Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

By now, if you’re a Star Wars fan then you’ve read a large number of reviews, with spoilers and without spoilers about this movie.  I’ve only seen it once (only!) so this is based on my initial, first take on the movie, and some thought and research I’ve done subsequently on some of the plot holes and structure of the flick.

WARNING – SOME SPOILERS – WARNING – SOME SPOILERS

That’s to protect the few hundred people who have not seen this movie yet.  I went with my family and saw it in IMAX 3D in a theater that was packed, a few days before Christmas.  There was a short line to enter the theater but nothing too substantial.

 

First Take – The Movie Awakens

2979968-star-wars-bb-8-force-awakensWell done.  Exciting, fast-paced, funny and a true homage.  If you take into consideration the hype that this movie had to live up to, it’s remarkable what Abrams and his writers pulled off.  I remember saying to my daughter that there’s no movie that can live up to this hype.  And there still isn’t – but it was close (more on that later).

The real explosions and costumes/makeup, the quick tempo and back-and-forth between the characters, the new characters, the old characters, the Force, the storm troopers – very well done.  Unlike Episodes 1,2 and 3, this one does not rely on 90% CGI, which harkens back to the first three Episodes.  You don’t need a screen full of CGI characters and creatures to spice up a set, George.  The replacement Cantina scene with real alien characters interacting was again, a welcome sight.

The humor in the movie is welcome.  In the second three Episodes (I,II,III), the humor was kiddie-silly.  We don’t need to discuss Jar Jar Binks, nor the CGI scenes of droids fighting like The Three Stooges.  Terrible and aiming low.  In this movie, it’s quick and clever.  Finn being referred to as Big Deal by Han repeatedly, Chewbacca’s whining, Rey’s smart-alecky exchanges with Solo.  Very nicely done – and quick.  The movie didn’t dwell on the humor, it moved adroitly onto the next scene.

The homage is appreciated. All the original major characters are there, with Luke not showing up until the very end.  Leia and Han share some tender moments.  C3PO is as annoying as ever.  R2 plays a very small role.  Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon, X-Wing and Tie Fighters, Imperial Destroyers – very familiar and a great tie back  to the first three episodes.  I remember thinking that the second three Episode for some reason strayed far from the original designs for the Storm Troopers and ships.  Why?  They were impressive and more complicated, but the movies were supposed to be prequels.

The plot itself is generally okay, but is the part I have the most issue with – specifically the plot holes (hang on..)  The movie moves you quickly to the action with an effective leveling and exposition at the beginning.  We find out generally who Rey is, where she lives and what her life is like.  We learn about Finn and his defection from the Storm Troopers.  We get an introduction to Kylo Ren and a peek at his motivations. We visit a number of planets, we learn about the new Star Killer (aka Death Star on steroids) and a little about the Supreme Leader Snoke – oh and Poe Dameron, the hotshot pilot who clearly will be taking Han Solo’s place.

So my first take, leaving the theater is that JJ Abrams did a fine job with rebooting the series.  The movie isn’t perfect but it does lay the ground work for the next two movies (I hope).  It was definitely exciting, and I did yell out “oh man!” and other shouts of joy throughout the movie – as in when Luke’s light saber flew last Kylo Ren and into Rey’s hands – and the various scenes of the Empire blowing the heck out of set pieces – or when we get that first shot of the Falcon, again referred to as a piece of junk.

I really liked the movie and had a fantastic time.  I left feeling good about the direction it was being taken.  My family generally enjoyed it, with my daughter finding Rey a great lead character to get behind and Poe now is her ba’e.

Based on this, I totally recommend the movie – as a standalone movie, it gets a solid 8.5 or 9 out of ten votes from me.

Take Two – The Force is Mulled Over

Star Wars Celebration 2015

Okay, so a few hours later, I started thinking about the movie and the things that bothered me about it.  Mind you, as I tried to explain to my daughter, this doesn’t change the fact that I really enjoyed the movie and thought it was great.  It’s really more about being a stalwart Star Wars fan and my disappointment at some basic screen writing issue and story holes.  Holes that made it feel like we were played just a little bit – but I have to balance that with the Herculean task at hand for Abrams and his writers, of course.  There was almost no way this was going to be the perfect movie because he had two audiences to satisfy: Star Wars mega-fans and the other folks who wanted to see a great movie.  To accomplish satisfying both would have been movie magic.

