Bedford’s Editor Note: This is pretty on-point, and will spoil “The Force Awakens” a lot if you haven’t seen it, and even a bit if you have. So thanks for that, Blake.
After years of staggering hype, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opened to nearly-unanimous positive reviews and the biggest opening of any film ever. Dozens of laudatory reviews are praising it as a worthy successor to the Original Trilogy.
This is not one of those laudatory reviews. To me, “Episode VII” was a thoroughly average film, far better than the prequels (as it was almost certain to be) but still wracked by a multitude of flaws.
I didn’t read any spoilers or supplementary materials before watching the film, so I knew nothing about it other than the major characters names. Since I also wanted my thoughts to be unmanipulated by outside input, I haven’t bothered looking up any explanations for various aspects of the film that bothered me.
I know from office-banter that everybody has already talked about the film being super-derivative (Cantina knock-off, Death Star BUT BIGGER, etc.), so I won’t talk about that, and besides, that wasn’t a problem I had with the movie. Instead, here are all the other reasons the movie was, in my view, very average.
1. There was a lot of chatter about how the new heroes would succeed the original stars of the first trilogy. Well, it turns out Abrams made it really simple for us, because Rey is all three major characters from the first trilogy. She’s the idealistic dreamer with hidden Force potential. She’s the streetwise pilot who has a lot of skills and knows how to get out of a jam. And she’s the damsel who’s a lot tougher than she looks at first. I think the filmmakers wanted to make sure they had a “strong female character” in the lead, which is fine, but what we got was a total Mary Sue.
This is annoying because it removes a lot of tension and interest from the movie. Rey almost never needs help to do anything. She’s a self-sufficient scavenger (no uncle or aunt here!), she defeats the aliens targeting the droid by herself, she does all the work escaping in the Falcon, fixes the Millennium Falcon for Solo, saves Finn from the monster thing, escapes from prison on her own, and beats Kylo Ren in a fight by herself with no training whatsoever. She’s basically a force of nature who just kicks ass the whole movie, and has no real flaws. She even appears to just naturally know Force powers like the Jedi mind trick, even though as far as I could tell nobody taught her anything.
Sure, Luke was good at a lot of stuff too, but he wasn’t amazing at everything, and he had some flaws, like being whiny and impatient. If Rey has any flaw at all, it’s only an unwillingness to embrace how awesome she is and use it to save the galaxy.
2. On a related note, Rey kicking so much ass the whole movie makes me really wonder what her long-term arc is going to be. At the end of “A New Hope” (ANH), Luke had only just begun to comprehend the Force (the dude didn’t even use a lightsaber in combat), so he had a lot of room to grow. But Rey is already awesome at everything and in tune with the Force. Somehow. Even though nobody gave her any training.
Where the heck does she go from here besides getting trained a bit and coming back with even more ass-kicking abilities? I guess they’ve foreshadowed some family drama of some kind in future movies, but family drama isn’t the same thing as a true character arc.
3. Finn at least has room to grow in the next film, and he’s definitely the character I liked most. In fact, he’s so much more likable that I hope he hijacks the main character spot from Rey simply by virtue of not being so bloody Mary Sue-ish.
That said, his initial set-up has some issues.
So he’s supposedly conditioned from childhood to be an unthinking death soldier, but this just fails because he got some blood on him, and then was ordered to murder people? OK, I guess that’s as good a reason as any, but it seems really forced and there’s not really any reason given for why he’s so dramatically different from any other stormtrooper.
This could have easily been avoided: maybe change their background so he’s a regular recruit who didn’t realize exactly what being a First Order soldier entails, or maybe explain how his conditioning was defective, or something. But instead, he sees blood and just instantly snaps. Honestly, this just makes the First Order sound really bad at their supposed super-conditioning.
Also I get that we have to tolerate a suspension of disbelief and movie action heroes always have a high body count, but it seems really sociopathic of Finn to so-easily start gunning down all his own comrades, when he knows they were also taken as children and brainwashed.
Maybe his conditioning to be a killing-machine wasn’t so flawed after all.
4. They build up the relationship between Han and Rey as this really strong, important thing. I think Kylo even says something about Rey viewing him as a father figure.
Uh, based on what? Her hacking the Falcon to make it better? How many scenes did they have together? They’re going for a Luke/Obi-Wan analogy but it just doesn’t work for a variety of reasons.
In ANH, Luke already knew Obi-Wan a bit; he didn’t meet him in the middle of the movie. Also, in ANH Luke spends a substantial amount of time with Obi-Wan. He saves his life from the Sand People, teaches him about the Force and his father on Tatooine, he teaches him more about the Force on the Falcon, etc. There’s a feeling of time and of growth as Luke learns from Obi-Wan.
In TFA they’re barely on the Falcon at all before landing at the cantina knock-off planet. We don’t really have any scenes of Han explaining what little he knows about the Force (he just says it’s real), or talking about the adventures he had with Luke, or whatever. This is a shame because they easily could have had scenes like that, and it also would have helped mitigate Rey’s Mary Sue issues. Maybe Han could talk about his old adventures with Luke and mention him bamboozling bad guys with his mind trick, thereby setting up Rey’s use of that power.
5. Kylo Ren was a piss-weak whiny loser. I guess they’re setting him up as a confused, vulnerable young guy who can be redeemed, possibly even by the end of the next movie, but I’m not even sure we want him to be redeemed. What would he add by being on the good side? He’s more or less a whiny angst-ridden goof, and the fact he’s basically a Vader cosplayer only makes it worse.
