I finally saw the new Star Wars movie without having it spoiled for me. I was sweating bullets. I am addicted to Twitter and the Internet so having to go radio silence for a couple of days was far from easy for me!
Now that I have finally seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens I felt the need to get my thoughts out in the form of a review. Before we delve into the review, I feel it is only necessary to give a few disclaimers first.
I grew up as a Star Wars baby. I was a little kid when Star Wars: A New Hope was released. Seeing this movie is probably my earliest memory from my childhood. I was mesmerized. To say that Star Wars has had a profound impact on my life would be an understatement. I love Star Wars more than any other franchise in any form, either book, comic, movie or TV. As followers of the Revolution know I love Marvel and DC. But, even my love for Marvel and DC is a far distant second place to my love for Star Wars.
I know this sounds cheesy and stupid, but Star Wars showed me what it was to be a man. The Force and the Jedi got across the principles of honor, patience, love and respect far more than any Catholic mass that I was forced to endure as a child.
Star Wars also showed me how to always embrace your imagination and to never grow up. To embrace the adventure of life and to have as much fun as possible.
Of course, like all little boys between 1977-1985, I had Star Wars toys. I mean a ton of them. In fact, there were almost no other toys that I was really interested in at all. Star Wars toys were king. No matter where I went, I always had a Star Wars action figure or two tucked into my pockets. I spent many hours creating my own adventures for my Star Wars action figures to experience. These stories filled in the blanks that George Lucas left in telling his stories in the three movies.
My favorite characters from the original trilogy? This is important because it does help explain the lens in which I viewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My favorite characters are as followed:
1. Darth Vader
2. Han Solo
4. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Needless to say, Episodes IV-VI have a strong nostalgic pull on me that is powerful enough for me to overlook any of the defects in those three movies. However, my love for the original Star Wars trilogy was not enough for me to turn a blind eye to the defects found in Episodes I-III.
Now, I do not have unbridled hate and disdain for the prequels like many people do. Well, with the exception of Episode I. That movie was nearly unwatchable. Jar Jar Binks plus the terrible acting of Jake Lloyd were a one-two punch of awfulness. If it was not for the fight scene with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi versus Darth Maul then I would have liked nearly nothing about the movie.
I thought Episode II was an improvement. And Episode III was the prequel that I liked the most. However, to say that there was a massive gulf between the original trilogy and the prequels would be an understatement.
The Prequels certainly made me gun shy about any new Star Wars movie. I felt that Lucas captured lightning in the bottle with the original trilogy and that any subsequent Star Wars movies would inevitably fall short. I believed that the saying, “You can never go home again” certainly applied to the Star Wars franchise.
My ranking of the six Stars Wars movies are as follows:
1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
2. Star Wars: A New Hope
3. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
4. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
5. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
6. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Again, I must emphasis that the gap between the #3 spot and the #4 is massive. Like as big as the Atlantic Ocean. So, the question is where does Star Wars: The Force Awakens fall in this ranking?
For me? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a strong #4. The gap between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith is a big gap. J.J. Abrams deserves credit for delivering a Star Wars movie that is far better than the prequels and definitely feels like a proper Star Wars movie.
I had a blast watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The movie put a huge smile on my face and I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the movie. Maybe you cannot go home again, but J.J. Abrams showed that it was at least possible to move into the house next door to your childhood home. And, you know what? That is good enough for me.
Look, it is unfair and unreasonable to expect Disney to crank out a new Star Wars movie that would top the original trilogy. That is simply never going to happen. The original trilogy was one of those rare moments in history. The original trilogy brought to America something that had not been experienced before. The original trilogy struck a chord with the American populace and became ingrained in our culture like no other movie franchise has ever done before or since.
To expect Disney to make a movie that could top such an incredibly unique and culturally important event like the original trilogy is unfair and simply not realistic. No, what I hoped for was that Disney would make a Star Wars movie that was fun and captured the spirit of the Star Wars franchise. And that Disney’s movie would make us forget the bad taste that the prequels left in our collective mouth.
Of course, even though I absolutely enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens that does not mean that the movie was without its faults. This movie definitely suffered from numerous weaknesses. I believe that criticism is a positive force when used properly and can allow for introspection, reassessment and positive growth. Hopefully, Disney can learn from the mistakes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and come out with an even better Star Wars movie with Episode VIII.
Of course, needless to say there will be SPOILERS!!!! Like tons of SPOILERS!!! Have I warned you enough at this point?!?! Do not say that you were not warned that there would be SPOILERS ahead!
Disney assembled a fantastic cast for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All of the actors did a fantastic job. They all did the best they could with whatever the script offered them. Now, in The Bad section we will get to where the script failed the actors at certain points. However, none of the problems with the characters in this movie were due to the actors. All of the actors can take pride in the fact that they all turned in excellent efforts and helped to make this movie so enjoyable.
You like action? Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens absolutely does not disappoint in that regard. This movie brings a ton of action. The fight scenes are fantastic. The special effects are well done and each action scene effectively pulls the reader in and captures their full attention.
One of my favorite moments is when the Resistance first rolls onto the scene acting as the Calvary to rescue Han, Chewie and Finn. We then get treated to Poe kicking more ass in his X-Wing than we have ever seen in any Star Wars movie.
