Star Wars: The Force Awakens
After ten years of waiting, The Force Awakens brings new life to the franchise, although hampered by some key flaws. Derivative of A New Hope, The Force Awakens is one-third playing it safe, one-third an idling car, and one-third bombastic excitement, in that order.
Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has disappeared. Remnants of the Empire, the First Order, fight the Resistance, an army backed by the New Republic. Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper, betrays the First Order in a change of heart, and crashes down onto the planet of Jakku. He gains the notice of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the dark-side enforcer who is both trying to find a map to Luke Skywalker, and leading the construction of a new super-weapon, the Starkiller Base.
The map is hidden with a droid, BB-8, sent away by Resistance pilot Poe Damoran (Oscar Isaac) after the First Order captures him. BB-8 finds refuge with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who has been on Jakku for many years, waiting for someone to come back for her. Rey, Finn and BB-8 will soon converge, and the adventure begins.
The Force Awakens is jam-packed with plot, yet significantly lacking in exposition. Finn, Rey and BB-8 will journey from system to system while fleeing Kylo Ren and his forces, yet the audience will have no idea what the First Order is, why the Resistance is separate from the Republic, what power these bodies have over what planets, and a bushel of other questions left unaddressed.
The Prequel Trilogy is often derided for its focus on the politics of the Old Republic, but at least the audience knew what was going on. The Force Awakens overdoes the idea of Show, Don’t Tell, and swings the pendulum in the other direction.
The first act is a blatant copy of Episode IV, and mostly appeal to the hardcore fans. The second act is a garbled mess in which the characters are knocked around like ping-pong balls by coincidences and plot holes until they’re in position for the third act. The third act, the assault on Starkiller Base, brings the quality back up to the first act without being a knock-off, features intense dramatic tension and exciting action which was missing from the prior portions of the film, and probably could have been a better movie on its own.
By far the best portrayal in the film was Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He is the one part of the film that plays well for the entire run-time. A three-dimensional and multifaceted portrayal, he is the saber-wielding enforcer of the First Order that is attempting to fulfill the vision of his idol, Darth Vader. He wears a mask because that’s what Vader did, he turned against his loved ones because that’s what Vader did, and he feels a need to match and exceed his icon because he’s trying to figure out his own identity as a person.
That is the strength of this movie. Finn is not able to be complicit in the part of this regime and flees in order to help the Resistance. Rey is not satisfied with her life as a scavenger, and yearns for a larger scope she is more than capable of. Kylo Ren is blessed with an exceptional power at his birth, yet feels the expectations upon him and breaks in search of his own path. In him we have the unique twist of a dark-side user who is resisting the pull of the light-side, and it embodies the theme that all these characters share; they’re all young and trying to find their place in the world.
The first two acts feel over-exerted in order to set up the story that Lucasfilm wants to tell going forward. The third act is the payoff for all the growing pains of the first two, and sets up the story to come very well. The Force Awakens isn’t a movie that belongs to itself, it’s a movie that both creates a story for the following films to follow, and a movie that will make more sense and look much brighter in the light of Episodes VIII and IX.
If you liked the original movies and want more of the same, The Force Awakens is guaranteed to deliver. If you didn’t like the original movies, The Force Awakens will bother you greatly. It’s a movie made by the fans, for the fans, and as a fan, it gets my tenuous approval.