Did you read the spoiler warning?
Because there are spoilers.
So just … y’know … be careful.
I’m going to talk about what I loved, and then I’ll talk about what I hated. If you want a plot description … that’s what Wikipedia is for.
The first half of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a perfect blend of new character introduction, old character reintroduction; nostalgia and freshly awakened wonder, to the point where one of the story’s massive weaknesses can be pretty well ignored.
And then we get Starkiller Base.
But I’ll get to that later.
Here’s what I loved:
Daisy Riddle as Rey, a Force-sensitive resident of the planet Jakku who ekes a living by scavaging parts off downed Imperial Star Destroyers and Rebel ships; John Boyega as Finn, a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience on his first mission, and becomes a hero after overcoming his fear; and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s top fighter pilot. They don’t exactly fill the same shoes as Han, Leia, and Luke in the original trilogy, but they come close.
Maz Kanata, on the surface, could be easy to dismiss as a second-class Yoda: they’re both long lived, both short, and both earth-toned; she’s not a Jedi, but she’s experienced in the Force. Oh, and she’s got a lightsaber — which she gives to Finn when Rey refuses it.
BB-8 steals the show. He’s like R2, but cuter, and far more emotive. I was prepared to hate him, but he’s like a cat housed in a robot, and I can’t get away from how awesome he is.
How is it possible for C-3PO to become even more annoying, and why does he insist on talking about his red arm. Also, since BB-8 is actually a droid with the Resistance, does he really need C-3PO to explain that R2-D2 has been on shut down for ten years or so?
Wait, wait, you’re asking — what is this First Order? Didn’t the Empire collapse? Yes, and there’s now a Republic, and a Senate, too. The First Order is the remains of what used to be the Empire, and from dialogue in the film, it seems they and the Republic aren’t at war, maybe a cold war? — Hux mentions that the Republic is secretly funding and supporting the Resistance, which supports this theory.
Now we get to the stuff I didn’t like. Look, after Star Trek Into Darkness, I can’t say I expect originality or thoughtfulness, necessarily, from JJ Abrams, but what the hell was Lawrence Kasdan doing?
The opening crawl of this film promises that we’ll be looking for Luke Skywalker, who vanished many years prior, the cause of his retreat we later learn to be the betrayal of his student, Ben Solo (Ben Organa?), the son of Han and Leia, who was turned to the Dark Side by the First Order’s Supreme Hologram Snoke. And for the first half of the film, we look for Luke, and on the way, our new heroes (Stormtrooper turned Rebel Finn, scavanger Rey, and hot shot pilot Poe Dameron) find each other, as well as Han and Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon (great introduction, and the only one that didn’t feel forced), General Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, and some old standbys like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb (who only appears in the background).
And then, again, we get to the Starkiller Base, which is basically a planet turned into a Death Star, because no one in the Empire or First Order can be bothered to study history and keep thinking super-weapons are a brilliant idea: no, really guys, just build more Star Destroyers. Somewhere there’s a financial guy screaming “ROI YOU NERF HERDERS!” And no one on the writing staff, apparently, could think of a convincing threat more severe than yet another spin on a Star Wars super-weapon — but isn’t the threat to Luke enough? If the First Order gets to him first, he’s dead, and the hope for the resurrection of the Jedi is gone forever — how is THAT not a much bigger threat than a new take on a Death Star?
The entire thing — the entire Starkiller — is a total distraction. What purpose this part of the plot served, I don’t know, and there was nothing in it that (well, except the Falcon jumping out of lightspeed into an atmosphere and crashing through a forest) couldn’t be transferred to the First Order’s Star Destroyer, and worked just as well. Big climactic space battle? Resistance X-Wings attacking a Star Destroyer instead of a planet.
Starkiller Base was only one thing.
The movie starts with Poe Dameron retrieving a fragment of a map from Max Von Sydow, an ally of the Resistance whose past is never really explained — it’s okay, though, he dies pretty quickly and the story forgets about the map about an hour later so who cares.
But the map makes no sense. We know from the previous films that the Old Republic (which the Empire replaced) existed for thousands of years. And before that? Probably space travel for thousands of years before the Republic became the galactic political force. So in thousands of years, are you telling me that a complete, charted map of the galaxy doesn’t exist, especially with how quickly the Falcon seems to hyperspace from location to location? So if you’ve got a map of the galaxy lying around, and you’ve got a fragment from Mr. Exorcist, wouldn’t it be simpler to take your fragment, plug in some astromechs, and have them just see where in their galactic maps the fragment appears to align with charted stars and planets?
I mean, seriously, such a huge deal is made about why they need “the rest of the map” by both sides that it’s like, “How exactly are you guys making sure your calculate your light-speed jumps so you don’t jump too close to a star, or into a supernova, eh?”
This leads to the third big thing that I disliked about the film. I’ll call it deus-ex-astromech. The film established that after Luke vanished, R2-D2 went into low-power mode. Well, after Starkiller base has been killed, for no apparent reason, R2 powers up and provides the rest of the galactic map which leads Rey and Chewie to find Luke within about two minutes.
Where’s Han? Oh, he’s dead. Killed by his bratty kid. And given how much you probably know Harrison Ford wanted Han to die in Empire, and then Jedi, you probably figured that JJ Abrams promising to kill the character was the only way Ford agreed to come back.
Finally … Captain Phasma, who we first meet when she lectures Finn on removing his helmet while on duty, and who then disappears pretty much entirely until near the end, where Finn, Han, and Chewie take her prisoner, get her to take down Starkiller Base’s shields, and then throw her down a trash chute; so much for the bad-ass Captain Phasma, this First Order loyalist doesn’t even attempt to resist, or die for the cause.
You may think I hated the film from this review. I didn’t. I liked it just fine. But I wanted to love it … and I just don’t. I remain ever optimistic about Episodes VIII and IX, as well as for Rogue One, which’ll be in theaters this time next year. And I look forward to seeing more of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in the next films … even with the knowledge that, like his smuggler friend, he might get killed off.