Disclaimer: This post is going to be filled with spoilers about The Force Awakens, so that’s a fair warning for you if you haven’t watched the movie. If you want a spoiler-free take on the movie, read my spoiler-free review that I posted just yesterday – https://beingnickyb.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens-review-spoiler-free/
While watching the iconic opening crawl, I was stumped to read that Luke Skywalker had literally gone missing and that no one knew where he was or why he’d disappeared. My mind was buzzing with different theories about his disappearance and also about the plot of the movie. I initially assumed that this would be a “find Luke Skywalker” adventure where our heroes and villains would scour the galaxy for him and I was disappointed by that prospect, but thankfully, I was relieved to find later on that it was not so.
In my review of The Force Awakens, I said that there was a point very early on in the movie when I just knew that this was going to be a really good ride. I can finally divulge the details of that here. It was when Kylo Ren kills Lars von Tekka (Max von Sydow’s character) and Poe shoots at Kylo Ren in anger and then, Kylo Ren suddenly turns around as the camera zooms in and holds his right hand up and stops the blaster bolt mid-air. I’ve seen people using the Force in many ways in the movies, but I have never seen that. This is one of the things that I liked about the movie – they use the Force in many similar ways, but also add some new things into the mix to keep everything fresh. Another example of the Force being used differently is when Kylo Ren just stopped Rey dead in her tracks – it was like she was frozen by a tractor beam. The film treads familiar paths, but innovates enough to make me feel as amazed as when I watched Star Wars for the first time.
I giggled when I saw Kylo Ren’s ship – it looked just like the one that Darth Vader always used in the Original Trilogy and it was a nice easter egg. One of the biggest concerns I had with Kylo Ren was that in most of his pictures, his mask made it seem like he had a Donald Duck type of beak. However, in the movie, it didn’t look like that at all (thank God!); he actually looked really menacing, even more so with his hood on. His voice was cool as well; it may not be as iconic as Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones after all) but it was good enough.
When Finn and Rey try to make their escape from Jakku, Rey says that they need a ship to get off the planet. Finn points at a ship off-screen, but Rey calls it a piece of junk. When the ship they were originally going to take gets blown up, the two have to make do with the “junk”. The camera then shows us that that “junk” is none other than the Millennium Falcon. At that moment, I gasped and a wide smile appeared on my face. Not just because it was the Falcon, but because of the old joke of calling it “junk” just as Luke had done in A New Hope. One of the many things I loved about The Force Awakens was the profligacy of easter eggs and throwbacks. When Finn gets into the gunner’s position, the camera shows the targeting system which looks just like it had in Episode IV, which was a deft touch. The point when I started suspecting that Rey was Force-sensitive was when the Falcon’s gun is stuck in forward position and Rey does that cool flip after switching the engine off. Finn asks her how she did that and she replies, “I don’t know.” That’s when I thought, “Wait a minute, is she going to be the force-intuitive character, the main character? Because, I thought it was going to be Finn; the poster shows the lightsaber in his hands after all.” For a while, I really thought that we were going to get two force-sensitive characters in Rey and Finn, but as the movie progresses, I came to a conclusion that Finn just wasn’t in tune with the Force. Though, there’s always a possibility that he may. *Fingers crossed*
When the Falcon gets caught in another ship’s tractor beam, Rey and Finn hide under the floor grates just like Luke, Han, Chewie and Obi-Wan had done in A New Hope and there’s even a similar shot of a person slightly lifting a grate and peering out through it. Like I said, throwbacks galore. Then, when Han and Chewie walk onto their old good old pal, the Falcon, and Han says, “Chewie, we’re home” with a smile on his face, I went all gooey and melted inside. Han even carries his old blaster which looks just like it did in the Original Trilogy. When Han gets cornered by those two gangs from both sides, it looked like one scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and when he says, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” I knew that this wasn’t the same languid Harrison Ford who sleep-walked through the past few years of his career; this was the Harrison Ford that we know and love and more importantly, it showed on screen as it looked like he was really enjoying playing our favourite smuggler. I was surprised when a lot of people didn’t notice BB-8 accidentally activate a game of holochess, a game that R2 and C3PO played against Chewbacca in A New Hope.
