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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Review)

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The first thing that I need to write is that this review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will contain spoilers. I’m not talking about just a few, I’m writing whatever I need to, to work through my thoughts and feelings about this film; of which I have many. So please do not continue reading without having first seen the film. A story like Star Wars is meant to be experienced first hand, not through the words of others. Read this review only if you’ve seen the film and are curious as to how I have experienced it.

I wasn’t looking forward to this movie in the traditional sense. I didn’t have the feelings I had, the day before Guardians of the Galaxy, coursing through me all day today. It’s not because I wasn’t excited, but due to the fact that I was worried about allowing myself to get too excited. Star Wars is a franchise that I grew up on. My favorite stuffed animal as a child was an ewok and my babysitters read my sister and I Star Wars books as bed time stories. I was scared to death about how this movie would change my perspective or memory of those classic films. The prequel trilogy was just that… a prequel, and no matter what they did in those films, they didn’t ruin how the original trilogy played out and ended. We all basically stood next to Luke Skywalker as Darth Vader’s corpse was burning and we felt victorious alongside all of our favorite characters; who were alive and going to live happily ever after. This film though, changes the fates of those characters. I love to think that Han and Leia got married and had kids, maybe Leia trained in the force, and so did her kids. Maybe Luke had met someone and lived happily ever after training kids strong in The Force. We can no longer imagine that happy ending… this movie tells us what happens. So I wasn’t excited in the traditional sense. It was more of a feeling of entering hallowed grounds and witnessing something you are hoping is incredible, while at the same time something that could tear down everything you knew and held dear. While this may sound overly dramatic, fear not… I loved the film. I just have too many emotions flowing through me right now to make sense of them. I’m going to try though as I write this review, that will no doubt be unstructured and messy… but it’s purely me writing my thoughts and feelings as they come.

I had only seen the first initial trailer for The Force Awakens. After that I avoided news and any following footage like the plague. I didn’t want to mar my experience of seeing it the first time, but there were a few details that snuck through or were pre-existing that hampered or prepared my expectations. One of these details was the fact that Harrison Ford hates the character Han Solo. Which is really sad. Han Solo is a character that Ford pretty much gave birth to. He gave the character a unique life that no other actor could have given him, and that life was shared and loved by millions of people around the globe. I get that he didn’t want to be defined solely for his role as Solo, but how could Ford hate a creation that so many others held so close to their heart? Honestly most people know Ford for much more than just Solo, so I can’t imagine that being his main reasoning. I bring this up because I heard anecdotally that Ford had always said that the only way he’d return to the role of Han Solo would be if they killed him off. I heard that anecdote long before the announcement that he would return, even before the Disney merger, and once I had heard that he was returning, I just knew that Han Solo was dying. The biggest surprise of this film is the fact that Han Solo dies, and I’m a bit sad that I unknowingly spoiled it for myself by knowing how Ford felt. It’s almost like Ford spoiled it for me on purpose. So while I’m heartbroken that Han Solo is gone, I was prepared for that loss and braced for impact when I saw it coming. Han Solo returned in this film as his former self. No matter how Ford felt, he gave us our beloved nerf herder for one last film and I appreciated it. This film really was a Han Solo-centric film too. The trailers made it out to seem like Han and Chewy were just showing up as a throw back for fans, but the trailers for this film really fooled me. The dynamic between Han and Leia, the reason they were separated and the revelation that Kylo Ren was really Ben Solo, their son, really worked well during this story. One could draw some loose connections between the original story’s struggle between father and son to this new story. I really hope Han’s death was not in vain. I want Han to live on not just in the viewers hearts and memories, but within the story as it continues. After seeing The Force Awakens, I’m going to be looking forward to the Han Solo origin story film they are rumoring to be coming. I think episode VII did Han justice and gave him a send off, that I all knew was coming, but was that of a hero and a loving father. Rest in peace Han.

