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I deliberately waited some time before attempting to write a review of Star Wars: Episode VII, as when it concerns something like Star Wars one really needs time to process their reaction before committing to a viewpoint.
I also don’t like posting anything amid the flurry of knee-jerk reactions and reviews that accompany the release, and prefer to get some distance beyond the immediate hype before formulating my thoughts. And moreover, something as complex and subjective as a Star Wars movie also needs time to age, especially if – like me – you’re a deep Star Wars fan. Our view of The Force Awakens may be different six months from now; it may also be different years from now, once the other films in this trilogy have emerged and we can see the whole picture more fully.
Nevertheless I have now had time to gather my thoughts: needless to say, major spoilers will soon follow. Also there will be talk of midi-chlorians, so be warned about that too.

I will preface this review by warning that it’s very long and in-depth. I will also explain right from the outset that I am reviewing this movie as someone who’s been an entrenched Star Wars fan for virtually my entire life and someone who generally isn’t otherwise into much modern, blockbuster cinema in the generic sense.

What you’re about to read is not a negative review of the film; but nor is it a glowingly adoring one either. The people tripping over themselves to uphold this film as some kind of masterpiece are being excessive in their praise, while those eager to knock it down as something terrible are missing the reality of the matter too. The truth is neither; and to quote the great Kenobi, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”. This film is just too blatantly retro and derivative to be a ‘masterpiece’. In fact, it suffers in other areas too, including a lack of imagination, to the extent that some key scenes actually feel like a low-budget, made-for-TV movie, which is frankly extraordinary.

For all that, however, I did love a lot of this film; which is why I’m about to find myself heavily criticising things in this movie while simultaneously defending or justifying some of the things in this film that a lot of other people are tearing into or making fun of.

If I had to sum up my experience watching this movie, the fact is I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the film, but then started to have problems with the final third. Unsurprisingly I left the cinema conflicted and uncertain; half lingering on how much I enjoyed so much of the film, and half preoccupied by how wary I am about how things are moving forward. Which is fitting, as I *entered* the cinema conflicted and uncertain in the first place, and this is pretty much the state I’ve been in ever since Uncle George sold off his franchise to Disney and relinquished control of his creation.

In the meantime, however, I’d like to react to the The Force Awakens in as fair and open-minded a manner as possible.

That often proves difficult. The fact is I am more a lifelong Star Wars die-hard in particular than a blockbuster cinema fan in general, so my approach to any Star Wars film is always more personalised than it is with other franchises. The Star Wars mythology is in my veins; I am steeped in Star Wars lore, and so I tend to bring a lot of baggage with me to these affairs; but then so do a lot of people. And being a permanent defender of both Lucas and the prequels, even before I saw this film I was already beginning to resent hearing so many people say things to the effect of ‘finally, a proper Star Wars film’ or ‘thank god Lucas is gone’, etc, and all of this bad-spirited chatter made me almost want to resist the new movie even more. But that’s not in my nature; my nature is to look for the good in something first (and there were too many people I could tell were just waiting eagerly to see this movie just so they could rack up You Tube hits by proclaiming how much they hated it – that’s the age we live in).

Thankfully The Force Awakens has plenty of good in it to justify its existence.

I have major criticisms of this movie too. In some ways, it would be a lot easier to assess my feelings and write a coherent review if I either outright hated or outright loved this film. As it is, I fall into neither camp fully and therefore will have to argue out my points carefully and feel my way through to a conclusion. But no, I’m not quite with all the people who are knee-jerk rushing to call this film a travesty; nor am I with all the people raising it up as if it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

 
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As I said, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed most of the movie – or certainly the first hour or so, at least. I mean it was like a homecoming, it felt great, it was tremendous fun, and I felt my lingering resistance to the new franchise quickly being cast aside. I was loving Daisy Ridley’s Rey to bits, falling in love with little BB8, enjoying Finn and the new character dynamics, being drawn in by Kylo Ren, and when Han Solo and our beloved Wookie companion arrived on-screen my inner seven-year-old was virtually leaping for joy and everything was mostly peachy.

Fast-forward another hour, the film is over and I feel very different. I’m sitting in the cinema, watching the credits to the very end and my mood is low and my earlier reaction highly dampened. There is a specific plot reason that might explain some of that – but in truth, it was more than just that. I said above that I left the cinema conflicted and uncertain. I wondered why, given that I’d spent a lot of the film with a big smile on my face, genuinely enjoying what I was experiencing. The reason, I realise, goes back to what my very earliest feelings were about Disney acquiring Lucasfilm in the first place.

My very first, initial position concerning new Star Wars movies back when the Disney acquisition was announced was a guarded, defensive one. I said then that new films were essentially unnecessary to the mythology and that there was a real danger in taking the narrative beyond its intended end-point of Return of the Jedi/Revenge of the Sith. Then, as the months progressed and trailers emerged and hype gained momentum, the eternal Jedi/fan-boy in me became inevitably drawn along and I became more and more excited about seeing a new film, about seeing the story continued, and about seeing our old heroes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and co again. Now that I’ve seen the movie – even with all the good that’s in it – my immediate reaction has been to wonder if I was actually correct the first time: that extending the Star Wars saga beyond Return of the Jedi actually threatens to do more harm to Star Wars than good (meaning in storytelling terms and not commercial terms, obviously). It is difficult to say for certain; because I actually really, really enjoyed most of The Force Awakens.

If it is a mistake, it’s a mistake most people won’t realise until much later on down the line; because most people are caught up in the hype and the excitement and the nostalgia. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but Return of the Jedi’s poignant, powerful ending still, to my mind, acts as the perfect and most resonant end-point to the Star Wars saga. It brings closure, and it wraps up the Skywalker mythology beautifully and powerfully. Any attempt to go beyond that longstanding ending risks weakening that, I said. And moreover it risks weakening Star Wars in story terms in general. Lucas’s completed six-film saga, whatever you may think of the various films individually, is a perfect circle; it is a *closed* circle, beginning with The Phantom Menace and ending with Return of the Jedi. And when I say that, I’m not talking about every single film or every single scene or every little thing you did or didn’t like, but about the underlying and overriding story and the central themes.

In terms of that issue – of ROTJ and the original films potentially being undermined by these new movies – I will come back to that very significant issue at the end of this review.

 
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But first, let’s deal with the actual film on its own merit.

Although mainstream reviews have been more or less universally positive, one of the main criticisms from average viewers has been the distinct lack of originality in The Force Awakens’ basic story.

The criticisms of the movie being a cheap, blatant rehash of the originals or little more than a ‘fan film’ remake that just happens to have a massive corporation backing it are easy to understand. Much of this film does play basically as a remake or a homage. You get the impression in some places that Abrams was taking the Original Trilogy and paying his homage to it while in some ways remaking it in his own image. He did something very similar with Star Trek: Into Darkness, which basically took the classic Wrath of Khan and inverted it in various places. I sometimes feel like Abrams likes taking on projects that are basically remakes or homages of films he/we loved as a child – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And I consider him a good filmmaker who just happens to have drawn a lot of fire due to him happening to have been handed a major role in two of the most iconic, popular franchises in history.

But I also feel like we’ve gotten to a point in time where there is a lack of originality in big-budget cinema and we’ve arrived at a point where the best we can do is precisely that: pay homage to or remake existing classics from previous generations. That’s one thing that Lucas was never doing with the prequels; he was still trying to do new things, both technologically and story-wise, and the fact that there was such a backlash and that the same people who basically hated the prequels are now singing the praises of what is essentially a massive rehash of Lucas’s original Star Wars is no doubt an understandable source of frustration to the 71-year-old pioneer. People have been making fun of him or criticising him in recent days because of a few things he’s said, but his position is entirely understandable and even justified.

As much as I enjoyed much of this movie, and as much as this film got right, I left the cinema with a definite feeling that what was missing from this film was Lucas himself.

I realised quickly that the areas where The Force Awakens fails are the exact areas where having Lucas on-board would’ve made a difference, from the musical guidance he would’ve provided for John Williams to the probable fleshing out of lacklustre scenes and settings that Lucas could’ve helped with. It seems clear to me that Disney’s decision to make this big, cocky statement of ejecting Lucas from the entire process and scrapping his story ideas has actually resulted in a weaker movie than we would’ve had if Lucas been kept around as either a story consultant or someone actively involved in the editing and post-production process – or ideally both. Someone else would’ve still been writing the screenplay and someone else would still be directing, but Lucas, the father of Star Wars, would’ve been around to provide key or final magic touches here and there. In my view, Disney made a wilful mistake – not commercially, but creatively.

As this review goes on, I will highlight specific points where Lucas’s magic (or should that be Lucas’s industrial light and magic?) was very much needed.

And instead, without him, what we get is, as Lucas himself has said, a very retro homage in key respects. Parts of it do play like a fan-made movie, while other parts feel like just standardised, generic, modern SF/fantasy/big-budget cinema that is fully compliant with contemporary formulas. Disney in general is proficient in those standardised formulas, as evidenced by its handling of the Marvel franchises, and to the extent that they could take something as otherwise obscure-ish as the Guardians of the Galaxy comic and turn it into a mainstream, commercial movie success. That’s to Disney’s credit in general, but it threatens to start to strip away the unique qualities that make Star Wars special. The mysterious character of ‘Supreme Commander Snoke’ is a good example of that; a CG character who seems very bland and generic, as if we could be watching any number of other, non Star Wars franchises. He in fact reminded me immediately of the cinematic version of Thanos that crops up in the Marvel films; and this was my earliest concern here that the borders between franchises may begin to blur the more Marvel and Star Wars movies Disney simultaneously proceeds to pump out. There is a real danger of everything becoming standardised and regulated and losing any true visionary or unique spark.

That being said, the fact that The Force Awakens is, as many have noted, basically a rewrite of George Lucas’s original Star Wars and that Disney has played it very safe and gone for a mostly formulaic and unoriginal rehash isn’t surprising to me and therefore doesn’t bother me as much as it might bother some others.

Big, bad Death-Star type super-weapon? Check. Big, final X-Wing attack on said Super-Weapon? Check. Secret data being stored in a little droid? Check. Vader replacement on an ESB-style Imperial ship? Check. Secret, hidden Dark Lord manipulating from behind the scenes? Check. Protagonist living a boring life on a desert planet? Check. Unlikely allies brought together by circumstances and end up forming a bond and being friends? Check. The quest to locate and bring back a long-lost Jedi? Check. The list could go on.

The dynamics are basically directly lifted from the old films too. Snoke is now Palpatine, Kylo is Vader and Rey is Luke; this is made all the more obvious w hen Kylo informs his master that Rey is strong in the Force and Snoke tells him to bring her before him. That’s the Empire Strikes Back. Further, Luke is Kenobi, the older, wise Jedi who also happened to have failed his student just as Kenobi did (although Han also plays a kind of Kenobi-like role in this film too). BB8 is the new Artoo and Finn becomes a new Solo-type character. Like Obi-Wan being sought out in A New Hope, now it’s Luke. All that was missing was for BB8 to be storing a holo-message of Leia saying “Help us, Luke Skywalker – you’re our only hope”. But again, Disney can be forgiven for playing it safe, particularly at this first juncture in the rebooting of such an enormous franchise that has so much baggage, mythology and expectation.

 
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And again, I tend to wonder if it’s more homage than plagiarism; a case of the filmmakers, particularly Abrams, wanting to pay respect to the Original Trilogy. But it does get excessive at times, pushing passed the line of homage and into a basic lack of imagination and inventiveness.

All of that aside, this movie still has enough of its own character to get away with it, and most importantly it features some effective characterisation and has the likeability factor in key places, which is what mostly saves it from being an entirely hollow, one-trick pony. The ingredients that this film gets right, it gets *very* right, enough so to counter-balance the more problematic stuff in the final reckoning. It’s a very flawed movie, but one with plenty of good stuff in it. I would say the precise same thing about The Phantom Menace, which is also frustrating but is nevertheless magnificent in places.

I’ve gotten this issue of the rehash/rewrite aspect of the film out of the way first, because it’s the main thing most haters of the movie are focusing on.

As there is so much to cover in this review and my views don’t necessarily flow in a neat, chronological order, I will highlight a few key things I really loved in this film, then I’ll explain some of the main things I really didn’t like at all, after which I will go into a general overview of the film.

So let’s touch on some of what I really think shines through in this movie.

Rey (Skywalker) is an utter joy to watch and Daisy Ridley is a revelation. I sensed already from the trailers and from various images that she would be a character that would feel very in-tune with the existing Star Wars mythology. Not only does Daisy Ridley make for a great presence, but the character is written and introduced in a really endearing, engaging way. In fact, probably my favourite parts of the film are the scenes of Rey going about her isolated, self-sufficient existence on Jakku. Those scenes and that milieu have such a sense of Anakin and Luke in them that I couldn’t help but smile and feel like I was watching the continuation of a family saga; I mean, I almost mentally input the ghosts of Shmi and Anakin Skywalker into the background. Just as prior to the film, I have little doubt that Rey is Luke’s daughter.

 
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But the most important thing is that she genuinely feels like a Star Wars character and already even felt iconic in places. Moreover, within just a few scenes it was clear that Daisy Ridley is, in acting terms, a perfect central protagonist for a new trilogy.

Given her remarkable lack of acting experience, Ridley really deserves a lot of credit; but Kasdan, Abrams and co deserve credit for setting up a genuinely good character right off-the-bat. And that isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do; to create such a likeable and potent new hero in a franchise that is already brimming with classic, beloved or memorable characters. Boyega’s Finn is also a thoroughly enjoyable character, and he and Ridley play off each other really well, clearly meant to form the central character dynamic of this new trilogy. It is clear that the filmmakers were wholly aware that one of the key winning ingredients of the Original Trilogy was the core dynamics of the Luje/Han/Leia relationship, and that they were conscious of establishing something in that same mold from point one. The kind of interplay we get with Rey and Finn is largely what was missing from the Prequel Trilogy and from The Phantom Menace in particular. Even being someone who knows all of these films like the back of my hand, I re-watched the prequels over Christmas and, although I love those films for lots of reasons, it’s always evident that the films are sorely lacking the fun and wit of the original character dynamics.

