It’s been a year since I bothered going to see a movie in a theater but I kept hearing good things about The Force Awakens. Yesterday, I finally managed to see it and I’m glad I kept trying. The Force awakens was a fun movie and a solid story, or rather a solid beginning as this is very much the first part of a longer tale. But I expected that going in—this is Star Wars, after all. Trilogies are kind of their thing.
1—Worlds of Wonder
This movie is beautiful. There is such a sense of space and grandness in the scenery. Of the vastness of the wrecked starship and the greater vastness of the desert. Of the lushness of Takodana, and Rey’s awe of this green and wondrous planet, so different from her own barren homeworld. Even the corridors and bays of the ships are beautiful, in their way. Hell, even the Rathtars Han is transporting—balls of teeth and tentacles and death—are beautiful in a grotesque, hand-down-the-sink-disposal way. …don’t ask me how that’s beautiful, it just is.
Star Wars has always had a way of transporting the viewer to another world, immersing them in it. It’s because it’s creators take the effort to make the worlds real, to give them deep thought and breathe life into them. And because they use their special effects right—which is say, I didn’t notice them. I wasn’t thinking “what a cool effect”, I was just thinking “that is so awesome”.
…Ok, so when I first saw Supreme Leader Snoke, my first thought was “did they pour acid on Gollum’s face?” But that wasn’t an effects failure, or because both characters are voiced by Andy Serkis—I thought about Gollum before I heard the voice, and anyways didn’t realize they were the same voice until I saw the credits—it’s because they have the same lips. No, I am not kidding, the first thing I noticed about a giant ominous villain was “he has the same lips as Gollum”. My brain’s a weird place.
The music is also beautiful.
2—A Heroine’s Journey
Rey falls somewhere between action hero and guile hero. She can fight and well, but she spends at least as much time in the movie using her wits as she does her weapons. Rey uses any and every bit of knowledge she possesses to gain the upper hand. She repeatedly protects those who can’t protect themselves, even against overwhelming odds. Rey is kind as well as clever—she hasn’t let a hard life harden her soul. All this is what makes Rey a great hero. Despite a classic Damsel in Distress moment.
Rey gets captured by Kylo Ren and literally carried off unconscious but thankfully this doesn’t diminish Rey or her badass status. Partly because the same damn thing happens to another (male) badass earlier in the movie, though Poe goes off in chains instead of carried (sigh). But where that badass had to be rescued, this badass rescues herself. Despite being tied down and tortured, Rey retains her competence. Not only does she resist Kylo Ren’s Force-induced mind–fuckery (though I can’t say I blame Poe for cracking), she turns the tables on her captor, reading him back. Then Rey uses what she learned from the interrogation about her power to get the Stormtrooper guard to release her, steals his weapon, and avoids the patrols looking for her while she hunts down a ship to steal. And then goes climbing like a spider all over a vertical wall—that was badass. I mean, it was all badass, but as someone scared of heights, the wall-crawling was the awesome-ganache (I hate frosting) on the badass-cake.
But badass-ness isn’t all there is to Rey. There are hard personal choices to make—return to a safe but self-deceiving life of waiting for the family who abandoned her to come back, or risk a new life on new friends she barely knows yet. Embrace her destiny and power and the responsibilities that come with them or run from them—not to mention the disorienting hallucinatory visions they cause.
Rey’s journey is not one of child to adult—her childhood is long gone when the movie begins—but from insulated world to expansive universe. She’s been self-sufficient and her life self-contained. Now she’s charged with saving a universe and her life is about more than self. Anyone would run from that but not everyone would stop and turn to embrace it.
3—A Journey of Redemption
Finn’s journey is in some ways the inverse of Rey’s. He’s been part of the bigger plan, a cog in the larger machine. And said, fuck that. By rejecting the status imposed on him—mindless, meaningless, identity-less Stormtrooper—Finn becomes a catalyst. He saves a Rebel pilot, who then gives him a name. And when his new friend dies, Finn takes up his mission—as part of saving his own ass, but he still does it.
And later, when Finn and Han Solo are infiltrating Starkiller Base—the Death Star’s bigger, badder 2.0—Finn tells Han he doesn’t care about saving the resistance or the universe, he’s there for Rey. Rey, who was the first person to look at him, as well, a person.
