Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015) Film Review, a movie directed J.J. Abrams, and Oscar Issac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Andy Serkis, Crystal Clarke, Pip Anderson, Mark Hamill, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Greg Grunberg, Warwick Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Max von Sydow.
J.J. Abrams had big shoes to fill when he took the reins of the Star Wars franchise. Wisely he made the move of incorporating the old with the new but more importantly, he made his own film, at least for its first two acts. For the third act of the film, fans got a retread of a story aspect that they had seen before, almost identically (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi).
The key to what made A New Hope great was that the viewer cared for and understood Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). J.J. Abrams understood that with the creation of Jakku scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Ex-First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187 / Finn (John Boyega). Before the two of them were brought together, the film’s writers (Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and J.J. Abrams) took their time with them so that the viewer could get a clear picture of them, the worlds they inhabited, and their motivations.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)’s new (or advanced) uses of the force were a thrill to watch, easily one of the best aspects of the film. Almost every time Kylo Ren was on-screen, it seemed too short. The petulant temper tantrums that Kylo Ren underwent exhibited his immaturity and lack of control. Whether it was because of his emotional turmoil or something undisclosed, it ameliorated his character, rounded him far more than any new Darth i.e. Maul and Tyranus.
Kylo sensed the conflict in FN-2187 in the first act of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens yet did nothing about it, possibly because he was in the mist of his own undisclosed emotional conflict. Kylo eventually killed one of the main sources of his conflict while Finn ran away from, shot members of, and betrayed his conflict source. It was an interesting, initial dichotomy between the two characters.
The beginning of the two lightsaber battles, with Kylo punching himself (trying to clot his bleeding laser blast wound I believe), was very good. The first of the two lightsaber battles (with Kylo calling his opponent “Traitor”) was good but it was second battle that contained the emotional subplot that a great lightsaber battle thrives on. Kylo’s second lightsaber opponent being knocked out (bearing no later damage or disorientation from the jarring impact) while the first lightsaber battle occurred was an unfortunate retread from two other Star Wars films (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith), which could have easily been changed to Kylo holding that person in place while he battled his first opponent (he did it effortlessly with a laser beam in first act of the film).
The second lightsaber battle in the third act of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a mixture of heart, accepting who and what you are, fighting for your beliefs, whether good or bad (depending upon your view point), and a finale that can not be logically explained. That final point first. Kylo Ren has been using a sword (a lightsaber) and has been a swordplay practitioner for years. How could he lose a swordplay battle to someone that was using a sword for the first time? It was an example of the good guy cop-out (i.e. the good guy wins because they are the good guy, they have goodness on their side, and they have to win the final battle). When Strider beat Lurtz in the final sword battle in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, it made sense. Lurtz was a newborn and newly trained in combat. He didn’t have the swordplay skills or the years of experience that Strider had. In the same vein, Kylo’s swordsmanship should have saw him to victory. If it had been sword against fighting staff or lightsaber staff, Rey winning would not have been an impossibility (she may have been using that staff to fight off would-be thieves for years). Genetically, Kylo was stronger than Rey so when they became locked, Rylo should have quickly overpowered Rey yet they stood toe-to-toe, equally. It was strange to see.
A cynic will say this could all be explained by the Force: Rey used the Force to match Kylo’s advanced swordplay abilities and she used the force to augment her strength enough that the two of them were equals when things got close and physical. They will say that she is a Force genius and therefore was able to do these things on the spur of the moment with the Force with no training beforehand.
That is a valid argument (and a exceptional plot point) except for the fact that there was no evidence of her doing either during the fight.
In the end, the audience is not supposed to think this deeply about these plot details and all the others that permeate this film. They are supposed to enjoy and enjoy 99% of the audience probably will. There is that one percent though that wanted a more technically savvy, intelligent final fight between Kylo and Rey, where their strengths and weakness were emphasized, not equalized magically (The Force) and then marginalized (the good guy cop-out).
Kylo Ren’s true identity being held back from all of the promotional materials was a wise decision. For the majority of the first act, the viewer thought that it was Luke Skywalker behind the Kylo Ren mask, especially because of the dialogue delivered by Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow). It was a great feint by the film’s screenwriters.