Within half an hour of The Force Awakens, you can see what a difference it makes to have these characters interacting in a way that feels much more natural and less staged.

Lawrence Kasdan’s writing has a lot to do with it, no doubt (and Lucas actually wanted Kasdan to write the script for The Phantom Menace, but Kasdan declined). Abrams also probably handles actors much better than Lucas did, with Lucas’s genius resting in other areas of the filmmaking process. There is more a sense of the actors having fun here and enjoying their experience, probably aided too somewhat by the lack of excessive green/blue screen to stifle their performances. You really feel like Rey and Finn have properly bonded by the end of it, just as you did with Han, Luke and Leia back in the old days.

 
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I also fell in love with BB8, and particularly with the Rey/BB8 dynamic, which is just incredibly cute and also, again, totally in keeping with Star Wars. Those scenes of BB8 wandering about the desert were very reminiscent of Artoo Deetoo in A New Hope, while those early scenes of Rey and BB8 on Jakku again felt 100% Star Wars and genuinely iconic. Some might gripe that BB8 was essentially Disney trying to market to children and sell toys, but it doesn’t bother me either way, as the character makes sense in Star Wars terms. It’s in an element like this that you can see there are people involved in this creative process who do get what lies at the heart of Star Wars; not as much as Lucas did, but nevertheless they do get it. And the BB8/Rey relationship is a perfect echo of (or homage to) some of the most endearing dynamics of the old films, such as Luke/Artoo or Han/Chewie.

But getting back to Rey, who really is the central, major strength of this film. From the very get-go, Rey epitomises that ineffable Star Wars aura. Everything about her evokes Tatooine, the Skywalkers and the heart of Lucas’s mythology. Some of this is established in the story points, some of it in her performance, but a lot of it is primarily established in simple, wordless visuals, just as it was with Luke and Anakin.

George Lucas had often said that the most powerful Star Wars moments were like silent movies and this is borne out in what we see of Rey, especially early in the film.

 
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The fact that Rey is a scavenger and lives in a place surrounded by junk, works in a junk store, wears rustic, desert garb – it’s all perfect. It’s all saying ‘this is Star Wars and I am a Skywalker’. Like A New Hope and The Phantom Menace and Luke and Anakin and Tatooine, it’s all very old-world, very Biblical too. I love the way we’re shown Rey’s life in a way that’s very visually, tonally and aesthetically demonstrative rather than explained; every little detail, from the way she bakes this small amount of bread for her measly dinner, the way she has to go about her daily life eeking a meagre living, right down to the old X-Wing blast helmet, etc. And the fact that she’s literally living inside an old, fallen Imperial AT-AT is just a touch of utter genius.

What’s also terrific is the way we’re given space to really get a sense of Rey’s life and a sense of Jakku, which is essentially a junk planet. I’d love to know exactly what the Battle of Jakku was, but in any case what we get to see visually really paints a great picture. The desert is a graveyard of a long-gone era, reminiscent of real-world places like Leptis Magna in Libya or Palmyra in Syria where you might find ancient ruins and temples sitting in the middle of the desert wilderness. A long-fallen Star Destroyer, half buried in the sand, speaks to us of the galaxy that once was, and speaks to Rey of old worlds and conflicts and adventures (that shot of the hazy, buried Star Destroyer is a brilliant visual, by the way; a perfect way to demonstrate in a single image how long ago the events of the Original Trilogy were and far gone and almost mythical those events are now meant to seem). It’s very ANH Luke, but even more pronounced than that. Unlike Luke, Rey is entirely a solitary figure, who has been utterly abandoned; she doesn’t even have an Aunt Beru or Uncle Owen or a Biggs Darklighter.

If the sense of Luke on Tatooine is one of the most iconic things in Star Wars, The Force Awakens effectively recaptures that aura and makes it new again through Rey and her life. Tonally, it is quite clearly intended to identify Rey to us straight away as a Skywalker. Rey also has a great gift for mechanics and for fixing things, just like Anakin did. I was sitting in the cinema, watching these scenes and it felt like a homecoming; the tone and the imagery was so resonant and familiar, yet new and different at the same time. And that’s exciting. It’s like hearing an old, familiar tune but with a new instrument in the mix.

And then when BB8 shows up and befriends her, it takes a pretty hard-hearted soul to not start falling for these characters.

For all the whiney Internet chatter about Disney pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda with a female protagonist, had *I* been writing this third trilogy I would’ve wanted a female protagonist without doubt, as we’ve already had two trilogies with male protagonists. At no point do I feel like Rey is a token creation or a political or social statement. Rey is simply a great hero in the making, regardless of gender considerations. She is as good, as endearing, as enjoyable and as bad-ass a character as could’ve possibly been created for this new trilogy.

Some people I’ve noticed are pointing out what they perceive to be overtly ‘feminist’ elements, such as Rey objecting to Finn holding her hand, etc. But if there are vaguely ‘feminist’ subtexts to these things, it doesn’t feel overtly intended, but more organically flowing out of the story and the natural characterisation. I like the idea that Rey, having been solitary most of her life, doesn’t really have a sense of gender politics or gender roles. She is baffled at Finn taking her hand, resents Finn trying to rescue her during their first encounter on Jakku, etc. But it makes sense; Rey is totally self-sufficient because she has had to be her whole life. In some sense, she is almost androgynous. And when she does eventually develop a bond with Rey, it’s clear that what she is reacting to is the simple reality of friendship; of having someone who looks out for her. She has quite possibly never had a friend before and this is all new territory for her.

 
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If I had been writing a female central protagonist for a film like this, I too would’ve been inclined to make her strong and self-sufficient and not for the sake of any political or social statement, but simply out of respect for the character. The things I would absolutely *not* do would be to have her need to be rescued by her male friends and, more importantly, to have her fall in love with one of the male characters. Which is why I found myself satisfied with how Rey is portrayed and developed across the movie. The fact that when Finn, Han and co do come to rescue her late in the movie, she has already freed herself and basically doesn’t need to be rescued is a great touch, all the more so because she is nevertheless utterly delighted to see them and is genuinely grateful for their presence.

This then becomes a story about friendship and the development of a platonic love. The best dynamics in Star Wars have always been about platonic love, and actually the sci-fi, fantasy, comic-book genres are generally populated by great stories about platonic love. The best example is Kirk, Spock and McCoy in Star Trek. Again, if I were writing this new trilogy, I would absolutely avoid Rey and Finn becoming romantically involved and I would be more invested in the notion of friendship, which is already endearingly and pointedly established in this movie.

And really, all the people objecting to Rey as a ‘feminist’ character need to get a life. And even if Rey was some kind of feminist statement; why would that even be objectionable?

Getting back to this first part of the film, the key was to establish the new characters quickly and effectively. And The Force Awakens does that exceptionally well, primarily with Rey, BB8 and Finn, but also with Kylo Ren.

But straight away, with those new elements established, the film is off to a good start. It’s a new world and a new beginning, but also the world we know, and it is both exciting and familiar. I genuinely had a big, irrepressible smile on my face for most of the first hour of this film. Star Wars is back and it’s hitting all the right marks. Unfortunately it didn’t last. By the end of the film, my mood was very different and I was much more conflicted. There may be one particular plot reason that had a lot to do with that, but in truth it’s more than just that one thing.

But before I get into the major deficiencies in this film, I want to point out two other things in particular that I really, genuinely liked about this story. And these aren’t necessarily big or obvious things; but both as a writer and as a Star Wars die-hard since the age of six, these are two things I really appreciated.

The first is the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber as a central feature. Just this simple object being made a relevant part of the story helps to keep things connecting and resonating, linking up the various films. Immediately when I see Rey discovering this weapon, I think of Anakin and I think of Obi-Wan picking it up as he watches Anakin burning on the lava field. And I think of the elderly Obi-Wan handing that same lightsaber to young Luke and explaining about the Force. And I think of Luke fighting Vader on Bespin, getting his arm chopped off and falling helplessly away. All of those classic, deeply embedded things flash across my mind and then I’m watching this new character, Rey, pondering this same mystical, laden object; and it serves to tie everything together for a powerful moment. It imparts special weight to the film for me, so that when I’m watching Rey take her first steps as a Jedi by using that same lightsaber to fight Kylo, I’m partly watching Rey and I’m partly watching the lightsaber and thinking how rich in dramatic resonance this is: Anakin’s grand-daughter (probably) is using Anakin’s weapon to fight Anakin’s grandson!

That weapon is something like fifty years old at this point and it must itself resonate strongly with both the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force – that might be part of the reason Kylo wants it so badly. But it’s a great underlying story element that is imbued with the greater Star Wars mythology. Although we’ve been told that Disney entirely threw out all of George Lucas’s story ideas for these new films, this really feels like something George would’ve come up with in his treatments and that might’ve been retained by the new management.

The second story element I really liked seeing is that Kylo Ren is essentially obsessed with Darth Vader and wants to be the new Vader. We already knew this from spoilers and from the trailers, but it’s still a powerful idea, and when we see him communing with that burnt up Vader mask I got goosebumps. I’ll come back to that when I cover the subject of Kylo Ren.

So now, before going into the more general review, I’m going to explain what I hated most of all in this film.

I’m going to assume everyone has seen the film by now and I’m just going to come out and say it: I hated the death of Han Solo. This may be something I accept more as time goes on and other films come, but at this stage I’m not happy, and it isn’t just because we didn’t get the Han/Luke reunion we’d been waiting for.

 
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This was probably the thing, more than anything else, that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Is it upsetting? Yes; but not in the right way. Ten years ago, the death of Mace Windu was upsetting, but in the right way, as was the death of Ki Adi-Mundi, the death of Anakin, the death of Yoda, the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, etc. The death of Han Solo, however – the death of an utterly iconic character in cinema and a hero of our childhoods – is upsetting in the wrong way. And my objection isn’t necessarily to killing of Han Solo in general, although it can be argued his murder isn’t really necessary.

My objection is that this isn’t the WAY to kill off Han Solo. It just isn’t a fitting end for such an iconic character.

For him to be killed like some pathetic, feeble elderly man and then just tumble into the abyss is not the death of Han Solo I ever wanted to have to see. If he had to be killed, it should’ve at the very least been in a blaster fight. If I was writing the death of Han Solo, I would personally have had him going out on the Falcon somehow.

Now, on the other hand, I’m willing to sympathise with the idea that killing off Han might’ve been dramatically useful. The argument would be that Kylo Ren has been faltering throughout the film, talking about being drawn back towards the Light and wanting to resist it; and so him brutally executing his father is a real and symbolic act of utter Dark Side evil that allows him to decisively and fully become evil and simultaneously allows us, the audience, to fully hate him. I get that. I don’t entirely think it was the only way to go, but I get it.

What I object to, again, is the manner of it. Han Solo deserves a lot more than a feeble death of this kind. What would I have done had I been writing this? OK, in order to keep the story of Leia asking Han to go “bring him home”, I’d have done the following. Han finds Kylo (or “Ben”), has his ‘come home’ talk with him from a safe distance. It would be unclear whether the conflicted Kylo is being won over or not, and Han approaches slowly. Then either Rey or Chewie spots Kylo’s intention and calls out a warning to Han. Han backs away, whips out a blaster and starts shooting (all the while still yelling at his son to stop this and come back with him); Kylo is blocking the shots and approaching and eventually kills his father. Han dies, but at least he dies with a blaster in his hand and doesn’t go out like a helpless pussy.

Instead what we get is an utterly defenseless Han Solo making this long walk of death towards his spoilt, Emo son, being killed without a fight and tossed into a chasm. There isn’t even a body to be retrieved. That’s the other thing that might’ve helped assuage the trauma just a little; having a body for Rey and Chewie to bring back to Leia. That way we could’ve gotten a real reaction from Leia and Han could’ve had a funeral. It wouldn’t need a lot of screen time; just half a minute or more of Han’s body being mourned or even cremated. George Lucas would’ve done this masterfully: Leia, Rey, Finn, Chewie, Artoo, Threepio, even Ackbar, all gathered around the body of Han Solo, mourning this great old hero of the Rebellion.

It would’ve been a more fitting send-off, and it also would’ve focused everything emotionally in a much clearer way.

As it is, Han’s body tossed into an abyss and left unburied somewhere, Leia doesn’t react at all, and it’s as if all we’ve lost is some minor character. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if maybe a funeral or a body would’ve made all the difference – would’ve given us a sense of closure. This scene, as it stands, is just too cheap and underwhelming. We get a reaction out of Chewie, but a scene or two later he’s on the Falcon with Rey and the same Chewbacca who was anguished at Han Solo being frozen in carbonite thirty years ago is now barely bothered that he’s just seen his master impaled by his own son. It just doesn’t work. Just isn’t good enough.

Unfortunately this horrible, horrible killing off of Han Solo left me embittered and ruined the remainder of the film for me, so that even by the time we got to Luke at the end, I was no longer able to appreciate it properly. Maybe this is something I’ll get more used to over time and then I’ll be able to watch this film in a better mood. If there was one good thing around this horrible murder of Han Solo, it was for Chewbacca’s initial reaction: that moment he roars in despair and shoots Kylo with his bowcaster is great – but there still isn’t enough reaction later on. And to not have anything from Leia is frankly criminal in writing terms.

I was watching this whole final section of the film and thinking, ‘Boy, they really need Lucas here to tell them how to do this stuff’.

Because, without doubt, Lucas would’ve crafted out something suitable here for Han Solo and he also would’ve worked collaboratively with John Williams to make something musically and tonally memorable and impactful. I’m going to be charitable and assume that this killing off of Han Solo was done for dramatic and thematic purposes and not as a cynical way for Disney, Abrams or Kathleen Kennedy to simply mark their territory. I’m also willing to understand that Harrison Ford himself might’ve been a major reason why Han was killed off, having apparently been wanting his character to be killed off since as far back as Return of the Jedi. But it needed to be done a lot better than this.

What’s even more frustrating is that Harrison Ford did such a good job re-capturing the essence of Han Solo for this film too, which makes his writing out of the story all the more galling.