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Coming into this film I was secretly hoping that Kylo Ren was going to be a lame villain. Because I am a terrible human being, I was hoping that everyone who bought Kylo Ren toys and his shirts and Christmas ornaments would watch the film and see that he was super lame so I could laugh and point. I also don’t care for Adam Driver as an actor so it reinforced my feelings before the film… but gosh damn it I loved Kylo Ren. Now I feel like I want those shits and toys my friends have with him on it, and I really enjoyed Adam Driver as Ren. The thing that the prequels did mostly wrong that the original Star Wars films did so right was the villains. Darth Vader was complex. He had feelings that were visible to the audience even though he wore a mask. Emperor Palpatine was creepy as hell and showed more character in Return of the Jedi than the prequel villains did during three films. That character was something Darth Maul, as bad ass as he was, and Count Dooku greatly lacked. Kylo Ren’s character was written in a extremely intriguing way that made me really fall in love with his villainous character close to the same way I did for Darth Vader. Driver portrayed his character so brilliantly. We could see “Ben” struggling to come out in every scene that he appeared unmasked. Ren’s villainy plays off of the idea that he’s the opposite of the earlier days of Anakin who struggled with sometimes feeling the hate flow through him and cloud his judgement. Ren struggles with the feelings of the light side that he desperately wants to resist for some reason. What confused me with his character was the scene where he was talking with the recovered mask of Darth Vader. Since he was trained by Luke Skywalker, surely he knew that Vader eventually accepted the light side and helped vanquish the dark right? Why would he be telling Vader’s helmet that he doesn’t want to feel the light, when Vader is an example of how when you accept the light you conquer? Something that Supreme Leader Snoke said to him must have really twisted his mind if he doesn’t realize that. But I think that kind of discrepancy can be looked over and taken as a part of the complexity that is Kylo Ren. It’s also interesting because the whole story from Kylo Ren’s birth to his turn to the dark side and murdering of other jedi trainees is left as just a mention to explain who he is. I almost feel like I want a trilogy of Star Wars films depicting him as a child, pod racing and then… just kidding. The reveal that Ren is Han Solo’s son comes very early the film. That’s interesting in itself, because the Star Wars “I am your father” scene is iconic and I’m sure most fans, like myself, were expecting a reveal of who Kylo Ren was to follow suit. The fact that they just went out and said it was another tell that Han was dying in the end, but the way they had Ren kill his father was extremely well done and still surprising for those of us who knew it was coming. Because of the earlier scene where Ren questions if he can kill his father and forsake the light, Driver’s performance during the death sequence actually almost convinced me that he may turn a new leaf and accept the light, but when he doesn’t the demeanor that he takes on harkens back to that of Anakin Skywalker’s during the Battle on Mustafar. We see that Ren has rage fits through out the film, which shows how untrained and immature he was before turning to the dark side, but after he’s killed his own father you can see that he’s resigned himself to the dark path that he can no longer come back from. While the final (amazing) lightsaber battle against Rey leaves Ren down and wounded, there is no doubt that Snoke’s orders to fetch Ren were followed through in the same way Palpatine’s were to fetch Anakin’s, and that we’re going to be seeing a more mechanical, Darth Vader-like Kylo Ren in the next film. I’m excited for that, because like Anakin, once Ren gets his metal hand and has to leave the mask on to cover that wicked scar, he’s going to be even more villainous than before. If there’s one thing that makes Ren more dangerous than his predecessors is the fact that he’s so undisciplined and can become unhinged at any moment, making his actions rash but unpredictable.

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It was amazing how fast J.J. Abrams’ new characters won me over. I absolutely love Daisy Ridley’s Rey after seeing this film. I knew that she was going to wind up a force user in the end, and I was still excited to see her realizing it herself. Her character shows a ton of self independence that a lot of female characters aren’t given in films now-a-days. We get a few funny lines by her as Finn is acting out the trope of holding the female character’s hand to help escort her to safety, but Rey just says “Let go of my hand!” and “I can run without you holding my hand“. She also displays extreme cleverness and intellect which is really nice to see in a lead heroine. Another thing that really showed the strength in the writing of this film was the relationship between Finn and Rey. They didn’t jump straight to the romance like I was expecting. It was almost the exact opposite. Rey and Finn show feelings of extreme friendship after everything they’ve been through, but nothing more than a kiss on the forehead was had in this film. I give major props to the writers for not giving us romance in this film outside of Han and Leia. I even felt like there could possibly be some stronger feelings between Poe and Finn, so that would be an interesting turn of events that I actually support and would like to see happen. John Boyega’s Finn or FN-2187 (2187 is actually my birth date if simplified so I was biased from the start) was a really fun character, as he was completely different from what the trailers and posters portrayed him to be. All of the few posters and previews I’ve been unable to avoid showed Finn as a Jedi. There was no doubt that he was a Jedi from anyone you asked before the movie released, because in all of the movies before this one, if you had a lightsaber you were a Jedi. I really liked that they tricked us. I felt like it was the one part of the movie that wasn’t spoiled for me. I also liked Finn’s motivations during the film, but I feel like there should theoretically be more Stormtroopers like FN-2187, therefore meaning that you’d see a lot more occurrences of them going AWOL, but we weren’t given any indications points one way or another. I would have liked a little bit more on what makes Finn special in his reasons for going AWOL just to add to the believably in his situation. He was taken when very young, trained and brainwashed into the Stormtrooper ways just like everyone else who were slaughtering the residents of Jakku, so why was he unique in feeling like he couldn’t adhere to his training? Either way I really enjoyed Finn. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron was another instantly classic hero very much in the same vain as Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy was. Poe really is just the classic bad ass fighter pilot who in the end manages to pilot his way into the core of the giant Starkiller weapon to cause it to explode. They also really worked their magic with BB-8. That was another character with a ton of merchandising that I was hoping would flop due to me being a terrible person, but I couldn’t help but think every time BB-8 was on screen “Gosh damn it that little ball is adorable“. BB-8 is another instantly lovable droid who’s name will be synonymous with R2-D2 and C3PO throughout the upcoming years. BB-8 had personality and will no doubt be the favorite character for a wide generation of kids and new fans. Instant classic characters. I can’t wait to see more of them… but seriously JJ… no ewoks? You could have at least given us one in the background.

