Movie Review – Star Wars: Force Awakens

I didn’t want to talk about this, since Star Wars has essentially taken over the entire internet during the last six months and I’m getting a little tired of it. I like Star Wars as much as the next guy, but to be bombarded with nothing but Star Wars every damn time I hit up YouTube, Google News, Facebook, Twitter, and every other web site on Earth, well, it gets a little tiring.

Regardless, this movie is a Big Deal™, so I need to talk about it. This will be my only post on the subject of Star Wars until Episode 8 comes out in 2017 (unless something very weird happens).

The bottom line is that it’s a good, well-done, entertaining movie that really screwed up something that could have been amazing. In some ways it repaired the Star Wars series, and in other ways it was a step backwards for the series. I will explain.

Warning: There are spoilers in this review. The movie has been out for two weeks now so if you still haven’t seen it, read on at your own risk.

What I Liked

1. It fixed all the “technical” problems of the Star Wars prequels. In other words, Star Wars: Force Awakens actually has good direction, good acting, good dialog, decent characters, a decent plot and all the other stuff the prequels lacked.

This all stands to reason, because I’m sure the filmmakers went out of their way to fix what everyone admitted was so broken about the prequels. I expected this, and was glad they pulled it off.

2. The action scenes, particularly the spaceship combat, were very good. JJ Abrams excels at this stuff. The first battle between the Millennium Falcon and the Tie Fighters across the desert was really fun. I also liked how Abrams kept the battles small. Often it was just three or four fighters instead of a huge swarm of them. I also liked how all of the space battles in this movie were fought within an atmosphere. There weren’t any actual “space” battles in this movie at all. It kept things fresh and interesting.

3. Harrison Ford. Holy crap. For the first time in about 15 years, Harrison Ford actually looked like he wanted to be in a movie. The guy has pretty much been sleepwalking through his acting career for a long time now, and he even failed at doing Indian Jones again. But in STFA, he actually was Han Solo. During the movie I actually started seeing Han Solo and not Harrison Ford, and that’s pretty hard to pull off. Great job, Harrison.

4. Interesting villain, Kylo Ren. I liked how the bad guy in this movie was young, heavily flawed, inexperienced, angry, uncontrolled, and conflicted. How different from Darth Vader or the Emperor! I liked it. It’s hard to make a villain like this work and they did it. Well done.

5. Luke looked like Luke. I was convinced that Luke would look like, well, Mark Hamil. But damn, they really pulled this off too. Luke actually looked like Luke. I was seeing Luke, not Mark Hamil. Again, great job.

What I Didn’t Like

1. Lets start with the biggest thing that ruined the entire movie, at least for me. This one mistake took what could have been a great movie and made it into just a good movie. That is, this entire movie is simply a re-telling of the first Star Wars film (Episode 4, A New Hope).

Another desert planet? Another “oh this person is related to this person?” Another main villain with a mask who used to be a good guy and is now a bad guy? Another droid with secret plans we have to get to the good guys? Another evil Empire? Another Death Star?!? Really?!? Another fucking Death Star guys?!?

God dammit, let me explain this Death Star thing because this really pisses me off. The big joke of Return of the Jedi for decades was this: The empire is really dumb enough to build a second Death Star with another little spot you can shoot that blows up the entire thing? These guys didn’t learn that from the first Death Star? They really spent all the time and money on the damn thing to make literally the same glaring mistake a second time?

So these geniuses who run the Empire (oh, I mean, “The First Order”) decide to make a third Death Star (oh, I mean, “Starkiller Base”) and for the third time, and decide to construct it so that if you shoot one little thing the entire Death Star blows up. For the third time.

Does this make any sense to you?

When I first saw the new Death Star, I was actually excited. I thought, “Oh, they learned from their mistake from Star Wars and Return of the Jedi and made the Death Star out of a real planet. That’s cool!”

But then came the scene in the Rebel Headquarters (oh, I mean, “The Resistance”) where they run through the same damn scene we’ve already seen in two other Star Wars movies, where they show a map of the thing and show how to hit one little thing to blow it all up. Han Solo even says, “How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to blow it up.”

My heart sunk. I was really enjoying the movie up until then. Then I said, “Oh great. It’s going to be the same story as the original Star Wars. Shit.”

This is a “nostalgia movie.” It’s much more of a remake than a sequel It’s simply a re-telling of the first Star Wars movie back in 1977, A New Hope (ANH). SWFA is full of the exact same scenarios as ANH, with the exact same resolutions.

