It’s quite a joyous thing to say that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is coming out later this week, so here’s my review for its predecessor to prepare for its release.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the seventh installment in the central saga, it coming out a full 32 years after “Return of the Jedi”. It not only continues the saga, but it starts things off with new characters and a new story to follow, all of it setting up a new planned trilogy of sequels.
One of the many things that worked well for this movie was the addition of new characters such as Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. We start off with Finn first as we get a look at him on his first mission as a stormtrooper with the First Order. Long story short, he sees some messed up stuff he doesn’t like and he decides to desert the First Order, (the new sinister force that has risen from the ashes of the Empire) and that’s where Poe comes along. With Poe captured by the First Order, Finn helps him escape by means of blasting their way out with a TIE fighter and in that scene we get a development of their bromance. It’s just the pure joy of seeing them actually emote and grow as friends together that made me realize that we got a good combination of J.J. Abrams directing and Lawrence Kasdan writing as opposed to George Lucas writing and directing while all of his yes-men approve of his dumb ideas.
After Finn and Poe, there’s Rey and what we see of her is just a lone scavenger on the planet Jakku and she’s basically just poking around for broken trinkets to support herself while she waits for her family to arrive on Jakku, her family being a mystery throughout the entire film, but there’s plenty of speculation already. The thing about Rey that sets her apart from the other characters is that she ends up being one with the Force later in the movie. She can use the Jedi mind trick on 007, she’s able to connect with the force in moments of need, and as far as we know, she’s the only one who can resist Kylo Ren when he tries to use the Force to interrogate her. At this moment, we pretty much know that our new Jedi in this trilogy will be Rey as opposed to Finn being marketed as such in the trailers and posters. Not only a Jedi, but her past in and of itself is very interesting to think about. When she finds Luke’s old lightsaber in Maz Kanata’s bar, she touches it and she’s immediately thrown into a series of flashbacks such as her being dropped off on Jakku as a child, as well as a hooded figure with R2-D2, one we can assume is Luke. Stuff like this is why people are speculating that Rey is Luke’s daughter, but with two movies to go, speculation is really the only thing we have.
With every new hero in our story, there’s also a new villain and in this case, it’s Kylo Ren. It’s easy to look at him and assume he’s a Darth Vader knockoff, but that’s ultimately what the character wants. He wants to be the next feared being in the galaxy and he wants to achieve the level of power that Vader did, but his conflict is that he has occasional moments where he feels tempted by the light side. This was a very interesting and genuinely well done part of the story. We’ve seen many instances in the previous movies of a Jedi being tempted by the dark side of the Force, but now we actually get to see what it’d be like if a villain was tempted by the light side. This also plays into Kylo Ren’s biggest fear of not being as powerful as Vader and it was a great new twist on a trademark plot point to this series. Not only that, but we also learn more about Kylo Ren and his experience with the First Order. When he’s unmasked, he’s basically just a guy in his early twenties and he doesn’t look very intimidating at first, but that’s the point. With Darth Vader, he needed the suit and mask to survive and the side effect of that was just a badass villain who scared people, but with Kylo Ren, he needs the suit and mask to intimidate people. He knows that on his own without the mask and deep voice, people will just see him as a whiny, non-threatening punk, but he ultimately needs to find a way to make people afraid, but at risk of revealing the side of him that’s human and vulnerable. And again with his inexperience, he even has tempter tantrums when gets some type of bad news. Whenever he sees or hears something he doesn’t like, he whips out his crossed lightsaber and starts slashing everything in sight. That was a good indicator of the type of inexperienced, impatient person that he was, and he served as a great new villain to start off this trilogy.
With Kylo Ren as the main villain, there were also some other side villains introduced, but they have limited screen time compared to Kylo Ren. With General Hux, he’s more or less a younger version of Grand Moff Tarkin who has a camaraderie with Kylo Ren, but he also survives by the end of the film, so there’s definitely more of him to develop. Also, there’s the chrome stormtrooper Captain Phasma who has a cool introduction in the opening scene, and that’s just about it. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time and by the end, it’s implied that she was thrown into a garbage compactor off screen, but we all know by now that Phasma is indeed in “The Last Jedi”, so I’m looking forward to her actually doing something in that movie.
Finally, we get this trilogy’s version of the Emperor and it’s that of Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis. He only appears in this movie as a giant hologram, but the stuff we see of him is basically a look at how deformed he is and how he serves as Kylo Ren’s master. There’s a lot of speculation about him being Darth Plagueis, the Sith mentioned in Palpatine’s story in “Revenge of the Sith”, but the speculation doesn’t stop there. I’ve heard theories ranging from Snoke being Rey’s father, to Snoke even being a new form of Vader or Luke. We know virtually nothing about Snoke right now, but as shown in the trailers for “The Last Jedi”, he’s undoubtedly going to have a bigger role and with that comes the possible reveal of who he really is and what his motives are.
