A Point/Counterpoint Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Separator

By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher) and Justin Jasso (@JJasso007)

SPOILERS AHEAD! Seriously, turn away now if you don’t want to know what happens.

Can you hear it? Millions of voices crying out? No, not in terror, but in absolute delight with the release of the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

And they have every reason to be filled with glee. Star Wars has returned to glory, and the magic of the original trilogy has been recaptured with JJ Abrams at the helm.

Around three decades after the Emperor was killed and the Empire fallen, a new Republic has risen from its ashes led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) called The First Order. Snoke tasks his apprentice, dark Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to find a piece of a map, held by someone in the Resistance, which holds the location of Luke Skywalker. The Republic wants to kill Skywalker before he joins the battle and the Resistance needs Luke to turn the tide of war in their favor. The droid BB-8 has been entrusted with these plans and needs to deliver them to General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). With the help of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger, and Finn (John Boyega) a former Stormtrooper, plus Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the Resistance has a hope!

HAYLEE: I am a huge Star Wars fan and have been since I was little and my brother introduced me to the originals on VHS. Growing up, my friends and I read the novelizations and even skipped school to go to the opening days of episodes II and III. To say that Star Wars was a big part of my childhood is an understatement.

Because we’ve been burned before, I was hesitant when yet more Star Wars movies were announced. I didn’t think we needed more and didn’t want the story to be further sullied. But as soon as I saw the first trailer, I started crying. This was what Star Wars should be.

JUSTIN: On the other hand, while I do enjoy the Star Wars mythology, and can agree with just about everyone else that episodes I, II and III blew Jar Jar chunks, I don’t see the world through blue and red lightsaber goggles. Nor would you ever catch me waiting in line for a week before the film came out, dressed in a Star Wars onesie, wrapped in a Star Wars Chewbacca fur blanket, with an Ewok ear beanie, drinking out of a Star Wars thermos filled with Cantina drink watching episode I through VI on my Star Wars-themed laptop and grinning ear-to-ear the entire time. But, being a big JJ Abrams fan, I went into The Force Awakens with high hopes for a new generation of Star Wars.

HAYLEE: One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Star Wars, at least in the original trilogy, is the emphasis on the characters and their arcs. These scruffy-looking rebels are now engrained in our culture and, with The Force Awakens, a new batch of heroes takes center stage.

JUSTIN: Have to agree with you, Haylee. While we all know the story of Star Wars (and if you don’t, I don’t want to know you), it really comes down to the characters that make or break a story. Are these characters relatable? Do these characters have depth? Do these characters develop relationships with those around them and are we able to find something that connects those relationships to ourselves? This is a new generation of Star Wars characters and these are newer actors whom we don’t necessarily recognize. Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a young scavenger who deals with her own personal demons on a day-to-day basis, yet the Force is strong with this one. She’s like if Luke Skywalker made a baby with Katniss Everdeen…YOUNG Luke Skywalker, not old. Pretty awesome! John Boyega plays Finn, a former Stormtrooper who has a change of heart regarding his place of employment. He is probably more combat ready than Rey but, based on his desire to run away, you wouldn’t know it. Adam Driver probably has the most acting experience in front a camera between the three, and has the daunting task of taking up the Darth Vader-type role: the dark Jedi, the man in the black mask. It has to get really hot in that helmet, like stinky hot. Oh, and I have to say, new droid BB-8 is awesome, and that “thumbs up” scene was one of the most epic moments of the film for me. I want a BB-8!!! Getting back to Rey and Finn, it almost seems like they have a role reversal, where she’s more of the hero and he’s kind of like the damsel in distress…although there was never really any damsel in distress in Star Wars. Leia kicked ass! What did you think of the role switcheroo?

rey and finn

HAYLEE: I loved it! I liked that Finn and Rey subverted gender expectations. Finn was more sensitive and emotional. During a fight scene with Kylo Ren, he went to check on Rey when she got hurt before continuing his battle. However, when the tables were turned and Finn was the injured one, Rey picked up the lightsaber and went full rage on Kylo Ren before going back for Finn.

