It’s been well over a week since Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, and I figure you’ve all seen it by now, so it’s pretty safe to air my spoilerous opinions on it. But out of respect for the truly remarkable commitment by the entire Internet to avoid spoiling the movie (seriously, if we humans could work together like that on issues that really matter, the world would be a happier place), I will write a spoiler-free review first.
And it isn’t too hard to do. Story-wise, not much is new in the latest Star Wars installment. Once I got over the whole “oh-my-gosh-I’m-seeing-an-actual-new-Star-Wars-movie-with-no-JarJar-aaaaahhhhh!!!!” stage, which lasted me the first third of the film, I realised I was basically watching A New Hope, 2015-style. You’ve got the young hero living in poverty on a desert planet, who gets caught up in a galactic conflict courtesy of a beeping droid. You’ve got the masked, black-cloaked villain with a planet-destroying superweapon, and an evil army that, apart from being called “The First Order” and having even more Nazi imagery than its predecessor, is no different from the OT’s Empire. Even Han Solo, Chewie and Leia are back in the game, although this time Han is playing the hero’s elderly mentor (and still getting in fights, ’cause that’s what he does best).
The real breaths of fresh air in the new movie come from the characters it introduces. The Force Awakens begins about thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, after Luke Skywalker’s attempt to set up a new Jedi Order and Republic have gone awry, and Luke himself has disappeared. Rey, the movie’s new protagonist, has only heard about Luke’s exploits as distant rumours, but she ends up becoming an important part of the new “Resistance’s” race to find him (yes, re-labelling the “Rebellion” was a weird move, but not too distracting). Helping her along the way is a runaway stormtrooper, newly christened Finn, an adorable beach ball droid named BB-8, and, of course, Han and Chewie.
Rey is an absolute delight. She’s like a female Luke, but without the whinging and WITH a British accent. And she joins an ever-growing number of recent action heroines who are treated as well-rounded characters and not overly sexualised. Also: yay for more female Star Wars cosplay options! The other new people are just as good. I’ve said before that I love the idea of a reformed stormtrooper actually getting some character development, and Finn delivers. He ties with Rey as the most likeable member of the cast, and he manages to do pretty well in battles with Force-wielding folk, considering he has no special powers himself. As for the villain of the movie, he may be a Darth Vader ripoff, but that’s intentional. He’s portrayed (very well, by Adam Driver) as a young, angsty Vader fanboy with waaayyy too much power on his hands. And although he’s a bit conflicted about his allegiance to the Dark Side, he actually outdoes Vader in terms of sheer evilness. In spite of having a rather handsome actor and a cool costume, he probably won’t get too many fangirls.
Overall, the movie met my expectations. I expected it to be, by far, the best Star Wars installment to be released in my lifetime, and it absolutely is. I also expected that it wouldn’t quite measure up to the originals, and it didn’t, if only because so much of its plot was derived from them.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
All right. I have to talk about this. HAN DIES?????? 😦 😦 😦
I was worried ol’ J.J. might kill off one of the Big Three of the Original Trilogy. After all, the actors are all getting up in years, and not even the brilliant Harrison Ford can do action movies forever. But I was kinda hoping it wouldn’t happen, at least not to my beloved Han. He has always been my favourite character, and the first two-thirds of this movie only served to remind me why I love him so much. Even in his sixties, he’s still cool as ever, and now he’s a bit of a wise mentor to boot, a role that sits surprisingly well on him.
And, man–his death scene messed me up. I was just staring open-mouthed at the screen for a good fifteen minutes after it happened. That’s my childhood that just got stabbed in front of me! And Chewie’s rampage, and Leia’s face, and, and….it was just a really hard thing for a Star Wars fan to watch, all right?
But it was well done. If Han Solo had to die, at least he died trying to heal his family and help his son turn back to the Light Side. It was a heroic death, but one perfectly suited to Han. Shows how far he’s come since he was only in the hero business for the money. And it was beautifully filmed, and it cemented Kylo Ren as the new face of evil in the Star Wars galaxy. After that, his fight with Rey and Finn suddenly had so much more at stake, and it was so much more satisfying when Rey won. As hard as it was to witness, it did make the movie better.
And now we’re left to ponder the questions raised by TFA: what is Rey’s true lineage? What has Luke been up to all this time? Does Leia use the Force to hold up her hair, or has she found other uses for that power? Only time, and the 2017 instalment, will tell. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say Disney hasn’t ruined Star Wars.