Ten years passed between the release of Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens. Walking into the theater, the anticipation for the film was palpable, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more nervous/excited crowd for a film. Where the prequels stumbled and blundered their way through a wonderful universe, Force Awakens brought back what the series was known best for. With standout side characters, an intriguing new set of villains, and plenty of space/saber battles, it felt like coming home. Before we dive in, here’s a quick update on where the rest of the movies ranked: Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5), The Phantom Menace(2/5), Attack of the Clones(.5/5), Revenge of the Sith (3/5), andReturn of the Jedi (4/5).
Force Awakens sets itself apart from the other films in the first fifteen seconds by taking time to focus on a group of people the series has basically ignored, storm troopers. Attack of the Clones showed us the creation of the original troopers, but clones only last so long. Force Awakens gives us one of the best characters by exposing what exactly it’s like to become a storm trooper and how people might get into that life in the first place. Finn is a wonderful new addition to the universe and brings a new level of understanding to the previously bland and seemingly endless opposition, all within the first twenty minutes of the movie.
The opening also does a perfect job of balancing moments of humor with darkness. Poe’s banter with Kylo Ren is appreciated comic relief, but also underscored by the fact that there’s a buzzing bolt of laser that Kylo straight up stopped with the force. Not only is Kylo powerful, but also ruthless. He skips the pre-amble of general villainy and gets right to the murdering. In the first ten minutes, he orders the destruction of an entire village of innocent people, setting the stage for Finn’s choice to desert and showing us what this new villain is all about.
Kylo is moody, broody, and dangerous. While that might sound familiar from the prequels, Adam Driver is able to pull it off where Christiansen failed. Kylo feels like a realistic villain and his impulsive nature justifies the decisions he makes throughout the film. He is the dark side incarnate, living on emotion and filled to the brim with fear. What’s interesting is where that fear comes from. We’ve seen the light side struggle with the dark, but never vice versa. Kylo Ren is the first Sith we see genuinely wrestling with a pull to the light and trying to prove at all costs that he has what it takes to master the dark. It’s a beautiful, tragic motivator for the character and gives him life.
But, the villain would be nothing without a plucky new light-side user to oppose them, and Rey provides that in spades. Ridley’s character mirror’s Ren in so many ways and sets up the conflict between them perfectly. Like Ren, Rey is afraid that she has been left behind forever and feels alone in the universe. Her journey from scrapper on Jakku to eventual padawan parallels Luke’s in a way but feels different enough to not seem like a direct copy.
Which, brings me to one of the main criticisms I see of this film, it’s parallels to A New Hope. Many think it steps over the line of homage to straight mimicry, but on this watch through, I don’t see it. There are some character similarities, but there are also some brand-new additions we’ve never seen in the franchise. Now, that doesn’t mean the film is without errors, and one of them is also its most blatant copy, Starkiller Base. I really hate that the climax of this film is once again about destroying a planet-size weapon that destroys other planets. It’s been played out twice, it didn’t go well for The Empire either time, and frankly I’m bored of it.
The final assault on Starkiller Base is a fun sequence with an amazing aerial dogfight and one of the best saber battles, but it’s worn ground. Now, I do feel that Kylo’s idolization of Darth Vader and The Empire means a direct copy of their old plans makes sense. He’s always trying to finish what Vader started, and one can only assume the shadowy Snoke shares the same basic agenda. All the same, watching another massive super weapon destroyed in less than ten minutes of screen time felt like things were too easy. If they really needed to do a planet-destroyer again, they could have let it survive the resistance’s initial assault, but alas, no cigar. If they bring back another planet destroyer in Episode 9, I’m going to be pissed.
Speaking of the parallels to Hope, it’s nice to see the original cast back, even if Luke is only there for fifteen seconds. I would have liked to see the trio of Han, Leia and Luke reunite one, final time. Fortunately, I actually think it’s better this way. Harrison Ford brings the same life to Han that he always had, and somehow, Carrie Fisher only got better with age. Leia in Force Awakens is by far my favorite incarnation. Her whip-smart humor has been honed, she’s sarcastic as ever, and the fear she inspires in Han is wonderful and great comedically. Their reunion on Takodana at Maz’s castle is one of the most impactful scenes in the movie and carried strong emotional weight.
Overall, I absolutely love Force Awakens. I was going to try and pick it apart, but there’s not that much wrong with it. Starkiller Base is a misstep in my opinion, but it also doesn’t hurt the film that much. The new generation of characters we’re introduced to have some of the best emotional depth in the series and prove they’re worthy to catch the torch from the old guard. I can see some similarities to A New Hope, but honestly, I think there’s a lot of people who are just going to be angry at new Star Wars because it’s not the original trilogy. Personally, I think the modernization is a good thing, and leads to some needed innovation in character and plot. Which is all to say, I’m sure we’re going to get in some real spicy fights over Episode 8.
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