I’ve already seen it twice now, so I feel like I’m ready to write my review. Be aware: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE. And I highly recommend going in to see this as unspoiled as you can be.
Believe it or not, I’d managed to avoid most spoilers for Star Wars: Episode VII — only what I had to know for LOST STARS and BLOODLINE, and nothing beyond it. So i got to have all the surprises (well, almost all) right there on my first viewing. And…
I LOVED IT!
Is it perfect? No. Is “Mad Max: Fury Road” still my favorite film of the year? Yes. But I think “The Force Awakens” is tremendously exciting and fun and a fantastic launching pad for the franchise’s return. We’ll begin with my few negatives and take it from there.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE:
1) IMO, we could’ve slowed down a tiny bit right at first to build the characters more. In other words–I liked them so much that I wanted to get to know them better. This is the best kind of complaint to have. Rey is well-characterized from the start, as befits the protagonist, and we learn what we need to learn about Kylo Ren when we need to learn it, but the movie would’ve been stronger with more setup for Finn and both more setup and screentime for Poe. I feel like I have a basic handle on Poe, but he was so winning, I wanted more! Finn I also feel like I understand, but his unusual background as a numbered Stormtrooper would have been fascinating to get into. And the pace of TFA is so thrillingly fast that we could’ve had a couple more scenes to establish characters without slowing things down too much.
2) Captain Phasma was not NEARLY as badass as advertised. I’m sure we’ll see her again, and she’ll be angrier, but we totally had time to see her being a little more ferocious. As it was, Finn’s anger/loathing about her seems out of balance, and the powerful female Imperial warrior so many of us were looking forward to didn’t really materialize. You KNOW Gwendolyn Christie can bring it, so let her do it!
3) While I love the final shot/scene, it felt oddly drawn out.
4) The assault against the Star Killer lacked the visual coherence of earlier SW battles (well, from the OT, anyway). (Or, for that matter, Fury Road, which I will stop talking about exactly never.) It was still a fun sequence, but more clarity would’ve given it even more impact.
5) I don’t buy that Leia and Chewie wouldn’t have hugged after the Star Killer battle. Nope.
6) You know, this movie is umpteen times better than any other SW film to date in terms of female representation. Captain Phasma might’ve been portrayed in an underwhelming way, but she was there, and we saw other women (of various races, ages and sizes) in both the First Order and the Resistance. Leia, once a princess, is now a general. And Rey. REY. REY. All that said, if you’ve got a ton of women in the Resistance briefing room while different people are adding their ideas, we can’t have one of them speak besides Leia or Rey? If male nameless pilots can chime in, why not any of the female ones? I thrilled to see a female X-wing pilot…but how come her squadron was about 6-7 guys and one woman? (I’m assuming the alien was male, though he might not be, but his voice clearly gave that impression.) I am thrilled this movie has gotten us so much closer to where the franchise needs to be, but it would’ve been so easy for it to do even better.
(And no, having Rey as the protagonist doesn’t erase the rest. Male protagonists don’t fill some arbitrary quota that excludes male minor characters and extras; female protagonists shouldn’t either.)
But I don’t want to be overly negative, because Rey was awesome, and any arguments that female pilots or generals or Imperials “aren’t canon” have been obliterated. And, as I said, I really enjoyed this movie, so let’s get to —
STUFF I LIKED:
1) Rey. REY. She was so terrific. Strong, resourceful, courageous, compassionate, but not without a temper, some prickliness and the power of denial to make her feel real. A wonderful performance by Daisy Ridley anchors that character, and I cannot wait to see her develop further as a character and a hero and, it seems, a Jedi. And there is something really glorious in the fact that this young woman winds up with the Millennium Falcon. I loved her kindness toward BB8, her friendship/mild flirtation with Finn, her wistful bond with Han, and above all her intensity when dealing with Kylo Ren. I hope to see ALL THE MOVIES with Rey FOREVER AND EVER. (And don’t even start with “how is she so good at everything all of a sudden?” unless you said that about Luke after ANH. Protagonists get to do this stuff. That’s why they’re protagonists in a modern-day myth.)
