I’m not sure when I last looked forward to something as much as I did Star Wars Episode 7. Here’s a quick rundown of what I enjoyed and disliked about it…I’m pretty sure I’m going to watch the movie again, and then maybe write up a further review. But I had to get these out while the movie’s still fresh.
1. Generally speaking, the burden Abrams and Disney faced in making this movie was one massive, unwieldy baton passed at high speed. They had to both tie in and properly use the original trilogy characters, using nostalgia and familiarity with these old favorites as a springboard to build a new story. It wasn’t going to be some completely new story out of left field, which some people apparently hoped for…and I think the actual result was quite good. They concluded Han’s story the way he always wanted, made Luke an important and mysterious focal point, left plenty of unanswered questions and clues to the events bridging the two movies, and included Leia while not giving her too much or too little. It all had to be done in a nuanced, gradual way to give new characters a chance to shine and develop while still respecting (and slowly inching out) the tremendous influence of the old characters…a tricky balancing act that was handled well. Luke, the main character of the OT, is still central to this story and makes for an excellent cliffhanger for the next movie.
2. The new characters are good, well acted and well written, and have compelling stories, specifically the new villain, Kylo Ren. Vader was obviously a legendary badass, but if you actually evaluate how he develops and changes as a person through the original trilogy, he is actually a remarkably static villain. He plays the role of like a video game end boss, you know he’s incredibly strong and it’s going to take several movies of growth and trial to overcome him. But if you think about how his character changes and grows, it actually doesn’t at all until the very end of the Return of the Jedi – he’s just always a bad guy. You learn more about him, including the big Empire reveal, but he doesn’t have his own shifting character or motivations, he doesn’t seem to have a will or any kind of growth beyond being an instrument of the Emperor and the dark side. None of the Sith stuff is ever mentioned in the original trilogy, but if the Jedi/Sith lore were ever brought in, it would actually make Vader more interesting…like maybe he has his own ideas on how to contribute to his side, or end the conflict. Instead, he’s as clear cut as a good/bad morality play extreme character can be…but he’s just so novel and interesting at that moment in time that he becomes an iconic and legendary character.
By contrast, modern epics and dramas require more character complexity. I think it’s brilliant how Kylo Ren is done in this movie…he’s initially a badass with some novel new force tricks, but he is then shown to be quite vulnerable. He’s basically a wannabe with potential, an adolescent who has not learned how to harness his emotions and is still discovering himself. This is a far more interesting and identifiable CHARACTER than Vader ever was, especially given the turmoil and emotional connection that Kylo’s lineage generates in this movie. He’s actually so perfectly placed that he allows Han to both have the perfect role and sacrifice in this movie, while also showing that he has his own potential for continued growth and sense of will. This makes him so much better as a villain…and when you see wonderful details in execution, like punching himself at his wound to ostensibly generate more pain and hatred as fuel for the dark side, he’s no longer just some big end boss. He, like the other new characters, is a conflicted person trying to find his way, and he just overcame the biggest challenge in his path towards mastery. If you’re going to build a new villain who has staying power through multiple movies and feels like a real, flawed person rather than a polarized caricature, this is a damn good start.
3. What made Star Wars great when we watched it as younger kids was the appeal to imagination. Now, the impact that massive space battles and Death Stars and stormtroopers have upon the childhood imagination 40 years ago (or when we were children) at a time when there was essentially no precedence for them was not going to be matched by this movie…they were not going to reinvent the wheel, because that wheel already exists in so many shapes and sizes in this day and age.
