Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens (2015) Review

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The force has awakened after a long slumber that many thought would be forever. With George Lucas closing the book on his Star Wars saga, many of us thought that we would never get another movie again despite his questionable claims of having plans for a sequel trilogy. Years pass after the release of Revenge of the Sith and it really did start to seem like a false claim from the creator. In 2012 however, it was announced seemingly out of nowhere that George Lucas had sold his company to none other than Disney. There was a lot to take away from this news that included the announcement of a sequel trilogy to be released starting in 2015. There were a lot of people that didn’t approve of the acquisition and didn’t trust the mouse house being able to handle the famed property. From the start there was already a lot of controversy, but for the most part there was a lot of hype. I remember that very first trailer that was released a little over a year before its release and how excited it got the fans. I remember watching that trailer at least a hundred times and I remember all of the questions we all had. It was uncharted territory for fans that weren’t around when the originals were first released. For many, this would be a new trilogy of absolute mystery. More than that though, the movie was going to have to live up to an impossible amount of hype.

The Force Awakens is easily on the surface a retread of old themes and plot points from the original trilogy. It hurts from its lack of originality and lack of risk taking or traversing into pushing the boundaries to tell us a story that we weren’t expecting or hadn’t already seen in the series. What it did do differently was that it gave us a mysterious new character with Rey and a totally unique character in Finn. Rey having spent most of her life on the planet Jakku being a scavenger and having to struggle for food every day gave us a different background to that of Luke and even that of Anakin. I did find issue with the planet being completely new. I just don’t understand what the point of doing a desert planet that looks incredibly similar to Tattooine is when you could’ve just done Tattooine. There’s nothing significant about Jakku being Jakku that sets it apart from Tattooine, so why create a whole new planet. I just never understood the point or thought process. Back to Rey though, I’ve heard the complaints by some people saying that she’s a “Mary Sue”. Look, I’m not going to expand on this too much because there’s no point arguing a point that people just don’t understand. She survives on her own, she scavenges on her own, she fights on her own, she flies a speeder on her own, and she very clearly is strong with the force. All of these traits are character traits that she had prior to the story bringing her in. Therefore, in simple terms, she’s not a Mary Sue. She’s a character who has gone through life having to do so much on her own and has the force that does give her an edge on certain things especially as it grows within her. There are so many other characters in movies that have way less background information as to what they can do and why and yet we don’t talk about them. The reasons for her being able to do what she can do are right there in front of you and those character traits that she has are what makes her such an engaging character. She’s strong willed, skilled, and independent that makes her completely opposite to either Luke or Anakin. This movie repeated many themes and plot points from previous movies, but this was not one of them and that’s an important factor. She’s a breath of fresh air to the franchise and gives a different perspective into this familiar universe.

The second breath of fresh air is from the new character Finn. He was formerly a stormtrooper who “awakened” and decided that he didn’t want to be a stormtrooper. From the start it’s a great new perspective on the stormtroopers and gives them a little more humanity now that we know someone that was actually one of them. He’s frantic and goofy in a lot of scenes and has no urge to want to be a hero. My biggest complaint about him is how he got his name. It makes sense for someone in Poe’s shoes to just come up with the name based off of his designation as a stormtrooper being FN2187, but it seems like they could’ve figured out a better way. Finally we get to Poe who is confident and brash. He plays the Han Solo type role but is a far different character than Han. He has great moments and I enjoy his love for the Resistance and how dedicated he is to fighting the First Order. 

