I've already given my Star Wars: The Force Awakens non-spoiler review which you can read here (after the jump). Read that one if you haven't seen the movie yet. This review is the spoiler-filled version. So, you've been warned.
Again, proceed at your own discretion. This review contains major Star Wars SPOILERS.
Alright, so to preface this review, I will be doing things a little differently. Instead of gushing about how much I loved the movie -- which I did in my non-spoiler review -- I'm going to basically tackle some of the fridge-logic of the film while addressing numerous criticisms of Star Wars The Force Awakens (or SWTFA for short).
Now, it goes without saying that fridge-logic isn't anything too awfully serious. It basically amounts to those thoughts you have after having seen the film where your brain is trying to make sense of plot points or character situations that just didn't make any logical sense. It's the stuff that you pause and say, wait a minute... but that doesn't make any sense?
Needles to say, fridge-logic isn't new to Star Wars. The worst example I can think of, the example that bothers me the most, is in Return of the Jedi when, on the suspension bridge in the Ewok village, Luke Skywalker asks Princess Leia if she remembers her mother. She says she remembers bits and pieces -- she remembers her mother was beautiful, kind, and caring.
Now, this is fine. Until George Lucas made episode III, Revenge of the Sith, and killed off Luke and Leia's mother in child-birth -- completely forgetting about the fact that Leia knew her mother while she was still a young girl, not a newborn infant. In episode III the babies never even see their mother -- as Padme dies and the infants are whisked away to their individual witness protection agencies in a galaxy far, far away.
Only to meet years later and make out a bit -- not suspecting they are siblings.
You think it would be something any one of the thousands of people who worked on the film would have caught and called George Lucas on -- because it is just so bad. But apparently not.
There are lots of things that don't make sense about the Star Wars movies. And The Force Awakens is no exception.
I want to address a few of these complaints and criticisms in this review, because most of them are pretty baseless while others seem to be confusing foreshadowing and plot intrigue for clumsy storytelling or seem to be missing the point altogether.
Let me point out the only real criticism I have agreed with.
Star Killer: It's a Trap!
In the film the Star Killer world, a planet retro-fitted to be mega-ultra-giagantic-scary-ass Death Star, is activated and fires a spread of beams that obliterate the entire star system of the Republic.
Many have complained that in the breakneck pace of the films storytelling, the emotional weight of the entire Republic's destruction sort of gets glossed over. I think this is true. And I think it's something they will definitely have to address in the next movie lest this one seem morally vacuous. I mean, you cannot just kill of billions upon billions of people, many of whom we got to know in Episodes 1, 2, and 3 and also The Clone Wars television series -- and then just not say anything about it. That would be a mistake.
Another thing I found to be problematic was that they didn't really explain what the Republic was. I mean, it's a given Star Wars fans will get it, but your average movie goer who is in tow with their loved ones and who may not have ever seen Star Wars will probably be scratching their heads asking "What's a Republic? And why did the bad guys want to blow it all up?"
It also doesn't make any sense from a storytelling perspective as the Empire is what usurped the Republic and replaced it. The First Order is technically what the Empire has become. So why would they want to kill off the worlds which were already under the control of the Empire if they are, in fact, just the latest iteration of the Empire? That made no sense.
What, did the Republic suddenly revert back to its old self after the death of the Emperor? Granted, there is a 30 year gap between Jedi and this film's story, but still. A lot of speculation could have been averted by just having a bit of filler. I get that J.J. Abrams didn't want to sacrifice the brisk pace of this film with bogged down monologues, but maybe throw in a line or two about how things have come to be the way they are.
Finally, I think they should have merely crippled Star Killer instead of killing it off. I mean, it plays a lot like the Death Star of the week, now that there have been three films with Death Stars and each one defeated as easily as the last. They really should have made this mega-destroyer more menacing by letting it linger. It can wipe out entire systems. It freakin eats stars to power itself. And in the end they do a trench run and blow it up. Easy as pie.