 
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But if it was supposed to be shocking, it wasn’t, because it so clearly choreographed in advance by Abrams. Is it dramatic? Yes, sort of, but not in a way that satisfies. Again, maybe it’s something I just need time to get used to, but it just feels arbitrary and cheap. And instead of feeling grief at the death of one of our childhood heroes, I just felt angry at the filmmakers and was brought out of the story. I had far more of an emotional reaction to the murder of Mace Windu in Episode III or the scene where Anakin burns up in flames; and in theory the death of Han Solo should be more dramatic or memorable than those. But it just isn’t. And that’s almost unforgivable. Messing up on plot details is one thing, but something as significant as the killing off of a major, iconic character is not something you can allow yourself to get wrong.

That’s it now, there’s no undoing it – that is how Han Solo dies; that will always be how Han Solo died.

It’s also incredibly frustrating, given how much I was enjoying most of the rest of the film. This film does a lot of good things; but from this badly executed moment onward, my experience was tainted; it doesn’t help that the blowing up of the Death Star Starkiller Base has absolutely zero dramatic impact, being, again, complete rehash of A New Hope and Lucas’s original ideas and being cheap retro in the extreme.

There’s one other thing that really disappointed me about this film, something that was really, gapingly missing: and you may not think this is a big deal, but it really is – the music.

I was astonished at how flat and unremarkable John Williams’ music was for this film. I stayed through the credits waiting for something special that maybe I’d missed in the film, but it never came. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you understand how big a deal the soundtrack is. Every other Star Wars film has an incredible soundtrack, with Williams’ music being such a key, empowering part of the drama. The Phantom Menace alone has one of the most breathtaking overall soundtracks of any film I’ve ever seen (I mean, I would literally place TPM up there with things like Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia for soundtrack). And yet The Force Awakens is glaringly deficient of any memorable or impactful music, which is astonishing. Rey’s theme is the only vaguely noticeable thing; aside from that, the only prominent musical moments are the few, scattered rehashes of older music from the Original Trilogy, such as bits of the Han/Leia theme from Return of the Jedi.

I would theorise that John Williams – a known master – simply didn’t get any direction or guidance from Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy or anyone else. It is established that Williams had a very strong collaborative relationship with George Lucas, and Lucas has frequently said that the part of the creative process he most loved in making all of the Star Wars films was the part where he got to spend time with John Williams to work on the scores. It was always a very collaborative process; Lucas would go to Williams with very specific ideas and guidance, would talk the composer through key scenes and key characters and what the music needed to evoke in each part of the film. The result was always a powerful, varied, layered, overall soundtrack full of nuances.

The importance of the music in Star Wars movies cannot be overstated: Lucas often said a huge percentage of what you react to, whether you’re conscious of it or not, when you’re watching Star Wars films is the music.

The Force Awakens is almost completely devoid of that. And the problem can’t be Williams or the orchestra – Williams has scored six Star Wars films beautifully and Revenge of the Sith was only ten years ago. It can only be that he simply didn’t get the input he needed. It makes me wonder whether the executives and producers involved in this film simply don’t recognise the importance of the music in Star Wars and didn’t think it was important to focus on it.

And perhaps this is partly a by-product of a film being run by a committee, as opposed to the Lucas era where the films were largely run by their originator and his vision, for better or worse. Lucas clearly saw things in a much more complete way and understood the bigger picture, framing things in a much broader way and conceiving of things four-dimensionally. This absence of a soundtrack was actually a big deal for me watching this film and was a major thing that left me feeling unsatisfied and feeling like this wasn’t quite Star Wars. Every other Star Wars film, I’ve bought the CD and become intimately familiar with all the music; for The Force Awakens, I’m not sure there’s even any reason to acquire the soundtrack.

Alright, now that I’ve covered the main things I loved in this film and the main things I pretty much hated, I’m going to settle into a more general review of the movie, the good, the bad and the mediocre.

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The opening crawl, which I was incredibly curious to see, is terrific. Just that opening line alone – “Luke Skywalker has vanished” – drew me in like a moth to a flame and was brimming with fascination and nostalgia in equal measure. We already knew, of course, that Luke was going to be a mystery here, but seeing it written right off-the-bat in the opening text was a terrific way to bring us back to Star Wars.

That opening shot in space is Abrams marking his territory straight away; it is probably the most non Star Wars feeling opening shot in any of the films to date. We later on get a scattering of Abrams-isms, from the lens-flare shots to various elements of camera work and pacing. It’s mostly unintrusive and reasonable, however. The pacing is generally much faster than Lucas gave us in the prequels, which mostly works well for this story; though there are places where Abrams’ typically quick pacing starts to become counter-productive to the story, moments where we really needed to slow down and linger. I’m thinking specifically of Han’s death and the immediate aftermath, where it felt like we moved on way too quickly. Again, having seen this film, it seems to me what we ultimately need is a perfect balance between this Abrams’ style pacing and the Lucas style of slower, more deliberate scene-setting and emoting. And again, that might have been achieved by having Lucas around to provide even a minor balancing input in this process.

 
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That opening sequence on Jakku with Kylo Ren and his troops rampaging across a village and committing ruthless murder is terrific though; a solid way to start the film.

In this scene and other early sequences, Kylo Ren is a suitably menacing and intriguing villain, highly reminiscent of Vader. He looks great, sounds great and he holds your attention. That sequence is also very much JJ Abrams stamping his mark on Star Wars stylistically and in terms of pacing and camera-work. Literally from the very first shots following the pan down after the opening crawl, you know you’re watching an Abrams movie. But the village sequence is generally terrific. There’s a sense of urgency and reality to the Stormtrooper landing sequence, which is very much aided by the humanisation of the Stormtroopers; this was something perhaps missing from the prequels due to the armies being either lifeless droids or personality-deficient clones. But really, in terms of humanising the Stormtroopers, this was even missing from the Original Trilogy, as the Stormtroopers were never given character or dimension, but were always just disposable fodder.

You could argue we got a lot of characterization of Clone-Troopers in the Clone Wars series, but they were still essentially clones and not very interesting. I very much like that this is the first time we have Stormtroopers brought to life somewhat more, primarily via the character Finn. The way we’re introduced to Boyega’s character subtly at first, with just a few visual clues that one of these Stormtroopers is out of place and not really in the zone, is particularly well conveyed. I mean it was obvious that guy was going to turn out to be Boyega, but that didn’t detract from the fun of it. This is all really good stuff.

I do believe this is also the first time we’ve ever seen blood on a Stormtrooper (it might even be the first time we’ve even seen blood in Star Wars), which again adds a layer of humanity to our perception of Stormtroopers. This opening sequence also establishes the ruthlessness of the First Order, with Kylo Ren ordering the troops to massacre a bunch of villagers. The OT Imperials were just as ruthless of course – they did blow up the entire planet of Alderaan, after all. But I think there’s something more unsettling about seeing on-the-ground troops indiscriminately executing innocent people we can see with our own eyes than there is in having it be a remote, removed thing like it was with Alderaan in the first film.

There’s also a totally bad-ass moment here where Kylo uses the Force to hold a blaster shot in mid-air for what seems like forever; it’s a brilliant visual moment and a whole new use of the Force that we’ve never seen before, which is great. The casualness of it makes it all the more bad-ass. It does seem to suggest a level of power in Kylo Ren that doesn’t quite make sense; but I’ll come back to that later.

This opening sequence alone, however, demonstrates that there are new things to be shown in Star Wars, even if we may think everything has already been explored.

This opening sequence does work well on multiple levels therefore; a perfect synthesis of the familiar and the new. Boyega’s character, Finn, generally gets a great intro here too and I like how it’s built up in measured steps, even while the main focus is on Kylo Ren.

I’ve already covered Rey’s scenes on Jakku, which I thought were all wonderful. And all the early Rey/Finn material is generally great too.

The scripting does sparkle in numerous places. There’s enough humour and wit scattered about this film to satisfy those of us who were unsatisfied the dry dialogue patches of the prequels. Some of Finn’s dialogue and delivery is really good in places, but actually Han Solo and Harrison Ford steal the show as you’d expect (“THAT’s not how the Force works!”). There are lovely moments of humour with Chewbacca, Threepio, and even BB8 (there’s even some Stormtrooper humour later on too). The fact that we have fun, witty characters isn’t enough on its own to compensate for the things that are lacklustre or just wrongheaded in this film; but it does incline you towards *wanting* to like it more and basically serves to earn your goodwill very quickly.

There are also a number of genuinely moving or touching moments or themes and it isn’t just via the nostalgia and the so-called ‘Legacy Players’, but includes the new characters too. Rey’s declaration of friendship to an unconscious Finn at the end. Han’s tenderness towards his murderous son, even with his last breath. BB8’s encounter with Artoo. But yes, obviously also the Han/Leia moments.

The reveal of the Millennium Falcon – literally with another homage line about it being a piece of junk before the camera moves around to reveal it – is a lot of fun. That whole sequence on the Falcon is a lot of fun, even if it’s utterly a nostalgia-fest. We were always going to have such nostalgia-fests and, in fairness, we all wanted it too. And having never had a big Falcon sequence be not in space before, this was a great way to show us something new mixed in with something old. Could Rey and Finn be able to pilot the Falcon this adroitly so quickly? Maybe not; in terms of Rey, I’ll come back to this later and try to justify it. But Star Wars was always more space fantasy than science-fiction and we should all know to suspend our disbelief to a large extent.

 
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The appearance of Han and Chewie at that precise moment was something I saw coming a mile off, but it’s still a sweet moment. It also comes at precisely the right time in the film; by now we’ve had enough time to get to know Rey, Finn and BB8 (and we’ve established Kylo Ren), and it’s the right moment to bring in our old heroes. If the dynamics with Rey, Finn and BB8 are terrific and really well established, the dynamics between the new characters and Han and Chewie are almost just as good, just as effortless. Han and Finn in particular have a good dynamic, perhaps aided in part by Han recognising an element of his past self in Finn’s position. The fact that all of this transpires aboard the Millennium Falcon helps to both visually and emotionally connect this new trilogy and these new characters with the old trilogy and old characters. But that moment we’ve all been waiting a lifetime for – seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca take their places in the Millennium Falcon – was worth the price of a cinema ticket on its own, even if it’s all too brief.

And a word about Harrison Ford, who received an insane amount of money to appear in this film. He totally nails this performance. This is Han Solo, no mistake. The mannerisms, the style, the tone – Harrison gets it right on the money. It’s as if he’s just stepped out of Return of the Jedi and just dyed his hair grey.

Which isn’t necessarily easy, coming back to reprise a character after decades – as anyone who saw Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will have witnessed. But Harrison is magic here. Which makes what happens later all the more upsetting – and not in the right way. Having made a big point about how much I object to the manner of Solo’s death, I will say that – the death scene itself notwithstanding – Han Solo gets a nice send-off here. Evidently, the idea was that if Solo was to be killed off, then he should have this film as a last hurrah, which would be why he gets lots of screen time and Leia and Luke are kept mostly out of the way. And he really gives us a perfect final dose of Han Solo before bowing out forever. In terms of the throwbacks, I personally would’ve gone a step further and had at least one sequence of Han piloting the Falcon in a dogfight or escape run; but that’s my inner fan-boy talking.

On first viewing I found a little odd that Han Solo, a hero of the Rebellion, would have reverted back to being a smuggler and a scoundrel. Having been so crucial in the defeating of the Empire, and having married (we assume) so crucial a political figure as Leia Organa, would he really end up being a smuggler again? It felt wrong to me at first. However, on second viewing, I started to get what the point of it was. Essentially, once you accept that his relationship with Leia failed and that the New Republic itself apparently failed, it starts to make more sense that Han reverts back to his old self or would perhaps seek meaning again in the former life he knew.

Perhaps watching his son go rotten, watching Luke disappear into the wilderness, watching everything the rebellion had fought for disappear, was enough to send Han back to a simpler life. In a way, however, this also plays into my biggest problem with this film: specifically that it starts to render the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi almost null and void. In terms of Han Solo, he’s now the same character he was right at the beginning of A New Hope. And yet, on the other hand, what other fitting path is there for Han Solo? He was never cut out to be a politician or a leading figure of a New Republic like Leia was and he was never the mythic, central hero like Luke either. Perhaps this was the only suitable path available to him.

The scene of Han being caught between the two gangs who’re after him is kind of fun in that obvious “that’s our Han” sort of way. I like that it plays to all our old perceptions of the ultimate rogue who’s always in trouble, who always owes money to someone, be it Jabba three decades ago or be it these guys now. It’s a scene clearly designed to re-ground Han Solo in his former life. What fails about it is the utter lack of imagination. If Lucas had been here, the characters would’ve much more interesting (think Boba Fett, Dengar, IG-88 and co); instead we get a handful of non-descript, uninteresting characters and it feels more like Farscape or some other low-budget made-for-TV fantasy than Star Wars (no slight against Farscape – I do like that series).

Given what must’ve been a pretty enormous budget, it’s remarkable that there are at least a few sequences where I’m left wondering where the money went. In places like this, I really do miss Uncle George and you can see how little imagination people like Abrams and co have.

As the scene progresses, this becomes even more evident. The weird alien creatures Han Solo is smuggling are an example of awful, almost reticent, CGI that seems badly conceived and poorly executed. It feels pretty pointless too. There were always silly ideas in Star Wars, but they usually worked and became endearing – think Jabba the Hutt, Salacious Crumb, the Rancor, the Tauntauns, etc. This weird, oddly hidden alien we get in this sequence just comes off as silly and you wonder why this sequence is here at all. Lucas would’ve done something much better here – and at moments like this, you can really see the areas in which people like Abrams and Kennedy are the inferiors to Lucas in terms of vision and imagination, even if they do the gritty, realist element better than he did (and the pacing).