That she is a scavenger who has taken care of herself her whole life, who ran on to the Millennium Falcon and started piloting it with hardly any trouble, and then who summoned a lightsaber like only a Jedi can is such an important thing. When I was little, the only prominent girl that represented me in Star Wars was Leia. That’s not to say she’s not a badass – she’s even a General in The Force Awakens! – but the original trilogy was Luke’s story and the new trilogy was Anakin’s. It’s about time a girl gets to be the main hero and to set an example for kids that now get to grow up with their own trilogy.

I also loved the balance of the classic trilogy characters with the newbies. I cried when Han and Chewie appeared, for goodness sake! And Leia is as amazing as ever in her new role as general. She has always been motivated by love and her desire to do the right thing and those characteristics were displayed beautifully in The Force Awakens. Now she has another character to love in her son, and being evil, he needs all the love he can get. Yes, Han and Leia’s son is Kylo Ren. (Sidenote – How did Han and Leia have such a tall child?) The scene in which Han confronts Ren and calls him by his real name – Ben – was so tense and so reminiscent of the battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, complete with its onlookers in Luke and Han then and Finn and Rey now. I almost expected Ren to bust out with an, “If you strike me down…” But when he struck his father down, the theater was silent. I think we were all feeling the same emotion: disbelief. Even now, after seeing him get rammed through with a lightsaber and fall down into the abyss, I refuse to believe he’s dead.

JUSTIN: He’s dead; you’re just going to have to accept that. We all need to accept that. I’m with you on the balance of new and old, having Han and Chewie with significant screen time really helps transition the story from what it was to what it is going to be. For me, it took a while to get involved with these characters, as it felt a little flat right out of the gate. But once they got together and were able to interact with each other, then that connection was formed and the film took off for me. I enjoyed the chemistry between Rey and Finn, but there just didn’t seem to be the type of bond between them that I was really hoping for, like the energy that was initially developed between Han and Leia, or Luke and Han, or Luke and Leia. With these two being the faces of Star Wars going forward, we need that connection between them.

And while this film is an all-new entry into the series, it comes with a huge helping of a lack of originality. While A New Hope wasn’t amazing, it felt fresh. With The Force Awakens, it feels like we’ve run this two-hour jaunt before. It’s not quite a remake of the 1977 classic, but with all the influences, almost exact story elements, and homages, it feels like it almost could be. From the BB-8 droid carrying secret information only meant for a certain audience, to Finn asking random space pirates for safe passage like Luke did with Han and Chewie, a bridge scene between a father and son and, at least for me, totally knowing what was coming, or having to sneak onto the Death Star…er…Star Killer, and lower the shields so the Rebels…I mean…Resistance X-wings could get in, go down a shaft and shoot at a specific target to make the whole thing blow up…you really wouldn’t know if I’m describing Star Wars: A New Hope or The Force Awakens, right? I think Abrams took the safe route, and went with what worked, instead of being more ambitious and trusting in his creativity to develop a fully new story. But it’s still more than entertaining. Back to the characters though, were there any that you just weren’t feeling or didn’t like?

HAYLEE: No, I didn’t love every character. I thought Captain Phasma was wayyy too underutilized. I was so looking forward to Gwendoline Christie becoming a fantastic addition to the films, and while she shone in the little screen time she had, I wanted more. Hopefully future films will delve further into her backstory.

Another character I thought was underdeveloped was Supreme Leader Snoke. Where did he come from? How did he rise to power? Again, I hope we learn more about him in the future because he has the potential to be as powerful and as terrifying as Palpatine, but right now, I just see him as “meh.”

