Well, here we are with what is probably the most inevitable review I have ever written. Believe it or not, I have actually been putting this review off. Due to the sheer amount of topics to discuss regarding this film, I thought maybe a free-form analysis similar to my RWBY reviews would be the better format. I was insecure in a sense, worried that I would miss something, or not get my points across correctly. However, when it comes down to my true nature as a creative, I am a writer. I have always been a writer, and I always will be a writer. Therefore, I thought it would be a betrayal to talk about the newest installment in my favorite movie franchise in any other format but a written piece. However, this will not simply be a straight-forward technical film review. It will lean more towards an analytical essay, discussing broader concepts more than technicalities. WARNING: this discussion will inevitably have some spoilers. However, if you haven’t already seen the film, you probably don’t plan on doing so. This will probably be the longest piece I have ever written for this blog, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I will writing it.
I feel as if a basic understanding of my personal connection to the Star Wars universe is essential context for this essay. Therefore, I will try to briefly explain it. I was first introduced to the Star Wars franchise when I was five years old. My dad sat me down, and showed me A New Hope. Little did my naive mind know that this movie would shape the course of my life. Despite my inability to pronounce character names, I became obsessed with Star Wars. I would eagerly consume any piece of Star Wars media I could find at my local library. Quickly seeing all five films that were out at the time, I began to delve into expanded universe material via books, video games, and comics. The first Star Wars film I was able to see in theaters was Revenge of the Sith. My dad and I saw it opening night, and, despite its flaws, I loved it. Star Wars was the franchise that got me into geek culture and media consumption in general. Most importantly, Star Wars was one of the driving forces made me want to become a fiction writer. I was entranced by the universe that Lucas had constructed, as well as the unforgettable characters he developed. I knew I wanted to be able to have that same power. With countless short stories and two novels complete, there are clear Lucas influences in most of my work. Star Wars has become part of my identity, and will be part of my identity for the rest of my life.
When I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens back in November of 2014, I got chills. The trailer was expertly crafted, revealing almost nothing about the plot of the movie, while still capturing the spirit of the original trilogy that the prequels failed to uphold. Star Wars: The Force Awakens became my most anticipated movie of all time.
Finally, over a year later, the day finally arrived. My friends and I had a marathon of almost the entire Star Wars saga in anticipation of the movie. Starting at 11 A.M, and wrapping up around 9 P.M, here is the order we watched the films in:
. Episode IV: A New Hope
. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
. The Clone Wars (2003 Miniseries)
. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
We chose to watch Return of the Jedi last on some-part in order for the prequel media to have more emotional wait. However, the true intention of this decision was so that the story would easily flow into the night’s main feature. It was during the credits of Return of the Jedi that it hit me, we were seeing a new Star Wars movie.
It was 11:59 P.M. Surrounded by a packed theater of people just like us, I didn’t realize I was living a moment that I would remember for the rest of my life. After an agonizing 20 minutes of previews, the familiar neon blue text appeared: A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away. As the blast of the familiar fanfare rattled my eardrums, a few tears began to drip from my eyes. I was watching a new Star Wars movie.
In order to avoid critical bias, I thought I would discuss my problems with the film before delving into praise. The use of Starkiller Base as a plot element was pointless, extremely contrived, and terribly repetitive. In the original Star Wars, the rebels had to destroy the Death Star. In Return of the Jedi, the rebels had to destroy the second Death Star. In The Force Awakens, the “resistance” had to destroy the “Starkiller Base”. Starkiller Base was literally a larger Death Star. It was something for the resistance to blow up while the real plot was going on.
Secondly, while I admired the majority use of practical effects for characters, I detested the minimal CG that they did use. Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke, while extremely intriguing and captivating characters, could have both easily been practically made. Instead, they used inexcusably poor CG to portray them. They took two characters that could have been some of the most complex in the Star Wars universe, and made them nearly unbearable to watch. I really hope some Maz Kanata expanded literature is released, for I would love to learn more about her without having to look at her. For Snoke’s case, I understand that he was a hologram in this film. However, that is no excuse to craft him using nauseatingly low quality CG. The original trilogy, which was produced in the 70s and 80s, used holograms of Emperor Palpatine that were far superior to what we got in this film. I can’t wait to see Snoke in person in either the next film, or Episode 9, so I could see what he actually looks like, not gargled down in CG slop.
