Jason Ward’s Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Beware spoilers.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a perfect movie but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a perfect Star Wars movie. I realize that statement is contradictory, but it really sums up my feeling on this film. Scholars of genre and film might insist that Star Wars is not a genre unto its own, but rather fallS into the “blockbuster” category, but I don’t feel that’s true. I apologize for the lack of articulation on this, but it is more of a feeling than anything. I think J.J. Abrams’ attempt at a Star Wars film was stellar and achieved its goals. I still won’t really know my exact thoughts and feelings on this movie until I’ve lived with it in my family’s home viewing repertoire for an extended period of time. Is this a review? Maybe an early impression.

There is a certain level of cognitive dissonance that occurs upon seeing a Star Wars movie for the first time. There’s so many opportunities for greatness and failure all at the same time. You can look at something and not like it but love the music happening at the very moment or a visual or whatever. There are so many layers to Star Wars films which is why we can enjoy them for so long. The Force Awakens is instantly enjoyable. I’ve seen it a few times now and each time I enjoyed it. In the first week of release, I’m not experiencing any diminishing returns in watching the film a second or third time.

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I love the trio of new leads in this movie. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is instantly heroic and disarmingly cool. John Boyega’s Finn is hilarious, easy to identify with, and has a lot of heart. Our new main hero, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, is a perfect “Luke Skywalker.” The interaction between Rey and Finn and Finn and Poe is right on point. I love the moments like when Poe and Finn break out and decide they’re going to “do this.” There’s a certain camaraderie that clicks instantly and makes you root for them and want to follow them on their adventure. When Rey talks about going home to Jakku, you don’t want her to go; you want her to continue on the journey she is on. I cared about these characters in a way I haven’t cared about characters in Star Wars in a long time. The prequel trilogy (a trilogy I love) was very much about telling the galactic history of the Republic and Darth Vader’s fall and some intimacy was missing. This movie is purely intimate interactions between the characters. I really liked having this dimension of Star Wars back after so long.

In a very short amount of time, Abrams convinces us that Rey is a very solitary person. After we see her act like a grave robber in the Star Destroyer graveyard, we see her slide down a sandy hill, jump on her speeder and then start to scrub her materials for trade. There’s a moment where she looks up at an older woman and no words need to be said. She doesn’t want to become that old woman on Jakku, wasting her life away for the profit of a greedy slob. This film rarely takes a rest, but the subtle moments like Rey cooking her portion were both fascinating and insightful to her plight.

Rey frees BB-8 and her interactions with him were really solid. BB-8 has so much personality. While the design is genius, the filmmakers both managed to make him look excellent and use him in scenes in visually interesting ways. There’s a few moments I really liked such as when Rey and Finn are arguing about a tool she needs to stop a poisonous gas leak, BB-8 rolls over and points to the tool and Finn is able to assist Rey. Not far off from that moment, there’s a time when Finn is pretending to be a part of the Resistance and he basically gives Finn a thumbs up with his blowtorch tool. The film never lets The Force Awakens become the BB-8 show–it doesn’t cut to him unnecessarily, but it treats him with respect as a character, which allows us to love and depend on him, such as we do with R2-D2 in other films.

My biggest problem with the film revolved around the weirdness of the map and R2-D2. There’s a huge puzzle with a piece missing. They put the final piece in and they then know where Luke is. But you would think they could have figured out where that was just based on the piece missing (I’m sure there will be a crazy explanation down the line like it would have taken 1000 years to find him based on that piece of the puzzle). But visually, it could have been more interesting. My other issue is when R2-D2 wakes up. We see Chewbacca mourning, and then BB-8 walks up to R2 and he just wakes up after a long hibernation. Why? The film does not adequately explain that or promise there’s more to the mystery to look forward to.

