Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Now that I’ve seen it more than once and had time to let it all sink in, I’m going to delve a little deeper into The Force Awakens. There will be major spoilers involved, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I recommend reading my spoiler free review instead and returning here after you’ve experienced the story on screen for yourself.
The purpose of this post is to analyse aspects of the film in a way which complements, rather than repeats, what was laid out in my previous piece. I’ll also touch upon theories and other topics related to both Episode VII and Star Wars as a whole, and where better to begin than with the saga’s new protagonist, Rey.
Thank god for Daisy Ridley! She is the light in the darkness in all manner of metaphors when it comes to this movie. I was blown away by Rey the first time around and adored her even more upon further viewing. If there’s one thing that I’m excited about on the way forward, it’s spending more time with this character and seeing how she develops.
I’ve seen some complaints about how effortlessly she uses the Force, despite her lack of training. This definitely is not an issue for me. Quite the contrary. I believe it to be one of the story’s greatest strengths. It was an astonishing demonstration of her abilities and resulted in one of the most exhilarating lightsabre duels across all seven episodes.
The fact that the Force comes so naturally to Rey sets her up as potentially the most powerful Jedi the series has seen so far and that is most certainly intriguing. Surely it also means that she has to be a Skywalker! Setting aside the fact that she’s the hero here, it would better justify Luke’s disappearance were Rey his daughter.
I can get behind the idea of her mother being killed in Ren’s uprising and Luke sending his daughter into hiding so as not to repeat the same mistakes with his own offspring. If he went into exile to protect his child, that’s fine. But I think it seriously undermines him if the only reason he fled was due to Ben Solo falling to the dark side. If that is the case, Luke has run away to leave the rest of the galaxy to deal with a mess of his making. That paints him in a cowardly light and I am not okay with that.
One of the few things that can save him is if it was all about looking after Rey. So for the sake of Luke more so than anything else, I pray that the writers reveal the Force sensitive scavenger to be his daughter. There’s also an implication that Leia may know this to be the case when she sends Rey off to find him rather than going herself. Even if it’s not public knowledge, it would make sense for Leia to feel the truth.
I would have found the ending a lot more satisfying had Luke actually said something to further allude to the fact. Even something as simple as “Welcome Rey, I’ve been expecting you. Now, let’s begin.” Just anything at all after spending the entire film wondering when he was going to show up. His silent cameo just didn’t feel like enough of a pay-off when the story revolved around the question of his whereabouts. It was very frustrating.
I was actually hoping he’d show up to save the day during the climactic confrontation, but – while it would have softened the blow a bit following what happened to Han – I do understand the need to establish Rey’s prowess and in hindsight it did work better that way. Perhaps the best moment of the movie for me was during the duel when she seemed on the brink of defeat, took a moment to collect herself, and then beat Ren down. It really cemented her status as an incredible character.
Indeed, there was only one thing in this movie that had a more powerful impact on me than Daisy Ridley’s spectacular performance; the tragic loss of Han Solo. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It was the single most devastating thing I have ever witnessed on screen. It may seem like an over-reaction to some, but I can’t even put into words how much it broke my heart and I don’t mind admitting that watching him die left my eyes stinging from tears. The moment he paced out onto that walkway and the score stopped, I don’t think there were many people who didn’t guess at what was coming and that made the entire scene all the more painful.
The first time I saw it, it hit me like a punch to the chest and the second time it somehow hurt even more. Whatever else it is, forever will The Force Awakens be the most difficult movie in existence for me to watch and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sour my experience a bit. But as distressing as Han’s death was, I was almost as put out by how he died. Maybe it would have worked better a movie or two down the line, but I don’t think we know Ren or his relationship with his parents well enough yet to justify his being the instrument of his father’s demise.
I would have preferred if Han had bowed out a little more heroically. Even something as simple as having the detonator for the explosives he and Chewie planted and hitting it with his last breath. However, I am eternally grateful to Harrison Ford for coming back to reprise the role one last time and being so brilliant in it. From his initial declaration of being “home” to the astounding intensity of his calling out his son’s given name, the iconic actor hit all the right notes and gifted fans with a performance to remember. For that, I can only offer him my sincerest thanks and continued respect.
