The Force Awakens – a review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Rated PG-13
A Lucasfilm/Disney/Bad Robot Production. A J.J. Abrams Film.
Starring Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Adam Driver, with Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.

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Well, I didn’t have a sermon to write this week, so I decided it was high time I get around to writing a recap and review of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a full month after I saw it for the first time. I have seen it for a second time since then, and I will no doubt see it at least once more while it is still in theaters.

So, let’s begin, shall we? And I think it goes without saying that there are MANY SPOILERS AHEAD.

Lor San Tekka

LorSanTekka

Who on Coruscant is Lor San Tekka? Apparently, he’s an Alderaanian clergyman – a priest of the Church of the Force, and somebody who still thinks of Leia Organa as royalty.

The Church of the Force? Can I get dual standing with them? Would they accept me as a minister?!

Somehow, Rev. San Tekka has a piece of a holographic map that will lead everybody in the galaxy far, far away to Luke Skywalker, who has gone into hiding and seemingly doesn’t want to be found.

Although, he is quite lonely living the life of a hermit.

Poe Dameron

PoeDameron

And so it is that X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron has come to retrieve the map on behalf of General Organa.

Speaking of which, what’s Dameron’s rank? Lieutenant? Captain? Major? He’s obviously a military pilot, which means he should have a military rank on his uniform. Additionally, how exactly is the X-Wing still the primary starfighter for these people? The Incom T-65/70 X-Wing is a nearly fifty year old design by this point. Of course, I do have to consider the fact that the Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon is still the backbone of the USAF, and the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet is the backbone of the USN and the USMC air forces, and both of those designs date back to the early 1970s, so…

Well, guess what? The Empire of the First Order somehow figures this out, and they send their own personal millennial Darth Vader wannabe to rain doom upon the people of Jakku.

Ben “Kylo Ren” Solo

KyloRen

Let’s talk about this real quick. His nickname is “Ben”. What’s the only name that “Ben” has ever served as a nickname for in the Star Wars universe? Obi-Wan. I am positive his name is Obi-Wan Solo, and that he’s named after Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m betting there’s a pretty irritated Force ghost out there. First his apprentice goes bad, then somebody named after him follows suit. Especially since he’s a whiny emo kid.

Also, good-bye, Lor San Tekka. Enjoy getting lightsaber shish-kebab’d.

And then Kylo Ren freezes a laser bolt in mid-air. Holy cow. Vader never even did that.

Finally, it’s good to see that Poe Dameron’s a total wiseacre. He’ll take Han Solo’s place in the new lead trio quite nicely.

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Rey

Rey

Hey, look, a disillusioned young person on a random backwater desert planet (still Jakku). Where have we seen that before?

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Rey, however, isn’t a spineless little whiner like Luke Skywalker was in the beginning. She’s a badass, rappelling down into a crashed Imperial Star Destroyer to scavenge scrap metal. And yet, she’s very obviously still a kid at heart, as is evidenced by her wearing an old Rebellion X-Wing pilot’s helmet to eat her dinner outside of her home inside a wrecked AT-AT walker.

For this reason, I’m glad that they didn’t attempt to shoehorn any sort of romantic plot into Rey’s story in Episode VII. That sort of plot inherently sexualizes the female characters at least a little bit, and given that she’s still very childlike in some ways, that would be highly disturbing.

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Rey finds BB-8 pretty quickly, carrying the flash drive that will eventually lead her to Luke Skywalker. Simon Pegg offers her enough to eat for two months in exchange for BB-8 (yes, that grotesque alien slaver Unkar Plutt was played by Simon Pegg), but she turns him down, only to get ambushed by some assholes, because apparently Kylo Ren got enough into Poe Dameron’s mind to figure out that BB-8 was carrying the map, and a bounty was put out on the little FIFA-approved droid.

Seriously. BB-8 looks like a soccer ball.

Finn

Finn

Meanwhile, up on the Not-Quite-Super Star Destroyer in orbit around Jakku…

It seems that Stormtrooper FN-2187 had a bit of a crisis of conscience on Jakku when they were ordered to slaughter Lor San Tekka’s village, and now Captain Shiny Bucket is pissed at him.