Of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not just a mindless collection of action scenes slapped together without any substance or connective tissue. JJ Abrams knows when to back off the gas pedal and let the viewers catch their breath between the action scenes. And that leads me to the next point…
Star Wars: The Force Awakens had such an excellent flow to the story. Abrams properly spaced out the action scenes with more dialogue heavy character driven scenes in between. Each scene flowed from the previous scene in a pleasant and organic fashion. The result is that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an enjoyable ride that never feels bumpy or whiplashes the viewer from scene to scene.
There was a lot of fantastic funny dialogue in this movie. Which was important since the overall vibe of the movie is rather dark and depressing. The funny dialogue is properly sprinkled through out the movie. For the most part, the humor is well timed. I certainly was laughing out loud at various parts of the movie. The nice sense of humor was what was lacking from the prequels. And humor was always an important ingredient to the original Star Wars trilogy. So, it was great to see Abrams brining just the right amount of humor to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I loved Poe Dameron’s character. I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my two sons. They are 11 and 8 years old. If I had seen this movie when I was their ages then Poe would have easily been my favorite character. To no surprise, both boys told me that Poe was the character that they liked the most.
Poe is the most badass character in the entire movie. Why? Well, unlike Rey, he does not have the advantage of being perfection personified. Nope. Poe is a regular guy with weaknesses. But, he overcomes those weaknesses by having balls of steel, a daredevil never-say-die attitude and the ability to absolutely fly the shit out of any spacecraft.
Poe is the Resistance’s #1 fighter pilot so it is not surprising that he has a higher cool factor than any other character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Poe is also easily the most charismatic character in the entire movie. Oscar Isaac did a fantastic job and Poe has massive potential to be the new Han Solo for Episodes VII-IX.
It would be wise of Disney to increase Poe’s screen time with the next two Star Wars movies. Poe’s character is absolute money. Poe should assume center stage alongside of Rey in the next two movies. That would help make the next two Star Wars movies even more exciting and interesting.
First, John Boyega did a fantastic job with the character that the writers gave him. Boyega was able to make the audience crack up with his excellent facial expressions and perfectly delivered witty lines.
I have seen some criticism for Finn’s character. And I think that some of it is fair. However, I thought Finn was hilarious as the movie’s comedic relief. No, Finn is not the hero of this movie. Nor is he particularly talented or skilled at much. Finn is an accidental hero who crashes from scene to scene in such an entertainingly unwilling fashion.
Finn’s character also serves the important role as the comedic foil to Rey’s painful straight man. Finn brings the necessary emotion and energy to liven up the scenes that could have been brought down by Rey’s subdued and bland personality.
No character entertained me more than Finn. Now, I get that some critics of Finn’s character are not pleased that Finn is not a hero on equal footing with Rey or Poe. That Finn served more as a plot device to empower Rey and get over her character’s perfection and her need to never be rescued rather than being developed into an actual fully developed heroic character.
For me? I thought Finn was every bit the equal to Poe and Rey. It was just that Finn’s importance and role was much different. Rey was there to be the white bread Superman styled super hero and Poe was there to be the new Han Solo.
Finn? He was there to be us: The viewer. Finn reacts to the craziness exploding all around him the way the audience does. Finn reacts to the horror of the First Order, the heroics of the Resistance and the awe of the Force just like the audience does. Finn, along with BB-8, is the main source of comedic relief for this Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
However, FInn is more than just that. Finn is the viewer’s guide. Finn is the character that the viewer is supposed to attach to and allow him to lead us through the movie. I would say that Finn’s role is actually the most important role in the movie.
In a story full of magical powered Jedi and Sith, heroic fighter pilots, droids, fantastic Sci-Fi technology and a brilliant tapestry of aliens, Finn serves to keep the story grounded and serve as the viewer’s conduit to this amazing universe.
Also, if you removed Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens then this movie would be far too dark and depressing to enjoy.
I wanted to hate this little droid. I wanted to talk shit about him. I wanted to trumpet how my boy, R2-D2, put this new droid to shame. But, you know what? I could not do it! BB-8 is pretty damn adorable. There is just no getting around it.
Now, is BB-8 as cool as R2-D2? No. BB-8 is the lovable, but stupid, golden retriever while R2-D2 is the loyal, resourceful and intelligent Police K-9 dog. BB-8 never displays the independent thinking and resourcefulness that R2-D2 continually displays through out all of the Star Wars movies. So, in essence, one cool aspect of BB-8 is that he highlights the uniqueness and specialness of R2-D2.
Having said all of that, BB-8 was great. My two boys instantly fell in love with BB-8. Where Lucas failed with Jar Jar Binks, Disney has succeeded with BB-8. And that is no small accomplishment.
BB-8 also adds some comedic relief to this movie. My favorite moment is when Finn persuades BB-8 to keep his secret from Rey that Finn is not really a part of the Resistance. After BB-8 keeps the secret, Finn gives BB-8 a thumbs up sign. BB-8 responds with his own thumbs up by extending his small torch lighter in a thumbs up shape. Perfect!