The dynamic between Han and Leia was perfectly played too. I was worried that they’d no longer be a couple beforehand, but, as it turned out, their estrangement didn’t bother me because there was no time wasted on animosity. I loved how mature they came across when sharing scenes and that they were essentially poking fun at the fact that their younger selves got on each other’s nerves so much.
It really made me believe that these two have grown together since last we saw them and that they are still very much in love, despite their separation. The decision to show that Leia felt Han’s death through the Force was inspired. It was a truly touching character moment, as well as a necessary nod to Leia’s Jedi heritage. It will be interesting to see where things go between her and Kylo Ren in the sequels, but I don’t want him to be redeemed.
It’s already repetitive enough that the villain is a Skywalker gone bad due to the influence of some sort of shadowy puppet master. I don’t need to see a repeat of a fallen hero rising up against his master to save the day as well. And there are key distinctions between Ren and Vader that mean it wouldn’t make as much sense for the former to return to the light anyway, the main one lying in how each of their arcs played out.
Anakin embraced the darkness in a bid to save those he loved and only truly became Darth Vader when he thought he had nothing left to live for. It was fitting then that he should be brought back from the brink by the realisation that he could still save his children. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, knew all along that he had a family to which he could return, but distinguished himself from his grandfather by not being won over by their pleas. When faced with the opportunity to save his mother by helping his father stop the destruction of the Resistance base, he chose to destroy them both instead.
So to my mind, not only should Ben Solo not be redeemed, it simply makes no sense from a narrative standpoint for him to be redeemed. It also means that there’s still a chance for Kylo Ren to become a better villain. As it was, I was not impressed by him. His motivations were murky and his attitude was immature and childish. While it did contrast well with Rey, I thought it left him feeling shallow and unworthy of being the facilitator of the most lamentable moment in the Star Wars saga, or, indeed, personally speaking, in the history of cinema itself.
Annoyingly, Ren’s fall from grace also reset things to zero after the hard won victory at the end of Return of the Jedi. So much for the prophecy of the chosen one and Anakin Skywalker bringing balance to the Force by destroying Palpatine. What difference does it make in the grand scheme of things if Jedi are still going to turn away from the light? They can refer to themselves as the Knights of Ren, but the principle is the same as the Sith. This subverts the story of the first six films when they’re taken together chronologically.
Corrupted Skywalkers aside, enjoyable or not, there was far too much repetition in this movie in general. The First Order’s superweapon may have been named Starkiller Base, but there’s no denying that it was a Death Star that could destroy several planets at once, rather than one. And the fact that it could be blown up by a big obvious weakness again was almost insulting.
Now I’m not saying it wasn’t exciting to see Poe swoop in to strike the fatal blow, I’m just of the opinion that it was a little lazy. It was also sorely lacking in tension, especially in comparison to the last suspenseful seconds of the Battle of Yavin – the moment when Han and Chewie make their triumphant return to clear the way for Luke still gives me goosebumps. The problem is pacing. The battle here comes about far too quickly. But I am glad that Poe got his moment to shine at the end. Thankfully Rey’s wrestle with Ren on the ground was infinitely more effective though.
While we’re on the subject of the story’s structure, let’s look at how it starts. The opening crawl was perfect. Setting aside the chills that come with hearing the music blast out as the words “Star Wars” fill the screen, I really liked the wording used. It set the scene well and captured the feeling of the original trilogy maybe more than anything else in the film.
A better understanding of the post-Imperial political state than what was mentioned in the text would have been appreciated though. While I’ve read much on the matter from the filmmakers since seeing the movie, the relationship between the Resistance and the Republic is too unclear on screen. As is the extent of this new Republic’s influence. It made it hard to care all that much when the First Order annihilated the Hosnian system.
Why were the Republic so reluctant to deal with the First Order themselves? This is a shortcoming that I feel is as lazy as using another world-ending weapon and glossing over how Maz Kanata got her hands on Luke’s old lightsabre. If it’s true that there are deleted scenes which address some of these issues, then it was an unwise decision to remove them.
