Finally! I have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and this is my review! Please note that this post will contain spoilers. You have been warned. As of this post, the film has made over $1-billion at the box office and has been shattering records left, right and center.
I saw it a day after its U.S release, which was a staggering 3 days after its release here in South Africa. Those 3 days felt like an eternity for a geek like me, having to avoid social media and the internet in general for that entire time- although I’ll admit it was slightly emancipating too, but that’s a whole other discussion.
The first time I saw it was in 3D, in an IMAX theater full of fan boys and girls (I went to see it 3 more times after that). The great thing about this is that every reference and joke was caught and laughed at heartily. It felt like this otherworldly experience with a special group of people with this collective consciousness. There were so many Star Wars t-shirts around, and even a Jedi and a Sith who came to watch the movie together.
One thing I will say right now as I get into this review is that the opinions on this film have been as polarized as the Dark Side and the Light. There are observations that everyone makes, and people either love what they observe, or they hate it, but we’re all seeing the same things, which is a sign of a film made in a very deliberate fashion, something I have to acknowledge and praise.
Watching interviews with director JJ Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy, it’s clear that they thought about every single detail in this film from the characters to the look and sound; it is simply masterful storytelling. So here’s a list of the things I liked and didn’t like about the film.
It’s A New Hope Re-hashed
Some people thought this was a bad thing, but I actually liked it. It leans heavily on nostalgia but hits a sweet spot and doesn’t overdo the callbacks (for the most part). Here’s a list of some of the parallels that I saw or I’ve seen pointed out by critics around the web.
There’s a droid on the run on a desert planet with top secret information (BB-8 and R2-D2).
A young person growing up on said desert planet gets dragged on a mission and learns they are force-sensitive, eventually fulfilling their role as a Jedi (Rey and Luke).
There’s a powerful, force-sensitive guy in a black mask that’s terrorising the galaxy, and searching for the droid on the run (Kylo Ren & Darth Vader).
A wildcard character turns good (for a bit), then tries to run away, then comes back and helps the main character save the day (Finn & Han Solo).
There’s an old bad guy pulling the strings who we know very little about (Snoke and The Emperor Palpatine).
The bad guys are stationed on a huge spherical base that has the power to destroy planets (Starkiller Base and The Death Star). And the good guys have to blow up the bad guys’ base within a certain time limit by striking the base on a specific spot, using X-wing Starfighters.
There are many more, and you can read a full list at Hypable.
I Love the New Characters
I love every new character that takes some kind of focus in this film. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is the best pilot in the Resistance led by General Leia, and he seems like a mixture of Han Solo’s charisma, with visual cues to Luke Skywalker’s X-Fighter pilot days. I’ve been saying this guy is amazing ever since I saw him in Ex Machina, and this is definitely his year as he’ll also be playing the main villain in the latest X-Men film, Apocalypse. Oscar Isaac is a fucking movie star, and my only regret is that he doesn’t get more time in the film.
Daisy Ridley was plucked from obscurity and has literally become the most famous person in the world, overnight! I’m not even kidding; as of this post, she is ranked right at the top of IMDB’s Starmeter.
And it’s not just because millions of fanboys around the world are swooning over her (they are), but because her character is masterfully crafted and directed, and unbelievably well acted. She goes from vulnerable and teary-eyed in one scene, to a badass combatant in the next. It’s this duality that makes her not only likable but competent in the minds of audiences.
The very same can be said for John Boyega, who I only saw in Attack the Block a few months ago (even though the film came out years ago).
That film has all the makings of an instant cult classic, but it’s the Star Wars franchise that has given Boyega the boost to super stardom that he deserves.
There’s a scene right at the start of the film where Boyega illustrates the emotions of his character while wearing a Stormtrooper helmet, and even then you can tell exactly what’s going on in his mind, without any dialogue. This is great direction from Abrams, but it also takes a skilled actor to pull something like this off. That scene is one example, but Boyega continues this trend throughout the film, scene to scene.
Now I have to mention BB-8 who is not only our introduction to the film as the first character we meet, but much of the story revolves around his safety and ability to deliver the map to Luke Skywalker to the resistance. BB-8 is the way we not only connect to the world, but how we connect with the new characters and subsequently connect the new characters to the old characters.
