Film Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Warning: Spoilers

I wanted to wait over a month before I posted about the new Star Wars film for two reasons: I didn’t want to spoil it for anyone, and I wanted to have seen it a few times myself so I could reflect on it as much as possible before I voice my opinion. Apart from waiting so as to not spoil it for anyone, I could have posted long ago about it because my opinion hasn’t changed from my initial reaction: the film is awesome!

I think my reaction hasn’t changed because of one thing, and it is isn’t in the film but it is a reaction I heard from a little girl who had been in the cinema with me when I went to see it the first time: “You never see girls with lightsabers, that’s so cool!”. It is very much the character of Rey that makes the film for me. She is a strong female lead, to complement the history of strong female leads like Leia and Padme (from episode 1 and 2), but she is also more than either of them ever were. She isn’t someone’s future wife, is isn’t someone’s potential other half, she isn’t there to be a mother of characters we know will exist in the future. Rey is just someone!

I know that there has been a lot of speculation by fans on the internet wondering whose daughter she is, but can I point out that it is fan speculation only that is trying to make this female character belong to someone. At no point in the film is she seen as anyone but her own person. She saves BB-8; she defends herself when BB-8 is being taken from her; she is a pilot and a mechanic; she holds her own against Kylo Ren when he’s interrogating her; she escapes from the prison cell on her own; and while Kylo Ren must have been seriously injured during the lightsaber fight (after Chewbacca shot him with his crossbow that sent everyone else hit with it flying ten foot back and likely as not they were dead before they hit the ground) she managed to hold him back long enough and dig deep enough to even get a few swipes at him.

There has also been a lot of talk on the web that none of the characters are particularly deep and are a bit two dimensional, to which I would like to ask, have you watched the film, and by watched I mean not just the special effects and the super cool sequence where the Millennium Falcon flies again and through a crashed Star Destroyer no less?

rey

Rey has been accused by some of being a bit of a ‘Mary-Sue’, a character that is too good at everything too quickly. Well watching the film what she is good at is defending herself – judging on what we see of Jakku it isn’t the nicest place in the galaxy and a young woman would either have to learn to defend herself or risk goodness knows what happening to her. She repeatedly tells Finn to not touch her. Its only when Chewbacca tells her that the rescue plan was Finn’s idea that she willingly hugs him because she has learnt that she can trust him and that he has her back.

The other time is Leia, a woman she doesn’t know, but a ‘woman’; generally women trust other women instinctively, and Rey would be able to feel Leia’s connection to the force. But she doesn’t know Leia like she did Finn, and the fact she was willing to hug a perfect stranger (a woman) screams a hell of a lot about why she is more than capable of fighting, because she has been fighting to protect herself ever since she was left on Jakku.

Rey being left on Jakku is mysterious, and it obviously has something to do with her being force sensitive and the massacre of Luke’s students. Whether she was a student or not, or what her past was doesn’t really matter at the moment (well it does because I’m intensely curious but rather than speculate I’d just rather be surprised), what is interesting about her ability to use the force is Kylo Ren’s reaction to her.

He, the only trained user of the force that you see in the entire film until the end, is wary of her developing her skills too quickly without his guidance. What it implies is something the audience can’t feel but that Kylo as a character can; just how powerful she is capable of being as a Jedi. He wants to be her teacher and guide her so that she doesn’t end up as his enemy, which she proves moments later when she leaves him sprawled on the ground after having properly focused. And anyone who can use a Jedi mind trick on James Bond is definitely not to be messed with.

And then there is her skills with machinery as well. I’ve seen a lot of rubbish on the internet questioning how this girl can be so good at mechanics and figure out how to fix things so quickly, which is where a lot of the ‘Mary-Sue’ accusations really come from. And this is properly why I’ve ended up writing several paragraphs deconstructing just how brilliant Rey is as a character because sexism about a female character being unbelievably good with mechanics has annoyed me.

The reason she is good with mechanics is because if she hadn’t of been, she would have starved to death long before BB-8 rolled into her life. She would have grown up learning about various different components and what they did, and which were the most valuable to exchange for FOOD! You know that thing we all need; Jedi’s are not an exception to this rule. Yoda might not have been a great cook in Luke’s opinion, but he ate. Rey spent years climbing around the inside of crashed Star Destroyers scavenging for parts, and learning everything that she needed to know to fix machines. DUH!