And that's a huge problem, because it cheapens the bad guys by making them seem like bumbling military degenerates that are a mere shadow of the Empire rather than an evolution of it. And, also, they don't show any of the bad guys getting off the planet before it blows. Sure, Supreme Leader Snoke orders them to fetch Kylo Ren and bring him to his world -- wherever that is -- but then they never show it. And apparently Captain Phasma, the silver Stormtrooper and first woman Stormtrooper, is waiting in a grabage compactor somewhere. And we see none of the main villains escape the planet before it blows.
Now to kids and people who might not be able to fill in the gaps of implied storytelling as easily as the writers might hope -- this could backfire. Little kids will be especially confused to see Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and any of the other bad guys in the next film -- because continuity wise -- they ALL blew up with the planet in SWTFA.
These are the only serious criticisms I have with the film.
Now, let's move onto some less important complaints. Because, really, that's all they are. Unimportant complaints. But since it seems a large portion of people didn't like the movie specifically for the following reasons, I think we should briefly address some of them.
Retro-film or Soft Reboot?
Many are saying that this film follows the plot points of episode 4, Star Wars: A New Hope, too closely. (Yes, I will be referring to eps.4 as A New Hope because when I went to the re-release in 1981 it was accompanied by that title. Not many know that it was always intended to be titled episode 4: A New Hope but was altered because studio execs at 20th Century Fox thought it would be too confusing to movie goers to try and explain why it's episode 4 when it was the first Star Wars movie. Luckily, George Lucas put the title and episode number back onto the title screen for the 81' re-release of episode 4 after the success of Empire. I only cite this interesting Star Wars trivia, because I've already run into people saying I'm not a true Star Wars fan because I call episode 4 by its *actual original title). So much so that they say this film is unoriginal. But is The Force Awakens in danger of being unoriginal?
I don't think so -- for numerous reasons we shall soon get to. I think the reason people even offer this complaint is that they have observed that, just as with the previous Star Wars films, things move from point A to point B to point C in a similar fashion, and that they hit a lot of the same cinematic notes.
At best though, you could only claim this is a soft reboot, not a remake, and it's certainly not an unoriginal story -- but it does follow a Star Wars formula of storytelling.
Now what do I mean by "soft reboot"? Well, a soft reboot is a film that just carries on the torch of its forebears, so to speak, like this summers entertaining Mad Max, Terminator, Star Trek, and Jurassic World. A hard reboot, on the other hand, is a film that doesn't continue the story as is but entirely redoes it. The Amazing Spider Man is a reboot of the Sam Rami directed Spiderman movies, Dredd is a reboot of the Judge Dredd film, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are a reboot of the popular 80s characters .
But that's the most anyone could claim about SWTFA, because, in truth, it doesn't actually follow episode 4 all that closely. And it's a lot more original than its harshest critics would have you believe.
Yes, it has a desert planet that, low and behold, our hero hails from. But this motif is carried out throughout the Star Wars saga. And Rey actually has more in common with Anakin Skywalker than Luke. Luke was raised by his aunt and uncle, and was free to make his own destiny -- as he does when he runs off with Obi Wan Kenobi on a grand space adventure. But Rey is a slave, a scavenger, working for a white slave driver (or an alien slave driver as it were). She's even abused, like Ani was, when she doesn't polish a converter well enough. And she is treated bad by everyone around her, which has made her into a survivor.
As I have said before, complaining that SWTFA is too similar to other Star Wars movies is to blatantly miss the point that all Star Wars films are similar to each other.
Every Star Wars film relies on patterns of storytelling that are simple and straightforward. The plots begin with a McGuffin, in A New Hope they're chasing the droids, in Jedi they're rescuing Han Solo, and then go from points A, B, to C. Beginning, middle, and end.
