Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivered an entertaining experience on many levels: the best performances in the saga since The Empire Strikes Back; special effects with more reality to them than the over-used CGI of the Prequels; real chemistry between the actors; excellent dialogue and humor; and a timeless mythology that only strengthens with the retelling. I now have full confidence in Disney’s ability to give fans a series of timeless classics that will live up to the franchise’s brand and history.
There are a few minor issues I have with the film, but I’ll save them for last.
While nostalgia definitely pulls at the heartstrings in TFA, it takes much more than that to hold an audience’s attention, not to mention break such box office records. For me, it’s all in the new characters, and how brilliantly they are portrayed by their respective actors.
First is Rey, an orphan on a desert planet, who is an excellent mechanic and knows how to take care of herself. Rey is a survivor. Some critics have complained that she’s a ‘Mary Sue’, and is too perfect, too skilled, but when I start hearing that same criticism directed at male leads in other films, then I’ll begin to care. Do you think a survivor on a desert world would be a bumbling moron or a cowardly fifth wheel? Nope, me either. Rey is strong because she has to be; else she would have perished long ago. I love that she takes Han Solo’s place in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, and that she is the one who seeks out Luke Skywalker at the end. That she fights Kylo Ren to a draw in a lightsaber duel only adds to her character: in that moment she was saving a friend, she was hurt by Solo’s death, and she was angry that Ren was responsible for so much pain. That made the duel one of the most personal yet in the Star Wars saga, and already among my favorites. It’s the emotional content that makes it memorable, not five minutes of balletic sword fighting meant to impress rather than further the story. She is the new Luke Skywalker, and I’m eager to see how her journey unfolds.
Second is Finn, a former Stormtrooper. He refuses to take part in the First Order’s atrocities, he rescues Poe from Kylo’s interrogation chamber, and he helps Poe steal a TIE Fighter so that they both can escape. Finn isn’t a killer. He isn’t a coward, either. He’s willing to fight to save his friends; the first time he sees Rey, she’s in trouble, and he’s willing to intercede on her behalf. Later on, he takes up Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and battles a Stormtrooper, even though he is unskilled in its use. He repeats this near the end, when he faces Kylo Ren in a duel. That takes guts, and loyalty to one’s friends. This has always been a hallmark of the Star Wars saga, and I’m so glad they brought it back in this character, the unlikely hero due to his past. Here’s hoping that he gets his own lightsaber in the next film, and perhaps a romance with Rey?
Third is Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the Resistance, a version of the Rebel Alliance. He’s witty, confident, and loyal to the cause of freedom in the galaxy. It’s great to see the X-Wing make a comeback, especially when piloted by such a talented guy like Poe. He comes across as a genuine good guy, without being arrogant about it. The camaraderie between him and Finn is something that was lacking in the Prequels, which is why it stands out so well in TFA. I get the feeling he’s going to be a major Resistance leader in the next movie.
Kylo Ren is a complex villain: as the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, he shares a talent for the Force. However, he wants to be like his grandfather, Darth Vader, even to the point of wearing a mask when he doesn’t have to. It’s not physical deformity he wishes to hide; he believes himself to be a new person, an heir of the Sith traditions. His temper tantrums are a throwback to Vader, and reflects his instability. He is a confused young man, tormented and unpredictable. I think he will prove to be an even greater villain in the next film.
Now, for the things that could have been better:
Starkiller Base was unnecessary. It was yet another superweapon in a long line of superweapons, if you count all of those from the Expanded Universe (and if you’re a fan like me, that stuff goes back 25 years before this film came out—so we’ve seen it too much). Plus it was easy to destroy, like all the others. The one saving grace is that if they take this concept to its logical conclusion, of a vessel that absorbs stars, then the Republic could be in real danger. But enough with blowing up planets, already.
Captain Phasma is hardly in the film, yet she’s present in so many promotional materials, you’d think she’s second only to Kylo Ren as the film’s villain. Plus Gwendoline Christie is a wonderful actress, and it was a shame she was underutilized. But I’m hoping she comes back in Episode VIII, and in a big way.
Han Solo’s death was predictable. I mean, you knew he was a dead man as soon as he set foot on that catwalk with Kylo Ren. I don’t mind the character dying—this trilogy is about passing the torch, after all—but this scene could have been presented in a different way so that Solo’s demise was an uncertainty, not a guarantee.
The film glosses over things I really want to know—what is the Resistance and how was it formed; what is the Republic’s role in the current galaxy; how did the First Order come to be; who the hell is Supreme Leader Snoke; who are the Knights of Ren named after, and was Kylo their first member; and, how did Maz Kanata find Luke’s old lightsaber, the one he lost in a duel with Vader on Cloud City? To be fair, many of these questions will most likely be answered in the next film, as well as the novelization and other related works. But they MUST be told, so we can fully understand this new Star Wars timeline.
The bottom line is, TFA breathes much-needed vitality into the Star Wars saga. It brings it fully into the 21st century, with a female lead, a multi-racial main cast, and a sense of fun and wonder that has often been missing from the cinema. I am very excited to see where the saga goes from here.