The problem: Abrams often takes a solid story idea and then fails to plug key questions as he moves to wrap up the movie.  For example, in Super 8, I loved the Spielberg style movie telling and cinematography, but when we jj-abrams-star-wars-episode-viiifinally see the alien and how the story wraps up, it was a bit of a letdown.  And on his Star Trek reboot, the movies were good, but if you’re a Star Trek fan like I am, it missed the point on that Star Wars is not an action series.  Wrath of Khan (my favorite movie) is smart as well as it has action.  Abrams missed that point, and if the new Star Trek movie trailer is any indication of where the series is going, it’s going to be a flop for me.  But back to Star Wars…

To be specific, here are the plot points that were lazily created or handled:

  • Another Death Star (aka Star Killer)?  The First Order cannot come up with some other terrifying weapon?  Even Han mocks it by saying “it’s just (a) bigger (Death Star)“.  Ugh. And it, too, has a weakness?  Ugh!
  • The Republic, which is destroyed by the Star Killer, all happens to be in the same solar system and is quickly dispatched by the First Order via a single (albeit three-part) zap from the Star Killer?  How convenient.
  • Finn has been raised from birth to be a Storm Trooper and yet at his first battle he decides to defect?
  • Chewbacca is a whiny child who complains throughout the movie?  This is not the Chewie I know.  In the original series, he was portrayed as ripping the arms off a droid and didn’t want the manacles put on him by Luke.  I get the juxtaposition but it was overdone.
  • In all the years that Han and Chewie have been together, Han has never fired Chewbacca’s weapon?
  • Luke is so upset at Kyle Ren’s destruction of the Jedi that he runs off and hides where no one can find him? What’s with the Jedi and the need to run off and hide, as Yoda did?
  • R2 turns himself off when he finds out that Luke is gone?  Why?  Was he sad?  And he has the other part of the map that shows where Luke is?  Would he not try to help find the missing part?  Why just shut down?
  • Rey knows everything about every ship ever created? Minute details like configurations of secondary systems and how to pilot them?
  • Kylo Ren can sense his father is nearby but cannot sense how strong the force is in Rey?
  • Finn picks up a light saber and is immediately a pretty good swordsman?
  • Finn asking whether Rey has a “cute” boyfriend?  Great play towards the teenagers, Abrams.
  • Rey never really needs saving.  Every time the heroes left to help/save Rey, she was already saving herself.  I get it, she’s a badass, but she never needs help?
  • The lingering shot of Rey and Luke at the end.  Too much.  A good two minutes zooming in on both faces, then the skycam shot circling the two… too much.  We get it. Pivotal. But not unexpected at this point in the movie.  A better show would have been a reaction shot as Rey sees Luke (prior to us seeing Luke) and then a quick cut to Luke, with his grizzled beard, and BAM, cut to black.  People would have jumped out of their seats.  But instead the shot is overextended as the music crescendoed.
  • It’s 30 years after the end of the first series and there’s no NEW technology other than some sort of “automatic bread maker” that Rey uses?  No new blasters, new ships, cool technology?

Let me stop there on that last bullet.  This sort of bothered me.  Remember how cool the original three episodes were because of the new technology they introduced and showed off?  Light sabers? A chess game with real holographic creatures? The Force? Sand Creatures?  Jawas? Jabba the Hut?  Light speed? A floating desert ship? X-wing, Y-wing fighters?  Tie fighters?

Why no new technology this time?  Think about technology on Earth in 1982.  Different than now?  Uh, yes!  But 30 years after the first trilogy?  The exact same, except a larger Death Star.  No new information on the Force, no new ships to speak of.  A newish droid.

Finally, the story itself is almost but not exactly a rehash of Episode IV: A New Hope. So I guess that’s good because hopefully it opens the way to a great Episode VIII and IX.  But it also takes some of the mystery out of the movie because you generally know where it’s going.

Epilogue – The Summary

Alright, so a very long review, I realize. I want you to know that the movie is great, and it accomplished what it set out to do: lay the groundwork for the next two movies.  I sincerely hope (a new hope?) that the script starts plugging some of these holes and show the imagination that the first three movies really excelled at.  Because the key to Star Wars was not the unique storyline but how much fun the movie was, and the amazing new technology (both effects and within the movie) that it introduced us to.  Let’s hope, in 17 months (ugh) that the next director accepts this responsibility. For now, let’s look forward to Rogue One, scheduled to be released in December 2016.

I’ve already rated this movie back at the beginning, but to recap, it’s a solid 8.5 to 9 out of 10 as a standalone movie, and a weak 7 as a Star Wars movie.  The Monkey says, definitely check it out – numerous times.

 

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3 thoughts on “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

  1. I would agree with just about all your points. Did you cover the frustrating plot reliance on lineage? Totally unnecessary and detracts from the potential of the storyline.

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    1. I forgot that! You’re correct – if we end up finding Rey is Luke’s daughter, I’m going to be peeved. Really? Across the whole galaxy we have this incestuous circumstance of Luke being Darth’s son, Rey being Luke’s son, Kylo Ren is Han’s son… what’s next? Finn is Chewie’s cousin? I’d rather that Rey was just some other person who had a strong connection to The Force.

      Thanks for the comments, Reid! 🙂

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      1. I enjoyed this movie very much. I was relieved that the Star Wars Canon wasn’t messed with (like the Star Trek reboot did)… this movie felt more like a “passing of the flame”.

        I’m holding judgement on Finn and Rey until I find out more about them.

        I was also very grateful that there were no Jar-Jar characters!!! Yeah, there were some brief C3PO moments, but that was it.

        If we don’t find out that Rey is bubbling over with the Force I may get annoyed that she picked it up so quickly! Remember how long it took Luke to use a light saber effectively?!

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