At the beginning, the usual reminder: Don’t read any further than this if you don’t want to get terribly SPOILERED! SPOILER ALERT!
So, the most anticipated cinema experience of the year. What do I think about it? It’s hard to say, having just emerged from it, but I’m afraid it’s accuarate to say that it feels … shallow to me. As Richard Brody from the New Yorker put it in his review: “The movie is fast-moving […] yet it feels sluggish throughout, because the speed of thought is slow.” Yes. That’s just it. I got bored. I shouldn’t have gotten bored. This is STAR WARS! Yet, I did. While watching, I was thinking that the film was approaching the three hour mark when its total running time was only 135 minutes, including end credits.
To explain why I wasn’t as thrilled with the movie as I hoped (yet did not expect) to be, I need to get deep into the plot. Once again, if you don’t want to spoil your first-viewing experience, use the EXIT HERE! Final warning over, here goes. I will now slowly walk you through the plot and give my thoughts and views of specific sections in italics.
The status quo of the galaxy far, far away, as the movie begins, is a kind of stalemate between the New Republic that emerged from the victorious Rebel Alliance after its triumph over Endor and a kind of new Empire called the First Order. There’s also something called the Resistance, which I can’t quite figure out.
Yes, there’s a kind of Empire II. We don’t know how it relates to the old one, if it sees itself as its heir, or if it is something completely new that just makes use of the ressources and ornaments of its predecessor. Regarding the Resistance – what the heck is that supposed to be? Isn’t the Republic in control anymore? Why the term “Resistance”? Why would you need a “Resistamce” if you have an army? How much of the galacxy does this First Order rule? What’s the political situation? One of my grievances with the film is that these questions remain unanswered.
This new antagonistic group is led by an ominous person, present only, in good old Palpatine/Sidious fashion, as a hologram in dark chambers. This leader is called Supreme Leader Snoke.
Snoke. Kind of a lame name.
The important antagonist of this story, though, is Kylo Ren, his Darth Vader-like executioner, complete with mask and everything, who seems to suffer from an inferiority complex towards the dead Great One.
Apparently, they’re not Sith, but they are the classical master-student pair. If you’re becoming wary of an emerging “Just-Like” pattern, you better put the seat belt on, because there’s so much more like this coming.
Luke Skywalker is missing. Leia Organa, still a general, lets people search for him and one of her pilots finds a clue on some Tatooine-like planet. For some reason some guy in a village there has part of a map that leads to Skywalker. How he got that, we never find out. Of course, not that important, but still. Contingency appreciated.
As the pilot intends to mount his X-wing and leave with the proof, Kylo Ren and his storm troopers (do we still call them that?) find and capture him, but not before he gives the precious piece of information to his loyal R2D2-stand-in. I’ll call him Ball Robot. Ball Robot takes off into the desert.
Should we still call this homage – or just plain lack of ideas?
Oh, yes, and while the storm troopers are annihilating the village, one of them doesn’t participate and seems disturbed by it.
Ren later interrogates the spy on his ship and finds out about the droid, which, on the face of the planet, finds its way into a poor settlement, where a young metal scavenging woman finds it and takes it in. Meanwhile on the ship, the storm trooper with a conscience frees the spy, hoping for his collaboration in his own escape.
Things work out, they capture a TIE fighter and manage to travel down to the planet where they crash in the sand. When Finn (as the pilot named him) wakes up, he is alone and has to assume the pilot is dead. He makes his way to the next settlement where he meets the droid and the girl, her name, by the way, is Rey. Out of convenience, he introduces himself to her as a fighter for the Resistance, but before they can talk more, the First Order attacks and they have to escape.
Runnng from blaster fire, they jump on an old ship anyone who’s ever seen any of the old movies will instantly recognize. A big spaceship chase – Millenium Falcon vs TIES, once more – ensues and we get to see lots of moves we know from the old movies. After they manage to escape, Rey decides to take the droid with the sensible information to the Resistance headquartes. Finn goes along with it, because he has no better idea. What happens instead, though, is that the old owner of the ship retakes his posession. We meet Han and Chewie, yeah!
They’re in some sort of typical smuggler’s dilemma, which takes some time to get out of, but after they’ve made their escape, they all go to the Resistance’s headquarters together. At least I think that’s what it is. Importantly, it’s a place where a strange, wise alien lady who kind of looks, speaks and acts like Yoda (srsly?) examines Finn and Rey turns out to be sensitive to the Force by finding Luke’s old blue light sabre. She has dark visions and runs off scared just at the time when Ren attacks them. They all fight, but Ren manages to take the girl hostage, a girl he seems kind of wary of, why exactly I can’t remember or we’re not supposed to know yet, in the end, it must be, because she’s open to the Force. Oh, yeah, and earlier, in an interlude with Ren and his ugly-named master Snoke we find out that he’s Han and Leia’s fallen son.
