Okay, I’ll keep this short and simple. There’s no need to go into long detail over a movie everyone will have very strong opinions about. I found THE FORCE AWAKENS to be an enjoyable, escapist film with great production value, nostalgically shot on film, but not all that moving and overall a disappointment. My main criticisms are as follows:
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN:
-THIS WAS HARRISON FORD’S MOVIE AND NO ONE ELSE’S
The movie started and I began to get into it, but I found something in it wasn’t quite taking off. Three protagonists are introduced: Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron. Poe is right away the most colorful and amusing, yet the movie disposes of him for most of its screentime. So we follow Finn and Rey as they eventually meet each other, get caught up in an adventure bigger than them, and run away from the First Order, and I just found myself drifting. These two characters felt stiff; their dialog was perfunctory and they were just there to move the story forward. I kept thinking “Wait, tell me more about this First Order and Kylo Ren. Finn was conditioned since birth to be a Stormtrooper? That’s interesting. Tell me more about how that works. Can others break away too?” Instead the characters kept running and shooting with no backstory. Rey just spends the whole movie being rough and tough. I got more or less what they were going for: she’s on a hero’s journey (implied she’s either a Skywalker or a Kenobi). I figured that the quest to find Luke Skywalker would lead to explanations, but instead of being on a linear journey, the characters keep getting sidetracked. Throughout this entire first act, I found myself oddly detached from what I was watching: something wasn’t clicking together.
Then, Han Solo shows up, and from that point on, he dominates the movie. If you were to cut all of Han’s scenes and edit them together, you’d have a complete film with a clear protagonist and arc. Ford is so warm and colorful, full of human moments, that you’re reminded why he became the breakout star of the original film. His scenes with Leia are fantastic and have strong human emotion. In the second half of the film, Rey and Finn felt delegated to secondary status and their arcs seemed half-hearted as we follow Han to confront Ren. Furthermore, the objective of our main characters changes. They suddenly stop caring about the map and their new goal becomes to take out the Death Star Thing That Isn’t the Death Star. Only after it’s taken down does R2-D2 magically come alive and go “Oh, now I can return to your original objective and tell you where Luke is, because the plot needs me to.”
They were trying to make Han the equivalent of Obi Wan for this movie. The difference is that in the 1977 film, Obi Wan was clearly a mentor who dies at the end of the second act, making the third act fall entirely on Luke’s shoulders. In this film, Han is given enough of an arc to arguably be a protagonist, and Rey and Finn are not as involved in the film’s third act, aside from a lightsaber duel with Ren that doesn’t have much consequence. I don’t feel that either character fully “grows.”
-TOO MANY TWISTS TO COMPENSATE FOR LITTLE PLOT
I feel like another movie needed to take place between the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI and the beginning of this film, and furthermore, that would probably have been a more interesting film than this one. THE FORCE AWAKENS keeps hitting you with twists and reveals while leaving other things unexplained. Every time something was revealed I would think: “Tell me more about that. I’m curious about the backstory.” But the plot they chose to use as a vessel in which these reveals just isn’t very strong. It’s full of homages/rehashes of elements from the 1977 film. There’s a MacGuffin hidden in a droid, the villain wears a mask that isn’t quite the Darth Vader mask but basically is, there’s a Supreme Leader Snoke who isn’t quite Palpatine but fills the same role, they have to destroy something that isn’t the Death Star but basically is, etc.
-THE VILLAINS ARE TERRIBLE
Snoke and Gen. Hux are all generic villains with generic villain plans. They just say villainy things and want to take over and conquer and be evil. Kylo Ren is a little more interesting once we learn his true identity, but what we got was too little. Instead of making this guy look like Vader and do Vader-y things, I wanted to see him go in his own direction. What is his reputation like? Do others fear him? I was never intimidated nor felt threatrened by him.
-YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MOVIE DESPERATELY NEEDED?
A scene where our hero characters all sit around and just talk a little, showing their human side, specifically saying things like:
Finn: “You know that guy Kylo Ren? Let me tell you about about the legend surrounding him and what a horrible mystique he has and all the bad things he’s done and why we’re all scared of him. And let me also tell you a bit about the First Order and what makes them bad guys.”
Rey: “That’s interesting but let me now tell you about something called the Force and the weird quasi-religious thing I feel sometimes. I don’t know what it is or what it means, but I want to learn more about it. My life feels empty; like I’m destined for something but don’t know what.”
Finn: “Wow, I just realized for the first time what it feels like to have an identity and think as myself and not part of a collective. That’s so interesting. I want to explore this more.”
Han: “Aww, kids, let me talk to you a little bit now about the magic and sense of wonder of the universe so we can bond as characters and my death will have a more profound affect on you later on.”
“ALL THESE THINGS YOU’RE CRITICIZING ARE GOING TO BE EITHER EXPLAINED OR FLESHED OUT BETTER IN THE SUBSEQUENT FILMS!”
Well, yes, I should hope they will be. And maybe I’ll like THE FORCE AWAKENS better on repeat viewings after learning whatever it is the sequels will reveal. But for right now, all I can do is judge it as a standalone film, and all I see are shortcomings.
“HEY, AT LEAST IT WAS BETTER THAN THE PREQUELS!”
Yes, it was. It definitely was the first STAR WARS film since 1983 to have a sense of grit and feel grounded in reality, with real locations and an epic sense of scope. They succeeded with flying colors in that department. But I just don’t feel a baton was properly passed on as well to this new cast of characters, as they were aiming for.
In the end, everyone is going to see this movie and form their own conclusions about it. I enjoyed myself watching it, but found the overall film to be just alright.