The Force Awakens – DEKKA129’s Review
Now that The Force Awakens has been out for a couple of weeks and most of you have undoubtedly seen it (perhaps even multiple times), I’ve taken the general “first impressions” notes that I jotted down on Opening Day and built a nice, spoiler-ey review around it. Read on for my take on TFA…
The Force Awakens… WOW!!
Okay, okay, let me expand on that just a wee bit, shall I?
I liked The Force Awakens very much, though my Opening Day viewing was all such a whirlwind for me (not just visually, but emotionally) that I need to see it again to really digest it. I did, however, blast my way through Alan Dean Foster’s TFA novelization not long after seeing the movie, which helped to solidify the story in my blissfully overwhelmed ol’ brain – so I think I can jot down a few reasonably lucid thoughts for you all.
First of all, I do have to say that I missed that Pavlovian response I’ve always had (and that I assume most of you have also had) to the 20th Century Fox fanfare as the lights go down at the beginning of a new Star Wars film. The Fox fanfare was almost like an invocation, bringing us all together into that old familiar space and raising the hair on our arms in preparation for that wonderful moment of silence that enveloped “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
No more. And it did throw me just a bit.
However, I appreciated the fact that they did not try to replace it with anything. The lights went down, and there we were in that moment of silence. I think it’s very fitting indeed, and we’ll all grow used to it in the coming years.
Now, about the movie itself. It all went by very, very quickly and I must admit that I walked out of the theater having a bit of a flashback/deja vu of walking out of the theater after The Phantom Menace. In both cases, I was so stunned that I honestly didn’t know what I thought of the movie I’d just seen. However, where TFA was concerned, my feeling of “What WAS that?!” wasn’t accompanied by the sinking feeling in my gut that I had after Phantom Menace. Instead, my first remark to my girlfriend as we walked down the street after seeing TFA was, “That was a STRANGE story!”
And it IS a strange story. On the one hand, The Force Awakens is very similar to A New Hope, to the point where it’s caught some flak for being too derivative of the original 1977 film. Vital data hidden in a droid who’s set loose on a desert planet; a new “Death Star” type superweapon; a reggae-tinged take-off on the classic cantina scene; a desert-dwelling nobody who ends up being the key to the future of the galaxy… the parallels are there, and deliberately so. What’s also there, of course, is a lot of very Star Wars-ey humor and a sense of fun that runs throughout the entire movie. The action is fast-paced and the characters engaging. So, if there was to be a “reboot” of the original Star Wars, this captured a lot of what we loved (or at least what I loved) about ANH.
On the other hand, though, TFA is also a much darker, more sinister movie than ANH was: Finn’s stormtrooper helmet smeared with the bloody handprint of his fallen comrade; Poe being tortured by Kylo Ren; First Order troops executing an entire village and burning the place to the ground; Kylo Ren committing patricide… and yet, beyond the obvious “dark” elements onscreen, there was something even more unsettling. Whatever Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren are up to (and I’m not entirely convinced that they’re both working toward the same goal) I get the sense that it is something more than simple galactic domination. As evil as Emperor Palpatine was, he basically just wanted to rule the galaxy. It feels like Snoke is playing at something even more twisted than that.
So, what of the players? The new cast is straight-up fantastic. In my opinion, the casting on this film was far, far better than I had ever hoped it might be. I thought immediately that John and Daisy nailed it, and now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think Adam did too. There are scenes I keep revisiting in my head, and more and more of them involve Kylo Ren. He’s… understated in a weird way (weird because he is NOT a subtle character for most of the film.)
John and Daisy have solid on-screen chemistry as Rey and Finn. No question about that. And really, so do John and Oscar (Poe Dameron.) But then, there’s also this brilliant adversarial relationship that develops between Rey and Kylo Ren, first when Rey resists Kylo’s attempts to wrest the star map from her mind (and ends up penetrating Kylo’s mind instead), and then when the two of them face off with lightsabers at the climax of the film. Mirroring Darth Vader’s attempts to turn Luke to the dark side in the original trilogy, Kylo Ren offers to train Rey in the ways of the dark side. What struck me was that Rey not only refused to be baited, but for a very brief moment before the earthquake physically separated them, it almost looked as though Rey was going to embrace the dark side and kill Kylo out of pure rage. I suspect we’ll see more of this in Episode VIII and IX, but given the fact that the sequel trilogy is reportedly a lot more focused on shades of grey, I also wonder if Rey might eventually end up somehow mastering both the dark and light sides of the Force.
