I saw Star Wars Episode VII a bit over a week ago, but wanted to hold off putting up my thoughts not wanting to spoil anything for fans that hadn’t gotten to see it yet.
Now, the bulk of fans will have gotten around to seeing it. I will include potential spoilers but will try and give the heads up before I go in to that section.
Showing my age, I saw every Star Wars film in the cinema except A New Hope (I was just a bit young). I even saw Return of the Jedi in a Drive In.
The prequels (episodes I-III) built up excitement for new chapters in such an iconic cinematic universe on the big screen. On viewing, the overall disappointment was a huge come down. Episodes II and III had redeeming features, but just try going back and watching the 3 prequel movies as a marathon. For such a beloved universe, they are hard work.
So when JJ Abrams got tapped to take on the Star Wars universe, the memory of the prequels reminded me not to get my hopes up too high, because ultimately, it is almost impossible for anyone to create a film worthy of the imaginations fueled by its predecessors. I like JJ. I first noticed him when watching Alias. I had plenty of good things to say about his relaunch of the Star Trek universe. I even liked Cloverfield.
But seeing him move from Trek to be tasked with Star Wars was in itself a concern. How do you continue such an established Sci-Fi universe twice without disappointing large numbers of fans or effectively reusing what worked in the first film?
So, I walked in to The Force Awakens filled with reservations. And walked out happy. It was a good, enjoyable film. Most people I know rank it up with the original trilogy films (Ep IV – VI). Personally, I would currently rank it fourth after the original trilogy. However, until we see how this film sets up and builds on the Star Wars universe in the subsequent films, I wont lock that in.
From here, I am going to discuss the new film in more detail, so potential spoiler warnings. If you haven’t seen it yet, bookmark and come back to this post afterwards. The movie does include things that can be spoiled so if you care about such things, go watch first. The production crew did a great job keeping major spoilers out of the media.
For all the positives in The Force Awakens, there are some things that I found detracted from the overall result.
The focus on the original cast appearing in the film was good. Some of the more obscure original actors (Tim Rose, the puppeteer who put on the Admiral Ackbar suit for example) reprising their roles is kind of cool, without needing to take focus away from the new central characters. Also Mike Quinn, one of the actors involved in bringing Nien Nunb came back for The Force Awakens. But at times it did feel like the original cast were the focus, not the next generation.
When John Boyega landed a part as Finn, I had only seen him in Attack the Block. I was dubious about the casting. But of all the next generation characters introduced, he impressed me the most. His character had the most depth and demonstrated ability on the actor’s part I did not realise he possessed.
Daisy Ridley landed the role of Rey as an unknown. At the time of getting the role she apparently had no IMDB bio, no Wikipedia article and just a few hundred Instagram followers. She is clearly central to the next couple of movies in the series. In fact, she appears to be the pivotal character of the next trilogy. Episodes 1-3 were Anakin’s story. Episodes 4-6 were Luke’s story. 7-9 could be Rey’s story, though it will be interesting to see how that works with the spin off movies planned. She is an interesting choice. Her character was very guarded so I think it will be a matter of how she develops over time to get a feel for her casting and the character she plays.
Oscar Isaac picked up the role of Poe Dameron. Perhaps a significant factor in the success of Han Solo and Chewbacca is their swagger. Poe Dameron is the only next generation character (thus far) to demonstrate that king of swagger. I think he is an important part of the film series future success. Demonstrating his piloting skills in some of the battle sequences were some of the best visuals. I am now keen to see how he does with the role of En Sabah Nur in X-Men Age of Apocalypse.
The focal villain for the film is Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. A capable actor who I have seen in a few different things. I thought him to be an excellent casting choice. But was less impressed with his performance. Perhaps it is the vagueness of his motivations, or the variability of his abilities, but I hope this character builds. He just doesn’t feel like a menacing powerful villain. More like a troubled rebellious teenager trying to be menacing and powerful, while angsting the entire time.
Last character is played by Lupita Nyong’o, who was part of bringing life to the CG character Maz Kanata. I did see reports that Lupita struggled with acting a CG character. While I am unsure wither Maz Kanata is a fair reflection of Lupita’s ability as an actress, I think the character’s performance was fine.
Special mention for the droid BB8. The ball droid successfully captured the same vibe as originally was addressed by R2D2.
The bits that bugged me:
In A New Hope, the baddies build a giant battle station that gets blown up as a result of a minor design weakness.
In Return of the Jedi, the baddies build an even bigger battle station that gets blown up as a result of a design weakness.
In The Force Awakens, the baddies build an even bigger battle station that still has a design weakness.
I mean, these things are supposed to range from the size of a small moon to a small planet. The Starkiller base being around 10x the size of the original Death Star. Who builds something that size that is so easy to blow up? I mean, I could see Supreme Commandeer Snoke being a proponent of the philosophy that size does matter. But still, think of how many baddy troops total have been vaporised in the destruction of these battle stations alone and what those numbers could have meant to their ultimate outcomes.
The pivotal death. This was clearly looking to replicate the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope in that it creates a key dramatic moment that goes on to motivate our heroes to kick butt. It just didn’t resonate emotionally with me. Perhaps the foreknowledge that Ford has wanted to be killed off in the original movies detracted. Perhaps it was the discordant choices of Kylo and his unclear motivations.
The ongoing success of this series of movies will, I think, hang on the progression of Kylo Ren and the unravelling of the enigma that is Rey. I really don’t want her to end up being Luke’s long lost daughter (unless it triggers a spin off movie centered around Mara Jade anyway). Too many blood relations going on.
Also recognising that as yet, Luke Skywalker has yet to have any material impact. A fantastic Ace to be keeping up your sleeve, JJ.
Side note, for an army that is notorious for its poor aim, having a lone Stormtrooper badass popping up was cool. Expecting big things for Captain Phasma in future films.
Like many others, I await the next instalment eagerly. I am interested to see how the spin off movies fit in. The most problematic being the Han Solo focus film. Any actor that can pull that off will earn cred that could make or break a career.
The only question now is whether I buy the Blu-Ray as soon as its released, or maybe just a basic DVD until the eventual box set gets released.