The Force Awakens: Excellent, but we’re not quite there yet

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Spoiler Warning

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say I thought Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an excellent movie. Much better than your standard summer blockbuster. It did what it needed to do, and it did it very well. It introduced some compelling new characters. It provided that distinctly Star Wars style of action we all know and love. It bridged the gap between the Original Trilogy and this new era of Star Wars films, perhaps its single greatest achievement. Let there be no doubt about it—Star Wars is back. For this reason, the cast, crew, Disney, and Abrams should all be applauded. I greatly enjoyed this movie.

Yet I do not consider Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be an outstanding triumph. It was captivating, but it was not epic. It left me wanting more, but it was not wholly satisfying on its own. It was undoubtedly too much to hope that The Force Awakens would reach the expectations set for it, to be able to withstand the fan scrutiny it would garner and has garnered. That aside, it is not unfair to say The Force Awakens did not reach the level of the Original Trilogy. I maintain tremendous optimism that we will reach that level in Episode VIII or one day soon, when bold new narrative ground tumbles forth. But, much like Luke Skywalker facing Darth Vader in Cloud City, the Force was with this movie but we’re not there yet.

Let’s begin the analysis on a positive note though, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens executed a number of story elements with aplomb. I’ll begin by stating that the first, second, and third best parts of this movie were Daisy Ridley, Daisy Ridley, and Daisy Ridley. Rey’s character carried emotional depth. She mirrors Luke Skywalker’s original arch in a way that reminiscently draws the viewer in. I quickly found myself rooting for her, from the desert planes of Jakku to the snowy lightsaber battle on the Starkiller base. And while I think the criticisms of her being suddenly inexplicably powerful in the Force are well taken, there will almost certainly be some form of explanation for this in movies to come. It’s not a deus ex machina so much as a mystery yet to be solved. On the whole, the character development that plagued the Prequel Trilogy is one of the shining strengths of The Force Awakens, with Finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and Rey all giving us compelling characters that I can’t wait to see return.

Han Solo was a triumph as well, with Harrison Ford bringing that character back to life (and then subsequently to death). His motivations and actions over the course of the movie fit the beloved character we know and remember. And while I found the dialogue between General Leia and him strained (on the whole I wasn’t a huge fan of General Leia’s portrayal—where’d the sassiness go?), the break-up and reconciliation between the two fits the personalities of both individuals. On top of the classic characters, throwbacks riddled the movie, serving as entertaining nuggets that firmly situated us within the Star Wars universe. From the Dejarik board to the Marksman-H combat remote making a brief appearance, the movie was chock-full of Easter eggs, something I much appreciated.

Finally, as previously mentioned, Star Wars: The Force Awakens solidly establishes the landscape for future adventures. While one could argue that movies as a whole—and Disney movies especially—are becoming overly obsessed with setting up “what’s to come” rather than focusing on the present story, establishing the foundation of the future was eminently important for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Almost every major criticism that has been levied against this movie thus far is, I think, less likely to be an issue in the movies to follow. This will be due to the foundation that has been laid for future exploration and creativity.

Moving now into the negative, the single greatest criticism that has been levied thus far concerns the movie’s lack of originality. I would eminently agree with this. Star Wars: The Force Awakens lacks the creativity, surprise, and wonder that characterized so many of its predecessors (yes, even the prequels were creative). With the exception of compelling new characters, we don’t get much novelty here. There is a key distinction to be made between Easter eggs (which I loved), and recycled plot devices, which, while nostalgically entertaining, left me a bit disappointed.

This criticism is no more apt than with the Starkiller base, an unfortunately obvious Death Star rehash. In almost every way, I found its inclusion trite and jarring. Honestly, I wish it had never been a part of the movie. Its primary value was in providing a setting for climactic character showdowns, both on land and in space. Yet all of this could have been accomplished by other means. Following the plot of the movie, I see no reason why there couldn’t have just been a showdown between the Resistance and the First Order to find the last piece of the map to Luke Skywalker. That or any number of plot ideas would have sufficed. But the most irritating aspect of the Starkiller base, in my opinion, was its sudden random destruction of the entire New Republic without really any consequence. Out of nowhere the entire governmental system of the Star Wars universe is wiped out—the governmental system that was the sole driving goal of the Original Trilogy rebellion to begin with—and there is almost no fallout. Did the New Republic really have no intelligence the Starkiller base existed? And how did the First Order recover enough from the Battle of Endor to gain such a tactical advantage?

This leads into one of my other criticisms—while the movie did an excellent job of situating us back into the Star Wars universe with Easter eggs and homages, there was very little to no explanation of the current state of affairs or balance of power between the First Order and the Resistance. This might seem like nitpicking, but given that the entire focus of the Original Trilogy was the war against the Empire, it seems only fair to expect a brief update on the status of that struggle and the ramifications following the Battle of Endor. Instead we’re left with very few scenes that give us a sliver of context clues. The Resistance works separately from the New Republic and appears to be drastically outgunned by the First Order. But why? After thirty years, has so little progress been made? One or two lines would have gone a long way in bridging this gap between VI and VII, helping the audience understand the stakes that our heroes were facing, and maybe therefore softening the inclusion of the Starkiller base as well.

My last criticism will likely be the most controversial. While I enjoyed the power and mystery of the ending, especially the final scene with Rey’s arm outstretched holding Luke’s blue lightsaber, I couldn’t help but feel gypped. Going in, I think everyone was eagerly anticipating the reveal of Luke’s storyline. In fact, from the get go we were presented with his absence as the focal point of the movie, with the very first line of the opening crawl reading: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Consequently, for the entirety of the movie I was on pins and needles waiting for Luke Skywalker to reappear. Time after time I was certain it would happen. Time after time I was disappointed. This is part of the reason why I enjoyed the movie more on the second watch, knowing what to expect going in. I understand why this decision was made. It leaves us with a very powerful cliffhanger and a heightened sense of anticipation for Episode VIII. From an artistic standpoint I respect it. But as a fan, it left me unsatisfied.

So that’s it. There you have it ladies and gentleman. These are just a few of my initial thoughts. And as always, I welcome yours in the comments below. May the Force be with you.

Other Points:

·      Why doesn’t Anakin’s Force ghost appear to Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and tell him to stop being a creep?

·      Maz Kanata is clearly going to be our new Yoda character. She was pretty great!

·      Loved Rey’s Force vision scene! Maybe the best part of the movie.

·      Not a huge fan of Supreme Leader Snoke—felt a bit shoehorned to me; guessing he’s likely Darth Plagueis

·      Why did Luke want to leave a map to his whereabouts anyway? Mystery yet to be revealed!

·      The Resistance expositional dialogue about the Starkiller base was a bit clunky

·      Captain Phasma was overhyped; hope she gets a beefed up role next time

·      I agree with Mr. Sunday Movies; I think Rey will be a Kenobi

·      My guess is Max Von Sydow’s character previously helped Luke train his new Jedi (assistant teacher?), and was sent to Jakku to keep an eye on Rey following the massacre (a la Ben Kenobi being sent to Tatooine to keep an eye on Luke)

(Daniel Strunk)

Heroic Staff

Heroic Staff

Heroic Special Activities Division Agent Trainee Program