My review of Star Wars The Force Awakens


star-wars-rey-tv

After about a decade of PTSD (Prequel-Traumatic Stress Disorder), 3 years waiting and then skipping a year of trailers and clips- the time finally arrived to watch Star Wars The Force Awakens. In one phrase, it was worth the wait. I am overwhelmed with thoughts about what I just saw and honestly should see it again before writing this but I also feel compelled to share my feels while everything is fresh. To start, I am overjoyed with what I experienced. It was a perfect blend of the sentimental and the brand new. JJ Abrams and company, in many ways, had the proverbial cards stacked against them. The pain of Ep 1-3, an aging cast, introducing a new one and attempting to put the entire future back on the rails from which it derailed. So the best way I can do this is by grading it in all the major areas. (warning, spoilers ahead!)

Characters
star-wars-the-force-awakens-finn-156333This was arguably the hardest part. The Prequels had many failings but it’s most egregious offense was that we cared very little about Anakin, Padme and company. Fast forward to today and JJ made sure that history would not repeat itself. Spearheaded by Daisy Ridley’s Rey, the new ensemble is fresh, vulnerable and relatable. They feel like real people with real emotions. Following suit to his past movies, JJ does an amazing job evoking emotion through non-verbals. Their convincing expressions says more than their words in many scenes- which was sorely missing from the Prequels. The pivotal scene was when Daisy was being interrogated by Kylo Ren. Within just a few minutes, Rey went from terror, to confusion, to determination, then to confidence. It was a tremendous moment for her (and the audience) and revealed what was at the heart of this story. Han Solo’s return to the screen was triumphant and every scene was emotional and sentimental. This is the first film in a decade that it felt like he was actually having some fun. JJ should be awarded just for his contribution of BB-8 into the Star Wars universe. Who would have thought that a little soccer ball with a bowl could have so much personality. Clearly there was one too many droids in this film, but I’m glad they gave BB-8 the spotlight for the first part of the film. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren might have been the weakest part of the cast but I still liked him. He was certainly terrifying at times and watching him wield the dark side of the force was a thrill. His human side was only partially successful but there is plenty of time to see him grow into the role. John Boyega’s Finn brought a fun enthusiastic energy to each scene along with his friend Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Solid performances throughout.
Grade: A

Effects
20738965473_5a9f083e2b_zWhat’s a Star Wars film without special effects? The key to making a special effects heavy movie is not making it look like a special effects movie. JJ’s Star Wars has become the healing balm to sooth our scars left by the Prequels. While I know every scene has cgi in it, I wasn’t aware of it and found the experience tactile, authentic and honoring of the original trilogy. From BB-8 to the Millennium Falcon, it could not have been any better. The ‘cantina’ homage was fun, creative and well done. Even Lupita Nyong’o cgi character, Maz,  was done convincingly. Not sure Ackbar was practical but he looked practical, which is what is really important. Bravo JJ, bravo. Grade: A+

Music
While we all universally love the John Williams score, let’s admit that it is easy to abuse. A big swell here, a loud march there and you have what the Prequels did. Well not in this case. The Force Awakens uses the score smartly and introduces some new themes that quickly became an iconic addition- namely Rey’s Theme. It hints at the melodies you know and love throughout but doesn’t over do it. Much of the emotional moments owe it all to this wonderful score. You can listen to it for FREE on Youtube!
Grade: A

Story
_86225572_cb1120.4k_noblur.v04.1132While I easily handed out a bunch of A’s so far, I am really going to ding The Force Awakens when it comes to the story. It started out strong. I think we all collectively sighed when we read the opening space crawl. Simple, compelling, and clear. The first half of this film is a BB-8 and Rey survival story and it really nails it. Then the idea of finding Skywalker is introduced- perfect, keep going. Then the B-story takes over where they have to, yet again, destroy another planet killer. It was almost comical as Han was problem solving this for a third time. It just wasn’t necessary to ape another Death Star plot yet again. Sure it’s bigger but to me it was pretty lazy and not as good as the original trilogy. While I think the character development was for the old school and hardcore fans, I think this mission was for the kids (I have a much better story suggestion below). Han’s story to find his son was a great plot twist and Rey figuring out her place in the universe was fantastic. However, it’s all weighed down by this ‘been there, done that’ plot device. I was shocked that JJ returned to this so soon- worst of all, it pretty much means you can’t return to it again (which should have been a Episode IX plot instead). Fortunately, this was the B-story so not all was lost. Losing Han was tough. I mean, real tough. But I praise that decision because the stakes needed to be high. With a bloated cast, there needed to be some trimming back and let’s face it, as long as Harrison Ford is on screen, no one will be able to lead this new trilogy.
Grade: C-

