WARNING: This review will have NO SPOILERS and then a little later SOME SPOILERS. The spoiler section will be clearly marked. You may enter without fear. Well, none more than usual, of course.
THE REVIEW (SANS SPOILERS):
After a couple of weeks of successfully dodging comments and opinions on the film, I finally managed to get myself into the theater to watch the latest installment in this much ballyhooed and hallowed franchise. Yeah, you read that right. Ballyhooed and hallowed. Two great words that sound great together. No, no – just trust me on this. You can take my word for it. I’m a writer.
This movie is a return to form for Star Wars. After the much lamented prequels, Star Wars fans were left wondering what had happened to their beloved franchise. Much can and has been said about the problems with the prequels, so I won’t waste time with them. Suffice it to say, they weren’t STAR WARS. At least, not in the way we wanted it. Not to say they were completely awful (I mean, hey, they had Ewan MacGregor – I’d watch that guy chew gum for two hours and still think I got my money’s worth), but they didn’t give us the scrappy space opera we had been missing. The Force Awakens has delivered on that serial adventure formula that Lucas had originally employed so well, flaws and all, because that is what was called for.
Although we are given back our original heroes (Han, Luke and Leia) the action of the movie revolves around the new young heroes, which is as it should be. Although Harrison Ford and probably Mark Hamill could get away with running and jumping and fighting and yelling for a movie or two, Carrie Fischer certainly doesn’t seem at all interested in that kind of nonsense anymore – and she’s right. These characters need to bow out and surrender the stage to the young. One of the main appeals of Star Wars has always been its focus on youthful energy. Now, I know some people have complained that she didn’t even try to be Princess Leia, but mostly, the complaints revolve around her appearance. Obviously, that’s just garbage talk. People age. Get over it. We can’t all look like this into our sixties:
Hell, most of us can’t look like this ever. I mean… come on. In my well-informed opinion, Carrie Fischer won best swimsuit model everywhere forever.
Instead of giving us some kind of aged interpretation of Princess Leia, Carrie Fischer instead chose to portray a war-weary galactic leader and deeply troubled soul. I think it was exactly the right choice, but I confess I had to shift gears to appreciate it. She is no longer the feisty ball of energy she used to be, propelled across our screen by revolutionary zeal and young love. Now she is tired, sad and clinging morosely to the only thing that has never abandoned her: a long, devastating struggle that never seems to end.
There is little hope in Leia’s world and Fischer realizes this and plays the character the way she absolutely must be portrayed – with a steely resolve you can almost see she silently wishes she didn’t have. I applaud her performance and I hope Abrams and his writers give us a bit more in the following films, although I entirely agree that the main focus should stay mostly on our new young heroes. After all, unlike the more cerebral Star Trek, Star Wars is serial sci-fi about the adventurous and idealistic youthful spirit struggling against the jaded and cynical old guard.
As for Harrison Ford, he instead chose to play Han as simply an older version of the young scoundrel he was in episodes IV, V and VI. This was the absolute right choice and he was as entertaining and compelling in the role as ever. Although his approach differed from Fischer’s, they both turned out to be equally appropriate and expertly delivered from two film veterans long removed from their original roles, but certainly no strangers to them. Although their screen time spent together seemed a little awkward, a friend of mine pointed out that it absolutely should have been, given what had transpired in their backstories. He was right, but don’t tell him I said that.
And as for handling the fill-in-the-gaps backstory to bridge episode VI and VII, I think the writers handled it quite well and didn’t rely on an abundance of exposition. There was certainly a little bit, but that’s hard to avoid given how much time has passed for these characters. After all, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
I can’t talk anymore about the film without getting into spoilers, so I’ll sum up the non-spoiler section by saying – go see the damn movie. Also, I promise that you will see the excitement, energy, enthusiasm and magic represented the way they had been in the original movies. In fact, you may even feel it again. John Boyega’s character is a wonderful foil for this. Several times I thought to myself while watching him that his character is experiencing Star Wars for the first time for our sakes, reminding all the “Old Guard” Star Wars fans what that had felt like. It was a nice touch and I believe the capstone to my main reason for enjoying this movie – I could feel the science fiction fantasy of the franchise return and it made me feel a little like a kid again.
Like this, but without the chocolate. Okay, that’s a lie. There may have been chocolate.
REVIEW (AVEC LES SPOILERS):
The movie did have a few problems though, didn’t it? There was at least one major plot hole (how did the Republic command staff suddenly know they were the next target and what the countdown would be?) and a few tiny annoyances. Did we really need a planet-sized Death Star? I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek humor of the Republic’s leaders as they were gathered around the strategy table discussing how “there must be some sort of tiny hole we can shoot that will blow the whole thing up” but I hope Abrams and company were just giving the old mega-big-planet-destroying-space-station battle axe one last hurrah before moving on. It kind of felt like that to me, so I forgave the rehashed plot of the original. After all, I believe they needed to revisit the original formula again in order to effectively “reboot” the franchise.
