Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A Review (Complete with Spoilers)

Okay. I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so now I can authoritatively comment on the film – and I don’t hold back on spoilers.  You’ve got to know the truth sooner or later and it’s also hard to discuss the plot of any movie without discussing the details (!).

First off, yes, Han Solo dies, just as I had noted in previous blogs. His death is unnecessarily sadistic.  The villain – his son, Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren – murders him in cold blood when Han confronts him on a bridge on the Star Killer.  The murder goes on just a little too long, with Han crying in agony before falling into the abyss below.  Just before he goes down, though, Han makes a gesture that only a loving parent can make.

No one in the audience cried, being composed mostly of teenage boys. One woman gasped as Han falls off the bridge.  Han (and Leia; it’s their son) suffer the fate of parents everywhere with a child gone psychopathically wrong.  Some of those parents have been murdered by their mentally-ill offspring.  At any rate, Han is gone.  I was waiting for my friend to come back from the Men’s Room after the movie.  The next audience was waiting in line, and a teenage dude said  sadly to a buddy, “No, don’t tell them; let them enjoy the movie and find out for themselves.”

Other than this enormous black hole in the film, which comes mercifully late – we get plenty of Han Soloisms and wisecracks before The End – it’s a darned good movie, full of the old-fashioned Star Wars “Yahoos!” and “Yippees.” BB-8 is the adorable, new little droid, owned by Poe Dameron, the new, hotshot pilot who always manages to come to the rescue.

Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, looks an awful lot like Luke Skywalker with dark hair. In fact, my companion kept asking me when Isaac was onscreen, “Well, isn’t that Luke Skywalker?  What do you mean, ‘no’?  How can you be sure?”  Um, because Mark Hamill is 63?

Daisy Ridley as “Rey” and John Boyega as “Finn” do a marvelous job with their roles. Ridley holds her own in the beginning as the female lead, complaining to Finn to stop holding her hand as he tries to help her out of trouble.  Eventually, she succumbs to squeaks and wails.

She’s very taken with the old owner of the Millennium Falcon which, since being stolen, has gone through some five owners before winding up on a junk heap on the desert planet of Jakku, where the film begins. And Han Solo is taken with her.  There’s been speculation that she’s Luke Skywalker’s daughter.  But three particular scenes, two subtle, and one not-so indicate she’s Han and Leia’s daughter – and Kylo Ren’s sister.

Han picks Rey and Finn up after they’ve escaped from The New Order forces. He asks them what planet they’ve come from.  They tell him, “Jakku.”  He repeats the name twice, his face brightening, the same way it did after Leia tells him Luke is her brother (not his rival) in Return of the Jedi.

Then there’s the scene in the film after the climactic space battle.   Rey is the last one off the ship.  As everyone else clears off for the celebration, Leia comes forward, a rather knowing look in her eye seeing Rey.  Rey’s mouth drops off, in apparent recognition.  Understand that the two characters have not yet met – not in this film, anyway.  Yet Rey unhestitatingly hugs her and Leia gives her what can only be described as an understanding, maternal embrace.  There’s no bowing, no exclamation from Rey, “You’re – You’re General Organa.”  Or Princess Leia.  Or even Aunt Leia.  The unspoken implication is that this is Mom.

But the ultimate confirmation, as if meeting Mom and Dad aren’t enough, is her battle with Kylo Ren. At first, Rey is terrified.  As the Force grows within her (without any apparent training), she fends off his Sith mind probes, eventually, and in a way only a sister can who realizes her “brother” is a humbug.

xShe whoops him pretty handily in the climactic lightsaber duel. After the mind probe scene, he goes squealing to the First Order leader Snope.  Kylo whines that she’s too strong for him, the way any kid would run to Mom or Dad complaining that Sis hit him back and that it’s just not fair (!).  Trust me on this; you have to be the little sister of a big brother to get it (I beat mine at chess).  You just know that they’re brother and sister.

The fabled first four words of the film are from a quasi-Jedi master, played by Max Von Sydow, who says of the map our hotshot pilot is holding, “This will change everything.” The map, or rather partial map, pinpoints the location of the long-missing Luke Skywalker.  He’s been gone so long that for the younger generation, he’s passed into the category of “Legend.”  But maybe not so long as all that.

However, our “Legend” has gone into hiding over a failure to keep a padawan – who turns out to be his nephew – from going over to the Dark Side. One can’t help mentioning this item that would ordinarily be kept out of a review in order not to spoil the film because it does call Luke’s self-banishment into question, as in a question of judgment.  His retreat clearly made things worse.

Where are Yoda or Obi-Wan when you need them to chide Luke for running off too soon?

Han and Leia don’t blame Luke for their son’s failure. In a recurring franchise line ala Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han says in disgust that there was nothing anyone could do because “he [Ben/Kylo Ren] has too much of Vader in him.”

The scrawl in the beginning of the film tells us that Luke has vanished, that the successor to the Evil Empire, the New Order, has arisen and that now-General Organa, if you please, need Luke’s help.

Boyega (before Harrison Ford shows up) is an AWOL, flesh-and-blood Stormtrooper who decides he needs a career change after witnessing (but not participating) in a massacre of Jakku villagers. With Poe’s help – the more or less help one another – he gets away.  But then they are forced to return to retrieve BB-8 and the information he carries, who is now in the custody of Rey, a young woman living alone in poverty after being abandoned by on the planet by her family.

