We’ve all seen Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens by now, right? Of course we have. If you haven’t, you probably should, even if you don’t want to, just to get it over with. So, what’d you think? Meh? Kinda okay? Not the best, but compared to the prequels it was pretty good, right? Well, I goddamn loved it.
TFA was the exact movie that needed to be made to keep the series on life support while Disney sticks its toe into the water, making sure they won’t get it bitten off. They made some wise decisions by allowing director J.J. Abrams to hold to his vision of a new Star Wars movie. I’ll admit it right from the start: this was an extremely safe version of Star Wars, with nobody getting too particularly surprised at anything. It had a desert planet, a bar scene, an old man delivering wisdom to a young apprentice, guiding her to find the wise old Jedi master, Han solo and Chewie on the Falcon, a new, bigger Death Star, and more Nazi stand-ins than you can shake a crystal skull at. Ironically, that movie didn’t have Nazis, but I digress. Also, after 30 years, Harrison Ford finally got his wish: For his character to die. Oh, sorry, spoiler alert for the 5 people who were going to see it but just haven’t had time. Seriously, 8 is coming out this year, catch up.
What I didn’t expect after viewing it twice in theaters and buying the blu-ray the day it came out, was that people would have complaints about the movie that were simply stupid if you actually try to understand what’s going on. So let’s get the one that I wrote this about out of the way, then we can explore the other complaints and why they’re stupid too.
Rey is too powerful/learns too fast – This is probably the biggest complaint I’ve heard, with people calling her a “Mary-Sue” or even worse, an SJW archetypal “strong woman” character shoehorned in. After all, it took three movies for Luke to be a competent Jedi, right? And he even had a real Jedi teaching him, while Rey was left to figure it out on her own! Thing is, Luke was a 19 year old farm boy who had barely heard rumors of the Jedi. Hell, he barely knew what one was, the Empire’s influence was so strong and he was such a hick. Rey, on the other hand, already knew about the Jedi, and had been told many stories about what they could do and all that fun noise. Her natural adaptation to the force wasn’t unusual. She believed in it, unlike Luke. Further, she’d probably seen Jedi at some point, actually doing what Jedi do, so she knew how it looked, and she knew it was real. Luke wasn’t even ready to accept that he could block stinging blaster bolts without seeing them. The other issue for Rey was that she was such a great pilot. This just couldn’t be. After all, she took to the Falcon’s controls like a natural. Y’know, except that part where she almost totaled the beast. It’s not like she had ever flown a starship before or anything. Oh wait, starships are basically like cars in modern times. Sure, the Falcon was old even in the original trilogy, 30 years prior, but are you trying to tell me that you couldn’t drive a 1977 Camaro as well as a brand-new car? Sure it’d be a little clunky in comparison, and the steering would feel a little heavy (hey remember when she almost slammed the damn thing into the ground?) but it would definitely be something you’d have zero trouble adjusting to. And finally, her repair ability. Oh, she’s a mechanical genuis. How convenient! Well, no, it’s not convenient. Pay attention. Her entire life revolves around disassembling old parts from Imperial and Rebel equipment and knowing which parts are valuable. She probably broke a few things and had to put them back together so she could eat, so I’d imagine her ability to repair stuff from that era would be pretty well on-par with highly-trained mechanics of at least the Rebellion if not the Empire.
There’s also a bit of a problem that people noticed with the lightsaber “duel” on the Death Star III. Rey is apparently a master saber combatant, right? Well… no. Kylo Ren is a crappy lightsaber fighter. Who’d he learn from, Snoke? He had some remedial lessons from Luke, at best, before he broke away from the order, likely causing Luke to go emo on us and hit up his exile vacation/retirement. He wasn’t even good enough to make a force-damned competent lightsaber! Yeah, you heard me, that jagged, lightning-looking lightsaber is intentionally a piece of crap. He had nobody to guide him, so he made something that had to vent excess plasma to the sides because it was so poorly-made. Also, he’d be shot in the fucking gut at that point. He was a natural at the force, but he was about as good as a lightsaber fighter as Luke was in the first movie. That is to say, he would have had his ass handed to him by grandpa. Rey was about on-par in terms of training, and she wasn’t bleeding out like a stuck pig, using 90% of her force abilities to keep from letting her insides litter the snow. Kylo Ren had a huge disadvantage, which is why the wildly emotional fight, reminiscent of the slow, methodical fight from the first movie, even happened.
