FULL SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead.
This is an critical listing of my favorite elements of The Force Awakens. I don’t hate JJ Abrams or Lawrence Kasdan or think Disney is ruining Lucasfilm or Star Wars or Marvel or… the World. Neither am I a fanboy. I really love core elements of Star Wars and enjoy it overall. There is some good and some bad is the Star Wars movies, just like there is good and bad in all of us.
I love The Last Jedi so much that it actually diminishes my enjoyment of The Force Awakens, but I am going to make like Kylo Ben and Rey Rocklifter and explore both sides in twin series: Roasting Star Wars and Toasting Star Wars. This is the first entry, wish me luck.
Before the Awakening
Who Are You?
I had issues with The Force Awakens before it even came out. I followed along with the Making Star Wars podcast which shared a bunch of spoilers, which was a deeply enjoyable experience. Knowing scraps of information about things that would happen in the movie but not knowing how they would be executed made for a very enjoyable watch after having a lot of fun thinking about how the movie would go together from hearing about and reading spoilers for it. The spoilers let me know early on that The Force Awakens was not going to go the way I had imagined. I was able to let go of my expectations and enjoy the movie for what it was.
Mark Hamill who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga and JJ Abrams who directed The Force Awakens, was executive producer on The Last Jedi and is set to direct and possibly write Star Wars episode IX, were loud Advocates of people not allowing themselves to be spoiled on details of TFA. My perception is that Abrams (with Lucasfilm’s permission and approval, of course) put such a stranglehold on information from TFA that it may have even affected the release of merchandise surrounding the movie. George Lucas had set up a webcam on set during the production of The Phantom Menace and I believe the other prequel movies had a lot of behind-the-scenes or sneak peek information made available during their productions. It really bothered me that Lucasfilm decided not to go in that direction for the sequel trilogy. Spoilers do not affect my enjoyment of stories, because the story should not be good based only on surprises or first-viewing gags, it should be layered and thematic and deep enough that repeat viewings will be enjoyable. The fact that for around 30 years, Star Wars fans have watched these movies repeatedly and continue to derive enjoyment from them tells me that it is probably okay to let people in on some information because the quality of the stories has been proven to hold up to fans knowing what’s going on as they head into the theater and throughout their subsequent viewings of the films.
The people behind the marketing of TFA seemed to me to be desperate to let everybody know that they were not making George Lucas’s prequel trilogy over again. They harped about real sets, real deserts, real sand, what they didn’t talk about was the real fact that TFA has way more computer affectionate than the prequels and that The Phantom Menace has more practical elements in it then The Force Awakens did.
In the Theater
I Felt It Too
In college I took an acting class and discussion about what is good acting and what is bad acting came up. One of the things that has stuck with me is that if you can tell that someone is acting, they aren’t doing a good job of acting. The idea is that the actors supposed to disappear into the role and caused the audience to forget that they’re watching something fake. Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams wrote the script for TFA. Lawrence Kasdan wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back. JJ Abrams has started projects like Lost and Alias, but as far as I know he has never finished them. Lost was a concept in an idea and there wasn’t a lot of thought put into how it would conclude. Throughout parts of the movie, I felt that I couldn’t separate the writers from what was being written in the script and what was being acted out. It all felt to me like the two of them were kicking the can down the road and letting someone else worry about how to deal with what they set up. It felt like there wasn’t a plan for the sequel trilogy that Lucasfilm knew they were going to make it to completion. Lucas was flying by the seat of his pants for the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy had a target to hit and even then he didn’t do it as well as he could have. I was hoping that with this new trilogy, things would be done the right way. It feels like that isn’t the case after having seen The Last Jedi and it felt like it was the case while watching The Force Awakens.
The Last Day of the Republic
I believe that fear of getting bogged down into politics made the death of everyone on Hosnian Prime and the other four or five planets that Starkiller base destroyed nearly meaningless. I I think that could have been fixed with a few lines and maybe one minute of dialogue dropped him. Kasdan has been praised in the past for making interesting allusions to events in the history of Star Wars. I regret that he didn’t directed those talents towards helping me care a little bit more about those millions or billions of deaths.
I Will Finish What You Started
What was Kylo Ren trying to finish? What was Vader doing? What does he think he was doing?
I Used to Have a Bigger Crew
I didn’t like the rathtars. Everything up until the scene with the gangs showing up and the rathtars go on their rampage was solid and then it just felt like a different movie.
The Garbage Will Do
Leaving the theater, my wife and I talked about the movie and we both expressed a lot of misgiving about what we had just seen. I was very disappointed about what happened with Luke and I didn’t like the final shot being a 360 helicopter spinning shot. Just didn’t sit well with me. I had wanted more Star Wars and I wanted to see Luke portrayed in an unexpected way with some interesting new characters for him, Leia and Han to pass the torch to. I sure got that.
The edits or cuts made it feel like there was a mystery to who Rey. That’s not entirely accurate. General Leia and Maz Kanata both ask Han who Rey is. Kylo demands to know “what girl” helped BB-8 escape from that officer reporting to him. It seemed like there could have been a particular girl in question, a girl he may have known. Those questions about her raised by characters in the film and the way she and Han were finishing each other’s sentences all seemed to hint to me that she was intended to be either Leia or Luke’s child. At minimum her affinity for the Force and Kylo knowing if a girl sensitive to the Force could have meant that she was a student of Luke’s before Ben turned on him and Luke fled in failure and shame.