As Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues its Wampa-sized box office haul, Star Wars fandom continues to debate the various unanswered questions, both fun and frustrating. While the movie is quite a bit of fun, just how good is it? Does it stand on its own virtues and break new ground, or is it just an overproduced bit of fan-fiction that relies on the enduring reputation of the other films to fill cinema seats?
Regardless, The Force Awakens fumbles in some pretty silly ways which will no doubt drive fans and casual moviegoers bonkers for some time to come.
Fair warning, of course: what follows from here is an in-depth discussion of plot points, so read no further if you’ve not seen the movie!
13. The Plot: Haven’t We Seen This Already?
If I described to you the movie where a droid carrying vital information critical to a resistance movement crashes on a desert planet and falls into the hands of a scrappy, young local with dreams of touring the galaxy, escapes aboard the Millennium Falcon, and is pursued by a Dark Force wielding, helmet-clad lunatic and his stormtroopers who control a planet-busting superweapon, which movie would I be describing?
Defenders of the plotting of The Force Awakens often cite the various cinematic allusions and homage in the original film to other cinematic milestones —The Hidden Fortress, The Searchers — as justification for the stale repetition of plot that is the newest entry. They’d do well to remember that, at the very least, the original film stole from sources outside the genre. The Force Awakens steals from Star Wars itself. That’s not an homage so much as it is a lazy rehash.
12. The Starkiller Makes No Sense At All
Physics and scientific accuracy have never been priorities when it comes to Star Wars storytelling; the genre of the series is less science fiction than science fantasy. For that reason, the audience doesn’t have a problem believing in hyperdrives or super weapons or swords made of light. Whole planets that can destroy solar systems, on the other hand, prove problematic.
Finn explains to the resistance that the First Order retrofitted a planet with a giant cannon that can destroy whole solar systems, and gains power by devouring whole stars, which raises a few questions. How can a planet survive without a star? Wouldn’t it become catastrophically cold and frozen over? Can the planet move from system to system, or does it sit in one place? If it flies through space, how does it not freeze? If it stays in one place, how can it fire more than once since it eats up a whole star? And just how does it know to split its massive blasts into mini blasts to hit different targets?
11. Leia Isn’t A Jedi
Carrie Fisher had to submit to a rigorous program of exercise and diet to lose more than 35 pounds for The Force Awakens! Forget, for a moment, the indignity of the studio and the director telling her she looked too plump to pass as Princess Leia. If she had to lose weight, why does she get nothing to do? One crucial theme in both the original and prequel trilogies is the way the Force runs in families. That’s why Yoda and Obi-Wan believe only Luke can defeat Vader. Certainly then, his twin sister must have similar powers! Why didn’t Luke do the logical thing and train his sister, who also shared his abilities? Leia clearly still has her sensitivity, as attested by her sensing Han Solo’s death on the other side of the galaxy. Why not go all the way and let Leia wield the lightsaber or display some actual Force training? She’s one of the original badass women of the movies, and The Force Awakens reduces her to standing around in a bunker the entire movie.
10. Finn Has No Character Arc
Both marketing and merchandise tie-ins with The Force Awakens touted Finn and John Boyega as the new lead in the film, which could not be further from the reality. The Force Awakens is Rey’s story through and through. She’s the one that finds BB-8. She’s the one that pilots the ship. Most of all, she’s the one who displays powers of the Force and defeats Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel because she chooses to use the Force. That last point is key: it’s what defines a protagonist.
Finn, by contrast and through no fault of Boyega is just riding along. Yes, he provides vital information to the Resistance and helps Han destroy the shields to the Starkiller. But besides that, how does he grow as a character? What’s his motivation? The first time we see him, he’s distraught over the death of a fellow stormtrooper and the Jakku villagers. He then chooses to defect from the First Order, but after that, he doesn’t really grow or change in any meaningful way, nor does he serve a vital role in the film’s climax — he’s unconscious the whole time!
9. Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie And Max Von Sydow Are Wasted
All three actors are remarkably talented: Christie commands the screen on Game of Thrones, Nyong’o has an Academy Award, and Von Sydow is nothing short of a cinematic legend. So why are they in the movie so little? Von Sydow’s role is nothing more than a bit part—apparently his character Lar Sar Takka has an elaborate backstory, but the movie doesn’t reveal it in any way. Christie’s role, too, is little more than incidental, and since we never even see her, why put her in that awesome chrome suit? By that same token, not seeing Nyong’o — one of the most beautiful women alive — feels like a massive cheat. Her role as Maz Kanata was originally supposed to be larger in the movie, but most of her scenes, including a massive Force battle, ended up on the editing room floor. What’s the point of hiring great actors and paying their massive salaries if they go unused?
8. Kylo Ren Is Crazy Powerful
…except when he isn’t. The first time Kylo Ren appears on screen he manages to freeze a blaster bolt in mid air with the Force, a power even the likes of Darth Vader and Yoda never even mustered, not to mention all the Jedi shot by their own clone troopers. So what gives? More to the point, why doesn’t Ren use that trick again when Rey shoots at him outside Maz Kanata’s castle, or better yet, when Chewbacca shoots him after he murders Han?
Moreover, Ren also has Force powers of interrogation; he can make people freeze in place or fall asleep at will. And Snoke says his training isn’t even complete! Even granting that Ren might have an even stronger connection to the Force than Vader or Yoda doesn’t really address his strange over-powered nature.
By that same token, his powers seem to suddenly fade in his final lightsaber duels with Finn and Rey. Chalk Rey’s survival up to her own Force powers, but Finn? Kylo Ren should have been able to behead him with no effort at all!
7. Rey Is Powerful, But Remains Untrained
Speaking of the overpowered…remember how hard Luke had to concentrate just to move his lightsaber a few feet in The Empire Strikes Back? Or remember how handily (pun intended) Vader defeated him at the end of that film? Until The Force Awakens, learning the Force was serious business and took years. Rey, however, is magically able to use Force mind control, telekinesis and hold her own in a lightsaber duel against the also-absurdly powered Kylo Ren without any training at all! How’s that possible?
Rey’s Force powers, like her family background could be issues explored in a future film (more on that issue in a moment), but without a satisfying explanation, the entire third act of The Force Awakens begins to fall apart. It’s not enough to hope for a clarification, it had better be a good one! And while we’re on the subject…
6. The Mary Sue Problem
Some detractors of the film have called it a “Mary Sue.” The term is an old writer’s expression for fan fiction wherein some fan would write a script about a new, all-powerful character joining a story and saving all the familiar characters…and said avatar is just a projection of the writer. Critics have called Rey a “Mary Sue” character, given all her crazy powers and penchant for saving the day. They’re half right.
The Force Awakens is a “Mary Sue” story, but the key character isn’t Rey, it’s Kylo Ren. Ren exists as a projection of writer/director J.J. Abrams and his insecurities. Consider: like Ren who tries to continue the perceived legacy of Darth Vader and who suffers massive envy of his grandfather, Abrams has modeled his films — in particular, the Star Trek series — on Star Wars.
He sees his hiring as a mandate to continue the series as he sees fit. His main rival in this endeavor is Kathleen Kennedy, CEO of Lucasfilm. Much like Kylo Ren challenging Rey for control of Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber, and therefore, the family legacy, Abrams had to contend with Kennedy for creative authority.
5. Droid Ex Machina
Beloved character R2-D2 spends most of the movie in a droid coma, apparently in “low power mode” since the departure of Luke Skywalker some 10 years prior. This development, of course, raises a number of questions: why can’t the Resistance just press the reset button? Why can’t they connect him to another computer to scan his memory banks? Certainly this simple interaction of technologies which exists in our own world must also exist in the ultra-advanced technology of Star Wars!
Even more perplexing, R2 wakes up at a key moment near the end of the film, and without any reason. It’s almost as though the little droid knew the movie needed to end, and took it upon himself to wrap everything up at an opportune moment. Like Finn’s actions throughout the movie, R2’s awakening has no motivation beyond what the movie needs him to do at any given moment.