But let’s talk about this sort-of-reboot a little. Who will be our new heroes this time around?
I thought John Boyega’s Finn was great. He’s a coward who finds that he’s not cowardly because he fears danger – he’s cowardly because he has a heart. And then, of course, that he’s not cowardly at all. He’s just decided to stop following orders and chart his own course. When he discovers he doesn’t need to keep running away to stay on that course, a hero is born. Why did he take up the lightsaber when Rey wouldn’t? We kind of know why she didn’t, but we never really know why he did. I guess you could say he did it because he loved Rey and understood he needed to carry it for her for a while, but I wonder if more is going on there.
As far as Oscar Isaac’s Poe Damaron goes… meh. He’s ok. He’s a great combination of Han, Luke and Wedge Antilles. I mean I like him, and I thought the actor did a fine job (although maybe slightly too exuberant – exuberant was for Finn. As a veteran pilot Poe should be a little more reserved, I think) but I just didn’t find much compelling about him. Still, he’s a serviceable action hero who I wouldn’t mind seeing impress us more with his derring-do.
But how about that wookie, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen Chewie as expressive as in this movie. Hats off to Peter Mayhew for somehow managing to communicate a cagey, sensitive and yet always-ready-to-brawl character even more ably than ever through a thick carpet with eye holes.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was perfect casting, in my opinion. His natural inclination toward slightly unbalanced, emotionally distraught but incredibly talented and energetic characters made him a clear choice. I wanted MORE of him. So glad he got to take off the mask, because the dude’s face speaks so loudly it’s impossible to look away.
I’d watch this guy watch grass grow for two hours and leave the theater impatient for the sequel.
I don’t know about Kylo. Do I want him to be redeemed or do I want him to break his mother’s heart as fully as he did his father’s? I’m honestly conflicted. On the one hand, redemption offers some measure of happiness with which Leia can gracefully bow out. On the other, if she eventually dies knowing she’s lost everything in the name of the Republic (father, mother, home, son, husband and eventually brother – come on you know that’s going to happen)… it’s just so riddled with pathos it makes me shiver.
Okay, I’m definitely leaning in that direction. Who knows, maybe Rey is her one measure of light in a galaxy dominated by death and destruction? She clearly has some emotional attachment to her, but who is Rey?
Before I delve into that, I just can’t resist mentioning a quick note about Poe, Finn and Rey. I believe there’s going to be a love triangle there, but not like the one we experienced in episodes IV, V and VI. There’s going to be some gay/bisexual themes here. Poe and Finn were far too excited about each other for there not to be some attraction beyond simple comrades-in-arms companionship, in my opinion.
And why would it be like that? Because JJ said to the haters “Oh, you don’t like a black stormtrooper? Well, let me fix that. There, now he’s black and gay. We good?”
Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. No further agenda.
I’m sorta rooting for that, but I honestly don’t care. I don’t care if any of the characters are hetero or gay or somewhere in between. I just don’t have a horse in that race. It’s a sci-fi serial adventure series. Romantic sub-plots are about as interesting to me as droid comedy. Which is to say, they are decent filler and probably necessary, but I couldn’t care less.
I don’t have anything else to say about it. We’re moving on.
Getting back to Rey, I have a hope for who she is, but no clear evidence to support it. I’d like to think she is the child of Luke and some unknown woman (didn’t Luke get it on with a woman who was force immune in one of those Zahn novels or something?) Anyway, perhaps Rey’s mom is someone who has been hitherto unknown in the films and to us viewers and will only emerge in the next movie or the one after as a major character who further complicates the axis of conflict. JJ has been known to be unafraid to introduce a strong, powerful and morally ambiguous woman into his works before:
Hello, Lena. Hello, Alias. Miss you, love you.
But whatever might be her origin, Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a fun character to watch – as well as a compelling one. I don’t say that lightly. The scene where Finn leaves her to light out for the Outer Rim instantly triggers her suppressed fears and memories of abandonment. She’s going to have a heavy emotional journey to trek as well as a physical one. I’m betting she’s being set up as being even more powerful in the force than Anakin and she’ll be forced to choose whether to use that power to redeem Kylo or destroy him.
