By Josh Krubner
Now, because I need to fill more text to bury the spoilers despite all the warnings, this is going to be like my Terminator Genysis review – in that I’m doing not one, but two reviews.
The first will be the “objective reviewer” who has never seen or heard of the word “Star Wars” before this movie. This will cover the movie, if it stands up as a “movie” period, and if you should go and see it.
The second will be for the true believers out there that wanna debate me and speculate in the comments.
You probably figured out by now that this was gonna be a long one.
The Force Awakens brings us an engaging story, offering lots of enticing lore hinting at events we haven’t seen. While it’s definitely a jumping on point for new fans, The Force Awakens is bundled up almost too neatly in tons of nostalgia and obvious “in-jokes,” that it often feels like a parent holding on to the bike even though it still has the training wheels. Like a pony ride on a leash around a circle (it’s a thing we did in the 80s), The Force Awakens doesn’t ever really let its children shine on their own. When they briefly are able to do so, they shine brighter than anyone else not named Harrison Ford. Not enough can be said about the compelling and complex characters of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and John Boyega’s “Finn." Daisey Ridley is incredible as well, and soon to be a household name. Speaking of household names, fans might not even realize that Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) is actually in this movie as characters like Captain Phasma and Poe Dameron are rarely seen, seldom heard and shuffled into the corner in favor of doing more of the unfortunate hand-holding. The kids are all grown up and able to stand on their own. I know that Disney and JJ were rightfully “scared” of how a new non-George Lucas Star Wars would be received, but they could have given them just a little bit more rope. Force Awakens packs thirty years of info into a tight two hours twenty minutes. While exposition is delivered appropriately, it happens so often that blinking or yawning might mean that you missed a crucial plot point regarding the myriad of enemies and allies working the pulleys on either side of the war from behind the scenes. Character and planet names are often said all of once, and it might take a second or third viewing to get the who’s who. Force Awakens introduces many fantastical elements, most of which feel as if prior knowledge is required to fully understand them, but hopefully this is something that will be addressed in the sequels. This is definitely a return to form and an Act One of a new trilogy that ends with an exclamation point. Fans new and old will likely be welcoming Episode VIII and where in a Galaxy Far Far Away we end up going next.
I’d definitely give the Force Awakens an “A.”
It’s as if millions of couples who bought the “I Love You/I Know” shirts suddenly cried out in terror and fell silent at the painful realization that if Han and fucking Leia can’t make… what hope do any of the rest of us have? None. We have none. More than half of you married people reading this will be divorced in five-ten years. Guys, it’s time to get a jump on hauling Rathtars now, the market will be gone in five years.
My biggest issue with Force Awakens isn’t splitting up Han and Leia, but rather erasing my second favorite twins of all time from Expanded Universe Canon History. What does and does not exist remains to be seen, but doing a lazy retread of switching the name of Luke’s son to Han’s and still having him do… the same thing… it hurts me right in the feels. Just give me the [Jedi] “Tornado Twins” dammit!
I’ve seen a number of people make a number of points I either agreed with every word of or felt that they just missed the mark entirely. Let’s talk about the “Mary Sue” thing and the idea that Force Awakens is just a not so “soft” reboot of New Hope.
The idea that Rey is a Mary Sue is beyond ridiculous. Rey does exhibit Goten like mastery over her powers, but she also does EXACTLY what Yoda was trying to get Luke to do in Empire. “Control, you must have control.” “The past, the future, old friends long gone, through the force these things you will see.” “Only a fully trained jedi with the force as his ally, will overcome Vader and his emperor.' – yea, she does ALL of that, whereas Luke bitched about how he couldn’t get his ship of the swamp, at which point Yoda had to do it for him.
She’s unfortunately probably going to end up being Luke’s kid (and worse, we’ll get cheated out of a proper Mara Jade), but in any event, I see her as the “next Anakin (or hopefully, the “first” Bastila)." I fully expect to see her on the Dark Side, and I’m interested to see where they take the character. It’s funny, cause I often disagree vehemently with John Campea from Collider and find myself agreeing word for word with Max Landis and his out there controversial stances. This time around, it’s the exact opposite, as I applauded Campea’s rant that we should NOT be making, using, and expecting characters to be mouth-piece representations for some socio-political awareness bullshit. He made the same points and reached the same conclusions I did about the fact that no one complained about the “born of the midichlorians” Space Jesus character more powerful than a single Yoda - well, I mean we complained sure, but not in the socio-political awareness sense… more in the “what in the fuck is the LIVING FORCE?” sense.
Vader barely did shit either, besides be a badass pilot and choke people out until Tarkin told him “down boy." It was Empire where everyone was given a chance to shine, and Jedi were they each became a bastardized caricature of themselves or in Han’s case, were just pushed to the background entirely. We’ll see what is yet to come for Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo.
People obsessing about feminism or some misplaced racism or any kind of liberal socio-political tropes, really just need to shut the hell up. You end up missing the brilliance of things like Rey living in a hollowed out AT-AT or Finn becoming the first stormtrooper to go from having TERRIBLE aim, to being able to blow up TIE fighters and suddenly realizing that it is possible to hit things.
Almost every “plot hole” I’ve seen complained about isn’t remotely a “plot hole," like “how can Finn, a janitor use a lightsaber and fight off Kylo Ren?”
