Here are some more of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015). I liked the not so subtle digs at the prequels. The first line of the film is, “This will begin to make things right”. The Starkiller Base blows up the Republic and thus the Senate (there’ll be none of that talky politics crap in our Star Wars). I believe I also heard some dialogue criticising the inferiority of a clone army in comparison to stormtroopers. The humanising of the stormtroopers again seems like a reaction against the prequels. Finn (John Boyega) shows us they’re human beings with feelings, not disposable duplicates, which raises the stakes of the war. Plus, other stormtroopers have emotional reactions, showing us Finn is not just an anomaly.
Finn, I’d say, is the best of the new characters. His disreputable past, humour under pressure and strained bravery have their roots in Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) original character, but his youthful inexperience and Boyega’s performance distinguish him. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) roots are more evident, being a blatant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) clone, but with a greater sense of sadness about the loss of her family and less enthusiasm for adventure. Making her more of a reluctant hero makes her eventual bravery seem more heroic, and her stronger connection to her home makes her leaving more moving. Also, it’s good to see a woman in a traditionally male role and not appear at all out of place (why would she?). Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) struggle with the dark side seems far more genuine and nuanced compared to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) sudden conversions. I know we’re bound to see more of her in the future, but Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) did nothing except look cool. I think they were going for a Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) vibe, but throwing her down the trash compactor kind of diminished that. If you want a character to look cool, don’t throw them in the garbage. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also does very little. The writers obviously decided to make the other characters think he was dead for half the movie, not for suspense, but because they could think of nothing to do with him. Max Von Sydow’s character is entirely superfluous. All the information he conveys could have been told visually. Han Solo is as fun as he’s always been and it’s sad to see him go, as his relationship with his son and split from Leia (Carrie Fisher) added new dimensions to the character that would have been nice to explore further. However, his death is unearned, being the culmination of a story we haven’t been given time or reason to care about. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll care because it’s Han Solo, not because of anything the film has done. I wish we had seen less of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), possibly even nothing at all and just had him talked about to build an aura around him. I think it would have been far more interesting and darker to have Kylo Ren talking to Vader’s dead skull, which only seems to be in here so they could get that one shot in the trailer and probably on a bunch of merchandise.
The CGI used for Snoke is nothing new and looks out of place with the retro vibe the film’s going for. In fact, things start to really go wrong with the sudden introduction of Snoke and other CGI elements. We also have a pointless runaround on a freighter with CGI tentacles. It seems to be there so we can have some last bits of fun and humour with Han and Chewie (Peter Mayhew), but it serves no plot purpose apart from the bounty hunters inform the First Order of BB-8’s whereabouts, but this makes no sense as they’re already able to track him. Maz Kanata (Lupita Kanata) is another out of place CGI creation that seems utterly pointless. The time spent with her really bogs the movie down. All the emotional issues and plot points brought up during these scenes could be worked out on the Falcon; perhaps while being pursued by TIE fighters and Star Destroyers à la The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I don’t see any reason why Han couldn’t have picked up Luke’s lightsaber somewhere, and Finn couldn’t just ask Han to take him away from the war instead of propositioning other characters. Maz’s cantina-esque home seems to have been included just so another box can be ticked on the film’s list of essential Star Warsy stuff.
With the amount of subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original films, I’m beginning to think it was genuinely the filmmakers’ plan to subconsciously trick us into thinking The Force Awakens was a great Star Wars movie by using as many familiar aspects as possible. It’s got everything you like about Star Wars, how can it be bad? The logic makes sense, and I think after the disappointment of the prequels, they were right to go back to what we love about Star Wars. I just wish there could have been something really original and different to make it stand out from the past films, but they played it safe. A sensible marketing decision, not a very exciting artistic one.