Saturday, October 8, 2016

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've never liked Star Wars. I say this because Star Wars should totally be my jam; it has the kind of expansive yet detailed setting I adore and its basic story, of watching an empire bursting with corruption fall and then the eventual fight against what has replaced it, is the kind of ambitious idea that I like! But at its heart, the earlier Star Wars films are horribly simple plot-wise and the newer ones needed a lot of editing (I've never dabbled in the extended universe but a lot of what I've heard about it does sound interesting).

So I wasn't interested in this new film, clearly this wasn't for me! But it wasn't until after the film was leaving theaters that I started hearing that actually, this was a really solid story and could appeal to the few folks like me who didn't already love Star Wars. So, it was time to wait until the library got it's DVDs and then see if I should start paying attention to Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (episode 7)

Even though Darth Vader and the Sith were overthrown decades earlier, the galaxy still doesn't know peace. The First Order, lead by Kylo Ren, has arisen and wishes to mimic Vader in all of his glory and the old resistance finds themselves in a seemingly endless fight against these forces of darkness. But after a series of chance encounters between a pilot, a storm trooper who questions his position, and a scavenger on a desert world, there is more hope than there was just a few days earlier. 

One thing this movie made me realize is that, although Star Wars is super iconic I've never seen another movie come even close do successfully mimicking the visuals. Which is funny since usually people rip off imagery left and right but I've never seen a good reproduction of even Star Wars's most iconic shot, people looking out into the galaxies of stars and while standing in a very lonely place. And I realized that a I like a lot of those visual as well, they feel grand and dramatic yet not overly serious, just the right amount of seriousness for the story, 

I quite honestly connected with this movie rather quickly in practically the first scenes. Resistance fighter pilot Poe has been captured by the First Order and as he and Kylo Ren stare each other down he quips "so, do you talk first or do I?" which was almost exactly what my own internal commentary had been saying. It's a small moment but it signaled to me that hey, these characters actually think like me, which isn't a moment I get very often in media. This would continue coming up for me with how both Finn and Rey are primarily motivated by survival first but are also genuinely good people and will try to do the right thing if they can, "okay we're gonna get out of here but we're also going to do this at the same time" types of actions. Usually characters fall more into one or the other of these categories, that they are either jaded and pragmatic or are internally motivated to do good even at the risk of personal harm, and it's always been a mystery to me why I don't come across many characters who straddle that divide. Sure that's one of the paths you can put a character on to develop them (going from more pragmatic to more selfless) but this mindset is clearly visible in both Rey and Finn from their first scenes and they're both clever to boot. With Luke in the original series we had someone who was more drawn into the adventure by the idea of adventure, here it makes more sense to me that Rey and Finn would end up in a larger struggle given how much it aligns with their personalities.

Not that the story's larger conflict doesn't have some problems, it suffers from a classic "things were okay in an uneasy peace sort of way but now that you, main character who is still insignificant in the grand scheme of things, have entered the picture, all hell is breaking loose!" This is far from just a Star Wars problem but when it looks like the mere presence of the characters is inspiring the destruction of planets it does feel cheesy-ily over the top. There's also the usual trouble with the story choosing to ignore both science and common sense when it chooses (if you take a star out of a solar system then you're gonna be in trouble when the gravity keeping everything in orbit vanishes...) but I'll admit I fully expected both of these problems.

I honestly knew about most of the things in this movie before I saw it, which isn't surprising given how I saw it half a year after it came out. I do wish I had been able to remain more unspoiled however, there are some moments in the film which would have been really impactful if I wasn't already prepared for them. My grumbles with some of the details aside, I did truly like this movie and thought it had a respectable plot and really great characters. I am amazed by one thing I heard in the interim between when this movie came out and when I saw it which was that of all of the new main characters introduced, initially only Kylo Ren was supposed to return in later films. It's not surprising that they would bring the villain back into other installments, and I can see what the writers were going for with their first idea to get rid of Poe early on, but I'm surprised that they were surprised at how popular Finn and Rey are. The film does a few things to try and sideline the characters at the very end, pushing them out of the way so they don't have to return, but the idea of following these two very heroic characters who drive the entire film for the entire film and not bringing them back seems weird! The first two trilogies were very heavily focused around their own main characters and that's the kind of writing convention I don't mind because continuing to follow characters the audience has an emotional connection to just makes sense. I do suspect Finn and Rey will return as still fairly important characters in the next two films and I really hope they do, not bringing them back would be another bad choice in a film series which makes a lot of those.


  1. What bewilders me is what exactly was Lucasfilm planning to do if audiences didn't warm up to Rey and Finn? Focus on Kylo's desertion and redemption? We're given two compelling characters to kick off the new trilogy and we have to accept they were disposable. We're also given too little about these characters.

    I agree with the Red Letter Media review that Finn's characterization is all over the place. We first find him disillusioned and shaking off trauma, then after the escape from Jakku he starts talking like a Joss Whedon character. I felt that he got over his conditioning too quickly in order to move the story along. In Mad Max: Fury Road, Nux develops over the course of the movie and it feels believable. During the second act, Finn starts to take a back seat to Han and Chewy and his confrontation with Phasma should've gone much differently. To echo the Red Letter Media review, too much effort went into making the new characters likeable.

    I am curious about the mystery surrounding Rey, but the movie really wants us to care about her lineage. I have a feeling that mystery won't pay off if she really was a disposable heroine. I think it shows an ugly side of fandom and big tentpole filmmaking when Lucasfilm is prepared to alter the course of a trilogy because the new faces weren't popular. If you kowtow to fan reactions it shows these movies are just made for profit and not commitment to a narrative.

    1. I didn't think that Kylo Ren was that interesting a character honestly, or at least not one that I would stake an entire trilogy on which yeah, just adds to the bizarreness!
      I didn't feel like FInn shook off his training too quickly but I also felt like he probably hadn't been a model stormtrooper before, aka what we saw wasn't his entire journey to becoming independent but a later part of it. Or maybe I've seen too many fan headcanons about other stormtroopers wanting to desert, they do influence your mind if you see enough of them. @_@

    2. There is an interesting theory that Finn's Force-sensitivity shielded him from conforming! Still, I would've appreciated a scene or two of him interacting with other stormies and how isolated he might've felt.

      Why does the battle between Finn and FN-2199 on Takodana feel so weightless? There should've been some indication that Finn knew him and some remorse at his death. I like Finn because he humanizes the stormtroopers, but some of his scenes are too rushed.