Note: in case the title isn’t obvious enough this review of Star Wars the Force Awakens contains major spoilers about the movie. I shared my general, overall thoughts about the movie in another post.
When I first heard about Star Wars being sold to Disney and the series being rebooted sans George Lucas I was skeptical. Not that I have a whole lot of respect for Lucas after his disappointing work on Episodes I-III, but Star War was his universe as far as I was concerned, for good or bad. Add to that the fact that I have not been very taken with the offerings of J.J. Abrams his replacement, and you’ll see why I was somewhat ambivalent going into the theater to view this new film.
But see it I did, tempered expectations and all, and, as I said in my previous review, I was impressed. For the most part Abrams and crew got it right. And yet, despite all the high notes the seventh film hits, this movie was not my favorite in the series. The reason for this can be summed up in two words: Han Solo.
What good’s a reward if you ain’t around to use it?
Han Solo has always been my favorite character in the Star Wars universe. When I played with my Star Wars figures as a kid, it was always Han that I chose to play. He had this really cool jacket and a swagger that made it seem like he would always come out on top, no matter how the deck was stacked against him. As a kid growing up without a father, I suppose Han was the kind of cocky, funny, sure-of-himself kind of guy I wanted to be. He had that pioneer American spirit about him that told you he would chart his own course and yet he had a softer, nobler side underneath all that puff and posture. I don’t have any hard facts to back this up, but to me, at least half of the memorable lines from the first three movies belonged to Han and in Force Awakens that trend continued. He was the heart and soul of the film, even moreso than Rey.
So when you take the best part about a film and throw it in the trash compactor, that’s a hard lump to swallow. The death of Han Solo near the end of this film was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in watching a movie. I don’t think I realized just how beloved a character he was until I watched him die. Yes, the moment is powerful in the film and the actors involved did a tremendous job in pulling it off, but watching one of your heroes die is not an enjoyable event. I didn’t cry. I was too mad. Mad at the writers and director for stomping on a legend, for taking away a bit of my childhood, a bit of what was good and right in cinema.
You see in Star Wars and in most of the great epic sagas of cinema and literature there are a few rules. One of them, is that the good guys don’t die, not the important ones anyway. And if they do, they go out fighting like Boromir or Spock. They sacrifice themselves for something greater. I’m a writer and I’ve let beloved characters die in my own books, but not the way Han died, not in such a thoughtless, senseless fashion.
Han’s death in this film just felt so unnecessary. Kylo Ren didn’t have to walk through the bowels of Star Killer base while Han was planting explosives (seriously, what in the world was he doing there?). Han didn’t have to walk right up to within stabbing range. Han’s friends didn’t have to remain silent and unable to intervene. The whole thing was just so avoidable. And what did it accomplish? Sure, it makes Kylo a much more evil character, but that point could have been made with an attempt to kill his father. Han’s actual death wasn’t required.
So that scene is the primary reason why I was disappointed with the film and why, frankly I would find it hard to watch again. Taken as a whole, it was a great film, but that one scene just makes me cringe when I think about it. The movie is great in spite of that scene and not because of it. This film and the series would have been much better off with a living Han Solo.
That’s not how the force works
That said, the film had other issues I’d like to address. I won’t spend as much time on these, since they are relatively minor. I’ll just run through them quickly in shotgun fashion.
- Kylo Ren’s mask. At one point he is asked why he wears it and so he takes it off. But the question remains. Why on earth does he wear it?
- Carrie Fisher’s performance. It was subpar by any measure. Where was the spunky character from the first three movies? Fisher looked uninspired in most of her scenes, not the confident princess or beloved leader she was supposed to be. Even her scenes with Harrison Ford fell flat.
- Rey’s epic strength. I’m sorry but the actress playing Rey looked like she weighed all of a hundred pounds. And while Kylo Ren isn’t exactly the Hulk, she is able to hold him off for a seemingly infinite amount of time while on the edge of a cliff and he’s got leverage. Does the force give you super strength too?
- The snow fight scene in general. Kylo Ren first immobilizes Rey and then fights Finn who has probably never held a light saber in his life. Yes, Ren is injured, but Finn holds his own with a supposedly well trained jedi for several minutes. Then, when Finn goes down Rey wakes up and somehow Kylo doesn’t think to, you know, just force stun her again? I did like all the tree chopping, though. That was a nice touch.
- Finn and Rey’s…relationship? I hope these two just stay friends because the few hints that there might be something deeper between them just felt incredibly, ahem…”forced”.
Unlike most people apparently, I did not have a problem with the movie’s similarities to the plot of Episode IV: A New Hope. It was distinct enough that it didn’t bother me. I think throwing Finn into the mix was one of the biggest reasons for this. A storm trooper that defects? This was a brilliant stroke of writing. And then having his character be so unheroic also helped him stand out. It is really easy to see ourselves in his shoes. He just wants to escape, get some water, start a new life, etc. But he comes around by the end and his growth is one of the more satisfying parts of the film.
The force is strong with that one
If Han Solo’s death was the biggest disappointment then Kylo Ren was certainly the biggest surprise of the film. Following in the cinematic footsteps of one of the most iconic villains of all time is no small task but the actor playing Ren more than lives up to the responsibility. He is everything that the Anakin from Episodes I-III was not: strong, intelligent, driven, and intense. And yet he was unexpectedly vulnerable at times, making him in some ways even more compelling than the original Darth Vader, and that was the biggest surprise of all. I thought his scenes with Rey were his best moments and really allowed his inner struggle to come out.
And those are my unvarnished thoughts on the film. I could write a lot more, but those are the main issues I had with the movie. I am eager to see where the story goes from here and my hat goes off to the cast and crew for producing such a fine film. But a part of me got lost on the screen the day I saw this movie, I won’t deny it. Because Han was a real hero, one of my heroes. And characters like that don’t come around every day.