Captain Phasma

Phasma

Speaking of ranks, can we talk about this a minute? There’s no WAY an O-3 is as important or has as much pull as Phasma seems to. And don’t tell me it’s a Naval rank. The Stormtroopers are analogs for infantry, whether Army or Marines. She should be a Colonel. But as we saw in his Star Trek movies, J.J. Abrams cares not for the proprieties of military reality, only for advancing his story.

FinnPoe

Anyway, back to FN-2187. He’s decided that he’s mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore. So, he busts Poe out of his cell block, Poe renames FN-2817 “Finn”, and together, they steal a TIE Fighter.

YASSS TIE FIGHTERS!

Well, that goes about as well as one can be expected, and they get blown out of the sky in pretty short order.

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Accompanied by amazing artwork from Disney artist Brian Kesinger.

Fast forward a few minutes. They’ve crashed on Jakku, and Finn thinks Poe is dead. He wanders into Rey’s village in search of water, where he ends up drinking from the trough of a disgusting massive hog. He then sees the aforementioned assholes trying to steal BB-8, and is about to intervene when he realizes that he doesn’t have to, because Rey is a total badass.

Too bad he’s now wearing Poe’s jacket, causing BB-8 to think he’s a murderer and a thief. That earns him his own private beatdown from Rey.

I know I ripped J.J. Abrams for his inattention to military detail, but never let it be said that he falls down on the job when it comes to empowering women. From Felicity to Alias to Fringe to Rey’s entire arc in this movie, it’s very clear that J.J. Abrams is a solid feminist, his misstep with the gratuitously lingerie-clad Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness aside.

Well, he manages to talk his way out of it and convince Rey that he’s part of the Resistance, even though BB-8 is TOTALLY calling BS on him. But it matters not, because guess what? The First Order and their TIE Fighters are here to ruin everybody’s day!

Seriously, though. I was happy to see TIE Fighters, but what is it with both sides of this galaxy using starfighters that are fifty year old designs? You’d think they were basing them on the US and Russia or someth…

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Oh. Never mind.

Well, stuff starts blowing up real good, including the ship that Rey and Finn were making a beeline for, rather than the offscreen ship that Finn points out, because in Rey’s words, “It’s a hunk of junk.”

Or wait. No, she said, “It’s garbage.” Same idea, right? Because, it is, indeed…

Cue the music.

THE MILLENNIUM FAAAAAAAAAALCON!

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Well, they proceed to absolutely wreck the day of some anonymous TIE Fighter pilots, then they fly through a crashed Super Star Destroyer, then they get the heck off of Jakku. Of course, the Millennium Falcon immediately has problems, because of course it does. While they’re fixing those issues, somebody takes remote control of the ship and pulls it into a much larger freighter.

Who, you might ask?

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Somebody started cutting onions in the theater right about then. It may have gotten a little dusty in there.

Well, a big ol’ Battle Royale with some Irish guys and some Hong Kong martial arts experts and a few alien octopi ensues, and then Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 decide that it is definitely time to go. Meanwhile, Irish McBadguy calls up the First Order and tells them to let General Hux know that Han Solo’s got BB-8.

General Hux

Hux

Let’s talk about General Hux for a minute. I really feel as though a certain casino magnate/Presidential candidate may have provided a little bit of basis for his character. A young version, at least. Same strange choices with regards to hair, same sort of sneer, same sort of contempt for those who he regards to be beneath him.

Anyway, back to the Millennium Falcon. The motley crew has convinced BB-8 to show them the part of the Luke Skywalker treasure map he has, and upon seeing it, Han Solo talks to Rey and Finn about the Force and the Jedi Order telling them, “it’s true, all of it.”

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Big words coming from this guy.

So they go to Maz Kanata’s Not-Mos-Eisley Cantina, where she expositions a lot, and then Rey finds Anakin Skywalker’s old murdersaber.

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Seriously. As unbelievably cool as it was that she found herself called to this ancient lightsaber that had been passed down from Anakin Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker and had been lost in the bowels of Bespin Cloud City for the Force knows how long, are we really forgetting that this lightsaber was not only complicit in the death of Mace Windu, the baddest mothereffer Jedi there ever has been, not to mention was the murder weapon that took the lives of a bunch of KIDS?! Ick.

