Reign of Terror – The Force Awakens

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Let me preface this by saying this was a good movie, and if you’ve yet to see it, you should go out and see it. If you like Star Wars, you’ll most likely like this movie. At the time of this writing, I can say I liked this movie… but I don’t love this movie, and that’s the problem I’m going to talk about for this review. Now unlike Rob, I’m not judging this purely as a movie, I’m judging it from the perspective of a diehard Star Wars EU nerd. Let us begin.

The Force

If you’ve not already read my previous article, perhaps you should. I couldn’t mention my Force Awakens-specific complaints about the Force there, but I can here. Basically, I do not like how the Force is portrayed in this movie.

We have characters like Kylo Ren running around doing things like mindtricks and stopping blaster bolts in mid air, but no character that represents a goal for the others. In The Phantom Menace, we had Qui-Gon as a Jedi Master running around, so we knew someday Obi-Wan and young Anakin would be like him. In the original trilogy, we had Yoda and Obi-Wan acting as this for Luke. Here, there’s nobody and the Force isn’t at the heart of the movie. It feels like a last minute thing that’s intruding on the plot.

The Dark Side

In this movie, it’s presented as the opposite of the “light side”. It’s presented as a balanced counterpart, when that’s not what it actually is. The dark side is a cancer that eats away at the force and the person using it. When Anakin fell to the dark side, he killed a bunch of children, choked his wife and then fought his best friend in life or death battle. The dark side is a drug and when you taste it, you keep going down further and further until it consumes you. From the dialogue given, we know Kylo’s been using the dark side for quite some time by the time the film comes around, so there[s no reason for him to be “tempted by the light.”

In that video, the brother dressed in white kills his other without mercy or hesitation just from falling to the dark side for a few moments. That’s the dark side. Kylo Ren has killed swaths of people in the time before the movie, so he should’ve long been securely held by the dark side. You can’t just choose to leave it; you need to be redeemed by someone, like Luke did for Vader.

Kylo Ren

Since he came up in the previous section, I may as well knock it out right now. Kylo is a weak point in the film. He doesn’t impact the plot at all in anything he does. You can remove him from the movie and the only thing changes is he doesn’t bring Rey to the Starkiller base. Even his final confrontation with Rey and Finn is pointless because the base is already being destroyed. No character but Han or Leia even acknowledges that he’s around. Compare that to Vader where he was a very real threat to every character and decisions were made how to enact plans just because Vader was around. Kylo’s presence just doesn’t measure up. He’s there clearly just to set up his role in future movies, but that’s just boring and wastes everyone’s time.

What also stuck out to me about Kylo Ren was the writing decision to show him freaking out with his lightsaber whenever he got angry. No, you don’t need that. It’s childish and doesn’t convey true anger as far as Star Wars is concerned. Think back to Revenge of the Sith where Darth Vader is still attached to the metal operating table. He was so angry that the entire room was being crushed under the weight of his rageThat is how you show rage (just… don’t do the “nooooooooo” part). That said, this is a major flaw with this movie, and it’ll sound weird, but The Force Awakens has too much show and not enough tell. There isn’t nuance in the film, and everything is spectacle.

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And none of these have the Sith Yellow Eyes. He’s even scarier with those.

The next bit it I don’t buy Kylo Ren as being angry inside. When you look at any scene in Revenge of the Sith where Anakin is just staring at anything by himself, you can just feel how angry, sorrowful and confused he is inside, and how those emotions are just bubbling to the surface. A lot of people give Hayden flack for his acting, but he doesn’t deserve it. It was Lucas’ directing, and you can see that based on just how damn good his body language was, something only the best actors are capable of getting across. Kylo Ren just isn’t believable.

Finally, let’s talk about his lightsaber. Watch the movie and see how forced his maneuvers feel because he has to be careful the side blades don’t cut off his own arm or impale his chest. His movements are stiff and slows the fight down, whereas a typical lightsaber would allow for more nimble and fluid movements. His lightsaber’s just meant to look unique, but nobody really put any thought into it.

Kylo and Rey

These two characters really stuck out to me. Not because they’re particularly noteworthy, but because of:

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Pictured: Jaina Solo vs Jacen Solo

They’re such obvious stand-ins for Jacen and Jaina Solo. Jacen and Jaina are Han and Leia’s twin children, boy and girl, who were born after Return of the Jedi in the now-defunct Expanded Universe. Lumiya, Dark Lady of the Sith, seduced Jacen to the dark side and he took up the name Darth Caedus. His sister was also strong in the force, and believed strongly in the Jedi cause, so she was tasked with defeating him, and so she did in a brutal final confrontation with him.

This leaves me thinking “Why did we need to reboot the canon again?” Because all they’ve done is taken these things from the old Expanded Universe and have brought them over to the new canon but with different names. The thing is, Jacen and Jaina Solo work better than Kylo and Rey, and here’s why: they have everything Kylo and Rey have, but with the added layer of being brother and sister.

In the movie, Kylo probes Rey’s mind and says he sees that she thinks of Han as the surrogate father she never had (mind you, by this point she’s been with Han for less than a day), and then later on when he kills Han she calls him a monster. Okay. Now imagine if the two of them were actual brother and sister. They’d have all of what I mentioned just now, but also they’d have to deal with their familial bond. Indeed, when Jaina finally slew Caedus, there was a brilliant scene where she hugged his body and wept for her fallen brother, and this isn’t even mentioning how devastating it was for her when she found out he had gone to the dark side. Jaina would’ve been unlike most lead female characters with how mechanical and logical her thought process is, and how she lacks the stereotypical nurturing nature that is associated with female characters (nevertheless, thank you, Disney, for preserving the gender and racial diversity of the now-defunct Expanded Universe).