What was so damn impressive is how much emotion J.J. Abrams was able to pack into a droid that lacked facial expressions and only communicated through beeps and whistles. BB-8 has tons of personality and was able to convey fear, sadness and happiness in a highly effective manner. One scene that highlights this is when BB-8 is re-united with his master, Poe. BB-8 rolls forward in an excited fashion like a little puppy happy to see its owner. Again, another adorable scene that even touched my black little heart.
There was also the cool moment where R2-D2 combines his hologram of a map with BB-8’s hologram of the missing piece of that map in order to reveal Luke Skywalker’s location. This was such a well done symbolic moment that helped to marry the original trilogy with this new trilogy.
The Patented Star Wars “Feel”
The best part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? It felt like a Star Wars movie. Abrams captured the proper vibe of the Star Wars franchise. This movie stayed true to the core tenants of the Star Wars franchise. It is hard to distill this feeling into written words. All I can say is that Star Wars: The Force Awakens just felt right.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is plagued by weak writing that delivers plot holes, lack of internal logic and weak character work. Let’s take a look at the writing problems that ran throughout the movie.
Lack of Originality
This one is a double edged sword. Abrams was pretty much damned either way he went. If Abrams strayed too far from the core tenants of the Star Wars franchise found in the original trilogy then he would have been brutally blasted by Star Wars fans. So, the result is that Abrams basically just re-made Star Wars: A New Hope. I agree that Abrams needed to stay true to the core tenants of the Star Wars franchise from the original trilogy. But, I believe that Abrams could have done so and still given viewers a story that was more original than what we got.
Star Wars: A New Hope gave us Luke Skywalker on a desert planet. Star Wars: Force Awakens gives us Rey on a desert planet. Both characters are restless. Both characters are young. Both characters dress in the same white and beige clothing.
Both characters stumble across an astromech droid wandering around the desert. Both astromech droids contain a secret in the form of a hologram that is both vitally important to the Rebellion/Resistance and highly coveted by the Empire/First Order. Both characters must go on a journey to return the droids to the Rebellion/Resistance.
Both characters enlist the help from an unwilling hero in the form of Han Solo for Luke and Finn for Rey. Both unwilling heroes do not care about the Jedi, the Force or the Rebellion/Resistance. Both unwilling heroes only care about themselves.
Both unwilling heroes abandon their friend as Han “abandons” Luke before the attack on the Death Star and Finn “abandons” Rey before they head off to meet the Resistance. Both unwilling heroes finally think about something other than their own well being and make a heroic return to help their friend. Han does this when he returns to help Luke destroy the Death Star. Finn does this when he returns to join the Resistance and help rescue Rey from the Starkiller.
Luke faces the Death Star which is a planet sized weapon capable of destroying a planet with a single blast. Rey faces the Starkiller which is a planet sized weapon capable of destroying five planets with a single blast. Both the Death Star and the Starkiller require a certain amount of time to recharge before being fired again.
The Death Star destroys Alderaan. The Starkiller destroys five unnamed planets. The Empire/First Order discover the location of the Rebellion/Resistance. Luke must help the Rebellion destroy the Death Star before it can recharge and destroy the main Rebel base. Rey must help the Resistance destroy the Starkiller before it can recharge and destroy the Resistance headquarters.
Both the Death Star and the Starkiller have the same weaknesses that can allow it to be destroyed by a single solitary X-Wing fighter. Both the Death Star and the Starkiller are destroyed by a single X-Wing fighter at the last second before firing their cannons.
While aboard the Death Star Luke helplessly watches Obi-Wan have a showdown with Darth Vader. While aboard the Starkiller, Rey helplessly watches Han Solo have a showdown with Kylo Ren. Luke watches Darth Vader kill Obi-Wan. Rey watches Kylo Ren kill Han Solo.
Needless to say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not just simply loyal to the source material of the original trilogy. Instead, this movie simply feels like an uncreative and unoriginal remix of Star Wars: A New Hope. I get the unwillingness to be a bit more original and daring with the first new Star Wars movie in ten years and the first movie under Disney’s ownership. But, now that the first movie is done and has been a massive financial success, I hope that Disney gets a bit more creative and original with Star Wars Episode VIII.
Lack of Emotion
This has been an issue J.J. Abrams struggled with when handling Star Trek. There is zero doubt that Abrams can deliver on mystery and action. The guy can make big exciting blockbusters. However, injecting genuine emotion into the story? That is a bit of a problem for Abrams. And that definitely shows up in Star Wars: The Force Returns.
There is a lot of action and excitement and mystery going on in this movie. But, genuine emotion is lacking. The characters do not exude genuine emotion. Part of that problem is that Rey’s beige personality is the center of the story. The rest of the problem is that the writing never gets any genuine emotion out of any of the characters. Things happen with no real impact. The destruction of the five planets, Han’s death, Ren’s internal struggle. None of them seem particularly fleshed out and present with true emotion.
The viewer is absolutely entertained by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But, the viewer rarely feels any emotion from the characters and the story. It is always evident to the viewer that we are watching a story rather than being pulled in and immersed into the story.