God damn, that’s going to be good stuff. And will the galaxy change because of it? Recent history in that universe suggests not, but we know the Republic had lasted for thousands of years before Palpatine made his move. Surely some lasting stability can be found again. But did lasting stability ever come about after the fall of the Roman Empire? Surely, a case could be made for Pax Britannia and, later, Pax America (for however briefly that existed) but certainly nothing matched Rome’s hundreds of years of dominance…
Okay let’s step away from that.
Point is, if Kylo and Rey unite to defeat Snoke (that was Andy Serkis? Holy crap!) and then co-found the new Jedi Order together, turning the plan of Darth Vader on its head and redeeming not just Luke but also Leia and ushering in a new era of hope, would that be an ending we would even crave?
Perhaps, but certainly not one that would preclude further Jedi adventures, of course. It’s a serial adventure, after all. What use is peace? But certainly, the galaxy must return to some semblance of stability, else why bother fighting at all?
Or must it? Lucas, despite his glaring faults, had brilliantly buried a message in episodes IV – VI that forces of diversity and change were far healthier to a society than stubbornly clinging to rules set in stone. He seemingly reversed this in the prequels, but I would argue that the same message was still there. The revolution in the prequels was, after all, one from above and not from below. It was not a grassroots uprising, but it was clear that the old ways were no longer working. Our heroes in that movie struggle to hold on to what they believed was right – the status quo, if you will – but it clearly was not. Even Anakin, our tragic hero, wanted only to stop things from changing and in doing so was instrumental in being the most devastating force for change of all. Did the Empire have to happen so that change and painful growth might occur? I hope that is one of the questions Abrams addresses in the next films.
Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe that’s too heavy of a question for a serial adventure story. Probably is. But I’d like it if the writers tossed a stone or two in that pond, nevertheless. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll intimate a notion I’ve expressed can be found in other stories – that the result of any change is immaterial.
There is no rest. There is no peace. There is only the struggle and what part you decide to play in it.
Too much? Probably. But I’ll be looking for it anyway.
And, finally, Mark Hamill’s appearance – I just loved it. I loved how the movie ended. It actually ended with a call to adventure! How incredibly fucking awesomely inventive and appropriate! Star Wars is an adventure series! It’s an apropos invitation to STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT EPISODE!
The lightsaber is being offered to him! But will he take it up? Will he take up the sword? My god, I almost wanted to weep with the simple beauty of it. I nearly swooned. In fact, I think I did. I chair-swooned. It’s a thing. You can look it up.
And you know that fucker isn’t going to take it. You just know the little weenie that’s always been inside of him is still going to whine about “it’s just such a long way from here” and “how am I ever going to explain this?” or some kind of new topic to mewl about. He’s going to try to avoid that call again, but we know he won’t do it for long. Look at his face. It’s filled with the aged wariness of his old mentor, but also the gleaming thirst for action of the young Skywalker.
The expression on his face is the Star Wars equivalent of “shit’s about to get real.”
But what really makes that ending scene so great? The lightsaber isn’t so much being offered to Luke. It’s being offered to us.
Perfect. Majestic. Magical. Will you take it up? Will you return to the Star Wars universe to witness these new adventures?
You’re goddamn right I will.
Reaction to reactions –
Ok, after finishing my first draft of the review, I went and read some reviews I had been avoiding until now.
First off, I don’t feel people should be disappointed in not having an opportunity to see Han and Luke buddy up again. THAT MAGIC IS GONE! Let it go! The scene between Han and Leia should have reinforced this! Too much water under the bridge! The torch has been passed (is passing) to a new generation. Rey and Finn and Poe are the buddies you should be watching. Come on. Let it go, people.
“Doesn’t even give us a fraction of the whole story” is something I’m hearing. To quote Carrie Fischer from her commentary about the first Star Wars movie “It was just such a strange movie.” Nobody got the whole story! That’s one of the things that was compelling!
As for the derogatory remarks about how a janitor would know so much about the workings of a space station… Holy shit, no pun intended. Janitors know more about how things work than any goddamn internet writer ever will – myself included. Enough said from me. My man Mike Rowe can give you an earful if you need more.
Finally, there’s some disappoint about Kylo not being able to handle Rey and Finn in a fight. People seem to forget two facts about why Kylo Ren didn’t come across as more powerful during that duel. One, he was fucking injured. HE HAD BEEN SHOT BY A WOOKIE BOWCASTER. Not a thing the majority of people would be able to survive, much less shrug off and go hunting for a fight. Two, he was clearly not as powerful as people believed, or at least, not very disciplined. He admits this himself and also is accused of it by Rey. I don’t understand. Did some people just not watch the movie? Pee breaks. Maybe it was pee breaks.
Ok. That’s it. This was exhausting to write, but I started as soon as I got home from the movie and just couldn’t stop. Hope you muscled through it and found some stuff entertaining.
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