This might be one of the reasons I just couldn’t get invested in Rey and Kylo: I’ve seen them before and I’ve seen them done better. It doesn’t help that the movie gives absolutely no time to backstory or explaining anything. Why are Rey’s parents gone? What bond did she have with them that made her stick to Jakku all these years? What’s Kylo’s deal? Why hasn’t he fully embraced the dark side? All of these are relevant questions that the movie just ignores in favor of swashbuckling action.

Lord Vader

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They try to give Kylo some issues, but the Vader stuff feels tacked on. Let me explain by first explaining how Darth Caedus viewed Vader. Caedus wanted to believe he went to the dark side for good reasons, and that he wasn’t simply tricked into it. Through meditation and contemplation via the force, he’s able to see how his grandfather fell to the dark side. This puts his mind at ease because he sees that his grandfather’s reason for going to the dark side was selfish and foolish compared to his.

Why is that important, you might wonder?

It is important because the writers aren’t having characters act as if Vader is some kind of infallible figure. Vader is bigger than Star Wars, so to have that character be denigrated by someone in-story is a pretty big deal and shows a level of maturity in writing that The Force Awakens doesn’t have. We have Kylo Ren literally bowing to Vader’s melted mask and saying how he wants to be like his grandfather, and then we have another character state how Kylo is scared he’ll never measure up to him. No, no. Unless you’re going to somehow revive the character, Vader is the past, so don’t let him be bigger than the characters you’re trying to build for the future. You can still indulge in Vader, but don’t do it at the cost of your new characters.

In fact, this goes for Han, Leia and all the other old characters still around. The new characters are in awe of the old ones, almost like the writers needed stand-ins for themselves to laud the original characters, as if to say, “Hey moviegoers, these new characters fanboy/girl over the old characters that you fanboy/girl over! Aren’t they relatable?!” That’s pandering.

No exposition

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The Prequel trilogy focused on the galaxy moving from a state of stability and peace to the bleak galaxy of insurrection that the Original trilogy showed off, whereas the Original trilogy’s focus was mostly on the three protagonists and Vader’s trials. Seeing as Disney wants to be as distant from the prequels and the stigma attached to them as possible, it makes some sense to follow the OT’s model by not focusing too much on world-building, but that makes the galaxy boring and undefined, especially with the annexing of the Expanded Universe.

We’re never told how the galaxy has changed since Return of the Jedi, nor how the First Order rose, nor who Snoke is, nor how the First Order works, nor why Anakin’s force ghost hasn’t showed up to tell Kylo he’s being an idiot, nor how Kylo Ren got Vader’s mask, nor how the First Order has the resources to hollow out a planet and create a death star without the Republic knowing, nor how the Republic is a threat to them at all when they have that many resources—all crucial world-building facts completely ignored.

The Knights of Ren

Snoke looks like a Sith, talks like a Sith and acts like a Sith. He should be a Sith. The Knights of Ren should be Sith. This is being new for the sake of being new, rather than making the story fresh. It’s shallow. The First Order looks and acts like the Empire, so why isn’t it just the Empire? “Why isn’t it just [Insert old familiar thing here]” is what this movie eventually comes down to: a lot of things are named differently just to be different when they’re really the same.

Death Star 3

Starkiller Base, or Megadethstar as one of my friends noted it, blowing up the Republic Capital was a fairly pointless scene because it had no build up to it. When the Death Star blew up Alderaan, it meant something because we’re told how much that place mattered to Leia and then Obi-Wan’s words about it hammer home the impact. Starkiller Base blowing up those Republic planets that none of the characters seem to really care about is… just a colorful scene.

Final thoughts

Lucas was right when he said:

“I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.”

It hits nostalgia and is pretty self-indulgent in it, but I’m 23. My first Star Wars film was The Phantom Menace, and I watched all the movies in chronological order, not discovering the Original Trilogy until I was 17. Even though Empire became my favorite Star Wars film over Revenge of the Sith, I have no nostalgia for the Original Trilogy. I can look at this movie objectively, and all those winkyface references made in the movie did nothing for me.

This is definitely a movie made for fans of the originals and is what many fans have wanted for years. This is not a movie that can stand on its own merits, however, and is best after having watched the six (or three) previous movies. It lacks a soul and feels very paint by the numbers, as if all the elements that made Episode 4 just got cut up and carefully glued back together with a new coat of paint. Episodes 1 was mediocre and Episode 2 was trash, but when I watch those I can feel the passion behind them. All Lucas needed was someone capable to execute his ideas better instead of all the yes men around him, but those movies had heart. Episode 3 is Lucas hitting his stride, and it was leaps and bounds better than this movie.

Overall, I say this movie is a 6/10.

Where does it rank in the annals of Star Wars movie history?

  1. Empire Strikes Back: 9.5/10
  2. Revenge of the Sith: 9/10
  3. A New Hope: 8/10
  4. Return of the Jedi: 7.5/10
  5. The Force Awakens: 6/10
  6. The Phantom Menace: 6/10
  7. Attack of the Clones: 4.5/10
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