Han Solo’s death
Speaking of Han’s death, let’s take a look at that for a moment. Unfortunately, Han’s death was painfully telegraphed. It was as if Abrams hung a giant neon sign around Han’s neck saying “I’m going to get killed off” and then has a bunch of arrows pointing all around Han. The fact that this was so obvious robbed the death of much of its impact.
Now, to be clear, I have zero problem with Han getting killed. Harrison Ford is 73 years old and was looking a bit tired and creaky in this movie. It certainly was time to let Han Solo get some rest! But, the way that Han’s death was handled felt too obvious and clumsy. The weak writing also failed to make this scene as genuinely emotional and poignant as it should have been.
Another problem concerning Han’s death is how this impacts Kylo Ren’s character. Abrams makes a huge deal out of how the light side of the Force still pulls at Ren’s heart. It appears that one of the main storylines for this new trilogy will be the redemption of Kylo Ren. If that is the case, it is going to be awfully hard to bring Ren’s character back from killing his own father. It is going to be a huge challenge to get anyone to forgive Ren and allow him redemption after this heinous murder.
The Importance of a Strong Foundation and Setting
I do not mind a few mysteries. We do not know much about what Luke has been up to while in exile. We do not know who abandoned Rey on Jakku. And we do not know how Maz Kanata came to be in possession of Anakin Skywalker’s light saber.
But, the basic information about the setting for the Star Wars Universe thirty years after the Return of the Jedi concluded? Yeah, that is kind of necessary information. The first task for any writer when writing a story is to make sure the reader has a good sense for the setting that the story will be taking place in.
That definitely is not the case with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All we know is there is the First Order who generically spun out of the remnants of the Empire. That there is a New Republic that exists somewhere in relation to the First Order. And there is the Resistance who causes problems for the First Order and is somehow related to the New Republic. But we really do not know.
This is just not enough information. Now, I am not asking for tons of time devoted to trade routes, taxes and Senate proceedings like what we got in the Prequels until we were all brain dead and drooling into our extra large buckets of popcorn. No, all I wanted was a bit more of an explanation of how this universe is organized so it did not feel like the setting was hastily slapped together with little thought because…Jesus-why-do-you-think-this-matters-just-look-at-the-pretty-explosions-and-the-Millennium-Falcon- isn’t-this-cool?!
It would have been nice to know how the First Order came to rise out of the Empire, how and/or why Snoke is in charge, what is the motivation of the First Order and are the Moffs still a part of the First Order. Is Coruscant the center of the New Republic? If so, what is the center of the First Order?
Speaking of the New Republic, some information concerning them would have been helpful. Are the First Order and the New Republic akin to two empires with a neighboring border like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire? Where does the Resistance fit into this structure? Is the Resistance a New Republic sanctioned and funded group that operates within the territory of the First Order?
The lack of basic world building by the writers made the foundation for Star Wars: The Force Awakens feel shaky and sloppy. This, in turn, made the movie feel like not much thought was given to the genesis for this new chapter in the Star Wars saga.
In Star Wars: The New Hope, we experience the destruction of Alderaan. It is a planet that the viewer never visits. Yet, the destruction of Alderaan had a huge impact on the viewer. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Starkiller destroys five unnamed planets. We actually get to visit at least one of them momentarily.
But, the destruction of these planets has little impact on the readers. Why? Because the destruction of the planets feel more like a plot device rather than a critical story element that impacts the characters. None of the members of the Resistance really react to the destruction of these planets beyond worrying about themselves being the next target.
It also was unclear why the First Order would blow these five planets up first thereby tipping their hand of their new weapon to the Resistance before then targeting the planet where the Resistance is located. Why not just attack the planet where the Resistance is located during the first attack? The element of surprise is what any military force desires. All of this lacked logic.
Speaking of the Starkiller, beyond not being very original, why would the First Order create a similar weapon to the Death Star with the same weakness? That just made no sense. It only serves to make the villains look clueless. And a good writer never wants the villains to look clueless unless the writer purposefully wants the viewer to not take the villains seriously. And I am sure that it was not the intent for the writers to make the viewers not take the First Order seriously.
My last random note is R2-D2 waking up out of deep sleep just at the right time. R2-D2 is not mentioned much at all during the movie until near the end. It is finally explained that R2-D2 was put into deep sleep mode when Luke went into hiding. Just after what happened to R2-D2 was explained he suddenly wakes up out of deep sleep and delivers the map of Luke. It all felt way too rushed and sloppy.
It is a time honored principal of storytelling that absolutely no story can rise above the quality of the villain that is present in the story. The villain is the most important character to any story and is the single literary ingredient that can make or break a story. No matter if it is literature, movies, comic books or pro wrestling, if the audience is not presented with a top notch villain then the story loses much of its impact.
The main ingredient of the villain is that they have to be stronger on a one-on-one basis with the heroes. Look at the world of comic books. Magneto is stronger than any one X-Men and that enables him to take on the entire team of the X-Men and still have a chance of beating them. Darkseid is stronger than any team of heroes he faces. Thanos is stronger than any team of heroes he faces. Doomsday is stronger than Superman. Bane is stronger than Batman. It goes on and on and on throughout all of comics.
