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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler Review
By Marcuse | Edited by NudgeNudge | 21st December, 2015 | 7:31 pm | Marcuse's Panopticon

Marcuse's Panopticon
Oh my God it’s Star Wars, they made a new Star Wars film wahooooooo!!!!

Look, this review is going to contain basically all the spoilers for The Force Awakens, so if you haven’t seen it yet and spoilers are important for you to avoid, please go watch the damn thing. I’ll say this much: if you’re on the fence whether you want to see it, then please take my word that it will be worth seeing. In the meantime, here’s the trailer to bump all the spoilers below:

Okay, now we have that part out of the way. Time for the fanboy squeeing. Let’s not pretend that this movie wasn't made to trade extremely heavily on Original Trilogy nostalgia, and I think in that respect it really does work. We have the classic characters back, but not overused for their own sake, the return of Star Destroyers, superweapons, masked grouches hunting fleeing rebels. All that stuff is present, and even the effects and the way they were created is intended to bring back the feel of A New Hope that was critically missing from the prequel trilogy.


I think it’s valid to present the story in this way, but I do feel like a criticism of the movie is that it does lapse very much into repeating the story of A New Hope. We begin on a desert planet, where a droid separated from its master is harbouring secret information that will prove to be the key to the conflict between the Empire First Order and the Rebels Resistance. It’s found by someone living a hard life in the desert who then inexplicably develops a commitment to completing the mission the droid communicates to them. The bad guys do bad guy things, including torture and exploding a planet, then the good guys come in and their small fleet of starfighters blow up the large enemy superweapon base.

Totally not the Death Star...

So is this just a retread? Well, yes and no. The pertinent plot elements are the same, but the presentation of them is different. Some of that is in the delivery of the situation recognizing the context, and some of it is in the reshuffle of the characters that are thrown into that. For example, in Ep 4, Luke is flying the Death Star trench to blow it up, in Ep 7 it’s Poe Dameron doing that while events happen with the characters on the surface.

One example of new presentation is Finn, the character we’ve seen a lot of in the trailers. He’s a former stormtrooper, stolen from his family and raised almost from birth to be nothing but a soldier. However, when he’s ordered to participate in the execution of the villagers on Jakku, he refuses. Then he manages to escape with Poe Dameron and runs into Rey. He’s an interesting character, possessed of weird habits and archaisms like holding Rey’s hand when she obviously doesn’t need protecting and demonstrating the kind of stunted education someone bred to be a soldier would display. He often presents the comic relief, but when push comes to shove he’s the guy who ignites the lightsaber he has no idea how to use and flings himself at the enemy. John Boyega acts this really well, and having seen him in his previous movie Attack the Block, I was confident he would. He has real chemistry with both Rey and Poe, and works as a comic foil to Han surprisingly well.
Sort of a badass too

He’s also a character without real precedent in the Star Wars series, being a genuine defector. His presence gives us tons of exposition about the First Order without needing to have lengthy scenes that describe what and who the FO are directly. He doesn’t have a name, just a designation, because that’s how the FO treat people. He was kidnapped at birth because the FO do that kind of child soldier thing. Him being there shows what the FO is capable of in the long term without needing to delve into exposing that over several films, and immediately gives an impression to the viewer of the cultural/political difference between the FO and the Republic.

In opposite fashion, the focus on Kylo Ren does the same for the heroes of the Rebellion. Kylo is Han and Leia’s son: Ben Solo, and he represents all the pressure and expectation that that lineage represents. I feel a little like Kylo was based at least in part on Darth Caedus from the Expanded Universe series of novels, being Jacen Solo turned to the Sith and the Dark Side. Essentially, a common theme among the Star Wars subsequent novels is that the children of such great heroes struggle greatly to live up to the legacy they come from, and fall to darkness because they are afraid of failure. It’s hard to be good, and some choose the quick and easy path. Such destiny appears to be the same for Kylo. His rages don’t come from the cold place of Vader, whom he intends to emulate, but from the frustration of someone who cannot accept less than perfection for fear of being seen as lesser.

Definitely trying hard.

