First of all, wheee. It was awesome.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the finer discussions. And, SPOILERS!!! Stop now if you don’t like spoilers.
To make things very clear, I am a moderate SW fan, particularly in the Expanded Universe, having maybe about 20 books on the shelf including the X-Wing series and Thrawn books.
Before going into the movies I have mostly overcome the initial anger of them discarding the EU, however that is only as far as acceptance that ignoring the EU (which to be perfectly fair, had too much share of convoluted trash), and that by starting a new they had a chance to build something coherent and more in tune with real life practicalities. It is not a carte blanche for them to just create anything they wanted though. Fairly or unfairly, my standards are set at the Thrawn trilogy. They had best create plot and characters on par with Thrawn and Kardde, failing that they will not get the thumbs up from me.
They do not get the thumbs up from me.
It is a fantastic film, and perhaps even a A rate film for people who had only ever seen the movies. There is plenty of things for fans to love too.
Like sand dunes? Check
Like girrbly robot with cool tricks? Check
Like ATAT? Check
Like Star Destroyers? Check
Like speederbikes against a sunset? Check
Like weird space monsters? Check
Like the Falcon? Check
Like daring rescues? Check
Like bad guy with a mask? Check
Like trench runs? Check
Like flying through narrow openings? Check
Like Death Stars? Check
I got my chuckles, and it’s clear they understood what make Star Wars iconic.
That said, the whole film is somewhat let down by their attempt to shoe-horn some kind of transition from the old cast to the new. At its premise it’s not a bad idea, a kind of carrying on the torch moment, but it’s just not done that well I feel. The film simply did not have enough screen time to introduce 4 next gen characters while simultaneous trying to fit Han, Leia and Luke back in and still give each major roles.
As a result the whole thing felt rushed, and the time gap never really got filled in. Last we knew the Emperor was dead and presumably the Empire was falling apart with open rebellions. Next we know there’s some First Order baddies that’s probably the remnant of the Empire (but no explanation of how that transition happened), is ruled by some bad emperor like figure that’s neither called Emperor nor Lord nor Darth. Sithspawn, we’re not even sure that’s a sith.
There’s a Republic which we have no idea whether it’s what became of the Rebellion, which holds Coruscant and is some kind of major power around with unknown relations with the new bad Order.
Then we have the Resistance, which is kind of like the Rebellion, looks like the Rebellion, uses the Rebellion emblem, but is not called the Rebellion for whatever reason, and is also not clear of their strengths compared to the Order, only that the Republic is kinda sorta backing them.
The world setting is just a bunch of strange conveniences that does whatever the heck it needs to be at that moment in time that leaves so many strange holes.
If the Republic is the former Rebellion, why aren’t they in open war with the Order? If they now controls the Core systems, why does it seem to have no major presence and is apparently overwhelmed after losing just 5 worlds (I counted, that not-a-death-star shoots 5 beams). Even assuming the Republic had been at a nervous truce with the Order and the Core world sector fleet was completely wiped out along with the planets, what about the rest of the fleet elsewhere and all the other planets? Why didn’t they come to the Resistance’s aid?
It all felt very very strange like in Star Trek (reboot) when the Enterprise fights Nero in Earth orbit with nothing else around, I can buy the Federation earth fleet being blown to pieces at Vulcan and the rest of the fleet regrouping elsewhere, but what about planetary defenses? Non-warp ready fighters? That drill was in San Fran bay, any craft with a gun could have shot it down.
And why is the new bad guy so terrible? I can buy that maybe they didn’t want Kylo to be too powerful and kind of an amateur Sith, but the guy simply had no presence. He looks up to Darth Vader yet he’s a whiny brat who has anger issues. It’s like 120% Anakin, the guy was that terrible. He was not menacing, not scary, heck, not even evil. Even his attempt to woo Rey to the dark side was cringe worthy. “I can teach you to use it?” Really? You couldn’t even say how much more powerful you can make her? Or how you can reunite her with her family? Couldn’t even ask her to join you? Best you could think of was volunteering to be her creepy teacher?
Kylo is like a trashy villain henchmen except he’s supposed be the Darth Vader in this. For all of the prequel’s faults, at least Darth Maul was terrible (in the way Tokien uses the word, scary and mighty), and Dooku played by Christopher Lee was both gentlemanly, classy and had somewhat of a noble goal (if convoluted and hard to say if sincere). Kylo felt like an angry teen who went on a road rage because mommy and daddy didn’t love him enough. He made mistakes after mistakes, didn’t even show that other evil officer guy his place when Darth Vadar struck fear into even Grand Moff Tarkins. Seriously if they intend for his redemption story (which you can see coming ten parsecs away) to have any impact, they had best rethink his portrayal because as it stands, he’s the new Jar Jar (and no, not the rumored Darth Jar Jar way).
On the good guy’s side. Rey is pretty awesome, she’s independent, kicks ass and quick thinking, a more serious version of Han. Her character does not have a defining moment or characteristic and lacks some motives for what she’s doing, but I can see her elevating above the rest of the rabble.
Finn, not so much. He’s a lost boy and played very well as a bit clueless in the film, but I do not like the arch-type which he plays, the kind of love struck kid filled with self doubt yet is lucky and triumphs simply by charging ahead. Why did they give him a lightsaber and more importantly, make him halfway competent with it? Is it just to make people think he’s the chosen Jedi in the trailers? It’s not believable and dilutes his character by not giving him a distinctive fighting style (or if he also becomes a Jedi, I’ll criticize it still as too much luck and coincident).
In terms of visual, plot and direction, Force Awakens is top notch, and it is really the characters so far that’s a real let down.
They need someone with a presence, someone who whenever is on screen the world naturally revolves around, have defining moments, lines and actions that are memorable and become distinctly associated with the character (Han’s I have a bad feeling, Lando’s Deal getting worse, Luke’s NOOOOOO, Vader’s force choking…etc), because so far this ensemble cast isn’t cutting it.