He can’t. Anyone can “turn on/pick up” a lightsaber, as evidenced by Han in Empire Strikes Back. He uses Luke’s lightsaber to cut open the tauntaun. You click a button, it’s not much different from a flashlight or a cigarette lighter. Finn does NOT have any training or superiority with the lightsaber. He had ONE battle with it, that he was losing to a stormtrooper with a melee “laser baton." At the time Finn ATTEMPTS to fight off Ren, Kylo is mortally wounded and bleeding to death. He keeps smacking his ribs to keep his wound from gushing blood. Despite all these handicaps, Kylo is obviously toying with Finn and effortlessly dodging his attacks. As soon as Finn lands a very basic hit, Kylo fights for real, manhandles Finn and then ends up mortally wounding HIM.
And if you didn’t like or didn’t get “Kylo Ren…" perhaps movies and even books aren’t your thing. Not every villain needs to be a mustache twirling bad guy tying Wookies and women to railroad tracks just because.
Now let’s talk about that other point. As you might have seen from my first review above, this is where I took major issue with the movie. Force Awakens continues this trend of “20-30 yrs later, redoing the same movie but more/bigger." Some of these try to offer a new twist or direction – Halloween: H20 (yes, that was the first one that did it) or even Scream 4, while others just want to up the ante and do the same thing beat for beat but bigger – Creed/The Force Awakens.
I’ve seen the jokes and made some of my own about how Force Awakens seemed to be a “How to make a Star Wars movie” checklist and just went right down the line. It’s not necessarily a “bad” thing, as fans LITERALLY FUCKING CRIED from seeing a “Lucasfilm logo” or seeing a shot of the Millennium Falcon. I mean I get it, nostalgia is a thing this culture is obsessed with… but I could put on Empire right this second. It’s not gonna make me cry. Red Letter Media came up with a wonderful little experiment when Phantom Menace came out/as part of their review. The idea was to take any Star Wars character, and describe them without using their name or any physical description. For example, someone said “Han Solo” and the interviewee would respond “daring, arrogant, heroic, cool, cowboyish, a puckish rogue.”
While the characters of Force Awakens are point simple, FUCKING INCREDIBLE, the story/New Hope retread, not so much… So, in the spirit of what RLM media did, let’s play a game called “Using just the story beats, tell me what movie I’m describing.”
“An old man bravely risks his life and ends up sacrificing himself so that the young band of heroes and rebels can make their escape.”
- obviously, I’m talking about… uhhhh
“Rebel spaceships make their way down a trench with mere seconds left before the bad guys blow up the good guy home base. The trench itself leads to a highly specific weakpoint that was recovered via stolen intel. The best pilot among the rebels is able to make the shot that blows up the bad guy’s orb-shaped base.”
“An old man, who might or might not be aware of his Force Sensitive apprentice has gone into seclusion waiting until the Force brings this person to him.”
- that’s easy it’s… oh…
“The secret plans are hidden in the droid.”
“Han Solo, owing massive debts, has used his last bargaining chip and needs to find a way to talk or shoot his way out of a tight spot.”
But again, all the spots without the hand-holding and “Look at me, I’m Episode IV!” are great!
Maybe not have the First Order blow up FIVE planets, especially because we never saw them or had any emotional attachment to them. I can tell you that “Alderaan is a peaceful planet,” or that the Rebels did long ago have a base on Dantooine now abandoned… I can’t even tell you the names of the planets Hux blew up.
When it comes to any kind of extended/expanded universe set up in Star Wars, you’re only as good as your characters. BB-8 is up there for me with HK-47. Finn is fantastic, Poe shows some real promise, I don’t give the slightest shit about Snoke (regardless of who he might be that will make 14 people on the internet say “I knew it” and make me say “Oh great…we’re validating the prequels”). Kylo Ren is by far the most interesting and engaging of the new characters, but the story lives and dies on its hero. Right now, Rey is the greatest thing going. I hope she’s not Luke’s kid as I feel it waters down and shrinks the universe, but that’s exactly what more than half the fans seem to want.
It feels LIKE a Star Wars many times throughout, but it also feels like fan fiction. I’ve gotta get used to the idea that Thrawn, Jaina, Mara, and even Zorba the Hutt are all gone forever. If they continue to pick things from the EU and change the names/swap the palettes, it’s not going to sit well with me. Star Wars is back. It’s not quite as good as the originals. I still can’t put it over Jedi which aside from ten minutes of pure Empire-esque masterpiece, I pretty much hate that entire movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than the prequels. It will make you laugh, it might even make you cry. It tells a contained engaging story that I feel will leave you wanting to know what happens next, but you might end up ultimately asking yourself “was it necessary?”
Much like the definitive answer to that question, “clouded the future is.”
Of the 20-30 yr later trend, I put it right after Creed (and simply don’t count Mad Max, as he’s not 30 yrs older, and that movie is no different from any other Mad Max sequel) of the newbies, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Domhnall Gleeson do all the heavy lifting. These are the breakout stars of 2014/2015 and you will see them in everything going forward. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is one of my favorite aspects, but I didn’t attribute much of that to Driver himself. It’s mostly in the writing. He’s hurdles above Hayden, but he didn’t do anything that someone else could have done much better. I look forward to the next five years of perpetual Star Wars, interested to see how it all plays out, but I’m not about to set my Thrawn Trilogy ablaze just yet.
It’s great, but it’s not the best thing to ever happen to the Star Wars universe - expanded or otherwise. How I still can’t buy a BB-8 cigarette lighter is beyond me.
As a die-hard Star Wars fan, I’d give Force Awakens an B+.