Once back on the planet, Poe disappears when their stolen Tie-fighter crashes. Finn runs into Rey, who is being roughed up by some locals.  He goes to her aid but soon discovers she can take care of herself.  When the nearest ship is blown, up they head for a ship that hasn’t run in years – the Millennium Falcon.  Strike up one of John Williams’ wonderful fanfares.

Once out in space, after a hair-raising chase through a downed Imperial Battle Cruiser, they’re hauled up by a cargo ship captained by none other than Han Solo himself and his partner, Chewie.

From that point on, Harrison Ford just chews up the scenery until he’s chewed up by his on-screen son. He takes an instant liking to Finn and a grudging, paternal liking to Rey, promising to hire her on.  On their quest to find Luke, Han takes them to a New Order Jedi by the name of Maz Kanata (yes, she tells the group she’s a Jedi).  She’s not Yoda, but that’s not such a bad thing.

In her cantina, Rey finds Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Immediately, she has Jedi-style visions of Luke with R2D2 and her abandonment as a child and drops the thing like it’s on fire.  Kanata tells her to take it but Rey refuses, saying she doesn’t want anything to do with it.  Finn, on the other hand, gladly takes it when he’s in need of a weapon as the First Order discovers their whereabouts.

Reluctantly, Han catches up with Princess/General Leia. (Carrie Fisher’s voice is much huskier than when she was young).  There we get more of the backstory of Ben/Kylo Ren, their son, Luke’s failed attempt to train him as a Jedi, and their parental despair at ever winning him back.  If there’s a flaw in the film, this is it.

Not that the scene is objectionable. Like Han’s death scene, it paints a poignant picture of parental despair, disappointment and heartbreak at the inability to prevent a child’s downfall.  The objection is that the downfall needs more explanation.  In fact, it probably requires three entire films all on its own.

Adam Driver as Kylo is not the most convincing of villains. He reveres his grandfather, Darth Vader (rather than Anakin, the man), vowing to finish what Vader started.  Finish what?  Killing Luke?  Didn’t he listen to any of the family history, that Luke saved his grandfather?   He tells the leader of the New Order, “Snopes,” that he’s trying to resist being seduced by the “Light Side” – a reversal of “The Dark Side.”

Ren is convincing enough as a villain with his mask down, a ridiculous prop that looks like it came straight out of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King property room.  Only fans who bought the Special Edition DVD of the LOTR film saw the scene where Frodo wears that mask as he and Samwise are making their way across the plains of Mordor in disguise as little orcs.

Once he doffs the mask, he’s basically a loser. Without it, he reminds one of a young Severus Snape (from the Harry Potter series). He has formidable Force skills, can read minds (excuse me, but just the way the Jedi did in the first three films), choke victims, and displays a new skill, freezing victims in place.  But mostly he’s an overgrown, spoiled brat, given to ridiculous temper tantrums.  Darth Vader did all that and more.  He had brief fits of temper with Padme (and went postal in the third film) but at least he kept it all together, even if he was an insane psychopath.

Comparing Kylo Ren to Darth Vader is difficult, especially without more backstory. Darth Vader was a full generation older than the Star Wars trio (Luke, Leia and Han), so he seemed more mature (in an evil way, naturally).  Even in the despised sequels, Anakin is handsome, likeable enough, and even somewhat sympathetic, at least initially.  His grandson, roughly the same age as he was in SW: The Attack of the Clones, is just a greasy-haired wanna-be.

We know what happens to Han Solo already. Finn is left injured and unconscious.  Rey takes over the Millennium Falcon, with a rather pleased Chewbacca at her side (he seems to have a Wookiee crush on her or maybe he suspects she’s Han’s daughter) and with Poe along for the ride.  They finally discover Luke’s whereabouts on a deserted island on a planet far, far away, to which we now know he has repaired out of guilt.

The last scene is of Rey handing an older and sadder Luke Skywalker his lightsaber. Will he take it (if you’ll recall, he tossed it away at the end Return of the Jedi)?  Han tells us that Luke walked away from it all after his failure with young Ben (too bad Anakin Skywalker didn’t do the same thing and become a mechanic instead).  Will Luke finally finish what he started?  Does he know the nephew he failed to train killed his brother-in-law?  Is Rey his daughter or his niece?  No, wait; there’s no mystery there; she’s his niece.  Absolutely.

We have to wait until May 2017 to find out for certain, of course.

Was this the best Star Wars ever? Um, no.  It certainly wasn’t the worst.  But this film’s gaping black hole made it too much of a downer to be the equal of the optimistic original.  The movie and its cast try hard and succeed in humor, fantastic creatures, and seat-of-the-pants space battles before the death scene drops it all in the dumper.  On the other hand, it does rank well with The Empire Strikes Back, the darker sequel to A New Hope.

The franchise will have to travel a long, long way to find a scene-stealing actor the caliber of Harrison Ford (who I still think won’t survive to see the last installment of this trilogy). But what can you do?  Ford ran his race as Han Solo and ran it well.  Who knows?  He may show up again in flashback in Episode 8 or 9.

The galaxy isn’t going to be the same without Han Solo. But it will just have to do the best it can.

 

 

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Published in: on December 20, 2015 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  

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