7 Things Done Well in Star Wars VII 

  The Force Awakens is pitch perfect. It successfully balances the treasures of the franchise’s history with very cool new characters, gadgets and locations. Here are seven nice touches I really appreciate: 

  1. Restores Your Faith Right From The Opening. Although I miss the 20th Century Fox fanfare, I appreciate the studio executives’ restraint of not putting the Disney title card in front of the Lucasfilm title card. Right from the start, we get right into the Star Wars brand promise and what we all love about the franchise. Nothing impedes the story. But yet it feels fresh. J.J. Abrams must have been conflicted with whether to lean into all the conventions from the original films, or try something new. He managed to do both. In the first shot, you work out in your head that this film is not starting with a shot of an imperial starship (?!) but rather a planet. Then, a moment later, a giant imperial starship enters frame in front of the planet, restoring your faith—or at least your assumption —that this new film and trilogy will be more in keeping with the original brand promise than in the second trilogy’s errors (overindulgent CGI, Jar Jar Binks, overacting, too much midichlorean chit chat, etc).   
  2. Classic Conventions. J.J. Abrams consistently introduces classic elements of the franchise without too much pretension. For example: the Millennium Falcon is first referred to generically  as “junk” while it’s off screen; R2-D2 and C-3P0 enter relatively late in the film, and R2-D2 is even in the off position for much of his first appearance on screen; Princess Leia’s hair is pinned up in a bun, but not as two Cinnabons above her ears like in the original trilogy; there is a cantina scene reminiscent of A New Hope’s cantina scene and Empire Strikes Back’s Jabba the Hutt lair; the phrase “May The force be with you” is saved until near the very end of the movie, uttered from Leia to Rey, passing the torch from one generation to the next.   
  3. New Conventions. Instead of introducing far too many new conventions, certain Star Wars universe tech evolves from what we already know without becoming unnecessarily nostalgic. For example: Kylo-Ren’s light saber continues the light saber tradition yet still seems physiologically plausible, in as much as any light saber can be physiologically plausible (Ren’s saber has two knife-like “blades”   perpindicular to the long saber “blade” and also the “blades” have a unique burning texture); all the new helmets and costumes are very, very cool; BB-8 is in keeping with the R2-D2 tradition but seems updated accordingly to the 30 years that passed in the story line since Return of the Jedi portion of the canon; the new Starkiller Base is a nod to the death stars in episodes four and five, yet it’s very cool and demonstrates the Dark Side isn’t stupid enough to make the same flawed Death Star design mistakes three times; the Starkiller Base is built on a planet so there’s no cooling vents that X-Wings can exploit like in the first trilogy, and its enormous laser beam draws power from any given galaxy’s sun(s) and can destroy entire star systems (multiple planets).   
  4. Restraint. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” as Leonardo da Vinci once stated. I think restraint is the most powerful tool in an artist’s toolbox. How can one accomplish the most artistic impact with the least amount of evidence of the artist’s hand? For example: the musical score goes missing in the first minute or so of the scene when Han Solo confronts Kylo Ren—there is absolute silence, which many viewers won’t consciously recognize, but this is an incredibly creative way to make that scene unique—the viewer intuitively knows something is different here,  so the viewer must pay attention.   
  5. Humor. Abrams makes great use of humor but doesn’t leave a cheesy sitcom-like pause (wink wink) to allow the audience a chance to laugh. He simply moves on with the plot. Some examples: Fin gives BB-8 a thumbs up, and BB-8 pops open a little door on his spherical body and extends a little metallic arm with a cigarette lighter-like flame that acts as a return “thumbs up”; When Fin finally accepts his calling to lead and fight for justice, he becomes ginned up and excitedly demands to Captain Phasma—almost Diva-like, “I’m at charge! I’m in charge!” before Han Solo steps in and exhorts, “Back it down.”; There is a quaint running gag about the firepower of Chewy’s crossbow, which has a bigger, more potent sound when firing and a much more powerful effect on its targets then in the original trilogy, blasting those it hits some 20 or 30 feet backwards.  
  6. Good vs Evil Portrayed Well. Part of the allure of the Star Wars “universe” is that it is a good, old-fashioned western or war movie,—It’s just that it’s set in a galaxy far, far away. The good characters are motivated for the right reasons, and most of the time are reluctant to recognize they need to fulfill their duty in pursuing justice. The bad characters are  menacing, but also well-rounded enough that we understand how and why they succumbed to their evil nature. We see a struggle between good and evil not only between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” but also the struggle between good and evil within an individual character. In this film, that is most pronounced in Kylo Ren. And it is portrayed with sophistication and nuance, unlike the portrayals of Darth Vader in episodes 1-3.
  7. Don’t Do Stupid Stuff. No Gungans appear in the film. 