Also, combined with the fact she can use the force, while the majority of the film echoes back to the original trilogy, her skills with machines reflect Anakin’s skills with fixing machinery. A lot of his skill comes from growing up and working in a junkyard (Han describes Jakku as a junkyard as well and I doubt it’s a coincidence) and I suspect a lot of his skill came from his intuition and skill with the force.

Rey had this upbringing as well, and it’s not clear in the film what her relationship is with Unkar Plutt, but he doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as nice to her as Watto was to Anakin which is why she is so self-sufficient; she had to prove herself to survive. Also, what else annoys me is that I don’t really remember anyone questioning Anakin’s ability with mechanics, I assume because he’s a boy and people think girls should only play with dolls. Judging on the brief glimpse of a rebel pilot fighter doll you see in Rey’s AT-AT, she did both, but she played with what would be traditionally seen as a boy’s doll (oh sorry action figure).

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I love Finn’s character, because while his intention with helping Poe escape is to do with his own desire to escape and he needs a pilot, this very selfish action is actually incredibly human. He is desperate to run away from the First Order, which considering he was raised and brain-washed by them shows a very strong minded character. He broke free from the First Order and is desperate to escape them. As Maz Kanata says as she looks into his eyes, he is a man who wants to run. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, because as Finn says she doesn’t know a thing about him and what he has seen. The same can be said about the audience as well, but the horror in his face as he defends himself says it all; he has seen the First Order do many terrible things and quite naturally he wants nothing to do with them.

He’s also ashamed that he was ever part of that, even though it wasn’t by choice, to the point that he latches onto the lie that he’s a member of the Resistance when he’s not. He’s willing to lie to Rey, and Han (who admittedly doesn’t believe him) just because he doesn’t want to be judged for having once been a Stormtrooper. He doesn’t have enough confidence in other people being good hearted to believe that they would still want to be associated with him. He feels he is tarnished by the reputation of the First Order and isn’t a person they would judge in his own right. This shows the complexity of his character, because that’s exactly what the First Order would have raised him to be; a faceless Stormtrooper, a cog in the great machinery of the Order.

He wasn’t raised to be an individual, and his character arc in the film is him learning to be one. At first he is running with his own instincts to run as far away as possible, because his own intuition is all he’s attuned to at the moment. As he develops friendships with people, in particular Rey, Finn begins to learn that helping others can be a part of his life as well. His moment is when he sees that the First Order has used Starkiller Base to destroy the senate of the new Republic. It’s the kick that he needs to stop running. I think a lot of that motivation comes from him wanting to protect his friend Rey, not because I think he’s in love with her, but because he’s still insecure and wants to protect the one person he knows who looks at him as if he is a person, and not just another Stormtrooper.

poe

I have less to say about Poe than I do about Rey and Finn, but that is mostly because he gets less screen time. The time you get with him though shows that he is charismatic, tough, a very talented pilot and dedicated not just to his friends but also to the resistance. Poe is a combination of the three of the original characters, Luke, Han and Leia. He has Han’s charm, Luke’s protective qualities (which extends to BB-8, like Luke does with C3PO and R2-D2) and Leia’s grit and determination to win against an opposing force.

I really like his character, and I can’t wait to see more of him in the upcoming films, and the reason I like him is because even in the short time you see him, he has a great rapport with Finn and he’s great fun to watch in action. There is a less serious side to him but when it truly matters he’s there for Finn, who he barely knows, in helping to convince Leia to let them go and rescue Rey.

Speaking of Rey, they are never introduced and only share the screen for a brief moment as Chewbacca carries an injured Finn from the Millennium Falcon. I didn’t actually realise this until I sat and thought about how his character and hers got on with each other. The only link between them is Finn, their skills as pilots and the fact Kylo Ren interrogates them both. They have similar plots, but the only thing they have in common is that they hug Finn on seeing him again.

