If you have not seen The Force Awakens and intend to without having anything ruined, do not read this.
On the Star Wars fan scale, I am not a blinded fanboy. I am also not a fanboy who loves Star Wars only when it works for me personally and trashes it when it doesn't. While I'm aware of, and agree with, most of the major criticisms leveled at the prequels, I am not a prequel hater.
This is to provide a degree of context as you read. I see the missteps and flaws in the Star Wars series. For whatever reason, I cut these movies slack I don't cut other movies. The explanation for that is likely for another place and time.
For now, I flat out loved The Force Awakens. I'm sure I'll watch it a bazillion times just like I have all the other movies, original and prequel. It's exciting to see Star Wars re-invigorated in a manner I expected to occur in 1999.
In the last two weeks, I have devoured quite a bit of commentary across the web and have seen consistent criticism in a few areas (all criticisms I've read in italics).
First: It's practically a shot-for-shot remake of the 1977 original.
Come on! No it's not.
Yes, I see all the echoes and callbacks. After initial viewing, I truly felt like all three original movies had been jam-packed into one movie. Even so, none of the echoes bothered me. I found all the "spins" rather fun and kicky.
I particularly enjoy that Rey has elements of Luke, Han, Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi wrapped up in one character and accept the term "re-mix" over "re-make."
One of the reasons people seemed to hate the prequels is because they didn't "feel" like "their" Star Wars. This movie goes a long way towards evoking that feeling and some people are still complaining!
Perhaps the film-makers chose to continue George Lucas' idea that moments in these movies should feel familiar and have a bit of "rhyme" to them. No matter what they did, they weren't going to please everyone.
Unless you're the director of a Star Wars movie, they are never going to be exactly what you want them to be. Disappointment is bound to happen.
Starkiller Base is way too easy to blow up, and its existence is lazy storytelling.
It's kinda tough to follow up a weapon that can destroy a planet. However, where the Death Stars are omnipresent from the getgo in Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, Starkiller Base doesn't show up until an hour into this movie. It's not the thing that drives the plot; it's secondary.
Han Solo even cracks a joke like, "There is always a way to blow [this sort of thing] up." Princess... er.... General Leia agrees. They know....
....and therefore the writers know. That exchange tells me that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan knew they were backed into a corner with what the weapon could be, and Starkiller Base is what they chose to go with. It was a risk. Whether it pays off depends on how much you're willing to forgive.
Since that aspect of the movie is completely secondary to fantastic character focus, I choose to look past the all-too-easy sub-plot. They had to get the X-Wings and Tie-Fighters battling over something. May as well be this. Doesn't bug me that much.
Having said that, if the idea gets recycled again in a future episode, yeah....pretty lazy.
The idea that Luke, Han and Leia weren't able to maintain peace in the galaxy, and particularly that Luke and Han ran away from their responsibilities after failure.
It's not like this movie begins three weeks after Return of the Jedi- it's 30 years!
If the movie opened with Luke, Han and Leia having always prevailed in the 30-year interim, then there would be no reason to believe they would not prevail every time. Where would the stakes and conflict for this continuation come from?
I like the idea that our heroes are battle scarred and weary in 30 years time. It gives all characters, new and old, something juicy to work with. Han "regressing" to a life of smuggling because he felt he let Leia and his son down makes total sense, as does Luke's reaction to undeniable pain over the death of all his Jedi students.
Han and Chewie find the Millennium Falcon way too easily. They just happened to be "flying by?"
My take on it is whatever tracking system they had on the Falcon was tied to the Falcon actually being in use. Rey says the ship hasn't flown in years, so it's not implausible that the minute she flies off, Solo's tracking device goes off. I don't think Han and Chewie just "happened" to be flying near the Jakku system. The film doesn't make it clear, but they may have gone through hyperspace to get to the Falcon.
Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader, or an equal villain to Darth Vader.
He's not supposed to be!
Given the iconography of Darth Vader, there is no way any newly introduced villain would hold a candle. The film-makers knew any villain would be compared or seen as a "Vader wanna-be" by fans. So, in an adept and brilliant move, they owned it and made the character a "wanna-be."
I will say though, that when Ren is doing his mind control thing while wearing that mask, he does come across quite threatening and spooky. Daisy Ridley is particularly effective at playing fear when he's around. Also, Kylo does something Luke Skywalker said he was unable to do - kill his father. Brutally, I might add.
It's implausible that Finn and Rey could survive against Kylo Ren in that lightsaber fight.
Not necessarily. The idea that Kylo is not as powerful with The Force as he wants to be is reiterated at several points. He obviously halted his Jedi training with Luke, so he may not be as great in his abilities as the audience with this complaint wants to think.
