The only Star Wars movies I’ve ever fully sat down and watched were episodes I & II, and I think that was just for a friend’s birthday or something. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the original trilogy, and know most of the major plot points, but I never really got into it. It just always seemed too 70ish for me to really enjoy, though I know they were highly influential and incredibly imaginative movies when they were first presented. I went to watch episode VII with my father as a Christmas present, since he had seen the original three movies when they came out in theatres, and while it was certainly an entertaining two hours, I can’t help but feel that it didn’t really live up to the hype. And I’m not even sure if that’s the movie’s fault, but let’s see what we can find.
Unlike the original trilogy, I found myself actually caring about the protagonists in this story. I liked Rey and Finn, and I think the movie was careful in that respect. Rey is likeable because she is innocent and possesses a strong sense of right and wrong. Despite it being potentially naive and corny, I think we will always love these types of characters, probably because they remind us of how we used to be. Finn also has some of that headstrong good-guy motif going on. Because of their personality traits, and especially after seeing them escape from Han Solo’s freighter together, I found myself rooting for them, and this feeling was noticeably missing from episodes I & II. I just didn’t care about Anakin, and Qui-Gon’s death didn’t really mean anything except a power boost for Obi-Wan. It’s encouraging to see that the writers saw the need to create characters for audiences to actually cheer for.
This also extends to the primary antagonist, Kylo Ren, though they did sort of cheat on this one. Finding out so quick that Ren is Han Solo and Leia’s son immediately made him interesting, as well as the fact that he betrayed Luke and killed his fellow Jedi disciples. I wanted to keep watching because I needed to know why he turned to the dark side. Not only was interesting, but it was also nice to see an attempt made at exploring the villain’s other side, specifically his inner turmoil regarding his decisions to gain more power. Although there were quite a few flaws that will be discussed below, I prefer this type of baddie to someone like Darth Maul. The latter was just someone who looked bad-ass with a dual lightsaber, and while that does have its own intrinsic entertainment value, I much prefer someone with an intriguing backstory.
The visuals were also nice, and yes I purposely chose the word “visuals” instead of CG. Good CG is a given these days, especially for something as high profile as Star Wars. What I mean by “visuals” is the way they chose to present certain sequences, like the Starkiller charging up and firing, and the introductory scene for the X-Wings. These scenes achieved the perfect middle-ground in between epic and impressive, without trying too hard to be either.
I love a good story. A solid plot keeps the audience engaged throughout, while leaving bits and pieces out for the audience to speculate on themselves. This is what lore and world-building is. However, despite the extensive backstory that Star Wars provides, it was annoying that a lot of questions still weren’t answered by movie’s end. How did Ren get Vader’s helmet? Why did Luke go to the Jedi temple? Who is Rey? Why did Finn’s stormtropper indoctrination fail? Although I liked Finn’s character, his introduction is terrible. There was absolutely no reason given as to how Finn was able to suddenly think for himself, and why he chose that exact moment to defect (you could say his deployment on Jakku was his first mission, but he himself states that he has done seen the First Order do many things, which implies he’s been with them for a while).
Another thing that really bugged me was how Rey was able to stand up to Ren in a 1-on-1 lightsaber duel, despite Rey never having held a lightsaber before and Ren being a disciple of both Luke Skywalker and some badass sith. It makes absolutely no sense, especially when Luke himself had to train under Yoda before even considering fighting Vader, and even then he got his hand chopped off. Rey vs Ren was simply ridiculous.
But going back to the first point, the most annoying unanswered question about the film was Kylo Ren’s reason for becoming a bad guy. I imagine a lot of people got hooked on this question, and not finding out the answer was a major letdown. The single worst decision they could make would be to create another trilogy after VII, VIII, and IX, as a prequel to explain Kylo Ren’s backstory, like they did with Anakin. Sounds crazy, right? But it may not be so far-fetched…
The first moment in the film where I realized I was going to be disappointed was when Solo led Rey and Finn into the bar. It was at that moment that I realized I was watching a rehash of episode IV. The formula became so pronounced as the movie went on that it completely turned me off. Kid stuck in desert, robot sidekick carrying vital information, visit the Cantina, important old-man character dies, dog fight between X-Wings and TIE-fighters, lightsaber duel, Death Star explosion, and cut. Why is it Empire vs. Rebels again? And why are the rebels called the Resistance? Didn’t the Republic win at the end of episode VI? If they were so inept as to let the Empire rebuild itself so quickly, then perhaps it might be better for the universe to have the Sith in control. In fact, episode VII was reminiscent of a lot things, and this does not work out in episode VII’s favour.
This is because episode IV did everything better, and most of it was by virtue of doing it first. Robot sidekicks, badass pilot, destruction of super doomsday weapon, been there done that. On top of this, Luke is more sympathetic because his family actually dies, and that’s what spurs him into action, as opposed to Ren who has an empty past, and a stormtrooper with an inexplicable change of heart.
Because episode VII is something we’ve seen before, it just isn’t as impressive, and that’s why I can’t really blame it. The Star Wars legacy carries a heavy burden, but there’s a big difference between a nod of acknowledgement and lazy cut-out.
The scene in Jurassic World with the red flare? That’s a nod, and a very good one. With A Force Awakens, it felt like either the backlash from episodes I-III was so bad that they were too scared to try a brand new story, or they got lazy and decided ripping off A New Hope would be the safe and easy way to make a billion dollars. In any case, it worked on me, but I think it was at the cost of something else. I’m not a fan of Star Wars, but I could’ve been. They also could’ve taken the opportunity to imagine a new story to amaze Star Wars fans with, but instead it was just a rehash that relied heavily on the original to prop itself up. Now that I’ve stated it out loud, I think I can indeed blame the movie.
My thoughts and tone on this movie has shifted due to the writing of this review. Seems like writing down your thoughts really does help in unexpected ways. A Force Awakens is just lazy storytelling, and that’s it.
This has been a gamobo review.