Initially, I didn’t like Maz Kanata’s character, but then she kind of grew on me and I started to like her. I guess I started to look at her as the Yoda of this trilogy, (I’m pretty sure she hung out with Yoda at least once considering she’s a thousand years old) and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in the sequels. She seemed to know a lot about the force even though she wasn’t a Jedi or Sith. What particularly intrigued me was how she had Luke and previously, Anakin’s lightsaber in her possession. When Darth Vader cut off Luke’s hand in The Empire Strikes Back, the lightsaber was seemingly lost in Cloud City. However, here it is in a wooden box for some strange reason. This is one thing I really want to know about and if the sequels don’t shed light on it, I’m pretty sure the new Expanded Universe will.
When The First Order attacks Maz Kanata’s place and the Resistance retaliates, there’s a really good tracking shot of Poe Dameron in his X-Wing just destroying TIE-Fighter after TIE-Fighter. The shot does really well to make the fact that Poe is the best pilot in the Resistance believable. It’s not something that we have to take at face value, the movie actually shows just how good he is and I loved that. The fight pseudo lightsaber duel between Finn and a Stormtrooper was really exciting and even though Finn gets his ass kicked, it’s one of the things that gives me hope that he might yet be force-sensitive.
I was half-expecting the revelation that Kylo Ren was Han and Leia’s son because I just assumed him to be Jacen Solo since ever since the trailer hit us. However, the scene was still impactful because it tells us that Kylo Ren still feels the pull to the light side, there’s still good in him and this shows just how vulnerable a character he is. He’s obviously pretty new to this Sith stuff and still hasn’t embraced it as much as his grandfather had as shown in the Original Trilogy. He’s young and impulsive and it was this scene that made me ponder whether he might be turned to the Light Side by Han either in this movie or the next two. They also showed us Supreme Leader Snoke in this scene. For a while, I thought the guy was fifty feet tall and I was confused by how the good guys were supposed to fight a guy the size of a rancor who also possesses powers of the Dark Side. But, it was just the hologram that made him look like that. He looks unremarkable really and I was slightly disappointed that they used CGI for him. I know Andy Serkis is one of the best motion-capture actors out there, but since they used practical effects so much, they could have stuck with it for him. Anyhow, his face clearly has a lot of history. According to Andy Serkis, Snoke is really old, as in Yoda old. The guy has a huge scar running down his head and many perforations near his mouth. It’s clear that he got someone mad, and that someone, I’m pretty sure, had a lightsaber. I really don’t know a thing about him and I’m sad that they didn’t tell us more about him. But then again, the Original Trilogy didn’t tell us a whole lot about the Emperor did it?
In one scene, Kylo Ren is seen talking or praying(?) to Darth Vader’s burnt-up helmet. Where or how he got it is not explained. He asks his grandfather to give him the strength to fight off the Light Side and embrace the Dark. I know that Anakin’s force ghost is out there somewhere, but he isn’t showing himself to his grandson for some reason. (I really want to know why.) So, all Kylo Ren is doing is talking to a charred piece of armour thinking he’s actually communicating with his deceased grandfather. It isn’t doing him any good and he’s clearly going nuts. I read that he searched the whole galaxy for Vader relics and that probably makes him the biggest Vader fanboy in the galaxy. The movie didn’t give any clue as to why he’s doing this, just that he is and like I said in my review, Episode VIII has a lot being set up for it and in answering all of these questions, if it’s even nearly as good as The Force Awakens, I have a feeling it might just be the new The Empire Strikes Back of the saga.