Look no further than the original Star Wars trilogy. Darth Vader was stronger than the heroes. It was not until the very end of Return of the Jedi that Luke is able to grow in strength to the level that he could finally defeat Darth Vader. And even that that point, Luke was still no match for the Emperor.
The reason why the villain is the most important character and the reason why the villain has to be stronger and appear to be unbeatable is quite simple. The villain provides the conflict and the tension to the story.
The reader needs a reason to be invested in the hero and in the story. What gets the reader invested in the hero? Seeing the hero struggle. Seeing the hero deal with setbacks and loses and striving to overcome seemingly impossible odds. Seeing the hero dispatch of a seemingly unstoppable villain. That is the core of all great stories. The reader/viewer becomes invested in the heroes struggle and wants to see them achieve the Herculean feat of defeating the more powerful villain. This is such a basic ingredient in any successful story.
What happens if the villain is a joke and is weaker than the hero? The viewer/reader becomes disengaged from the story. There is no reason to ever become emotionally invested in the story. If the viewer/reader knows that the hero is clearly superior to the villain and can easily dispatch of the villain then there is no tension. There is no conflict. There is no reason to care. We know that the villain is a weak joke and that there is nothing to stop the hero from waltzing to an easy victory. In pro wrestling terms this would be a squash match. Nothing is more boring than a one sided conflict.
This is the biggest weakness with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The viewer is never presented with any truly legitimate villains. The magic of the original Star Wars trilogy is that we were presented with Darth Vader, arguably the greatest movie villain of all time, and the Emperor. Both characters we presented as monster villains that were seemingly unstoppable. This provided the proper conflict for the story and seemingly impossible task that our heroes had to tackle.
It is not uncommon in a movie or a comic book for the villain to be the coolest character in the story. That certainly is not the case with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
What a total dud of a villain. Part of that is the fault of Abrams and Disney for building up this character in the promotions for the movie. Phasma had a cool look with her all gun metal grey armor. Gwendolin Christie is awesome and it is so unfortunate that Abrams did not give her character more of an opportunity to shine.
Unfortunately, Phasma turned out to be nothing more than a jobber. She is a one note villain who gets taken down in incredibly easy fashion. Abrams totally whiffed on an opportunity to have a pretty badass lower rung villain who would provided for an excellent opponent for either Poe or Finn while Rey deals with Kylo Ren. But, after the movie, the viewer walks away viewing Phasma as a joke villain who simply is not a threat.
Supreme Leader Snoke
While Lucas nailed it with the Emperor, Abrams whiffed with the Supreme Leader Snoke. The Emperor was such an effective character that the viewer did not have to even see the Emperor and all in Star Wars: A New Hope in order to fear his character. Just the way the various officers of the Empire reacted at the mere mention of his name effectively got across to the viewer what a scary character the Emperor was. Also, the fact that supreme badass Darth Vader spoke reverently about the Emperor got over what a serious and scary villain the Emperor had to be.
None of that every happened with Snoke. First, the name is just terrible. But, beyond that, Abrams does absolutely nothing to build up Snoke’s character at all. Abrams never has the other officers of the First Order mention Snoke’s name in fear. We never see any of the members of the First Order to anything to build up the power and importance of Snoke. The fact that Kylo Ren is subservient to Snoke is not even close to the same thing as Darth Vader being subservient to the Emperor because Kylo Ren is never gotten over as a legitimate badass like Darth Vader was in Star Wars: A New Hope.
It also does not help that Snoke is written to be a somewhat incompetent leader. At no point does it appear that Snoke has any intelligent master plan at all. Snoke comes across like an impulsive dipshit. Instead, it seems that Snoke is just making it all up as he goes along.
Say what you want about the Emperor, but there was zero doubt in the viewer’s mind that the Emperor was very intelligent, calculating and always in control of the situation. The viewer never gets that impression of Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It is imperative that the villain appears to have all the answers and to always seem to be one step ahead of the hero. Otherwise, there is no conflict and the viewer has no reason to care about the story and the journey that the hero must undertake.
Snoke is not helped by the fact that he has such a bland character design. There is nothing visually interesting, engaging or imposing about his generic scarred alien presentation. Every time I saw Snoke all I saw was the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz. It would not surprise me at all that once we look behind the curtain and see Snoke in person that we discover that he is actually Yoda-sized or something like that.
Snoke’s character is also hurt by the fact that he is an incredibly generic and one-dimensional villain. Abrams does nothing to give any texture or nuance to Snoke’s character. At no point is there any effort made to add some depth to Soke’s personality or to add any flavor to his character in order to engage the viewer’s interest in Snoke.
This is the most important character of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is the one character that Abrams absolutely had to nail. And, sadly, Abrams failed in that task. Why is Kylo Ren the most important character and not Rey? For the same reason that Darth Vader was the most important character in the original Star Wars trilogy and not Luke Skywalker. The original trilogy was the story about the redemption of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. This new trilogy is going to be about the redemption of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo.
Kylo Ren is also the most important character of Star Wars: The Force Awakens because he is the character that has to fill the extremely large shoes of Darth Vader. Rey filling in for Luke Skywalker? That is super easy. Honestly, Luke was a boring character. It took zero effort to role out another boring character in Rey to replace Luke Skywalker. But, replacing one of the greatest villains of all time in Darth Vader? Replacing the one character that was the driving force for the original Star Wars trilogy? That is huge. And Abrams failed in that effort.