Obviously, we don’t want a pure Vader clone, but because Ren is so weak it really weakens the tension of the film. He’s a borderline incompetent villain who is always screwing up and actually gets his ass kicked by some 15-year-old girl at the end. I guess all his screw-ups sort of set him up to murder Han as a means of proving himself, but it also doesn’t seem to change him much– he’s still a weakling after killing Han.
Also, what’s the deal with Kylo’s Darth Vader obsession? He knows he went back to the Light Side in the end, right? Wouldn’t Vader’s ultimate “failure” really demean him in Kylo’s eyes? Instead, we’re told he worries he’s not as strong as Vader was.
6. Speaking of Kylo being a weak loser, what the heck is up with him trying to seduce Rey to the Dark Side in the final fight? She’s mostly winning that fight, he briefly has the advantage and says something like “You need a teacher; come with me,” and apparently she briefly considers it, for some reason. Why?
Why would she feel any temptation to team up with Kylo? She hasn’t learned much about the Light OR Dark Side of the Force, and she doesn’t have a family connection or some latent anger issue that would make the Dark Side appealing. It’s just thrown in there to create a contrived moral dilemma. And in the end, it’s all proven to be a laughably silly offer because Rey essentially goes “LOL no” and then kicks Kylo’s ass. At least when Luke said no to the Dark Side there were consequences.
7. Supreme Leader Snoke (or whatever his name was; I’ve already forgotten) was also a very weak presence; the film would probably have been better were he absent entirely. Supposedly, this guy seduced Kylo to abandon his family, betray the Jedi, and kill loads of people, so what’s his appeal? He’s not menacing. He looks like freaking Gollum. He doesn’t come across as a mastermind way ahead of the curve (the way the Emperor was in VI). And since Ren is such a loser, Snoke is hurt in turn because it’s not clear why he’d have such a loser be one of his chief apprentices. Episode VII needed a really strong villain to make up for Kylo’s various problems, but it didn’t have one.
8. What’s the deal with the Republic/Resistance? I can sort of get where the First Order might be coming from (again, I didn’t read any books or outside materials): maybe the death of Palpatine forced a reevaluation of the Empire and it was reformed into a much more fascist-style operation that we saw in the film.
But for the good guys, it’s just baffling. Apparently the Republic is somehow sponsoring the Resistance, or something. Are the Republic and First Order separate countries, while the Resistance is a rebellion inside the First Order? Or is the Resistance a military wing of the Republic, which is still a mere rebel movement 30 years later?
But that doesn’t make perfect sense, because apparently the First Order can decapitate the Republic’s government by blowing up a few planets with their sun-gun, so it isn’t a hidden rebel force. Basically, the core problem is this: At the end of ROTJ, we see the Rebellion triumphing over the Empire, yet in TFA they seem to be back at square one except the Empire now has a different name. What the heck happened? It’s never explained, at all (again, unless you read some stupid book, which I won’t).
Although, thinking about it some more, around midway through the movie there’s a line about the Republic tolerating disorder and crime and the like. So, is the First Order rebelling against a weak Republic government then? If that’s the case, when why is the Resistance the resistance and not, well, the Republic? This stuff isn’t clear at all. I suppose they wanted to avoid the cancer of the prequels, where George Lucas overexplained everything, but now they’ve overcorrected, creating a complicated situation and then explaining nothing.
9. The final battle is really weak. Much like ANH, they create tension by having pressure on the Resistance to blow up the sun-gun before it vaporizes their base on [planet I already forgot the name of]. But ANH held this together extremely well because they had a clear target (drop one torpedo down the exhaust port) and everything revolved around going for that target, with the Rebellion failing repeatedly and the situation climaxing with a final clash between the heroes and Darth Vader.
But in TFA, everything goes pretty easily for the heroes. The Falcon lands, they quickly shut the shields down by capturing that chick stormtrooper … speaking of which, what the heck was her role in the movie? Did she do anything besides talk in a few scenes and then get captured easily? I thought she’d pull a stunt like pretending to shut down the shields but instead triggering a secret alarm and trapping the heroes or something, but nope. She just shut ’em down and got tossed in a trash chute, I guess.
Anyway, they shut down the shields really easily, the rebels fighters show up, they run into problems and take a lot of losses, but then… they’re just OK again. Nothing happens to make them suddenly not losing. Except, unfortunately, their bombs aren’t strong enough to damage the target, so they need the heroes on the ground to bail them out, and fortunately, they do really easily, setting up all the charges without running into any problems at all! And then they blow them up, and Po easily swoops in and blows the whole thing up, and there goes the superweapon. It’s just outrageously anti-climactic for taking on such a huge, threatening superweapon.
Also, it felt pretty lame that the Resistance could only field X-Wings. Even in ANH the Rebels had two ship types, and in “Return of the Jedi” they had four. Obviously super-nerds will be sad because the Y-Wing is explicitly a bomber, which probably would have been helpful for the mission they had in this one.
10. The movie suggests the First Order was able to rise in part because Luke fled after the murder of his trainees. This seems to demean Luke’s character a lot, implying he had a breakdown and allowed trillions of people to die as a result. So why do they need him, again?
11. I wish they still had the old blaster sound effect.
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