[This post is FILLED WITH SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.]
I’d been looking forward to this movie for a long time. Star Wars is what got me into science fiction to begin with, so the news that Episode VII was coming out was kind of a huge deal for me. I had some concerns, but for the most part, I was excited.
Just saw it tonight.
Reaction? Somewhat underwhelmed.
There’s a lot to like about it. It embraces a refreshingly new and diverse cast while bringing back old favorites, and there are some good character moments. Rey is really cool. Finn is really interesting. There are some funny one-liners. There are some breathtakingly beautiful shots, and it’s faithful to its roots.
Maybe a little too faithful, though.
The movie starts out with a sense of its own identity. It doesn’t feel like any of the other movies, but it’s still very clearly Star Wars, even beyond the opening credits crawl. The problem is, once we get past this opening scene and the introduction to Finn and Kylo Ren, it devolves into an almost formulaic remake of A New Hope. We get a desert planet where we meet the real hero of the story; follow an on-the-run, spunky little droid that wasn’t wanted in the beginning but quickly becomes one of the family and is holding secret information; pursuers from a giant space army with a REALLY big gun that can destroy planets; a villain in a mask who really loves the color black and utilizing voice distorters built into his creepy helmet; and the Millennium Falcon as the piece-of-junk-but-actually-a-diamond-in-the-rough ship that takes our heroes off the aforementioned desert planet. Then later on there’s a forest planet and Leia Organa, leader of a rebel resistance, watches a screen in a war room while fighter pilots attack a giant sphere with a really, REALLY big gun inside of it, hoping to make the giant sphere explode from the inside by setting off a chain reaction by attacking a key point of vulnerability.
Does that seem just a bit too familiar to you? Because it did to me.
It was like the first half of the movie had a clear direction and knew where it wanted to go, but then the writing and production teams decided they were getting too far away from the original trilogy and had to cram in as many references, reincarnations, and recreations as they could. The end result was the second half of the movie feeling like a rehashed version of A New Hope, and not much else. Even the new characters that began to grow in the beginning of the movie were pushed to the side to make room for the return of Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Don’t get me wrong, I love those delightful jerks, but once they stepped on screen, they literally stole the show and it became their movie. Which might have played better for me if I’d been expecting it, but as it was, it felt like a deviation from the original plot. Rey and Finn became a bit flat from that point on, never really having the space for their entire arcs to unfold. There were some nice moments between these characters (like Rey embracing Finn because he actually came back for her, which clearly resonated with her as someone who has been abandoned and on her own for so long), and I think they both have a huge amount of potential for future films. I’m just sorry to see it wasted at this point.
The basis for it was there. Finn’s desertion and turning away from the First Order, and rediscovering his humanity. Rey connecting with the Force and rising up from a scavenger to a hero. They just… never really did anything beyond the surface level, it felt like. Or at least not in a way that I personally found satisfying.
Finn’s desertion was super quick. I’m totally on board with his “This is wrong, this is so wrong, I need to get out” mentality, but I can’t help but wonder if he left anything behind. The First Order was his whole life prior to his desertion. What training of his went so horribly wrong that he developed a conscience? Who failed to drill the hate into him? Was that his only friend who died the night of his first battle? There are a lot of questions that I have about him.
Additionally, Finn’s wielding of Luke’s lightsaber later in the movie felt a little too convenient. Yes, he probably got a lot of training as a Storm Trooper and learned hand-to-hand combat. I don’t think he would’ve been trained in swordplay, however, which is what lightsabers demand. Finn knew blasters pretty well and started to figure out starship weapons, but someone who knows how to shoot isn’t magically going to know how to cut and parry by extension. The rules change every time you pick up a new weapon. Did Finn really have the necessary training to use that thing? He certainly didn’t have the connection to the Force that would’ve let him turn into a lightsaber-wielding prodigy, because as Han Solo himself notes, “That’s not how the Force works!”
Speaking of which…
Rey’s wielding of the lightsaber. And just the Force in general. Even more problematic. She can obviously fight. We see that when she beats the crap out of people with her staff when they try to take BB-8 ( ❤ ! ) from her. And a hard life of scavenging and having to look out for herself has made her tough as nails. It makes perfect sense that she can take care of herself and hold her own in close combat. But lightsaber play, specifically? That is far more nuanced than what she would’ve been taught on Tat–I mean, Jakku. It’s weighted differently than her staff, the blade will cut and burn pretty much anything it touches, including its wielder, and considering how long ago and at what age she was left on Jakku, she definitely did not have the chance to undergo any serious lightsaber training no matter what her past was. Why is she suddenly able to beat the crap out of Kylo Ren with it? Yeah, he’s wounded, but his bizarre gorilla chest-beating seemed to be dulling his pain and letting him get a few good swings in. He’s also a trained fighter, is so skilled with the Force that he can freeze blaster fire in place and hold it there with his mind, and has experience slaughtering a ton of people so… why did these lightsaber newbies get the better of him? Star Wars has an established history of untrained characters triumphing over masters, but I’m getting tired of seeing it. Much as I like to pretend Episodes I, II and III don’t actually exist, it was a gross mishandling of heroes vs. villains when Obi-Wan slaughtered Darth Maul, and it comes up here again when Rey out-Forces the super-Forcer Kylo Ren. Darth Vader never had this problem.