Well, she freaks out (as you do) after having visions of Bespin Cloud City, Kylo Ren getting all murdery, Metal Skeletor putting his hand on R2-D2, and then hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi say, “REY! These are your first steps.”

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That part of it is actually very cool. Thanks to the magic of sound editing, they were able to use the late Alec Guinness’ voice to say “Rey”, and then Ewan McGregor did a bit of dubbing for the rest of the line. Even though Guinness has been dead for sixteen years and McGregor has moved on to many, many other things in the eleven years since Revenge of the Sith, it’s cool to have that connection to Rey across the entire saga. It also supports my theory that Obi-Wan Kenobi is Rey’s grandfather, but that’s a whole different discussion.

And yes, I know that Metal Skeletor was actually Luke Skywalker.

So as Rey is freaking out and fleeing into the forest, we hear Die Walküre begin as Robert Duvall shouts about loving the smell of midichlorians in the morning, while TIE Fighters blaze in from the setting sun…

TIEFighters

Okay, so not really. But the shot of the TIE Fighters rolling in with the setting sun behind them very much reminded me of Robert Duvall’s Hueys in Apocalypse Now. It was an amazing shot, and sure to become an iconic image for the Star Wars saga.

And as they did on Jakku, the TIE Fighters seriously jack stuff up, so that Kylo Ren can hunt down Rey and take her up to his Not-So-Super Star Destroyer where he will proceed to try and very intimately violate her.

Tell me that’s not what he tries to do. When you force yourself upon somebody, it doesn’t matter if it’s physical or mental, like Kylo Ren does. He violated Poe’s mind earlier, and now he’s going to try to do it to Rey. No means no, Kylo, ya little punk.

XWings

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But even as Kylo is carrying Rey off on his shuttle, an entire squadron of X-Wings comes howling in over the water, kicking up massive rooster-tails behind them. The X-Wing pilots then proceed to destroy every Imperial asset in sight. And who’s among those pilots?

Why yes indeed, that’s Poe Dameron, who Finn has thought dead for quite some time!

FinnStormtrooper

Speaking of Finn… Maz Kanata hooked him up with Anakin’s Murdersaber, and he used it to square off against a Stormtrooper with an axe to grind. Apparently, this Stormtrooper knew Finn personally, and calls him a traitor, then busts out this SWEET anti-melee weapon that is lightsaber resistant and with which he gives Finn a pretty good beating.

But all lunacy aside, the X-Wings save the day (because of course they do). While they’re doing so, though, Kylo Ren makes it to his shuttle with Rey thrown over his shoulder, and Han Solo gets a good look at…

His son.

DaddysComing

Yes, it’s established earlier in the film when Kylo Ren talks to Emperor Gollum that he is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, but this is the first time Han has seen him in years. It was completely unexpected, and quite a gut punch for him.

Leia

As soon as Kylo takes off, though, a Republic troop transport lands and disgorges Carrie Fisher, who could not give one crap less about you or how you think she looks.

She’s awesome. I wish there were more women like her in Hollywood.

C-3P0

Leia and Han see each other again for the first time in Force-knows how long, only to have their reunion interrupted by a shiny metal trash can.

I hate to say it, but I did not enjoy C-3P0’s role in this film. I honestly felt like they turned him into Threepio Binks.

Well, while they’re all standing there, General Hux gets his Mussolini on, and then he becomes the biggest genocidal maniac in the history of ever.

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Bigger than Grand Moff Tarkin. Bigger than the Cylons. Bigger than the Borg. With one shot, this dude took out an entire star system with who knows how many billions of people in it.

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Oh, and did I mention, they also took out the Republic Senate and most of their starfleet? The Resistance is so screwed, y’all. You know, unless there’s an exhaust port the size of a womp rat on Starkiller Base.

Worst name ever, by the way.

Well, through some exposition, it turns out that Starkiller Base does have a weakness, albeit a well-shielded one. And so (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Finn set off to take down a shield so that a bunch of starfighters can get through and exploit this death machine’s weakness.