This film did a really good job of setting up these three new heroes that were to lead our new trilogy. They all come from different backgrounds and all have different character traits and motivations than the heroes that started this franchise. It’s a breath of fresh air that is only brought full circle by having a good villain. Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is a divisive character among fans in this first film. He has a unique character design and is played by the great actor Adam Driver. I don’t think his age was ever given to us in this movie but he does seem a little too old to be having his tantrums when things don’t go his way. It also seems like that emotional whining is a trait carried through the Skywalker lineage since both Luke and Anakin have their moments acting in similar ways. Some people will complain about that, but for me I can see why it fits his character. Despite being an emotional character when things don’t work out in his favor, he’s also an extremely powerful character that we see from the first time we meet him. He uses the force to stop a blaster bolt in mid air and is able to keep that concentration even while having a brief interrogation with Poe. It’s quite impressive but of course the force is strong in his family. While I like the look of his mask and the meaning behind wanting to have one to kind of imitate his grandfather Vader, I much prefer the moments without the mask. In those moments we actually get to see the raw emotion and great acting by Adam Driver who can say a lot on his face without saying a word. The only other villains in this film are General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Supreme Leader Snoke. Hux is ok at best, he has some moments where he seems important enough but then moments where he’s sort of just thrown to the side. He’s a character that’s just kind of there for the movie. Phasma on the other hand is a character I have a problem with. The design alone is absolutely awesome and is also played by the great Gwendolyn Christie who is a great actor. Unfortunately she’s not given screen time, meaningful dialogue, or moments to do anything other than stand there and look menacing. It was disappointing that they didn’t give her more to do given the opportunity they had to really make her a significant adversary to our heroes. That would for the most be all of the important characters minus our original heroes Luke, Han, and Leia. Luke is only in it for maybe a minute, Leia does absolutely nothing in this film except say a few lines, but Han was the big key here. My biggest worry was that Harrison Ford wasn’t going to fall right back into that character but instead was going to be himself. Surprisingly he proved me wrong because he fell right back into that charming smuggler we all love. He is part of the core of this movie and is essentially our guide for our new heroes Rey and Finn. He has an unfortunate death that for the most part carried no weight because we never got a chance to feel the relationship between him and his son. It hurts because we all love the character and he dies, but it doesn’t carry as much weight or meaning as it could have if we just had a few moments to understand the relationship they had together. Overall though I very much enjoyed his character being brought back and made a focus. 

Going into the story, I started to realize that this movie was more for the characters than it was to tell a compelling story. Everything that happens only happens to drive our characters to the ending which I guess isn’t necessarily a bad thing because that’s what a movie should do, but it’s clear that the focus was on setting up these characters rather than tell a great compelling story. Like I said before, many of the plot points are rehashed ideas originally used in the other Star Wars films, A New Hope in particular. We get Starkiller base which is a super weapon built into a planet that sucks the energy out of a star and can shoot a beam that can split into five beams that all completely destroy five different planets. Honestly, that seems like a bit too much and too far trying to top what the Death Star was. I would’ve almost rather they just build a new Death Star. The problem here is that it poses a lot of questions like how a planet could sustain being completely transformed into a weapon and how exactly the technology works. Although, Star Wars has never been a series that tried to explain the technology which is part of why it works so well so I won’t knock it too much for that. The biggest issue with the weapon is that it destroys these planets similar to how Leia’s home world is destroyed in the original film which is fine and dandy but why does it matter? Okay, so they have a big weapon that you have to destroy. That’s it. There’s no emotion or care or worry with this weapon because we had no reason to care about the people on those planets that were all destroyed. Oh and if you didn’t know, apparently one of those planets was the base for the New Republic. Again, why does that matter if we don’t have a reason to care. Okay it’s an issue because the government is destroyed but it has no effect on our care of the issue except for how it affects our characters going forward which it doesn’t until the next film. For the most part it was a pretty standard story of trying to get BB-8 back to the Resistance which brought us to Leia and our heroes to the war. The only parts I really cared about that had depth and intrigue were the parts where Rey begins to find out who she really is. I feel the moments with Kylo and Rey are when this movie is at its peak. The Jedi and Sith were always the more interesting parts of the films for me because there were more layers and depth. We never get an answer in this film to who Rey is but we get a progression of her character as she slowly starts to understand this power she has. This to me is a better flow than what we see with Luke. People complain that she just knows how to use the powers even though she’s never used them before, but I argue it’s the force itself helping here and guiding her. It’s very evident in the interrogation scene between her and Kylo. 

Ultimately, this movie has issues with story and some logical problems, but none of those issues are bad but instead are just safe. This movie is a safe movie that doesn’t give us too much that’s new but instead gives us a movie that lays the groundwork for this new trilogy and these new characters in a way that’s engaging and entertaining. In the end the film as a whole is a fun time that is only held back by it being a safe retread. The highlight moment for me was the duel between Rey and Kylo. I know there are complaints as to how he’s able to beat her but if you watched this movie then you would have noticed how injured Kylo was going into this duel. Prior to it, he took a shot to his body from Chewbacca’s now caster that was shown previously to penetrate stormtrooper armor and throw them into the air. If you can’t understand how injures Kylo was in that duel then I’m not sure if you’re even wanting to give the movie a chance. It’s not one of the best movies in the franchise, but it’s an entertaining fun ride that really sets up everything to come. It has some key highlight moments and gives us brand new characters with interesting character arcs to come. The Force Awakens was my first time watching a new Star Wars movie as an adult and it didn’t disappoint in giving me what I was looking for. It’s a movie that will hold up with less controversy than some others many years from now. 

Grade: B+

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