A review of Star Wars Ep. VII (spoilers)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week talking with various people about my thoughts on Star Wars Ep. VII so I thought I’d collect them here. Before digging into the movie, for those that haven’t seen it yet I’ll say this: It’s a good movie, and it’s very enjoyable. I have a few minor quibbles, but overall it’s a really good film. I give it a B-plus/A-minus.

Below this point there will be spoilers. Major spoilers.

Seriously, do not keep reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

HUGE MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!

LOTS OF GIGANTIC MOVIE-RUINING SPOILERS BELOW THIS POINT!

 

 

Okay, now that the warnings are out of the way…. on to the review.

I’ll start by saying I think the film looks good. The effects are good, not too heavy on CG. The costuming and sets look nice, and I liked the updated design of the ships. I really like the battle scenes, especially the air-to-ground combat aspects of the battle at Maz Kanata’s place, which is a new dynamic for the saga. I would have liked to see more variety in the types of ships that were being used. We saw a lot of TIEs and X-wings but no Y-wings or A-wings or anything new and cool. So that feels like a missed opportunity.

They wisely expunged virtually all references to the prequels, and with this new installment we can all forget that unfortunate chapter in the saga ever happened.

I liked the new younger leads, and the Poe-Finn bromance is definitely one of the high points of the movie. I thought that Oscar Isaac, who is a terrific actor, was underutilized and needs more screen time in the next film. (Gwendonline Christie as Capt. Phasma was also underused in a large and talented ensemble cast)

Most of the criticism of the film seems focused on the inescapable fact that the plot is ripped directly from Ep. IV, even down to some smaller details. We start with the evil Empire/First Order searching for a droid containing a map that the rebels have hidden. We meet a young unhappy orphan (who is also a pilot) on a backwater desert planet, she meets a wise old mentor who takes her to an intergalactic dive bar to look for a pilot. The wise old mentor later dies. And then a planet gets blown up and the rebels make a desperate last minute attempt to blow up the super-weapon.

Okay, yes, it’s definitely a ripoff of the story from Ep. IV. I see how that could bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me. It was so blatant that it was clearly an intentional choice. I see it as an apology or a reassurance that Star Wars is getting back to its roots and there will be no more talk about how coarse sand is or nonsense about midichlorians. Disney have lots more movies planned, including some intriguing spinoffs, so the storyline will get more creative and interesting, but this first installment had to reinvigorate the franchise. They needed a layup, and a fun movie that is almost a frame-by-frame remake of the much-beloved first film was the best way to achieve that.

I did feel like the Starkiller plot was somewhat secondary to the plot about trying to find Luke, which made it feel a little less epic and urgent. The whole film is about finding BB-8 and the map to Luke, but then they have to wedge in a big final battle somehow, so let’s blow up another huge space station. I think they could have done a slightly better job of balancing those plot lines, but it did not sink the movie the way it was.

The movie has been widely praised for including a more diverse cast of leads than previous films. The inclusion of a prominent female lead is a nice addition because there aren’t a lot of those in scifi. I like Rey’s character, and I think Daisy Ridley is good. I do have some complaints that I think they oversold her character a little., particularly in the beginning when they do the “she’s a girl but she can fix things” gag a few too many times. She could have just fixed the Falcon the first time and moved on, and the audience would have totally understood. But then she had to have a pointless conversation with Han about the hyperdrive, and then fiddle with something else in the cockpit later.  For comparison, in Eps. IV and V we understand that Han and Chewie are good at fixing the ship because we see them constantly working on the ship while having conversations about other things while working on the ship. It is a nice subtle way of developing their characters, instead of “LOOK! A GIRL IS USING A SCREWDRIVER!”  It was generally just too heavy-handed and borders on making her character annoying.

I also thought that it was too far-fetched that this girl, who didn’t even really believe in the Force in the beginning of the movie, is somehow able to resist Kylo Ren’s Force mind probe and then is somehow able to “not-the-droids-you’re-looking-for” that (inexplicably only one?) stormtrooper who was guarding her with zero training or instruction in the Force. In Eps. IV and V we saw Luke struggling with the Force several times as Obi Wan and Yoda train him, so I find it rather implausible and ridiculous that Rey was able to just start using the Force with no training. Also she was able to defeat Kylo Ren-who has years of Force and combat training-in a lightsaber duel, so that was just laying it on a bit thick. Again, we saw Luke-one of the greatest Jedi ever-lose to Vader even after training with Yoda.

This brings me to my other complaint, which is that I don’t find Kylo Ren to be a great villain, which is important because I really believe that the strength of any films rests on the bad guy.  I think it was unwise to unmask him in the first movie (and also to reveal Snoke so early as well).  Also (see above) watching him lose to an untrained teenage girl really undermines Kylo as a scary intimidating bad guy. On some level, I think the writers tried to humanize him a little and make him a more complex character with insecurities and depth, which I appreciate. But I still think he needs to be scarier. We immediately get the impression that Vader is a bad bad dude that you do not want to mess with. However we don’t get that feeling with Kylo. He’s a whiny brat that loses to an untrained teenager twice, so I’m not very worried about him. I think Leia could kick his butt. (Side note: that would be an amazing scene for the next film) On the positive side, I will say that making Kylo Han and Leia’s son is a good move that really connects the new First Order to the old movies through that relationship.

Of course I was very sad about Han Solo’s demise because he is a great character, but it does make sense for the story. (and I was not surprised by it) I would have preferred that he go out in a bit more of a blaze of glory. I think Han deserved a little better than walking out on an ominous walkway and getting stabbed. In my screenplay, I would have fixed this and also the Rey-Kylo issue by having Rey lose to Kylo but then be saved by Han’s intervention. Then Han and Kylo have a nice father-son chat like they did on that bridge and Kylo kills him there. Maybe it could have added another layer that Kylo is jealous that Han would sacrifice himself to save this girl, but he feels like Han was not that kind of father to him. Of course, Han did almost certainly know he would die when he tried to save Ben/Kylo, so that shows some character development from the mercenary scoundrel we meet in Ep. IV.

FInally, (and this is a very minor nitpicky criticism but it really gets under my skin because it is a lazy continuity edit) when Rey and Finn are escaping in the Falcon, Finn gets in the gun on the bottom of the ship. That’s mistake number one because he would have had a better field of vision for shooting the pursuing TIEs from the top gun. And the Falcon clearly has two guns (we see Han and Luke both using them in Ep. IV) which are visible in the movie. But overlooking that, when his gun gets damaged and cannot rotate, he tells Rey to execute a complicated and risky maneuver in order to bring them around facing the TIE because he can only fire straight forward. But he could have easily climbed up the ladder to the other fully-functional gun, so the entire thing was totally unnecessary. My irritation about this is almost certainly disproportionate to how important this detail was, but anyway, it still annoyed me.

So those are the issues I had with it. However, you shouldn’t get the impression because I’ve gone on at length about things I did not like the film in general. I did think it was a good movie, and most of my quibbles were minor. After all I did see the movie in theaters twice (wearing my Jedi robes), and I’ll definitely be seeing the next one as soon as it comes out. Despite my nit-picking, I think Ep. VII is a great way to kick off the new era in the Star Wars saga, and I’m very happy it was successful and that a franchise that I love seems to have a bright future ahead of it.