To date, I’ve watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens (TFA) twice. And in both screenings, I was hooked to the movie. So that’s a good sign.
After the first screening, I mentioned in my Facebook post that while flawed, TFA is a good movie, with good characters, good story, and rarest of all, good pacing. It’s also chock full of references and homage to the original trilogies, making it familiar and nostalgic, yet still fresh.
J.J. Abrams have succeeded in bringing 2 sci-fi franchises back from the edge of the grave and wrapped it in a bow for new generations.
[ Spoilers ahead. proceed only if you have watched TFA ]
So, TFA starts many years (I believe it’s 30 years) after Return of the Jedi or ROTJ. Luke Skywalker had been training new Jedis, but one of his disciple turned to the dark side, killed the others and became Kylo Ren. This had drove Luke into exile, and his location is only known when bits and pieces of information are pieced together.
In the meantime, Princess Leia, now a General, is leading the Resistance to fight off the First Order, an ofshoot of the broken Empire, and getting more powerful over time. They have also one-upped the Death Star by turning a planet into actual base, called the Starkiller Base.
But all this was learnt either by reading the intro text or later on. the first act introduces us to all new casts and focus of the movie. Poe Dameron, the best pilot of the resistance; BB-8, an astromech that’s winning the “awww” factor from R2D2 yet when together, makes R2 look wise and old ; Finn, a Stormtrooper that has a change of heart and flees the First Order; Rey, a scavenger with a mysterious past she doesn’t quite know; and Kylo Ren, not quite a Sith, but a follower of the dark side, and a powerful one too.
And by the end of the first act, you are already rooting for them, and recognizing all the little individual quirks of each characters. Abrams had made them very likable, with much potential that’s showing, but yet to be discovered. And yes, I believe we will see more of them over the years.
It’s only at the end of the first act that TFA stars to play with the nostalgic parts (although arguably the First Order’s Star Destroyer look very similar to the Imperial ones, and those wreckage in Jakku may also invoke nostalgia). We’re re-introduced to the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. It’s also amazing how the Abrams and his writers manage to balance the old and new here. None are overshadowing each other. They all seem like interconnecting Legos.
From the second act onward, the writers interweave elements from the previous movies, and mashed them together with the new elements. When we’re in Maz Tanaka’s place, it feels like the cantina in A New Hope. The battle on the Starkiller base, feels like Abrams took scenes from the trench run and updates it with newer look and feel. even the destruction of the base feels like the ending of ROTJ.
Is that a bad thing? No, since it feels to me more like a homage than a spoof or mimicry. Either way, it made me wish if only the visual updates that George Lucas added to the franchise was as good as this. It’s not that the original ones are not that good. Back in the 70s, all their effect were groundbreaking and some of them are actually used the first time. And I can safely say majority of them still hold up well up to now.
But, with all these good things, it does come with some issues. While not very problematic, it does annoy me each time.
The reaction time for the First Order to anything that happens is inconsistent. Sometimes it’s quick and decisive, like how they reacted to Finn and Poe stealing a TIE Fighter, some other times it’s annoyingly bureaucratic. And it feels that no one in the First Order is carrying a radio, that orders need to be told face to face, thus increasing the reaction time. They also claim to have very good scanners, but often times fail to react to it as fast as it should be. Plot convenience is the devil here.
For example, the First Order, together with Kylo Ren, was in Jakku’s orbit, attacking the a trading post where Rey, Finn and BB-8 was at. they sent some storm troopers to catch Finn, and called in some aerial assault. The Tie Fighters came in a few seconds later. This was when the three fugitives made an escape on the Millenium Falcon, which has been considered as a junk by the people of Jakku.
They did not get to hyperspace (or at least appears that way). After a dogfight with 2 TIE Fighters (one piloted by Captain Phasma, no less), they made it to space, and got caught by Han Solo, who were then ambushed by 2 group of thugs. While the ambush did not take as long, thanks to Solo’s cargo, there was no sign of the First Order.
Then there was the issue about Kylo Ren. He was intimidating for the first half of the movie, up until he takes off his helmet. He is what i would say as a less handsome, British version of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. He even have Anakin’s tantrum. Even Han Solo admitted that when he claimed to Leia, that Kylo had too much Darth Vader in him.
And why did Ren have so much similarity with Vader, you ask? well, early in the second act it was revealed that Han Solo is his father, and Leia was his mother. And his real name is Ben. Ben Solo,
Actually, I don’t have trouble with his looks, nor his tantrum. He does have that RotS Anakin vibe in him. My issue was his voice. He had this improved Bane voice with his helmet on, but sounds very normal without it. I really do wish he had a Benedict Cumberbatch voice so that audience can still take him seriously after he was beaten by Rey. Yep, Kylo Ren that can freeze hold a blaster fire in the air and even read minds, had a spar with a Stormtrooper (Finn) and then beaten with the same lightsaber by a girl. Although to be fair, it has been hinted that Rey’s Force is stronger than Ren’s in the interrogation room. It’s just she has not been properly trained yet. Add that to the fact that he had just killed his father and got shot by Chewie’s powerful Blaster. Yes, it seems that Han Solo dies in this movie.
So, who is this Rey? I was hoping that she and Ren are siblings, or even twins. There were versions of this in the novels, which are now considered as non-canon. It was not mentioned in this movie, but they do have some connection, and Rey seem to have this connection to Luke. However, Leia did meet Rey, and she did went and hugged her longingly after the death of Han Solo, although that maybe a hug of compassion because of the death. What bugs me was why did she hug Rey, who she have just met, instead of say, Chewie, who was devastated as well.
Probably this will be explained in Episode 8 and 9. Yes, this will be another trilogy. A trilogy of trilogies, so to speak, or perhaps there’s a bonus scene in the Blu-Ray release that will explain what did happen.
In the end, this movie did not disappoint. Probably more issues will be unearthed with more time, but after all the hype, this one is worth it.