Movie Review: Star Wars, The Force Awakens

Warning, Warning, Warning Will Robinson!!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

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If you’re still reading this, I take no blame if your movie experience is spoiled.

OK, here’s the deal. Just to provide some perspective, and set expectations, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, and never have been. I thought “The Empire Strikes Back” was an excellent movie, much better than the original “Star Wars” and parsecs ahead of “Return of the Jedi.”

Those three movies were a lot of fun, and I enjoyed them all. But I didn’t buy Star Wars bedsheets, put up Star Wars movie posters or play Star Wars games (although we did somehow get in possession of a Star Wars version of Monopoly somehow). So I’m just not the type of person to be a rabid fan. I mean I think the Beatles are probably the best rock band of all time, but if you want to argue that the Rolling Stones are, or Dire Straits, or, inexplicably, Metallica or some head-banging noisome, dysfunctional bunch of drug-addled gibberish-spouters, I’m fine with that. I won’t go all “Paul McCartney RULES beeyotch!” on you. That’s just not my style.

I didn’t like the prequels. I think the universe would be better served had midichlorians never been inflicted on our awareness, and the bizarre set of inexplicable events strung together in those movies didn’t really resemble anything I’d call a plot, but they did have pretty good special effects and who can turn down a good light-saber battle anyway? Even those blights upon the social consciousness had a (very) few redeeming qualities.

So back to The Force Awakens. I enjoyed it. I watched it twice. That’s pretty rare for me. I almost never go to the theater to watch a movie more than once. So it should be obvious that I liked the movie. In fact, I’m going to start with that, and use the “Good, Bad and Weird” format for this review:

The Good:

  • Rey and Finn. I loved those two. Daisy Ridley was just incredible in a role that had unbelievably crushing fan expectations. She just played it, and seemed to have fun doing it. I was very impressed with her as an actress, and loved the character. Finn was almost as good. John Boyega gave us an endearing, and ultimately noble, portrayal of a man stripped of identity, trying to create one for himself. I really look forward to seeing more of these two.
  • The homages. Yeah, they were a bit overdone, but they accomplished exactly what they needed to accomplish. What was that? I describe it as cleansing my palate of the drek that the prequels left behind. Thanks Disney/JJ Abrams for making it all right to enjoy Star Wars again.
  • The cinematography. I’m a big fan of what are sometimes called “establishing shots”, which are those sweeping vistas of scenery that let you know where things are happening. TFA had some of the most awesome establishing shots I’ve ever seen. They were freaking works of art entirely on their own. That starcruiser in the sand was mind-blowing. I also thought that they did a really good job of blending CGI and traditional special effects, which also helped to re-establish the Star Wars feel to the movie. And that scene with the X-Wings tearing across the lake? Wow. Epic.
  • The Millennium Falcon. When the original Star Wars came out, the Falcon was unique in the history of sci-fi cinema. Ungainly, beat-up, oil-stained… it was like something you’d see down a dirt road under a shade tree, with Chewie and Han covered in grease up to their elbows, with the hyperdrive enfabulator hanging by a rusty chain from a tree limb. Of course now you have a lot of ships with personality, but not back then. And it was good to get reacquainted with her.
  • Han and Chewie. Harrison Ford has screen presence. Whatever else you say about him, he owns the screen. The guy is over 70 years old! But it was good to see him again. He was, by far, my favorite character from the original trilogy. He’s just the sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with, and have at your back in a fight.

The Bad:

  • Kylo Ren. I know they’re trying to create a story arc for the guy. I don’t care. If Darth Vader is a menacing tyrannosaur, then Kylo Ren is a rabid chihuahua. Both are dangerous, but you don’t laugh at the tyrannosaur. There would have been plenty of growth opportunity and expression of his difficult upbringing without turning him into an emo tantrum-throwing toddler. Maybe he gets better in later movies, but it’s going to be hard to overcome that first impression.
  • Mary Sue. Yeah, I know people will hate me for that, but I’m sorry. She totally is. And it’s OK, it didn’t ruin the movie, but it would have been better with a little less awesomeness.
  • Death Star v3.0. Nuff said on that I think.
  • Luke’s final grimace. I mean I get it. He’s sympathetic but tortured. He’s noble but damaged. He’s… not quite pulling off the gaze. I think they wanted that final scene to radiate some combination of fear and hope or something, but it just came across as Luke being a bit of a jerk.

The Weird:

  • Let’s just get this out there first, because it will anger the most people. Leia. It was painful to watch every single scene with Carrie Fisher in it. I love her! I love her in real life. She’s gutsy, witty, highly intelligent… But, to me anyway, her entire performance was flat and uninspiring. Something about her lips when she talked made me wonder if she was really healthy.
  • Is it just me, or are the Star Wars ‘droids just slaves? I mean you buy them and sell them, and worse, disassemble them for scrap. But they appear to be fully sentient beings to me. Does anyone care? Where is the “People for the Ethical Treatment of ‘Droids” crusade? I mean it’s been hundreds of years since ‘droids became self-aware. Whey haven’t they revolted yet?
  • Deux ex machina. I’ve rarely seen a movie in my life that I didn’t roll my eyes more. Right up until the earthquake gully separating Ren and Rey. Totally expected it. Was like “sure, of course” when it happened. That’s a bit of lazy writing there, in my opinion. Sure you can say “The Force” is doing everything, but that opens up an entire can of worms about what the Force is, how capricious it is, whether it violates the concept of free will, etc… But from a movie perspective it gets a little old after a while for just the right thing to happen at just the right time for just the right reason to keep the plot moving. Up until this movie I thought the Harry Potter franchise was the absolute archetype of this sort of thing, but I think TFA out HarryPottered Harry Potter.

But yeah, it was fun. I highly recommend it to everyone. I give it four roasted Vader masks out of five. So check it out!

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About seandgolden

Husband, father, author
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