Final grade: B+
I know, it feels like this should be higher but after 16 years, the story should have been more inventive than what we got. I probably rank it after the original trilogy- maybe a shade above Return of the Jedi. I think I have to watch it again to judge it on ‘re-watchablity’, which the original trilogy definitely has.

What I would have done…
IMG_0852They started on the right track- the focus on the adventure should have been the recovery of BB-8 since he has the map to Luke. So when Rey gets captured by Kylo, BB-8 should have been as well. Then they both should have been held prisoner on Kylo’s star destroyer. The Resistance then plans a search and rescue mission against the superior enemy destroyer. A ship to ship battle ensues on the outside with a multiple layered mission on the inside where Leia wants BB-8, Finn wants Rey and Han wanting Kylo. Not only does Rey’s force awaken but BB-8 does some Houdini magic with them eventually finding each other. R2 is also brought on board to disable the ship defenses so he actually gets a chance to do something. Leia and Ackbar can lead the ship assault with all of the results ending exactly the same. By simplifying and focusing the action, the story stays contained for this first Episode, giving room for planetary battles in the future. Boom. Drop the mic… **walks away**

Overall, I could not be more pleased with what I experienced. Sure, it was not perfect in a couple of areas but it really did accomplish a monumental task of ushering in a new generation of films. It pleased old fans and new and left you wanting more. While I loved the old cast, I am so interested in seeing what adventure lay ahead for Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8. It was easy to be skeptical when Mickey took over the property but it’s clearly in the right hands. Let me know what you thought of the movie, if you agree with my review and what you hope to see in future Episodes.

12 thoughts on “My review of Star Wars The Force Awakens

  1. Spoilers ahead so if you didn’t read Tony’s review don’t read this post.
    I agree about the new Death Star (note: wow! iOS autocapitalized Death Star lol) as it’s been done before but it was awesome before and more of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s done well, and I feel like this was. The sun power thing was a bit weird but it still worked. The storyline of Han and Kylo was just epic – I loved the way that played out. A few people in our theater cried, and when we left we noticed a girl crying and being consoled. This movie hit all emotions – comedy, sadness, elation, suspense – it was awesome. I thought what they did with Luke was awesome. They easily could have cheesed it up but they didn’t – and at the same time set up episode 8 for some serious awesomeness. I have a feeling seeing Luke fight again will be almost like seeing Yoda fight Dooku. (Which I thought was awesome btw). Anyway – well worth seeing for any sci-fi fan. Can’t wait to see them in Hall H again, but we know one thing – the H won’t stand for Han.
    (Full disclosure – I am one who also likes the prequels. I think each movie has awesome takeaways and I enjoyed them all).

  2. I was 1 of those people that was crying and needed to be consoled. Han has been my crush since I was 10 for crying out loud! JJ has broken my heart. I understand the need to move on to the new characters, and agree with you that Han would always be the lead we cared about if he was on screen. But I’m still in need of consolation 🙂 So I am currently in the camp of “My mind is blown and I thoroughly loved the movie but I cannot actual say that out loud yet because I need to process it all”. But agree the quality of the movie was fantastic. And I’m excited for the next one! But I swear….if they hurt Chewbacca I will riot!!!