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One of the feelings I was left with after viewing this movie for the first time was that of confusion. I knew this was Star Wars, and it sounded like Star Wars, and it featured all of my favorite Star Wars characters and types, but it just didn’t feel like Star Wars. It felt like a J.J. Abrams movie. Which isn’t a bad thing. I generally like most of the stuff he does, but this movie felt extremely new age. I’m not sure what they could have done to make it feel like the older films outside of shooting them with older cameras, so I’m not really saying it’s a bad thing that they should have tried to prevent, I just felt it looked and felt different. The prequel movies all felt like they were Star Wars films and they were decently up to date in terms of effects and graphics, but something about Abrams’ style made this one feel like the odd one out and more like the other films we see now days. While that’s said, there was a lot of absolutely gorgeous intricacies placed throughout this movie. There are lots of very small details of things happening in the background and within the story that really show the higher quality of standards that Abrams requires before he’ll release a film. Scenes like the sundering and splitting of the ground between Rey and Kylo Ren after their lightsaber battle was really exquisitely done when it could have easily been seen as a silly trope or deus ex machina to prolong the bad guy. How the Starkiller planet blew up and just got eaten from the inside by the star that it absorbed was absolutely brilliant, and a lot of the minor effects during the spaceship battles were well done too. While Abrams’ movie doesn’t feel like a traditional Star Wars movie or not doesn’t play as large a role as it should when you start to realize that the quality of how it was made is worth the change to the feel.

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With a lot of fan service being paid in this film with a ton of lines being rehashed from the older films, The Force Awakens certainly doesn’t disappoint like the prequel trilogy. The story feels like a proper continuation. The last scene where Rey flies to the ocean planet to see the island she always dreamed of only to find Luke Skywalker was beautiful. Top that off with the fact that they didn’t speak a single word, and you got a really smart ending to the film that a lot of people might not have expected. The audience just sits there waiting for Mark Hamill’s hero to say something but when the credit start to roll, I just felt all of the possibilities and consequences that could come from that small unspoken gesture of Rey giving Luke back his father’s lightsaber come flooding into my head. Imagery was a huge part of this film and Anakin’s lightsaber almost played the role of a character in the story with how it was used. While other sites are touting ‘hidden’ cameos by Ewan McGregor and Frank Oz, I actually heard their voice over during the scene where Rey touched the lightsaber for the first time. I would be sad for the people who actually think that was ‘hidden’ because it was very much intended for us to hear. Will Luke take his old lightsaber back and finally return? Will he tell Rey to keep it so that he can train her in how to use it? Probably, but he could also tell her to leave and go back where she came from. It’s an open ending which usually leaves me feeling unsatisfied, but because they waited until the last minute to finally show our original hero Luke Skywalker, I felt satisfied in the fact that he appeared (I knew he would). This leaves it open to who Luke Skywalker has become. A single sentence from him could have clued us into his mental state or what he thinks of Rey appearing in the Millenium Falcon. We know that this mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke is out there, and hopefully we’ll learn more about what happened in the time between episodes six and seven in the next film from Luke himself. Where did Snoke come from? How was he able to turn one of Luke’s trainee’s (and nephew) from right under his nose? These kind of questions are what makes a great first chapter in a trilogy. They give you just enough to be excited for the next film, but barely anything concrete to speculate about. I honestly have no clue what is going to happen next.

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Overall, while my emotions were all over the place after this film, I really enjoyed the film and it didn’t mar my memories of the older films. It just replaced that fantastical, happy ending that I had thought was the true ending for 28 years, and replaced them with a far more grim but interesting story. I feel like Luke will eventually play the role of Yoda or Ben Kenobi and train Rey in the ways of The Force (even though she taught herself quite fast), and they may even reveal that Rey is Luke or Leia’s daughter. It would be a cool reveal for episode eight to reveal that Ben Solo and Rey are siblings, but I feel like Ben would know if they were. There wouldn’t be a reason for them to seperated Rey and Ben at birth. So it’s possible that she’s Luke’s daugther, which is what most people are expecting. I wonder where Leia’s story would go if Rey didn’t turn out to be related to her? I would hope that Kylo Ren will forsake the dark side at the end in a way that Leia could feel or see, just before he ends himself and Snoke, but that’s just pure fantasizing how it will go. That’s also very close to how the original trilogy ended, and there have already been too many rehashings of the original story in just this one episode. I think after this film set up the first part of a brand new trilogy, it’s going to be a completely different feeling going into the theater for episode eight. Now that I know the story is safe in J.J. Abrams’ hands, I’m going to probably be vibrating with excitement before the opening crawl of the next one. It’s too bad the next movie doesn’t release until 2017. That’s a lot of time that I’m going to have to avoid spoilers. I think going into the next one, I’m going to try and avoid everything, even the trailer, because I think The Force Awakens would have been insanely fun if I hadn’t had any previous knowledge of anything beforehand. Let me know in the comments what you thought of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and share your thoughts. I left a lot out in my review, because honestly there was a ton of stuff I could have gotten to but just don’t have the time to write about, but if you want to fill in the stuff I missed with your own thoughts, that’d be great. I hope everyone has a great holidays, and may the Force be with you… always.

 

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