I had high hopes that Kylo Ren would be another supreme badass. The Darth Vader for a new generation. Sadly, what we got was a whiny emo teenager who is a weak fighter that the viewer never takes as a credible threat at all. Both my 8 year old son and my 11 year old son made the observation that the biggest problem with Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that there was no cool villain like Darth Vader. My reaction to Darth Vader when I saw Star Wars: A New Hope as a child was on the other end of the spectrum from my boys’ reaction to Kylo Ren.
In pro wrestling terms, Ren is a chicken shit heel like Seth Rollins who the viewer never takes as a serious threat and is nothing more than a glorified jobber. A jobber is a wrestler that is weak and never wins.
In comic book terms, Ren is a weak villain that is rolled out for a one-shot filler issue that comes out in between two 8 issue story arcs. Ren is that low level comic book villain that thinks he is a threat but is taken out easily by the super hero. Think the Stilt-Man.
At no point does the viewer ever view Kylo Ren as a legitimate threat. Ren’s constant temper tantrums through out the movie only serve to make him look childish and idiotic. It renders him infantile and makes the viewer immediately dismiss him as a credible villain.
It got even worse in the scene after Rey makes her escape and Ren finds her cell empty. Abrams proceeds to turn Ren into comedic relief by having him have yet another temper tantrum and having two Stormtroopers march toward the room, pause and then decide to turn around and go down the hall in the opposite direction.
Yeah, it was funny. But, just because something is funny does not mean it is the smart thing to do. You have to look if the funny scene furthered any of the characters or any plot lines. Here, this funny moment only served to make Ren look more like a punchline than a legitimate threat.
It gets even worse in the final fight scene of the movie. We have Finn, who has been established as a coward who worked in the Sanitation Department, going up against Kylo Ren. At no point has Finn been established as anything that would be considered to be a talented fighter. On top of that, Finn is using a light saber which is a weapon he has never even seen before in his entire life. On the other hand, you have Ren who has been trained to use a light saber by Luke Skywalker himself.
What do you think would happen between those two characters in a light saber fight? Ren would demolish Finn in two seconds, right? Nope. Instead, Finn somehow manages to hold his own against Ren for far longer than would ever thought to be possible. Ren actually looks like he is struggling to defeat Finn.
This was horrible writing. The effect of this scene made Ren look utterly inept and weak. If Ren, with his years of training, could not effortlessly dispatch of a weak fighter like Finn who has never used a light saber then why in the world would the viewer ever take Ren seriously. And the viewer doesn’t. This scene only serves to make Ren look like a joke villain who is absolutely zero threat.
And it continues to get worse. We then have Rey who has gained control of her Force abilities for all of 10 minutes and who has never seen or used a lightsaber in her entire life. And Rey is going up against Ren who, again, has supposedly been trained since birth by Luke Skywalker on how to use his Force abilities and how to fight with a light saber.
Again, Ren should have crushed Rey. Not as quickly as he should have crushed Finn. But, Ren certainly should have whipped Rey just like Darth Vader would crushed Luke in A New Hope and how Darth Vader totally dominated Luke in their battle in the Empire Strikes Back.
What happens? Rey just plows through Ren and easily beats him in a one-side fight where the viewer was never worried for Rey’s safety at all. This stripped Ren of any and all credibility as a legitimate villain that the viewer should care about. Rey so easily defeats Ren that the viewer is left for no reason to come back for more.
The hero has already proven that she is vastly superior to the villain. It is made clear that the villain is of no threat at all. Therefore, the story has no conflict or tension. There is nothing remaining for the hero to conquer. There is no daunting task set before the hero. There is no reason for the viewer to care.
The main villain is there to provide the source of the tension and the conflict. The main villain is there is provide for the seemingly impossible task for the hero to take on. The main villain is there so that the hero can struggle and the viewer can become invested in the characters and the story and be brought to the edge of their seat to see if the hero can actually overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds. The main villain is there is eventually be defeated so that the audience can feel the excitement of the seemingly impossible success of the hero.
Ren is such a joke villain and is never presented as credible or imposing through out the movie. Ren is then completely neutered and rendered impotent in his fights with Finn and Rey. Ren is now a villain that provides zero conflict or tension. There is no reason for the viewer to get excited to come back for more. Our hero has already easily dispatched of the main villain. Story over.
In pro wrestling, it is common for the #1 heel, the best bad guy wrestler, to be presented as an impossible wrestler to beat. The heel is booked in a manner that he wins tons of matches and seems unstoppable.
Then the #1 heel is matched up against the #1 babyface (the best good guy wrestler) and normally the heel proceeds to beat up and bully the babyface. This makes the audience feel like the heel seems unstoppable and that the babyface has an insurmountable task in front of him. This is important so that when the championship match occurs between the heel and the babyface and the babyface wins the match that it feels like a massive accomplishment. The audience will go crazy and feel fulfilled with the journey that they were taken on with the babyface’s struggle to the championship.
