While my spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens covered most of what I wanted to say about the film, it didn’t cover everything. The general feeling towards the film remains true, but the details were left out for obvious reasons.
Given that it’s on track to become one of the biggest films of all time, I wanted to offer a little more detail on my views. To do that, I’ll have to go in to some spoilers. If you’re looking for the spoiler-free review, click here. Otherwise, I’ll presume you’ve already seen the film and don’t care about finding out plot points.
Otherwise, everything after this gif of a dog on a slide will include spoilers.
So, how about that new Star Wars film, huh?
I’ll start with the plot, as that seems to be the main bone of contention anyone has with the film. Basically, it’s A New Hope. There is a thin line between homage and stealing, and I appreciate this film runs that line pretty closely. Personally, I’m okay with it, but I can understand why people might not be. On realising they were essentially using the Death Star Part III I was a little underwhelmed, but I came around to it as we moved on. Had the character-work been weaker, I might have been less forgiving.
But let’s face it, if you’re reading a review that includes spoilers, you want to hear about Han Solo. After years of hating the character, and wanting him to be killed off in Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford finally got his wish.
It’s a shame that Ford doesn’t like Star Wars more than he does, because he’s so perfect for it. Maybe it’s because he knew this would be his last outing, but he seemed to enjoy it so damn much. Between playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones, two of my absolute favourite characters ever committed to film, it gave me a real warm feeling to see him back in his element. He looked like he was having a fantastic time, and it was easily the best I’ve seen him in… I don’t even know. A long time.
One criticism I heard was that he should have gone out in a blaze of glory, but I totally disagree. If there was just a firefight and he caught a laser bullet it would have felt slightly hollow. Instead, they sacrificed possibly the most loved Star Wars character in order to build the next big villain. It was a necessary sacrifice, and the hand-to-hand, close nature of it made it much more meaningful. Han Solo died so the series could live. You can’t argue with the decision to do that.
The result is that Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is now the antagonist we need for the rest of the series. With something of a hatred for Girls (I just don’t think it’s funny), I’ve never really bought in to Driver, but he’s great in this. I know I’m generally a bit biased towards the bad guys, but as stated in my Spectre review, a protagonist is only as good as the antagonist. In this case, he’s marvellous. It’s a brave decision to go with a person who isn’t evil for the sake of it, but it totally works. He’s a spoiled, petulant child, a fan-boy of the Dark Side who isn’t Darth Vader, no matter how much he might want to be. He’s also prone to bouts of temper that he can’t control, which made his lightsaber freak out so awesome. He’s entitled, and angry at perceived wrongings from his childhood. All of this makes him compelling.
In essence, the entire new cast is pretty fantastic. I’d have liked to have seen more of Oscar Isaac’s Poe, but I can find no faults in Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. They’re the characters that the trilogy needed, and I have no qualms about resting the series on their shoulders.
One of the great things about this cast is the way they handled the diversity. As with all things along those lines, the fact that it was played totally straight was what made it work. Had Rey been confronted with “wow, you’re pretty good for a girl” kind of talk, it would have diminished the point. Instead, one lead is a female, the other is black, and they get on with it like it’s no big deal. You know why? Because it isn’t.
There was one reviewer, however, who put forward the argument (which I can no longer find to link) that now-a-days you can’t have a strong female character without a weak male character. The implicit argument goes that we have gone too far the other way, and this film panders to women while belittling men. This is nonsense, for three main reasons:
- I think we can let women have this one thing, given how male-dominated the other six films have been (remember Padme going from a Queen, to a Senator, to a housewife in the prequels?)
- It’s not even true that Finn is weak. He’s well-rounded, and he’s scared for a reason. He knows he’s in over his head, but he tries to fight back anyway because it’s the right thing to do. Even though horribly under-qualified and petrified, he still duels with a Sith in a lighsaber battle. If anything, that makes him even more of a bad-ass in my eyes.
- If Boyega played Rey and Ridley played Finn, would you think Finn was weak? Of course not. You’d think Finn was pretty cool for trying at all, which promotes that character above the stereotypical damsel in distress. The character is only seen as weak because it’s played by a man.
I don’t want to turn this review in to feminist rantings, because that’s really not what this is about. But the fact that the gender balance has been re-addressed is a very cool thing. I can just imagine young children, both boys and girls, looking up to this film and seeing pretty awesome role models. That has it’s own worth in the series, without even considering that this is a great film.
And it really is.
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