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.

2 thoughts on “A review of Star Wars Ep. VII (spoilers)

  1. Okay, I have lots of stuff to say but not a lot of time to say it. Warning: Major Spoilers discussed below!

    First off, great first impressions and thoughts Scottie!
    Thanks for sharing!

    I have seen the movie twice now and after seeing it it the first time I gave it a B+, after the second and self professed more critical viewing, I would give it a C- and that is me being generous now. If certain things aren’t explained in the next movie it will easily fall to a D-.

    Here are the confusing positive things for me when I watch this movie:

    1. It is watchable and entertaining for the most part. In fact, it is probably one of the easier movies to appeal to a newbie star wars audience. My first viewing was pretty positive!

    2. I like the characters. Poe, Fin, Rey are likable and fun for new characters. Han and Chewie seem to be as lovable as ever. Even Leia looked and acted way better than I thought she would. Luke is another discussion altogether…

    3. If Ep VIII was playing in the theater right after I finished watching VII, I would definitely walk right into it. In other words, this movie left me wanting more in pretty good way and didn’t turn me off at all to all things Star Wars.

    In light of those positive things here are my criticisms:

    1. Depth/Backstory – Sweet goodness did I feel like this movie needed a prologue of some sort or a true Obi-Wan character to explain things (I think they wanted Han to be that but he didn’t fill in plot holes or explain things like Obi-Wan did in A New Hope). I know we get the classic Star Wars backstory intro, but dang that just wasn’t enough to cover all the ground that need to be covered IMHO. The story groundwork isn’t established for the antagonist army of the First Order. Snoke is involved but we have no idea how after watching the first movie. Everything that happened with Ben Solo is relegated to “we don’t talk about this because it is going ruin our big reveal that Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s kid.” Rey’s backstory is even messier because she is presented as a loner on a desert planet that somehow becomes a “Mary Sue” aka (character that can do anything w/out explanation). So many questions…. I feel like half of VIII needs to be flashbacks to explain stuff LOL!

    2. Cover Song Mentality – The Force Awakens is a decent cover song of A New Hope. This movie had so many similarities to A New Hope it could be called “A New Hope ‘The Nostalgia Awakens'”. I literally pictured Lawrence Kasden blowing the dust off of his New Hope script, changing some names, and a plot point here or there and then handing it to JJ Abrams with a “This is good enough” type smirk on his face. LOL! The layup analogy that Scottie used has helped me make a little bit of peace with this, but I was really hoping they would take bigger risks. I had hoped for more universe building with new alien races, worlds, ships, powers (sigh)

    3. Where are the massive/memorable Star Wars Action set pieces? As much as we knock the prequels for their story and plot holes, at least they got this right! The Force Awakens seems to rely too much on nostalgia for its action. When Rey and Finn are flying the Falcon on Jakku away from the two (only two???) tie fighters, it could have been so much more memorable if they were in different ships with different capabilities! Likewise at Maz’s, even though I like that battle, everything about it screams, “been here, done that” except the scenery. Then they pull it again on the Starkiller strike. I’m still disappointed that they didn’t introduce any new ships too Scottie, heck they narrowed every space battle down to X-wing, Tie Fighter, and Millienium Falcon (…shaking head). You would think that even some Disney Exec would want some new ships in the movie solely to sell some more/new merchandise. Then there is the lightsaber battle between Kylo, Finn, and Rey which just seems unexplainable. It is personal and somewhat entertaining but on my second viewing, I just couldn’t get over how Kylo loses to a Rey that has seemingly never picked up a lightsaber.

    4. Luke – Okay, he makes for an awesome cliffhanger but dang it he should have been in this movie more. This is the one movie out of the new trilogy that could have gotten away with at least one scene w/ Han, Luke, Leia, and chewie reunited and we missed out, its not going to happen due to other events that took place in VII. That is one of my biggest regrets about VII!

    Luke could have explained a lot about what happened with the Jedi Academy, provided some insight about Kylo and Snoke. In this movie, he could have been the much needed Obi-wan presence in VII and then we get to see him mature into a yoda presence through out the trilogy. Instead they go with the yoda/hermit presence right away which might still pay off but takes a lot off the table character development wise.

    Alright, I have more, but I had to get that off my chest 🙂

    -Steve

  2. Thanks for the input Steve. I concur with pretty much all of what you’re saying, although I’m probably more generous in my grading than you.

    I do think that when we look back at Ep. VII it will represent a missed opportunity to move the story along since it is mostly a rehash of Ep. IV. Even though it’s not a reboot, it has the feel of a reboot because they introduce a lot of new characters and recycle a plot, instead of moving forward with developing old characters and exploring a new storyline. I’m still hopeful that this will turn out to be okay in the grand scheme of all the new movies Disney has planned. Star Wars flicks are about to start rolling off the assembly line MCU-style, so hopefully there will be lots of new story soon.

    I completely agree the lack of new ships and especially lack of old ships besides X-wings and TIE fighters was a needless and inexcusable oversight. How hard would it really have been to toss in a couple of A-wings in one of those fight scenes? And they totally skipped the perfect chance to introduce a cool new ship.

    You make a good point about missing the chance to see a Luke-Han reunion which would have been awesome. We probably will still see Luke-Leia-Chewie, but still not the same without Han. I had not thought of this before.

    Now that it’s a month later and I’ve been thinking about this film some more, I think they really mishandled Kylo Ren. I think they revealed his parentage too soon (although honestly this wasn’t a huge surprise. His father had to be either Han or Luke), they unmasked him too soon, and they had him lose to the protagonist in the first movie. All of that took three movies for Vader in the original trilogy! What is left?!

    Kylo already lost in a lightsaber duel to an untrained Rey. So, that basically sets up Ep VIII to be Luke spending 10 minutes giving Rey a few pointers on her technique, and then she goes and kicks Kylo’s butt. Roll credits.

    And if Uncle Luke (the greatest Jedi Master of all time) comes out of seclusion to confront Kylo himself, then we all know Kylo is toast. That battle will be over in nothing flat.

    So ultimately I think Kylo is done as a villain. He has already lost once, and he isn’t scary anymore. I’m not sure how subsequent films can rectify this in his character. I think they’ll have to rely more heavily on Snoke, but the problem there is that they are pulling out the Big Bad pretty early.

    Of course, this issue is also intertwined with my previous complaints about Rey being too powerful with no training or reason to believe she should be that powerful in the first movie. So this leaves us with an overpowered heroine and an underpowered villain. Yawn.

    In light of this, I think I’ll be downgrading my score from B+ to B-, partially because I think this film puts them in a difficult bind for Ep. VIII.

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