Finally, the political situation of the galaxy could have been better explained. So there is a New Republic ruling, but there’s still remnants of the Empire called the First Order? The rebels won, but there are still rebels called the resistance? I have come to understand the political state of the Star Wars universe in a manner that explains this, but that was after research and analysis that I conducted in my own time. Here is what I believe is going on:
After the Battle of Endor, in which Darth Vader returned to the light side of the force, and defeated Emperor Palpatine, the Empire was greatly weakened. A few battles between the rebellion and the Empire ensued following the events of Endor, but the rebellion crushed the now collapsing Empire nearly every time. After the Battle of Jakku, which we see the ruins of in The Force Awakens, the Empire was simply too weak to function, and collapsed. In order to fill the power void left by the collapse of the Empire, Leia, with the help of other rebellion leaders, constructed the New Republic. However, a group of imperial sympathizers (similar to loyalists in the American Revolution) traveled to the outer rim of the galaxy, where they began forming a revolutionary group called the First Order. The goal of the First Order is to restore the power of the Empire, and return the galaxy to the way it was under Palpatine’s rule. In order to gain a loyal military force without the use of cloning, the First Order kidnaped newborn children from outer rim planets, conditioning them to become a new generation of Storm Troopers. During the construction of the First Order, they discovered a group known as the Knights of Ren. The Knights of Ren were a bastardization of the Sith Order, being trained by Supreme Leader Snoke, who is supposedly an ancient sith lord of some kind. Knowing that the Empire was a construct of the Sith Order, the First Order allied with the Knights of Ren. This would make Supreme Leader Snoke the new emperor if the First Order was to complete its mission. Seeing the threat that the first order was, Leia formed a militia of sorts called the resistance. In a similar method as to how ISIS operates in the Middle East, the resistance works as a state sponsored “terrorist” group. While the resistance isn’t affiliated with the New Republic on a technical level, it is being funded by them in an underground manner. There, I hope I explained the political situation of the galaxy far far away post Return of the Jedi. I shouldn’t have had to do this myself, the film should have explained this to us.
Now that I have discussed my problems with this movie, as well as constructed a political narrative for the post Return of Jedi era, I believe it is time to talk about The Force Awakens on a positive level. Although I am not sure enough to make a sound conclusion, as I have only seen the film twice, I think The Force Awakens might be my favorite Star Wars movie. Now here comes the hard part, explaining why. I thought I’d take this analysis piece by piece, as Star Wars is truly a puzzle of individual elements that work together to create a masterpiece of fiction.
The characters, in my opinion, are the strongest element of The Force Awakens. In a movie that has the return of Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker (though minimally for Luke), some of the most iconic fictional characters of all time, I found myself being drawn to the new characters over the comebacks. Any movie that can construct characters that successfully is already a masterpiece by some standards.
Poe Dameron, although somewhat of a minor character in this film (he will obviously be more important in the next two installments), was a fantastic character nonetheless. All of his dialogue was genuine, hilarious, and overall a joy to listen to. Despite only having about ten minutes of screen time total, I felt like we could be friends if he weren’t fictional.
Kylo Ren, was an outstanding villain by every sense of the word. Many people will simply take him at face value, casting him off as another emo Sasuke Uchiha like character (there, I made my obligatory Naruto reference). However, if you look past the exterior, and begin to truly think about his character, you will see how wrong this statement is. In my opinion, Kylo Ren is a much better villain than Darth Vader was at this point in their respective trilogies. In one movie, we understand Kylo Ren. We learn about his past, his deep internal struggle, and even his mental illness simply through facial expressions, behaviors, and minimal dialogue. What did we know about Darth Vader by the end of A New Hope? He was an asshole guy that killed Luke’s dad, and had some sort of past with Obi-Wan Kenobi. What do we know about Kylo Ren by the end of The Force Awakens? He is a deeply troubled young man who started off as a Jedi under the training of Luke Skywalker, and slowly was seduced by the dark side of the force. It was probably his deep-rooted mental illness, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke preying on this illness, that began this spiral into evil. Throughout the entire movie, it is clear that he is not confident in his decision to become a Sith, but completely torn. This is even evident after he committed his most sinister act, the murder of his father, Han Solo. Kylo Ren is a masterfully developed character that blows early Darth Vader out of the water. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying Kylo Ren is a better villain than Darth Vader. All I am saying is that this early on in the trilogy, he already has almost as much development as Anakin Skywalker got over the course of two full trilogies and two TV shows. Adam Driver’s performance is truly Oscar worthy, and one I will not soon be forgetting.
Finn was an extremely pleasant surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I at no point thought he wasn’t going to be a good character. In fact, I thought he was going to be our new awesome protagonist. However, what we got was an outstanding sidekick character with amazingly written lines, and somewhat rushed, yet satisfactory character development. Wait, did I just say the poster child for the entire Force Awakens media campaign was not the main character? That’s right; the true protagonist of The Force Awakens was none other than Rey.
From a single film, Rey has surpassed both Boba Fett and Galen Marek as my favorite Star Wars character. In fact, she has become one of my overall favorite fictional characters of all time. Daisy Ridley gives one of the best performances I have seen in my entire life. Rey is an enthralling character by every sense of the word. You are captivated by her narrative from the second her dirt crusted mining goggles appear on screen. She stole every scene she was in, and overall, stole the movie for me. She managed to dominate my train of thought for days after I walked out of the theater. I don’t think I have been so attached with and invested in a fictional character since I watched Gurren Lagann, my favorite fictional story of all time.