There is another specific sequence in which this is even more demonstrated: specifically, Maz Kanata’s cantina on Takodana. This sequence, more than any other in the film, utterly demonstrates the lack of vision and imagination and the glaring absence of George Lucas’s immense creative faculties. What we get is a very flat location that never comes to life. It was clearly intended as a riff on the Mos Eisley cantina, but never comes close to capturing that level of color or intrigue. Again it is clear that Abrams and co lack Lucas’s imagination. What we get here instead is something that looks like low-budget TV fantasy. It in fact reminded me very much of things I saw in either Farscape or films like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Even the band playing is entirely forgettable and I found myself longing for the color and verve of the Max Rebo Band, Jabba’s Palace or the band from Mos Eisley.

Contrast a drab sequence like this with things like Lucas’s vision of Mos Espa or the underwater city in Episode I and you can see the difference between imaginative and ambitious storytelling as opposed to simply competent, standardised filmmaking.

In terms of the lack of imagination in this film, it can be seen in a number of ways. It’s evident in specific scenes, like the sequence in Maz Kanata’s cantina or the final scene in the old Jedi temple, but also in the underwhelming character of John Williams’ music (which, again, is the first time a Star Wars movie has had a lacklustre soundtrack). But it is also evident in the general lack of invention regarding world-building, backdrops and even ships and aliens. The alien designs for this film are pretty dire compared to previous Star Wars movies. And the ship designs pretty much exclusively fall back on Original Trilogy staples, yet even in the end battle against the Death Star Starkiller we only get X-Wings (not even any Y-Wings or B-Wings or anything else; contrast this fleet to the wide, engaging array of things we saw in the ROTJ end battle, which was tons more dynamic).

Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the sheer level of artistry in The Phantom Menace and the prequels (right down to costume design), but there does seem to be a general lack of creativity in The Force Awakens. For all we know, that may have been a deliberate choice rather than an unforeseen weakness; maybe they decided to ignore the more colorful, cosmetic side of Star Wars and focus more squarely on characters and dialogue. Which is fine, because the characters and dialogue here are terrific. But there is, as a result, a flatness to a lot of the film.

Maz Kanata herself, however, is a fairly interesting character. Well-conceived and likeably voiced and portrayed, she is also interesting because of her age and the obvious implication that she has seen and lived through a great deal of galactic history. I’m not clear on whether she’s simply a bit part or a character that is going to be around for more of the developing story; if the latter proves to be the case, Maz Kanata may end up being something akin to the Yoda of the new stories, an ancient being with old wisdom and knowledge. This is amplified by her ownership of Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber (which is never explained), but more so by her dialogue to Rey that she is essentially a Force-sensitive individual. She clearly specifies that she is not a Jedi, but the implication is that she knows all about the Force and has probably had contact with Jedi.

This is interesting because, given her age, she may have been around during the prequel era, the Clone Wars, the Old Republic and Jedi Order, etc, and may even have had connections with old, long-dead characters. This certainly hints at rich, era-spanning connections that could do great service to these new films in terms of bridging the eras. I hope we see more of her; I mean she doesn’t have to have been Yoda’s mistress or Ki Adi-Mundi’s dentist or anything as specific as that, but it would be great to see her incorporated more into the story as it develops (I imagine she could be the subject of filler novels, at the very least).

That leads us into one of the more interesting things in the movie; specifically the scene where Rey is drawn towards the chest that contains Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber and she has a vision.

The vision is interesting, showing us a lot of things, colouring in some of Rey’s mysterious background. The Force is literally calling to Rey, but the fact that the lightsaber – an object imbued with some essence of both Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker – is the object doing it again strongly implies the blood connection between Rey and the Skywalker line. This scene, with all its mysteriousness and flashes of vague insight, really gives us our first great sense of the mysteries of the Force in this new era.

Incidentally, we have audio of Yoda in this sequence (which I didn’t even notice the first time), as well as audio of Alec Guinness (his “don’t be afraid” line to Artoo from A New Hope is manipulated to sound like he is saying “Rey”), and we get a touch of actual Ewan McGreggor audio too, which is wonderful. McGreggor, being such an overall awesome guy, came in especially to record his line. This scene opens up lots of possibilities, specifically of Yoda and Obi-Wan still being a presence, albeit in spirit form (more on that later). McGreggor apparently speaks the line “you’ve taken your first steps” or something like that (an echo of Alec Guinness’s line to Luke from ANH; “you’ve taken your first steps into a new world”). Generally, I like this vision sequence; it is suitably vague and mystical, but also appropriately engaging. It raises lot of questions, but also plays up the essential mysteriousness of the Force. I also really like the Kanata/Rey dialogue here, which again is very Yoda-like and is rich with implications. And of course Rey’s resistance to it is understandable.

The clash between Resistance forces and the First Order on Takonada is reasonably good stuff. It isn’t spectacular, but it’s a marked shift in feel from the Clone-Trooper battles of the prequels, which, though more visually stunning and ambitious, did lack the sense of reality too often. Here, we’re back to OT-style analog battles. It very much feels like a sequence from the OT, probably aided by the presence of Han and Chewie. It’s fun stuff, and all it needed was a couple of Imperial Walkers for good measure. Really, the best thing here is seeing Han and Chewie back in their old element, bow-caster and all. People complaining about Finn being able to use a lightsaber here? Not really a problem for me; he doesn’t use it well.

The initial Kylo/Rey clash in the forest here is also pretty compelling.

There’s one shot in particular – that shot of Kylo igniting his lightsaber an inch from Rey’s face – that is really bad-ass (Rey’s expression is priceless). It’s in a scene like this that you see clearly how an equivalent scene in the prequels would’ve been undermined by CGI, whereas this scene has so much more weight because it feels and tastes like a real location. The odd thing, however, as I’ve said elsewhere, is that there are also scenes in this film where the opposite is true: where I feel like CGI was sorely needed and would’ve made things a lot better. To my mind, if people want to say Lucas was far too excessive with CGI in the prequels, there’s a case to be made that Abrams and co are too committed to non-CG in parts of this film too, even when it undermines their end product. And yet bizarrely, for all the commitment to going back to old-school analogue effects, there are couple of overt uses of CGI in this film that are so misplaced and ineffective that I was left wondering what it was they were trying to demonstrate.

 
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Kylo’s interrogation of Rey is interesting. The tension is good. And the fact that Rey can resist him is her first sign that she may be strong in the Force, as well as Kylo’s realisation that he is dealing with a Force-sensitive person. Kylo’s frustration is great to watch, as is Rey’s inner strength; the Light Side of the Force versus the Dark, one calm and possessing inner strength with the other being volatile and emotional and disordered. It isn’t clear here whether Kylo recognises Rey as his cousin or relative or not or whether, like Vader in the Original Trilogy, he is going to piece together the mystery of Rey’s identity as the story develops. Daisy Ridley does a great job on Rey’s facial acting here, really nailing this scene (but actually she pretty much nails every scene). But this is also the first real sign we get of the weaknesses in Kylo – and the fact that it’s Rey who brings that out obviously enrages him and sets the tone for their later clash.

Her line, “you’ll never be as powerful as Darth Vader” is really designed to destabilise him and it works, cutting to the heart of Kylo’s obsessions and psychology. In some ways, this is the most important thematic scene of the film and may cut to the heart of what this new story is about.

This scene, as well as the later showdown at the end, really seems to explore the theme that Rey and Kylo are opposite sides of the same coin – the “awakening” that Supreme Commander Snoke refers to; “the Dark Side and the Light”. There is potential for great storytelling here, particularly if they are both grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, who himself was both “Dark Side” and “Light”.

I really want to see this theme further explored; the Dark and the Light being expressed in the Skywalker bloodline as an echo of Anakin Skywalker himself, in whom the Force was so strong (highest midi-chlorian count on record) that it is still playing itself out even decades after his death and via his blood descendents.

We come then to the murder of Han Solo, which I’ve already covered at length. I saw this coming so far ahead of itself that there wasn’t any shock factor for me. It didn’t help that Abrams choreographs it so much in advance; every step of Han’s long walk across the platform to Kylo had me shaking my head in resistance. For all my objection to this and the bitter taste it leaves in my mouth, I do get the thematic point of this: specifically that Kylo is struggling with his good side and his Dark Side and he recognises that by killing his defenseless father he is taking a decisive plunge into the Dark Side of the Force. This is also designed to echo Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in A New Hope and echo the father figure being removed. It also thematically echoes Luke and Vader in ESB and ROTJ, although it actually inverses the scenario; so where Luke was the son trying to redeem his father, Han is the father trying to redeem his son, and where Vader was the father who turned back to the Light by saving his son, Kylo is the son who goes decisively into the Dark by killing his father. I get all that; it kind of works and it plays into Lucas’s well-established repeating poem motif that underpins all the Star Wars films.

Even the dialogue in the Han/Kylo confrontation is written as a direct echo of Vader/Luke in ESB, and also to some extent an inverse of the final Anakin/Padme scene in ROTS. I have no problem with any of that, as it is very much grounded in how Star Wars always works.

It’s still a shitty death though.

However, as much as it pisses all over Han Solo as a character, it certainly raises up Kylo Ren as a villain and that was obviously the point. And it makes certain that we are no longer are able to sympathise with Kylo or ‘Ben’. It also gives more weight to that climatic lightaber duel between Kylo and Rey, where we can fully root for Rey and fully despise Kylo.

 
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Now before I get into the rest of the final act and the climax, it’s time to talk about Kylo Ren.

I liked Kylo Ren for most of the film. I like that our perception of him evolves over the course of the movie, which is interesting and is a testament to good writing. For the first half of it, he is menacing and pretty bad-ass, very deliberately reminiscent of Vader in ESB. But then our view of him starts to evolve as we see more and more that he is highly charged, emotionally unstable and essentially a spoilt brat. He smashes up consoles in anger and, unlike Vader, draws his lightsaber to do so. The key turning point is when Rey goads him into removing his mask. Then we see he is a young man; unstable and conflicted, even weak.

What I like about Kylo Ren is that he is written to be somewhat pathetic. He isn’t a tortured sadist like Vader, nor a total bad-ass like Maul, nor an evil genius like Palpatine. Instead, he’s essentially a confused, idiotic little kid with a major complex. He is emotionally volatile and utterly immature. The mask and the bad-ass demeanour/visage is an act, a case of projecting. We still don’t know enough about his backstory, but I like watching him rip into consoles and bulkheads with his lightsaber in fits of rage and impotence. We also are shown fairly early on that he isn’t the one in command or the chief villain of the scenario; rather, he is under the guidance of the mysterious Supreme Commander Snoke (who at this point is a pretty lame character) and is also vying for power with the more straight-fascist General Hux. This is reminiscent of Darth Vader in the first movie, where he is essentially just a henchman and is secondary in authority to Governor Tarkin. It is also clear that Kylo’s training isn’t complete, as stated by Snoke.

I also like very much that his weapon is essentially a faulty, amateur-made lightsaber that doesn’t quite function properly and seems extremely volatile and dangerous – just like Kylo himself. That works brilliantly, as the weapon being a flawed extension of its flawed owner.

‘Amateur’ is, for that matter, a good description of Kylo Ren. He is basically an amateur, wannabe Sith, with a Darth Vader obsession. He is a Vader fan-boy, wanting to make himself as powerful and as feared as his famous grandfather. Whether he turned Dark first and then adopted this Vader obsession or whether it was his fascination with Vader that drew him towards the Dark Side is unclear; but I would guess the latter, as he seems like his obsession with Vader is his underlying motivation. This is borne out by the implication that – prior to his reunion with his father, Han Solo – Kylo is very conflicted and isn’t entirely ‘on the Dark Side’ yet. He seems to have said as much to Supreme Leader Snoke, begging to be strengthened in the Dark Side of the Force in order to continue. So it seems to me that Kylo’s Vader fetish is what set him on this path.

 
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The backstory of why exactly he rebelled against Luke is yet to be told and it’ll be interesting to learn exactly what happened. We are told that Kylo led a number of Luke’s former students – “the Knights of Ren” – in a slaughter of the other students; a scene we are briefly shown during Rey’s vision sequence. But again, what isn’t clear is why “Ben Solo” would reject the living Luke in favour of the deceased Vader. It’s a story we’re going to need. I’ve heard someone suggest that the ‘spirit’ of Darth Vader was somehow involved in corrupting the young Kylo. I doubt that. And if that proved to be the case, I would literally end my relationship with Star Wars, because that would be Disney taking a steaming shit on Return of the Jedi and the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Given what they just did to Han Solo, it might not be out of the question – that’s the scary part.

But what is also fascinating about Kylo Ren is that his inner struggle is an inversion of the classic Star Wars Jedi/Sith motif. Where Anakin was good and was turned to evil, and where Luke was good and was able to withstand seduction to the Dark Side, Kylo Ren is Bad and is trying desperately to *stay” Bad – which is a fascinating take on the whole pattern. We are shown that there is still some residual good in him and a great deal of conflict, and he is trying to kill that lingering conflict off and be fully immersed in the Dark Side. This is very interesting writing and characeristation, it has to be said, and was something I wasn’t expecting. I was genuinely surprised by how layered and interesting Kylo is.

And in this respect too, Kylo’s murder of his father does make some dramatic and thematic sense – even if I dislike it immensely. By killing Han, he is firmly taking that final step into the Dark Side; he is literally taking a step from which there is no turning back. And he knows it. Han is literally there, appealing to the good in him that we – as an audience – sense has been there throughout what we’ve seen of the film; and at that crossroads moment, Kylo realises that he can either go with his Dad and find redemption or he can take the ultimate step to the Dark Side of the Force. In doing the latter, he is now utterly Dark Side. It is basically equivalent to Anakin murdering the Younglings in the Jedi Temple.

What’s also interesting about this is that, although Kylo is obsessed with Darth Vader and being the new Vader, he clearly doesn’t understand the real story of Anakin Skywalker or Vader. Anakin, although at the end he did make a choice to do dark things and be a Sith, was generally not someone who actively *sought* the Dark Side. He was essentially tricked into turning against the Jedi and the people he loved, and then he suffered the price forever. But Kylo is wilfully, knowingly seeking the Dark Side and actively seeking to emulate the fallen Vader.

And unlike Anakin, Kylo didn’t have a life of tragedy as any excuse.

