Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This is part seven of my Star Wars episode review, if you missed the start and want to go back, you can go to The Phantom Menace, or if you missed last week’s you can go to The Return of the Jedi, or if you don’t care you can stay right here.
It’s been thirty years since Return of the Jedi, and guess what? The Jedi didn’t return, and everything is horrible.
We are not given an exact timeline, but Luke Skywalker ran out like a deadbeat dad going out for some smokes more than a decade ago, and as a result the galaxy now has some serious issues. I immediately have so many questions about the intervening years between the Battle of Endor and now, none of which will be answered in this film. We do not learn any more than a single line from Han Solo about what happened to Luke, and a fragment of a conversation between him and Leia later about what happened after Luke left. They apparently “Returned to the only thing they were good at.” Even assuming that Luke left 15 years earlier, that is still 20 years Han was with the Rebellion/New Republic. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.
The movie tells you almost nothing about anything that is going on. Ther is none of the galactic world-building I talked about in episode 4, making the film feel like it takes place in a single cramped corner of the galaxy at best, maybe even a single system from what the film shows us. There are several planets and locations, but unlike Tatooine to Yavin 4, it doesn’t feel like there is much movement in this film.
The ignorance starts from the very first scene. We are never told the name Max von Sydow’s character. Apparently, his name is Lor San Tekka, but you would only know that if you watched the credits. How hard would it have been to have Poe or Kylo acknowledge the character’s name? It’s not like you get to know every character’s name in any film, but this guy knows who Kylo really is, setting up the intrigue, it’s jarring to have a nameless character who is so important to the plot – after all, it’s his map that moves the whole film.
The blaster bolt force power is cool, and like the mind-reading power, it is new to the universe we’ve seen before. It quickly establishes Kylo as a powerful force user; however, even Yoda looked strained when exerting the force over long periods. That bolt is there for the whole conversation with Poe for no reason.
We are told that Finn doesn’t know his own name, and the film reinforced this by saying that he was trained from a baby. If that’s the case, since Finn is 23 in the film, and was trained by a pre-existing bureaucracy; the First Order was strong enough to be kidnapping babies with impunity at least 23 years ago, at least eight years before Luke left. The more I think about it, the more I want to watch the film in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, it isn’t at all clear to me how we got here.
Also while I’m on Finn’s upbringing, Ren and Hux have a conversation about not using clone troopers, and instead kidnapping children. How the hell is this going to create a better fighting force? Kidnapped children need to be trained and brainwashed, but there is no growth acceleration. Making the training of stolen kids twice as long for, at best, the same result. Clone troopers would be considerably better than this regime of baby stealing.
This is barely the beginning of my gripes with the lore in this film. When Finn and Poe are escaping Finn is saying they need to leave the system, not go to the planet. They are in a TIE fighter. It doesn’t have a hyperdrive. They have to go down to the planet. Later, when Rey is escaping on Starkiller Base, she is trying to steal from a hanger which is shown only to have TIE fighters. Have the First Order updated the design since the first film when we are told that TIE’s are short-range craft?
The First Order have a ship in orbit of Jakku, yet the Millennium Falcon just flies out into space after defeating the two TIE fighters with no consequences?
Why does Rey know stories about Han as a smuggler? She knows about him, yet she thinks Luke is a myth?
Why does the map that they recover have what appears to be star systems in it, then a series of jumps on the dotted line that are much smaller? For that matter, how is it they don’t have any other maps they can cross-reference elements in the map with when we see the full map at the end it is a huge chunk of the galaxy.
Why doesn’t Starkiller Base need to charge the first time it fires? It fires with the Sun at full illumination, which is used as a plot point later.
Why can everyone see the blast from Starkiller base to the New Republic? If Starkiller Base shoots across light-years, then it would take years for the blast to reach its target, and if they were already in the New Republic’s home system why would the First Order not destroy all of the planets in the system. For that matter, how can killing the people of five planets cripple the leadership of the New Republic? Did they not have any protocols for a catastrophic attack? Is there no navy ships with anyone of rank left on them? No military outposts on other planets with any people who can take command. I mean, it would be pretty devastating all of congress was destroyed, or all of parliament, and yet there are plans for who succeeds in that scenario.
Where did Maz get the lightsaber from? “A good question, for another time.” Is lazy writing.
How does Rey know that mind control is a thing? She never sees anyone use it, and it’s a different power than the mind-reading power that Kylo was using.
How does Rey know how to fight with a lightsaber? We’ve only seen her use a quarterstaff, and a bladed weapon is not at all similar.
How does Rey beat a trained duellist in a lightsaber duel? If Kylo was so wounded as to make a difference why was he able to so completely defeat Finn, who has some training the Z6 riot control baton (the weapon the trooper at Maz’s place has, who Finn battles with the lightsaber).
And, worst of all: Why doesn’t Leia hug Chewy at the end?
I think I got it all out. Oh wait. There is one more.
Why is everything in this story so damn convenient? Finn and Rey running from fire, que convenient Millennium Falcon. Need a pilot? It’s convenient that Rey is one. Need an Engineer? It’s convenient that Rey is one. Isn’t it convenient that Han and Chewy find the Millennium Falcon right at that moment? Isn’t it convenient that they happen to go to the one person in the universe who has Anakin’s lightsaber? Isn’t is convenient that R2D2 just happens to have the rest of the map?
In Star Wars the Force is guiding the character’s actions, and as a result, some story plot points can be accepted even when they seem unlikely. But everything? The characters in this film rarely make any choices of their own. On Starkiller Base when Finn jokes about using the force guide them, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking; ‘Well you pretty much haven’t done anything else in the film, so why stop now?’
This film asks so many questions and has so many unexplained occurrences that it feels like a series of scenes sewed together, rather than a consistent story. It definitely doesn’t feel like a continuation of the previous six films. Say what you will about the prequels, no one was complaining that they didn’t understand how the Empire formed at the end of them. I have no idea who Snoke is, how the First Order formed, how he was able to subvert Luke Skywalker and set the galaxy back on the path to darkness. It is a complete 180 from where the sixth movie ended and there is no justification for it at all. We are given some of the events, but not any reason as to how those events make sense in context.
Finn is the only character in the movie who has a plot arc. He is the only character who changes, everybody else just moves around places. Maybe you could argue that Han changes a little, he goes from thinking Ben is lost to thinking he is redeemable; but I wish that they rammed that home with some final words. Something like: “Your mother thinks there is still good in you. I thought you were lost, but I see the light beneath now. Snoke can never purge it all. I love you, son.” Then drop off that platform like a boss.
If Rey is the main character, what decisions does she make? In the first act, she stops BB-8 from being hassled but a junker, and decides not to sell him for food herself. But after that, she is reacting to a series of events that she has no say in. I can believe that she is a good engineer because she needs to know about mechanics to be a scavenger, it’s a stretch – a junk dealer isn’t necessarily a mechanic – but I’m willing to roll with it. But a pilot too? And a lightsaber duellist? At what point during the ordinary world part of the story would she have learned those skills? Maybe she could have, it would be possible that she met someone or had a mentor who showed her, but we aren’t told any of that. There is no reason for her to be so super powerful and great at everything she touches. The hero of the story is supposed to learn from failure; when did she fail?
This movie is a retelling of the original Star Wars, except without good characters or world-building. But it is only the first in a trilogy. The many questions yet to be answered could have satisfying answers, it could be possible to tell a good story with the background given in this film. It won’t happen because the next film utterly guts canon, but it could have.