JUSTIN: For me, my main character gripe has to be Kylo Ren. He’s the freakin’ Darth Vader of this film and, honestly, I couldn’t care less for him. Vader had a presence about him, plus the voice of James Earl Jones, and just commanded the screen when he was on it. He was intimidating, or maybe we were just worried he had C.O.P.D. with that breathing, but he drew in our attention. Kylo Ren does nothing of the sort. He doesn’t command the screen nor does he come off as very intimidating. He’s more prone to temper tantrums and self-doubt…actually, he’s Anakin 2.0! Maybe I’m being too harsh on the primary antagonist, and maybe he’ll grow now that he’s killed off his father, but in this film, he was a disappointment for me. And I’m totally with you on Supreme Leader Snoke. But, honestly, he does about the same thing that The Emperor did in the original Star Wars. I would have liked to see more of him, though. Oh, and I have to comment on Carrie Fisher, why does it sound like she’s been smoking 30 packs of cigarettes a year for the last 30 years? Her voice…ugh.

The moment I saw Snoke, I knew that was Andy Serkis. I mean, Snoke has a Gollum look to him, doesn’t he? Which leads me into the special effects. The space battles are executed very well, and there’s plenty of eye candy to go around for the Star Wars action enthusiasts out there. There’s also some legitimate tension in some of these battles, as we see early on that the protagonist escape vehicles can be destroyed, leaving them in a pretty bad situation. The battle scene with the Falcon and a bunch of TIE Fighters raises that tension bar up to a good notch. I really enjoyed how they refrained more from using CGI characters and went the old-fashioned costumed route, like our Jedi ancestors did. It brings more realism to the film. Plus the lightsaber battle sequences feel much more realistic. While watching Yoda jump around like some Super Saiyan ninja fighting Palpatine was great fun, it didn’t feel real. Abrams brings that reality back to The Force Awakens, making it more relatable to us non-Jedi in the world. What about you, Haylee, did you enjoy this more realistic take or did you want the CGI Yoda battles back?

kylo ren

HAYLEE: I was very impressed with the effects and pleased with the decision to focus more on practical effects. That’s what makes Star Wars feel real to me. For example, I’ll always love puppet Yoda more than CGI Yoda. And while characters in Maz Kanata’s cantina were CGI, as was Maz herself, they felt real. It goes to show how much technology has improved even since Attack of the Clones where Anakin and Obi-Wan chased Zam Wessell through Coruscant. It looked like a video game! What made the originals so special was the creativity employed to create effects on a shoestring budget. Clearly Abrams didn’t have to worry about budget, but he still imbued The Force Awakens with the spirit of episodes IV, V, and VI by getting back to basics.

Besides practical effects, something that has always made Star Wars Star Wars to me has been John Williams’ score, which I thought was awesome as always. In the very last scene, when Rey finds Luke and the Force Theme plays, I had to wonder if that was Williams’ way of telling us the two are related. Could Rey be his daughter? Most characters have their own themes and even have some together (Han and Leia have one and Luke and Leia have one) and Rey even has her own, and I know it was played because we were seeing Luke, so maybe I’m reading too much into things. And while I loved that we got another cantina scene at Maz’s place, and as much as I love Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton on Broadway), I don’t think the tune he composed was as catchy as the one from the Mos Eisley cantina.

JUSTIN: For me, the music and score were alright. John Williams has won many Oscars for his scores, yet this one won’t go down as his best. His new stuff wasn’t very memorable, but he knows how to use the music from previous Star Wars entries to perfect effect. It’s using those old scores with little twists that brought out the most emotional elements in the film for me.

HAYLEE: I can’t help but think about where this film will fit into the Star Wars legacy. The originals are so beloved and the prequels are so reviled, I feel like The Force Awakens had a lot to prove. Yet I think it delivered exactly what it should have and fits perfectly with the universe and was made all the more seamless by incorporating the “oldies” with the “newbies.” I was overwhelmed before the movie even started…before the scrolling intro even started! All that had to happen was for the Star Wars logo to appear and I got emotional. I think it hit me that I was seeing the kind of Star Wars movie in a theater like I should have seen when I was little when the prequels were released. It was what previous generations had with their Star Wars experience. The sense of community in the Star Wars fandom has always been such a powerful thing to share so to see the best thing to come out of the franchise in 32 years in a room full of superfans was so special.

