Review of The Force Awakens
Star Wars is such an iconic movie franchise. For nerdy males who are old enough to have seen Star Wars as a child in the movie theaters, it’s incredibly amazing to be able to see Han Solo and Chewbacca go on one more mission in the Millennium Falcon. With the same Star Wars music playing in the background. And the same visual look as the original 1977 Star Wars. For this reason alone, The Force Awakens is raking in huge amounts of money at the box office. It doesn’t have to be an especially good movie, it just has to not suck as bad as the previous three movies; no kids or teenagers, no annoying aliens like Jar Jar Binks, no politics beyond the politics of the original Star Wars movie (there’s an evil empire, there are good guys called the Rebel Alliance, that’s all you need to know). J.J. Abrams was even wise enough to leave out the CGI crap, or at least anything that obviously looks like CGI crap.
The rest of this review has major spoilers.
Some of the concepts from Star Wars haven’t aged well. When I was a kid, I didn’t think about why R2-D2 couldn’t speak English. But today, when our iPhones can talk to us in English, why are ‘droids only able to speak in beeps? And when I was a kid, I didn’t think about why the only copy of the Death Star plans were inside R2-D2. Why couldn’t Princess Leia post it on the internet? Email it to someone in the Rebel Alliance? Or at very least make some backup copies to spread around?
Some of the readers of my blog make a big deal about the political correctness of the movie. The three major new characters are a hot girl who kicks ass, a black guy, and a Latino guy. (However I would never have thought the Latino guy [Guatemalan] was anything but white had I not read about it on the internet so he doesn’t really count.)
I too miss the old Star Wars where every human character was a white male (except for Luke’s motherly aunt and a spunky princess in need of rescuing). But nevertheless, you can’t really see an action movie these days without major characters played by black actors and without hot girls who kick ass, so there really isn’t anything to especially pick on here. At least there were no gays, lesbians or transgender people in the movie.
The real problem with the movie is that it’s not really a sequel, it’s more of a remake of the original movie. Let’s make ourselves a chart:
|Original||The Force Awakens|
|Princess Leia is captured by Darth Vader||Poe is captured by Kylo Ren|
|Before being captured, Princess Leia puts the plans to the Death Star into the ‘droid, failing to make any backup copies.||Before being captured, Poe puts the map to the Luke Skywalker into the ‘droid, failing to make any backup copies.|
|The ‘droid wanders through the desert.||The ‘droid wanders through the desert.|
|’Droid is eventually acquired by Luke Skywalker.||’Droid is eventually acquired by Rey.|
|Luke leaves the desert planet in the Millenium Falcon||Rey leaves the desert planet in the Millenium Falcon|
|There’s a visit to a bar filled with strange aliens.||There’s a visit to a bar filled with strange aliens.|
|Darth Vader tortures Princess Leia for information||Kylo Ren tortures Poe and then Rey for information|
|The Empire has a Death Star that can destroy a planet.||The First Order has a superweapon even bigger than the Death Star that can destroy multiple planets at once.|
|Princess Leia escapes from the Death Star with help from Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.||Rey escapes from the superweapon with help from Han Solo and the black guy.|
|The Death Star has an Achilles heel which allows the Rebels to destroy it.||The superweapon has an Achilles heel which allows the Rebels to destroy it.|
|Just before the other characters escape from the Death Star, Ben Kenobi is killed fighting his former pupil, Darth Vader.||Just before the other characters escape from the superweapon, a major character who has an intimate connection to Kylo Ren is killed by him.|
There is also some stuff borrowed from the follow-up movies:
|Empire and Jedi||The Force Awakens|
|Darth Vader is Luke’s father.||Han Solo is Kylo Ren’s father.|
|Darth Vader takes off his mask and he looks really ugly.||Kylo Ren takes off his mask and he looks like the guy from the HBO series Girls.|
|A lot of fighting takes place on an ice planet.||A lot of fighting takes place on an ice planet.|
Despite these apparent similarities, the original Star Wars worked a lot better as a movie with a plot that makes sense.
Luke Skywalker has a back story that allows you to make sense of who he is as a character. He is an orphan who is raised by his aunt and uncle, he’s unhappy with his boring life as a farmer on a desert planet. He seeks out Ben Kenobi because he is genuinely curious about the mystery of the ‘droids he recently purchased. He’s at first reluctant to commit his life to helping Ben get the ‘droids to the Rebels, but after his parents are killed by Stormtroopers, he has nothing left on Tatooine.
On the other hand, we know absolutely nothing bout Rey, and she seems to go along with helping the ‘droid for no apparent reason. J.J. Abrams needs a hot girl who kicks ass, he doens’t think we need to know anything else about her.
We are also not given any reason for why the black guy decides that being a Stormtrooper isn’t for him. Why is he different from all of the other Stormtroopers who follow orders?
Luke, although strong in the Force, can’t use it for anything without a lot of training. It’s Ben who has the lightsaber duel with Darth Vader and not Luke who we assume would be killed in seconds by Darth who is a master of the Force. But Rey is able to beat Kylo Ren in a fight even though she hasn’t had a single lesson in the Force from anyone. Even the black guy, who has no Force abilities, is able to hold his own for a short while in a lightsaber duel.
In the original Star Wars movie, we are not left to wonder why no spaceship has keys or some other mechanism to prevent an unauthorized person from just walking in and flying off. Luke had to pay Han Solo for passage on his spaceship. Rey, on the other hand, just runs into the nearest spaceship and starts the engine.
In this new movie, lightsabers are handed around because that’s what happened in the original movie. But the lightsaber being given from Ben to Luke had a significant purpose in the original movie, representing a connection to his father (who at the time we did not know, and even George Lucas didn’t seem to know, was Darth Vader) and is similar to King Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone, or Bilbo giving his magic ring and later his sword Sting to Frodo.
Ben Kenobi, who was a master of the Force and a Jedi Knight, was able to convince two Stormtroopers that the two ‘droids were not the ‘droids they were looking for. It was a very subtle use of mind control. But Rey, who is completely untrained in the Force, is able to use the Force to order a Stormtrooper to let her escape and giver her his weapon. How realistic is that? Based on how the Force worked in the original movie, not very believable.
My final take on the movie was that the story just wan’t very interesting. Sure, I loved seeing Han Solo again, but did I really care about what happened to the characters? Was I in any sort of suspense about what would happen? No, I wasn’t. Now partially, this may be because I’m a lot older now than I was then and I’m just a lot more jaded about things. But perhaps the movie just doesn’t have an interesting story because the purpose of the story is to be background for a movie that looks and sounds like a Star Wars movie, and not to make a movie based on an interesting story. I actually did get into the story of Avatar, the last super-blockbuster sci-fi movie that I watched.