The Force Awakens – Review

10 May

One problem with having a baby is that going to see a movie when it is new is impossible, so watching The Force Awakens had to wait until it came out on DVD. And it says a great deal about the movie that I watched it in three instalments, rather than sitting down and letting it play from start to finish.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-wide-poster

The Force Awakens has two major problems, both of which need to be acknowledged before we proceed. On one hand, it isn’t Heir to the Empire. The Expanded Universe had its problems, but the Thrawn Trilogy books were outstanding and, until recently, considered the Episodes VII-IX. The Force Awakens does not live up to them. And, on the other hand, The Force Awakens follows the plotline of A New Hope so closely that it’s tempting to accuse the scriptwriter of plagiarism. Even without the multitude of spoilers, there are few true surprises in this movie.

Heir to the Empire and its sequels built on the ending of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens effectively goes back to the start.

That said, there are a number of good moments in the movie. Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader, but in many ways that was a good choice. Vader could not be outdone, so the producers chose to go with a whiny little man-child than a abused, tormented and ultimately tragic character. Ren is, in fact, a stand-in for the problems we face today; students and other youngsters who literally don’t know how lucky they are to live in the modern world. There is no logical reason for Ren to embrace the dark side – unlike Darth Vader – and perhaps that is his ultimate tragady. If Darth Vader was a reflection of fears from the 70s – and Palpatine was a reflection of fears from the post-9/11 world – Ren is a reflection of the problems we face today.

Kylo Ren: Han Solo. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.

Han: Take off that mask. You don’t need it.

Kylo Ren: What do you think you’ll see if I do?

Han: The face of my son.

This actually leads to the best part of the movie, the final confrontation between Han Solo and his son.

I like to think that Han and Leia would be happy after Return of the Jedi – they certainly were throughout the Expanded Universe – but in The Force Awakens they are split-up and probably devoiced. Han goes back to being a smuggler … why? But I forgive that because the final meeting is perfect. Han knows he’s screwed up with his son – although it’s hard to understand why Ben turned out so poorly – and he’s prepared to risk his life to save Ben from himself. And even in death – a scene that bears more than a passing resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death – Han still loves his son.

Unfortunately, the weaknesses in The Force Awakens drag it down.

Of the three new characters – Poe, Finn and Rey – I find that I like Finn the best. Finn has come in for quite a bit of knocking online (just like Rey) but Finn as a character has room to grow. And he does grow over the course of the movie. Poe, by contrast, remains static throughout the movie.

And then we have Rey, Rey who is far too close to being a Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is a character who is unreasonably good. Han, Luke and Leia are not Mary Sues; they grow and develop throughout the original trilogy. Han is the most capable of the three of them – which makes sense, because he’s definitely the most experienced character – but Rey has no reason to be so good. She’s a superb mechanic, a superb pilot and an excellent fighter (with blaster, staff and lightsaber); she shows more ability to use the force than Luke did (in all three movies) and fights Ren to a standstill despite never having used a lightsaber before. (Ren was wounded, after all, but still … he should have stomped her effortlessly (unless part of the point is that Ren isn’t anything like as good as he thinks)). And Rey has a tragic backstory …

The reason that Leia is not a Mary Sue is that while she is good, she is not unreasonably good. She is defiant when captured – perhaps hoping to gourd her captors into killing her before she breaks – but she doesn’t free herself. She can’t. And yet, once she’s free, she helps plot the escape from the Death Star, kills Jabba with the chains he put her in and helps destroy the shield generator on Endor. Leia grows and develops throughout the trilogy, like Luke.

Rey does not. Indeed, the only time she comes close to losing is when she is captured and taken to the enemy base. And she is very quick to free herself.

Leaving the characters aside, there are other problems. The plot mimics A New Hope far too closely. The Super Death Star – sorry, Starkiller Base – is awesome, but we’ve seen it before – twice! And does the First Order really have the resources of the Galactic Empire? This is not the time for investing vast amounts of money in a giant base, even if it is a terror weapon of great power. Surely, fighting a more conventional campaign would be a better idea. And then there’s the odd relationship between the Resistance and the New Republic. And surely destroying a single planet will not be enough to put the New Republic out of business permanently …

On its own, The Force Awakens isn’t a bad movie. Like I said, there are parts of it I enjoyed – unlike the reboot of Star Trek, which was awful.

But it doesn’t live up to Heir to the Empire.

