Film Review: Star Wars – Episode VII – The Force Awakens

December 27, 2015

If you are one of the small percentage of humanity who waited even longer than me to see this, then get out of here now, because, there will be spoilers!

Before we get to the film, this was a very special day for me.  The reason I waited so long (like 5 days) to see this film is because I was invited by my niece and nephew to see this with them, but their dad wanted to wait until the crowds died down a little bit.  My dad took me to see Episode IV when I was six years old, and that is how old my nephew is, so I did tear up a little bit, given that I never thought I would have the opportunity to introduce someone like that to Star Wars.  While the movie theater I saw Episode IV in was demolished a few years ago, I took them to the beautiful Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge … a 1920s art-deco one screen theater that has been lovingly restored.  It was a wonderful and special day.

But on to the film, which is a worthy successor to the original trilogy of the 1970s and 80s.

The opening crawl informs us that, just like in real life, the destruction of the Empire has led to the rise of a new evil: The First Order.  They have essentially inherited the star destroyers and stormtroopers and TIE fighters, etc.  The Republic is restored, and is now secretly bankrolling the Rebellion to put down the First Order.  We also learn that Luke Skywalker has vanished, and that the First Order and the Rebellion (now led by his sister, Leia) are desperately looking for him.  Leia has sent one of her best pilots to make contact with a man who has part of a map to find Luke.


The pilot does get part of the map, and entrusts it to his BB-8 droid (the orange and white soccer ball thing you have seen in the commercials and trailers).  The First Order lands, and brutally slaughters everyone, but manages to capture the pilot.  BB-8 escapes into the desert …  The pilot is brought before the leader of the landing forces, Kylo Ren.  Ren is clearly evil, and clearly has mastered the force.

BB-8 eventually encounters a scrap collector, Rey. She discovers that BB-8 is linked to the rebellion, but is missing its master.

Meanwhile, on the star destroyer orbiting the planet, Kylo Ren is able to torture the pilot to say that the BB-8 droid has the map.  A stormtrooper then helps to break out the pilot, admitting that he was kidnapped as a young boy (apparently the First Order isn’t getting anymore clones, and needs to actively kidntap future stormtroopers), and has had enough of doing what is wrong.  They escape, but their damaged TIE fighter crashes to the planet, and the pilot and stormtrooper (now called Finn) are separated.  Finn makes it to the nearest habitation, and links up with Rey and BB-8.

As the First Order attacks the settlement looking for a droid and now a traitorous stormtrooper, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 make their escape in the only available ship … a beat up, but still flyable Milennium Falcon (cue applause in the theater).  After an epic chase, they get away, but they are damaged. Eventually a scrap ship appears and brings them aboard, a scrap ship piloted by Han Solo and his trusted mate Chewbacca (cue massive applause in the theater).  Han is older, but happy that his stolen ship is back.  When Han is boarded by some First Order sympathizers, they are all forced to escape on the Falcon.

Han takes them to a remote planet which has the Star Wars universe’s version of Rick’s Cafe American from Casablanca.  While attempting to arrange transportation for Rey and BB-8 to the Rebel Base, spies for both the First Order and Rebellion identify the party, and phone in their discovery.

Rey is then drawn to the basement of the building where she discovers a chest containing a light saber … specifically the very light saber owned by Luke Skywalker and his father (the how it got from some air vent on Bespin to there is cut off).  The owner admits that this is Luke’s weapon, and that Rey must have some ability to use the force if she is drawn to it.  She is frightened of the weapon, and Finn ends up with it as the First Order arrives.  After a fight, Rey is captured by Kylo Ren when he realizes that she has seen the map that BB-8 is carrying.  Ren and his party are forced to retreat as a bunch of X-wings arrive to save the day.  As the battle ends, General Leia’s ship arrives, and she (and her mostly gold interpreter droid) are reunited with Han and Chewie (audience applause). It is then that we learn that Kylo Ren (major spoiler here) is Han and Leia’s son.  Leia was concerned that their boy might be tempted to the Dark Side (because it kind of runs in the family), and sent him off to train with Luke who was trying to reconstitute the Jedi order.  Alas, an unnamed dark master at the head of the First Order seduced Kylo to be his servant, and when Luke lost his own nephew to the Dark side, he went into hiding.

To make matters worse, the First Order has a new weapon … not some space station … this time they built a cannon right into a planet, which draws its energy from the matter of the star it orbits, and can now destroy planets across the galaxy.  After destroying the home of the Republic, they want to take the Rebellion out next.