Anakin grew up as a lowly slave and his mother was killed; Kylo has both his parents still around and they clearly love him. Anakin eventually was seduced by the Sith because he was obsessed with protecting the woman he loved. Kylo, from what we know so far, would’ve had a good life and he simply has a fetish for the Dark Side. His understanding therefore of the very figure he worships is highly deficient, and Kylo in general is a pathetic figure. He is almost like a moody Emo kid rebelling against his parents and his uncle because they don’t understand his piercings or his taste in music. He throws tantrums. Now, on paper that sounds like a lame-ass character. But in actual fact, it works surprisingly well.

Because, as I wrote ages ago, Star Wars has already done its job too well; you can never write a villain as layered and complex as Darth Vader now, nor a villain as ultimate and as definitive as Palpatine, nor even a villain as bad-ass as Darth Maul. Therefore you have to do something new in a fictional universe where there aren’t that many options. And Kylo Ren is it. I know a lot of people are dismissing Kylo Ren as a lame villain, but the best thing about Kylo Ren is that he isn’t anything like as brilliant as Vader, but is in fact just a second-rate, Vader wannabe. That one fact justifies everything else; it justifies why he wears a mask, for one thing, and pretty much underscores all of his motivations and actions. He is an echo of Vader because he is *literally trying* to be an echo of Vader.

He can be bad-ass; but ultimately we already know he is pathetic. Part of the reason this also works is because, at the other end of the equation, we have Rey (probably his cousin). These are both grandchildren (probably) of Anakin/Vader, but one has grown up being somewhat privileged (raised by Leia and Han, loved, and trained by the galaxy’s last Jedi), while the other was abandoned and left to live on her own on some god-forsaken planet. Yet the former has rebelled and sought darkness, while the latter has emerged a self-sufficient, grounded, centered person and will probably be the hero of the trilogy. Getting back to the point I touched on earlier, if we’re talking thematic resonance throughout the broader saga as well, it’s interesting that – assuming Anakin and Padme have only these two grandchildren – one of them is now of the Dark and one is very much of the Light; thus reflecting the dual nature of Anakin Skywalker himself, who was both a Jedi and a Sith. This has all kinds of deep, mystical connotations and possibilities that I imagine Disney probably won’t explore, but it’s interesting to ponder for those of us who are philosophically or mystically inclined.

Whether Rey will ‘redeem’ Kylo in the long-run remains to be seen; frankly at this point I would rather she decapitate the spoilt bastard the same way Windu decapitated Jango Fett. From the killing of Han Solo onward, we have no sympathy for Kylo Ren, and it is hard to imagine we ever will. This wasn’t killing in self-defense or in the heat of battle like Anakin/Windu was, but pre-meditated, ruthless murder that is almost reminiscent of Satanic blood-sacrifice.

For all the negative talk of Kylo being too pathetic to be a convincing villain, I have to say I disagree. His pathetic, confused nature actually imparts to him a real, palpable sense of danger and unpredictability.

It isn’t serene, focused Dark Side like Darth Maul or clear-headed motivation like Palpatine; Kylo is a complete loose cannon who might do *anything*. And that’s interesting. And I give full credit here, because one of the things I immediately doubted about there being new Star Wars films was the issue of how you come up with a new villain; and the answer is that you don’t try to create a better villain than the old ones (because you can’t), but a villain with a new twist, a new layer, to him.

So kudos on Kylo Ren. ‘Supreme Leader Snoke’, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

It is unclear at this stage to what extent ‘Supreme Leader Snoke’ has been involved with Kylo Ren. He says in one scene here that he now needs to “train” Kylo, which suggests he hasn’t at this point had anything to do with training him yet. It does seem like Kylo is powerful; the way he stops that blaster bolt in mid-air early on is something never seen before and suggests either a high level of power or a very inventive instinctive use of the Force. Either way, this doesn’t seem to fit that well with what we then see elsewhere in the film, where he is volatile, unfocused and amateurish. But maybe the point is to display two different, conflicting aspects of his nature; the powerful and the pathetic. What he certainly is is highly volatile and I love that this is reflected both in his personality and his lightsaber itself and his use of the Force.

I like too that we’re getting different uses of the Force that we’ve never seen before; stopping the blaster bolt is the best example, but his invasive use of mind power to literally pull information from people’s minds is interesting and genuinely menacing, and that scene where he renders Rey utterly immobile using the Force is great. It’s very Magneto, but it works and is suitably dramatic.

Some will argue that this takes us into a problematic area where a spoilt, poorly trained brat like Kylo appears to be capable of Force powers that even great masters like Sidious, Vader, Dooku, Yoda or Windu never seemed to be capable of.

 
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However, there’s a couple of counter-arguments to that. Firstly, we can just assume that other Jedi/Sith had these kinds of powers but that we just never saw them used on-screen. But more than that, it’s reasonable to assume that the Force and the use of the Force is a fairly evolving and diverse thing, which changes among different Force-users at different periods of time. We can also bear in mind that Kylo exists in a period of time where there are no Jedi and Sith, certainly not in the organised, regulated sesne that there was in the past. Regardless of what went down at Luke’s short-lived Jedi Academy, there is no Jedi Order as such anymore and there are no great, wise teachers like Yoda or the others; which means, in essence, that there is no dogma or prevailing framework for Jedi training.

That in turn means that someone like Kylo is self-teaching himself the Force; this is evident in the amateur-job he’s done on his lightsaber. That being so, it stands to reason that his use of the Force would be different and unorthodox. Because there *is* no orthodoxy anymore; there are probably no manuals and no archives.

Therefore someone like Kylo isn’t learning ‘the rules’ and consequently makes up his own rules and ends up using the Force in whole new ways. I like that and don’t have a problem with it.

I’m aware that some people are making similar complaints about Rey’s powers and, in particular, her very sudden/quick development of Force abilities in this film.

In terms of Rey’s powers, I’ve seen lots of people complaining at her ability to use the Force, at how sudden her transformation is and how unrealistic it is that she would be able to develop that quickly without training. I, however, mostly don’t have a problem with this. At least not yet. If you think about it, Luke’s development in A New Hope was pretty quick too. As far as we were shown, he didn’t have much training before he was flying an X-Wing and using the Force to fire the crucial shot into the Death Star. Moreover, in Episode I, little Anakin did more or less the same thing, flying a Naboo Fighter into the heart of the Battle Control Ship and destroying it.

In both cases, Anakin’s especially, the idea was that they were being guided by the Force itself; in Anakin’s case it was entirely unconscious and this demonstrated the extent to which his Force-connection was operating without him even knowing it. So for Rey – directly descended from both Luke and Anakin (probably) – to inherit the same powers isn’t that much of a problem. However, this also does demonstrate another reason why Disney were arrogant and unwise to try to suggest a dismissal of what Lucas did in the prequels and a ‘glorious’ return to the Original Trilogy: because one thing that would perfectly explain Rey’s speed of development and abilities here in this film would’ve been to cite the midi-chlorians.

In essence, Lucas has provided the explanation already: Rey obviously has a very high midi-chlorian count just as Anakin did (and presumably Luke did too), and therefore the Force operates in her at an unconscious level.

This is partly amplified by her vision experience in Maz Kanata’s castle, where the Living Force is clearly interacting with something that is already within her consciousness. Some might perceive that this scene depicts Rey encountering the ‘Force’ for the firs time, but I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing. Rather the Force is engaging with something already going on within her.

But again, with the midi-chlorians you can explain everything. Rey has a high count and is Force sensitive and this is evident throughout the film. It’s why she can pilot the Falcon like a pro, just as Anakin could pod-race and just as Luke could master an X-Wing in about five minutes. It’s also there in her physical prowess with a quarter-staff; it’s there, but it’s not overt, rather it’s below the surface. She has Skywalker blood in her. When all of this story is further developed, she may even turn out to be more powerful than either her father or grandfather.

The other thing is that we’re likely to learn a lot more in the next film, including about Rey’s origin and backstory. It may even turn out that she was given some Jedi training as a child by Luke before she was sent away, but that the memories of it were somehow repressed in her. In which case, not only would she have unconscious Force connection, but even some basic training or knowledge that has been repressed. And her finding Luke/Anakin’s lightsaber in Maz Kanata’s castle might’ve represented a trigger-moment where some of that repressed information started to come back to the surface. That would explain why, from this point on (after Kanata has given her the whole “let it in” speech), she starts to more consciously try to use the Force. Because in this scenario, it wouldn’t be like she’s suddenly learning the Force for the first time, but that repressed knowledge and understanding is suddenly flooding back to her.

By the time she’s in captivity and she tries to use a mind-trick to control the Daniel Craig Stormtrooper, she is now consciously beginning to use the Force (to “let it in”). And by the time she decides to fight Kylo at the end, she is totally and knowingly “letting it in” and using the Force. That works okay for me, pending further information in the next film.

Some are saying it’s unrealistic that Rey could’ve held her own against Kylo in that fight. But that’s the nature of the Force. If you watch this sequence properly, she doesn’t convincingly beat Kylo, she just about manages to survive the encounter. She doesn’t use the lightsaber with any kind of expertise, but is clumsy and handles the weapon in an inexperienced, awkward way. It’s a bumbling, amateur lightsaber fight, nothing at all like the accomplished, brilliant lightsaber duels of the prequels. And of course, Kylo has been shot by Chewbacca and is injured, and he is also emotionally compromised from having just killed his father. I don’t have a problem with this at all. And again, the idea of giving over to the Force and letting it guide you is a key factor in Star Wars and always has been. There’s nothing here that isn’t perfectly in-keeping with existing Star Wars.

 
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However, the one thing I will say is that I really would have a lot more respect for Kathleen Kennedy, Disney and the other new controllers of the Star Wars mythology if in the next film they do mention the midi-chlorians. Because it would explain Rey and her powers perfectly; and it’s all there, all in place from Lucas and the prequels.

If, in an arrogant wish to dismiss the prequels and dismiss the ideas of the very founder of the Star Wars mythology, they decide to veto the midi-chlorians, then they’ll actually be shooting themselves in the foot and this whole business of Rey using the Force in this movie will make a lot less sense.

But *as it currently stands* and as is my current reading of the situation, this sequence with Rey and the Force is grounded perfectly in Qui-Gon Jinn’s explanations of the Force and the midi-chlorians from Episode I. Yes, those same midi-chlorians that so many people bitched about all those years ago; and those are mostly the same people who right now are raving about how awesome The Force Awakens is.

I like this lightsaber duel a lot. I was curious as to whether there would now be a Star Wars movie without a lightsaber duel at all; but we do get one and it’s not a bad one. I wondered too if, having a lightsaber duel, they would try to scale it down, since it wouldn’t make sense to have anything as fast-paced or brilliantly-choreographed as in the prequels. Having it set in a forest gives it a brand new aesthetic and tone we’ve had before, and in terms of the lighting and the general feeling, this is a great sequence.

And again, I like that this is basically an amateurish, fumbling duel between two Force-users who would get absolutely torn to shreds if you put them in the prequel era. I mean an Anakin or Obi-Wan or Maul would utterly kick Kylo’s or Rey’s arse in about ten seconds. Had Rey suddenly come out twirling and show-boating like a Darth Maul or an Obi-Wan, it would’ve been ridiculous; but it is clear she doesn’t know how to use that weapon and that it’s her Force connection (and yes, those midi-chlorians) that saves her. This genuinely is a superb sequence in terms of how it looks and feels. You can even see that Rey is using the lightsaber the same way as she uses her quarter-staff earlier in the film, making the same motions and primarily attacking from the top down.

As far as lightaber fights in Star Wars go, this wouldn’t even make the top five; but for what it is, this is a terrific sequence, perfectly measured and perfectly in-keeping with the context here. Again, it’s essentially a fight between two amateurs.

I like also that Finn tries to use the ligthsaber, but is pretty useless with it; it probably is unrealistic that he could even get a slice in on Kylo, which he appears to here, but I’m able to let that slide.

That moment where the lightsaber is on the ground and it is visibly being agitated by the Force, I honestly thought that we were about to see Luke Skywalker suddenly appear and call his old weapon to his hand and come to Rey’s rescue. That might’ve been an awesome ‘return of the Jedi’ moment that would’ve sent us all into cinematic ecstasy. Instead we get Rey using telekinesis to draw the weapon to her hands and fight Kylo, but this is genuinely a powerful moment in its own right, as is her Luke-style moment of going deep within herself to call upon the Force. Kylo’s insistence that the lightsaber should belong to him is curious too, though it is unclear whether he would know that Luke’s lightsaber was once his hero Darth Vader’s lightsaber too in a previous life (it’s also possible that literally *was* Kylo’s lightsaber from when Luke was training him).

Either way, it’s Rey’s lightsaber now: probably the greatest of all family hand-me-downs – and I love this moment. I know there are people ripping this scene to shreds elsewhere, but really I’m okay with it. And again, that climatic moment of Force awakening in Rey is pure Star Wars all the way.

So, coming to that ending and the return of Luke Skywalker.

And it’s a mixed bag for me. This was the main thing I’d been waiting for: seeing Luke Skywalker again. And I knew, or I sensed, that we would only see him right at the end. Therefore when Rey and Chewie set off in the Falcon, I knew exactly what we were building to. As an idea, I really like that this whole film was centered on the search of Luke and the mystery of his whereabouts. And in that context, I like the idea very much of ending on Luke being found.

 
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There are specific problems I have with this scene as it exists, however. Firstly I think the setting lets it down. I know this is supposed to be the first Jedi Temple, but this Celtic-flavoured location (Skellig Michael in Ireland) is dull and therefore underwhelming. This, again, is where we’re really missing the input or vision of George Lucas, as there’s no way he would’ve settled for such a dull aesthetic location for the climatic scene. Personally, I would’ve adored it if Luke had been on Dagobah all along, as this would’ve been both aesthetically rich and beautifully in-keeping with the existing mythology. However, even putting that aside, we should’ve had something more interesting than this.

This laziness and lack of imagination occurs at various points throughout the film, but it’s most noticeable here because it’s the climatic scene. It’s at moments like these that it really looks a fan-film scene made on a shoe-string budget, which is a pretty extraordinary thing to be saying.