JUSTIN: Though it may seem like I’ve spoken down about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film is pure entertainment and you won’t be disappointed. Even though many of the story elements were done in previous films, the cast is fresh and the return of beloved older characters is more than enough. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were great casting choices and will be stalwarts for this franchise going forward. Ridley is strong, displays acting range, and appears more than capable of carrying the Jedi mantle going forward. Boyega’s character is developing, as Finn himself doesn’t yet know what he is capable of. He does have a drive – a goal – to protect and to do good, and that can only lead to wonderful story elements in the upcoming films. Plus the more realistic style of action, particularly when it comes to the ground fighting, was so very welcomed and fresh, and we can only anticipate much more of that goodness when episode eight arrives in 2017. And, now that Abrams has one film under his belt, I’m sure he’ll take a few more liberties and chances going forward. The galaxy is the limit for Abrams, the cast, and crew.

JUSTIN Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
HAYLEE Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars


    4 Comments

  1. Captain FenrisDecember 18th, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    I’m kinda disappointed that there’s no mention of Oscar Isaacs character. Besides Captain Phasma, he’s the one character I wish had more screen time. And the Poe/Finn bromance might be more fun than Like and Han.

  2. HayleeDecember 19th, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for mentioning him! I thought he was great, too, but it was hard to fit everyone in – this review was already really long! 🙂

  3. Karen ValenzuelaDecember 19th, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Agree with Captain Fenris! Poe was a great character! The second he was introduced, I was like “here’s the swashbuckler character I’m looking for” (jedi hand swipe) His sass towards Kylo Ren was the first laugh of the movie– “So you talk first/I talk first?” And his bromance with Finn was fantastic. I literally thought sparks would fly when they ran towards each other after being reunited. There are more romantic sparks between Finn and Poe than between Finn and Rey. That being said, I thought the friendship chemistry between Finn and Rey was FANTASTIC. Their dialogue was so amazing throughout the film. The way the film captures their youth even as they’re perpetually involved in dangerous situations is just brilliant. Like when he asks her if she has a cute boyfriend and she totally ignores him because she’s too busy working to save their asses. And when he can’t figure out what tool she’s asking for. “No. No. No. NO. NO THE ONE I’M POINTING TO!” The way he climbs up and puts his hand on her face. The “STOP TAKING MY HAND!” bit. Just golden.

    The Finn and Rey friendship was fantastic, made even better by BB-8. So I disagree about that. Their friendship felt more chemical than Luke Leia and Han, imo. And I think adding Poe into the mix makes it that much better. I hope we get more brot3 stuff with Rey, Finn and Poe!

    I also disagree with Justin’s take on Kylo Ren. He didn’t feel like Anakin 2.0 … Yes, he was an emo younger person. But Ren was so much more fleshed out. Even though we didn’t get the backstory as to why he went to the dark side. We do see the pull between the light and the dark. He’s emotional without being a little stompy baby (looking at you, Anakin!) but he has a lot of learning and maturing to do, as well. I saw both the darkness and the lightness in him. And I’m eager to see the future of Kylo Ren! What a great villain!

    Thanks for the review, Haylee and Justin!

  4. JustinDecember 19th, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Agreed. I thought about discussing the Finn/Poe relationship also, but the review was already long. Just like with films, sometimes material ends up on the cutting room floor due to time constraints.

    As for Ren, every time he got mad, he went bananas on all inanimate objects in a room with his light saber. He just didn’t have much substance for me. Glad you liked our antagonist tho Karen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

POPULAR POSTS

Sorry. No data so far.

CATEGORIES

LATEST VIDEOS

Read More