Finn may have gotten in a couple of lucky strikes, but overall he gets mauled and goes unconscious pretty fast.
Neither lightsaber face-off comes close to the over-choreographed and too perfect martial artistry of the prequel fights. Here it is mostly aggression, instinct and the clashing of swords, which feels just right - especially if people who have never held a lightsaber are involved.
Which brings me to Rey....
It makes no sense that Rey evolves so quickly with her power. It took Luke two movies to do what she does.
As Darth Vader was once written to say, "Don't underestimate The Force."
The film-makers know fans will scan every detail for flaws if they want to find them. The decision to have Rey "advance" so quickly is no throwaway.
Although Rey is initially frightened by Maz Kanata's words about The Force, she eventually decides to listen. She closes her eyes and The Force responds to her.
It's quite clear that when Rey decides to get quiet at a couple of crucial points in the movie -- especially when she uses the Jedi Mind Trick on the Stormtrooper -- that The Force is talking to her, or advising her on what to do, even if she doesn't realize that's what is happening.
Fans complained that Lucas made The Force too scientific in the prequels (although, don't we have a science vs. faith argument in reality?) and here, Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams take that back and push The Force in an even deeper direction.
Here, they've advanced the mysticism of what's possible through The Force by implying that it's so powerful that if it wants to be heard, it will be, even by the untrained.
Who knows? What if this is one of the ways Obi-Wan Kenobi became more powerful than possibly imagined? After all, we do hear both his voice and Yoda's during Rey's "force vision."
Viewing it this way makes the Force even more mystical. After all, the movie is called The Force Awakens.
Now, a few things I took issue with and haven't seen noted elsewhere.
How is it that Poe Dameron gets back to the Resistance? Why did he go back to the Resistance instead of continuing to search for BB-8?
This was glaring in the movie. In fact, when it went unexplained, it made me wonder if Poe was some sort of double agent.
I found my answer in the novelization for the film.
This by the way, is one of my few irritations with the Star Wars saga: answers to questions the movies bring up that can only be found in "tie-in" books or magazines.
Previous example: a major mystery of Attack of the Clones (who was the Jedi that ordered the clone army? Why? Who erased the cloning planet from the Jedi Archives?) is never resolved in that film or in Revenge of the Sith.
I found the answer in an "Official Collector's Edition" magazine (now likely long out of print) connected with the release of Revenge of the Sith.
If you're going to bring up a major story point in a movie - resolve it in a movie!
What happens to Poe may not be quite as important a plot point, but the novelization for The Force Awakens has a chapter devoted to what happens to Poe after the crash. It's a fairly major sequence and I'd be surprised if it was actually filmed, but an extra sentence during his reunion with Finn would have closed that loop.
If I do have a "worst offense" for The Force Awakens it's the scene where the main commander of the First Order, played by Domhnall Gleason, gives a rageful speech in front of a gazillion Stormtroopers.
The speech is not only crazy over the top for Star Wars (neither Peter Cushing or Ian McDiarmid had to do anything so unhinged to communicate "evil") but it culminates in a Nazi-esque salute from the Stormtroopers; a moment so obvious and "on the nose" it took me out of the movie. It just doesn't fit.
A few trivial quibbles. It's not clear what spurs Artoo-Detoo to insult See-Threepio after Threepio asks what seems like a perfectly logical question. Especially since Artoo has apparently been in a coma for quite some time. What was that about?
Speaking of Threepio, what's the deal with that red arm? He even comments to BB-8 that he needs to get his original arm re-attached, so it seems like a simple fix. There is a shot towards the end of the movie where the Resistance watches the Millennium Falcon leave and the arm is fixed. Also of note is that there is an all red protocol droid nearby in the same shot.
It's just seems an odd choice to give Threepio a red arm if it's easily fixed by the last shot and not explained why he had it to begin with.
Also, why exactly is Princess... er.... General Leia all gussied up at the end? Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to just to watch a ship take off and leave. Was there another medal ceremony we weren't invited to?
The fact that The Force Awakens has made more money in under two weeks than each individual prequel did in their entire theatrical engagements tells me that the choice to "echo" or "hit the familiar beats" on the part of the film-makers was the correct one.
They've struck the right chord not only with hard-core fans, but the more "middle of the road" fans such as myself, which I think make up the primary bulk of the Star Wars audience.
Despite any criticism or even minor quibbles, I enjoy the movies for what they are: a really great time, and a heckuva lot of fun to write about and debate afterwards.
Having seen The Force Awakens in all formats: 2D, 3D and 3D-IMAX, no presentation is bad, but I recommend 2D in a theater equipped with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. The presentation at The El Capitan Theater in Hollywood with those capabilities was most stunning of all.