I can’t wait to see how Poe and Rey work together; I suspect her seriousness and his charisma would clash in the same way Han and Leia clash, but again I can’t see Rey ending up as anything other than a friend with Poe, like with Finn. In fact I’d be disappointed if she does.

Hux

Hands down to Dominic Gleeson, because his performance as General Hux, is absolutely flawless. From the moment you see him on the screen you know he is a strong and imposing leader. When he is rallying the troops just before they use the weapon, you can just tell that he is someone who strikes fear into the hearts of his troops. He’s even willing to confront Kylo Ren, which I think is brave considering he’s got a tendency to get angry and hit things with his lightsaber.

However, when you’ve watched the film a few times, you realise that Hux is a puppet. His speech is classic rhetoric, and he does nothing of any significance without consulting Commander Snoke first. His is conditioned to be the general, but kept on a tight lease by Snoke to the point that he doesn’t leave Starkiller Base as it is breaking apart without consulting Snoke first and getting permission to save himself (as long as he takes Kylo Ren with him though).

Commander Snoke is  the true villain of the trilogy, and he has trained his puppets well to do only what he tells them. It’s a stark contrast to General Tarkin in A New Hope, who makes the decision to destroy Alderaan without seemingly consulting the Emperor first and it would be interesting to see just how far Snoke can push Hux in the future films. After all Finn broke his conditioning, which seems to be a massive concern for Hux; what if others including himself can as well?

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After Rey, Kylo Ren is easily my favourite character, purely because he’s conflicted and I have a soft spot for conflicted characters. What I really love about him is that he is a very odd combination of someone falling into the Dark Side and someone falling into the Light Side. The effects on him are clear. He is moody when he doesn’t get his way, showing an uncontrollable rage over very little, that you never really saw either when Anakin fights Obi-wan, or when Luke is taunted by Darth Vader about his sister.

Anakin and Luke had really good solid reasons to be angry, whereas Kylo’s destruction seems to be so normal that the officer reporting to him has reason to look very scared and the Stormtroopers know not to get in the way of his anger. Their reactions show its normal, but it is interesting to see that in the film the only time you see this reaction is when Rey is concerned. “What girl?”, is the answer that I am most looking forward to having answered by the future films, because she really gets under Kylo’s skin and not just when she hits him with a lightsaber.

His intrigue about her, and his interrogation of her is the best scene in the film because you learn his weakness. You learn to question why he wears a mask when he really doesn’t need to, and you learn his deepest fear; that he will never live up to his grandfather’s reputation. Where does that come from? Han and Leia think it is because he has too much Vader in him and in his monologue seemingly to his grandfather, shows he’s conflicted about being able to live up to his name. And therein lies the question, the audience knows that Vader destroyed the Emperor in the end in order to save his son – who else knows that? Is Kylo trying to be Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker? I’m hoping that what he’s trying to be is a better version of either of them. Whether he is to be redeemed or his character is descended for tragedy it genuinely doesn’t matter to me.

The good and decent character of Anakin Skywalker was a bit of a disappointment in the prequels and his descent into darkness, while it made sense because he fears loss, just suddenly happened. He defies Mace Windu one moment and then suddenly turns on younglings in the next. Where does the idea that the Jedi are evil even come from? Quite frankly because it’s a prequel and you know it was supposed to happen, I very much just got the impression that Anakin’s descent into darkness and how they could make it good was over looked. “Oh he just does”, has always been the impression I got of the discussion that went into it.

Admittedly Darth Vader is much better in comparison to Anakin, but the extent of his conflict is only ever found in words and the occasion downwards glance that looks like he’s pondering. The rest of the time he just walks around large and imposing, with his only weakness being his loud breathing which made sneaking up on people hard. Then again in the prequels Anakin isn’t sublte then either, so maybe that was just a character flaw. With Kylo they’ve solved this, because he just appears in the forest, leaving Rey, Finn and the audience wonder just how he managed to get there.