BB-8 helps build the story, and beyond this is such an emotive character that it feels like he has a soul, using human tendencies to convey emotions like sadness, joy and fear. He even pouts! I mentioned in my Phantom Menace review that that film was made for kids, and in Force Awakens, it’s clear that BB-8 is the bit made for kids (but adults love him too).
Comedians Ben Schwartz and Bill Hader voiced the character, while Dave Chapman and Brian Herring were the puppeteers working on movements behind the scenes. Many of the characteristics of the character were designed for kids to be able to imitate. BB-8 feels like a pet, or a real life friend/ companion. I’m proud to say my first piece of Force Awakens merchandise was a BB-8 Funko Pop figure which you can see in the image below, and I have a Poe Dameron and Rey one on the way too.
Overall I love all of these characters. At least 8 times during the film I changed who my favourite character was in my mind before I realised I’m not 5 years old and I can actually like them all equally. So that’s the case right now.
I Love the Old Characters
Yeah every Star Wars fan peed a little when Han and Chewie step into the Millennium Falcon in that trailer and Han says, “Chewie, we’re home”. That hit you right in the nostalgia, and so did the moments seeing Leia meet and talk to Han; or when Luke finally showed up on screen for all of 30 seconds and didn’t say a damn thing right before the credits rolled and we knew we had to wait two years before we know what the hell is going on with that guy.
Many people hated that, but I think it was brilliant. From what I can see, they are maintaining the parallels to the original trilogy, with Luke being to Rey a kind of mix between what Obi-Wan and Yoda were to him when he was learning about the Force and the ways of the Jedi. And all of that will be revealed in Episode VIII.
C3PO and R2-D2 also make brief appearances, and we see C3PO has a red arm, which was used to show time passing, scarring, and change in a very simple way- according to Abrams. R2-D2 comes alive at a very convenient moment in the film, delivering a piece of information about Luke to the Resistance which some have speculated was at Luke’s will. I just don’t think enough is communicated in the language of the film for this to be a strong enough plot point. It’s just a small moment where I would say they dropped the ball and made things too convenient.
Han Solo and Chewbacca are the nostalgic life of the film, as they provide the most thorough connection to the original films, making it even more heart-wrenching when Han Solo dies.
Something that JJ Abrams has re-iterated in interview after interview is that while The Force Awakens is a visual spectacle, it’s always been about the characters. That’s what makes Star Wars, and as an accomplished storyteller, he knows that that’s what makes any story great.
Literally every critic I follow has praised this character’s design, as well as how he is portrayed by Adam Driver. I cannot agree with them completely, unfortunately. This is one of those cases where I see what they see from an objective, observable perspective, but cannot agree with the conclusions they draw as a result of those observations.
Kylo Ren is a complex character, sure. He’s a Freudian disaster, obsessed with his grandfather (who is Darth Vader) and working systematically against his parents (Han Solo & Leia Organa). He’s the worst possible outcome after the happy ending in Return of the Jedi; and this makes his existence the ultimate stake, the greatest conflict.
He throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, thrashing out with his uniquely designed lightsaber. His weaknesses are revealed as Rey bests him with Jedi mind tricks, as well as physically with the lightsaber at the end (although he was injured, so let’s give him that).
He’s also drawn to the light, and consults his dead grandfather to help him maintain his path to darkness. Some people found these weaknesses mixed in with obsession, rage and confusion interesting and complex and his motivations and shortcomings to be human and relatable, giving him more depth.
I didn’t like it.
I saw that, but I didn’t think it was good. I found it annoying, and even more so when the mask comes off and Adam Driver literally looks like the stereotypical portrayal of an emo kid. I mean, if you thought pre-Vader Anakin from Attack of the Clones and the first half of Revenge of the Sith was a brat, you’re in for quite a surprise my friends. There’s even a popular Twitter account that has sprung up, parodying how emotional this character is, called Emo Kylo Ren.