I’m one of those people who didn’t hate the prequels. I agree they were pretty bad, but I enjoyed watching them and to this day can watch them again and enjoy them. Yes, that includes Phantom Menace. Why? Because despite their glaring flaws, the prequels were full of new things. New ideas, new settings, new characters, new costumes, new spacecraft, new aliens, new backdrops, new scenarios. They were full of this stuff. It was still clearly Star Wars, and there were just enough hints of that, but things were still new and interesting.

The Force Awakens is the opposite of the prequels. Instead of a shitty movie with lots of new and interesting things, it’s a very well done movie with nothing new at all, and pretty much a carbon copy of a movie you’ve already seen a million times. It’s full of X-Wings and Tie Fighters and Death Stars and Stormtroopers and all the same stuff I saw back in 1977 when I was five years old.

This movie should have given us something new. It didn’t. By the way, George Lucas agrees with me.

The defenders of this criticism say that you can’t judge The Force Awakens because it’s the first movie in a trilogy, and that the other two parts will explain the weird stuff in this movie.

With all due respect, that’s bullshit. I’m not complaining about the mysteries of the movie (like where Rey comes from or who Snoke is). I’m sure the next movies in the series will explain these things. I’m complaining about the stuff in this movie that makes zero sense.

To recover the problems in this movie, the 2nd or 3rd movie in this trilogy needs to explain:

– How did a new Empire arise so quickly from nothing in just 30 years, with Death Stars and super expensive Star Destroyers and all that stuff? Where did the First Order get their funding? Despite the fact they don’t actually rule anything?

– Why is the New Republic, who rules the entire galaxy now, full of shitty, old, run-down stuff? Like old spaceships, damaged, rusty old droids, falling apart bases, etc? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the new Empire be old and shitty and the New Republic be fancy and clean and rich?

– Why has neither side invented any new spaceships in the last 30 years? Did technological advances in this universe suddenly freeze as soon as the Rebellion defeated the Empire? Why is the First Order still using Tie Fighters? Why is the New Republic still using X-Wings? Where did the Tie Interceptors go? Or the B-Wings? Or the A-Wings? Or….?

The answer to all of these questions is this: the makers of this movie wanted people to feel a sense of retro nostalgia even though these things made zero sense in the story or the setting.

Not good.

2. There’s already been a lot of talk about this next one, but it’s true, and it bothered me the instant I saw it watching this movie. The female character of Rey is indeed a Mary Sue. This means she is instantly good at literally everything and never makes a mistake.

This has been getting worse and worse in movies lately, culminating with movies like Frozen but being even worse here. (Stefan Molyneux has been doing a lot of analysis on this during the last few years.) Lately, men in movies who are good at something are only good at it if they bust their ass, work hard, make mistakes, and are finally good. But female heroines in movies are instantly good at everything with no training and no explanation.

Rey is the new Luke Skywalker of these new Star Wars movies, but Luke wasn’t a Mary Sue and Rey is. Max Landis, who of course was called sexist for pointing this out, has a good explanation on this right here.

In the movie, the character of Rey:

– Easily and instantly defeats multiple male attackers who are all way larger than her, even though she’s had zero hand-to-hand combat training.

– Suddenly knows how to pilot ships she’s never piloted before, and does so expertly.

– Instantly knows the mechanical inner workings of the Millennium Falcon even though she’s just found it, as good or better than Han Solo, the guy who’s owned the ship for 30+ years.

– Despite having literally zero force training and not even knowing what the force is, instantly has the mental powers to defeat the main villain (a trained force user) in mental combat.

– Despite having literally zero force training and not even knowing what the force is, quickly learns how to move things with her mind, something it took Luke many years and two movies to do.

– Despite having literally zero light saber training or combat training, holds her own against a very lethal, powerful, and trained light saber user.

– Has every character in the movie, including the irascible Han Solo, pretty much love her to death, often within just minutes of meeting her.

There are probably other things I didn’t notice that I’m sure I will notice on future viewings, but this female power stuff is really bad here, and really shoved in your face.

As I’ve been saying for years, Hollywood is a left-wing outfit, so none of this surprises me. I’m just saying that it was a huge and noticeable negative for this movie. Look, I understand that the left has already won the culture war, and that you Hollywood guys are sort of forced to include all this left-wing political correctness in your movies, but could you at least try to be a little subtle about it? It’s insulting now.

Going Forward

There will be a Star Wars movie every year now for the next several years. Half of these movies will be stand-alone stories, and the other half will be parts two and three of this main trilogy. I have a feeling I will like the stand-alone movies better, but I could be wrong.