In comic books, it is common for the super villain like Darksied or Thanos to absolutely dominate the super heroes through out most of the story. That way, in the climactic finish when the heroes seemingly overcome insurmountable odds, the reader is excited and feels fulfilled with the journey that the super heroes had to take with their struggle against the super villain.
This is not rocket science. This is basic storytelling. And Abrams utterly failed in this most basic aspect of storytelling. Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like a complete story. The main hero took on the main villain and scored an incredibly easy victory. The viewer does not feel any real urgency to come back for a sequel.
Ren’s falling as main villain plays directly into my next criticism which is Rey is too perfect of a hero.
Rey has been called a Mary Sue. That is the term given as a connotation of wish-fulfillment. The negative connotation of the term “Mary Sue” comes from the fact that the character is considered a poorly developed character that is too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting. The male version of a Mary Sue would be a Gary Stu.
The use of the term “Mary Sue” makes some people act irrationally and see red to the point where no intelligent discourse can be had. Therefore, I am going to avoid the use of the term Mary Sue. And I am going to avoid debating whether a Mary Sue is a good character that should be encouraged or a bad character that should be discouraged.
Honestly, the sex of Rey’s character is utterly irrelevant to me. Let me make this very clear so nobody misunderstands my criticism of Rey’s character. If Rey was a male then I would still find s/he to be a boring and uninteresting character. So let’s absolutely remove Rey’s sex from the conversation because my opinion of her character would be the exact same opinion even if she were a male.
Let’s look at characters from other forms of media that would be analogous to Rey so that we can have a better understanding of my criticism for Rey’s character.
What would be the male comic book version of Rey? Superman and Captain America. The pro wrestling version of Rey? John Cena. To be clear, I have never liked either Superman or Cena. In pro wrestling terms, Rey’s character would be described as an unstoppable white meat babyface like Cena. In comic book terms Rey would be described as a white bread super hero like Superman and Captain America.
The common traits of a white bread super hero? They are usually perfect in nearly every respect. In fact, they are usually perfection personified. These characters have no physical flaws. They also have no mental or personality flaws. These characters have immediate success at anything and everything they do. They are the consummate hero who never fails. These characters are usually straight-laced and classic style “good guys.” They also tend to be bland and boring.
What is the problem with a perfect character? They immediately make all of the other characters pointless and rob the story of any drama or suspense since they calmly and easily waltz through anything set in their path.
The best heroes are flawed heroes. They are heroes with weaknesses. Heroes that struggle. Why is Iron Man far more popular than Captain America? Because Tony Stark, for all of his talents, is egotistical and an alcoholic. Why is Batman so much more popular than Superman? Because Batman is physically vulnerable and lacks super powers, therefore he must use his wits and intelligence and has to physically struggle his way through any conflict.
Perfect characters are boring. The reason for that is there is nothing they cannot do. There is no situation that they cannot remedy. There is no problem they cannot solve. There is no villain they cannot defeat. There is no battle they cannot lose. It removes any and all excitement or suspense. Watching a perfect character in a story is like watching the New England Patriots play football against the College of William and Mary’s football team. It is boring.
Perfect characters are also hard for the viewer to relate to and become invested in. Who can relate to a person who is physically, mentally and spiritually perfect? Perfect characters also come across as fake and unrealistic. There a reason why characters like Batman and Iron Man are more popular than perfect heroes. It is because readers can relate to those characters. These characters have weaknesses. Batman has no super powers. Batman clearly has psychological issues. Iron Man is an alcoholic. Iron Man is also self-centered. It is these crucial weaknesses that make these characters feel real. These weaknesses make these characters believable.
Spider-Man is another great example of how a hero with flaws makes for some of the best stories. Peter Parker is as hard luck as it gets. The police hate him. His boss hates him. The guy struggles to make a living. And, Spider-Man struggles in fights and the villains almost always are stronger than him. Spider-Man is one of those heroes who seems to lose more fights than he wins.
Perfect characters are shallow. They are idealized versions of what person would be. They are nothing more than flat one dimensional cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, heroes with character flaws always make for the most complex and interesting characters. They pull viewers deeply into the story and make for a much more compelling story with more depth and substance.
Perfect characters have no drama. On the other hand, the underdog hero or the flawed hero comes with plenty of drama. That is why the underdog hero is immensely popular. Characters like Rocky resonate with people because they are not the best. And it is so much more inspiring to see someone who isn’t the most perfect at everything, who isn’t the strongest or the smartest struggle and on guts and heart achieve victory.
The perfect character is who they are by birth. By mere existence. The underdog hero achieves victory through heart, soul and passion. The underdog hero’s qualities are all inspirational. That is what fires the viewer’s heart.
The viewer realizes that the perfect hero will achieve their goals simply because it is their right rather than it being a journey paved with struggles, failings and growth where the hero finally achieves their goals due to their heart and perseverance. The Perfect hero is the entitled rich blue blood. The flawed hero and the underdog are the American Dream.
There is no conflict or tension watching the spoiled rich kid with every single possible resource at their disposal, the right last name and all the right connections achieve victory. There is conflict and tension watching someone having to rise from nothing and scratch and claw their way to the top.
Rey is perfection personified.
Rey can repair anything. Technology that she admits she has never seen before? No problem! It is all fixed as if a magic wand was waived in the air.
