The movie is pretty good. I don’t want to drone on and on about it, but I do want to record a few of my thoughts for public consumption.
The Light Side
The Force Awakens is the Star Wars followup that the prequels should have been. It has the same humor and likable characters as the original films, and at least aspires to the same degree of creative exuberance. It brings the adventurous spirit back into the series, and the sense of a once-proud civilization fallen into ruin. In short, it was above all else a Star Wars film, and a good one.
Humanization of Bad Guys
Star Wars has never been reknowned for a nuanced depiction of good and evil, but The Force Awakens does make some significant strides in that direction. To make the main character a defecting Stormtrooper was a stroke of genius, and the characterization of Kylo Ren was just ambiguous enough to allow me to think maybe he would reform. Sure, our arch-villains are still guilty of crimes that would make Hitler wince, but it was nice to see some genuine personalities among the bad guys.
A small thing, but noteworthy: I can’t think of any other movie, any other movie, that depicted a genuine romantic relationship between two characters who are effectively senior citizens. This is a major blind spot in our cinematic tradition, I think, and the degree of respect, of non-remarkableness, with which it was handled here, is worthy of commendation.
Thank you for making Star Wars less of a men-only club. Not only by the addition of Rey as a main character, but by the use of so many women in minor supporting roles. In the old canon, “royalty” appeared to be the only job opening for women… now we see that girls can operate the ultra-doom mega-death-ray weapon, too!
The Dark Side
That the entire plot rests on the shoulders of this tired old trope is bad enough, but the way that it’s employed is even worse. Who made the map of Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts? How did the old guy at the beginning get the missing piece? How did the First Order get the rest of the pieces? Why does the map have a long trail to follow instead of an X with the words “Here Be Luke”? Also, since the First Order knew the map was inside BB-8, why didn’t the protagonists move it into some other droid that was less recognizable, or repaint BB-8? Seriously, it was one of the most transparently contrived and poorly-handled plot devices I’ve ever seen.
The contemporary Hollywood director knows no subtlety in camera movement. The camera can’t ever hold still; it has to swing around or fly over stuff at all times, and if that’s not appropriate it’s hand-held so the view wobbles. These techniques could be a good emphasis tool if used sparingly. Overuse makes a movie look like a car commercial.
Why are the planets in this film so uninspired? We have the desert planet that’s indistinguishable from Tattooine, and three(?) forest planets that are indistinguishable from each other. Granted, this series has never been particularly memorable in this department (Bespin is one of the few I can think of that seems really original), but the assortment used in The Force Awakens feels like no one cared enough to bother.
Not a lot of originality in the alien department, either. There were shades of Mos Eisley in the Takodana cantina, but it felt more like an homage than it did an original menagerie in its own right. Humanoid aliens such as Maz Kanata (hey, Maz was the name of the Crocodite in my game Into the Titan) are rendered in merely-adequate CGI and have surprisingly inept lip-synch. It was disappointing.
Au revoir, Ren!
At the end of the film, the Millennium Falcon rescues Rey but leaves Ren behind without comment. Yes, he’s on the other side of a gaping hell-chasm. Our heroes have a spaceship. They’re not even going to discuss taking him prisoner? It smelled like the film’s writers were intentionally trying to set up the sequel by doing this, but if you ask me it would have been a more interesting hook to have him start the next film as a prisoner of the Resistance rather than just resuming his post as Vice-President of Evil.
Miscellaneous Jedi Mind Tricks
The Resistance is Totally Useless
Look at the size of the ultra-doom mega-death-ray. You could fit the entirety of the United States into its maw and still have room for more. This thing must have been under construction during most of the period between episodes VI and VII, but when does the resistance finally take it out? Literally minutes before it’s going to destroy them, and after it has already destroyed Coruscant. You guys seriously couldn’t conceive of any plan to attack this thing before the eleventh hour? You needed a stormtrooper who hardly knew the place and Han Solo (who in his connection to Ren is actually somewhat of a liability on this mission) before you could even consider giving this a try? You picked the worst possible time to attack this thing, sent people who were barely qualified at all, and still succeeded. Maybe try striking a little earlier next time?
Ren Shot First
Killing off Han Solo was daring but I have my doubts as to whether it was a good idea. Solo acts as sort of an anchor in these films; his dry sarcasm interrupts the fantasy and keeps it grounded in some semblance of reality. Throughout The Force Awakens I had the impression that Solo was the only thing preventing the story from drifting into a completely adolescent power trip, and his absence in the next film already puts the filmmakers at a disadvantage.
BB-8 vs. Stairs
BB-8’s design is pretty maneuverable, and his design is clever and original. That said, there are some situations in which he should by all rights be unable to get around, and I couldn’t help but notice that the filmmakers chose to skirt the issue by not depicting them. How does he get back up the stairs after he goes down to Maz Kanata’s basement? How does he get over all the fallen trees when navigating the forest? He looks too heavy to carry.
I was relieved that there were not too many instances of “showing the fans something just for the sake of getting them excited.” Granted, there were a few moments that felt this way (as I expected there would be) but for the most part this film was allowed to hold its own without being turned into a string of “hey look it’s that thing” cameos.
Han Solo’s Mega-Monsters
He claims they’re hard to transport, and I believe him. My only question is, who wants those horrible things?