Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens SPOILER Review

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If you read my non-spoiler review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then you already know that I am a huge Star Wars fan—well before I was a Marvel fan.  You also know that I really enjoyed just about everything about this movie.  Simply put, The Force Awakens is a return to the heights of the Original Trilogy in every way that counts (but perhaps a few that don’t).  In this spoiler review, there really isn’t that much more to say about the movie except to lay out all of those major plot points that I couldn’t talk about in the non-spoiler review!

But I’m sure I’ll find something else to say…

The movie opens like any self-respecting Star Wars movie should:  John Williams and a text scroll, followed by “Space… the final frontier” (whoops, wrong franchise!).  We see a planet, but a massive Star Destroyer moves across the silhouette of the planet, completely blocking it from view.  They never explain what class ship it is or give it a name, but at least from this shot it looks every bit as large as a Super Star Destroyer—and that would make sense, as the Journey to the Force Awakens (JttFA) explains that the First Order has the surviving SSD following the Galactic Civil War.  The ship is sending squads of stormtroopers to the surface of the planet, Jakku, to acquire information, which is already being given to Poe Dameron by an unnamed informant (but someone Poe knows).  The First Order attacks and Poe is unable to escape when his X-Wing gets damaged.  He gives the information to his astromech, BB-8, while he himself attempts to take on the stormtroopers to buy the droid time to escape.  Poe is captured and tortured by Kylo Ren for information.  In the capture scene we see Kylo Ren display a force ability we’ve never seen before:  he literally stops a blaster bolt in midair—I didn’t know that was even possible!  Kylo Ren’s introduction is far more intimidating than Darth Vader’s introduction was in A New Hope.

However, during the battle at the Jakku village, one of the stormtroopers has a sudden change of heart when his friend is shot and he is ordered to massacre the villagers.  This trooper is, of course, FN-2187, and John Boyega gives a good performance as he comes to grips with everything that has happened and makes the decision to desert from the First Order.  FN-2187 removes Poe from the interrogation room, and the two of them steal a TIE Fighter (these are two-seaters with their own life-support systems) and escape to the planet to recover BB-8.  However, their fighter is shot down and swallowed by the sand, and FN-2187—renamed “Finn” by Poe—believes Poe to be dead and makes his way to the nearest settlement.

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Meanwhile we meet Rey, a young girl (maybe in her 20s) who makes her living as a scavenger foraging parts from an old wrecked Imperial Star Destroyer (it’s not mentioned in the movie, but the JttFA explains that it was crashed there during the Battle of Jakku when the Rebels tried to capture it).  She lives alone in an old abandoned AT-AT because her family left her there to fend for herself.  She hears BB-8 being taken away by another scavenger, rescues him, and agrees to help him find his missing master in town.  The next day she goes to town, where BB-8 immediately draws attention, and she runs into Finn just before the First Order arrives to capture Finn and BB-8.    The two of them have to team up to escape and bring BB-8’s information—a map to Luke Skywalker—to the Resistance.  They escape from Jakku in an old Corellian YT freighter (the Millennium Falcon, which gets a fun introduction) and are quickly “captured” by another ship, where they run into none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, with Old Man Han decidedly looking his age, though Harrison Ford gives an excellent performance.  Han gets into trouble, they escape, and Han brings them to an old friend of his, Mas Kanata, who can get BB-8 to the Resistance.  There’s a lot in this section which isn’t specifically necessary beyond giving the First Order information about the fugitives’ whereabouts, but it’s all a lot of fun.  At first I was confused by how Han managed to stumble across them, but he quickly explains that not only was he looking for the Falcon in the first place, but it has a very distinctive energy signature that would be easy to track down.  Han reveals to Finn and Rey that Luke went missing after one of his students turned on him and destroyed the entire New Jedi Order that he had built.

