Spoiler Alert: There are a few spoilers in this review. Don’t read if you plan to see the movie.
After a great deal of anticipation and a weekend of watching out for spoilers on the Internet, I had my chance to watch “The Force Awakens” last night. And it was an enjoyable movie, true to the original series in many ways, full of both nostalgia and interesting new characters.
It wasn’t great. And at the risk of inviting bodily injury from many friends and scifi peers — the original trilogy wasn’t great either. It was ahead of its time … trendsetting. The sheer simplicity of the story made it accessible to a wide audience, putting a scifi flick in the mainstream.
Now, 35 years later, I honestly had different expectations. I wanted more depth of character. I wanted the battle between good and evil to mean more, especially in the wake of the final moments of “Return of the Jedi” where Anakin Skywalker rejects the dark side. IMO, that moment is what turned an okay adventure story into a memorable one. But the prequel movies failed to demonstrate how Anakin turned to the dark side in the first place. There was backlash there, enough so that I hoped we’d deal more with light vs. dark in this new movie.
And at first I was hopeful. A storm trooper — Finn — refuses to obey an order to kill innocent civilians and abandons the First Order. What made him turn against his upbringing?
No really, what made him turn against his upbringing? I’m still waiting to find out.
But nowhere was the shallowness of the dark vs light conflict more apparent than with Kylo Ren, wannabe Darth Vader. And in this, too, the problem may be lack of understanding. He’s got a history that was only hinted at in this movie, but a history I needed to know in order to understand his desire to do evil and especially the confrontation with his father.
Luke Skywalker worked very well as a hero because at the beginning of the trilogy he was no one going nowhere. He didn’t have a history. The show became his history. Han and Leia were archetypes more than characters.
But in this new film, I just felt like I was missing things. It wasn’t even immediately clear who the main hero was supposed to be. The cocky pilot, Poe, didn’t end up playing much of a role after his intense intro. And Poe was meeting some old man who for some reason had information on the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Who’s the old man and why does he know anything?
There were a number of plot problems like that. The biggest one, IMHO, was R2D2 being in low power mode and suddenly waking up at the key moment for no apparent reason other than the plot said it was time. This movie relied too heavily on coincidence. Han Solo stumbling across the Millennium Falcon is another example. (Though they tried to hand wave that one away.)
The best and worst part of the movie was Rey. I liked her. And I was glad to see a woman in such a strong, central role. In fact, I generally liked that more women were involved in this new movie. And Rey is smart and tough, the way a good Jedi should be. But in a confrontation at the end of the movie with Kylo Ren, she somehow managed to come out on top despite the fact that she had no training in the force whatsoever. It was an unbelievable scene. (I mean that literally.)
I did like the nostalgia. I liked BB8. I’m curious to learn more about Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. I’ll watch the next movie.
But I’m not going to pretend to be blind to its faults. “The Force Awakens” was okay. And ultimately, that’s all it was.