*PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS.*
I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens at 7 PM eastern tonight, and as I begin writing this review at 12:24 AM eastern, I’m still not over it.
Was it perfect? No, nothing is perfect…not even the original trilogy (although it comes damn close).
I recently (as in, within the past week) did a Machete Order re-watch of Episodes IV, V, II, III, and VI. To be honest, if I hadn’t done so I wouldn’t have been quite so prepared for reviewing this movie; in the past, it’s been easy for me to memorize all of the factual stuff and ignore all of the nuances that make this saga so great…but walking in to see Episode VII fresh off of re-watching them gave me perspective that I wasn’t expecting.
The first thing I have to say is: I loved this movie. Please keep that in mind as I attempt to organize my thoughts, because as I said, nothing is perfect. I don’t mind admitting right now that my final declaration is “Episode VII was awesome”…just keep that in mind when I highlight its flaws.
I’m going to get the most difficult thing out of the way first: I knew that Han Solo was going to die. Not because I saw the movie early (I wish) or was spoiled (I heard about both Reddit and Facebook nastiness on that front but thankfully missed it all). It’s because that for a very long time, Harrison Ford was not fond of the idea of coming back to the franchise – and as exciting as it was to find out he would be in The Force Awakens, deep down I knew it wouldn’t last.
But the thing is, that’s okay. The most moving part of this movie was watching Han Solo walk to his death, almost believing for a moment that perhaps I had been wrong, and then seeing Kylo Ren – also known as Ben, Han and Leia’s son – strike his father down. And yet even that wasn’t as emotional as Chewie’s ensuing reaction, followed by a shot of Leia clearly feeling Han’s death through the Force. The fact that she obviously isn’t a Jedi Knight, yet is so affected – immediately and from afar – helped make their struggle more believable. Without that scene, without such a palpable reaction, I would have been left with a lot more questions about what happened between them after Episode VI.
I entirely expected to cry through most of this movie. To be honest I just finished re-watching Return of the Jedi last night and I cried through the entire ending of that. But other than Han’s death, mostly I just felt envigorated. Does The Force Awakens have the magic of the original trilogy? Not quite. But is it as messy as the prequels? Not at all.
While I felt that Finn’s transformation from mindless Stormtrooper to “traitor” was a bit quick – almost thrown at viewers – I really did love his overall arc. No sooner did he watch his fellow Stormtroooper die than he was questioning shooting the Jakku villagers, taking his mask off without permission, and then helping a Resistance pilot escape. Even if much of what he did was for his own good – helping Poe Dameron escape, telling Rey he was part of the Resistance, later trying to reserve a spot on the ship going to the Outer Rim…in the end he went out of his way to rescue his friend. And as I write that I realize…how very Han Solo of him, no?
Meanwhile, Rey stole the scene. I have to admit that I was a bit concerned when Kylo Ren so easily kidnapped her. I didn’t want this to be another Princess Leia in A New Hope; a woman who was amazing and could take care of herself but somehow also needed rescuing. And while Finn, Han, and Chewbacca do go looking for her on Star Killer (Starkiller?) – a.k.a. The New Death Star – Rey absolutely escapes of her own accord. Using the Force. Because even though we don’t know exactly who she is, she is strong enough to resist Ren’s mind probe and order a Stormtrooper (and one voiced by Daniel Craig, no less!) to release her, open the door to her cell, and leave her a weapon.
The fact that in the end it was Rey who battled Ren – and for all intents and purposes, won – that she is Force sensitive, she is an amazing pilot, SHE is the one to go find Luke Skywalker – means more to me than I can even explain. Leia was an amazing character for her time, and I will always look up to her….but the fact that it was a young woman who found Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber, used it, and then went off and found Luke, was what had me on the edge of my seat, trembling and crying as much as (if not more than) Han’s death.