Naturally, the First Order quickly learns that they are on the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo—leading to the somewhat ham-fisted reveal that Kylo Ren is Han’s son (and later that Vader is his grandfather—HAN AND LEIA HAD A KID, EVERYBODY!!!)—and shortly thereafter that they are at Mas Kanata’s bar.  While at the bar we get some interesting information.  Finn finally reveals that he’s a deserting stormtrooper and tries to leave for the Outer Rim to escape from the First Order, though Rey refuses to go with him.  Mas tells Han that he needs to go home and bring the droid to Leia himself (he doesn’t want to).  Rey stumbles across Anakin’s original lightsaber, which triggers a vision of her being left on Jakku, Luke with R2-D2, Kylo Ren slaughtering the New Jedi, and a few other things.  The vision drives her to flee into the woods surrounding the bar just before the First Order attacks.  First they destroy the entire system where the New Republic is based—I kind of feel like that was a jab at the prequels and their overemphasis on politics and 2 overwhelming forces fighting each other (“You don’t like large disposable armies and trade disputes?  Fine; we’ll blow up the seat of government and fleet in one fell swoop!”).  Then they attack Mas Kanata’s bar.

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The attack itself was really impressive, including Finn’s first feeble attempts to use a lightsaber against his former squad mates.  Naturally Han, Chewie, and Finn are rescued by the Resistance’s X-Wings, led by Poe Dameron (if you’d seen a trailer, you knew that he couldn’t actually be dead), who gets a major opportunity to show off his piloting skills.  Kylo Ren captures Rey and brings her to the First Order’s Starkiller Base, while the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, brings Han, Finn, Chewie, and BB-8 back to their own base.  This provides a second reveal of Kylo Ren’s parentage as Han tells Leia that he saw their son—this probably would have been a better way to reveal that information than the first time when Supreme Leader Snoke came right out and said “Han Solo, your father.”  While Kylo Ren tries and fails to get the map information out of Rey, Finn provides the Resistance with all the necessary information about the Starkiller Base, which may actually be better than A New Hope, where R2 was carrying the information.  Finn volunteers to go with Han and Chewie to lower the base’s shields so Poe’s fighters can attack the energy oscillator which regulates the base’s weapon—if it is damaged sufficiently, the weapon will overheat and be destroyed.  However, once they are at the base, Finn reveals that his main goal is to find and rescue Rey—she’s the first person to ever see him as more than just a stormtrooper, and he feels a major connection with her.

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Meanwhile, Rey has begun exploring her own latent Force sensitivity, something Kylo Ren commented on, and fumbles around with using a Jedi mind trick to escape from her interrogation cell.  She tries to get to a hangar and commandeer a ship, but on the way she runs into Han, Chewie, and Finn.  Rey and Finn start to hug because rescuing her was his idea and she appreciates it, but Han interrupts with the mission.  The four of them escape but then go back to help the X-Wings by blowing a hole in the side of the energy oscillator.  Before they can escape, however, Kylo Ren comes to their location and Han confronts him.  I really like this scene, with Kylo (Ben) and Han face-to-face and Han begging him to come home—and I also like the climax, with Kylo/Ben murdering his father to stamp out the light side tendency within himself.  Chewie’s reaction to Han’s death is pretty much perfect as he goes ballistic on the stormtroopers before blowing the energy oscillator up—I half-expected him to have killed himself in the explosion!  Rey and Finn escape, but are pursued by Kylo Ren.  Kylo and Finn have a quick, one-sided duel which ends with Finn badly injured.  Kylo attempts to summon Anakin’s lightsaber to himself (which he considers his birthright as Anakin’s grandson), but the lightsaber instead responds to Rey, who uses it to fight Kylo Ren herself.  Their fight is definitely emotionally charged, fueled as it is by Han’s death and Finn’s presumed-death, though from a technical standpoint it shares more in common with the fight scenes in the Original Trilogy.  Though Kylo Ren has the advantage through most of the fight, Rey has a moment of regaining her Force balance and suddenly takes the advantage, dealing Kylo some major blows, including what looked like a severed hand.  However, the earth moves as the planet overheats, and the two of them are separated before either is killed (presumably Kylo Ren escaped the planet).  Chewie rescues Rey and the barely-alive Finn in the Falcon, and they join the remaining X-Wings in flying away just before the Starkiller explodes, replaced by a star.

