Finally got to see The Force Awakens, and I really enjoyed it. From the moment Jar Jar Binks unhoods himself to reveal a grizzled face and says “Meesa back” while looking directly at the camera, I knew I was in for a great time… Joking aside, this was a film that really wanted to let me know I was in good hands from the start. It was well-acted, had fun action sequences, and best of all, it had energy to it. The people in this film actually looked like they were having fun, and the series’ hugely missed banter is back with a vengeance. The biggest strength to this movie is what has always been Star Wars‘s greatest asset, and that’s in the characters and the connections they have with each other. The new characters in this film are all well realized and completely distinct in the face of other things that have appeared before in the franchise (although the same can’t be said about the film’s plot). My belief before watching it was that if they could just nail the characters, the rest would be gravy, and thankfully the film did that and more.
The 3 Main New Characters
Up until the concluding duel with Kylo Ren, this could very much be watched as Finn’s movie. As an Ex-Stormtrooper that deserted the First Order (the remnants of the fallen Empire), he establishes connections with all the major characters in the film, including a fun but underutilized bromance with the galaxy’s resident ace pilot, Poe Dameron. He combines his knowledge of the First Order with his natural sense of duty to help people, even if all he really wants to do is stay away from conflict. John Boyega’s performance elevates Finn’s charisma to the point where some of his more questionable actions can be forgiven. For example, he infiltrates the aptly named Starkiller base with no solid plan for lowering its shields (and the plan they do end up coming up with was a tad too convenient), but this plays as more of a comedic moment. The main strength to this character is his instant and wide-ranging chemistries with the other members of the cast. His banter with Han Solo in particular was a highlight. In terms of flaws, I’d say his character was a bit too well adjusted for someone that spent his whole life being raised to kill, and his character ends up Shia LaBeouf-ing a little too much for my liking, especially during Rey’s abduction. Also, he falls into that Hollywood trap of being a black character that reacts to way too many things with a “WOOO!”, I mean, it’s fine maybe once or twice, but they definitely push it in this film. With all that said though, I still find him to be the strongest hero of the movie and definitely one of the better audience surrogates in films.
The mysterious Rey (played wonderfully by Daisy Ridley) comes into her own in a big way during the latter half of the film. She’s a scavenger from a nowhere planet that is preternaturally skilled at nearly everything she does. She pilots, engineers, fights, and uses the force like a pro despite technically being a novice at most of these things, and while some on the internet will use this as a basis to call her a “Mary-Sue” (sort of a wish fulfillment “perfect” character that often exists in fan-fiction), I would say these skills add to her mystique. The film makes a special point about how little she needs help, which makes the decision to have her train with Luke at the end a bit confusing but rife with possibilities. Rey is the enigma in this movie, someone who is obviously a genius but with some personal issues revolving around her past that need to be overcome before she can reach her potential, which positions her as a great foil to Kylo Ren, the film’s antagonist. My issues with her come from speculation, my assumption that she is Luke’s daughter and another “chosen one”, which would feel a bit redundant. Like the film itself, Rey’s merit as a character will depend on where she goes from here and if she will live up to her potential.
Kylo Ren was my favourite character in this film, mainly because of the cleverness to his conceit. When the writers for this movie were thinking of a new main villain for Star Wars, they had to create this person under the enormous shadow that Darth Vader cast. The question they had here was “How does one top Vader”, and instead of answering it with a “bigger bad”, they created a villain who was facing the very same turmoil the writers were likely facing: How does one live up to one of the greatest villains in the galaxy? The son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, Kylo Ren turned to the dark side and destroyed Luke’s incipient efforts to revive the Jedi, and he cast away his old identity as Ben Solo to be a superficially potent nemesis. He wears a mask and seems intimidating, but one can tell between his temper tantrums and hesitation that his heart isn’t truly up for the role as the villain due to his heroic roots. So he “overcomes” his past by murdering his own father in what was the most effective scene in the film. Just like Rey is beginning to overcome her past to become a hero, it seems Kylo Ren is severing his connection with his past to live up to the villainous legacy his grandfather set. If I could describe Adam Driver’s performance in just three words it would be “Anakin Done Right”. The only issue I really have with his character was the lame explanation for his fall to the dark side, with Han theorizing it was “the Vader in him”, when it clearly stemmed from some sense of inadequacy. Hopefully this gets elaborated in the next films.
General Strengths to the Film:
- The music in this movie was fantastic. Unsurprisingly, my personal favourite track was Kylo Ren’s theme, since you can understand so much about his character in just listening to it.
- Chewie and Han back in action! I actually found these two to be at their best in this film, especially Chewbacca who I really disliked in the previous Star Wars movies. They didn’t just trot these guys out for fanservice, they both had an emotional arc here that ended pretty tragically.
- The comedic chemistry between the romantic leads Finn and Rey was surprisingly great. I mean, there’s obviously some love brewing there, but the main reason I liked these two together was because of how humourously they played off each other. Even with just the physical comedy, like how Finn would use her head as footing to reach somewhere above him was funny, because it plays off of his lack of social etiquette and understanding of boundaries, and her only recently dealing with the troubles of being around other people after being isolated so long. As much as I love Han Solo, I would have liked to see more screen time of just these two trekking across the galaxy together.
General Weaknesses to the Film
- Snoke, the new “Emperor” (or Supreme Leader) is awful right now. Whatever thought and effort that went into creating Kylo Ren clearly didn’t go here because Snoke is just another Palpatine, except with a stupider name and none of his presence. We know basically nothing about him, but everything about his scenes suggest he’s just another dark manipulator in the shadows looking to take advantage of a naive soul for his own personal goals. He’s so basic and obvious that even Han points this out to his son right before getting killed by him. I hope there’s more to this character, because as of now he is very disappointing.
- The politics of this film don’t seem to be clear. There’s a heroic “Resistance” battling the evil “First Order”, and their relationship to the newly established Republic isn’t clarified at all. The name “Resistance” implies that they’re going against an established “Order”, but isn’t the Empire no longer in power? I found this all to be very confusing, and if you do too, read this article to clear it up. It really helped me.
- The film is extremely reminiscent of A New Hope, lifting a huge amount of plot elements directly from that film. This is the most commonly held criticism against this movie, but I’m willing to hold off judgement until the other parts of the trilogy are released. If the next one copies The Empire Strikes Back, then we’d have a serious problem, but as of now this just seems like a way to revisit old beats in a fresh way to reacclimate the audience. And ya, even if the Starkiller base is basically a “super” Death Star, it was still a fun weapon. The way it literally devours light to be used as a means to destroy planets is devilishly creative and cool to see.
Those were my thoughts on The Force Awakens. If you want to see what I thought of the other Star Wars films (excluding Episodes I-II), click here. If I were to rank this one, I’d put it about on par with Episode IV personally. It doesn’t stand on it’s own quite as well, but it’s brimming with even more possibility.
Quote of the Day:
“Guys, what if the movie sucks?”