When she holds out Luke’s lightsaber to him at the end of the movie, though, she’s all light and hope. And when we finally see Luke Skywalker turn and pull back his cowl, Mark Hamill shows so much in a single glance. As a fan, of course, I’m aware that I was reading an awful lot into that look, but still I saw loss, weariness, loneliness, guilt… and yet, also a faint reflection of the light and hope that Rey projected.
Carrie Fisher was excellent in her return as Leia. Older, of course, but still as strong-willed as ever. And… those eyes! She gives some looks in this movie that are RIGHT out of the original films. At the same time, you can also see the jaded optimism of somebody who has been fighting the same war for almost her entire life, and who knows that she’ll probably continue to fight it for her remaining years, but who also still sees the possibility of light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. Carrie is still Leia, and Leia is still the rock that she always was.
And then there’s Harrison Ford. I can’t say enough about his return as Han Solo. In short, Han is back, and it’s fascinating to see the person he’s become over the past 30 years. Familiar, yet… more. The passage of time isn’t merely apparent in his grizzled old face. There are also times throughout the movie when Harrison very accurately portrays the weight of all those years and all those experiences since we last saw Han on Endor. Han is still a cocky smartass, and is still an unbelievably gifted pilot. but like the others he’s seen far too much to still be what he was when we first met him in the original 1977 film, or even what he was when we last saw him at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Oh, and I know that when the teasers started coming out, I fretted more than a little bit in the Cantina forums and in the blog comments about BB-8 and the “cute factor” that I was afraid might weigh the movie down. Well, the little guy is cute, but not nauseatingly so as I’d feared he might be. Jar Jar Binks, he ain’t. He really fit the tone of the film, and I found myself enjoying the heck out of him. (That he began reminding me of my pet turtle after awhile certainly helped me connect with him!)
Now, to dive a bit more deeply into spoiler territory (though after two weeks in theaters, do any of the plot points still technically qualify as “spoilers”?) I can’t in good conscience review TFA without talking about the moment we’ve anticipated (and dreaded) for a long, long time. Let’s face it – whether it happened in TFA or not, Han Solo was bound to die in the sequel trilogy. And though I didn’t know for sure that he would die in TFA, I still saw it coming from a mile away. His final scene with Leia was exactly the blend of awkwardness and heartfelt honesty that it needed to be, but it was pretty obvious that this was their final goodbye. And of course, the second Han walked out onto that bridge and called his son’s name, I think we all knew what was coming.
And yet, it still knocked me sideways. So much so that I didn’t really find myself getting choked up until I saw Chewie sitting alone in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. But the bottom line was, Han died a good death. It wasn’t an act of sacrifice on behalf of the galaxy, as it would have been had he and Chewie flown the Falcon into the heart of the Starkiller Base with a classic Solo war cry. Han’s sacrifice ended up being far more personal – for the sake of his son. And even after his son ran him through with his lightsaber, Han’s final act before he died was to reach out and touch Ben’s face – a gesture that I suspect may stick with Ben no matter how far he falls into his “Kylo Ren” persona.
Then, of course, there’s Luke. We now know that the reason we never saw him in any of the trailers was that he had only one scene at the very end of the film. He is still very much a mystery to us, as far as who he’s become since the end of Return of the Jedi. We have some idea of what happened to him – he tried to train a new generation of Jedi before Han and Leia’s son betrayed him and slaughtered all of Luke’s apprentices, after which Luke retreated from the galaxy and hid himself away on a remote planet. What we don’t yet know is, who is Luke Skywalker now? How does he view himself? Is he planning to spend the rest of his life in hiding, or is he waiting for something? That he left a map behind would seem to indicate that he wanted somebody to eventually find him, but at this point we just don’t know.