Once more, a father-son-drama. Really, why are they just recycling the old movies? Didn’t Disney have a whole universe full of original stories at its disposal?
Han witnesses Ren taking of with Rey. Later, when Leia comes with reinforcement from the Resistance, he tells her and they both mourn for him, but she urges him not to give up on their son yet.
(This, to the viewer, seems justified, because through Rey’s eyes and the camera’s, we learn that Ren is a torn, troubled youth who seems unsure of himself and less in command when not wearing the mask. How he got hold of Vader’s molten mask also remains unclear.)
We then find out why Luke left: because he failed Ren and other Jedi he tried to train. What exactly happened, remains a mystery. What happens then is a combination of the final battles of Episode IV and VI. Suddenly, the First Order has an ultimate weapon, like, ten times bigger than the Death Star and it uses it to destroy about five planets at a time. Before it reaches them, the members of the Resistance have to destroy it by bombing the shit out of something on its surface. That thing, though, is shielded, so they need a ground force to take out the shield generator. Finn volunteers, but hides that he mainly wants to rescue Rey. Han and Chewie, of course, come with him. They have experience with this stuff after all.
So, next we get some scenes that are very reminiscent of the Episode IV sneaking around on the Death Star passage. And apparently they kill an unarmed prisoner (Brienne from Game of Thrones) by stuffing her into a trash chute.
What happens then is obviously the core of the movie and the big reason people will be talking a lot about it. In a scene that’s pretty well executed dramatically, Han urges his son to return with him, to give up on this terrible darkness tearing him apart, as he himself admitted. And Ren (Ben, Han calls him. Obi-Wan, anyone remember?) seems to heed his father’s words – until he kills him, along with his inner conflict. Pierced by the red-glowing light sabre of his son, Han looks at him lovingly and in shock, then falls into the void.
Though I like the scene, I again feel very much reminded of a scene from the old movies, namely Vader killing Obi-Wan in front of Luke. Why so much sameness, J.J. Abrams, why?
More action ensues. A saddened Chewie, Rey and Finn manage to get out of the facility, but there Ren waits for Finn and Rey. Finn, who carries the light sabre Rey didn’t want, engages Ren, but gets defeated. Just as Ren wants to kill him, we find out Rey can use the Force pretty well already and battles him. And wins.
Yes, a first-time Force user manages to defeat a trained soldier guy, who, at the beginning of the film, appeared to be pretty powerful before turning into a yelling, slashing teen in his protest phase. Maybe he doesn’t have full command because of his feelings, but that appears to be kind of against what the previous stories told us. Unhemmed passion made the users of the Dark Side stronger in terms of brute strength and fighting, but Ren, he seemed to completely lose it. Lots of shenanigans going on in this fight, IMHO.
He remains alive, however, and then Chewie comes with the Falcon and takes her and an unconscious Finn off the planet. Climax over. Old Snokey Snokeson, who looks like a caracature of the equally ugly alien guy sitting on the throne in Avengers films, calls back his servant to finish his training, so maybe he can surpass Vader and be finally happy, if that indeed was the root of his insecureness.
Rey on the other hand becomes the new Han and together with an already cheerful again Chewie takes off to find Luke. Why it’s only her and not just Leia or other representatives of the new … Republic? or whatever the political system is, remains unclear. The end is very hasty. Rey finds Luke on an island on some planet and she offers him his sword. During his two seconds of screen time, Mark Hamill looks at here painfully and doesn’t take the sword. The end.
What I DID like very much were the last scene with Luke and the scene between Han and Ren. That’s where the power was, the mystery, the salt. The rest of it was just kind of a plot. Like Richard Brody wrote. The plot progressed too slowly for the thought, even though many things happened.
Visually, the film reminds me of Star Trek, kinda nice.
Musically, I was underwhelmed. Even though John Williams was the composer, we weren’t given a remarkable new JW Star Wars theme.
The non-digital alien costumes were definitely a plus.
Mostly I was unhappy about the lack of … familiarity. Maybe it’s because we don’t find out anything about what happened after Episode VI, so we don’t really know in what kind of world we are in this film. Also due to lack of information, there’s not much depth to the characters. Most of what there is to find out about them seems to have been pushed into Episode VIII, which seems poised to be really great if all these open questions get answered then.
Sorry if this reads sloppy or incoherent, but it’s late. I just came from the movie and just had to get this out of my finger tips. I’ll definitely have to see the movie at least one more time, but what I really can say is this: Don’t fall for the hype. Judge it like you would any other movie and you’ll see that it has flaws. Still enjoyable, though, and has potential.
Who is Snoke and where did he come from? What drives him?
What happened with Luke and Han’s son?
What’s the political situation?
What’s Rey’s past?