While I think The Force Awakens is fine, and certainly an improvement over all of the prequels, fine is not exactly a glowing recommendation.
I can understand why some people love this film. For one, this FELT like a Star Wars film: no political discourse, classic good vs. evil story, spectacular visuals, no horrible speeches about love, and some really nice action set pieces that fit with the plot instead of distracting from it, and, on a more minor point, it was mostly lacking JJ’s signature lens flares. However, I can also understand why some people will hate it: the dialog is still quite bad in places, it falls on some horribly overused cliches and conveniences, and while it seems strange to complain about physics in a sci-fi film this does exceed the usual suspension of disbelief in several parts of the film.
That being said, the acting, action, and visuals were good enough to overcome these deficiencies of plot and writing. They still somehow managed to say those bits of bad dialog with enough emotion that it felt genuine. A lot of the credit goes to Harrison Ford who was wonderful in this. So all that out of the way, there’s enough problems that I can’t give The Force Awakens a glowing recommendation, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a fun time watching it.
Full Spoiler Review
I have to admit, I bought the promotion for the new Disney-owned Star Wars movies. The trailers were almost perfect, showing off stunning visuals, hints of the action scenes, just enough story details to get someone interested, and the nostalgia bomb of showing beloved characters to bring in the die-hard fans. The only thing missing, in my opinion, were more space visuals. All this was just enough to get me excited to see the film, but without giving away too much of the plot (see: “Terminator: Genysis” for the worst offender).
Also adding to my excitement was that, for the first time this year really, I wasn’t seeing it on or at least close to opening night like many fans. While I did buy my tickets well in advance, I was going to be on vacation when the film came out, and thus wanted to see it with my brother who is a bigger fan of the franchise than I am, as I’m more of a Trekker. Of course, I was also curious to see what JJ Abrams, obviously coming off a mostly successful reboot of that franchise, would do with extending his admittedly favoured franchise of the two. It also gave me a bit of opportunity, while avoid most spoilers, to get a feel for how others were viewing the film, and seeing it maintain a 90+ and 80+ rating on RottenTomatoes and Metacritic respectively, as well as seeing my friend’s post their opinions before mine on social media (which has been a rarity lately) this managed to keep my hopes afloat.
Still, I kept my expectations in check. While there was the expected gushing over how nice it was to see an actual Star Wars film again, especially after the disappointment that was the prequel trilogy, there were also those whose opinions – that while still mostly positive – were more muted, and even a few that showed outright disdain.
And so it was, with all this floating into my head, that on Tuesday, December 22nd, my brother and his fiance by my side, a bottle of cola in my drink holder, occasionally chomping on some theatre candy, and sporting my 3D glasses, that I sat down and watched “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, and just over two hours later, we left the theatre and I thought:
“Well, I was entertained, but did that film ever have problems.”
A droid (BB-8) has to get valuable information to the Resistance while the First Order tries to get to it first. BB-8 finds itself meeting allies, both new and old, along the way. There’s a rescue of a captured woman, and meanwhile the Order is building a massive, planet-sized Death Star, named Starkiller One, which the rebels will then have to destroy.
This is one of the weaker aspects of the film, and to paraphrase my brother, this is “A New Hope 2”, and while I’ve tried to avoid other reviews in full this does seem to be a very common point. Sure, some details have changed, and small nods to both other films in the original trilogy, but the basic plots of both films are the same. You could even consider the heat sink as a type of exhaust port. Most of this is done to play up the nostalgia factor and certainly has its appeal to the fans of the originals, but it’s played way too safe, such that you can predict most of the beats the film will hit.
Then there are the plot conveniences. Most films have a few, such as the main one this shares with “A New Hope” of the droid ending up on the planet as and encountering the force-sensitive protagonist, but this takes convenience to almost ridiculous levels. The Millennium Falcon being nearby, encountering Han and Chewie, the lightsaber, the rescue party just happening to be near a window to see Rey, and most infuriating of all, the crevice that separates the dueling Rey and Ren right at the climax. And how DID Po manage to get off of Jakku anyway?
That said, I do have give credit for killing Han – which was one spoiler I was unfortunately unable to avoid – as even knowing it would likely happen still caught me a bit off guard. Kudos for that.
While a lot of the dialogue here is pretty bad, I’ll talk about that more in the ‘performance’ section. I want to talk about the part of the film that irked me the most, even more than the plot conveniences: the bad science and how it destroys the suspension of disbelief.
How can I complain about bad science in a sci-fi/fantasy film? This is the Star Wars universe. There’s going to be stuff I’ll just have to accept. So why am I complaining about it?
Here’s the thing – there are certain elements in most sci-fi, and Star Wars in particular, I can accept as being advanced technology, or unexplained powers. I can accept the Force allows Jedis and Sith to manipulate objects and minds. I can buy lightsabers, faster than light travel, gravity on spaceships, blasters and all that. I can even accept that it’s technologically possible to build a battle station the size of a moon that’s capable of destroying planets. That all fits nicely into the suspension of disbelief necessary to tell the story.