I’ve seen comments that he is “emo” or that he can’t live up to being Vader, which I believe to be the point. As a successor to Vader, he also sucks, and the film makes a point of taking a character who deliberately dehumanises himself to escape his pain, and humanises him. He’s characterised as a deeply flawed person, and it demonstrates how someone handed that amount of power, responsibility and expectation can run from it all. The eventual scene where he kills his father is really a scene of growth for him, of acceptance of the Dark Side. He’s not a fully formed character like Vader was, but is still reaching that role, and I think the elements like him being young and strong and relatively handsome are intentional choices to demonstrate that he’s not entirely the master of the Dark Side as he thinks.

But primarily, this story is about Rey. We spend the most screen time with her, and the movie is all the better for it. Daisy Ridley acts her socks off throughout the film, portraying a capable character who nevertheless makes mistakes and is outmatched by her situation. The difference between her and Finn is, of course, that she has the Force. This is her story of discovering that and finding her mentor to learn the ways of the Force. In a sense, the Force awakens in her, and even Supreme Leader Snoke senses it. We still have some mystery to her though, it’s never explained who her lost family is, and it’s something I strongly feel will have an impact on the plot of the future films. Rey manages to be funny, affecting and capable without reaching that point where she hits Mary Sue. It’s certainly on the horizon, if I’m completely honest, because she self-teaches herself to trick someone with the Force from nothing. Though, tricking Daniel Craig (in a stealth cameo) was hilarious enough to overlook, kind of. But she also seems to glean knowledge of how to use a lightsaber that she previously had no idea of too, and the whole change from scavenger to Force sensitive proto Jedi seems to occur entirely out of nowhere for her, which does admittedly stretch my disbelief. Luke didn’t consider himself a Jedi until he’d been trained by two Jedi masters, but Rey seems to have learned as much as he did from just that short end section of Ep 7. The scene at the end, where Luke turns to her, and she simply offers him the lightsaber is a representation of her awaking the Force in others, and maybe it’ll be her that actually rebuilds the Order, not Luke.
You try finding a picture of Rey from anywhere but Jakku, jeez.

In general, the remaining characters are handled pretty well. Chewbaccca in particular gets a lot of screen time, especially when Han dies. I enjoyed his enraged reaction to it, and felt it was entirely in character and also a very satisfying thing to see Kylo shot immediately after murdering his own father. Carrie Fisher’s acting is a little flat to me: her Force assisted reaction shot felt a little more like she was experiencing some indigestion more than it was grief, but she wasn’t in it a lot so it’s not really harming the film too much. I did feel that the First Order lost out a lot in characterisation, with General Hux being an interesting character that didn’t really go anywhere, and Captain Phasma being the most incredible disappointment in the movie for me. I was pumped for a strong, female captain of the stormtroopers to be a badass normal, and take on a Jedi or something equally excellent. Instead she just talks a little and then apparently dies in the destruction of Starkiller base, offscreen, with nothing done except allowing the Resistance to do their attack run for no reason. I’d expect a captain of the FO to choose death over aiding the enemy, and given there’s a scene where a FO lieutenant is chastised for leaving his post while the entire planet is exploding, I find it hard to believe she did this. Maybe there’s something else in store for her, but it felt very disappointing to see her so underused.

You'll spend more time looking at this image than she got in the film.

Essentially, this film is one based on its characters, given the largely recycled plot. On that front, the report is mixed, with the primary characters handled really well, but the less obvious ones seemingly neglected at worst, and underserved at best. But Star Wars is all about the spectacle, and carrying the viewer away with that in order to carry the character development they want. In this, it most certainly succeeded for me. I was entirely carried away by the story, the characters, the interactions and connections they make. I cried more than once, especially for Rey who seemed to be on the verge of tears half the movie but it never felt inappropriate because I was too. It left me exhilarated and entertained and in the end isn’t that all you need from a movie, even if it is flawed?

Star Wars Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is a brilliant ride, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but I think it’s crafted in such a way that the limitations are minimised and the strengths are played to. I really enjoyed it, and I think any fan of Star Wars would too.

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