STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS… It might be my LEAST favorite Star Wars movie. That’s right, I said it…

Posted on December 21st, 2015
Posted on December 21st, 2015

by Coop Cooper

***NOTE: The first half is a spoiler-free review, but after the primary review I discuss all of the major spoilers***

Set around thirty five years after “Return of the Jedi”, the Resistance still battles the remnants of the Empire which now calls itself The First Order. Lead by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the Resistance searches for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who went into a self-imposed exile when one of his Jedi apprentices, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), turned to the dark side and betrayed him. Finn (John Boyega), a First Order Stormtrooper with a conscience, deserts his post and escapes with Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who had been captured by Kylo Ren while searching for the location of Skywalker. The pair crash lands in the deserts of the planet Jakku and Finn becomes separated from Dameron. Finn runs across the young scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has come into possession of Dameron’s droid BB-8 who has a map which could lead the Resistance to Skywalker. When the First Order tracks them down, Finn, Rey and BB-8 steal a ship and escape in an attempt to find Skywalker and join the Resistance. Along the way, they run into some infamous heroes of the Rebellion.

As I watched “The Force Awakens”, I was having conflicting emotions about what I was seeing. Something about the movie didn’t feel right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t until I watched “The Empire Strikes Back” again that I realized the problem… “The Force Awakens” is a rushed and sloppy movie by comparison.

All of the elements are there… Light side of the Force vs. the Dark. Check. Cute robots, space battles, light sabers. Check. Weird aliens in a cantina scene. Check. A planet-killing super weapon. Check. The problem seems to be in the plot and execution. First, here’s what I liked:

Other than covering the usual bases, the action is done well, the creative design is spot-on and it easily has the look and feel of all the other Star Wars movies. BB-8 is neat character and the only cutesy element in the movie whereas Lucas would have added some sillier characters – like Jar Jar – and flatulence jokes. There is also a cool twist in who the ‘awakening’ in the title is really referring to; someone who is destined to become a future Jedi. There are some pitch-perfect moments such as the introduction of the Millennium Falcon, the moment when a character uses the Force for the first time and Chewbacca’s always a joy to see.

What I didn’t like: Finn isn’t an interesting character yet. He’s a bit histrionic and unskilled to even be a Stormtrooper, much less a capable good-guy. Even when he had a lightsaber, he is nearly defeated by one of his Stormtrooper colleagues with a lesser weapon and has to be saved by Han Solo (Harrison Ford). In fact, I don’t think he wins a single fight outside of firing a gun turret in a ship. Kylo Ren is a pretty weak bad guy as well, but he does commit a heinous act in the film which will have strong implications for his future involvement. The new ‘Emperor’-type character, Snoke, seems too generic and too much like Palpatine to be interesting. Captain Phasma (Game of Throne’s Gwendoline Christie) definitely looks cool and imposing in her chrome Stormtrooper armor, but she never gets to fight or even show her face. Also, two of the most incredible martial arts actors in existence (“The Raid” stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian) show up as space pirates only to get promptly eaten by blob creatures without even getting to show off any moves. What a waste. I have no qualms with the other new lead characters except their vague back stories didn’t give us enough answers to help the audience to identify with them. Even worse, an entire movie plot which hangs on finding Luke Skywalker, a character who doesn’t even want to be found, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. All the characters from the original trilogy are either depressed, bitter or have given up. To top it off, the entire film leaves us with more frustrating questions than answers by the end.

There are also massive plot holes which are either ignored or ridiculously explained away. For instance when Poe Dameron crashes and is presumed dead on Jakku and then suddenly appears later in the cockpit of an X-Wing, the explanation for his survival is swept under the rug, which shows a lack of respect for his character. Also, when a certain character inexplicably happens to possess the lightsaber that Luke Skywalker loses in “Empire” on Cloud City when Darth Vader cuts his hand off, the only explanation is a lame, “That is a story for another day.” That nonsense doesn’t get a free pass in other movies, so why should it here? There are a lot of nods to the original trilogy that almost feel more like a rip off than an homage, but at least they got most of those moments right.

I can tell that it looked solid on paper but while the original “Star Wars” stood on its own, “The Force Awakens” is just a lengthy setup for the new trilogy and it is something of a mess because of that. Trying to juggle the old with the new while propelling these additional characters into the adventure, felt hasty and chaotic. Is it better than the prequels? I’m going to go against the grain and say ‘not really’. Those had tons of epic Jedi saber battles and a better story blueprint, even though the dialogue/acting were abysmal, plus the tweaks to the mythology (midichlorians???) and the potty-pandering to kids was irritating. “The Force Awakens” is very watchable but it isn’t what it should have been. Logic was thrown out of the window for most of it, but it is a “Star Wars” movie so it is a thrilling spectacle nonetheless. It does connect a dangling thread that fans were craving, and in their blind excitement, they will forgive its shortcomings for a little while at least.