Kylo Ren is interesting. The dude catches laser beams and holds them in place. No doubt a defensive technique he picked up during his time as a Jedi under the always-defensive Luke Skywalker? His character feels a tad “emo” in the Anakin Skywalker way. When he screams, it even reminds me of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin. He’s almost as if Attack of the Clones Anakin had become Darth Vader in Episode II. There is a moment where he thrashes a console in rage because of his frustration and anger. This dude totally throws controllers when he loses at Street Fighter and I loved it. I loved how scarily calm he could be.

I didn’t love every moment of the film. There’s a moment where Rey figures out how to Jedi Mind Trick a Stormtrooper. The scene felt appropriate for Star Wars Rebels and would have played really well in that environment but it didn’t feel up to the caliber of the rest of the film’s comedy or self discoveries of power and possibility. That said, I just left a screening where it played REALLY well compared to the other showings I have seen and while it didn’t make me happy, I saw it delight audiences tonight, which is proof you can’t please everyone all of the time.

The IMAX sequence of the Falcon flying through the Star Destroyer doesn’t hold my attention. All three times I’ve seen the movie, I find myself zoning out and pondering things that have come before or after. As one of the big moments of the film, it just works out okay for me. I don’t hate it. But I hoped it would have been a highlight and it really wasn’t.

Han Solo was really cool in this movie. It was probably the best goodbye to Han Solo a film could have given us. Harrison Ford’s performance was really cool as the aged Han Solo. I’ve heard people complain that Han Solo’s character regressed and I can’t disagree more. Yeah, Han went back to his old life and refuses to help the new heroes at first. But notice when he helps them this time, there’s no promise of reward. There’s no 17,000 credits to spice up the deal. Han Solo has changed but his life has been profoundly devastated by tragedy and loss. He lost his son and his wife and maybe more we don’t know about yet.

The interactions between Finn and Han were great. I love the comedic moments when Finn says he’s a big deal in the Resistance and Han proceeds then call Finn “Big Deal” for the rest of the film. Or when Finn reveals he wasn’t anything special at the Starkiller Base, but rather in sanitation. Ford and Boyega played well together and it showed. In fact, Boyega played well with everyone in every scene he was in. Casting him was a move of brilliance. But my favorite line in the movie is still Han Solo’s line of “You know you can’t trust those little freaks!” when referring to the Kanjiklub gang.

The Starkiller idea is really fascinating and literal. The Starkiller sucks the energy out of stars and shoots it at a location they want to hit. In this movie they use it on the Hosnian system, where the New Republic is stationed. I never liked the idea that the capital of the galaxy was not on Coruscant and I thought of Lor San Tekka’s words “this will begin to make things right.” I hope so anyways. I found the idea much more interesting than the second Death Star, yet derivative of the original concept. That said, its better than the last superweapon we saw in the previous episode and is a lot of fun.

Maz Kanata is a character that really worked well. Her opening moment where she asks where her boyfriend is was fantastic. I thought she was really fun. I was slightly disappointed by the amount of screen time she ended up having in the end. But the time she did have was important. She almost tacitly acts as Rey’s “Yoda” in this movie and tells her to acknowledge the Force around her, something that comes into play at the very end of the film and allows her to throw down on Kylo Ren straight prison style. It does slightly feel like Maz is being saved for future installments here. Perhaps she will join Luke Skywalker on his journey to rebuild the Jedi into the order they should be?

Maz’s castle was delightful. The statue of herself in front of the place was hilarious. The aliens were cool and even though I have seen the movie a couple of times, I don’t feel like I have had a great look at the players. I also enjoyed the reggae-type music playing inside the joint. While it was destroyed in this movie, I have a feeling Star Wars fans will have a lot of fun stories told to them about the 1000 years plus it was standing.

Maz and Snoke were clearly CGI. They were clearly two of the important players behind the scenes for good and evil. It only added to my resentment of the anti-CGI marketing we’ve had to endure about bullshit like “real deserts.” Speaking of Snoke, he’s interesting. I don’t love him yet. He just reminds me of Voldemort from Harry Potter. The film doesn’t tell us anything about him really. In this film, he really just serves to stand as a promise.