The next problem is that it ends up feeling a little awkward. The Lord of the Rings feel of it doesn’t help, nor does the goofy helicopter shot and the fact that it goes on for too long. It needed to be about ten seconds shorter, in all likelihood.

All of that said, as a concept, I like the idea of Rey just holding up the lightsaber and Luke being revealed but not speaking. There’s a lot communicated in that silence. Mark Hamill, like Carrie Fisher, manages to work a lot of unspoken emotion into that silence. There’s a palpable sense of his despair, his prolongued isolation, and even possibly his awareness of the things that have just transpired (Han’s death, Kylo’s utter evil, the destruction of the New Republic, etc). There’s so much there in Hamill’s face. The silence is also rich with additional possibilities. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? Is he recognising that fact as he looks at her? Does she recognise that fact? Did Luke know she was coming? Did he guide her through the Force?

There are so many questions and so many possibilities here that we’ll have to wait a couple of years to have answered; but this might be the single greatest cliff-hanger ending in cinematic history. I don’t mind at all that this is all we see of Luke at this stage. The problem is that it’s just a badly shot scene with limited imagination and it was crying out for some George Lucas visual and conceptual magic.

Still, this was the necessary end-point for the film; and it generally works for what it is. Even with its awkwardness, it does still pack an emotional punch just to see Luke again for the first time in 30 years. And again, the silence is pregnant with rich possibilities and unanswered questions. We will have to wait two years for those answers; but that’s fine, as it may take two years to properly digest this film (and hell, we’ve waited thirty years just to see Luke again).

That’s most of the broad strokes of the film covered.

Carrie Fisher, though she had far less screen time than Harrison Ford, was effective as an older Leia. Given that her job was mostly just a few shots of reacting to things and showing emotion, she did this remarkably well. Carrie still has that ability she had in the Original Trilogy to lucidly convey emotions with just facial acting; she did that amazingly well in Empire Strikes Back and she does it effectively here too. The brief scene with Han and Leia reuniting was poignant enough, playing on our emotions. This is something that could’ve been overdone or under-done; in the end, I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I instinctively dislike the fact that Han and Leia didn’t stay together; that their relationship, we’re told, didn’t work out. But that might be me bringing my own fan-boy baggage to my reaction.

It is evident in the script that the reason for their estrangement is their son’s fall to the Dark Side, which does make sense. It is clear that they still love each other – and needless to say, Harrison and Carrie do a great job acting those scenes, which are tinged with bittersweet. I could’ve done with more of these two together. At least one bigger, more pronounced conversation about what happened between them, about Kylo, about Luke. I’m not sure why such an obviously valuable conversation was skipped over.

This issue of key information being omitted or skipped over is actually a palpable problem with this film and might even be its main weakness.

A glaring problem with the story we get is the absence of explanation for what the political situation is in this era. We’re very briefly told that the First Order is a remnant of the old Galactic Empire and that the ‘Resistance’ is a Rebel Alliance styled group of guerrillas fighting this First Order. The Republic still exists and is secretly backing this Resistance in its fight, suggesting that the fight between the First Order and the Resistance is a very localised conflict and not galaxy-spanning. General Leia, however, appears to be more involved in the Resistance than in the Republic, and we don’t really get a sense of what the Republic *is* at this point in time. It’s intriguing in places, but very nebulous and ill-defined and I found myself wishing Uncle George was here to write in a few scenes of exposition to explain things better. People with no attention spans could complain all they like about the “boring politics” of The Phantom Menace, but at least Lucas laid out the dynamics of the galaxy and explained things.

From what we do get here, the idea of the Republic secretly backing the Resistance brings to mind modern real-world geo-politics, as seen for example in the way that the United States and other governments support rebels and terrorists inside Syria or Libya. It’s an interesting idea, but is so poorly explained that you’re left scratching your head. It’s as if the new filmmakers are so focused on distancing themselves from the prequels and making an easily accessible popcorn movie that they hesitated to go anywhere near exposition or explanation. But exposition and explanation was very much needed. And saying, ‘well, it’s in the novels’ isn’t good enough, as many of us won’t get around to reading the novels.

 
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In order to really give us a sense of what followed on from the events of Return of the Jedi, this film really needed either a flashback sequence or a more considered exposition. These would’ve explained what had gone on with galactic government following the collapse of the Empire, whether a New Republic was formed or not, etc. It also could’ve been used more importantly to tell some of the story of Luke and the Jedi Academy; however, in that regard, I suspect we’ll get much more filling in of the story in Episode VIII when we see more of Luke. Flashbacks may not be a very Star Wars thing, but Abrams was already marking his territory with that opening sequence and elsewhere, so it would’ve been do-able.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this film really needed that Spock-style moment in Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot where he explains all of the missing backstory to Kirk and the dialogue is accompanied by a montage set in the past. In the Star Trek movie that sequence fills in the gaps and explains everything that needs to be explained. Something like that was needed in this film and would probably have been best placed in the scene where Han is telling Rey and Finn about the Force on the Falcon. Failing that, we should’ve just gotten some exposition to that effect, perhaps with Leia or perhaps in that “it’s all true” Han scene with Finn and Rey.

The problem is there just isn’t a good enough of sense of what’s going on. How long has the First Order been around? At what point did the remnants of the old Empire re-form into this First Order? What happened to the New Republic?

What form does this Republic currently take? Did this New Republic gain control after the events of ROTJ? Did it start to fall apart? When? And what happened to Coruscant? Some people have mistakenly thought that the ‘capital’ destroyed by the Starkiller weapon in this film is Coruscant (I read one moron happily posting that this was Abrams and Disney literally destroying ‘the prequels’ in a symbolic act). This is false, however: the Senate Capital destroyed here was ‘Hosnian Prime’. There is no reference to Coruscant in this film, which seems odd. But then there’s no reference to Tatooine either. Not showing Tatooine is fine, but then the filmmakers have gone out of their way to place Rey on a world that is very much like Tatooine, just not Tatooine, and to destroy a ‘capital’ very much like Coruscant, but which isn’t Coruscant.

Again, the lack of explanation for things is one of the biggest problems with this movie. Maybe it’s symptomatic of Abrams’ love of fast pacing or maybe there’s a general lack of agreement or understanding among the creative forces concerning what exactly the situation is in this movie beyond the search for Luke Skywalker. Again, that’s not good enough. This isn’t Lost, where Abrams can wing it for a few seasons while he tries to work out what’s going on; this is Star Wars. In some specific areas, this reticence or withholding of information is fine, because it builds suspense and we can assume things will be resolved later on on; such as, for example, the question of what Luke has been doing, or who Rey is, or why Ben Solo turned Dark, or who Snoke is, etc. That’s fine. But To just gloss over the big issues concerning the Republic, the Empire, the First Order, etc, is a different matter entirely and is just lazy, incompetent writing.

The fact that we don’t really have any of that explained means that key scenes, like the Starkiller destruction of several worlds, fall flat and don’t have impact – because we don’t properly understand what’s going on. Apparently the capital of the New Republic was destroyed in this film – but you’d be forgiven for having not even registered that, because it is so poorly explained. But for anyone steeped in Star Wars lore, that should be an important moment in the film. We’re even lacking a real, clear sense of what Leia’s position is in this equation now or of how her role with the ‘Resistance’ relates to whatever role she has/had in the New Republic.

I would’ve liked to have seen the New Republic properly, even if it had to be a faltering or doomed New Republic. Remember, the Republic that Lucas showed us in The Phantom Menace was essentially a Republic entering into its final days; a Republic mired in corruption and ineffectiveness and close to collapse. The sense I’m getting here is that the New Republic is also about to collapse (or even that we just saw it destroyed in this film), but we’re not shown anything substantial to express that, which is a major failing.

Critics of the movie can cite any number of plot-holes. I’m not even that concerned about the plot-holes, as Star Wars can always be picked apart if you’re bothered. How can Rey speak both droid and Wookie if she’s been isolated on Jakku her whole life? How an essentially disempowered and only newly emerging force like the First Order could build something as vast as the Starkiller Base and have it not be detected until now, for example. Or how it is that Han, Chewie and co are able to just waltz into the enemy stronghold and plant explosives (it’s not as if there’s Jedi with them; there’s no Luke or Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon here). It’s Star Wars and we’re always more interested in the broader strokes of the mythology and the characters than with these plot details.

In more general terms, the widespread sense of The Force Awakens being a massive rehash or rewriting of the Original Trilogy is both true and somewhat trivial at the same time.

It does betray a big lack of imagination and is symptomatic of the absence of Lucas’s visionary qualities; but at the same time, the core strengths of the movie – the characters and the character dynamics – compensate for the lack of originality in large part. At least for now anyway; if the same derivative, lazy approach characterises the next film, then it’s going to be a much bigger problem. But for right now, in this first new chapter to ‘re-launch’ the Star Wars franchise after ten years, this tendency to fall back on safe and tested tropes is fairly understandable and for the most part inoffensive. Disney’s motivation in this regard is all the more understandable when you consider how ambitious and different Lucas tried to be with the prequels and how much of a backlash their was from popcorn munchers. Lucas was brave and got punished; Disney is playing it safe to ensure goodwill and maximum profit. The motivations are different and so the product is going to be different; Lucas was a visionary and myth-maker, Disney is essentially a corporation.

Lucas came back to make the prequels because he wanted to complete the story; the films existed because the story was waiting to be told. Disney, however, is doing the opposite: cobbling together a story in order to justify making the films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but sometimes it’s going to show.

The Starkiller super-weapon is the one, main thing that feels like a lazy rehash more than anything else. This is to the extent that they even reference this fact in the Yavin-type scene where Leia, Han and the others are gathered around a display of the Starkiller Base and they pull up a comparative display of the Death Star and make a joke about it. In essence, this could be chalked up to what Lucas always called the repeating poem motif, where the same themes and symbols keep recurring as an echo of past verses. However, given all the talk of moving Star Wars in a new direction, it’s funny how much of this is basically a rewrite.

Whatever you want to say about George Lucas (and I franky love the man), he was always trying to expand the universe, develop new ideas; and The Phantom Menace remains a much more ambitious and inventive film than The Force Awakens.

I also think the Starkiller thing, particularly in visual terms, felt just as much a rehash of Abrams’ work on Star Trek as it did of A New Hope. The scene where the Starkiller weapon destroys the Hosnian planets and it is visible on Takodana was hugely reminiscent of the destruction of Vulcan in the 2009 Star Trek movie.

The Starkiller weapon itself, I’m fairly indifferent about (aside from the name being a nice reference to Lucas’s early drafts for the original Star Wars). I know some people hate it, considering it a cheap and lazy rewrite of the Death Star. I sort of agree; it really suggests that Disney, Kennedy, Abrams and the others don’t have many original ideas. But the idea of the weapon being concealed within a living planet is fairly interesting (even if scientifically questionable) and the sequence where we see the weapon firing across space and destroying multiple worlds is a fairly good one, at least in visual terms if not scientific terms. The fact that we see people on a planet watching the massive beam firing and being helpless to do anything about it gives us something very different from the more remote, removed Death Star sequences in A New Hope; it gives us the human element and the victims’ perspective, which is probably more dramatic (though, again, the lack of explanation for who it was we were seeing killed is a problem).

That being said, there is no tension or sense of stakes whatsoever in the race to blow up the Starkiller Base. That quick, highly deficient throw-away scene where they’re all gathered and discussing what to do about the Starkiller is lacking in drama, explanation or even adequate staging. In the final edit, it just looks like a bunch of people standing around in a B-movie set and re-enacting a scene from the original movies. The pacing is just very off-the-mark here; and again, it could almost be an amateur fan-made movie we’re watching.

This obsession with fast-pacing is also a mixed blessing. Sometimes it’s great, being exactly what’s needed; other times it doesn’t serve the story at all and I find myself longing for Lucas to step in slow things down a little and allow things room to make sense. Lucas is also much better at overall editing, transitioning between scenes, and – quite importantly – being able to disseminate key information across the course of multiple scenes. It is likely, however, that there were cut scenes; so it will be interesting to check the DVD/Blu-Ray release to see what was cut from the film and whether it was things that would’ve acted as better explanation. In general, I do think the faster pacing was probably for the best; but, like anything, it’s about measure and fine-tuning, knowing when to move quickly and knowing when to slow down.

 

Some random thoughts, observations and questions;

 

  • strong>George Lucas’s highly publicised criticism of the film has attracted undeserved bashing from so-called fans. “They wanted to do a retro movie. I don’t like that,” he said, which is an entirely legitimate and understandable position. Whatever you feel about this film, they *have* basically done a retro movie.

 

  • Some particularly mean-spirited on-line commentators suggest that the first line in the film – “This will begin to make things right” – is a deliberate snipe at George Lucas and the widely-held misconception that the prequel trilogy somehow ‘ruined’ the franchise. I doubt this is true (I hope it isn’t anyway). Abrams doesn’t seem like the sort of person who’d do that. At any rate, given all the problems with The Force Awakens, it would be a pretty misguided statement.

 

  • There’s a question of whether Chewie was trying to kill Kylo or just hurt him. If he could hit him, which he did, it’s likely he could’ve hit him again and struck a fatal shot. But if Kylo is Han’s son, it’s likely Chewie would have some past affection for or relationship with him from when he was a child. And it’s possible that, even though Kylo has just killed Han, Chewie couldn’t bring himself to kill Kylo.

 

  • This film is full of deliberate echoes or throwbacks, some subtle and some more overt. One of my favorites is the scene where Han Solo is explaining things to Rey and Finn, telling them that “it’s all true; the Force, the Jedi, the Dark Side”. What’s great about this scene is that it is designed to show how far Han has had to come in his views of the universe, echoing back to his original reactions to the older Obi-Wan Kenobi’s talk of the Force and how he once dismissed it all as “hokey” nonsense and “ancient religion”. The fact that both scenes take place aboard the Falcon makes it all the more perfect. Where some things in this film are highly derivative, uninventive throwbacks, here’s an example of a throwback that poetically and thematically works really nicely.