My fear for the next two installments of the trilogy is that they continue to copy everything from the original series. Luke will train Rey in the ways of the force (not that she needs it; she’s probably more powerful than him already), we’ll find out that Rey is somehow related to Luke or Kylo Ren, Kylo Ren gets redeemed and turned back to the good site, etc. If the movies do this, I will consider the entire new Star Wars series a failure. If I want to watch the original Star Wars movie, I can do that whenever I want. I want to see something new in these new movies. That’s sort of the point of making new movies.

The ultimate Star Wars movie (or series) would be the newness and visual creativity of the prequels with the technical expertise of The Force Awakens. We’ll see if this happens or not.

Regardless of these problems, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still a very good movie and I enjoyed myself while watching it. I just really hope they drop the Mary Sue perfect-girl characters and the retro stuff in the next installments.

Update after the fact: I’ve changed my mind. This movie is terrible. On first watching it I fell prey to the “oh cool it’s a Star Wars movie” emotions. I tried to watch this movie a second time and couldn’t get past the first 20 minutes and had to turn it off. Nothing in the setting portrayed makes any sense. If you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, it’s a good movie, but if you have, it’s a well-made generic sci-fi movie that literally makes no sense. Terrible.

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  • Ross
    Posted at 05:37 am, 4th January 2016

    Completely agree. Also I didn’t mind the prequals at all either, even though they could be a little silly.

  • CrabRangoon
    Posted at 11:26 am, 4th January 2016

    Agreed with the cons. This was just a rehash of the original film. JJ Abrams has done this before. Star Trek:Into Darkness was half as rehash of Wrath of Khan, right down to lines of dialogue. You’d think he’d learn his lesson after getting a lot of heat for that film. My hope is that the First Order doesn’t just “Strike Back” in the 2nd installment.

    I did say the same about Rey being this skilled Jedi out of nowhere with no training. Luke had training and still got his ass whipped by Vader in the 2nd movie. The only explanation I can think of is that Kylo was seriously wounded by Chewie right before the fought. They should have just made it where Rey barely holds him off and then the big chasm separates them before a real battle can be had. Another “death star” was pretty disappointing as well. I hope Snoke isn’t just another Emperor type as well and has a more interesting role to play in all this.

  • Tony
    Posted at 04:52 pm, 4th January 2016

    I agree on everything, but my biggest negative wasn’t included. They failed at some very basic story telling elements, mostly in the “show, don’t tell” category. Some examples:

    Revealing Kylo Ren being Han Solo’s son too early. It should have been a much bigger reveal at the end.

    Han Solo’s death at the end was predictable and not emotional at all.

    We see that pilot guy kicking ass, we don’t need the ex-stormtrooper to tell us he’s a good pilot.

    Kylo Ren says he’s being pulled towards the light side, instead of showing it (the originals did it much better with Dark Vader).

    I had just finished watching Breaking Bad before seeing this movie, and the difference in storytelling quality is gigantic. I feel like JJ Abrams was a bad choice, they should have paid Christopher Noland whatever he wanted to direct it.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 09:35 am, 5th January 2016

    I had just finished watching Breaking Bad before seeing this movie, and the difference in storytelling quality is gigantic. I feel like JJ Abrams was a bad choice, they should have paid Christopher Noland whatever he wanted to direct it.

    The Breaking Bad writers and Christopher Nolan wouldn’t have been a good match for the material. I think JJ was a decent match despite his negatives. I just think he was playing it way too safe.

    Regardless, JJ Abrams will not be directing any more Star Wars movies. The next one in the series will be by the guy who directed Looper.

    I’m hoping the subsequent films (including the standalones) will be better.

  • donniedemarco
    Posted at 02:14 pm, 6th January 2016

    SWFA was definitely just a reboot of Episode IV, but I’m ok with that given the greater context. The prequels (whether you like them or not) made SW brand positioning a complete fucking travesty, and Disney needed to correct that before they could effectively market a new series of movies and toys.

    That said, if Episode VIII ends up being a reboot of Empire it would be pretty unforgivable, but I think (hope) Disney knows better.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 06:15 pm, 6th January 2016

    The prequels (whether you like them or not) made SW brand positioning a complete fucking travesty, and Disney needed to correct that before they could effectively market a new series of movies and toys.

    You’re right, but there’s 100 different ways they could have done that without carbon-copying the first movie.

    That said, if Episode VIII ends up being a reboot of Empire it would be pretty unforgivable, but I think (hope) Disney knows better.

    I agree. I think these guys have a good pulse on what people want.

    My only hesitation is that the 2nd movie already started filming before the first one came out and before they got all the feedback. I guess we’ll see what happens.

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