2) Kylo Ren. I’ll be honest: This was not a character I was hugely excited about at the first trailers, because the “bad dude in a mask” thing just does not appeal to me. Then I learned the truth about him (one of the few things I was spoiled for pre-movie) and though, huh, that’s more intriguing, but I was still more interested in what that meant for the overall story than in the character himself. But then Adam Driver blew me away, playing the most nuanced (and, to me, the most compelling) baddie in SW so far. He’s not lost to the dark side forever–not even now–so seeing him struggle just over the wrong side of the line between light and darkness is fascinating to me. Driver’s performance in That Scene With Han was extraordinary; the way the tears welled in his eyes without ever falling … fabulous. His fascination with Rey is creepily terrific, the first steps in what’s meant to be a seduction not of the body but of the soul. Their final fight in the snowy forest was not only a great action scene but one that revealed their characters even more fully.
3) Finn! While I feel like we needed more backstory on him, I adored the character’s humor (“Well, this is what we look like”), his dedication to Rey, and his struggle to balance his pragmatic side with the idealism that’s hatching inside of him. Also–and this is apropos of nothing–does John Boyega actually have the greatest skin in the world? Like, he’s glowing. All the time. Every scene.
4) BB8. I sincerely doubted the new droid could be half as winning as R2D2 or C-3PO, and I was just plain wrong. The “thumbs up” moment was one of my biggest laughs in the entire movie.
5) The Han/Leia moments sort of broke my heart, but in the best possible way. These are two people who still love each other tremendously but have been shattered by their shared tragedy. And their reunion, and C-3PO–gahh, loved it.
6) Do you realize that Chewbacca got more to do in this movie than any other SW film to date? He was terrific in this–even funnier than usual, and yet more individual than he ever was before. That scene with him and the Resistance medic was priceless. (Speaking of her, I LOVE HER. That actress has been a favorite of mine since the 1995 “Sense & Sensibility.” I want her name and life story, ASAP.)
7) Han, as the only one of the original Trio with a leading role in this, was also tremendous. Harrison Ford knew just how to temper the character for his age and the experiences he’s been through. That Scene With Kylo Ren is some of the best work he’s done, ever.
8) While I’d have liked even more Leia, she had some great scenes — above all, the one when she feels that tragedy through the Force and sinks down in her silent, private grief.
9) Poe Dameron we definitely needed more of. Oscar Isaac was having the time of his life up there, and it showed. A little longer escape sequence with him and Finn on the Star Killer would’ve been awesome on every level. YES I KNOW I WANT THIS MOVIE TO BE THREE HOURS LONG.
10) Another character I was looking forward to not at all and then wound up loving was General Hux. Domhall Gleeson did an amazing job of portraying the Imperial as zealot, shifting from duty mode to wild-eyed fanaticism without seeming contradictory — he made it all part of one scary continuum. Really brilliant work from him.
11) OMG MAZ. I adored the character of Maz (“I like that Wookiee”), I adored her bar, and I adored her role in the overall story. She’s like Yoda, if Yoda had decided that instead of going into Jedi Mastery, he would instead run the funkiest club in the galaxy. Also, Lupita N’yongo turns out to be a tremendous voice actress. Her physical presence is so strong/gorgeous that I’d never really tuned into just her voice before, and she turns out to sound musical, expressive, witty and wise in pretty much every sentence. I hope future SW movies are going to have lots of Maz. (She’s hundreds of years old, so she can be in them all!)
12) The Saddest Part — While I wasn’t spoiled for that, I figured it was coming. But it was perfect, a moment of heroism and tenderness on one part and of struggle and fury on the other. It was every bit as epic and meaningful as it needed to be, which is no mean feat.
So that’s my take. Not everyone will agree, of course, though I am sort of side-eyeing those who say, “But did it live up to the hype?” Listen, guys, unless the screen had opened up and revealed Elvis returned in the flesh, ready to take us all bodily into the Star Wars universe to be Jedi Knights together forever, it was not going to live up to that level of hype. For me, the movie lived up to my hopes and my love for Star Wars. I enjoyed the movie even more on the second viewing, because the first time I had my own theories and predictions to contend with, along with my own fears of omgisthisgonnabeanygoodwhatifitsnotgoodnonono. The second time, I relaxed completely, took the movie on its own terms, and found it even more engrossing and interesting. This may not be a perfect Star Wars movie, but it’s a damned good one, a ton of fun, and one that sets the stage for more adventures to come. I for one can’t wait.