A couple things I personally felt distracted from the otherwise close-to-perfect film:

  1. I personally feel that the Supreme Leader Snoke was a bit too Lord of the Rings-ish.
  2. I wasn’t crazy about Maz Kanata (the orangish-yellow lady that had stored Luke Skywalker’s light saber for three decades), though, in all fairness, I’m not sure how I would’ve preferred that she be rendered (or cast). Maybe my lack of support for her is due to the fact that she reminds me of some of the cheesy character designs in The Phantom Menace. 

What did you like or not like about The Force Awakens? 

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Comments

  1. Great synopsis! It echoes many of the same thoughts/feelings I had after viewing it. Very pleased, and looking forward to future installments.

  2. For the life of me I cannot understand the reviews that this film is getting. There is absolutely no originality to the film, it is a total remake of Episode IV: A New Hope, the story and plot are totally predictable, and the characters (other then Rey, she was good) seemed out of place with no purpose. The bits of the story that attempted to be original were rushed with no flow to the story and made little sense. The Finn character had absolutely NO reason to be in this movie, and the actor cast to play him did not deliver a very good performance.

    As a lifelong fan of the Star Wars movies, I was extremely disappointed and left the theater wondering what I had just witnessed. The only positive to come out of this movie was the set-up for episode 8 at the end with Rey and Luke.

    By the way, Mr. Brown, you had better re-watch the original trilogy. The death stars appeared in Episodes IV and VI, not in what many would consider the greatest Star Wars movie, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back like you stated in your article.

    • I agree on Finn character and performance but I feel filmmakers needed to do somewhat of a retread of episode IV to win back original trilogy lovers. I felt there was some new cool characters and conventions in VII, but they just didn’t have screen time to build them out (Phasma was barely in the film), so I am hopeful that the next episode will expand the story lines of those characters and veer into new territory. I liked VII a lot better than an episode VI (Ewoks?) and surely better than I-III.

  3. Actually, when I saw Maz Kanata, I was thinking more of E.T.

  4. I agree with most of your review. I spent the 24hrs after seeing the movie trying to decide if it was a really good movie, or it was just really good at pulling my nostalgia strings. My gf who saw it with me (and isn’t much of a star wars fan) told me “Well, you enjoyed it, so does it really matter why? If you enjoyed it it must of been a good movie”

    And wow the nostalgia. The entrance of the falcon hit me the hardest (other than the opening scrawl). I had to physically hold back the tears.

    It seems to be getting a lot of grief for being a rehashed version of the 1977 original, but I didn’t mind. Other than a few core things (Rey being a somewhat Luke Skywalker, but not really. Plans in a droid, and another death star like weapon). Actually, they probably could of cut starkiller base completely out of the movie and it wouldn’t of changed anything. That’s really my only gripe with the story.

    My only real gripe with the move as whole, is that it really just served as setup for the next two movies. Which is ok I guess, and honestly if George Lucas ever though the original Star Wars in 1977 was going to be as successful as it was, he probably would of played ANH about the same.

    One thing I want to defend is Kylo Ren. Yes he is a bit of an angst teen type bad guy, and I much preferred him with the mask on. That being said, I think he’s what Anakin should of been in episode II & III. Honestly the film feels like it could be set between episode III & IV with the feel it has. The Empire/First order is just really starting to amass it’s power, Vader/Ren isn’t quite there yet but more intimidating than in episode III.

    But all the questions I have from the TFA reminds me why I fell in love with Star Wars. What’s the story on the guy that had the map for Luke at the start? How did Snokes convert Ben? What happened to C3P0’s arm that it’s red now? Is Rey a Skywalker? The originals sparked similar questions like these too, and those stories sparked the very rich Expanded Universe, which I was happy to see that this movie, while cancelling the EU for the most part, gave a nod with certain elements. What I’m trying to say, is this movie has sparked my imagination, unlike the prequels, which only spawned the singular question of when is vader going to become vader. In fact the prequels went the totally opposite direction, answering questions we never asked, like “What was boba fett like as a child”.

    Honestly I can see why somebody wouldn’t like this movie, because I feel like it was made for me, and not everybody has my tastes.

    Also, I’m really glad JJ isn’t directing the next one. I enjoyed the first Star Trek he did in 2009, but the complete rip off of Star Trek Into Darkness did on Wrath of Kahn was just terrible. If he did the same thing with Star Wars and ripped off ESB completely I’d be pissed. Yeah there were some themes from ANH in TFA, but not like Into Darkness did with Wrath of Kahn, right down to the “needs of the many” scene and the “KAAAAHHHHNNNN!!” scream. You can honestly say TFA wasn’t near as bad as that.

  5. What are people’s opinions on the fact that Finn didn’t tell anyone that The First Order had a massive weapon and the fact that the use of the lightsaber by Finn was arguably too proficient for even a wounded Ren to have had any difficulty dispatching him.

    • Re: Finn not telling of Starkiller Base, I guess I’m willing to think the creative team thought of those types of things and that they saw Finn as a deer in the headlights—a coward that didn’t think straight. Not sure why they made him light saber worthy. Even Luke had to train back in the day.

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