Since The Force Awakens was released on December 18th, 2015, this review is far overdue. However, I have to write this one before I can share my thoughts about Rogue One, which I thought was even better than The Force Awakens, which is saying something, because this film was, in my opinion, one of the best Star Wars films ever made. Why?
Because it stood on the shoulders of giants.
My favorite Star Wars movie, still, to this day, is The Empire Strikes Back. So many avid Star Wars fans agree with me. It’s the sequel that exceeded the original, which is also saying something, because the original Star Wars movie (A New Hope, but it wasn’t called A New Hope back then—it was just called Star Wars) was also so incredible.
I love Episodes IV-VI for the same reasons why I don’t like Episodes I-III: 1) the setting is the frontier (Star Wars is a “space western”, not a “true” science fiction movie, I don’t think), 2) the future is old (the universe and all that is within it look real and lived in, not shiny), 3) the force is mysterious (none of this midi-chlori-garbage), 4) Star Wars isn’t cute (it may be funny, but it was never meant to be cute), and 5) the characters are the story (there’s a clear hero throughout the three films—Luke—and a clear villain that the hero needs to defeat—Vader). You can read more about my “originals versus prequels” complaints in another article that I wrote two years ago. The reason I bring these points up again, though, is because I want to use them as I discuss everything that The Force Awakens did right.
As I said, The Force Awakens stood on the shoulders of giants, because it looked back to the originals for inspiration, rather than the failed (in my opinion) prequels. In fact, it’s practically a remake of A New Hope. In case the parallels weren’t outright obvious to you, I shall enumerate them in a bulleted list below:
The Force Awakens versus A New Hope: The Parallels
- A map (message) was hidden within a droid and picked up by someone who doesn’t know her (his) true identity. In other words, Rey is basically Luke. Both are great pilots. We don’t know Rey’s true identity yet.
- We’ve never had a “rogue stormtrooper” storyline before, so that’s new, but Finn is basically Han. He’s Rey’s (Luke’s) side-kick. He’s a wanted man. He wants to get as far away as possible. He’s also really funny. (I mean, really. I always thought Harrison Ford had great comedic timing, but John Boyega just delivers. His “thank you, junkyard” line when talking to Han and Rey about Jakku. His “I’m in charge now, I’m in charge” line when talking to Captain Phasma. His “Why are you doing this? *head nod*” after Han sees Rey.)
- Also, Finn with Luke’s lightsaber is all kinds of awesome. Han never gets to wield one (so no parallels here), but I am glad that Finn is granted that opportunity.
- Even though Han is a character from the originals, Han is basically Obi-Wan in this story. He is Rey’s (Luke’s) father figure. Kylo Ren even says, after reading Rey’s mind, that Han (to her) is like the father she never had. He is also the mysterious mentor figure. Maybe he doesn’t guide Rey to use the force as Obi-Wan did with Luke, but he does say that “It is real. All of it.” Instead, he teaches her about the Millenium Falcon—and some things, she teaches him. At the same time, though, not much has changed with Han. He’s back to smuggling. The two gangs that show up while they’re on the ship with the rathtars form a parallel to Jabba the Hutt.
- About those rathtars, though: why exactly did they eat the gang members right away, but carry Finn halfway through the ship? Like Rey says, that sure was lucky. Illogical, but lucky. Oh, and let’s take a moment to appreciate Han’s “I have a bad feeling about this” throwback line.
- Probably the most obvious parallel is Kylo Ren and Darth Vader. Just like Luke has to face his father, hopefully to bring him back to the light, Kylo Ren has to do the same, but in reverse. Ben (named after Ben Kenobi?) has to face his father, Han Solo, but in order to kill him, because he refuses to be turned to the light. And if you think in terms of Han being the Obi-Wan figure and Kylo being the Darth Vader figure, can’t you just see the parallel when Kylo, the son, (Darth, the padawan) kills Han, the father (Obi-Wan, the mentor)?
- Also, let’s take a moment to appreciate Kylo Ren’s hair in this scene. You’d think he’d have severe helmet hair when he takes off his helmet, but no. Such volume. So flowing. Wow.
- BB8 is basically R2D2. Admit it, R2D2 is one of the funniest droids in the galaxy. For a droid that doesn’t actually speak but in beeps and whistles, he has such personality. The same holds true for BB8. Catching himself during Rey’s crazy awesome maneuvering of the Falcon? Funny. His flame thumbs-up to Finn? Hilarious.
- From here on out, the parallels get a little looser: General Hux and Grand Moff Tarkin. General Hux appears to be in charge of Starkiller Base (a weapon which is obviously made to parallel the Death Star—though I must say that it makes far more sense that it takes 30 minutes to charge the thing, rather than 30 minutes to revolve around the planet to get the moon on the other side, when you could just destroy both the planet and the moon—Yavin 4, by the way, looks and feels so similar to the Ileenium system that it’s just crazy).
