The Force Awakens: Star Wars? Greatest Hits with A Few New Numbers

Spoilers for the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens — a lot of them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Episode VII) was a good film, but not a great one, and I?m far from the only person to say so. UPDATE: There’s a great overview at The Atlantic of how critics have been changing their minds about The Force Awakens.

It felt like watching an 80s rock band perform their greatest hits, with a few new numbers thrown in for good measure. Some of my friends were quite happy with that. I wasn’t. (My Star Wars geek credentials are here and here.)

You’ve had your warnings, let’s begin…

 

 

Here are the political factions mentioned in the film:

There was far too much fan service, and not enough originality in it.

The Resistance
Fighting against the rise of the First Order is a spunky group of outlaws called the Resistance. They?re led by our favourite Disney princess, Leia.

The Republic
Wait, there?s a Republic? Yes there is.

Then why do we need a Resistance? Shouldn?t the Resistance be part of the Republic? Has Resistance leader Leia Organa gone rogue?

Good questions. Damned if we know, that?s never explained, except when one of the characters notes that the Republic?s fleet can?t help the Resistance. So there is some sympathy or alliance between the two. UPDATED: There is an explanation here, but it’s not official.

The First Order
This is the successor to the Empire, just as violent, just as foolish, and just as prone to overspending. They learn from their mistakes the way lemmings do, as they die.

The Outer Rim
This area has always been a no-man?s zone, free for outlaws and those otherwise on the run. It appears to have remained so.

Stupid Plot Points

JJ Abrams has always had a problem with interstellar distances.

  • The Starkiller planet needs to absorb a whole star before it can fire. It never moves, therefore it can only absorb the suns in its own solar system. In the movie it prepares to fire twice, then it?s out of suns. What idiot makes a weapon that can only be used twice? Especially a planet-sized weapon?
  • When the Starkiller fires on the Republic, the ?transwarp? weapon travels much slower than light.
  • The Republic apparently only consisted of five planets (or one planet and four moons).
  • JJ Abrams has always had a problem with interstellar distances (Look at the destruction of Vulcan and how close Spock?s ice world prison was to that desert planet). Here, the Resistance can watch from the ground as all of the Republic?s planets blow up. How close are these worlds?
  • The Republic?s fleet can?t help the Resistance because the fleet apparently was all planet-side and destroyed along with the planet(s).
  • The whole storyline of what Han and Chewie are doing was really silly and a pointless waste of time. Yes, it returned the Falcon to them, but the whole two hostile clients routine didn’t enhance Solo’s reputation (nor develop any of the other characters). It didn’t give us any useful information. It was a silly waste of time (during which Finn should have died, as he was the only one caught by the man-eating aliens that they didn’t eat even though he was in their possession the longest).
  • There’s an old writer’s adage that coincidence can be used to hurt your characters but not to aid them (using it to help them is cheating your audience). Isn’t it a handy coincidence that Rey meets a captured BB-8? Isn’t it a coincidence that Han and Chewie happen to be in the Jakku area when Rey takes the Falcon (which a] never goes to light speed, so is still near the planet, but b] Han and Chewie have never investigated that planet to see if it’s there). Isn’t it a handy coincidence that Finn happened to work at the top secret First Order base (as a plumber, at that).
  • You can fly through shields as long as you’re doing so at FTL? that’s pretty stupid on it’s own, but if true, why couldn’t the X-wings do it then? One of the distinct advantages of the X-wing over the Tie Fighter is its FTL capability. (Tie Fighters are minimalist, dispoable weapons platforms)
  • The Deus ex Machina that saves Ren?s life. Seriously, the ground literally opens up between them?
  • Chewie shoots Ren, who falls down, vulnerable. Does Chewie shoot again? No, he leaves. Obviously he never saw Zombieland.

Rehashed Plot Points

  • Hey, it’s planet-sized weapon that we need to destroy with small fighters! Seriously? Again? Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace… we’ve seen this a few times already.
    • And hey, to destroy it, one pilot must fly his X-wing along a trench, overcoming gunfire, and shoot the vulnerable spot. Seriously? Seriously?
  • The little droid that’s carrying secret information. This droid will befriend a desert-dwelling teenager who will take it upon themselves to help the droid get to a secret base.
  • “She’ll hold together.” Again.
  • “I have a bad feeling about this” I know, this one’s tradition, in seven consecutive films now.
  • “Where should we put her?” Answer: “Got a trash compactor?”
  • Hey, it’s the chess match from 30 years ago!
  • Han’s “it’s all true” was actualy an attempt at showing character growth, and given the location, it was supposed to resonate.
  • Gotta sacrifice the old guy in front of his young proteges so they get the seriousness of the situation.

Continuity Errors

  • Upon first taking off, the Millennium Falcon destroys the gate to village immediately after we witnessed a Tie Fighter destroying that same gate. UPDATE: I think I’m wrong on this – the gate may not be destroyed by the Tie Fighter.
  • In the subsequent battle, the Millennium Falcon?s bottom gun gets stuck in a down-facing position, which should mean that it would get ripped off if the ship lands, but when the Falcon is forced to land, the gun isn?t pointing down and is still there in later shots.

The Good Stuff

  • Chewie definitely feels like a character, not a sidekick.

    Chewie definitely feels like a character, not a sidekick.

  • Any time the story focussed on relationships, it soared. The actors, old and new , did a good job with real emotions – something that George Lucas couldn?t have done.
  • This really feels like a continuation of the existing universe, unlike the prequels that seemed to be set in a much more high tech version of that universe.
  • BB-8 is a full character, and very expressive. As I’d guessed earlier, R2 really does get demoted to just a cameo in this movie. As does Threepio, which I didn’t mind as much since even the little bit that we see of him, he’s still in prequel annoyance mode. The Threepio of Star Wars and Return of the Jedi had much more agency that he has had in the prequels or this film.
  • I’d asked elsewhere how Luke lives with himself, given all of the people that he’s killed. Well, that’s kind of a plot point in this movie – that he has finally hit the point that he can’t live with himself given that his actions led to the deaths of a number of innocents.

Final thoughts

It was an entertaining film, but not a great Star Wars film. Better than the prequels? Sure. Better than Return of the Jedi? Maybe not.

There was no new memorable piece of music this time

I also walked away from it feeling like the music hadn?t been well used. Usually a Star Wars movie means a high calibre soundtrack, complete with grand opening theme (which was there) and stirring finale (which wasn?t). To this day I recognize Leia?s theme from Empire (it was used in one of the Force Awakens trailers), and obviously the Imperial March (along with the Falcon/Tie battle music from the original Star Wars). There was no new memorable piece of music this time, nothing that stood out emotionally, nothing that I?ll be humming anytime ever. Hell, even The Phantom Menace, easily the worst Star Wars movie, had great music – remember Duel of the Fates?

In conclusion, The Force Awakens was good, maybe three stars out of five. Will I watch it again? Maybe, on Blu Ray, before VIII comes out.

You may agree or you may not. What frustrated you about the film (if anything)? Thoughtful conversation is welcome below.