But the question I’d have for people who bring that up is this: if you had never seen a Star Wars movie ever before, would this do it for you? I think the answer is yes. The combat and action is not as cartoony and absurd as the Prequel Trilogy, nor is it as poorly animated as some of the OT material. I loved sequences like the shot where Finn is on the ground level of the battle, and the camera follows him as he watches Poe do work. The use of the lightsaber, a major issue in the prequel trilogy, was done with significant intensity and vibrancy here…numerous close ups illuminating the actors’ faces, and Kylo’s unique but kind of junky weapon shining light on his character and having practical use too. The lightsaber is no longer some mass produced commodity – Kylo shows the incompleteness of his training because of his own strange variant, and noone else has or builds one except for Luke’s. The scarcity of it makes it occupy the place of a more important ‘mythical artifact’ of sorts, which is how this kind of weapon retains its significance. Between the bartering aliens on Jakku, the rabble in Maz’s Castle, the as-yet unknown power of Snoke, and the many gaps and mysteries in the story (such as Ben’s and Luke’s backstory) which remain important and will surely be explored, you’re not given all the answers here, and more than enough is left to the imagination. I certainly look forward to seeing the next steps in growth and training for both Rey and Kylo.
1. I had some issues with the pacing of this movie. Obviously it wasn’t going to be like the original trilogy, which now feels kind of slow and ponderous because it came from a totally different era of movies. This movie seemed in some places way too fast and sudden…things weren’t allowed to sink in, and there weren’t too many instances of people just hanging out and talking about things. The pace was constantly pushed and there was always something going on, usually leaving characters without a chance to talk beyond simple quips and one-liners. Scenes that felt incredibly rushed and sudden included the group’s later journey through the bowels of the superbase…contrast that with even the second Star Trek movie where Kirk and McCoy’s journey inside the ship with Khan allows them to strategize with each other and size up Khan. Also, because of the movie’s pace, you don’t really feel how ominous and impactful the ‘Starkiller Base’ is…its power is demonstrated early in A New Hope, and often in Return of the Jedi, and you feel a sudden sense of urgency both times. By contrast there’s not much of a gap between when you discover what this base does and find out that the Resistance are committed to destroying it, little emotional impact or significance on the planets and people being destroyed, no idea of what it’s going to hit next and why that’s important.
I feel like this movie tried really hard to not be sappy and cheesy, and stay high energy and fast paced, even if the result was some relatively shallow dialogue and plenty of ‘cheap laughs’, the kinds of scenes that are amusing at first in the theater but don’t age well when the movie is rewatched. I’d trade in some of the turbo pace for some slower developing stories and interactions; this movie felt more like an action flick at times than a ‘space opera/drama’. Excitement and stimulation were in abundance, which made the somewhat drawn out ending seem even more slow and protracted by comparison.
2. Several areas could definitely have used some more novelty and originality. I don’t like that the final mission is to again stop another Death Star…how about some kind of threat to the galaxy that is technologically novel or actually related to the core Jedi/Sith conflict and involves the Force? There were plenty of decent apocalyptic ideas in the Star Wars expanded universe spinoffs and video games that could have been adapted or used here…the sci-fi universe is a totally different animal than it was back in the 70s and 80s, and there are so many different, compelling ideas that could have been adapted. I would also have liked some more creativity in terms of the ships and technology here, which don’t seem to have changed at all with the exception of cosmetic tweaks and locked-on missiles. Yes, the nostalgia value of Star Destroyer spelunking and building a hermit crab hut out of a fallen AT-AT were a nice touch for OT fans, but what’s going to take their place for future generations?
Remember the ion cannon (which only temporarily disabled ships but did not actually damage them) and tractor beams? Remember all the different kinds of Rebellion (A, B, Y wings in addition to X wings) and Empire (different TIE models) ships with different specializations? It feels like too much of the game hasn’t changed at all in a few decades, and infact things seem to have been stripped down…it’s down to X-wings against TIE Fighters, Stormtroopers are still Stormtroopers, and your superweapons are still beam-wielding planet destroyers with shittily designed and extremely vulnerable exhaust ports. The only gimmicky tech solution they seemed to use in this movie was the lightspeed travel to the planet’s surface. Characters are the core of these kinds of movies and they handled that well, but left alot to be desired on the space and tech front. Let’s just hope there isn’t a fourth Death Star to deal with in this trilogy’s finale.
That’s it for now, but I certainly look forward to seeing this movie again!