Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Star Wars is finally good again

At the turn of the century, everyone was excited that the prequel series was coming out after a near 20 year absence of Star Wars from the big screen.  The Phantom Menace came out and Star Wars fans, especially young ones like me, were thrilled at the new lightsaber fights and the return to the franchise… until we watched the movie again, and then an uncomfortable thought crept in: “You know… that movie actually isn’t any good.  I mean Liam Neeson did as good a job as he could have and Darth Maul was a good villain, but the special effects sometimes got cartoony, most of the acting was bad because they looked like they received no directing, and the dialogue is often awful.”  This was confirmed even more in the next two movies as George Lucas went off the rails by making terrible casting decisions, seemingly doing zero directing, writing dialogue that sounded like the efforts of an emo 12 year old girl, creating lightsaber fights with old men that looked fake and silly, and ultimately crapping all over his own franchise and ruining one of the greatest movie villains of all time.  Good job, George.  Because of this, The Force Awakens is a breath of fresh air: For once, watching a Star Wars movie doesn’t require ignoring so many terrible things.

Truth be told, I was skeptical of J.J. Abrams at first because I was not thrilled with how he re-invented Star Trek.  The new Trek movies were entertaining, but it seemed like Abrams didn’t give a rat’s rear end about actual Star Trek, coming up with silly ideas such as transporting to warping vessels and even to other freaking planets light years away.  However, since he evidently likes Star Wars a lot more, he stayed much more true to the franchise and in the end made a movie that was both new and nostalgic of the original trilogy.

The movie wasn’t perfect, but it actually feels like a Star Wars movie.  Finally.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.  RUN FAR AWAY IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

THE GOOD:

-The new heroine is fresh, believable, and very much like a young Princess Leia.  She is actually a likable character, unlike so many in the prequel trilogies.  I honestly wasn’t as big of a fan of random Storm Trooper who got a conscious, but perhaps his backstory will get more exploration and he’ll become more interesting.  The actor still mostly did a good job with him.

-Harrison Ford did an excellent job recapturing Han Solo again.

-Dialogue was mostly fine and had a lot of good humor.

-Special effects were tastefully done so it didn’t look like a cartoon or a video game half the time.  It looked like they, gasp, actually shot on sets sometimes and not purely in front of green screens.

-Kylo Ren, the new villain, made a great entrance was started off strongly.  I’ll… get to how he ended.

-The story moved briskly but was easy to follow.

-Lots of fun references to the original triology.

THE BAD

-This has been brought up ever since the trailer came out and I’ll bring it up again: It makes zero sense that large parts of the galaxy have forgotten about the Jedi and the Force and think they are a myth.  The common retort from apologists is: “Well, didn’t Han Solo doubt the force in the first movie and that guy who challenged Darth Vader before getting choked?”  My response is merely this: That’s another example of bad writing from George Lucas.  If the Jedi were protectors of peace throughout the galaxy and heavily involved in wars and politics (as is part of Lucas’ universe), it makes absolutely no sense that anyone but the most fringe people would not know they existed.  It is utterly absurd.  There’s no way around it: It’s bad writing.  Han Solo does not need to tell people that the Force is real when everyone should know.  This video captures the silliness well.  I know it’s a common movie trope that people forget the past and then rediscover it, but come on.  Get more creative than that.

-This is more of a criticism of the whole idea of sequels to begin with, as I have made this criticism of the Expanded Universe that is no longer canon: If you continue to put the principal characters into big messes and dangerous situations all the time, especially ones that seem to dwarf what they went through before, then you simply threaten to diminish the significance of the original trilogy and their victory there.  I am not saying that they need a Disney happily-ever-after ending, but major victories should bring with them major consequences.  For example, in the Lord of the Rings, when Sauron is defeated by the Last Alliance, he disappears for thousands of years, and during this time there are still conflicts but mostly relative peace.  Even though he is not completely destroyed and that opens the door for his return, the victors earned something.

It should be a big deal that the Rebellion defeated the Emperor and shattered the Empire.  It makes sense that the Empire would still have remnants that fight over the next several years, but for this First Order to have resources that seem to vastly outpace what the Republic has is nothing short of stupid and lazy writing.

-Speaking of which, the new superweapon was… silly.  Constructing a weapon like that would be prohibitively expensive, especially for forces that should not have that kind of money, and apparently they haven’t learned their lesson not to put too many eggs in one basket.

-As I stated above, Kylo Ren started out well and powerful… and then turned into a little crybaby like the prequel Anakin.  I did not find the actor believable in the slightest, and it was incredibly stupid that he lost a lightsaber fight to someone who had zero training.  This is where Abrams’ tendency to nonsensically move the action forward, logic be damned, reared its ugly head.  This was a girl that he Force pushing into a tree with no effort just moments earlier.  I know that he was injured and didn’t want to kill her, but still, this was a HUGE mistake because it makes the audience cease taking him seriously as a villain.  For movies like this, the villian has to be compelling and dangerous, and Abrams dropped the ball here by making him look weak.  This is a guy who allegedly single-handedly destroyed Luke’s efforts to rebuild the Jedi, and then he turns out to be this weak petulant little child?  Really?

-I think killing Han Solo this early was a mistake.  I think the payoff would have been greater if they waited until another movie to do that, when we learn more about Kylo Ren’s/Ben Solo’s childhood and when Han actually got reunited with Luke.  Still, Harrison Ford did it well.

-For the life of me, nobody has explained, either in the EU or in these new movies, how people found Luke’s/Anakin’s old lightsaber.

-I know Jedi can get really hermit-like, but it actually makes no sense given Luke’s character trajectory that he would flat abandon his friends and family to have emo time by himself, especially in times of dire need. Yep.  He is not Yoda.

PREDICTIONS/QUESTIONS

-I think Rey is a Skywalker.  Possibly Luke’s kid or maybe even another Solo kid, which would make it even closer to the Expanded Universe.

-Finn will probably turn out to be Force sensitive.

-Where is Lando?

-Seriously, who is this new Emperor dude?  Where the freak was he in the original series?  If they make him into the Emperor’s clone like they did in the Expanded Universe, I am going to facepalm.

-What, exactly, is the Republic even doing at this time?

CONCLUSION

Yes, I’m an insufferable nit-picker… because I value things making sense.  That is not to say that I didn’t like the movie.  I actually enjoyed it a lot, and I wouldn’t mind watching it again.  Star Wars is cool again ;).

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