Now with Disney in charge, we can expect a ton of new “Star Wars” projects on the horizon. Instead of “Episode VIII”, I’m actually more excited about the spin off movie “Rogue One” that will release in December of 2016 which will follow the team of Rebel soldiers/spies who steal the plans for the original Death Star. That could be a significant and welcome departure from the usual “Star Wars” formula.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

***Extended review with SPOILERS below***

Things I liked:

Rey is going to be a really great character. Daisy Ridley was well-cast and I’m looking forward to see where here character is going. However, in the fight scenes she didn’t seem that athletic. They could’ve done her character a service by having her be an expert fighter with her bo staff, that way the transition to lightsaber would have been much smoother.

Poe Dameron is like they took ‘Wedge’ from the original trilogy and made him a main character. This was a great idea and I loved how unbeatable he was in an X-Wing. However, now that a certain character is dead, wouldn’t it have been natural for Poe to take the controls of the fastest ship in the Galaxy? If he doesn’t captain the Millennium Falcon at some point, then somebody really dropped the ball on that one.

That Stormtrooper with the awesome stun-baton skills. He kicked Finn’s ass even though Finn had a lightsaber and he would have killed Finn too if Han hadn’t shot him. It was confirmed that Daniel Craig made a cameo as a helmeted Stormtrooper in the film. Was this his role? Hopefully so, because he was the coolest Stormtrooper in the entire First Order. (update:  I just learned that Craig played the Stormtrooper whom Rey tries out her Jedi mind trick powers on.  Just as cool.)

Chewbacca was fantastic. Peter Mayhew played him to perfection and his reaction to Han’s death was one of the best moments in the film. He’s also the only character from the prequels that isn’t a droid to survive up until this point. Also the running gag about his overpowered crossbow weapon was one of the nicest small touches to the film.

I’ve always liked Domhnall Gleeson and definitely looks the part as Imperial General Hux. He gives a really intense speech about halfway through the movie that gives the chills, but did he have to play the character so stiff? Peter Cushing played Grand Moff Tarkin with a bit of an icy swagger that Gleeson lacked. He clearly outranked and intimidated Kylo Ren and you can tell he is some kind of crazed fanatic, but he didn’t scare me enough. Maybe next movie.

BB-8 was one of the nicest new additions to the cast. He is a cool robot worthy of R2-D2’s legacy, but now that R2-D2 is back in the picture, do we have have too many droids?

The Millennium Falcon. Man that ship is a character unto itself and its introduction in the film was perfectly done. And in this film you learn just how indestructible that piece of junk actually is. If it ever gets blown up, I’m going to have to quit Star Wars. I just will.

Greg Grunberg is the new Porkins. It’s not a Star Wars movie unless you have an overweight X-Wing pilot to root for. He didn’t meet the same fate as Porkins this time, but we have two more movies to see if he makes it to the end.

Things I didn’t like:

I loved the idea of a deserter Stormtrooper, but Finn was a little to nervous for my tastes. I like John Boyega a lot and I think the character has a lot of potential, but he didn’t seem that skilled. He couldn’t fly a ship, he is only average in a fight and on top of all that, it turns out he isn’t strong with the force. Plus he is kind of a liar and an opportunist. He will have plenty of chances to grow as a character and I know he will become a cool and confident fighter, but it seems he is starting at a pretty low baseline.

Captain Phasma wasn’t used for a damn thing. You never see her fight. Gwendoline Christie doesn’t even get to take off her helmet to give “Game of Thrones” fans a thrill who probably didn’t even know she was in a Star Wars movie. She would’ve made a great substitute for Boba Fett, tracking down the characters and outsmarting them at every turn. Maybe she will be used more in future films, but she was a wasted opportunity in this film.

Although I see it was necessary, I didn’t like how C-3P0 and R2-D2 were sidelined. Felt lazy, but one interesting thing came out of this plot point… I am no more certain than ever that R2-D2 is strong with the force. It’s the only explanation and the implications are pretty cool.

What was with those weird smugglers who can apparently board Han’s ship without warning or resistance? There wasn’t anything interesting or cool about them and they name-dropped somebody that must be the new Jabba the Hutt that everybody has to deal with in the underworld circuit. Then those two guys from “The Raid” movies were cast as space pirates, but they didn’t get to do anything. Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian have filmed some of the greatest martial arts fight scenes ever made and all they get to do here is have a bro-down against Han Solo and Chewie, then run from blob monsters that probably ended up eating both of them. With their acrobatic fight skills they would have made amazing Sith apprentices. What a disgusting waste of their talents.