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With all that in mind, it seems appropriate that Nien Nunb was flying one of the X-Wings. I was just grateful that there were no Ewoks.

So the Millennium Falcon crashes out of hyperspace onto Starkiller Base (which it’s a good thing that Star Wars doesn’t try to put realistic science into things the way Star Trek does, because if USS Enterprise had done that, there would’ve been an anti-matter explosion the size of a thermonuclear detonation).

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has been trying to violate Rey’s mind, but guess what? Rey, as it turns out, is a little stronger with the Force than he is, and turns it around on him.

This is where things get a little uncomfortable. Yes, a victim having revenge on their violator is always satisfying on the gut level, but when you really analyze it, how was Rey forcing her way into Kylo Ren’s mind any better than him trying to do it to her? It was wrong in both directions.

Kylo is obviously rattled by Rey figuring out that he’s worried he’ll never live up to Darth Vader’s legacy (which, let’s face it, kid, what millennial these days really ever does fully live up to their grandfather’s legacy?). He stalks off and leaves Stormtrooper JB-007 to watch over Rey.

Rey immediately takes advantage of this fact by seducing Bond and stealing his gun.

BondTrooper

Okay, it didn’t quite go down that way. But it was hilarious to learn that Daniel Craig played the Stormtrooper who she pulled the Jedi mind trick on. His second line, “Aaaaand I’ll drop my gun on the floor,” was one of the funniest things in the whole film, just because of the deadpan way in which he delivered it, not to mention the fact that when he says it, you can actually very much recognize Daniel Craig’s voice.

A little while later, Kylo Ren discovers that Rey has escaped and throws a Dark Side temper tantrum, wrecking the torture chamber with his lightsaber. That little escapade leads to one of the funniest scenes in the Star Wars saga, wherein two Stormtroopers stop their patrol down the corridor upon seeing the damage being wrought, turn around, and walk the other way.

stormtroopers

It’s not so funny on paper, but it’s hilarious in execution.

So, Rey is now loose on Starkiller Base. Meanwhile, Han, Finn, and Chewie have captured Captain Shiny Bucket, who they force to lower the base’s shields, and then toss her down a garbage chute. The excited look that Han Solo got on his face at the prospect of that was fantastic.

Shields are now down, but the X-Wings just don’t have powerful enough weapons to take out the metaphorical exhaust port. So, Han, Finn, and Chewie, who by now have found Rey, sneak into the “thermal oscillator” and start planting explosives…

And then along came Obi-Wan Solo.

Before Han left the Resistance base, Leia had told him that he was to bring their son home. And that led us to this, Han Solo’s “Leaf on the Wind” moment.

For those who don’t get that particular reference, in the movie Serenity – the cinematic follow-up to Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV show Firefly – Alan Tudyk’s character, Wash, is a highly skilled pilot who has become quite adept at crash-landing the titular ship without wrecking it. Throughout the movie, he developed the catch-phrase, “I am a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar.” He got about 90% of the way through the phrase after Serenity‘s final crash before he got a massive Reaver harpoon right through the middle of his chest, killing him superdead.

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The moment Han set foot on that railingless bridge to go confront his son, I knew it was over. I had a moment of false hope when Kylo Ren held out his lightsaber, but that was quickly dashed. Han Solo was stabbed through the heart, fell into a bottomless pit, and then later would’ve been vaporized by the destruction of the superweapon, much like Emperor Palpatine.

On a related note, there’s no way either one of them is coming back in any way other than flashbacks. Or maybe as Force ghosts, although that would be surprising on Han’s part.

Well, Chewbacca shoots Kylo with his bowcaster, which given that it was established early on that it could ruin several Stormtroopers’ day at once, it was quite impressive that Kylo took the bolt and kept standing. Chewie then blows a hole in the side of the thermal oscillator with the planted explosives, opening the door for Poe Dameron to come on in with his X-Wing and do his best Wedge Antilles impression.

As Chewie heads off to retrieve the Millennium Falcon, Rey and Finn are fleeing the scene, with the wounded-but-still-dangerous Kylo Ren stalking them as they go.