4. Luke Is Barely In The Movie
Given the ridiculous seven-figure paycheck plus gross and merchandising points that Disney/Lucasfilm must have dished out to get Mark Hamill to return to his signature role, and given that Hamill went through a rigorous workout routine to lose 50 pounds, it’s an utter cheat that he has no dialogue and appears on screen for 90 seconds at most. Early script drafts apparently had a much larger role for Luke, but when J.J. Abrams took over script control, he reduced his role to a cameo. In fairness, in the context of the movie —Luke himself becomes a sort of Macguffin — the move works. On the other hand, since this is the last opportunity for Han, Luke and Leia to appear on screen together, his cameo feels like a wasted opportunity.
Besides wasting the protagonist of the original trilogy, the move calls into question some of Luke’s life choices. How exactly did he allow the Knights of Ren to kill all his Jedi students? And why, for goodness sake, did he not go after Ren, dispatching his nephew at the first possible opportunity? You might argue Luke is a pacifist, but that didn’t stop him from at least confronting Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, or from killing countless stormtroopers and alien scum throughout the trilogy. Ultimately, Luke comes off more irresponsible than anything else.
3. How Is Poe Alive?
Poe Dameron emerged as one of the breakout characters from The Force Awakens and actor Oscar Isaac seems on the brink of major stardom. Giving him lots of screen time makes good sense…but the execution doesn’t. Poe crash lands on Jakku leaving only his jacket behind, and Finn simply leaves him for dead. Later in the movie, Poe reemerges at an opportune moment without any explanation. In a word: how? How does Poe survive the crash? How does he get off Jakku? And perhaps most importantly, why doesn’t he go looking for BB-8, the object of his search in the first place?
It came as no surprise that Poe was never meant to survive the movie; only after Isaac appealed to J.J. Abrams to survive did the character get a role in the third act of the film. Adding more Poe to the movie is welcome, but the methods Abrams used are nothing short than sloppy and lazy.
2. Nothing Gets Explained
Elements of mystery have always been key to the allure of Star Wars — the origins of Darth Vader, the fate of the Jedi, the identities of Luke’s family — have all fueled the success of the series by igniting conversation between fans. The Force Awakens tries to strike a similar tone, but rather than producing mysteries, it simply creates vagueness. What exactly is the Resistance in relation to The Republic? Why can’t the Republic fleet aid them? Are we supposed to believe that the destruction of one planet caused the entire Republic to fall?
Most egregious of all: the crazy Force powers of Kylo Ren and Rey stand at odds with everything else we’ve ever seen in the series and the movie offers no explanation for them. Granted, Disney has made clear that countless sequels and spinoffs will follow The Force Awakens, leaving fans to assume these issues will get addressed in future installments. To some degree, that’s fair, and utilizes the serialized nature of the series. At the same time, however, it’s a mammoth conceit, milking the audience for more time and treasure just to get a movie they have already paid to see to make sense.
Quite simply, The Force Awakens cannot stand on its own as a film, and is more an exercise in marketing nostalgia than a movie. It offers the flavor of the other films, but none of the sustenance, ultimately failing to advance the series in any meaningful way.
1. Character Assassination
There’s no other way to see this: the happy ending of Return of the Jedi means nothing. To some extent that was probably inevitable in order for the series to continue. On the other hand, the method Abrams employs to further the story destroys our beloved returning characters. Luke has failed to start a new Jedi order and deserted his friends. Leia has failed as a mother to her son. Han has failed as both a father and a husband, abandoning Leia and their son, Ben Solo, and returned to smuggling. What did our characters do to deserve this level of assassination? Couldn’t they have succeeded as politicians/family/spouses/leaders and still faced a new, dire threat from the First Order?
The fragmentation of the original trilogy’s trinity of characters isn’t just frustrating, it’s sad. Even if further movies could elaborate on the 30 years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens and give Han, Luke & Leia a more proper final adventure, it could do nothing but doom them to fail.
Don’t get me wrong, The Force Awakens is a fun movie, dripping with nostalgia for the original Star Wars trilogy. But that’s also the problem: the movie seems so concerned with recreating the look, feel, and style of the original movies that it forgets to become a movie of its own. It’s a fine start to the deluge of Star Wars movies to come, but not much of a film itself.