All the Star Wars films revel in using the same mythological themes, tropes, and conceits. Every Star Wars involves the loss of a father or father-figure. Obi Wan loses Quai Gon, Luke loses Obi Wan, Luke then realizes his famous pilot father is actually Darth Vader, and he loses the lie of his father being this great hero for something much, much worse. Then, when he reconciles with his father, he loses his biological father too. So it's no surprise that we find the same motif brought up again in this film (a Star Wars film).
Which brings me to another complaint I've heard. Kylo Ren, aka Ben, is actually Han Solo and Leia Organa's son. At the end of the movie, we lose another father, as Kylo Ren murders his own father, Han Solo.
Many people have called this a cliche, tired, worn out plot device. Let's kill off a main staple character! Okay! Many have claimed this is overdone, or they predicted it would happen. Well, I think they give themselves too much credit.
Han's death is anything but cliche or overdone. It's actually genius. And here's why.
It's the inversion of the Luke / Vader dichotomy. In Jedi, Luke finally pulls the light out of his father and gets Vader to turn back to the good side of the Force. Vader then sacrifices himself to help his son. Meanwhile, in SWTFA, Kylo Ren asks Han Solo if he'd help him. Han says yes, he'd do anything for his Son. Kylo Ren then kills Han, thus completing his journey to the Dark Side. Whereas Vader turned good, and saved his son, Kylo Ren turns evil, and kills his father.
It's a complete inversion of the Luke / Vader dichotomy. And it's brilliant.
Funny that so many people should miss that.
Another minor, very minor, complaint -- but one I've heard at least on three separate occasions -- is that some people think "Ben" is a rather generic sounding name -- as though it doesn't sound "Star Wars" enough. I only ask them that they stop and think about it for a moment. I mean, what reason would Leia and Han have to name their son... Ben? I can only answer these types of naysayers by quoting Star Wars... "Maybe he means Old Ben?"
Yet another complaint I hear is that Rey and Finn are able to best Kylo Ren, a Sith, at the end of the movie in a light saber dual far too easily. But... really?
I think this complaint was best explained away by an online fan who posted his explanation on imgur (click to read the explanation). In summary, it has everything to do with Chewbacca's bowcaster, a bad-ass crossbow laser blaster.
Throughout the movie they build up the bowcaster. Chewie's blaster is demolishing Stormtroopers left and right from the beginning of the film to the end. In their first major skirmish, from fifty feet off it sent four Stormtroopers flying through the air like they were nothing with a single blast. Han borrows it a few times and comments on how much he likes it, because it packs that extra punch. Toward the end of the film, a Stormtrooper takes a hit point blank from the thing and the blast from the bowcaster picks him up off the ground and throws him twenty-feet backward -- straight into a wall. The Stormtrooper hits so hard that his armor shatters!
As the aforementioned fan observes:
"Let's not mince words here. Chewie's Bowcaster is like the unholy love child of the original fucking crossbow and a howitzer. The Empire should have just strapped this piece of weaponized fuck you to the front of an asteroid, aimed it Alderaan, and saved themselves the trouble of housing a giant space station. So...after being shown the pure unadulterated hell that spews forth from this hand-held death cannon in a deluge of destruction and demise, we can all agree that being shot with this thing tops a long list of things you don't want to happen to you."
A few minutes later, Kylo Ren kills Han Solo. Chewie lets out a lament filled roar as he mourns the death of his longtime friend, then fires a blast straight at Kylo Ren -- and hits him in the gut. Check another one off the list.
But wait... Kylo Ren merely takes a knee for a moment, wobbles a bit, then gets back up and pursues our heroes.
Now, Kylo Ren is obviously a badass when it comes to wielding the powers of the Force. He can throw people across rooms, rip the thoughts right out of people's minds, and even stop laser beams mid-air. Maybe he was distracted by his father's death, or maybe the bowcaster's high energy blast is a bit too powerful to stop adequately, whatever the reason though -- he gets shot. But then just walks it off.