And there’s another thing that really worked for me about TFA. It left us with quite a few things that we “just don’t know”, and did so in such a way that I can’t wait to find out as Episodes 8 and 9 crack those little mysteries for us. The prequel films had some little mysteries of their own, but whether it was because we all basically knew how Anakin’s story had to end up or because they just weren’t great movies (in my own case, I suspect it was a bit of both) I just didn’t find myself as compelled to see what happened next as I am with TFA and the sequel trilogy overall. Who are Rey’s parents and why did they leave her on Jakku? What is the future of the Resistance going to look like, now that the Republic’s capital world (along with the Senate and the Republic fleet) have been destroyed? And who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and what’s he really playing at?
The bottom line for me is, J.J. Abrams and company have done a tremendous job in creating something that is reminiscent of the original films, while also being very much its own animal. Sure, it’s got its imperfections, but overall I think The Force Awakens is a very worthy first step into the new generation of Star Wars films.
Imperfections, you ask? Whatever do you mean? Well, bearing in mind that I was almost completely unspoiled for the film and that I really do need a second viewing to absorb everything properly, here are a couple things I noticed.
First of all, some of the plot development felt to me like a fingernail that was cut a bit too close to the quick. Assuming that it wasn’t just my own perception, I have two theories as to why this may have been.
It often seemed like a three-hour movie that had been cut down to 2 hours and 15 minutes, and as we now know, the original cut of the film was indeed about 2 hours and 40 minutes. There were moments when things in the movie either felt unexplained or a bit too tightly edited. Pacing in TFA is fast. Very fast. And there were times when I had an image of the film as though it were running down a steep hill just a little bit too fast and ALMOST stumbling.
But here’s my second thought: I wonder if perhaps J.J. was making a deliberate point of avoiding exposition. One frequently expressed gripe about the Star Wars prequels was that too often the plot got bogged down in excessively long and overly frequent scenes of characters standing in a room (or on a landing platform) talking. And talking and talking. And then talking some more. In TFA, it almost seems as though J.J. tried to avoid this problem altogether. If so, it mostly works, but there also seemed to be times when it felt almost as though J.J. was trying to remove ALL exposition from his film. I’m sure it won’t feel quite so much like this once I’ve seen it a few times, but I admit to having had a few moments where I thought, “Hey, how’d they get THERE? How did they know THAT?”
I also felt like there was a bit too much of the modern-day “hand-held camera” style to many of the ship battle scenes. Then again, I felt that way about the very first shot we ever saw of the Falcon in the first TFA teaser over a year ago, so this wasn’t a shocker to me. And though I find the “shakey-cam” gimmick to be the bane of modern cinematography, for the most part the starfighter battles were EXACTLY what the doctor ordered.
I will also say, I had a few of the plot points worked out quite awhile before they played out onscreen. But then again, I’m also just kinda one of those friggin’ wise-asses who spot that stuff and TRY not to say anything to the folks I’m seeing the flick with. So this is another one that may mostly be on me. ;^)
But really, I think the rough points were few and far between. I had a blast with my first viewing of TFA, and I hope that most of you did too. How will it hold up to repeated viewings? Time will tell, but I think it’ll continue to be a fun watch for a long time to come. The new cast is going to carry this trilogy VERY well indeed, and the returning cast members… I’m SO glad they chose to be a part of this. They really pull it all together in a way that connects TFA to what went before without simply being a straight rehash of the Original Trilogy films (though it is also that at times).
I really want to go right back out and see TFA again. The first viewing was a roller coaster ride, as it should be. The novelization cinched it for me that I genuinely do like this story. Now it’s time to go back to the theater for another round, where I can sit back and watch TFA unfold as the increasingly familiar new friend that I feel it to be.
Star Wars is back. This much I can say without reservation. The visual spectacle, the drama, and the FUN are all right there, and they have me feeling like I’m about ten years old again. And that, of course, is the whole point of it all. We all love that place within ourselves, and The Force Awakens took me right there, right off the bat.
And that’s exactly what I needed it to do!