I particularly loved that scene in which Kylo Ren tries to interrogate Rey. The scene is very personal because of a lot of things. Firstly, because it’s between the protagonist and the antagonist of the movie. Secondly, because Kylo Ren removes his helmet. I actually thought that he’d be a lot more menacing looking, with scars everywhere or mechanical implants like his grandfather, but really, he’s just a very average-looking guy. At first, I was a bit put off about this, but then when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. This movie shows each of the newer characters in their preliminary stages – Rey, Finn and now, Kylo Ren. Instead of just having him as a fully-developed character throughout the Sequel Trilogy, they opted to make him grow through the three movies, which is something I highly prefer to the former option. It makes for a good watch and it’s going to be great seeing the good guys and the bad guy evolve together. He tries to probe Rey’s mind (the way he does it, I thought, was very cool and I loved his line delivery), but then you can see the mixture of surprise, fear and anger in his face when he realizes that Rey, this scavenger on the junkyard of the galaxy, Jakku, is resisting him. When she finally says, “You’re just scared you’ll never live up to Darth Vader” (I’m paraphrasing of course), he just reels back and takes a breather. Kylo Ren clearly looked scared in right then and not being able to handle what he had just been through, he marches out after that. The other great moment in this scene was when Rey tries the Jedi mind-trick on a Stormtrooper guarding her cell. It doesn’t work the first few times, but then all of a sudden, when it looks like she might give up, the Stormtrooper lets her go, walks out of the room and leaves his blaster behind for her just as she had commanded. I was giggling like a little schoolboy when this happened not just because it was so good, but also because it was a throwback to Obi-Wan’s “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Obi-Wan even does something similar in a bar in The Attack of the Clones and it’s a staple of the saga by now.
Skip to the part where Han dies – Han promised Leia that if he saw their son, he’d try to talk some sense into him. When Han does see Kylo Ren, he follows him onto this super-thin scaffold above an abyss and the conversation that they proceed to have is really moving. Han uses Kylo Ren’s real name, Ben in the conversation and that makes it that much more personal. He tells his biy that his mother is worried about him and that he can still turn things around; all he has to do is come back home with him. You can hear the doubt in Kylo Ren’s voice when he ponders on what to do next and when he offers his lightsaber to Han to try to help him do the right thing, I thought that Kylo Ren might just turn back to the light side. But then… Kylo Ren wrestles the lightsaber back from Han’s hands and puts it right through his father. Right at this point, whatever sympathy I might have had for Kylo Ren disappeared – he had just killed one of my favourite characters of all time and I will never forgive him for that. Han had a stunned and pained look on his face and even as he was falling, he caressed his son’s face one last time. This scene hit me so hard, and my chest was pounding the whole time. I thought Chewie’s reaction to it was perfect – he lets out this primal roar and just shoots Kylo Ren without any hesitation. You could feel Chewie’s pain – he had just seen his best friend, his brother, get murdered right in front of him and he was angry. He shot every Stormtrooper there and then blew the roof off the place.
I called the climactic lightsaber duel in the forest the best-shot lightsaber duel in the saga and I stand by it. I loved the setting with snow and trees everywhere; it was also quite dark, not exactly night, more like twilight. The lighting was key to the scene because when the lightsabers were activated, they stood out in the darkness beautifully. Red and blue already have a great contrast, but watching the red and blue lightsabers move swiftly through the air in that dim light was spectacular. Another thing that I really appreciated was that the duel really didn’t look choreographed at all unlike some of the duels in the Prequels. The fight looked raw and dirty with trees being sliced all around and wild swings of the lightsabers. It reminded me a lot of that moment in Return of the Jedi when Luke gets enraged by his father’s remark about turning Leia to the Dark Side and he just embraces all his anger and swings his lightsaber without any care in the world; his only objective at that moment was to kill his father and he didn’t care that he’s destroying everything around him. Lightsaber duels have always been good in every Star Wars movie, but this one stands out for me.