I have to mention at this point, that I didn’t get a romantic or sexual-attraction vibe off either of Finn’s relationships with Poe or Rey. What I got from it was friendship. Formed in a short time—very short—I mean seriously, when Finn took that helmet off, did he just bond like a baby chick to the first people he saw? …Actually that makes a lot of sense. Considering we find out Stormtroopers aren’t even allowed to remove their helmets without permission—talk about dehumanizing—and that that many of them were kidnapped as infants to become child-soldiers. Hell, probably the most individualized attention Finn ever got from a member of the First Order was when Kylo Ren screamed at him and called him a traitor. No wonder Finn got attached to Poe and Rey so fast.
It’s nice to see a movie without all the UST shit—so, so nice. I’d love more of that. Though if it develops later into a love triangle centering on Finn, I’d love that too. (Have I mentioned how very over the common romance tropes I am?)
But despite all the emo-ness, I think Kylo Ren makes an effective villain. It’s because he comes off as a messed up kid that he’s scary on a meta-level as well as being a threat to the characters. Petty, insecure, possibly mentally-ill and definitely emotionally ill. All that power and yet so vulnerable to a madman’s manipulations. For me, it’s most human villains that scare me most.
In contrast, it’s because of, not despite the emo that Kylo Ren makes an effective foil for Rey. Whereas Kylo Ren’s destructive temper tantrums are so common even his own minions don’t express surprise or even fear—and Finn’s early scenes prove that body language is plenty readable in Stormtrooper armor so it’s not that—when they hear him chopping up a room. They just turn and walk down another hallway. It’s that common an occurrence.
Kylo Ren all self-indulgence with no self-control while Rey is always cool, even in her anger or fear. And it’s that calm center that let’s Rey kick Kylo Ren’s ass, even though he has more lightsaber experience. Kylo Ren just doesn’t have the self-discipline needed to win.
Because of course there’s nitpicking. You can nitpick anything—perfection is a direction, not an ending point—and anyways, picking things you love apart is half the fun. Let’s start with the introduction.
a—The Opening Scroll
When I first saw the intro text go up, there was that wash of nostalgia—and then it was gone and I was still reading an info dump. This is probably my only serious criticism of The Force Awakens is the use of the opening scroll. That one bit of nostalgia was the only bit of value it had, and it isn’t enough. That kind of information should be worked into the story itself, and for the most part was, making the info dump redundant as well as clunky.
Yes, there were a few details I wouldn’t have otherwise known—that Poe was sent on his mission by General Leia personally—but that isn’t vital to the story. Audiences are used to picking up the details along the way, we’ve become very savvy since this kind of thing was common. And while at least the opening scroll in The Force Awakens is briefer than the one in A New Hope, it still detracts more than adds to the film. If anything, it’s a solid reminder of why this trope has gone out of fashion.
b—Epic or Just Adventure?
My other criticism of The Force Awakens is the lack of time—not the movie length, that was over two hours. In-movie, everything happens one thing after the other with no real time between events. It’s not like The Adventures of Tintin, thank god—The Force Awakens leaves you enough time to process and think about what happens. The pacing isn’t a mistake per se—it’s just that it lends to the feel of an adventure, rather than an epic adventure. Part of what makes an Epic, well, epic, is a sense of expansiveness. Epics take time, if only because it takes so much time to travel from place to place. That travel time is part of what lends the sense of a grand world—universe, whatever. Being able to get everywhere in under a day…it just makes the universe feel smaller.
Another thing that makes this movie feel less epic and more plain adventure to me, is that while there’s plenty of magic going around, it’s missing that mystic quality I remember from the original films. Kylo-Ren stops a blaster blast (forgive the redundancy) in mid-air, but there are no voices from the dead whispering in the hero’s head. It’s Kylo Ren telling Rey she needs a teacher that inspires her to reach for the Force on her own. Hell, the only speech we get on the Force comes from Han Solo, who’s about as mystic as a potato. Again, this isn’t a bad thing exactly, but I kind of miss that spiritual something. This is highly subjective though, so your mileage my vary.
And again, that last section is nitpicking. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good story and lots of fun. There’s so much more I could gush about, and I’ll find even more once I re-watch it. I’m smiling just remembering the first time. And I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.