- General Hux, by the way, terrifies me in the perfectly-executed Hitler scene. Shortly after, they fire the weapon, and it destroys multiple systems at once. It makes the universe feel somehow small, to have planets that close that can be destroyed at the same time. But the way it was shown also makes the loss feel even more tragic, since you’re seeing the destructive red light from the people’s perspective, which we didn’t get to see when Alderaan was blown to smithereens (oh look, another parallel)!
- Takodana (the Maz Kanata residence) is a bit like Mos Eisley Cantina.
- Is General Organa a bit like Mon Mothma, or am I overreaching just because I recently saw Rogue One?
- Lastly, General Snoke serves as a parallel for Emporer Palpatine/Darth Sidious. Oh, and to state the obvious, the Resistance is the Rebellion and the First Order is the Empire.
The Five Major Points Why The Force Awakens is Awesome
1. The setting is the frontier
Jakku. Takodana. The action happens out there in the “west”, not in the Senate on Coruscant. Thank you.
2. The future is old and real
As I re-watched The Force Awakens earlier this week, I took notes, and as I did, over and over again, I wrote: “PRACTICAL EFFECTS!” Just because you can make things happen with CG (computer graphics), doesn’t mean you should, and you can tell that the filmmakers chose to use practical effects where they could, and CG where they simply could not. Here are just a few examples:
- The Falcon looked much older, because obviously, it is. I love Rey’s line: “The garbage will do!”
- I read somewhere that Rey’s muffin growing from powder and water is a practical effect, and if so, COOL!
- BB8 is also real. There isn’t a person inside, like Kenny Baker (who we lost along with Carrie Fisher in the dumpster fire of a year that was 2016) was inside R2D2, but still awesome that he’s not CG.
- As far as I can tell, Admiral Ackbar (hooray minor throwback character!) also isn’t CG.
3. The force is mysterious
This one in particular makes me so happy. From General Snoke’s line to Kylo Ren:
There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?
To Maz Kanata’s line to Rey after the “forceback” (force-induced flashback):
I am no Jedi, but I know the force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes, feel it. The light. It’s always been there. It will guide you.
To Han Solo’s line to Finn on Starkiller Base:
That’s not how the force works!
In all these lines, no mention of midi-chlorians. In all these lines, the force is mysterious. In all these lines (alright, maybe with the exception of Han’s line), they hearken back to the way Yoda described the force in Episode V:
[M]y ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force flow around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, yes, even between the land and the ship.
Let’s not forget General Organa’s line:
Rey, may the force be with you.
4. Star Wars isn’t cute
But it sure can be funny! There are so many lines and moments that make me laugh in this film, and that’s a great thing, because you cannot handle the darkness without at least a little bit of light comic relief:
- Han takes most of the lines, obviously: From “Is there a garbage chute? A trash compactor?” to his line to Chewie on Starkiller Base: “Oh really, you’re cold?” And when he offers Rey a job: “I wouldn’t be nice. […] Chewy kinda likes you.” (When it’s obvious that he kind of likes her.) Then there’s the Finn and Han exchange as they’re making their landing on Starkiller Base at light speed and blast through the trees. Han is just always funny.
- I know it’s not meant to be funny, but I always laugh at how poorly the stormtroopers aim and shoot.
- Then there’s the stormtroopers backing away when Kylo Ren is having his second temper tantrum.
- Then there’s the stormtrooper dropping his weapon and walking away when Rey tells him to.
- Stormtroopers, I’ve decided, are just funny in general.
- Also not meant to be funny, but to me it is: the last scene between Rey and Luke. If it weren’t for music, Rey just standing there with the lightsaber would be so awkward. Hello, my arm is getting tired, could you take this?
- Also interesting that Kylo basically pulls this scene from Rey’s mind: “an ocean with an island,” he says.
5. The characters are the story
These characters have been around for a while, and they mean a lot to me, especially Leia now, after Carrie Fisher’s passing. Re-watching The Force Awakens in order to write this (extremely thorough—#sorrynotsorry) review was a bit difficult at times. That final scene between Han and Leia was especially heart-wrenching, because I knew that Han was about to die, and I knew that Carrie had recently died. I love these characters and it’s sad to see them go.
But I’ve also fallen in love with the new characters. Rey. Finn. Poe. Speaking of Rey, “Rey’s Theme” is incredible. Finn and Poe? Honestly, I want someone to look at me the way that Finn and Poe look at each other.
Did you like The Force Awakens as much as I did? If so, let’s talk more in the comments!