshadow Finn and Rey. Poe Dameron may well be a better Han Solo than Han Solo, he’s got all the charisma and roguish charm, but he’s more responsible (he’s the top Resistance pilot) and he’s further toward the manly side of the manly/macho spectrum – Poe congratulates Finn for completing his super-important mission without him, but Han Solo doesn’t thank Rey when she manages to bypass the compressor and save their butts in hyperspace. And then there’s Chewbacca, who gets more to do in this movie than he did in all of the original trilogy combined. I never realized he wasn’t an actual character until this movie, where he finally becomes one.

The one thing I DON’T like much is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. Not because of the characterization, but because he’s presented as the main villain, and he’s just not imposing enough to fill Darth Vader’s boots. His rage (manifest when he lightsabers the heck out of two rooms) is so close to the surface that it’s hard to take him as a threat: Just trick him into destroying himself (while standing far back). Darth Vader didn’t deal with failure well either, but we were never invited to laugh at him like we are when the two stormtroopers decide to turn around and walk away.

It’s clear, though, that this is an intentional choice: within the movie itself, Kylo Ren is an immature and unfocused young adult, who is afraid he’ll never be as powerful as Darth Vader. It’s also clear that Leader Snoke IS manipulating him like a cheap, discardable puppet. It’s a believable character, but that means Snoke is the one who should be filling the spot of “Big Bad” and he’s not in the movie enough. I was more impressed with Dominhall Gleeson’s General Hux, the wide-eyed fascist fanatic, who does generally seem to be Kylo Ren’s superior, much as Grand Moff Tarkin was Vader’s superior in A New Hope. Keeping them both around for the next movie is a smart choice, then, because that dynamic was an interesting one…

Other thoughts:

Carrie Fisher’s General Leia immediately made me think “Captain Janeway?”

Han and Chewie have been together for what, 40 years, and Han has NEVER tried Chewie’s Bowcaster before?

What, exactly, were they not supposed to stare at in Maz Kanata’s place?

Kylo Ren’s general immaturity and inexperience pretty much explains his triple-bladed lightsaber, which (as Stephen Colbert pointed out) has some serious design flaws. This is not a guy who thinks things through.

Starkiller base eats stars to power itself… but the first time it’s fired, the assembled crowd is standing in daylight. Did they power it some other way? Did they eat one of a binary system? Did they eat a star and then move to another star system?

Destroying the Hosnian system, someplace we’ve never been (unless Coruscant was in that system), populated with people we’ve never met, really blunts the emotional impact. Then again, if they’d blown up Tatooine, it would have been horrific and put a serious damper on the fun of the movie.

Running away from his problems does not seem like something Luke Skywalker would do. I hope there’s a good reason for it.

I love BB-8. It’s cute because of what it is, not what it does… which is the main problem with some of the other attempts to be cute that Star Wars has tried over the years.

These stormtroopers are (at last) allowed to be devastatingly competent. They’re also still cannon fodder, but what can you do?

For someone who decided he Would Not Kill for the First Order, Finn is pretty immediately willing to kill Stormtroopers. Surely some of them were his friends? The one with the electric chainsaw clearly recognizes him. I hope future movies explore that.

On the one hand, we got a much more believable Death Star attack than in A New Hope (I still don’t understand how/why the proton torpedo made that 90 degree turn) AND YET we also got to fly through another trench. And the interiors of two different Star Destroyers, one of which looked like the Death Star II. I do kind of wish they’d kept the Starkiller around to hang over everyone’s heads, though, rather than blow up yet another superweapon so quickly.

My wife and I agree, they killed Han too soon. I know Harrison Ford doesn’t want to do more Star Wars, but… it seems like they missed all kinds of opportunities.

I like that Kylo Ren claim that “Ben Solo is dead, he was weak and I destroyed him” because it echoes Obi-Wan’s claim that “Darth Vader killed your father” in A New Hope. That makes it a common, if misleading way to refer to going over to the Dark Side, rather than a bizarre lie on Obi-Wan’s part.

On the astronomy line of things, they’ve repeated that stupid Kessel Run line that’s convinced generations of people that parsec is a unit of time. That means I can no longer claim that Han Solo was just making up impressive sounding gibberish in A New Hope. Hopefully this means the Extended Universe explanation of the Kessel Run is canon. They also had Maz Kanata’s planet close enough to the Hosnian system to SEE the individual planets blowing up? They have to be a moon of the same planet, or at least in the same star system! It’s the same problem I have in Star Trek (2009) where Spock can see Vulcan implode from a vantage point on Delta Vega, which is apparently not supposed to be a moon of Vulcan. At least the dense asteroid field is a planetary ring system this time.

I really, really hope Rey is not related to the Skywalkers. Making everyone a relative of everyone else we already know contracts the scope of the movies, and was one of the more annoying things about the Prequels. I don’t think she is, because a.) she thinks Luke Skywalker was a myth but seems to remember her parents, b.) Han and Leia are quite forthcoming that Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is their son, but don’t mention that the woman standing in front of them is their daughter/niece? c.) Yes, Rey’s helmet has the same logo as Luke’s, but so does Poe Dameron’s. d.) When Luke’s theme is used in the soundtrack, it seems to be linked to Luke’s lightsaber. Or Luke himself, in the final scenes. Rey’s theme is entirely different from everyone else.

Other Media Reviews: Interstellar, The Martian, The Force Awakens (no spoilers)

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. What did you think about Han & Leia naming their child Ben, an individual who really had no hand in them at all? Leia never knew him, and Han knew him for 10 minutes, it seemed. Yes, he helped Luke, but enough to name their only son after him? Wouldn’t a better name have been something like Bail Solo?

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    1. I didn’t give it much thought, but yeah… maybe they hoped it would inspire the kid to look to Ben more than Anakin for granfather-figures? I figured it was just another callback to the original trilogy. Apparently, Harrison Ford actually has a son named Ben; they may have decided that potential was too cute to ignore.

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  2. I also had very little sympathy for Kylo Ren’s emo teenager persona (Tumblr seems to love him like Loki but in this case I just don’t get it). Of all the character arcs, his made the least sense – how did no one mention Vader’s redemption? Why does he *want* to go to the dark side? Previous falls have been motivated by hunger for power or trying to protect a loved one.

    I see your argument about Rey’s parentage story-wise, but I still think/hope she’s Leia’s daughter. Part is this is based on some EU books I read in HS, part of it is wanting a Skywalker woman to get to be a Jedi for once.

    Speaking of the starkiller plot hole, eating two stars in a binary makes sense in terms of the light and timing – the time lapse between the two firings was really short if they also have to change star systems, so getting a source for multiple firings close together makes sense.

    Do you have any thoughts on Snoke’s identity? Do you think he’s a brand new super villain or somebody we’ve seen before?

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