I was actually very happy when I saw that Finn was going to fight Kylo Ren as opposed to Rey. The way he activates his lightsaber, holding it firmly in both hands, was for some reason alluring to watch. After years and years of people activating their lightsabers in one hand, usually facing downwards, it was refreshing to watch Finn handle the legendary lightsaber in his own way. Even though, Finn got his ass kicked, it was great watching him use a lightsaber again. I also finally got to see Kylo Ren in a duel and I even saw a use of the cross-guard design of his lightsaber – he pushed it into Finn’s shoulder when their lightsabers were locked and it looked mighty painful. Before the fight, I liked how Kylo Ren was pounding the place where he’d been shot by Chewie to get the pain going because that’s how the Siths work – they gain strength from pain, fear and anger – for example, Darth Vader, despite his robotic implants, was in constant pain and this helped him gain strength. The camera even shows the blood falling on the snow when he’s just beating that part. Right after that, he slices Finn right up his spine and Finn drops to the ground. I knew he wasn’t dead because they can’t kill such an important character so quickly but I was pretty sure that he’s going to get a robotic spine or something similar in Episode VII.
Then there’s a holy crap moment that almost made me jump out of my seat in excitement – Kylo Ren sees his grandfather and uncle’s lightsaber lying in the snow and he tries to Force Pull it to him; it starts moving and it takes a while before it flies out of the snow, but just when we think Kylo Ren has his hands on yet another Darth Vader relic, the lightsaber flies right past him into Rey’s outstretched hand. She starts fighting Kylo Ren and she does a lot better than Finn. When the two of them have their lightsabers locked, I could see just how much Kylo Ren was afraid of Rey; the guy knew that he would probably lose the fight and so he tried to lure Rey to the Dark Side by offering to be her teacher and educate her about the ways of the Force. Rey hears the word “Force” and just closes her eyes, gets in tune with the Force and then fights back with her spirit reinvigorated. This reminded me a lot of Luke switching off his targeting computer in the final attempt at destroying the Death Star, closing his eyes and using the force to guide the torpedo into the shaft. I was a little disappointed that Luke didn’t speak to Rey when she closed her eyes like Obi-Wan had when Luke had done the same, but I suppose that since Luke hadn’t been in the movie even once till now, that wasn’t the best time to introduce him. When Rey finally bests Kylo Ren, I thought that she had sliced a limb off, making him even more similar to his grandfather (and uncle), but he actually just fell to the ground. He does have a really ugly scar across his face (just like Anakin, but a lot larger). I thought that the movie might have a scene where Rey decides whether or not to kill Kylo Ren, but the decision is made for her when a huge chasm appears between them. At least we know that Kylo Ren lives to rage out on his computer another day. Snoke then tells Hux to bring Kylo Ren to him as “it is time to complete his training.” This was a big clue that Kylo Ren will be back stronger, angrier and more determined than ever in the next movie.
Finally, when Rey follows the map that everyone was losing their minds over, she ends up on this planet that looks a lot like Earth but with a lot more water and a lot less land. It’s just like the place that Rey sees in her dreams – the ocean and the island in the middle of it. She then climbs up what looks like more than a thousand steps and when she reaches the summit, there’s a hooded figure with his back to Rey standing there. This was the scene that I was touting as one of the best final shots in any movie ever. The hooded figure turns around and I gasped when I saw that it was none other than Luke Skywalker himself. He had a beard and you could see from his face that he had been through a lot recently. He just stares at Rey intensely, and that stare gets even more intense when Rey takes out his old lightsaber and offers it to him. Before Luke can say anything, the screen cuts to the credits. I was really hoping that he would walk up to her, take the lightsaber and say, “The Force is strong in my family; my father had it, I have it, my sister has it; you have that power too” just like he does in the trailer. That would be a huge reveal, but I guess they wanted to save the revelation of Rey’s parentage for the next movie. But all that is forgiven because I got to see Luke Skywalker who was M.I.A. for the entire movie. I really want the next movie to explain exactly what happened to Luke that made him go into exile and what he was doing when he was there. Also, the name of the planet that he was on is “AHCH-TO” which, I’m pretty sure, is a placeholder name. However, when you read the name aloud, it sounds like “Act Two” and this might be a clue as to the major role that this place or scene might play in the next movie.
Part 2 will feature an in-depth analysis on some of the characters and whatever I might have missed out on here. I’ll also discuss certain theories that might impact Episode VIII monumentally.