Thrawn Trilogy

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23 Responses to “The Force Awakens – Review”

  1. robert godfrey May 10, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    it is mentioned that Kylo Ren is not completely trained (Lord Snoake [how is that name supposed to be intimidating, again?] calls him home to complete his training), and having seen how good people can be when transitioning weapons (a person trained with the staff moving to sword is a lot better with it than you would think, the reverse is also true), it doesn’t completely break the story for me. But you are right that Rey is so good it requires an explanation (mind you Luke was a crazy good pilot with no apparent training as well)

    • chrishanger May 10, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

      I had the impression Luke flew small craft on his homeworld

      Chris

    • Jason Pennock May 11, 2016 at 11:40 am #

      Apparently, Rey was at the revamped Jedi Academy, with the other Jedi, before Ren hacked them all, that is what the vision is meant to reveal. From that, we are meant to understand that she has some previous Jedi training, and thus use of a lightsaber…or so I am told…
      Personally, I enjoyed it as a good flash back to the original series after that rubbish of the last 3.
      I could rabbit on about different plot issues, cardboard characters and why I’m glad that they didn’t go the EU way and kill Chewie, but I have to agree with Chris, Zahn’ s series would have been the ultimate in movies, giving us the best in Eps 7, 8 & 9, and it would have included Mara Jade and Thrawn!
      I guess all we can do is hope for better next time? But it is Star Wars Sequels, so don’t hold your breath…j

  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 10, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    I haven’t seen the movie but I read the book. [Wink]

    Seriously, I read the novelization by Alan Dean Foster which I enjoyed reading.

    I can’t really argue with Chris about his experience mainly because of the YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) factor.

    However, one aspect that I think Chris (and others) don’t take into accord is the so-called prequels which have left a bad taste in the mouths of the viewers of the original movies.

    IMO to bring people into this movie and the up-coming movies, Disney (and Abrams) had to give people the sort of enjoyment that people had in the original movies.

    Yes, this movie could have been much better and I’ve heard of all the flaws in it.

    But IMO judging from the novelization, it is much better than the so-called prequels and shows that Disney wants people to have an enjoyable experience in the up-coming movies.

    We’re heard the people complaining about the “re-boot” of Star Trek but I’d love to see what Disney could do in a “re-boot” of the so-called prequels. 👿

    • chrishanger May 10, 2016 at 10:18 pm #

      It’s a balance – Disney wants to appeal to newcomers, but at the same time it wants to attract the core audience – long-term fans. TFA may not suffer if Disney screws the latter, but VIII and IX certainly will .

      But a little fiddling could certainly turn the prequels into better stories.

      Get rid of child-Anakin. Start with Anakin as a teenager – bitter, resentful and strong in the force – make him defiant right from the start. The Jedi only train him because they believe the bad guys already know about him. Instead of leaving his mother in slavery for years, have her get bumped off by the bad guys and have him blame the Jedi for not letting him go save her. Have the romance be played as a gross mistake instead of some cheesy love story – they’re not star-crossed lovers and the whole idea works much better if that is actually clear from the start. Then you can have the whole war slowly putting more and more pressure on their relationship until they snap.

      And have Jar-Jar thrown down a garbage chute at the earliest possible moment.

      Chris

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 10, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

        Jar-Jar?

        I don’t acknowledge the existence of any being called Jar-Jar. 👿

        Seriously, that character had all the “flaws” of C3P0 and none of the “pluses” of C3P0.

        “He” existed to be laughed at and I hate those sort of characters. 😦

      • chrishanger May 13, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

        Yep. There’s no pleasure in watching him tread in poop time and time again.

        Chris

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 10, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

        If I were redoing the “prequels”, I’d avoid that “Jedi Are Monks” thing.

        It bothered me that the Jedi weren’t to have families and the Jedi went out to look for babies to raise as Jedi.

        Child-Anakin was too old to be trained?

        That was complete nonsense in story terms.

        Lucas created a powerful group that had no connection with the people of the society they were among.

        Note, Lucas apparently had a very strange idea about the Jedi.

        When asked if Jedi had to refrain from sex, Lucas said that they didn’t.

        They just couldn’t marry.

        Weird guy.

      • chrishanger May 13, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

        Well, if the idea is to create a brutally-flawed peacekeeping force that is actually part of the problem …

        Chris

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard May 13, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

        Nod.

        In the original movies the Jedi were seen as a Good Order.

        But in the so-called prequels, Lucas apparently wanted us to dislike the Jedi. 😦

      • chrishanger May 17, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

        And he succeeded magnificently

        Chris

      • Thomas Tomiczek May 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

        > And have Jar-Jar thrown down a garbage chute at the earliest
        > possible moment.

        No. FIrst scene, before even the trailer starts (a la James Bond Movies) is JarJar being thrown down a chute with some REALLY LARGE ROTATING BLADES down there. Full zoom in on him getting shreddered. Zoom out to a picture of the set with everyone singing “never, never again”.

        Then start the movie.

    • Gazza May 10, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splinter_of_the_Mind%27s_Eye

      is that the book by ADF your were talking about?

  3. shrekgrinch May 10, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    I hated it.

    I immediately started referring to Kylo Ren as Darth Snape when I saw his face. Then there was the whole aspect of the Millennial actors having to be supported by adult actors. And then there was how that somehow translated into the adult actor’s characters ended up supporting the Millennial actors’ characters. Sheeesh! It’s was way to much like the real world at work — Us GenXers/Boomers are always carrying the water of the useless Millennials at work, usually.

