I’ll start with a short, vague review, then dive into spoilers after the warning.
There are a number of very familiar elements in this movie. They can bring waves of nostalgia, or they might feel a tad lazy or maybe even desperate, like the movie is saying “Love me, love me!” Different people will have different reactions, and my reactions to them were mixed.
There’s a fair amount of humor in this movie, definitely more so than any other other Star Wars movies. Some of it was pretty good too, and made the whole theater chuckle. Other parts, while still funny, felt unnecessary or like they didn’t quite fit.
Also mixed were the characters. The leads’ roles were solid, and most of the side characters were decent, but at least one prominently advertised supporting role was unexpectedly disappointing.
The jist? It was good, but flawed. Interesting, but not amazing; a plain, solid good. If you go in expecting a nerdy religious experience, you may be disappointed. Keep your expectations at a normal level and you should enjoy yourself.
First, I must discuss a role that really disappointed me: Captain Phasma. I was really looking forward to Captain Phasma! I was envisioning a kick-ass (albiet potentially evil) female in a not-skimpy, not-ridiculour outfit. In fact, by just looking at Captain Phasma, you’d never even know she’s a woman. So what went wrong? What you see of her in the trailers is basically the entirety of her screen time in the movie. I’m serious. She had may 3-4 lines, and was in the movie no more than 5 minutes. Plus instead of being kickass, she seemed almost pathetic thanks to the scene where she deactivated the shields without a fight at the prompting of our somewhat bumbling heroes. It ended up feeling like they stuffed the character in just so they could sell Captain Phasma merchandise.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the meat of the story. The enemy is building a giant, planet-destroying piece of tech. Someone gets their hands on info that can help defeat the baddies, and the info is put into a droid. The droid wanders around a desert and runs into an unsuspecting character, dragging them into the mess. Said character discovers they have Force abilities, sees their mentor-figure killed, and confronts a Dark Side user. Oh, and after the shields are dropped, rebellion pilots attack the giant death ball, trying to hit a specific point.
Sounds familiar, you say? That’d be because it is. Don’t get me wrong, some familiarity is good, and I enjoy some nostalgia, but I just basically summarized the whole movie, and without character names, it just reads like a mashup of the original “Star Wars.” At what point does nostalgia and honoring the source material become laziness?
Now for one of the major twists. Han Solo’s death was something some people didn’t expect going into the movie. It did have emotional consequences, but I’m not sure if it’s the ones the writers were aiming for. You could see it coming as soon as Solo stepped onto that catwalk, so the obviousness of the setup and the length of the scene diminished the impact; there was no gasp-worthy moment for me. I was disappointed in loss of a fun screen presence though, because I enjoyed Harrison Ford’s acting. The bigger impact for me was my attitude towards Kylo Ren: it condemned him. I’m not interested in his struggle anymore, he just needs to go die in a fire. If it was supposed to cement him in our minds as a villain, then the scene worked, but that means they better not expect us to continue to sympathize with him.
A character you can sympathize with? Finn. Poor guy basically spent his whole life in Stormtrooper-land, but still had enough heart to realize some of the things the First Order was doing was not cool, and he had enough of a spine to run away. Sure, he’s no dashing knight or cool Jedi – Rey’s the Jedi, but I’ll get to that next – but once you consider his background, you realize he is brave. Unfortunately the movie ended with him having sustained what I think was a serious back/spine injury, so we have to wait until the next move to see just how advanced their medical technology is.
Rey is the baby Jedi! Yes, the female lead is the Force-user, contrary to what the trailers would have you believe. This mostly makes up for the Captain Phasma mess. She is not a damsel in distress waiting for rescue, and in fact gets herself out of at least two scrapes without assistance. Once she realizes she can use the Force, she picks it up very quickly, which is one of my few complaints: she figures it out too quickly. In the space of what I think is literally one day, she goes from thinking she’s an ordinary person to using Jedi mind tricks and Force-pulling stuff. At that rate, what do they need Luke for? Give her a week to practice and she’d be Master level.
Other characters: Poe was cool, BB8 was freaking adorable. A pink R2 unit was supposed to make a brief appearance, but I didn’t see it; did you? As far as writing/acting is concerned, Kylo Ren didn’t suck like I feared he would. Overall the actors did a good job, though there were a couple I feel need a bit more experience to really polish their skills.
The ending is basically a cliffhanger, so maybe the sequels will smooth ver some of the bumps in this movie? We shall see.