Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I had previously resolved not to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on the principle of “fool me six times, shame on you; fool me seven or more times, shame on me.” My feelings on Star Wars are known by now. I think the movies are, for the most part, childish and ridiculous.

The logo for Star Wars: The Force AwakensI also have a pronounced dislike of JJ Abrams.

But the smartest person I know — who is also not traditionally a Star Wars fan — liked it, and frankly, I wanted an excuse to have popcorn for lunch.

First of all, let me say that this is still very much a Star Wars movie. And by that I mean it views logic, continuity, and common sense as optional frills and frequently interrupts the already thin plot for yet another over the top spew of (admittedly excellent) special effects.

There are so many things about this movie that are utterly ridiculous or make no sense at all — not even movie sense. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, though I would especially like to highlight the First Order’s incredibly liberal definition of “fifteen minutes.”

Much of the Force Awakens’ stupidity results from its endless need to make shameless and unnecessary plays to nostalgia. I’m not sure I entirely agree with those who say that this is purely a retreat of A New Hope, but it does feel that way at certain points.

By far the most egregious example is the fact they built another Death Star.

What is it with these Dark Side types and their Death Stars? Lordy, I thought I had a one track mind.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) flee danger in Star Wars: The Force AwakensIt’s like Terry Brooks with the damn Blue Elfstones. Just stop. There are other plot devices out there!

And just like the original Death Star, it destroys worlds and kills millions in a cataclysmic attack that is forgotten by every character within five minutes and has no significant impact on the story.

However, not every nod to the past is a negative. Both Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher reprise their original roles, and perhaps the biggest surprise for me out of the whole movie was how incredibly good they both were.

Both show a great vulnerability, and they’re very convincing as a pair who have simply suffered too much and lost too much. It’s kind of heartbreaking, honestly.

Han still has all of his cockiness and sarcasm, but it’s clear it’s now just a shell he’s built around his pain. There’s a definite fragility to it.

However, the real strengths of The Force Awakens are where it stops riding the coattails of its predecessors.

Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Force AwakensFor all its many flaws and unabashed stupidity, there is one major highlight to the seventh Star Wars film.

Her name is Rey.

Now, I can understand why people call her a Mary Sue. She pretty much is, but that’s kind of par for the course in Star Wars. It’s meant to be a very larger than life, mythic story. So it fits for Rey to be amazing at pretty much everything.

Either way, she’s impossible not to like. Daisy Ridley plays her with an irresistible combination of toughness, vulnerability, and charisma. Despite her admitted Mary Sue-ish traits, she still comes across as a very human character, and watching her grow and evolve over the course of the movie, defying the expectations of those around her at every turn, is a complete joy.

This is something that hasn’t really existed in Star Wars before: competent acting. Not just competent — excellent, even. I’m very impressed by the subtleties of Daisy Ridley’s performance. She’s able to communicate a lot of inner turmoil and growth with just subtle facial expressions and changes in her tone of voice.

Rey is definitely the star of The Force Awakens, in every sense of the term.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Force AwakensOf course, she’s also a complete reversal of the stereotypical roles women are generally relegated to in the media, and generally a feminist’s dream come true. Hell, I’m a guy, and I love it.

This is another unexpected triumph of The Force Awakens; it does a fantastic job of giving women a fair shake. Not just in terms of major characters, but even just unnamed fighter pilots, stormtroopers, and random extras. I don’t think I ever truly realized how male-dominated our media truly is before now. This may be the first blockbuster I’ve ever seen with a cast that is more or less gender-balanced.

Does make me feel good to pay to see the movie. That’s actually part of why I decided to see it in the first place — I heard it was an unusually progressive movie. Anything I can do to piss off racists and misogynists.

Which I suppose brings us to the other main character of the film, Finn. He’s still an unusually strong character for Star Wars, but he definitely isn’t the home run Rey is.

What I like most about Finn is that he’s a stormtrooper who refused to bow to evil. It puts a human face to what have previously been portrayed as evil drones without identity or humanity. On the downside, this statement is rather undermined by the fact that everyone else in the First Order is portrayed as cartoonishly evil, with no attempt made to give them any kind of nuance, or a motivation beyond “rawr evil.”

Finn (John Boyega) wields a lightsaber in Star Wars: The Force AwakensI also found that John Boyega was hamming it up a bit. Sometimes it’s the charming kind of ham, but other times it’s just ham.

I also feel like they’re trying to set-up a romance between him and Rey, which already has me cringing over its predictability. I’d be more on board with all that Finn/Poe shipping that’s going around. They’ve got chemistry.

And just as not all of the nods to the past movies are bad, not all of the new characters are marks in the film’s favour. Specifically, Kylo Ren has got to be one of the most pathetic excuses for a villain I’ve ever seen.

At no point does he feel even remotely dangerous or intimidating. He comes across as a whiny, petulant child. If there’s one thing Star Wars got right before, it was Darth Vader, so Ren feels especially disappointing considering the act he has to follow. Hell, even Palpatine’s one-dimensional cartoon evil was still better than Ren’s temper tantrums.

And I still say that lightsaber crossguard is idiotic.

Finally, The Force Awakens does have a very bad case of “first movie in the trilogy.” All whizz bang action aside, not all that much actually happens, and it ends up feeling more like an introduction to the new characters than a fully fleshed out story.

So honestly, I’m really struggling to figure out how to rate The Force Awakens. It is both an excellent movie, and a powerfully stupid one. One scene will have you facepalming so hard you’ll get bruises, and the next will make you want to stand up and cheer.

I guess I can say this much: I don’t regret going to see it. There’s that.

Overall rating: 7/10 I definitely think this is one of those things where I’ll come back in a few months and feel that I should have given this a different rating. This is the best I can do for now.

Full disclosure: I had most of the movie spoiled for me before I saw it, and I do find Daisy Ridley very attractive. Both of these things may have skewed my review one way or the other.

1 thought on “Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  1. When I saw it I walked out going “That was so much fun! Shame about the plot holes. . . . ” And as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve had a harder time with it. It was actually my company party to go see the early showing the night before release, but my wife was sick so it was just me. And I really don’t have any desire to go back and see it again but with her this time either. I know it’d be fun for me if I did, but…. just don’t care.

    So yeah… I’d give it a 6 or 7. Fun, but “fluffy” and not really something I’d care to repeat watching.

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