Before fanboys and fangirls out there ignite their lightsabers, let me preface this article by saying I liked ‘The Force Awakens’ – a lot. It was a monumental task for J.J. Abrams and company to revive the feeling most of us felt for the ‘Star Wars’ franchise back in the late 1970s/early ’80s, and for the most part, this new film manages to recapture that magic. But the movie is not without some flaws – some of which may have been intentional by the filmmakers, but certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
SPOILER ALERT!: While I’ve done my best to avoid any MAJOR plot spoilers in the text that follows, it’s impossible to talk about some issues in this movie without going into the basic storyline and the characterizations we see in the film. Hopefully, those who have seen the movie will know what moments I’m referring to below, while those who haven’t seen it won’t feel too spoiled. However, for those of you who haven’t yet seen ‘The Force Awakens’, do yourself a favor and see the movie first before reading this piece. I won’t be offended!
Han Solo Returns
For all the talk from Harrison Ford about how he came back to ‘Star Wars’ because he liked what the script gave Han Solo to do, the character as portrayed here isn’t a whole lot deeper or more developed than we’ve seen him before.
That’s not to say that Harrison Ford doesn’t get plenty of screen time in this installment. In fact, from the moment he appears in the story (though it’s not until the second act), Han Solo is pretty much the lead character in ‘The Force Awakens’ and a big chunk of the film focuses on him. However, Ford seems to be around primarily as fan service. He has a lot of great one-liners (this might be a good time to mention that ‘The Force Awakens’ may be the funniest ‘Star Wars’ movie to date), but upon reflection, how necessary is his character to this story? Not a whole lot. He’s basically a guide for the new young characters – telling them things they need to know, taking them to see people they need to meet, and helping them get out of jams.
Of the big three from the original cast – with Ford taking up the most screen time and Mark Hamill the least – who would have guessed that Carrie Fisher would actually get the best moments in ‘The Force Awakens’? She only has a moderate number of scenes, but she’s the emotional core of the original trio, and the scenes she shares with Ford are his best in the movie.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Kylo Ren will be the most debated character of this new trilogy. Some die-hard fans will love him and some will despise him. Of course, a lot of that has to do with his actions in this film, but a lot of it also has to do with the way the character is written.
To say that Kylo is “Darth Vader-lite” is probably the best description of the character. He’s honed a number of abilities using the Dark Side of the force, but he’s much more like the Vader we saw in ‘Return of the Jedi’ in that he has an obvious internal struggle between the Light Side and the Dark.
But that’s not the the biggest problem with Ren. The biggest issue with the character is that his Force skills are all over the map, depending on what each scene calls for him to do. Early in the movie, he seems like an unstoppable force when he leads an attack on a Jakku village. However, later in the movie, when he has to square off against a pair of our main characters, he suddenly comes across as very poorly trained. In fact, there’s one character with seemingly no Force abilities at all (or at least with none we know about yet) who lasts several minutes up against Ren, when you’d think he wouldn’t last two seconds.
Although it’s perhaps no surprise to anyone going into the movie, the biggest spoiler I’ll reveal in this piece is that fact that Rey is Force-sensitive. In fact, she doesn’t just have Force abilities; she comes off as being stronger in the Force than any character we’ve seen to date in the ‘Star Wars’ universe.
We already know how strong Luke became in the Force, but when we first met him back in ‘A New Hope’, he struggled to learn how to use a lightsaber. It wasn’t until ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ that he was able to move objects with his mind, and not until ‘Return of the Jedi’ that he could do the ol’ Jedi Mind Trick. Yet in ‘The Force Awakens’, Rey is able to figure out how to do all of these things with no training at all! There’s not even another Jedi around to suggest how she might try to do what she does. She basically just figures it out on her own. Rey even has better lightsaber fighting skills that any other character in this movie, a point which I’m almost positive will be every fan’s biggest complaint about ‘The Force Awakens’.
All the Other New Characters
I really didn’t even think of this one until after I saw the movie and was able to reflect on it, but for all the hype about the new characters, isn’t it unusual how very little we learned about most of them?
The two new main characters already mentioned – Kylo and Rey – get a lot of screen time, but when all is said and done, they still leave the audience with a lot of questions. Kylo is easily the most developed of the new characters, while Rey is still somewhat of a mystery… and a character who still hasn’t been given a last name (which should lead to an additional two years of speculation, particularly given the movie’s final scene). Most of us knew that John Boyega’s Finn was a Stormtrooper-turned-good, but his character’s past and parentage remain fairly elusive as well. Poe Dameron is courageous and a great pilot, but I couldn’t tell you much about his character beyond that, despite some significant screen time.
As for some of the major secondary characters…? We learn virtually nothing about Captain Phasma, General Hux or even Supreme Leader Snoke in this movie. They seem like merely set-pieces to move the plot along or – in the case of Snoke – provide exposition to the audience. Then there’s Max von Sydow’s character, who comes and goes so quickly I’m not even sure we get his name.
I’m sure this won’t be lost on most who see the movie, but it’s amazing how similar to ‘A New Hope’ this new film is. The movie is entertaining, but it’s also very, very familiar. Once again, we get a droid who’s holding important information in his data banks. Once again, the bad guys send troops to a desert world to search for that droid. Once again, those same bad guys have built a huge battle station capable of destroying worlds. Once again, that battle station is holding a prisoner that our heroes need to fly in and rescue, and once again, the climax has the good guys leading an attack in the hope of blowing up said battle station.
Certainly, it can’t have been lost on the filmmakers how closely their movie resembled the original film, so this must have been intentional. The only question is why? Yes, the best ‘Star Wars’ movies (i.e., the original trilogy) have had pretty simplistic plots, but did we really need what is essentially a third Death Star film? I’m not even sure George Lucas – who has gotten his fair share of complaints about his storytelling – would have gone there had he written this film. Again, the movie is still quite entertaining, but it loses points for originality.
This might be my nitpickiest of nitpicks, but – with all due respect to one of cinema’s greatest composers – John Williams’ score for ‘The Force Awakens’ seems… well, rather lazy. Yes, many of the familiar themes are back – such as the main title score, the Han/Leia theme, and even Luke’s theme. However, when it comes to new material, nothing here impressed me or had me humming it as I left the theater.
The most notable of the new music is the new theme for Rey, but it’s not exactly catchy. It sounds like a mix of the Han/Leia and Luke themes, to be honest. Remember “Dual of the Fates”? Or the love theme for Anakin and Padme? Or that great music Williams came up with for the Anakin/Obi-Wan showdown in ‘Revenge of the Sith’? We get nothing even remotely close to that in ‘The Force Awakens’. In fact, I feel like this is Williams’ worst new score since ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, which also didn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table.
At the risk of repeating myself, I feel the need to say once again that I really liked the new ‘Star Wars’ movie and plan to see it at least several more times before it leaves theaters – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address some of the problems with the film, a few of which I’ve touched on above (and probably more that other fans will note in the days, weeks and months to come).
Feel free to share your own nitpicks (or tell me why I’m wrong!) in the Comments below. And may the Force be with you.
[Ed.: If you haven’t already, be sure to also vote in the poll at the end of our ‘Force Awakens’ theatrical review. -JZ]