Last week I published a review of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens though I worked hard to not give away any major plot points. One response I received, though, asked for the chance to discuss the movie, so I decided to do another post with the freedom to discuss the full film, spoilers and all, for those who have seen the movie. SO, IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE DO NOT READ THIS! Really – trust me. You want to experience this movie without any hints.
Now, for those of you who’ve seen the movie, I’ll outline several aspects of it that struck me. Please feel free to interact in the comments sections about your own reactions to The Force Awakens.
Right from the opening scenes, you could tell this wasn’t a Phantom Menace. That one began with almost a leisurely scene between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon (even when they’re fighting droids), and then it goes downhill as soon as Jar Jar Binks enters the scene. Instead Force matches A New Hope with the dark Star Destroyer sliding across a moon until it completely blots it out. The dark side has come. Abrams had a perfect casting moment when he had Max Von Sydow do a cameo appearance as the person who gives Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the clue to the location of Luke Skywalker. Von Sydow is about the only active actor left who was a contemporary of Alec Guinness. Abrams also echoed the introduction of Darth Vader with Kylo Ren walking down the ramp from the space ship.
I’d enjoyed John Boyega in Attack the Block and was pleased to see him as Finn. Finn adds nuance and depth to the story. The Imperial Storm Troopers have always been as anonymous as they were bad shots. Their aim has improved a little in Force Awakens – emphasis on “a little” – but Finn gives them a humanity they’ve never had before. Instead of blind obedience, Finn’s inner decency asserts itself when he refuses to shoot during the village massacre. He at first wants to run away – as Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) sees in his eyes – but he’s honorable enough to seek to get Poe’s droid back to the rebels. And after Ren grabs Rey, he switches from running away to running toward the danger.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) takes her place alongside Sarah Conner and Ripley (among others) as sci-fi’s kickass women. Abrams has always been talented at writing strong women, such as Sydney Briscoe in “Alias,” but he’s gone beyond that with Rey. Leia had a bit of this in the original trilogy, but she wasn’t as compelling as Luke, Han, or Darth. Here, though, Rey is front and center, and the final duel with Kylo Ren pays off the build of the plot.
Speaking of Ren, I was pleased that Abrams didn’t try to tease out his identity. From early in the film we know he’s Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia, but he’d been seduced by the dark side like his grandfather Anakin. Having the partially melted Vader mask is a great piece of imagery. The moment when he reveals his face to Rey was a shot of adrenalin. You expect the disfigurement of Anakin, but instead you have a handsome young man. It underlines that the scars of the dark side are not outwardly visible.
Using motion capture for Supreme Leader Snoke and Maz Kanata was a much better choice than the computer-generated Jar Jar Binks. Andy Serkis, who plays Snoke, is the leading actor for this effect, so it wasn’t surprising to have him cast as Snoke. Interestingly, the communication scenes that Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleason) have with Snoke mirror Darth Vader’s interview with the Emperor in The Empire Strkes Back, with the hologram image being enormous. As Serkis was expected, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz was a choice out of left field. You have one of the most beautiful women in film play a diminutive alien with fish-eye goggles, but she nails the character. Her scene with Rey also means that Force Awakens is the first Star Wars film (and one of the few sci-fi movies ever) that passes the Bechdel test.
There’s an interesting connection with the cast in that Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason were two of three main actors in Ex Machina earlier this year. If you want to see how good they are, take a peek at that movie and then compare it to Force Awakens. Here, though, they never have a scene together.
I did enjoy BB-8, who is a worthy successor to R2D2 – and also a much faster droid. With all the running in the movie the stately pace of R2 wouldn’t have worked. A great moment was when Finn flashes BB the thumbs up sign and the droid responds with a lighter flame.
Abrams referenced the original trilogy in ways that both paid tribute to it as well as twisted our expectations. The first appearance of Kylo Ren, the removal of his mask, the attack on the planet killer, all mirror earlier scenes, but nowhere was that used to better effect than Han’s final scene with Ren. It takes place on a bridge over a chasm, just like the scene in Empire where Darth reveals he’s Luke’s father. Instead of the perverse paternal plea of Vader – “We can rule the universe side by side” – you have Han pleading for the restoration of his son. When Ren runs his lightsaber through his father, it’s a gut punch for Star Wars fans.
The very end of the movie could have been trimmed a bit – how many steps can a person climb and keep the interest of the audience? – but the wordless moment of connection between Luke and Rey is perfect. The indicators in the script point to Luke being her father, which means Rey experienced a similar fate as Luke, being separated from her family for most of her young life. (There are other theories out there about Rey, but until the next movie is released I’ll go with this one.)
Those are my thoughts. Please feel free to post your own responses and ideas below, or engage in a discussion. I’ll try to check the blog as often as possible to approve comments to facilitate the discussion. Go.