What I’m hoping with Kylo is that his character is going to wrench out our hearts. Most would argue that killing his father has already done that, but what I’m hoping is that Han did that to him. The last thing he ever did was show his son compassion, even after he skewered him with a lightsaber, by tenderly cupping his cheek. I wonder whether that would end up haunting Kylo, and it would be great if it does, because remorse is very damaging for a character, and Darth Vader never seemed very remorseful.

han and leia

I loved seeing these Han and Leia come back to the films. Harrison Ford, while he’s always been a great actor, has grown in strength and made Han Solo more than just a loveable rogue. The character might still be conning people, but he’s got a world of woes on his shoulders. You see from the moment Finn mentions Luke; all of his torment comes back to him, and the bounce he had in his step on seeing the Falcon again after years of it being gone, melts away, and he carries it with him for the rest of the film.

I also like that the filmmakers weren’t frightened of showing that Han and Leia’s relationship isn’t perfect. A lot of their relationship I think has been romanticised over the years into something that is perfect. They love each other, and that is still apparent, but couples do have problems, and sometimes love is not enough. They had the trauma of Ben (Kylo Ren) betraying them. No wonder they escaped into what they are good at; conning people and smuggling, or being a prominent leader in the fight against a fascist force.

I loved Leia in this film. She might not get same amount of screen time, but she also has the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders, and while she’s still strong and fighting, she has cares now she didn’t have in youth. It’s a beautiful portrayal of a character who has seen too much and have far too much to lose; bearing in mind she has already lost her home planet, the loss of her son has taken its toll on her. It will be great to see how her character fairs in the future films; I suspect Leia will just take it all in her stride and it would be fantastic if she does. If she just turns into a weepy woman, at any point other than on her deathbed or for more a few moments in a corner on her own before striding back into the room as General Organa I will seriously hate it.

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And then there was Luke: my first reaction was “really is that it, not even a word?”, and then about five seconds later I thought “OMG that is amazing.” Seriously his cameo is perfect. In a few seconds you see a damaged character and you start asking more questions about what happens next then you do with anything in the rest of the film. Ten seconds of utter brilliance, and then the credits start and you immediately want episode eight. Cliff-hanger perfection.

In summary, in absolutely love the film and I have a whole load of reasons why, two of them are called Rey and Kylo Ren. They certainly aren’t alone, but they are definitely the reasons why I will wait with baited breathe for the next film.

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6 responses »

  1. Great review. The first I’ve read from a female who was a fan going in (admittedly, I haven’t been looking at many reviews, and havent’ sought out any particular type). I’m on board with a lot of the points you bring up. I will say that Young Anakin’s prowess in the Phantom Menace was very much lamented. He was very much called a Wesley Crusher, or Gary-Stu if you prefer, and that was after Liam Neeson was tripping overhimself to explain to the view how innately awesome he is/will be.

    Regardless, your main point in that section–that Rey is a great character, and has gotten *way* too much hate, especially from seemingly sexist man-children–very much stands. Rey, Finn & Kylo are all fantastic characters, and I really, really enjoyed the movie.

    I was a bit disappointed to see that things absolutely *did not* work out in any way for the OT heroes, and that everything they ever touched turned to crap. But if everything was A-OK, it wouldn’t have made for a very interesting movie, I suppose.

  2. I agree it wouldn’t have been an interesting film if everything that the OT heroes had managed to have happy ever after lives, because we wouldn’t have a new film if they had.

    I hadn’t know that Anakin had been thought of as a Gary-Stu; most things I’ve ever read can’t get past how much they hated Jar Jar Binks, or how the films had put too much emphasis on using CGI backgrounds for everything.

    I think my main problem with Anakin in all of those films is that you knew where he was going to end up, but how they wrote his story of getting him from the ten-year old slave to Darth Vader was just boring to the point that it spoils the character of Darth Vader that the OT had established.

    A lot of his character was just forced because they had to direct his development that way and there was absolutely no surprises (well I was surprised Padme ended up with such a whiny brat in Episode 2 because doing so didn’t fit her character but that’s a different matter altogether).

    As much as I love Rey, I have seen the film again since I drafted this post and it is Kylo Ren I’m most excited about seeing again, because I can’t see where’s he’s heading as a character. I’d hoped the fall of Anakin would have been spectacular; I’m now pinning all my hopes of a great dark-side character development on Kylo Ren.

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