The Good, the Bad and the Meh of the Force Awakens (Spoilers)

Anticipation for Star Wars: the Force Awakens was unbelievably high and it’s translating into unprecedented box office business. People are saying positive things about it but is it really as good as people are claiming or are we caught up in the massive hype? Let’s break it down to see how this film stacks up to the earlier entries in the franchise. (Spoilers below)

THE GOOD:

 It’s great to see Harrison Ford back in the pilot’s seat. He is the lynchpin of this film. While Ford doesn’t slip as seamlessly back into Han Solo as he did to Indy Jones after a long absence, he still manages to remind us why we loved Han and what made him the breakout star of that original trilogy. He steals the film. And (SPOILER) his death is the most emotional moment of the movie. (It took 25 years but Harrison’s Ford’s request to have Han killed off in The Empire Strikes Back was finally honored.) Let’s not overlook the reappearances of Chewbacca, Leia and the droids, but its Ford who puts this over the top. A good send-off for a great character.

 Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are excellent together as Rey and Finn. They have a nice on-screen chemistry and their banter is amusing. While Finn’s fate is left up-in-the-air, Rey is poised to continue as the new lead character of the franchise for several years to come. She’s a formidable heroine in the mold of the Hunger Games.

This has excellent action and SFX! The signature of Star Wars has always been the frenetic action and the ground-breaking SFX. The Force Awakens continues this trend, delivering consistently entertaining action sequences and flawless FX.

Supreme Leader Snoke makes for an intimidating looking master villain. (Whether he’s really that big or if the hologram is just designed to make him look more imposing is not clear.) And it’s always a plus to have the master of Motion Capture, Andy Serkis, doing what he does best.

Also, we get an appearance by Max Von Sydow! The Star Wars franchise has always liked slipping old pros in there with the new talent. People like Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are examples to the kind of veteran talent that has graced the Star Wars universe. Von Sydow may have had a very small part but it’s good to see such a talented actor make an appearance.

THE MEH (The mediocre/mildly distracting parts)

The background music…just meh! Not as good as earlier films.

It’s hard not to be distracted by the fact that this film follows the playbook of the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope a little too closely. Look at the progression… (1) Vital information is put into a droid to keep it safe from the bad guys. The droid ends up on a desert planet and meets the main hero/heroine of the story who undertakes a quest to bring it back to the alliance. (2) Our main characters flee the desert planet in the Millennium Falcon pursued by the bad guys. (3) Han Solo is (again) a smuggler who reluctantly gets involved in the adventure. (4) The villain is an Anakin Skywalker-style discontented young man with a Vader-like mask and some daddy issues who gets corrupted by the main villain and turns against his master, leading to the destruction of the Jedi. (5) General Hux is the Grand Moff Tarkin of ST:TFA. (6) Starkiller base is just a redo of the Death Star (and it’s destroyed in a very similar way) and the heroes are chased through the base in an effort to save the main female lead character. (7) A main character confronts the Vader-like villain Ren during the escape because he has a history with him, but is killed by Ren.

They probably should have given Luke a line or two. The two hour build-up deserved more than a 30—second cameo.

THE BAD:

The worst thing about Star Wars is Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He’s not that impressive or imposing. When it comes to being the main henchman for the chief villain, Ren scores low behind Vader, Darth Maul and Count Dooku. He’s more like young Anakin than full-Vader.

Kylo Ren is supposed to be experienced in using the Force but the unpracticed Rey out-Forces him, stealing the Light Sabre away from him. This is the guy Luke trained and snoke recruited?

Ren is supposed to be a complex or tormented bad guy, sulking over Darth Vader’s old helmet like Hamlet pining over poor Yorick. It seems at some points like we’re meant to like him but at other times he’s so evil he kills his own father. It reminds me of Mr. Freeze in “Barman and Robin” who alternates between mourning his wife and then spouting evil puns. Is he an anti-hero; a villain; a pawn of Snoke? Where is he coming from? I really don’t know how I’m supposed to react to him? 

Also, it might not have been a wise move to have your villain, Ren, so thoroughly defeated in the first film of a longer series. It’d probably be wiser to build-up to the villain’s defeat. Look at Vader…In SW4: A New Hope he killed Obi-Wan and in SW5: the Empire Strikes Back he defeated Luke, cutting off his hand. It took three movies before Vader finally got beaten. By having Ren being firmly defeated right out of the gate, it makes him a less formidable and less interesting villain. I know much of that has to do with the current popular trend of always having the women win male-verses-female fights, but if JJ Abrams and Disney were firm on not letting Rey lose a fight, they should not have had her fight Ren in the first film. After all, Luke didn’t fight Vader until the second film. (And didn’t beat him until the third.)

Even JJ Abrams himself sees the weaknesses in Ren as a villain. He said in an interview for entertainment Weekly, the only reason Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor to Vader is because he kills a much loved, legendary character. Abrams admits he had to do “something bold” in orer to get Ren over as a villain because he pales in comparison to his predecesor.  

So what’s the verdict?

It’s good. Not the best Star Wars film but it’s entertaining. If I were pressed to put all the Star Wars films in order, I’d put this as a tie for third place. The order would be…

 The Empire Strikes Back

 A New Hope

 The Return of the Jedi/ The Force Returns (tie)

 The Revenge of the Sith

 Attack of the Clones

 The Phantom Menace

This film delivers what you expect from Star Wars and has the proper spirit of the early classic films. It has its flaws and the villain (Ren) is very weak but overall, it’s a thumbs up.