Next we cut to the scene of Kylo Ren confronting our heroes in the snow covered woods. He temporarily knocks Rey unconscious thus forcing Finn to pick up Luke's blue light saber and fight. The dual is clumsy at best, as Finn isn't a trained Jedi and Kylo Ren is bleeding out of his gaping gut wound. Soon enough, though, Kylo Ren proves too much for Finn, and just about slices Finn in half. Rey wakes up in time to prevent Kylo Ren from ending Finn's life, and she too engages him with the saber.
By this point, Kylo Ren is pacing and slapping his side, causing jolts of pain throughout his whole body to jolt him awake and fend off the shock. Rey looks down at the blood pooling by his feet as he continues to bleed out profusely, and he jolts himself with another sharp jab to his side. But obviously, the audience is meant to understand that Kylo Ren is nowhere near 100%. He just took a direct hit from a laser blast that can wipe out four Stormtroopers at once. He's fending off shock. And he's already losing steam from having to fight Finn to get to Rey.
As he's fighting Rey, he is growing weaker and weaker by the minute, meanwhile, at the same time Rey is growing stronger and stronger. She finally has learned, by trial and error throughout the course of the movie, how to use the Force -- at least rudimentarilly. And, let's face it, she's gifted.
Before anything else can happen there is a quake and the ground splits and a fissure opens up between them. Pushed to the brink, quite literally, Rey manages to best Kylo Ren, but the fissure opens wider and pushes them apart. They stare at each other realizing that this little fracas will have to be continued at a later time. Just then Rey turns around to see the Millennium Falcon rise up over the ridge and Chewei comes to her and Finn's rescue.
So that deals quite thoroughly with that complaint.
FINAL TWO CENTS
I have to say that a lot of the complaints about this film being predictable or not original as it seems to repeat themes present in *all of the Star Wars films are just coming from a small vocal minority that didn't seem to get this film.
Personally, I find these complaints annoying. If you pause two seconds to think about the film, you'll be able to see that the story is laid out quite clearly -- in the traditional easy to follow A, B, C fashion. Beginning, middle, and end. This is what most mean by saying it's predictable.
I mean, it's not. The film isn't predictable. Nobody knew when Luke would show up. Nobody knew that Han would die. Nobody knew that Kylo Ren would have famous parents. Nobody knew that C-3PO would have a red arm. So don't tell me this was a predictable movie. It wasn't.
And I highly doubt that people predicted the reveal of the Millennium Falcon. I flat out laughed -- because the reveal was so humorous. When Finn asks Rey why they don't take that ship (off screen) and she replies, "Not that -- that's a piece of junk," only to have the ship they were running for blown up -- only to say that piece of junk will do -- only to turn and see the Millennium Falcon parked there -- that was predictable? No, no it wasn't.
Did anyone predict that Captain Phasma would be a kickass female Stormtrooper? Nope. Did anyone predict that Supreme Leader Snoke would be a fifty-foot tall alien creature? Nope. And then did they predict that, then again, he might not be since it was just a hologram? Nope. And did anyone predict that they would reveal Chewie's girlfriend? Nope. Did anyone predict that Darth Vader would have a small cameo appearance? Nope. And I could do this all day long. But if you want to say it was a predictable movie because it had a beginning, middle, and end, and something similar to another Star Wars movie just happened to occur in each beat of the film, then you're missing the point -- because that is the whole point of Star Wars.
Personally, I think this was one of the funnest films I've seen in a long while. I'd say the only other movies this past year that really enthralled me were Mad Max and The Martian, but each for different reasons. I still stand by my opinion that this is the best Star Wars film to date, but it's hard to separate it from the whole -- as it was made as a retro film, or a soft reboot, rather than a straight up continuation. And you will either like it or hate it for that same reason. But I absolutely loved it.
By day I am an educator and a cultural ambassador. By night I entertain notions of being a literary master. In reality I am just a family man and ordinary guy who works hard and loves writing just about as much as I love my family. Just about.