Where a film will lose me is when it branches off into the realm of known science, or even contradicting established rules in the same story. Ren stopping a blaster shot in mid air looks cool and presumably demonstrates a superior control of the force, but why do it? Vader simply deflected blaster shots and it still looked cool. How exactly does a beam fired from a single source accurately split to hit seven distinct planets? How can said beams and planets be seen from the surface of an 8th planet when they’re supposedly in different star systems, as even in our own solar system the other planets are mere specks in the sky (sidenote: I had this same issue with Spock seeing Vulcan being destroyed)? How can this super Death Star suck energy from its star, let alone fire the beam, without scorching its atmosphere? That’s not even taking into account that the amount of energy required to suck that energy/matter from the star to a planet capable of supporting both life and frozen water probably exceeds the amount of energy you’d actually get from doing that kind of collection? Finally, even assuming you could suck the star into a planet, even if it’s just somehow the energy from it and not the matter of the star, how is the gravity thereof not crushing the planet into a black hole, or at least not immediately causing the entire planet to implode once the heat sink blows out entirely?
My own suspension of disbelief doesn’t work that way and most worrisome is that most of that wasn’t even necessary for the story. Leia’s force sensitive – have her feel the planets being destroyed like Obi Wan did. Why not just have a huge solar array on the planet, or heck, just say they’re tapping the planet’s core directly in order to power the beam weapon. Maybe one I could overlook, but there are so many of elements here that break known physics that I just can’t buy it.
I’m also not quite sure why they decided to invent entirely new planets. We’re already retreading existing plot details, so why was it necessary to create a new desert planet and highly green planet when you already have planets like Tatooine, Dagobah, and hell even Naboo. Sure, it’s nice to expand beyond what we already know, but when there’s nothing to distinguish them from existing planets in the universe why bother to introduce them?
A mixed bag. Sure, the opening theme is the same, and it plays up emotions nicely, but other times it’s simply overpowering, most notably for me when Ren kills Solo. A bit overdone on the whole, not not horribly so. The music was what you would expect from Star Wars. It didn’t have anymore impact then what I would have expect from the original trilogy.
Enough with the negativity, let’s talk about parts of the film I actually liked.
I briefly mentioned the dialog here is pretty bad. There’s nothing along the line of the atrocious love and sand bits from “Attack of the Clones,” but there’s still a lot of cliché, cringe-inducing dialogue in this film, particularly noticeable in the romantic interaction between Finn and Rey, so I have to credit the actors that they still managed to make it seem mostly believable.
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have quite good chemistry and charisma on screen and are able to make their actions and words seem believable even if the words they have to speak aren’t the best. Harrison Ford steals every scene he’s in, and is by far the highlight of the actors here. I must also give credit to Peter Mayhew for even giving Chewbacca much more character in his growls and reactions than he had in four previous films.
About the only weak spot was Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. He wasn’t necessarily bad, but he lacked the intimidating presence of Darth Vader, and had a
tendency to overact in order to compensate.
Action and Effects
This may be the most gorgeous Star Wars film every made. From the opening shot of the Star Destroyer blocking out a planet, to the crashed ruins on Jakku, and on to the looks of the aliens, spacecraft, and buildings, this entire film is a feast for the eyes. The action is right up there too. The fighter sequences are a lot of fun to watch and easy to follow, while the lightsaber battles strike exactly the right balance between the simplicity of the original trilogy and the overly choreographed dances of the prequels. Heck, I’m on record as disliking the hilts on Ren’s lightsaber when it showed up in the trailer, but I honestly quite like how it played into the fights. I appreciate how many practical effects and stages were used, as it really feels like actors aren’t playing with props or pretending to interact with something that’s not really there. I even like the BB-8 droid, as while I can appreciate those who don’t and how it’s a wildly impractical design, I appreciate that it’s a practical effect and dammit he’s cute.
About the only real negative I can bring up for the effects is that some of the CGI was a bit shaky, and stood out from the practical effects. Most times this was only mildly noticeable, such as the eyes on Maz Kanata, but I never bought the Snoke character as real – it always looked like a cartoon.
It feels rather odd having spent so little time on the acting, action, and effects portions of this review, as those are the reasons this film has my mild recommendation. The later category, after all, is the main reason why people will go see a Star Wars film; they want to see spectacular visuals and action.
On those, this film definitely hits the mark.
However, the original trilogy showed that it’s possible to have all those elements and have at least a solid plot and writing behind it, and it’s on those points that the film loses some of it’s appeal. Am I entirely unhappy with the film? Of course not. I was reasonably entertained. That does not mean I need to be entirely happy with what I saw, though, and that we should settle for mediocrity when greatness was easily within reach. What are your thoughts? Did you love it? Hate It? Let me know below!