My Skepticism Awakens: Nick Johnson’s Take on Star Wars VII

   

2015-02-14 23.17.39
The author, pondering

   

      On a list of “Most Anticipated Movies of All Time,” The Force Awakens is definitely in the top three, right up there with 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the start of the infamous Prequel trilogy. Audiences experienced nervousness and anxiousness regarding the movie prior to release because of the relatively recent acquisition of the Star Wars franchise and brand by Disney. Fortunately, The Force Awakens has far surpassed expectations and is legitimately better as a stand-alone film than arguably two-thirds of the Prequel trilogy. However, hype and fandom aside, The Force Awakens is not by any means a perfect movie. It is enjoyable, entertaining, fast-paced, and even witty. To call it an instant classic and overwhelmingly praise the movie, in my opinion, would be going a little too far.

        The movie’s strength is its consistency with fight scenes and action. The film is consistently fast-paced and full of action. The opening scene is very intense and also reminiscent of the beginning of A New Hope, as Kylo Ren searches for a droid containing plans to find the exiled Luke Skywalker. Kylo Ren is immediately shown to be ruthless and intimidating, and is a foreboding threat for most of the movie. The escape scene from the First Order battleship, as well as the later fight scenes are also very fun. I enjoyed the chemistry and characterization of the newest protagonists. Rey, Poe, and Finn are all very good characters in their own right and bring charm to the story. Han Solo, Chewbacca, and General Leia are also welcome sights for old fans.The battle scenes, particularly the lightsaber scenes towards the end of the movie, the battles on Jakku, and the battle scene near Maz Kanata’s cantina, are thrilling. Minus the lack of a lengthy space battle, the entertainment value of the Force Awakens is very high and made it worth seeing multiple times.

        Still, there are definite problems in the Force Awakens that many people overlook because of the familiar characters, epic soundtrack, special effects, and the beauty of the Star Wars universe. My main critique is the last third of the movie. While very fast paced, the first two-thirds feels much more original and creative in set design, storyline, and characters. The last third is almost a complete copy of the end of a New Hope, with the Rebels (or Resistance) uniting together to destroy a giant, spherical weapon. Although Starkiller Base, as it is known, is bigger than the Death Star and harnesses the power of suns, to me and other fans it felt like a copout. Too much of the film feels like a remake more than a nod to the original. Even Jurassic World did not reference the original Jurassic Park as much as The Force Awakens referenced (and imitated) A New Hope.

        Another major problem I had was with the villains and antagonists. Although Kylo Ren is made to be very powerful and intimidating, after he exposes his identity to Rey, he loses a lot of his threatening aura. To me, he reminded me too much of the cringeworthy angst and laughable tantrums of the Anakin Skywalker of the prequel trilogy, especially with regards to makeup and appearance. No offense to Adam Driver, but he was much more threatening with the mask on. Without the mask, he looks more like an emo punk rocker than a rising Sith Apprentice. While the fight between him and Rey was entertaining, the fact Rey mysteriously gains so much strength and power over Kylo Ren was very abrupt and felt forced. Luke never had the skills prior to training with Yoda, and Kylo Ren was already an accomplished dark force user (even though he wasn’t fully trained). The suspense of disbelief required for the climax left a sour taste in my mouth. Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo was upsetting to me, because I felt that Han died out of character. Han is always finding a way out of trouble, yet he goes unarmed to try and talk to Kylo? When that scene started, it was obvious Han would die to me and other fans. Kylo Ren, while entertaining as a villain, could have been designed and developed further. The mask should’ve never been taken off.

        Another problem I had with the movie was how much was left unexplained. We don’t know how the First Order formed or where they got their army. We don’t know who Supreme Leader Snoke is or even know how powerful he is. We don’t know the backstories of any of the new characters nor what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han Solo after the original trilogy. This is where the fast-paced scenes actually hurt the movie: the film desperately needed more scenes of exposition. At least in New Hope, Obi Wan explains a decent amount about the universe and the Force. Too much was left unexplained. They easily could have had one or two additional scenes with Han providing exposition, especially considering how they left screen time for the completely unnecessary giant tentacle monsters. While understandably not everything should be explained, I know I’m not the only fan who can’t wait two year to hear more o the backstory. However, I’ll give the movie credit — the book version of The Force Awakens explains more of the exposition.

        Overall, I had a fun time with this movie, and it was a very enjoyable blockbuster. I liked it enough to see it two times in theater, and I liked it even more the second time. However, as a stand-alone film, it has many problems and is far from the perfect movie some fans and critics claim it is. Still, it was an excellent beginning to the sequel trilogy. I have high hopes for the next installments, and I sense the next two films will be even better than The Force Awakens. It’ll only be a matter of time before the journey to a galaxy far, far away begins again.

Four Out of Five Stars (B+/B grade).

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