Rey is able to escape her captors by using the force to make a stormtrooper free her (a stormtrooper who sounds remarkably like James Bond).  Han, Chewie, and Fin show up to destroy the cannon.  After linking up with Rey, they begin planting explosive charges around the >>insert name of thing that channels energy to cannon and must be destroyed<<, when Kylo Ren shows up.  Han confronts Ren, and Ren appears to be giving in to his father, even handing him his own light saber.  Alas, Ren is not won over, and activates the light saber, piercing Han through the chest, and then watches as he fall into a deep chasm.  I’ll kill some time while you are getting tissues to wipe away your tears:  Han Solo is dead.  Han Solo was killed by his own son, and was mostly killed because Leia begged him to try and bring their son back even after Han said it was certainly too late to save him.  In short: Han was a happy scoundrel until women and kids got into his life.  Now he is dead.  Take from that any lesson you want ;-).

Chewie, witnessing his friend’s death, goes beast mode (even manages to shoot and wound Kylo Ren), and detonates the explosives.  Unfortunately, they didn’t set enough of them to destroy the entire >>insert name of thing that channels energy to cannon and must be destroyed<<.  The X-wings arrive, and en epic battle begins in the skies overhead as the clock ticks down to the super weapon firing and destroying the Rebel Base.

As the remaining team escapes, Ren encounters Rey and Finn.  He seriously wounds Finn, but Rey is able to get Finn’s lightsaber and proceeds to engage in an epic battle with Ren.  Rey manages to seriously wound Ren, and then escapes with Chewbacca with Finn on the Falcon.  The X-wings are able to finish off the weapon, and all the principles escape before the planet explodes.

Back at the Rebel Base, they are able to take the part of the map that BB-8 had and match it with part of a map stored in the (suddenly awakened) R2-D2 (audience applause), and identify where Luke has been laying low.

Chewbacca, R2, and Rey take the Falcon to the planet, and land on an island in the middle of an ocean.  Rey climbs the steps on the side of the mountain, and at the top, finds a cloaked figure.  He is Luke Skywalker, and Rey offers to him his old lightsaber.



After JJ Abrams really turned Star Trek into a populist trainwreck (Spock falling in love with Uhura, seriously who goes there!!??), I was worried what he might do to Star Wars.  All-in-all, I think he is doing a fine job so far.  There is a mix of “things that have not changed from the original series” and “new things that are mostly good”.  With the advancements in effects and cinematography, this film has a different look and feel from the original series.  That isn’t bad … its just different.  The writing, which for the first time isn’t George Lucas, is also a bit different.  The writing seems more mature for some reason.  This, to me, is most clear in the writing of the Kylo Ren character.  On the surface, he is a lot like Annakin Skywalker (a confused young man who has been seduced to evil), but while Annakin comes across as a pouty almost goth teen that you want to slap across the face with a trout 100 or so times for kind of creating his own problems, Kylo Ren seems more like someone out of control, and thus less responsible for creating his own problems.

Another kudo that I will throw to JJ is that he (at least through this film) avoided just about any mention of Episodes I-III. The words “clone army” gets mentioned once really quickly, but otherwise they were left out.  Twice the heroes arrive on a planet that is not named, and I half expect it to be Naboo, and that an army of Gungans would jump out. Nope, it didn’t happen, and that is a good thing.

JJ also seemed to understand the need to keep some things mysterious.  The unveiling of mitichlorians as the source of being able to control the force took it from being something mythic and mystical to something coldly scientific.  We are left with some questions here:  Who is this dark leader of the First Order? How does Rey fit into this (she seems to have some connection to Luke)?  How did Han and Leia’s son get so screwed up?  How did Luke’s original light saber end up in the basement of an out-of-the-way cafe?  The fact that these questions were not neatly tied up is a good thing.

Is it a perfect film?  No.  Star Wars has always been based on a certain degree of accepting coincidences happening (the whole franchise starts with C3-PO and R2-D2 conveniently crashing on Luke’s planet close enough to where he lives so that Jawas could sell the droids to his uncle).  This film stretches that a bit (that Finn happens to defect on a planet where BB-8 happens to be, and a young woman who can control the force … that they happen to get picked up by Han and Chewbacca … that R2-D2 happens to turn on after years of being switched to “low power mode” just when they need him to)?  It starts getting a bit much after a time.

Still, the action and visuals are what we have come to expect, and that is easily worth the price of admission.  As a note:  Episode VII is rated PG-13, unlike the previous films, there is some blood, and some of the battles tend to have a degree more realism vs. cartoonishness than before.  Also, if you are over 40, there is a good chance you will need to hug someone when Han dies.  I did!  All told, the people paying to see this in the theaters are far from crazy … it is very much a worthy film.