“Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain. Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing. We knew we needed to do something fucking bold. The only reason why Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor is because we lose one of the most beloved characters.” – J.J. Abrams
I thought it had been established that cheaply killing off a character for mere emotional impact was recognised as plain bad writing. Traditionally it has been a wife, girlfriend, daughter or red-shirted security guard that gets it, but in The Force Awakens it’s Han Solo. Yes, you read that right. Han Solo, killed to further the development of yellow pack villian Kylo Ren. Ren is like a less annoying mopey teen Anakin and is sure to fall by the wayside along with the likes of Darth Maul and whatever the other baddies were in the terrible prequel films. Did I mention there were spoilers? Well done Disney for spoiling Star Wars by taking a step not even Lucas would have – Solo was among the characters he said were not okay to kill for the books. The world guffawed when Lucas’ story for the new films was dumped but it’s easy to see now why he feels he just sold his children to white slavers.
Looking at the film stand-alone, it starts out quite strongly. By and large its makers seem to have understood that the original trilogy was strong when people weren’t talking and the mysterious world of Star Wars was shown to us (show, don’t tell). This is how the characters are introduced (when we’re not on some roller coaster or other) and it’s sustained right up to the entrance of a ridiculous, tentacled CGI monster that’s only there to get our heroes out of a tight spot. The middle of the film is pretty poor and reminiscent of the prequels. There’s more talking and a sorry CGI Yoda rip-off. From there it starts to recover up until the moment where Solo follows his son onto a catwalk. We know what’s going to happen and we know it’s going to be mighty cheap. It is. This kind of thing is just lazy writing. To top it off, our heroine gets a second emotional boot when a love interest also gets it. There was a lot of rage on the internet around the terrible second Avengers film because a female character was captured. This rage seemed to not understand why female characters being captured or killed for emotional impact is bad: it’s poor writing. In Age of Ultron the captured character was far from a damsel in distress. Han Solo is also not a damsel, but the finality of the throw-away death makes this different. It would be fine if he is captured but is otherwise quite a useful character (which also happens). Killing him off to make the emo Kylo Ren seem badass or somehow “develop” as a character is lazy writing. Having Solo run over by a bus would have been better since it’s both plausible and not for emotional impact.
On its own The Force Awakens is a much better film than the three prequels. The trouble is that it isn’t on its own. It has pretty much no plot or direction other than to introduce us to our heroes and villains. Luke Skywalker is missing for pretty much no reason and the R2 rip-off droid BB-8 has a partial map to his location. Everyone wants that map piece and thus, the droid. Later, focus shifts to destroying a third death star (really getting tiresome at this stage). Solo is killed by his emo son and that’s about it. Oh, and once Kylo Ren fights our two novice heroes the awesome powers he had earlier seem to vanish and he’s badly injured by both of them (each fighting him one-on-one). Yes, he was first injured by Chewbacca, but Ren was so powerful he could freeze a blaster bolt at the beginning of the film. Barring the troublesome bits I’ve mentioned The Force Awakens is often very enjoyable scene by scene and it’s far less annoying than the prequels since it largely shuts the hell up… but it’s still a pretty weak re-tread of the first Star Wars from 1977. The original trilogy did something new but The Force Awakens is merely an enjoyable, if pointless, modern fluff-filled blockbuster – a film of its time rather than one that defines the times. That, and it kills Han Solo so ridiculously cheaply that I’d argue it to be the weakest film in the series in terms of its respect for Star Wars lore.
Looking at the characters, BB-8, while amusing enough, is largely just a plot device that looks cute and tags along with the others. Unlike R2 he’s pretty much devoid of character. C-3PO does make an appearance, but like many of the returning characters and reminders of the original film, he seems mere fan service. Of the original cast, Harrison Ford is the only one who isn’t a waste of time, which is a shame seeing as that’s it for him. Carrie Fisher is miscast as Leia, although it’s a pretty terrible bit-part, anyway. Mark Hamill is barely in it, but does look promising as Luke. I really liked Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as our heroine Rey and hero Finn. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron was also welcome when on screen. The enemies were pretty laughable – it was as though the New Republic was somehow fighting off an army of children thirty years after the fall of the Empire. Its leader is called Snoke (very prequelish name) and looks about as terrifying as Watto from The Phantom Menace.
There’s little feel in the film as to just what the balance of power is. Strangely the New Republic is backed up by an army called the resistance even though it seems to be the government. How have they even allowed the remaining imperial children to build a weapon the size of an entire planet? Perhaps thankfully, The Force Awakens does not concern itself with details. These are things we may find out in future. I won’t because I’m done with this vision of Star Wars. It’s far from the worst or best film ever but it’s difficult to know just who would actually love it (or even like it when they sit down to think it through). People who aren’t interested in Star Wars need not bother at all. Those who love Star Wars but don’t want to see Han butchered so lazily will hate it. Perhaps some who want Star Wars to recover from the prequels so desperately that they are prepared to overlook this film’s many failings will love it until they realise they’re deluding themselves. In spite of successfully aping many aspects of the original films, there are also elements of the prequels in here, too. The Force Awakens is a slicker, more cynical take on Star Wars, but one that smashes a perfectly good fairy tale for no good reason other than to be cool with an older type of kid – Jar Jar dressed as a dark trooper, then.