So I caught Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens last night, which means it’s high time for a review. Beware, Star Destroyer-level spoilers ahead.
So, right off the bat, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. I’ll kick off with what I enjoyed.
Obviously, at a basic level, the generally Star Warseyness of it all. Droids. Space freighters with tentacle monsters. X-wings battling TIE fighters. Stormtroopers. Light sabre duels. All these things salve my soul. On a more detailed level, I’ve been a long-running critic of the franchise writer’s inability to incorporate more believable military doctrine into its set-piece battles (I’m a War Studies graduate, what can I say?). That’s been addressed somewhat in VII, with First Order troopers calling in airstrikes, relying on air support and generally being slightly more effective and intimidating than the Failtroopers of old. Speaking of, how badass is Captain Phasma? It’s criminal that she didn’t have a bigger role, but in fairness to J. J. Abrahams he didn’t realise how much the fans would love her. Apparently she’s not dead (yay!) and will have a bigger role in Episode VIII. I hope she finally makes Storm Troopers a (lower-case f) force to be reckoned with.
Sticking with the bad guys, I also liked the slightly mad-eyed General Hux. Unlike the simpering Imperial commanders of old, he takes absolutely no s**t from Kylo Ren, which is refreshing. Hopefully, like Phasma, he continues to give the Resistance a real run for its money, and doesn’t just regress to disposable villain sidekick.
Turning to the Light side of the Force, I thought both Fin and Ray were great (and I think Daisey Ridley has great acting talent), BB-8 was sufficiently adorable, and I like how they kept Luke more or less out of this first new installment. Sometimes it’s best to play the long game. Also, Poe Dameron, the X-wing pilot, had a great retro Star Wars feel about him.
This is where most of the 3 of my 5 stars come from. Where are the other two? Well, I’ll address my biggest beef first of all. And that was
THE DEATHSTAR MARK III
Seriously. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall when the creative team were all sitting round a table and someone said “right everyone, for the finale, how about they attack… an even bigger Deathstar.” And everyone cheered. Presumably.
I feel like I’m the only person in the world that hates the presence of the Star Killer, but I just can’t shake it. I mean I think it’s terraforming was cool. And the symbolism of it sucking up a sun and turning everything dark was also pretty awesome. But beyond that I’m left screaming why. It’s so ridiculous the film actually has to address it in-plot during the Resistance briefing, with one officer being like “it’s another Deathstar” and then everyone agreeing they’ll just destroy it the way they always do. The fact that it’s a BIGGER BADDER DEATHSTAR THAT CAN DESTOROY A BUNCH OF WORLDS AT ONCE just makes it more cringeworthy, as does the fact it was once again stopped from firing with 30 seconds to go. I want to find the guy designing all these evil doom machines with their one big exploitable structural flaw, and Force-choke the hell out of him.
By the time the finale fight was underway I’d actually just about come to terms with Star Killer. I could see a way the plot could be salvaged. The Resistance were going for the weak core, just as they had done in Episodes IV and VI. It had to be a trap, right? I could see it in my mind’s eye – the Resistance takes the killing shot, everyone cheers. Then cut to the bridge of the Star Killer. Grim-faced, General Hux orders his subordinates to “activate the stabilising systems.” To the Resistance’s horror they realise Star Killer has a falesafe, and they haven’t actually dealt it a fatal blow. It would even have helped the Deathstar-loving script writers, because then they’d have gotten to use their doom-laser-planet in Episode VIII as well.
But no, true to past form, it just dies. At least all the villains make it off.
The presence of Star Killer actually summed up what I didn’t like about Episode VII. For large chunks of the film I felt as though I was watching an extremely high-budget Star Wars fanfic production. It was a love letter, written by Abrahams and addressed to the childhood nostalgia of millions of fans. Which in itself is fine, but it wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t really go to see another droid evading Stormtroopers with vital hidden plans, or X-wings wrecking another doom machine, or a desert world that’s Definitely Not Tatooine (I get there were lots of little differences, but still, there are a lot of the worlds in the galaxy that don’t involve scavenging sand peoples). Of course I appreciate the nostalgia as much as everyone else (go Millennium Falcon, go!), but it felt like too much of a carbon copy. It made me appreciate just how much the prequel trilogy really did explore new territory.
Hopefully this has been done to plug a fresh generation into the style and feel of the Star Wars franchise. Presumably the next films (and the spinoffs, which I’m really looking forward to) will now forge ahead with new, unexplored plotlines and settings.
The Force is strong in this series. The Originals have it. The Prequels have it. The new trilogy has it. They just need to not be afraid to explore it in full.