On that note, the aerial battle is also really cool, as Poe leads the full Resistance fleet (3 squadrons of X-Wings) into battle.  They face major resistance from ground-based turrets as well as an overwhelming number of TIE Fighters.  In the end, Poe has to fly into the structure itself through a trench and shoot the structure up from the inside.  The battle ends with only 7 surviving X-Wings joining the Falcon.  One thing I really liked about this battle was that even though it contained all the same elements as A New Hope, they suddenly made a whole lot more sense.  The delay before firing was not because of “orbiting the planet” but because the weapon needed to charge by draining its sun.  The target was not a design flaw but a crucial part of the weapon’s system.  The trench run was actually necessary to enter the structure.  The First Order was shown to put up much more of a fight than the Empire.  As a whole, this fight did many of the same things as A New Hope, but it surprisingly did them better.

After their return to base, R2-D2 wakes up (he had been in sleep-mode since Luke disappeared) and reveals the rest of the map to find Luke.  Rey has a touching good-bye with the unconscious Finn before leaving with Chewie in the Millennium Falcon to find Luke and return the lightsaber.  The movie ends with Rey and Luke standing on top of a cliff looking at each other, with Rey holding out the lightsaber to him.  The implication of course is that Luke will be training her to use the Force

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Overall, The Force Awakens is an excellent standalone movie and a great reintroduction to the Star Wars universe.  There are a lot of places where it really borrows from the Original Trilogy—especially A New Hope—but most of the time the borrowing either takes something questionable in the original and makes it better or completely reworks it to give it a significant difference.  I don’t think that Kylo Ren is quite as menacing of a villain throughout the movie as Darth Vader, specifically because he removes his helmet several times, but who can really match Vader’s imposing presence?  Kylo Ren is a different type of villain, one who is much more conflicted than Vader was (at least before the end of Return of the Jedi).  Supreme Leader Snoke is also a different type of villain, but we really don’t find out anything about him in this movie.

The new characters are all really well developed, though Poe and Captain Phasma are rather underutilized.  Finn and Rey have great chemistry together, and the romantic subplot between the two of them was not too overblown.  I do think the rest of the trilogy will see them get together, and if it happens I think it is natural—just please don’t start talking about sand!

The returning characters—Han, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke—were in the movie just long enough to make their presence felt but not so long as to overshadow the other characters.  Han received by far the most screen time of the returning characters, but even then it was still very much the new characters’ show.  They definitely could have messed it up by putting the focus too much on the nostalgic factor of seeing Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford again, but J.J. Abrams did a good job of avoiding that pitfall.  Of course, he did the same thing with Leonard Nimoy in his Star Trek reboot, so I suppose we shouldn’t have worried!

There was at least one writing error—Snoke saying “Han Solo, your father,” followed by Kylo Ren calling Vader “grandfather,” followed by Han calling Kylo Ren “our son” (talking to Leia) was way too redundant; it would have been better without “Han Solo” and “grandfather,” with the full reveal saved for Han talking to Leia—but the script was otherwise well-written.  All of the other necessary exposition was handled appropriately and in ways that fit the situation.  The Starkiller Base was more than just a more-powerful Death Star knockoff.  I would have liked to see more variety in the ships available, especially from the First Order, but that’s not exactly a deal-breaker.  Oh, and I only noticed a couple lens flares in the entire movie!

Long story short, I really enjoyed this movie and can’t wait to watch it again!  Star Wars is back on the big screen!

What did you think of The Force Awakens?  What are you most confused about?  What surprised you the most?  Let me know in the comments!

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