 

  • The First Order is interesting, clearly being written to make the Imperial remnants more menacing in a new way. The officers seem more hardcore than the OT Imperials, while the Stormtroopers seem more radicalised than the bumbling, misfiring Stormtroopers of the OT. We learn that they are brainwashed from a young age and robbed of any sense of identity and more like Jem’Hadar or Hitler Youth. This is further highlighted by their Nazi salutes during the big gathering scene which is quite obviously meant to evoke the Nuremberg Rallies. Lucas himself said that the OT Imperials were based partly on the Third Reich, but that allusion was never as overt in the OT as it is here. These are properly fanatical radicals, from the officer level right through to the Stormtrooper level. I found that Nazi salute a little unsettling the first time, wondering if it was a bit much and bit too direct for Star Wars; but I get what Abrams was going for and it kind of works. Abrams has said the First Order is inspired by the theory of ODESSA, which allegedly involved SS officers fleeing to Argentina following World War II.

 

  • I have to confess that it’s annoying to hear people glorying in something like that brief shot of the Tie-Fighters against the sunset as if it’s some masterful cinematic vision, when it actually pales in comparison to some of the vision and breathtaking imagery Lucas created in the prequels and with none of the praise. Those films are virtually littered with amazing shots or panoramas, dozens being just in Episode III alone. Guys, it’s just some Tie-Fighters and a sunset; calm down.

 

  • That said, there is a really good shot in the same sequence, where Rey looks up and sees the ships moving over the tree-line. That’s a very new kind of shot.

 

  • Supreme Leader Snoke is a difficult one to judge or understand at this point in time. We don’t know who or what he is, but he appears to be in supreme command of the First Order and of Kylo Ren. His talk of training Kylo also suggests he is a Force user and possibly a Sith Lord (with Kylo as his soon-to-be apprentice?). But where he came from, I don’t know. Was he around in the old days? Or is he something new? His appearance and projected size (I know it was a hologram, but the implication is interesting) suggests a powerful and perhaps ancient being. There are some interesting theories around. To me, however, at t his stage he looks and feels silly. Worse, as I said earlier, he feels very generic and more like the cinematic version of Thanos in the Marvel movies; like this mystery, powerful guy who’s going to be in the shadows making ominous statements. But you can never get a better Sith Lord or supreme villain as Darth Sidious/Palpatine anyway and that was always going to be a problem moving forward with this franchise.

 

  • One of my favorite theories I’ve come across recently is the theory that Supreme Commander Snoke (still such a dumb name) may in fact be the mysterious Darth Plagueis. I would absolutely love this to be the case, as it would allow these films to connect with the prequels in a more intriguing way. Myelin Games on You Tube makes a decent case for this hypothesis, citing the interesting fact that the music that accompanies the Snoke scenes in The Force Awakens sounds very similar to the music in the Revenge of the Sith opera scene where Palpatine is telling Anakin the story of Plagueis, the Sith Lord who was so powerful that he could create life and cheat death. That was actually one of the best scenes in a film that was full of superb scenes, and the implication was always that Palpatine was Darth Plageuis’s apprentice. Now the implication here in TFA is that this mysterious Snoke character is very old; but even if he isn’t, the key line of Palpatine’s was that Plagueis could literally cheat death. This is a fascinating possibility that I almost think is too clever for Disney to even think of, but still I’d love to think they might be planting the seeds for that here. Another hint is that Kylo Ren tells Han Solo that “the supreme leader is wise”; which could just be a simple statement, but it could also be cryptically alluding to Darth Plagueis’s proper title (as spoken by Palpatine to Anakin), which is ‘Darth Plagueis, the Wise’. I really, really like this theory.

 

  • Another possibility worth considering, regarding Rey’s powers, is that she is another immaculate conception. In other words, she may have been born out of the midi-chlorians and the “Will of the Force” itself, just like Anakin was. That would justify her quickly spiralling powers. It might also be why Luke (or whoever else) deposited her on Jakku, to keep her out of the way of whatever was going on with the ill-fated Jedi Academy.

 

  • And the other area where this idea of Snoke/Plagueis could be extremely interesting is if Rey *is* another immaculate conception like Anakin and was conceived from the midi-chlorians; because then it opens up the possibility that she may have been ‘created’ by Snoke/Plagueis, just as it was heavily implied (but never outright stated) that Anakin was ‘created’ by either Palpatine himself or Plagueis.

 

  • There is some confusion among fans over why Kylo Ren is able to worship Vader and seemingly not understand Anakin’s redemption. But it does seem to be explained in dialogue, where it seems ‘Snoke’ has indoctrinated Kylo with an alternate interpretation of those events. Snoke says to Kylo Ren “The historians have it all wrong. It was neither poor strategy nor arrogance that brought down the Empire. You know too well what did.” Kylo answers, “Sentiment.” Snoke says, “Yes. Such a simple thing. Such a foolish error of judgment. A momentary lapse in an otherwise exemplary life. Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at the crucial moment — had the father killed the son — the Empire would have prevailed. And there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today.” What isn’t clear is whether Snoke’s influence preceded/influenced Kylo’s turn to the Dark Side or whether he emerged afterward. It seems like it must’ve been the former, which means this ‘Snoke’ character actively interfered in Ben Solo’s Jedi training. Either way, I really like this idea of revisionist or alternative history being a story feature here.

 

  • We could cite any number of overt rehashes or homages to the original films, or what some are calling ‘fan service’, but one of my favorite moments of the whole film is the brief moment where Threepio interrupts Han’s reunion with Leia. It’s so nostalgic a moment, but in a properly good way. Sadly we didn’t get an “Out of the way, Goldenrod”; but just that one little moment of Threepio interruption is such a perfect encapsulation of Original Trilogy character dynamics. But what’s with the red arm?

 

  • It was really nice to see an older Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb. I’m really holding out for a return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, however. Somehow I doubt we’ll get that, but I’d love it if we do.

 

  • The fact that Rey had already had visions of Luke’s location suggests either that it was revealed to her through the Force or that Luke had previously implanted the knowledge in her mind on a subconscious level. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t mind the vagueness at this point. Luke’s location, we’re told, is the site of the first Jedi Temple; which is fascinating, but like so much in this film is never properly explained. The idea of Luke seeking the first Jedi Temple is interesting in itself, because it suggests he is trying to go back to the origins of the Jedi Order and the early secrets of the Force. This has fascinating possibilities, particularly given some of the theories about the mysterious Snoke character and whether or not he is some kind of ancient being who is also going back to the early origins of the Dark Side or the Sith. Why is Luke in the first Jedi Temple? What is he looking for? And to what extent is he being guided by the spirits of Kenobi, Yoda or even Qui-Gon Jinn? I know that Disney wish to distance their new franchise from the prequel mythology, but there’s fascinating potential here. The whole thing about Qui-Gon Jinn is that he was something of a pioneering figure in the understanding of the Force, being the first Jedi (or at least the first on-screen Jedi) to discover the ability to live on as a Force-Ghost and commune with the living. What else could he have discovered? And does that have anything to do with where Luke is now?

 

  • Which brings me to a really important point. What has happened to the Ghosts of Kenobi, Yoda and Anakin? At the end of ROTJ, Luke is still in contact with Obi-Wan, and the implication is that Yoda and even Anakin are available to him at that point too. Did they all disappear off into the great beyond after this point? Once Anakin was restored, did they disappear from Luke’s life? Or did they remain to give counsel? If so, surely when Luke began to train new young Jedi and try to rebuild the Jedi Order, their ghosts would’ve remained in contact with him to offer guidance? Or certainly once it all started to go wrong for Luke and he started to repeat the mistakes of Obi-Wan and co with Anakin, they would’ve come to him to advise? He surely would’ve sought them out at that point? Maybe all of this might be explored in the coming sequels, but I have a bad, niggling feeling that Disney will by-pass all of this and leave it unexplained and unexplored. However, the fact that we hear the voices of Yoda and Obi-Wan in Rey’s vision maybe hints that this part of the story is still waiting to be developed. Which opens up the possibility of a return for Ewan McGreggor, which frankly would be a wonderful thing. There has even been talk about Hayden Christensen returning. I’m totally up for all of that; the question is whether Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are willing to be that bold and that respectful towards the existing mythology.

 

  • I really like the scene of Kylo with the burnt mask of Vader, asking for guidance, asking to be shown the darkness again in order to avoid the temptation of the light. Again it’s clear that Kylo doesn’t understand the real Darth Vader at all and has simply idealised Vader in his mind. The line “Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started” really suggests a very skewed view of Vader/Anakin. It does raise the question, however, of what – if anything – Luke would’ve taught Kylo about Vader/Anakin and about that final confrontation in ROTJ. This gets very complicated in general, because there has always been a question of what anyone other than Luke really knows about how the Emperor was killed or even how Vader died. It’s just as questionable how much Luke really knows about how Anakin fell to the Dark Side in the prequels anyway; but the restoration of Anakin’s Force-Ghost at the end of ROTJ surely suggests Anakin has communed with Luke and told him a great deal. Again, I really wonder if these films are going to address any of this or just skim over it. Because the other question that arises is why Anakin’s ghost wouldn’t have somehow intervened to prevent his grandson Kylo/Ben from inheriting this skewed adoration of him. I know that Yoda tells Obi-Wan in ROTS that he has to undergo “training” in order to learn how to commune with the ghost of Qui-Gon, suggesting that this communion can only be achieved if the living person learns how to do it. But Luke communes with the ghost of Kenobi in the OT without any “training” at all. I’m confused.

 

  • The BB8/Artoo encounter is one of the sweeter moments in the film. Some fans are balking at the idea of Artoo being dormant or in “low power mode” ever since Luke disappeared, as if the droid is showing canine-like emotion. But in actual fact I think the point is that Luke programmed him to go into a dormant state until a certain time. And even if Artoo did go dormant as a quasi-emotional reaction, I’d actually be fine with that: this is Star Wars and we’re talking about Artoo-Deetoo and Luke Skywalker, who are every bit as connected as Han Solo and Chewbacca. I have to admit though at having gotten a lump in my throat with the BB8/Artoo encounter, partly because it feels like we’re seeing BB8 replace Artoo Deetoo as the new primary droid character of this franchise.

 

  • In a lot of ways, what’s disappointing about The Force Awakens is what we don’t get to see. It may not have been do-able for this story, but I so wanted a Luke/Han reunion, even just one scene. I was longing for that moment (“Together again, huh?”/”Wouldn’t miss it”/”How we doing?”/”Same as always”/”That bad, huh?”). Again, speaking as a writer, I would’ve kept Han around for the next film and – if necessary – killed him off then. We needed that Han/Luke moment. In the same vein, it’s a shame Leia never trained as a Jedi. She must be Force sensitive and I always assumed Luke would’ve taught her. If Leia had been written here as being a Jedi or at least – like Maz Kanata – Force sensitive, it could’ve changed the set-up quite significantly. Again, I guess it’s something Disney have decided not to pursue; but it’s a shame and feels like wasted potential.

 

  • I like that some of the mysticism and evocative nature of the Force is properly captured – albeit only briefly – in this film. Maz Kanata’s line “If you live long enough you see the same eyes in different people” plays into this too and makes me wonder who’s eyes she sees in Rey. Has she met Luke? Has she even met Anakin before? There is a theory gaining currency that Rey may in fact be the daughter of granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi and not a Skywalker at all: has Kanata been a friend of Obi-Wan’s from the past? So many possibilities.

 

  • “Rey… these are your first steps,” the voice of Obi-Wan tells Rey in her vision, nicely echoing Obi-Wan’s words to Luke in ANH; “you’ve taken your first steps into a new world”. Again though, this vision sequence raises so many questions. Is she perceiving a general vision, based on her own insights or on some kind of insight inherited from Luke? Or is the spirit or essence of Kenobi actually, directly speaking to her in that moment?

 

  • That brief image in Rey’s vision of Luke and Artoo is so reminiscent of Anakin and Artoo on Mustafar that I was convinced for months it was going to be a flashback somehow to Episode III. I accept now that it’s actually a vision of Luke and not Anakin, but it raises the question of what precisely it’s depicting. Also the brief flash of the Knights of Ren (and not Stimpy) in the rain, having slaughtered a whole bunch of Luke’s Jedi raises questions too. How many Jedi students did Luke have? Were they all wiped out? Who and where are the Knights of Ren? Is Rey the only Jedi or would-be-Jedi in the galaxy other than Luke? And, to go back to the matter I keep referring to, did Luke receive any guidance from the spirits of Yoda or Kenobi on how to establish his Jedi Academy and how to teach the students?

 

  • I still assume Rey is Luke’s daughter, which I’d be perfectly happy with. I don’t think she’s a Kenobi. But one of the more interesting suggestions I’ve come across elsewhere is the theory that Rey may be related to Palpatine. I’d be astonished if this proves to be the case, but I do like the idea that Palpatine had a child and that Rey could be the grandchild who has inherited Force sensitivities. The theory would go that Luke discovered her and decided to send her somewhere out of the way.

 

  • The line in the opening crawl about Leia having sent her pilot to ‘an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts’ had me excited at first, wondering who this ‘old ally’ was and whether it would prove to be someone interesting from established canon (or even from one of the existing films). In the end, what we get is Lor San Tekka, played by veteran actor Max Von Sydow (he was Jesus, you know), a vaguely interesting character if you do some background research; a member, apparently, of the ‘Church of the Force’, a group that worshipped the Force and believed in the Jedi and never accepted Palpatine’s false propaganda about the so-called Jedi plot to take over the Old Republic. Apparently, this character is very old and was around during the Clone Wars and the Rise of Palpatine and the New Order. I wish they’d made that more clear in the script, however, as this would’ve added more substance to this opening sequence in the film and to his death at the hands of the spoilt brat Kylo Ren. It’s also a bit of a shame to have an actor of such gravitas as Von Sydow involved in the film only for one scene; but something similar was the case with Terrence Stamp as Valorum in The Phantom Menace.