If I have any concerns about Star Wars: The Force Awakens it has to do with the promises it makes and the lack of knowing what those are exactly. What does Snoke really want? What does Kylo actually have to do? What was Luke doing at the first Jedi Temple on the island? Those things are really cool in this movie but ultimately the answers could really suck and if they do, this movie could be diminished by those answers sucking. Rey’s vision is really fascinating though and does tell us a lot. We see Rey fall into the set from Cloud City where Luke fought his father. We hear Luke scream “no” at Vader before attempting to end his life rather than join the dark side. We hear Obi-Wan say “Rey” and young Obi-Wan tell her she’s taking her first steps in a larger world, along with Yoda. What is interesting to me is that we see Rey confront Kylo and his gang. But she’s an adult and then we see her as a child being dropped off on Jakku. It makes me wonder if Rey was dropped off on Jakku by a Kylo Ren, when he was still more Ben than Ren, when he could not kill a child? (The novel has Kylo say something like “it is you!” during their end battle, for what that’s worth.)

Kylo’s struggle is like Luke’s struggle. But the struggle is totally inverted. Luke had to fight the dark side of the Force. Kylo Ren fights the light side of the Force. I love the visual poetry of having the sun near Starkiller Base lose all of its light as Kylo Ren embraces the darkness in himself and does the worst thing possible in murdering his father. I also loved that Han Solo fell into the light at the end. At the end of the film, the heroes win and the sun brings the light back as evil has failed and light has triumphed.

Han died trying to save his son, much like Anakin. The sequence was true. It was heartfelt. It packed an emotional punch and was so much more than a cliched moment of Han driving the Falcon into a reactor or something so dispassionate. Han Solo ultimately died a selfless death when selfishness was something he struggled with his entire life.

The final moments of the duel are such a perfect thing. When Rey takes the saber and holds it in her hands, the audience collectively goes nuts every time. Rey stops denying the power she has access to and she beats Kylo Ren down. I don’t think he’s been challenged by anyone in such a long time he doesn’t see it coming and he gets his ass handed to him. The fight is made better by the fact it is intercut with Poe flying into the Starkiller weapon oscillator and destroying it. The sequence with Poe is highly referential but at the same time the more I watch it, the more I enjoy it. The more things change, the more they stay the same. However, when we cut back to Rey and Kylo’s duel it is hard to not be overcome with childlike excitement as she punishes evil and shows her potential, branding Kylo’s face with a slash.

The end reveal of Luke Skywalker was so good. It was the right ending to the movie. Luke only having one real scene in the movie was the correct way to take this. When Rey presents the saber to Luke the looks on their faces tells a thousand stories worth of interpretation. The audience collectively lost their shit when this moment happened and I can’t think of a better ending to a Star Wars film (save for putting Han in carbonite, but even that isn’t the last thing in the movie). Star Wars: The Force Awakens ends with a crescendo and a damn powerful one.

I could write for days about this movie and I will no doubt revisit several aspects of this film on this blog while covering Star Wars: Rogue One and Star Wars: Episode VIII news in the future. Right now, I feel like Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi when the cruiser goes down and the Rebels are about to win and he slumps back in his chair. We made it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it was brilliant. Star Wars without George Lucas was brilliant once. That gives us hope. I have faith it will be brilliant again but if it doesn’t, it has been proven it can be and that means so much to me. I have loved every Star Wars movie, warts and all, but this movie barely has anything I’d classify as a wart really.

If I believed a 10 was achievable I would give this movie a 10. But I do not believe anything is perfect and will never give anything a 10.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a strong 9 from me. I have a feeling I will continue to enjoy this movie for the rest of my life. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and the team at Lucasfilm/Bad Robot made something really special and I’m grateful for their love and care to a saga we all love so much. I cannot wait for Star Wars: Episode VIII! 

 

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