Rey can expertly fly anything. Rey has never flown the Millennium Falcon before but in about 5 minutes she is already flying it better than Han Solo who has spent most of his life flying it.
Rey fights better than anyone. This has already been covered in our critique concerning Kylo Ren. Within 10 minutes of discovering her Force Abilities she is able to control the mind of a Storm Trooper and easily dispatch of Kylo Ren who has been training his entire life. Rey has never seen a light saber yet she is able to easily out duel Kylo Ren in a light saber fight.
Rey never needs to be rescued no matter the situation. Rey never even needs any help or assistance from any character at all. Rey pretty much renders the other characters pointless. Part of the charm of the original Star Wars trilogy was how much of a team Luke, Han and Leia were and how all three characters depended on each other to succeed. The sum total of those three characters were greater than the parts.
Of course, Rey is physically perfect, as well. She is thin and athletic in build. She has a pretty face and great hair. She has perfect white teeth. If you met this person in real life they would annoy the shit out of you.
Luke Skywalker was far from a perfect character. Luke constantly succumbed to anger, impatience and frustration. Luke experienced many setbacks and failures along his journey.
Luke sucked at his Force abilities. Luke struggled with blocking a laser beam from a practice droid while on the Millennium Falcon. Even in The Empire Strikes Back Luke still sucks with his Force Abilities. It takes all his energy to just summon his light saber to him when he was being held captive in the cave of the Abominable Snowman. Luke also fails in his training with Yoda. Luke then gets his ass kicked by Darth Vader.
Also, unlike Rey, Luke had to routinely rely on being rescued or helped by other characters. Whether it was Han Solo or R2D2 or even Prince Leia and Lando. Luke needed lots of help. Luke also never seemed like a legitimate threat to Darth Vader in either A New Hope or in The Empire Strikes Back.
With Luke nothing seemed preordained. Luke had to struggle, fail and then struggle and grow in order to become the hero who could take on Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. This was a true journey and the viewer was sucked into the story and invested in Luke’s character and his journey.
Rey? There is no struggle. There is no failing. There is no growth. There is no need for help. She is already perfection personified.
Within 10 minutes of discovering her Force abilities she can pull of a Jedi Mind Trick despite having never even heard of it! Despite never even seeing a light saber before in her life she is already more accomplished with the light saber than Kylo Ren. And despite having no training she is able to easily defeat Kylo Ren.
There is no journey there. There is no struggle. There is no growth. There is nothing there to pull the reader in and get them invested in her journey. The viewer realizes that Rey’s accent to the top is already a fait accompli. There is no suspense and no tension. It is simply watching the inevitable unveil itself. The story comes across as predestined.
Why should the viewer care? Why should the viewer feel like there is any need to come back for the next two movies? We already know that Rey is superior to every single other character in the movie. We already know that Rey can easily dispatch the greatest fighters that the First Order has to offer. We already know that nobody can come close to Rey. If Rey is already unstoppable this early on in the story then she should be nearly god-like and ruling the Star Wars universe by the next movie.
Another problem with how Rey’s character is written is that it violates the established rules of the setting of the Star Wars Universe. One of the first rules of writing a story, regardless of the genre, that an author must follow is creating a set of rules for the universe that their story is going to take place in. It does not matter if the story is fantasy, Sci Fi or crime noir. The universe must have a set of rules that establish what is possible and what is not possible. The universe must have a set of established rules that give it internal logic.
The original Star Wars trilogy firmly established that a person who has Force abilities must undergo training by a Jedi Master in order to properly tap into their abilities. Those movies establish that learning how to control the Force is difficult and requires plenty of mental discipline and training. The original trilogy establishes that a person might use the Force instinctually to become a great pilot but to perform complex tasks like the Jedi Mind Trick requires training.
Rey’s character being able to perfectly wield a lightsaber better than a character who has undergone training from Luke Skywalker since birth violates the established rules of the Star Wars Universe. Rey’s character being able to become adept with her Force abilities within 10 minutes and able to pull of things like the Jedi Mind Trick also violates the established rules of the Star Wars Universe.
To make things even worse, Rey’s personality is as bland and as vanilla as it gets. Rey’s character has zero charisma and easily gets overpowered by the much stronger and more interesting personalities of Poe, Finn, Han and Kylo Ren. Rey comes across like a bowl of oatmeal. Yeah, you know it is nutritious but it has no style or flavor. Rey displays no real personality outside of what would be found in a beige wall. Rey dutifully moves through the scenes more like an automaton eat her than a fully developed and interesting character. There is little fire or passion to Rey’s character at all.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets a thumbs up from me. I had fun watching this movie. Abrams definitely wiped the bad taste of the prequels out of my mouth. This movie was a good first effort by Disney. However, I think with a few tweaks here and there that Disney can roll out an even better movie with Star Wars Episode 8. That is what I am hoping for. The goal should always be to examine your work for any weaknesses or mistakes and then to correct them and to deliver even higher quality work in the future.
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney has gained by trust and confidence. I feel that the Star Wars franchise is in good hands and that the future for the Star Wars franchise is very bright. All right, bring on Rogue Squadron, already! I want more Star Wars!