One of the biggest plot points revealed in the entire movie is that of Kylo Ren being Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia. It seemed almost inevitable that one of the new characters would end up being related to one of the older characters, and now it’s a Solo dynamic going on. This reveal reaches it climax when Han confronts Ben on Starkiller base as he tries to bring him back to the light side. It actually looks like it works at first when Ben reaches out for help, but it turns out that he was just referring to how he still feels the light side calling to him. And with that, he stabs Han Solo, his own father, through with his lightsaber and kills one of the most iconic characters of all time. It’s at that point with Kylo Ren that he makes his full transition to the dark side and there’s not likely to be a redeeming factor for him as a character.
Han Solo’s death really is a tough thing for me. In this movie, Han is such a evolved character, going from a rogue skeptic of the Force to someone who’s seen enough to understand that the Force is a real thing and there are some things in the galaxy that are beyond his control. Add to that is his desperation as a family man. He still has that badass rogue side to him, but his depth comes from being torn apart from Leia due to their own son being seduced by the dark side. Han is a more mature, evolved character in this movie, which is why it was a bummer to see him die. Still, I understand why it had to be done. Ben Solo’s transition into Kylo Ren needed to be complete and killing his own dad will just about do that. And honestly, Han’s death as it is is much more preferable to seeing him go out in a manner that involves him intentionally crashing the Millennium Falcon into something to go out as a hero. His death by his own son makes it all the more tragic.
After Han’s death, that leads to the movie’s climax. Rey and Finn confront Kylo Ren in the forest and we first start off with Finn taking Luke’s old lightsaber and going up against a wounded Kylo Ren after being shot by Chewbacca. Ren does appear to struggle, but he eventually takes down Finn by not killing him, but viciously wounding him in a very gritty fight scene. It then cuts to Rey using the Force to grab the lightsaber and a second duel begins. What I loved is that it felt like a real duel with people making actual strikes to kill rather than the flashy, fake choreography of the prequels. It eventually boils down to Rey tapping into the Force again and wounding Kylo Ren as she wins the duel. This was a fight that was gritty, character driven, and it felt realistic in terms of stuff like choreography and the wounds inflicted on one another.
The other part of the climax is the Resistance launching an assault on Starkiller Base which is basically just a larger Death Star that’s built into a planet. This was definitely a moment reused from the original film, but it didn’t bother me as much as some others considering that the assault is more of a side story to the main lightsaber duel, but I can definitely understand why some people are bothered by this plot point. However, I think pretty much everyone involved in this saga knows that they can’t keep relying on rebuilding the Death Star, so hopefully this is the last we see of it.
The main story surrounding this movie was that Luke Skywalker has vanished and now the Resistance is trying to locate him by means of a map that Poe stored inside his droid, BB-8. With Luke gone, it’s essentially because of the guilt he feels in training Ben Solo to be a Jedi, but failing him and letting him be seduced by Snoke to the dark side. Luke isn’t even onscreen for most of the movie, yet this movie does a great job of making you feel for Luke and his reason for his own personal exile. He does end up making an appearance in the very last scene of the film when Rey finds the planet he’s on and presents him with his old lightsaber. The expression on Luke’s face is that of pure surprise and it could be for many reasons. It could be from seeing his old lightsaber for the first time in thirty years, it could be because it’s the first time in a while that he’s seen another human being, or it could be that Rey is his daughter and he’s surprised at seeing her come to him. The only thing we really know at this point is that Luke will be training Rey to be a Jedi and that’s an exciting enough idea to pull people in for Episode VIII.
Major plot points aside, I also loved all of the little reveals for classic characters and imagery. The “garbage ship” reveal of the Millennium Falcon was perfect, seeing C-3PO complete his programing of cock-blocking of Han Solo was hilarious, and the overall feel of this movie had the perfect feel of mixing the old with the new. We get to see all of these well developed new characters and care for them as people, but also the iconic old characters and imagery without any of it feeling convoluted or forced. This movie meshed all that it possibly could together and it made for a movie that absolutely deserves being recognized as a true return to form for the saga.
I loved “The Force Awakens” and I’m extremely excited for how this trilogy is going to play out. There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this movie such as who Rey’s family is and how Maz Kanata found Luke’s lightsaber, but the next two movies are obviously going to expand on that stuff. This trilogy will ultimately pull off what the original trilogy did with completing a story arc over the course of three films and I trust upcoming directors Rian Johnson and the returning J.J. Abrams to build off of what this movie started. “Star Wars” is back in a great return to form with an entertaining, well directed, well acted film with a simple yet effective story and great emotion and characterization. Simply put, you should see this film at some point if you care about “Star Wars”.
Rating: Better Than Sex!!