Now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for a few weeks, and I’ve taken some time off around the holidays, I thought I would add to the ever-growing list of masses who feel compelled to wax on the merits and faults of the latest entry into the Star Wars pantheon. Something you will not find in this post are any new theories or thoughts on the multitude of fan theories that continue to clutter up my Facebook and Twitter feeds. This is merely my opinion of the film now that I’ve seen it a couple of times.
First of all, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a terrifically entertaining film.
We can quibble all we want about how it’s essentially a remake of Episode IV and the lack of originality in the storytelling. The fact remains that most of the people who have seen it have walked out of the theater having felt massively entertained, and when it comes right down to it, that should be the number one goal of any film. Movies have always been primarily about entertainment, and many people, myself included, will be happy to look past holes in the story so long as the film is entertaining. All you need to do is look at the list of all time box office leaders, especially films on that list from the last decade or two, and most of them are films with either a lot of action or a lot of comedy or both. But what they all have is high entertainment value. That doesn’t necessarily make them the best films of all time, but people want to be entertained when they go to the movie theater an they’re more likely to pay money for multiple viewings if seeing the film is a fun and entertaining experience. The Force Awakens fits the bill on both accounts.
Yes, there are some holes in the script.
I have been told that there are a couple of Star Wars novels that provide some back story which may have filled in some holes in the script, but I think that’s too much of a cheat. This series is primarily borne of the films, so that’s where the story points should be provided in my opinion. There is also the possibility that many of the questions that are raised in this film will be answered in the sequels, but leaving things too open ended can obviously leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. For example, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is from people feeling that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a Mary Sue. That’s a female character who inexplicably knows how to fix every problem that befalls her without any realistic way to have all of that knowledge. I will agree that when I was first watching it, I wondered how it was possible that she could just understand BB-8’s language, or how to be an ace pilot of the Millennium Falcon when no one had flown it for years or how she knew precisely how to hard wire Han’s freighter to get the doors to close at just the right moment, or how she’s able to use the Jedi mind trick without any training in order to get the stormtrooper to release her. We’re introduced to her as a desert scavenger, and it doesn’t seem plausible that she could have acquired all of these skills from that lifestyle. Certainly she’s strong with the Force, and we’ll come to know just how strong in the coming installments, but some more explanation on how she had all of this knowledge and skill would have been nice.
There is a lack of originality.
In the first Star Wars we had the Death Star. In Return of the Jedi we had a bigger Death Star that was still under construction. In The Force Awakens we have a giant planet that has a huge laser to destroy other planets and multiple planets at once. Perhaps the problem is that once you have a weapon that can destroy an entire planet, then there’s really nowhere else to go. That apparently is the biggest threat anyone directing a Star Wars movie is able to concoct because it keeps coming back again and again. I am hopeful that in the upcoming episodes they’ll be a bit more creative in how they come up with new challenges for our heroes to face. Also, as has been mentioned by many people, the storyline follows pretty much the same storyline of A New Hope. It isn’t exactly the same, but many of the same beats are there and I think many long-time Star Wars fans found that to be frustrating. It wasn’t a huge problem for me, and it reminded me a little bit of J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, and I think he was going for a similar effect with Star Wars. To me, it came off a little bit of a reboot. However, even though there are plenty of parallels to the original film there are still some unique aspects to the new film that I think when taken in their totality represent a symbolic passing of the torch. We won’t know for sure until we see the next installment, but it is my belief and my hope that Episode VIII will do what The Empire Strikes Back did which was to give us the most original story of the original trilogy.
I like the new characters.
I like where they’re going with Rey, and I think she can rival Luke Skywalker as one of the great heroes in cinema history if they continue to develop her the way they’ve started. I actually like that there is some mystery as to what her origin is, and the fact that Luke’s old lightsaber chose her over Kylo Ren is to me the single most intriguing development of the film. Speaking of Kylo-Ren, I’m a little hot and cold over him. I’m not sure why he wears a mask, other than to be like Darth Vader. He certainly is an evil character, and I like that they’ve added depth to him by making it appear that he’s struggling to stay on the Dark Side. That’s actually quite an original track to take. Usually we see characters struggling against the temptation of evil in order to remain good, especially when it comes to the Force. We’ve been told for the last 37 years that the Dark Side of the Force is the quicker, easier and more tempting way to go, and that once you’ve chosen that path, forever will it dominate your destiny. That is not the case with Kylo-Ren. He seems to have chosen the Dark path, but can’t seem to escape the Light, no matter how much he seems to want to. This is a character who seemingly wants to be evil, but isn’t sure if he has the strength to be so. I haven’t heard anyone make that connection, which is to me the driving force behind the story. Kylo-Ren’s story of wanting to be evil but struggling to achieve complete freedom from the Light Side of the Force is a very unique way to develop this character and it should be very intriguing to watch how it unfolds, especially as it parallels Rey’s Jedi training and development.
I also like the other two main characters of Fin and Poe, the latter of whom seems to be the Han Solo replacement by being this trilogy’s wise-cracking scoundrel. We didn’t get to know him nearly as much in this film, and I hope that subsequent episodes will give us more of him. Opposite that was Fin. Along with Rey, this really seemed to be his episode. It is Fin who gives us the inciting incident by rescuing Poe and then finding BB-8 with Rey. His desire to run away adds depth to his character and gives him the most complete character arc in this film, as he goes from reluctant villain to reluctant hero to committed hero. They also did a great job of giving him depth in his personality and making him (as well as Poe) feel like a real person that the audience could relate to, despite his extraordinary circumstances.
Overall, I loved the film.
Is it a perfect film? Hardly. Is it the best film in the series? Not quite. The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite with A New Hope close second and The Force Awakens right on its heels. As mentioned above, this is a highly entertaining film, and it’s an emotional one as well. We care about these characters. Many people I know were in tears at the end of it. It hits all of the right beats from an entertainment perspective and it hits all of the right beats from an emotional perspective without being overly sentimental. The bottom line is that I’ve seen this film 3 times so far and each time I’ve been highly entertained. According to the box office numbers I’m not alone.