As it stands, I think it would have been better to turn the concept of the Resistance into the Republic military. That wouldn’t have changed the plot and it would have made for a neater narrative. I would have preferred to have seen Leia as a political leader too. The role of military commander may have been more appropriate for Han. That being said, I did enjoy that he was introduced as being up to his old tricks with Chewie.
I think the prize for best debut here has to go to Threepio though. It was the perfect mixture of amusing and innocently intrusive. When it comes to characters outside of the major players, I was surprised at the small size of Max von Sydow’s role. I definitely think there’s still more to be revealed about Lor San Tekka. He obviously has some sort of history with the Solos and I can’t help but feel that it’s no coincidence he and Rey were living on the same world.
At face value, Jakku seemed to be the site of a lot of unlikely meetings, but I both hope and believe that there was more to it than chance occurrences. If Rey is indeed Luke’s daughter, it would tie it all together neatly enough. One possibility is that Lor San Tekka was placed on the planet to keep an eye on her from afar, not unlike Obi-Wan on Tattooine. Maybe he even had the missing piece of the puzzle for finding Luke all along and was guarding it until such a time as the last Jedi instructed him to reveal it to Leia.
This would explain why Artoo came to life soon later and why the First Order ended up attacking a world where a Force sensitive scavenger just so happened to live. While it doesn’t account for Finn’s change of heart or the Falcon ending up abandoned there, therefore allowing for Han and Chewie to cross paths with Rey, certain things could be seen as being the will of the Force. Whatever the case, I do hope there’s more method to the madness than is initially apparent.
Someone else who got the short end of the stick was Captain Phasma. I don’t know why, but I had a feeling her role might not be as big as the marketing made it out to be. Something about her screamed “Boba Fett”. That is to say, a character who is surrounded by hype, but who doesn’t actually do much. Fett just shows up in Empire to take Han away and then falls foolishly into the Great Pit of Carkoon in Jedi. He’s basically nothing more than a plot device and the same is true of Phasma here. She deactivates the shields. Job done.
A curious cameo that I didn’t catch the first time around was that of Obi-Wan Kenobi himself. Apparently Ewan McGregor recorded lines that were included in Rey’s vision and when you hear them, it’s plainly apparent that there’s some Alec Guinness mixed in there too. That was a nice nod, which suggests Obi-Wan may still be maintaining a watchful eye over events from the netherworld of the Force. It also makes me wonder all the more why Anakin doesn’t appear to Kylo Ren to tell him he rejected his identity as Darth Vader and doesn’t want anyone to finish what he started.
There were plenty of other small references to the previous films that I also appreciated. Some of these included the targeting display on the Falcon; Finn finding the remote with which Luke trained; and a scene where a group of stormtroopers ran past the screen saying “they may be splitting up”, while the heroes lurked in the shadows nearby, recalling a similar situation involving Obi-Wan on the Death Star in A New Hope.
John Williams’ score hit all the right nostalgia cues too, which I didn’t appreciate until my second viewing. The music when Rey calls the lightsabre to her hand was especially effective. Something else that didn’t register with me the first time around was that – apart the occasional peal of Shryiiwook – Leia spoke the last line of the movie when she said “May the Force be with you” to Rey. Since Luke stayed silent, it was appropriate, considering she was the last of the original big three standing at the time.
I enjoyed subtle nods such as these a lot more than reusing major plot points. One small homage I found a little odd though was revealing Kylo Ren’s name to be Ben. Presumably this is after Obi-Wan, but neither Han nor Leia had any significant ties to the old Jedi general. Calling him Bail after Leia’s adoptive father might have made more sense, even if it would have had a smaller impact.
While all of the issues I’ve outlined throughout this article and my spoiler free review do still stand, The Force Awakens has definitely benefited from further viewing and additional digestion. Its basic premise is a little too familiar, it glosses over a few too many things and I’m not fond of how quickly it undoes what was accomplished in Return of the Jedi. However, it features plenty of characters about whom I care; contains a wealth of real depth and emotion; and boasts some absolutely stunning cinematography. It’s not perfect and I’m still unsure as to where I’d rank it in relation to its peers, but I think at this point I can confidently assign Star Wars Episode VII a fairly healthy rating of 7/10.
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