 

  • I know we should leave this alone, as this is Star Wars and not Star Trek; but the science of the Starkiller weapon is close to non-existent and falls apart the moment you start thinking about it. The weapon is a planet, which means it has to have an extremely limited range and capability. Once it’s destroyed planets in its own vicinty, surely it can’t threaten anywhere else in the galaxy? And if the weapon is draining energy from the sun, and presumably depleting that sun, doesn’t that doom every planet in the vicinity, including the Starkiller planet itself? And could you really have an ice planet this close to a sun anyway? Abrams got himself into a similar mess with the Star Trek reboot too. Best to just let it go.

 

  • The whole business of Disney throwing out the Expanded Universe is interesting. Most of my familiarity with Star Wars novels is limited to the early nineties, particularly Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. I was thinking in recent days whether I prefer the Zahn take on post-ROTJ or this film version we now have; and in truth, give or take a few key details, I probably prefer this film version. It’s curious to note, however, that Kylo Ren’s character arc shares similarities with Jacen Solo, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia who threatens the galaxy as a fallen Jedi. So although Disney has made a big point of discarding the EU, I tend to wonder if they’ve actually drawn from it in places.

 

  • A lot of the unexplained backstory is presumably going to be laid out in new-canon novels endorsed by Disney. I haven’t read any of it, but some of the story between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is apparently laid out in the recently published Aftermath novels (terrible reviews though). Jakku was apparently the location of a major battle between the Empire and the New Republic about a year after the Battle of Endor, which is why there are old imperial remains in the desert and a fallen Star Destroyer.

 

  • Where did Kylo get the Vader mask? Was it really sitting on Endor all those years? It’s more likely Luke took Vader’s remains with him from Endor after the end of ROTJ. That’s a story I really need to see told now, within the framework of the new ‘canon’. We’ve had post-ROTJ material before of course, but it is no longer counted by Disney as official.

 
 

starwars-tfa-reybb81
 

That more or less brings me towards the end of this (admittedly long) review.

And if you’ve found this overview a little conflicted or contradictory, well that’s because – as I wrote at the top of the page – I *am* conflicted and I left the cinema feeling conflicted and a little wary going forward with these new, non-Lucas Star Wars films.

As much as I loved much of it, in some ways, The Force Awakens feels like a very sad and disenchanting film, and in explaining why, I go full circle and back to my earliest point in this review: specifically the negative effect that these new films – beginning with The Force Awakens – may have on the existing saga.

The precise problem I anticipated three years ago is the very problem that I encounter with The Force Awakensspecifically that it begins the process of undercutting Return of the Jedi, and probably the Empire Strikes Back too. It begins to render the emotions and the vindications and victories of the original movies hollow. All of the joy and triumph of the Battle of Endor, of defeating the Empire, blowing up the Death Star and overthrowing the Emperor, is suddenly rendered almost meaningless. Thirty years later, there isn’t peace in the galaxy, just more war. A bigger, badder Death-Star type construct. More hardcore, Nazi-inspired Stormtroopers than even before, and more radical Imperial officers and leaders. Suddenly the joy of the Endor celebrations at the end of the original trilogy lose all poignancy and power.

The restoration of the ghost of Anakin and the spirits of Yoda and Kenobi was once so poignant a part of the ending; now they are nowhere to be seen. Luke’s brave and noble triumph against Palpatine and Vader? Now Luke is a failure and the Dark Side is back in a big way. Hell, Leia didn’t even become a Jedi. Worse, Han and Leia didn’t even stay together. Where are all the gains of the Rebel Alliance’s victory in ROTJ ? But not only are there no visible political or galactic gains, but even the personal ones are missing. Luke is nowhere to be found, Han has gone back to being a smuggler, Leia and Han are estranged, Lando Calrissian is nowhere in sight, even Artoo Deetoo – that ultimate plucky hero of the Star Wars universe – is a depressed little astromech.

Go back now and try watching ROTJ again and any satisfaction at Han and Leia finally getting together is now ruined by the knowledge that it’s pointless. Worse than pointless, their very union is paving the way for Han’s death in the future. Watch Luke’s defining moment in the saga, as he withstands the Emperor and redeems Vader, restoring Light to the Force – and then watch TFA and see it how little it mattered. Watch the sadness and angst of Han Solo being encased in carbonite on Bespin in ESB and now there’s a part of you that can’t help but thinking ‘just leave him in the carbonite; don’t bother rescuing him – he has a worse fate awaiting him’.

 
starwars_tfa_taknonadacapture
 

For all the whinging people did for years that the prequels supposedly ‘ruined’ the Original Trilogy (which they didn’t), it’s really these new films that are more positioned to do that. The prequels were only telling the backstory and filling in the missing links in the narrative (missing links that were always fully implied in the originals) – the sequels, on the other hand, can take the stories and victories of the OT and remake them in a new image, changing the narrative forever. No wonder Lucas was unhappy with what he saw. In fact, the prequel trilogy – especially Revenge of the Sith – did a great deal to impart even more power and poignancy to the OT and to the ending of ROTJ in particular. Yet with just one film, the new trilogy is already beginning to undo or compromise all of the existing films. Suddenly, what does it matter that the Emperor was defeated? And what does it matter that Anakin’s spirit was restored to the Light Side of the Force?

Suddenly the entire arc of tragedy and eventual redemption and triumph from ROTS to ROTJ starts to feel less meaningful; because, guess what, Luke fails, the next Republic fails, and Anakin’s grandson ends up simply repeating the same cycle. And we’re back to the Empire versus the Rebels (or ‘Resistance’).

In essence, none of this might matter to young kids or a new generation of Star Wars fans in-the-making, but to those who hold the existing saga dear already, it’s something of a middle-finger being held up to us by Disney. And again, the highly unfitting and underwhelming killing off of Han Solo seems to symbolise or encapsulate this sentiment most of all.

Now none of this makes The Force Awakens a bad film in itself, and I may be slightly overstating the case, and a lot of this might also be set right in subsequent films. But you have to bear in mind that the novelty of Episode VII is going to die very quickly, because Disney is planning to put out Star Wars films every year for the foreseeable future. Ten years from now there may well have been ten more films; and if just one film has already started to undo power of the older films, I can only imagine what things will look like a decade from now.

Which doesn’t mean this film wasn’t good or that the films to come aren’t going to be enjoyable in their own right or establish their own new mythology or fan-base; but what I’m talking about here is specifically the integrity and power of the existing Star Wars movies and mythology, which are quite possibly going to suffer. And that was always what I was worried about when Disney acquired the rights to Lucas’s creation. Disney doesn’t have the same personal, deep connection to the Star Wars mythology as Lucas does; for Disney this is a cash-cow, a vast corporate enterprise first and foremost.

And The Force Awakens is the first step in this new separation from the existing source and the expansion into a self-perpetuating Star Wars industry that will soon be entirely divorced from its original creator.

All of which is a big reason why I’ve struggled to find my true reaction to this new film and this broader new enterprise. Because I actually do like most of this film and find it genuinely entertaining, even endearing in places; but I’m also looking beyond this film and thinking about Star Wars in a broader sense, past, present and future – I can’t help but think in those terms, because I’ve been a major fan since I was six and have been deeply immersed in the Star Wars mythology for virtually my entire life. And most of the people, especially mainstream reviewers, heaping unquestioning praise on this film are generally just dealing with it like it’s this year’s big hyped blockbuster and not more importantly a significant part of a much larger equation called Star Wars.

We will have to see how it ages, and moreover how this trilogy develops further. I will certainly need more time, and may even do a re-evaluation once the DVD is out a few months from now. For the moment, I remain frustratingly in the middle of the road, both loving parts of this movie and disliking key parts of it too, and being both excited and engaged by the continuation of the Star Wars saga and – in true Yoda fashion – cautious and clouded about the future of Star Wars at the same time (and about how that future will impact its past).

At any rate, JJ Abrams and Disney have made an entertaining movie with a number of good or fun things in it. It’s flawed and problematic in parts, but certainly not the utter travesty that some people are saying it is (check You Tube – there are dozens of ‘The Force Awakens Sucks’ videos up already). The biggest plusses for me at this point are Daisy Ridley’s Rey and to a slightly lesser extent Kylo Ren; though I also remain fascinated to see what now happens with the galaxy’s greatest hero, Luke Skywalker.

We’ll have to wait two years for that. And it’ll be interesting to see between now and then if all the hype and praise for this movie is still there or if there will have been a backlash – modern cinema-goers and fans are a very fickle bunch. One of my most distinct memories in cinema is seeing The Phantom Menace and quite liking it but not being overly blown away by it, yet talking to people who thought it was amazing. And yet as time went on the same people who thought it was amazing suddenly decided it was terrible, and yet here I was still liking it about as much as I originally had. And I still like The Phantom Menace a fair bit. And I think I’ll still like The Force Awakens a year from now about as much as I like it already. But I’ll probably still have all the same problems with it too.

But as precious and protective as I am about Star Wars, I don’t set out to hate or dismiss new incarnations or directions and I am not one of those who revels in negativity or in tearing Star Wars apart. I wasn’t one of those people after The Phantom Menace and the prequels and I’m not one of those people now.

The Force Awakens is a lot of fun, and it has some genuinely wonderful stuff in it. I’m excited to see where all of this goes. Star Wars is alive and thriving. The saga continues. A new generation is coming to the table. Debate will rage on for months or even years. And meanwhile we’re still all standing on that cliff and waiting for Luke Skywalker to speak…

 
 

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Comments
  1. Norman Pilon says:

    You completely blow me away! Wish I had your brain and ease of writing. I haven’t seen ‘Episode VII,’ but even if I had, there is no way that I could even come close to making all the connections that you do, or if I even could, then to go on and make them as explicit as you do in anything I might attempt to write on the subject matter. Just fucking ‘wow!’

    My sons, twins, are big fans and have seen the movie. I’ve alerted one to your review, which he has promised he will read and then share his reaction with me. Actually, I just want to turn him on to your blog, that he and his brother may come here and be stimulated to think more deeply on a range of issues. I’m certain that they will find your thinking every bit as fascinating as I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Norman Pilon says:

      By the way, the website ‘Dandelion Salad’ recently alerted me to an issue that may make a difference in the exposure that a blog may receive. I don’t know that it would actually make a difference, but if you decide to look into it, let me know what you think.

      It pertains to ‘tags.’ Maybe you are already aware of this and most probably are, and you can just ignore this comment, but on the remote possibility that you aren’t acquainted with what ‘Dandelion’ assures me will make a difference in attracting more views and a broader public:

      see his series of comments and links directed at me here:

      https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/counter-intelligence/comment-page-1/#comment-234610

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Norman; you’re too kind. I really didn’t think my review was very coherent, but was kind of rambling and unfocused. But I’m glad you found it eligible.
      You should give this movie a watch, if you get the chance; definitely worth a go, though I don’t know how much of a Star Wars fan you are to begin with.
      I also appreciate very much you recommending the site to your sons, who sound like men of impeccable taste 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. roberthorvat says:

    There is a lot to take in here. It will require me to draw breathe and read it again. It is very emotional my friend. Overall I feel you will like it a little more in time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mlbradford says:

    Enjoyed th movie like everyone else, but…
    Have not gone back for a 2nd viewing (yet)
    Th more I think about it, th more Episode VII just seems TOO MUCH like a rerun of Episode IV
    Great visuals, but too many characters hardly get th screen time they deserve, let alone development.
    See what u make of this – arguably the movie’s best aspect:
    https://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/rey-of-light-whos-that-girl/
    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lostbeardie says:

    To the best of my knowledge, Rey is one of those elements that is from GL’s original treatment.

    It’s come out from Kathleen Kennedy, no less, since the original publicising of how all of his ideas were supposedly thrown out (which I think was marketing to get the prequel haters on board) that it’s not been so much thrown out as reordered.

    This makes me think, influenced by hope I admit, that this first new film is there to give the fans what they want and that the next two will delve more deeply into story the way GL planned it. The director of VIII is a big fan of the prequels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s fascinating, if true. There’s actually a petition being going around to get George back to direct the 9th film. It probably won’t accomplish anything, but it’s kind of nice to see anyway.

      Like

      • lostbeardie says:

        The ideal to me would be a Lucas/Spielberg collaboration for IX like they wanted for VI.

        GL is more a visionary than a director (which is not an insult) and from a pure craft perspective few can touch Spielberg. Add to that the way they ‘get’ one another, as best friends and collaborators, and something really magical would happen.

        Incidentally, a number of the Anthology films are also based on GL proposals so I would be almost as happy to see one of those as a Lucas/Spielberg project.

        Clone Wars showed how much world building GL is capable of even with what seems to be a side story.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a good thought; a Lucas/Spielberg collaboration would be great. I only discovered recently that Lucas had wanted Spielberg to direct Episode I and has also hoped Kasdan would write the screenplay. Lucas hated having to write the screenplay at all, and wanted to just write the story and then focus on producing.
        If the anthology films are based on GL ideas, I hope this is openly acknowledged by the new management and not done slyly.

        Like

  5. The kind of interplay we get with Rey and Finn is largely what was missing from the Prequel Trilogy and from The Phantom Menace in particular. Even being someone who knows all of these films like the back of my hand, I re-watched the prequels over Christmas and, although I love those films for lots of reasons, it’s always evident that the films are sorely lacking the fun and wit of the original character dynamics.

    I understand what you’re saying, but . . . do you really believe that such interplay was necessary for the Prequel Trilogy’s story? Was it really necessary, because such interplay was obvious in the Original Trilogy and this latest film? For the story that the Prequel Trilogy was telling, why would it have been necessary for “fun” to be included? By the way, there was some moments of “fun” in the 1999-2005 movies, but not on the same scale as the Original Trilogy or this new film.

    Like

    • No, personally, it doesn’t bother me. And it’s interesting that something like Lord of the Rings was also pretty devoid of wit or banter, but yet is regarded very highly by a lot of the same people who dismiss the Star Wars prequels.
      I definitely think it would’ve helped the prequels though to have a little more wit and banter. If I had to identify one thing I felt was missing, it would be that. We were used to the charm and humour of, in particular, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

      Like

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