The Force Awakens: A Review

Dark chocolate is rich. Its taste is an aroma of both sweet and bitterness, combined to make a very delicate delight to enjoy. At the same time, milk chocolate is an everyman. It swirls on your tongue as it breaks into crisp pieces, melting and oozing its bold taste and texture into your thought process. Despite this, it is not pure in the same way dark chocolate is; it is far more artificial and less vibrant as it fades into the realm of ‘cliché’.

So… How does this relate to Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Before I answer that question, welcome back. After some feedback and reflection on the first post of the 25 Days of Stadarooni, (This is the second post, by the way) I realized that it may have been a bit too nice and without the substance you should expect me to provide. Bite-sized posts are nice, but I will ensure better ideas throughout the coming weeks. (Suggestions are always welcomed!) Of course, this ‘review’ of sorts is one I promised last month when analyzing how The Force Awakens works as a soft reboot of the Star Wars franchise (Which I encourage you to read before diving into this), and that retrospect will be the topic today. Please remember that if your opinion differs from mine, that is awesome and I am glad that feelings are not synonymous between every single individual. Otherwise, the world would be a lot duller.

I am assuming that the majority of you are familiar with this film, and have watched it at least once. I do apologize, but if you have not watched it I strongly suggest that you do before reading this post.

***

Firstly, what are my thoughts on The Force Awakens? Overall, it is a very enjoyable movie that is immensely entertaining and makes you feel (simply) good. Objectively, it has many flaws which can be pointed out and may raise an eyebrow when you think about them. This is why I feel The Force Awakens falls short of the original trilogy as a whole and is in league with Return of the Jedi. This is definitely not a bad thing, but the film has a lot of potential that it either did not use or will be used in Episode VIII or IX.

The film’s strongest suit is by far its acting. After the wasting potential that was the prequels, The Force Awakens is a very stark contrast from the robotic and overly dramatic performances of Samuel L. Jackson or Hayden Christensen. (Which may be due to direction) Daisy Ridley perfectly captures the role of Rey from the action, emotions, drama, and being awesome. She is very well-rounded and works to create a very dynamic character, and the same can be said for John Boyega and Adam Driver for Finn and Kylo Ren, respectively.

The acting may be something to gloss over, but these performances are outweighed by the way in which these characters interact. Finn and Rey working together to shoot down a TIE Fighter, and every scene with Finn and Poe are examples of what makes this film work so damn well. They feel organic, with chemistry that instantly brings a smile to your face as these conflicting personas work together and react in very human ways, such as cheering or sharing a somber moment together. Perhaps that may seem rather obvious, but plenty of films fail to capture what The Force Awakens does so well in this respect.

Another compliment to give is the film’s humour. While the tone may seem a little too light-hearted in a story where a galaxy is essentially plunged into anarchy, it works in tandem with the aforementioned character interactions as well. A moment to point out when BB-8 gives Finn a thumbs-up with an integrated lighter, which caused the audience in my theater to laugh absolutely hysterically. It is not that the other films lacked any sense of comedy, but it absolutely enhances the presentation of The Force Awakens.

Tone and production wise, this is Star Wars. John Williams’ score may be slightly underwhelming due to how safe it is, (the only new track that sticks out to me is Rey’s Theme) but it still has a healthy dose of nostalgia in returning pieces. The art style of the film also closely resembles the more gritty aspects of the original trilogy, and computer animation has been much improved over the prequels. (Although Maz Kanata and Snoke are quite distinguishable from more practical effects in the background of their scenes) The film also knows that it is a fun adventure, and is something that does not cater to a specific age group in that regard. There is a balance between drama, action, exposition, comedy, and dialogue that propels The Force Awakens upwards.

With all this positive feedback, how could I believe that this is not the best Star Wars film?

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The answer is nostalgia.

The Force Awakens features plenty of returning characters, many of which were the main characters of the original trilogy. Han Solo is a mentoring figure a la Obi-Wan in A New Hope, Leia returns as a general with a few appearances here and there, Chewbacca is Han Solo’s partner in crime as always, C-3PO simply exists in this film, R2-D2 is a convenient ex Machina for the plot, and Luke Skywalker is the overall force that hangs over the plot until the very end.

The inclusion of these characters in not a bad thing, and in Han Solo’s case he was used in the plot to a great extent. The problem stems from that many of these characters have no reason to be in the film besides to serve as reminders of the original trilogy. This is the case with many artifacts such as Anakin’s lightsaber or the Millennium Falcon. (Then again, both of these do serve the plot) Sadly, the reintroduction of classic elements brings down the story of the film to varying degrees, making it feel more cluttered than it should. I will not lie in saying that there was one instance where I was just waiting for another appearance from a returning character, which is not a very good thing to say.

This leads to another point, which is the story itself. The film does have the classic ‘good vs. evil’ storyline, but it repeats too many beats from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. An escape from a desert planet, the death of a mentoring figure, and meeting with an old and wise alien are just a few that are very clearly not meant to be subtle in the slightest. If it were not for this film’s strong suits, these repeats would hinder it far more.

Another thing is this film’s role as a sequel to Return of the Jedi: it really is not. Sure, it picks up thirty years later, but it does establish the state of the galaxy or anything that happens in between the two films. This film is enjoyable enough to the point where these may be non-issues for many, but it does not strive to fill in this gap of history. And for those of you who play Halo, using “read the books” is NOT a good excuse or justification for this kind of storytelling. As Episode VII of the Star Wars saga, it should be expected to connect to it in deeper ways.

The last point is quite mute, but it is Starkiller Base. While these repeats may be inoffensive to many (and I did not mind too many of them) Starkiller Base is another doomsday weapon that is too similar to the Death Star in its purpose to the story. It makes little-to-no-sense to my sense of logic and immersion in the Star Wars universe. Lightsabers and the Force may be more fantasy than sci-fi, but a weapon that extinguishes the sun to destroy a few planets simply does not make any sort of sense whatsoever. I do not watch Star Wars for logic, but immersion is important within the context of a singular franchise.

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I will go ahead and say that the ‘Rey is a Mary Sue’ thing is not a problem for me, but I can see why it would be for some people. She is quite proficient at everything she does compared to plenty of other characters, but I do feel as if this film cannot be truly judged until the rest of the sequel trilogy is complete. Story elements in Episode VIII and IX may change our outlook on this film in retrospect, and maybe some other weak elements such as the villains (minus Kylo Ren) or underutilized elements such as Poe will be further expanded on and made amazing.

As I said, this film is great and vastly entertaining. I can say that I love it and I can see exactly how it has inspired a global resurgence in Star Wars’ popularity and culture. Rogue One comes out later this month, and I am excited to see the franchise from another perspective that seems to work so well as a spin-off while not being completely detached and irrelevant to the main films. (Quite the opposite in fact)

There will be more of these reviews/retrospectives to come, and this is the first. I also know that I had promised my thoughts and feelings Halo 5: Guardians from a story standpoint, (I am still heartbroken by how bad it is) but I feel as if a proper look at every aspect of the game would be nice as well. I do hope that you are enjoying the 25 Days of Stadarooni thus far, and I will see you next time.

Oh wait, that is tomorrow.

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