    For a second there, I thought Darth Snape and Social Justice Warrior Affirmative Action Character #1 (Rey) would stop fighting that saber duel-she-couldn’t-possibly-have-been-able-to-fight to swap Starbucks coffee brewing tricks.

    Carrie Fisher came across as an old crack head. Best part of Mark Hamill was that he kept his mouth shut. The saddest part was that even while doing so he STILL managed to carry that last scene with Social Justice Warrior Affirmative Action Character #1 (Rey).

    This is sooo messed up I fully expect the sequels to depict Kermit The Frog as Yoda’s domestic partner. I am never going to complain about Lucas ever again.

    It was crap. Pure and simple. Sorry, but thems the breaks.

    • Steve Callaway May 12, 2016 at 12:43 am #

      I would agree that Snope will probably be of Yoda’s species. the juxtaposition from the image towering over you to Yoda’s pissed-off little brother, with an inferiority complex would paint quite a contrastHe appears to have duel damage from Luke shoving his saber through Snope’s jaw. The saber would have to have had the diameter of a pine tree to cause the scars shown. Echos, ryhmes and reflections.

  4. steve.callaway@suddenlink.net May 11, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

    Chris,

    A very good review. I can’t wait for your views on /Captain America: Civil War. /I saw many of the political themes from /Team Omega /reflected in it. I won’t mention any specifics, I would hate to spoil it for you, but I would encourage you to see it. It is one of the most complete popcorn, sci-fi and action films I can recall since – well, since /Empire.

    /Thank you for the many hours of entertainment, /Steve Callaway Texas, USA /

    • chrishanger May 13, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

      I look forward to seeing CW on DVD

      Chris

  5. Austin May 14, 2016 at 5:50 am #

    My thoughts exactly. I have too many friends who fall into the fanboy category who were willing to ignore massive flaws simply because it was Start Wars, and feel like an asshole whenever they’re talking about it. I don’t want to be that one pretensions snob.

    Personally, I never managed to suspend disbelief. Being a detail and realism focused person, the mark of a good movie is one that drags me in and keeps me there well enough to suppress my urge to nitpick. The original trilogy can do it. The new movie can’t. It’s not a bad movie, but it doesn’t feel like Star Wars. More like a generic action movie crossed with the Avengers. Which, along with everything you mentioned Chris, is why I wouldn’t give the movie better than 7/10.

  6. William Ameling May 24, 2016 at 4:18 am #

    I have always felt that the Heir to the Empire was the true sequel to the original trilogy and that they would have made good movies. The Force Awakens was disappointing. Have you noticed that there were two escapes from the interrogation chamber, the first time it was into a ship orbiting the desert world, but the second time it was in the base of the reborn Death Star/planet. The same goes for the audience hall meetings with the emperor replacement. Regarding the new super weapon there is no way that they could have aimed accurately enough over interstellar distances. Also there is NO way that you can go from light speed to zero in the span of a planetary atmosphere, the g forces would have turned them into slime and torn apart the Millenium Falcon before it impacted the surface. It takes on the order of one year (365 days) at one gravity acceleration to get close to light speed (ignoring Special Relativity) covering a distance of about half a light year in the process.

    I don’t know how they are going to explain it, but Po is almost certainly going to be Luke’s daughter; why else did Luke’s light saber go to her? Plus she had some strong, probably old memories stirred up when she first found his light saber that we saw glimpses of in the movie. Also there was the scene were she was marking how many days she had been there, and she seemed to be waiting for something to came back to her at that world. I think that the little girl we saw crying out was her in those memories. Possibly she is Leia’s daughter, but I think Luke’s daughter is more likely. The original trilogy centered on Luke and Leia being Skywalkers. and the new movie has to be the same. Quite possibly the man the alliance pilot was getting the map from had additional ties to Luke and Po, he might have been watching out for her from a distance, like Obi Wan was watching over Luke.

    As a pure speculation, I wonder if Finn could be Lando Calrissian’s son. (I may have misspelled the name). I also expect that he will end up becoming a Jedi.

    • William Ameling May 24, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

      The new movie trilogy HAS to be about what happens with the next generation of Skywalkers, which is why I was/am expecting Po to be a Skywalker. Finn obviously can not be a child of Luke or Leia, so the best possibility that keeps a tie to the original trilogy is for him to be Lando’s son. I have no idea how he ended up being raised as a stormtrooper.

      • chrishanger May 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

        He could be the son of Samuel Jackson’s character (whose name escapes me)

        Chris

  7. William Ameling June 12, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

    I noticed something else about the scene where she found the light saber: I think that the hand on the little girl’s shoulder (who was crying out “Come Back”) and the voice saying “Be quiet, girl” was the Alien that she was selling salvaged parts to for food. I think that she was left with him to keep her safe. Also we saw a hooded figure with a mechanical hand loading data into R2D2, who had to be Luke before he disappeared. An interesting question is how did the Yoda substitute get Luke’s lightsaber, hopefully they will get around to explaining that.

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