Speaking of women, though, I really don’t want Captain Phasma to be dead, and I’m hoping I’m not alone in that. I was actually disappointed when it was Kylo Ren and not Phasma who appeared first! And considering that she called Finn out for taking his helmet off without permission, there are so many ways that their little “finale” (if you can even call it that) could have gone better. When Finn first used the lightsaber against a Stormtrooper, why was it against some random trooper when it could have been against Phasma? Sorry not sorry, but this would have been so much better than Finn just grabbing hold of Phasma and yelling “who’s in charge now?”…even with the garbage chute reference. I have to say, if Phasma doesn’t come back, that’s going to be a waste of a good character.
On that note, I’m honestly torn about Kylo Ren. We got very little of his backstory, and whenever he took that mask off I was sadly reminded of whiny prequel Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III. (I have to be honest, most of it was the lips.) That said, I was pleasantly surprised that I liked his sparky half-assed lightsaber, and the fact that he was insanely good at Force-grabbing (he stopped a blaster laser in mid-air and it just STAYED there, for God’s sake), yet only average at lightsaber combat, was refreshing.
But what about Snoke? He didn’t quite have the air of creepy mystery that the Emperor has when we first see him in Empire Strikes Back, but the parallel between the Emperor ordering Vader to bring Luke to him and Snoke telling Kylo Ren to bring him Rey was very well-done. Also, my guess is that Snoke is a lot more diminutive than he appeared in those giant holograms, which would be another decent parallel with the original trilogy…though at the same time I can’t help but feel that, because of how big the Snoke holograms were, it felt a bit like J.J. Abrams saying, “look at how much bigger I can make things!” But hey, maybe I’m wrong and Snoke is a giant…I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
One thing I wasn’t all that fond of was the score. Listen, John Williams is amazing. “Duel of the Fates” was one of the best things (if not THE best thing) in Episode I. Yet while the first half of The Force Awakens resonated with me, I felt that the music fell short in the second half. I would never say that it was bad – certainly, much worse things could have been done – it just wasn’t music that gives me chills like so much of the previous Star Wars music did. And yet even when the score strayed, the settings seemed to harken back to the original trilogy – there were a few planets, a combination cantina/Jabba’s Palace, and ships. Many many slightly different yet still amazing ships. And come on, how perfect was the reintroduction of the Millennium Falcon?
Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling the aforementioned Star Killer thing. I love the idea of borrowing from the original trilogy and even the Extended Universe, but this seemed like a bit too much. Yes, there were some killer battles at the end that were awesome revamped versions of the shield generator and Death Star battles at the end of Return of the Jedi, but it was the one part of this movie that truly felt recycled, which is sad.
That said, they couldn’t have done any better with BB-8, who was, by the way, amazing. I kept waiting for R2-D2 to show up, but in the end the fact that he didn’t for most of the movie didn’t feel like a loss. I was worried because they were pushing BB-8 so hard in terms of merchandise; I wondered if the character could ever live up to that. But he did. He was cute and funny and sassy at all the right moments; after a while I was so excited about him that I almost didn’t care when C3PO showed up.
Of course, C3PO brought Leia with him, and boy, was she a sight for sore eyes. The fact that her first outfit so closely mirrored her best from the original trilogy (that being what she wore on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back) was great. I do wish we’d gotten to see more interactions between her and Han – especially considering his death – but overall I was pleased with the way they brought her back. I’d skimmed an article that said they made her more “regal”, but while she did have that Mon Mothma glow about her, it was less regal and more a knowledgeable strength that I think was so much more impressive.
And Luke…oh, Luke. Who didn’t wait on the edge of their seat for him to show up? Yet it was only at the very end when we caught a glimpse of him, which was both maddening and a perfect setup for Episode VIII.
Remember when I began this review by saying, “I loved this movie”? It’s not the Star Wars I fell in love with, but it’s sure as hell better than the Star Wars I saw in my late teens and early twenties. I feel like we Star Wars fans have come full circle – Star Wars is more than “just some movies”. As a friend of mine said, it’s a phenomenon that surpasses film, a piece of modern folklore that resonates across generations. And now we have the chance to continue seeing some of our old favorite characters alongside some amazing new ones. I absolutely believe that The Force Awakens is more than just a step in the right direction for this franchise – it’s a lightspeed jump.
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.
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