    • Ha! Yea, hard to believe Han is dead. However, if it’s any help, since it’s “A long time ago…”, they are all probably dead by now 🙂
      Actually I thought Chewbacca was going to die earlier too- he’s not a spring wookie. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Hi Tony,

    I have taken a knock-out drug, so that my eyes are now barely open and all of the spoilers above are just be a blur – it looks like you did a thorough job with the review, which I will revisit after I have seen Star Wars. I hear that the IMAX 70MM (not digital) is the best format to choose experiencing Star Wars: The Force Awakens – What format did you choose and have you gone back already? What do you think about 4DX and 35MM or watching it in 3D in general?

  4. Hey Tony!

    I agree with most everything you stated, though I probably wouldn’t be as harsh on the plot, giving it more a C+/B-. TFA pretty much followed the same formula as JJ’s Star Trek reboot for better and for worse: take familiar characters (or in the case of TFA, familiar character types with Luke => Rey, Vader => Kylo, Obi-Wan => Han, Tarken => Hux, etc.), make them super-charismatic, amp up their abilities to the nth degree, and have them overcome almost ridiculous odds to defeat an enemy that is most likely bigger than anything they could face afterwards. Only this time, I think the formula works better for TFA than Star Trek because Star Wars is more JJ’s element than Star Trek ever was. Yeah, JJ pulled every beat for TFA from ANH, but at least they were beats from Star Wars, whereas the Star Trek reboot was filled with… Star Wars. Yeah, the first rebooted Star Trek was fun, but it proved to be a terrible foundation for the franchise given the holes of the 2nd film & I hardly found the trailer of the 3rd compelling… but I digress.

    Back to TFA: I don’t necessarily have a problem with JJ pulling the ANH homage, but there were limitations to TFA that ANH never had to worry about, which would almost guarantee the full homage JJ was attempting would never completely succeed. First off, the First Order seems to come out of nowhere. In 1977, ANH could get away with starting the movie with an established Empire as there was no known backstory, but TFA was already building upon the foundation of the Rebellion’s victory on Endor in ROTJ. Basically, Kasdan’s & JJ’s excuse is that TFA is 30 years after ROTJ so a lot of stuff has happened, but that doesn’t relieve them of the responsibility to connect at least SOME of the dots from ROTJ to TFA. They’ve basically punted the backstory of the FO’s rise to the video game, comic book, whatever-media-Disney-makes-up creators to explain, and that’s just lazy storytelling.

    Second, JJ supercharged Rey’s development with the Force. That’s great… for one movie. But when you’re designing a trilogy, where does the story go? Kylo Ren was supposed to be your bad-ass antagonist for three movies, and already by the first he gets his ass-kicked by some neophyte who just learned about the Force LITERALLY that week. In the original trilogy, Luke’s development was fulfilling because it took him two movies just to FACE Vader, and even then he barely got out alive, which made the payoff in the duel during ROTJ so satisfying. This supercharging of powers is what cut the legs out of the Star Trek reboot, because all the “superpowers” that main crew used to destroy a planet-destroying ship from the future in the first film (ex: Kirk fast-tracked as Captain, Chekov transporting people in freefall) had to get nerfed in the second (Kirk gets sent back to the Academy (???), Chekov can’t transport guys on flying cars). TFA has a little more breathing room in that the Force as a story-device is flexible & therefore a greater threat could be more conceivable, but there’s just as much danger of Rey either becoming Superman, a god-like being so powerful that no opposition ever poses a real threat, or worse, a Superman with a kryptonite that conveniently takes away her powers when the drama necessitates.

    Lastly, some developments made absolutely no sense. First, how would the FO get the resources for a super-duper Death Star? Wouldn’t the New Republic have learned its lesson & kiboshed any attempt at creating such a weapon? And why would the FO create a super-duper Death Star with essentially the EXACT same weaknesses as the first two? And the entire shield could get deactivated by ONE captain? & R2-D2 gets depressed & shuts down when Luke disappears, but springs out of it due to… no discernible reason? This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film, but it definitely affects its re-watchability.

    At the end of the day, TFA is a really enjoyable film with some truly tender & heart-stopping moments, but with plot holes that, while they don’t completely undermine this film, could become plot tears as future films build off TFA’s legacy.

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