The locations are all the same! It’s just a rehash of Episode IV! – First, shut up. It’s called “Star Wars”, not Episode IV. Second, yes, it’s reminiscent of the original movie, and for damn good reason. A lot of what was done in this movie was to reassure fans that we weren’t getting Jar-Jar Binks part II here, so there are a ton of echos and callbacks to the original. Plus, Abrams LOVES him some references. Look at every single Star Trek movie he’s directed for comparison. It’s introducing a new audience while placating the original. Abrams knew his place, and it wasn’t to innovate in terms of narrative. Still, he was able to bring in a ton of new material to add on to what we already knew and loved. Poe Dameron was a great new character, and the “passing of the torch” was done very well in this movie. Sure, Jakku is another desert planet, but it was a good setting we got to escape again. Imagine if it’d been some beautiful, lush world where everything is plentiful. Who would feel the intense need to escape? Admittedly, I would have loved to see Nar Shaddaa instead, but we’ll get it, eventually. I hope. Still, a desert planet makes for a great “low resources” setting for any movie. Dune did it, Star Wars did it, Mad Max did it, it’s done to death, but it’s still a good narrative environment. Nar Shaddaa would have just gained a pile of Blade Runner comparisons anyway. At least it wasn’t a thriving Arizona-like wunderworld like Tattooine was. It was a seriously ugly craphole with no real redeeming qualities other than a trading post. And Shaun of the Dead.
The new superweapon was just a beefier Death Star – Yep, it was. So was the Death Star II, and despite its flaws, Episode VI was hailed as a great entry into the series, only being edged out by Empire because of the teddy bears. Take in the gravity of the situation, though. While the Death Star and the Death Star II were able to blow up planets, Starkiller Base blew up entire systems. Okay, yes, having entire systems around a star be all inhabitable is ridiculous, but it was still pretty impressive, and scary. This thing didn’t even have to appear above your planet to blow it up. You’d just see red death and gone. No warning, no preparation, just, there goes your planet and all the planets in your system. Christ that’s freaky. Admittedly, the trench run and subsequent destruction with a group on the ground was basically a combo of how the Alliance beat the first two Death Stars, but it was still fun to watch.
Kylo Ren is a whiny bitch – Yes. Yes he is. So was Luke. At least Ren cut up some crap and stopped a giant blaster bolt in mid-air. The whole point was that he had this hero-worship complex going on with his grandpa, and he was trying to excise the good in him. How many times have you actually seen that in a movie, where an evil character is consciously fighting his good side? Not very often when it was serious. Usually, this is something cartoon characters might explore, but it’s usually in a comical way. Kylo Ren’s attempt to excise the good in him is actually a very Sith trait. It’s something the EU/Legends did once in a while, giving the characters a serious internal battle. It’s something you will explore any time you try to play an evil character in a Star Wars video game, too. Try being a dick to characters that you like. It’s not easy. Hell, try just being a dick in Fallout 4 to get the “bad guy” character type. I really liked this character model. Usually it’s a fight to get back to the good, but this time, it’s hard to be bad, because he still has connections to his family and to those he cared about. He has to try for it, and that’s impressive writing. Granted, the lines are still cheesy as hell, but that’s what Star Wars does.
BB-8 was too cute – So was R2D2. Next.
Finn was a token – So was Lando, and he was the best part of the goddamn original trilogy in some people’s minds. Nobody’s mentioning that Poe was Latino, of course. He was easily the best character in The Force Awakens, but people still bash Finn for his tokenism, for his being taken out like a bitch (he’s a stormtrooper, what the hell did you expect? He did a hell of a lot better than most), or for his Mary-Sue tendencies. Dude was a sanitation worker on Death Star III, what do you expect? Sanitation engineers know shit. Way more than you want to think about. It makes sense in-universe that he’d have some pretty good understanding of how this Imperial base works. He was a nosy bastard and asked questions. This is pretty evident.
So, with all this said, do I think The Force Awakens was a great Star Wars movie? No. I think it was a competent one that was necessary to move the damn plot along. It did all the right things for all the right reasons. It was a connecting piece that introduced the new characters and passed the torch to a new generation. It did a hell of a job compared to the disjointed, fan-hating prequels that did everything in their power to ignore everything that made the original movies great. It didn’t help that Lucas himself directed the prequels, while acclaimed directors are in charge of the sequels. I do hope that 8 and 9 do a better job, and I have a feeling they will. The world has become overly-critical of Star Wars, but let us not forget that Star Wars started with a hack director, hammy acting, overblown writing, and an overly-ambitious special-effects team that became ILM, but not before throwing everything they could find at it to make some fairly-competent special effects.
Now, Rogue One was a totally different story. One that I also loved, but that’s a tale for another episode…