I did read some interesting analyses that proposed that Kylo Ren was holding back in his fight with Rey, hoping to turn her to the Dark Side and draw her in as his apprentice. That is a fascinating thought, and something I will have to consider on future viewings of the movie (because let’s be honest, I’m definitely going to see it again), especially since he seemed to know that BB-8 being picked up by a girl on Jakku had major significance. I just wish there had been more information given to us regarding that, though. It’s frustratingly unsatisfying at this point.
Kylo Ren was pretty disappointing on the whole, though. His hissy fits got old fast, and I saw his murder of his father coming from a mile away. No way they were going to give the movie such a cheesy ending as “Okay, daddy, I was bad but now I’m good please take me home.” Nah, instead, we got in-your-face symbolism and then VRRRRRM. Han sure as hell didn’t shoot first this time.
I’m gonna come out and say this, too: Kylo Ren took off that mask way too early. When he had the mask on, he was very much that threatening, terrifying creature that Rey called him, teenage-ish hissy fits aside. The moment it came off, he became totally human. There was no more mystery around him, he wasn’t as psychologically threatening, and Rey was immediately able to resist him. Maybe there’s some symbolism behind that, but eh. I’m not a huge fan of insta-connections with the Force. Luke’s made more sense to me in the original trilogy as it demanded a sacrifice on Obi-Wan’s part, and he very overtly became a guiding force for Luke after his death. Rey, on the other hand, touches a lightsaber, and then suddenly becomes a master of the Force, right down to Jedi mind tricks. Which, by they way, I could’ve sworn were an advanced technique. Not something that a novice who thought Luke Skywalker and the Jedi were a myth only hours earlier would immediately know how to do. Or even know was possible in the first place. But then again, other critical analyses that I’ve looked at have proposed that Rey’s life as a scavenger has made her adept at reverse engineering, and Kylo Ren essentially served as her first teacher. That’s another fascinating idea, but I’m just not sure how plausible it is. Rey is the first character we’ve seen who is such a natural Force adept, so it’s a bit problematic that we don’t get a hard explanation for why she’s so quick to learn. I’m sure it will come, but again, it was frustrating to not see it in The Force Awakens.
An opportunity that I think the movie really missed out on is the fact that Rey is (I think) the first character we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe whose initial exposure to the Force is the Dark Side. Other characters’ exposures have been to the Light Side (specifically the Jedi) prior to being seduced by the Dark Side, or were just already firmly on the Dark Side by the time we met them. We’ve never seen a newcomer to the Force have their first interaction be with the Dark Side. Unless I’m suffering a huge memory lapse here… But I’m pretty certain that’s true, and it could’ve been so interesting to watch Rey witness what the Dark Side is capable of, and then respond, “I want no part of this at all. If there’s a chance I could become that, there is no way I’m having anything to do with the Force.” And of course, she could half-heartedly want to go back to Jakku because she hasn’t fully given up hope that someone will come back for her, but then, we suddenly have both the Light and Dark Sides warring over her, trying to sway her towards their side. It could’ve been an interesting dive into the gray areas on both sides of the Force and a move away from the strong archetypal depictions of the original movies and the prequels. While those worked in their contexts, it would’ve been nice to see something new, because we all know that the Jedi sometimes make… questionable decisions, and have a very rigid view of justice. And Darth Vader had his shades of gray. Very, very, very dark grays, but grays nonetheless.
Additionally, I would’ve liked to see Leia actually convince Rey to go after Luke as opposed to just kinda sending her off for no real reason. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that no one else would at least go with Rey, given how important Luke is and how long he has been absent, and I think Leia has plenty of reason to be angry with her brother. But that also could’ve provided a moment for Rey to call Luke out on his abandoning of those that love and need him. She, of all people, knows how much that hurts, and she could’ve been the one to call him back and convince him to face his failings instead of hiding from them. Which may still happen, certainly, but the way the movie ended felt like the potential for that had been swept under the rug.
So, overall, The Force Awakens felt like a lot of missed potential. I really, really want to see the characters that we met in the beginning of the film grow in future movies because I really like them all (even Kylo Ren / Ben Solo… and Captain Phasma, oh you were so prominent in the promos and then so absent in the movie and that makes me sad), but they just didn’t get to experience a full arc in this movie. And that’s disappointing to me. Here’s hoping for Episode VIII, though. And maybe I’ll catch some more depth on my second viewing and revise some opinions stated here, but those are my thoughts for now.