Some have even gone so far as to say Kylo Ren is a more interesting villain than Darth Vader because so much about him is revealed upfront. All I can say is that I found Darth Vader to be quite menacing, formidable and interesting because of his mysterious origins in A New Hope. This was all amplified by the revelations in Empire Strikes Back, and his redemption in Return of the Jedi. I liked knowing less and then learning more about Vader’s origin and motives over time. Either way, I’m going to give Kylo Ren some time to evolve because clearly this film was set up as part of a trilogy that captures his redemption (or his complete desolation).
I like the idea of what Kylo Ren is, but not the exact thing he ended up being. I think he looks freaking cool, and I’m interested to see where they go with his character from here on out.
As one of the two main characters in CGI, Maz Kanata actually looks pretty cool- like she may be a real character. They did a great job of the texture of her skin and the way she moves. But Snoke, even though I get that he’s a hologram and therefore should look a bit like he’s not actually there- the fact that I knew he was created via motion capture just pulled me out of the movie whenever I saw him.
He’s clearly the parallel to Palpatine in past films: a mysterious puppet master pulling the strings in the background, making us want to learn more about him and what his motives are. But from a design perspective, I just wasn’t feeling it.
Hopefully we meet a fully realised version of this character in the flesh (so to speak) in Episode VIII, and by then he will look a bit better.
The Republic of who-gives-a-damn
The attack on the new Republic, and The First Order destroying the host of planets on which they exist was supposed to be this heavy moment, but it just didn’t feel that way.
We don’t get much of an idea of who the Republic is; we know what they are having formed in the wake of the defeat of the Empire 30 years ago, just like the First Order, but we don’t get a character tied in with that portion of the universe in such a way that we feel their demise. I guess you could say Leia is that connection to them, but she’s not as connected as she was to the people of Alderaan when we see the Death Star destroy her home planet in the original film.
Starkiller Base destroying all those planets seemed to be more effective at showing what the weapon could do than it was at showing how far the First Order was willing to go.
I feel that this should have been balanced out a bit more by giving us more than the final moment of one woman on one of the planets.
Rey is too perfect
Rey is an amazing and nuanced character, and I gave her all the props for that above. But, the problem I find with her is that she is able to do many things with such great ease. There’s no struggle.
Many people have said that she’s Luke from the original trilogy, but here’s the thing: Luke sucked at everything, and Rey doesn’t. Sure, she gets captured, but that’s over in a moment as she somehow self-learns how to overpower Kylo Ren (who has had some kind of training) with the mind-reading skill and exposes his fears. Later she’s able to do Jedi Mind tricks on a Stormtrooper (played by none other than Daniel Craig) and escape.
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she can use a lightsaber as we learn early on that she can fight when she takes out the two guys trying to steal BB-8, and her ability to fly the Millennium Falcon makes sense as she was a scavenger for parts and therefore understands the inner workings of various types of aircraft.
But, unless we get some revelation that she trained for a short time as a Jedi before being mind-wiped (which is a popular theory about her origins, as a result of the vision she has) then I’m going to have to say that this character is just a bit way too idealized from the get-go.
I must add that the same thing can be said for Finn and his ability to shoot so well in-flight, but this guy runs away, and he gets owned when trying to use the lightsaber… more than once. I love that we get a likeable, strong female character with real fears and strengths, but I can’t get behind her self-learning a bunch of things that took Luke Skywalker 3 movies to master; it’s just a poor element of character development.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is masterful storytelling from a director who’s known for writing and producing some of the most captivating stories and characters on film and television.
It has a great balance of nostalgia and a new edge to appeal to cross-generational audiences. The film has characters who we love, both old and new, and who we want to spend time with and learn more about.
This is the key to any great franchise, as it achieves the goal of making audiences escape the mundane for a short while and live with these characters, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. The Force Awakens isn’t my favourite Star Wars film, but it’s definitely up there.
Favourite Part: A simple thumbs up from BB-8.
Least favourite part: Any time Kylo Ren was bitching.
Watch the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens below:
The IMDB Synopsis for Star Wars: The Force Awakens reads as follows:
“Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.”
In case you missed it, here are all our Star Wars movie Reviews for Episodes 1 to 6:
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