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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

So I promised last week that I'd talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which I assume most people have seen by now. The film has already become the highest-grossing film of all time in the United States and it's now chasing the all-time worldwide record.

Even so, I'll start with non-spoiler comments for those of you who haven't seen it yet (and I understand there are those people who just don't go to the movie theater) and follow with spoiler material beyond the cut.

First of all, I think the film is going to be launching point for Daisy Ridley's movie career beyond the Star Wars franchise. I loved her portrayal of Rey and how much emotion and depth she brought to the character. It may be too soon to compare her to Harrison Ford, who went on to more starring roles in films than any other actor in the original Star Wars trilogy, but I think it seems reasonable to compare Ridley to Jennifer Lawrence, in that a particular franchise brings her to greater prominence and leads to supporting roles in other films, but keeps building on that and convinces studios that more lead roles should come her way.

Kylo Ren is perhaps the most interesting villain the Star Wars franchise has had, because it's clear he's conflicted. Darth Vader certainly gave the aura of "pure evil" in the first two released films, and I don't think they did the best job they could of making him conflicted in the third film, but they are off to a good start with Ren. With any luck, it should make any forthcoming confrontations with Rey or Finn more intriguing.

I was fine with Finn and the idea of having a Stromtrooper who turns away from the First Order was a good way to show that these troopers aren't all these mindless soldiers who just follow orders. Poe was a good character, too, although his screen time was limited and I will be interested to see if he takes a bigger role in future films.

And while there are multiple nods and tie-ins to the first Star Wars film released, I can understand why that was done. The purpose is to bring back memories for people who watched the first film in theaters and fell in love with the franchise, while introducing the Star Wars world to a new audience who doesn't necessarily have strong ties to the original trilogy. And at least the nods to the first film tied in with a new story that introduced unique characters who take different journeys forward than Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa did.

Now to some spoilers, so don't go beyond the link if you don't want to know more.

* The big question everyone who has watched the film wants to know is what is Rey's relationship to the "big three" from the original trilogy. I think most signs are pointing to Rey being Luke's daughter, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility she is Han and Leia's daughter. Rey is supposed to be 19 at the time the events in the film unfold, and the flashbacks suggest she was five or six when she was left on Dakku. Kylo Ren is likely in his early 30s, which would make him 18 or so when Rey was left on Dakku, so it's possible he didn't fully remember what his sister would like (or he may remember and just hasn't said anything to Rey). Even if Ren and Rey aren't siblings, you would think Ren would be aware if Luke had any children (and Luke's children, of course, would be Ren's cousins), so I don't think either possibility can be ruled out. We'll know more when the next movie comes out in two years.

* I do believe there are hints that Finn has some knowledge of the Force and he just isn't aware of it yet. It would explain at least a few events in the film, such as him having at least decent ability to wield a lightsaber or be able to easily influence Captain Phasma into following his directives when there really wasn't any other explanation for doing so. I would hope some of this gets explained in the second film and we learn more about Finn's backstory and whether or not he's a character who has the Force within him but, unlike Rey, hasn't realized it.

* Han Solo dying isn't something I have an issue with, particularly the way they built to it. Harrison Ford has made it known he wanted Han to have an heroic death in Return of the Jedi, plus Ford is in his 70s and getting to an age where he can't do so much physical work. More importantly, Solo got the most screen time of the "big three" from the original trilogy and the most development as to what has been going on with him. This was clearly the film in which he got to take on the biggest role, bigger than Leia or Luke. I imagine Luke will take a bigger role in the second film, and perhaps the third, if the plan is for him to stick around that long.

* What's most notable about the end of the film is that, unlike the first Star Wars film, you get what George Lucas originally wanted, and that was film serials in which you'd watch one, then have to return for the next one to see how the story unfolds. Lucas had to retool the first film so that it could stand on its own, because he was looking both at a film that the studio wasn't certain how well it would go over with audiences and was going to be expensive to produce. Once the strong box office came in for Star Wars, Lucas was able to do his cliffhanger ending in Empire Strikes Back and wrap things up in Return of the Jedi, and when he finally got to do the first three episodes he had in mind, he could do endings that led to the next film (granted, Episodes I through III are not well liked, but the point remains that Lucas wanted one episode to lead to the next). In this case, the studio approved a three-film series, so this film could have an ending that leads to the second, and we know the second will have an ending that leads to the third.

Empire Strikes Back remains the best of the Star Wars series, but Force Awakens brought back the spirit of the first film and, the more I think about it, the more I like it better than even Episode IV. I will say that Episode IV will always hold a special place in my heart (as I'm sure is the case with other Star Wars fans) because that's the film that put the franchise in my mind. But Force Awakens was very enjoyable and should help keep the franchise going strong for years to come.

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