So here’s where we are right now: Chewie’s getting the Millennium Falcon, Poe is blowing the thermal oscillator up real good, and Rey and Finn are about to engage in a two-part duel with Kylo Ren using Anakin Skywalker’s Murdersaber.

Poe finishes his work, and suddenly Starkiller Base is about to go kablooey. General Hux looks sad, like an AT-AT stepped on his pet cockroach.

FinnLightsaber

So Finn busts out the Vadersaber, only for Kylo Ren to open up a can and give him a severe whuppin’ in rather short order. Finn’s got balls, I will admit, but he’s a rank novice when it comes to Jedi-style combat. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, has been studying Darth Vader’s Art of War for years, and, well, Finn winds up in a coma.

Finally, with his grandfather’s lightsaber within his reach, Kylo Ren reaches out with the force. Anakin’s Murdersaber comes flying toward him – and then PAST HIM, where it winds up in Rey’s hands. She takes a combat stance, and the lightsaber comes to life –

ReyLightsaber

And that was the moment when it ceased to be the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight turned Sith Lord Darth Vader. That was the moment when it ceased to be the weapon of evil used by Darth Vader to cut down legions of Jedi, and became the elegant sword that Obi-Wan Kenobi had hoped it would be in the hands of Luke Skywalker. That was the moment when the blade flashed to life, glowing the purest blue it has appeared at any point in the saga, and Rey transformed from a scavenger girl from Jakku into a Jedi Padawan, ready to begin her training.

It was pretty clear that these were the thoughts going through Kylo Ren’s head, because halfway through their duel, he stopped fighting her and said that he wanted to train her.

I’m pretty sure he wants to do something else with her as well, but that’s a different story.

Rey has no desire to train (or do anything else) with Kylo Ren, so she instead decides to straight up wreck his day. Much like Luke Skywalker during the Death Star trench run thirty some odd years prior, she taps into the Force at a key moment in their duel, and makes Kylo Ren look like a rank amateur.

His grandfather would be so disappointed. We’re talking Richard Gilmore levels of disappointed here.

GilmoreDisappoint

At that moment, a convenient earthquake occurred, separating Kylo Ren and Rey by a massive chasm. The Millennium Falcon showed up to evacuate Rey, and General Hux got Kylo Ren out of there to take him back to Emperor Gollum.

When they get back to the Resistance Base, Leia immediately goes directly to Rey and hugs her.

This scene has gotten a crapton of flack, because people are like, “They never met! This is ridiculous.”

Okay, stop. (Collaborate, and listen.) Leia knew Han was dead. She had known him for more than three decades, had loved him, had created new life with him. She felt him die. She also probably knew that Rey not only was one of the last people to see him alive, but was also indirectly responsible for getting Han back to her before he died. Had Rey and Finn not stolen the Millennium Falcon from that junkyard on Jakku, it is entirely likely that Han never would’ve made his way back to Leia, never would’ve tried to redeem their son. Leia knows all this, because she’s freakin’ Leia Organa and she is awesome.

R2-D2

And a moment later, who should wake up for the first time in years but R2-D2.

Yes, it’s super-convenient that R2-D2 should wake up at just that moment, but it’s also a powerful narrative device, that at the moment that the woman who has become the Jedi successor to two of the most powerful Jedi in history, R2-D2 comes back to life to guide her to the Jedi who will show her the ways of the Force.

LukeSkywalker

The map complete, Rey and Chewbacca head to the Millennium Falcon, ready to go find Luke. Off they go, into the wild blue yonder, to find Luke on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland. And roll credits.

BUT WAIT.

Let’s talk about the last spoken line of the movie. Yes, R2-D2, BB-8, and Chewbacca all have unintelligible dialogue before Rey finds Luke, but the last line of the movie that we understand is spoken by General Leia Organa to Rey:

TheForce

And also with you, Leia.

It was an amazing movie. J.J. Abrams truly did do right by the saga. Sure, it wasn’t a terribly original story, but that’s not important. It needed to do what the prequel movies couldn’t, and actually be a Star Wars movie.

In that regard, Abrams was successful without qualification.

And so, I will end this review in the same fashion that I ended my final Advent sermon a few weeks ago:

May the Force be with you. Amen.

sw7tfa

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