When people claim Rey to be a Mary Sue character, I get extremely angry. Have they seen any other Star Wars films? The force is a mystical presence that flows through every living thing in the entire universe. It controls fate, destiny, and provides those sensitive to it with special powers. Other than in the monstrosity that was The Phantom Menace, the force is left open to be exactly what it should be, mystical. No one truly knows how the force works. However, what we do know is that the force presents the galaxy with “chosen-ones”. We saw Anakin Skywalker, a young slave from the outskirts of the galaxy, become one of the most powerful force-sensitives in all of history. Anakin Skywalker was the chosen one, the one who would bring balance to the force. Rey is clearly a chosen one, being perhaps the most force-sensitive person we have seen in the films themselves (obviously the decanonized expanded universe has stronger force-sensitives). Rey figured out how to use the force all on her own, because of how sensitive she was to it. This is not a flaw found in bad writing. In fact, this is not a flaw at all. This is a decision made by a mystical presence beyond our understanding, one that can choose to make certain people this powerful. With the guidance of Luke Skywalker, as well as potential advice from the force ghosts of Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, Rey has the potential to become not only the most powerful Jedi in history, but maybe even the most powerful force-sensitive. I have some theories as to why else she may be as powerful as she is, but those will come in a later post. After reading this paragraph again, do you really think she is a Mary Sue character?
This movie was, without a doubt, one of the most emotional film experiences I have ever had. I cried three times during my first viewing, which is amazing, as a film is lucky if it even gets me to shed a tear once.
The first tears fled my eyes as the opening crawl came on. Seeing the signature yellow exposition dump, accompanied by the iconic John Williams fanfare brought my right back to being a kid again. I was transported back in time to the white leather couch, my Dad and I sitting in front of the small CRT. I had the same awe and child-like wonder I had reading the text and hearing that music for the first time. Although these were only a couple of nostalgic drops, they were tears nonetheless.
The floodgates truly opened when Han Solo, one of the most iconic characters of my childhood, was murdered by his own son, Kylo Ren. This scene was one of the most emotional scenes in film history. Everything from the flawless acting, symbolic cinematography, and masterful score made this scene the technical best in the movie. This may even be the technical best scene in the entire Star Wars saga. I was engaged in gross sobbing at this point in the film, and I was not alone.
Finally, a few tears fled my eyes during the final scene of the film. Rey, after everything that has happened to her over the course of the movie, finally finds Luke Skywalker. She reaches out and offers him his lightsaber, with a look in her eyes that screams a blend of fear, insecurity, and awe all in one. Luke then lowers his cloak, revealing a much older, and lived character than the protagonist of Return of the Jedi. The look in his eyes screams intense melancholy, as he probably has flashbacks from A New Hope, all the way through Kylo Ren’s betrayal. He looked into Rey’s eyes, and most likely saw himself. He saw the one who could bring balance to the force, and the one who could allow him to redeem the mistakes he made in the past. As they stare into each other’s eyes, the Binary Sunset theme blares over the shot, truly identifying this moment as one of the most important moments in all of Star Wars history. Its importance did not diminish its emotional power, leaving me with one of the most impactful cliffhangers in fiction history.
With the emotional and nostalgic bias of the first viewing gone, I was worried I wouldn’t like the film as much when I went to see it for a second time. I thought that the flaws would become more prevalent, and potentially change my opinion of the movie. However, I was shocked with the experience I got. I appreciated The Force Awakens even more with the second viewing than the first. The flaws didn’t ruin my opinion of the movie. In fact, the opposite occurred. I realized that the positive elements of this film were so strong, that they overshadowed the flaws to the point of them not even mattering. This move was a 10/10 for me, and nothing was going to change that.
I feel as if some fans wanted to hate The Force Awakens. They pulled a reverse Phantom Menace, where, despite realizing the film was a masterpiece, convinced themselves, as well as others, that it was terrible. With headlines and video titles like The Force Awakens Worse than the Prequels, and The Force Awakens is the worst Star Wars film, I have to ask myself, did they watch the same movie that I did? The sad truth is that they did, and that their closed-off minds wouldn’t allow them to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy it. I feel sorry for those people, as they missed out on what could have been one of the best experiences of their lives.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that I feel will stick with me forever. It nestled its way into my list of those seven or eight films that have impacted me so profoundly, that they changed my life. Those are the movies that I relate to on such a personal level, that I constantly think about them. Despite its flaws, The Force Awakens is a masterpiece of fiction that will go down in history as such.
It is clear that The Force Awakens is going to be one of the most analyzed and theorized fictional works of all time. However, rather than delving into my fan theories here, I plan on writing a separate essay devoted entirely to speculation for the rest of the trilogy. Therefore, I do not want to go into any more depth regarding Luke, Rey, or Snoke in any fashion.