As soon as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) walked onto that bridge in the third act of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the viewer knew what would happen. The set up and setting were too operatic (complete with a watching audience) for something climatic not to occur. It was expertly written that the choice, the moment, was held until the Starkiller weapon was fully charged and the sky darkened, including on Kylo Ren.
The humor and chemistry between Rey, Finn, and BB-8 carried Star Wars: The Force Awakens through its first two acts. The entire boy-meets-girl dialogue brought multiple smiles (and laughter) to the viewer’s face. Rey seemed completely immune to Finn’s ‘interest’ until Finn’s confession and other scenes in the third act of the film. BB-8 instantly became the focal point of most of the scenes that it inhabited, performing amusing actions by himself, behind characters, or at a character’s command. R2-D2 was a nearly impossible Astromech droid act to follow but BB-8 not only did so, he trumped R2-D2. If I could own one droid or the other, I would pick a BB droid.
What I would not have picked was the bombing mission and the plot holes found within the third act of the film.
The Death Star / bombing mission retread from Return of the Jedi was an element in the third act of The Force Awakens that the film did not need. With a new film, a new threat should have been established, not a old one made gargantuan.
The curious thing about Death Star 2.0 aka Starkiller Base was that it had no defensive parameter around it at all. Where were the fleet of ships patrolling and protecting that base? Where were the defense satellites? Where was the call for reinforcements from a nearby solar system once they were under attack?
None of these things were present or happened, at a top-tier military installation, and the mind boggled as to why not? It was really hard to swallow that the rebel fleet could just fly into the airspace of such a enormous base unmolested, then into the planet’s atmosphere, then attack such a prized military asset with no preemptive resistance from a forward-thinking First Order general.
No high-end military base would leave itself defenseless like that. The screenwriters of The Force Awakens really thought this was plausible or that the viewer would buy an open-door right up to the doorstep of a weapon that most-likely took decades to build? That the First Order would leave an asset that costly and valuable unguarded. It was a completely idiotic plot point, one that should not have been in the film.
Cardassia Prime in the final two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a huge defensive grid around it i.e. weaponized military satellites and dozens of war ships. Starkiller Base had nothing around it, no military presence whatsoever. That plot point was not remotely possible, especially because of the past destruction of two Death Stars by rebel forces. Don’t First Order officers study military history?
Another failure of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was First Order Stormtrooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie)’s complete underuse in the narrative of the film and the additional depth that could and should have been added to Finn’s character.
Captain Phasma mentioned Finn’s ‘conditioning’ in the first act of the film after his desertion. I believe Phasma was referring to the mental conditioning Stormtroopers receive at Stormtrooper bootcamp. The problem with that was that there was no evidence of soldier training or being bootcamp graduate in Finn whatsoever. If being a soldier is all he had ever known, like he said, why was he so garrulous? FN-2187 would have been taught not to speak until spoken to by a superior officer (like Sgt. Todd 3465 in Soldier). Additionally, Finn didn’t speak using military terminology nor did he show his ‘conditioning’ when he was given new weapons e.g. the rifle Han Solo gave him. He didn’t check that weapon’s sights or its power supply. He just took it and assumed. A trained, ‘conditioned’ solider would never have been so careless.
Since soldiering is all that Finn had ever known, how did he know the social concept of ‘boyfriend’? Where would he have heard that term in a First Order military base or in his barracks? It’s details like these that disavowed some of what Finn said during the film (i.e. soldiering is all he had ever known) and the backstory his screenwriters tried to build for him. If Finn was having such a moral dilemma about killing, how could he kill his own in the TIE Fighter launch bay at the beginning of the film? Some of those Stormtroopers might have been in his unit, people that he trained with at bootcamp. How could he kill them so easily, yet not kill a single villager that was a complete stranger to him?
Luke Skywalker’s appearance at the end of film was fitting since the film wasn’t about him but rather the next generation of Star Wars heroes. The gap between the two had been narrowed to the distance between Rey and Luke in the film’s final moments, an accurate summation for a film who had that gulf narrowing as one of its goals.
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