Abrams tried to do his own version of the Mos Eisley Cantina scene. He kind of blew it. Unless I blinked during the wrong moments, we rarely saw any of the familiar old canon alien designs. No Rodians, no Twi’leks, no Hammerheads. Admiral Ackbar makes a quick appearance which is nice and I think that might have been Nien Nunb flying an X-Wing in Black Squadron, but I can’t be sure. The rest of the new alien designs were uninspired and relied too much on CGI.

I hated Lupita Nyong’o’s CGI character ‘Maz Kanata’. I guess Maz was supposed to be the Yoda substitute who apparently knows everything about the Force except how to use it. Lupita is a fine actress and could’ve played a human character or an alien in makeup. Instead they make her a lame CGI frog alien. What a shame.

Kylo Ren was no Sith Lord. Hell, he was barely an apprentice. He was mostly a punk who throws temper tantrums and ends up getting outwitted and beat by a untrained force user in a lightsaber battle… Which didn’t make much sense by the way. He’s really going to have to earn our respect in future films. Although, I do like his force interrogation technique.

What the hell is with this Supreme Leader Snoke guy? Do Sith Lords appear out of thin air every few decades and always look/act almost exactly like Emperor Palpatine? I didn’t care for him at all and I’m betting since they always showed him as a giant in holograms that he is actually very tiny.

It is clear that epic lightsaber battles are a thing of the past. Ren didn’t really have anyone to match him in that area and Rey has a long way to go to get to a Jedi Knight level. I don’t see anyone else competently using a blade (especially Finn) so I guess “Episode III” was the last film featuring huge saber battles. Sigh.

So Han’s dead. Yeah, it made sense to the story, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got to like it. Once he stepped out onto that bridge with Ren, everybody in the theater knew what was going to happen. It was a tragic and fairly well-done moment and there was a rumor Harrison Ford demanded that his character be killed off in the film (along with a ridiculous salary and a percentage of the gross) so it didn’t feel like a shock. Still, it lessens my enthusiasm for a Han Solo spinoff prequel. Why? Because I’m petty and I don’t like that they killed him off and that’s all I’ll be thinking of when the spinoff comes out. I felt the same way when Captain Kirk was killed off in “Star Trek: Generations”.

Poor Mark Hamill. All that hype and you only got ten seconds of screen time. I bet that scene read really awesome in the script. Too bad it came across really awkward in execution. I’m glad that he is more like Obi Wan now and it seems like a natural progression, but this entire first film was spent trying to find him and he clearly did not want to be found. That doesn’t fill me with a ton of confidence that he will be anything but a sourpuss when training Rey.

Poor Carrie Fisher… ‘Nuff said.

Why did Jakku have to be the planet where this all starts? Wouldn’t it make more sense for it to happen on Luke and Anakin’s home planet of Tatooine? Isn’t it more likely for Han Solo to leave the Falcon there? Wouldn’t seem like the story had come full circle if it began again where it all started in the first place? Why couldn’t we have Jawas and Tusken Raiders and Watto giving Rey a hard time at the trade outpost? I’m just sayin’.

I needed some backstories and a bit more exposition because the “The Force Awakens” ends leaving even more questions than it begins with and that was frustrating. There are hints that Rey has some sort of tragic past and that Finn was stolen from his parents. The popular theory will be that Luke is Rey’s father (or some kind of relative) and that Finn is Lando Calrissian’s son. I think these ideas are all red herrings, but leading the fans on, making them speculate this will only lead to letdowns. We needed this solved in the first movie. And speaking of Lando, where is he? Back on Cloud City, probably. He needs to make an appearance at least in part VIII.

Only a few X-wings to assault the Starkiller Base? Where are the Y-Wings? The A-Wings? The B-Wings? The Tie Bombers? The Tie Interceptors? C’mon J.J.

Why are all the old characters in this film so depressed? Han runs off to be a smuggler again because he can’t take the pressure of failing as a parent. Leia pines over her lost son. Luke puts himself into exile. Doesn’t anybody still have their s**t together? Admiral Ackbar, does. That fish-dude has confidence.

That’s it.  I’ll probably only see it a couple of more times in the theater but this has to be the lowest rating I’ve ever given a Star Wars film.  3 out of 5 stars doesn’t sound low, but hey, it’s Star Wars.

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