star wars force awakens han solo chewbacca

Star Wars the Force Awakens Extended Review (Spoilers)

star wars force awakens han solo chewbacca

Note: in case the title isn’t obvious enough this review of Star Wars the Force Awakens contains major spoilers about the movie. I shared my general, overall thoughts about the movie in another post.

When I first heard about Star Wars being sold to Disney and the series being rebooted sans George Lucas I was skeptical. Not that I have a whole lot of respect for Lucas after his disappointing work on Episodes I-III, but Star War was his universe as far as I was concerned, for good or bad. Add to that the fact that I have not been very taken with the offerings of J.J. Abrams his replacement, and you’ll see why I was somewhat ambivalent going into the theater to view this new film.

But see it I did, tempered expectations and all, and, as I said in my previous review, I was impressed. For the most part Abrams and crew got it right. And yet, despite all the high notes the seventh film hits, this movie was not my favorite in the series. The reason for this can be summed up in two words: Han Solo.

What good’s a reward if you ain’t around to use it?

Han Solo has always been my favorite character in the Star Wars universe. When I played with my Star Wars figures as a kid, it was always Han that I chose to play. He had this really cool jacket and a swagger that made it seem like he would always come out on top, no matter how the deck was stacked against him. As a kid growing up without a father, I suppose Han was the kind of cocky, funny, sure-of-himself kind of guy I wanted to be. He had that pioneer American spirit about him that told you he would chart his own course and yet he had a softer, nobler side underneath all that puff and posture. I don’t have any hard facts to back this up, but to me, at least half of the memorable lines from the first three movies belonged to Han and in Force Awakens that trend continued. He was the heart and soul of the film, even moreso than Rey.

So when you take the best part about a film and throw it in the trash compactor, that’s a hard lump to swallow. The death of Han Solo near the end of this film was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in watching a movie. I don’t think I realized just how beloved a character he was until I watched him die. Yes, the moment is powerful in the film and the actors involved did a tremendous job in pulling it off, but watching one of your heroes die is not an enjoyable event. I didn’t cry. I was too mad. Mad at the writers and director for stomping on a legend, for taking away a bit of my childhood, a bit of what was good and right in cinema.

You see in Star Wars and in most of the great epic sagas of cinema and literature there are a few rules. One of them, is that the good guys don’t die, not the important ones anyway. And if they do, they go out fighting like Boromir or Spock. They sacrifice themselves for something greater. I’m a writer and I’ve let beloved characters die in my own books, but not the way Han died, not in such a thoughtless, senseless fashion.

star wars force awakens millennium falconHan’s death in this film just felt so unnecessary. Kylo Ren didn’t have to walk through the bowels of Star Killer base while Han was planting explosives (seriously, what in the world was he doing there?). Han didn’t have to walk right up to within stabbing range. Han’s friends didn’t have to remain silent and unable to intervene. The whole thing was just so avoidable. And what did it accomplish? Sure, it makes Kylo a much more evil character, but that point could have been made with an attempt to kill his father. Han’s actual death wasn’t required.

So that scene is the primary reason why I was disappointed with the film and why, frankly I would find it hard to watch again. Taken as a whole, it was a great film, but that one scene just makes me cringe when I think about it. The movie is great in spite of that scene and not because of it. This film and the series would have been much better off with a living Han Solo.

That’s not how the force works

That said, the film had other issues I’d like to address. I won’t spend as much time on these, since they are relatively minor. I’ll just run through them quickly in shotgun fashion.

  • Kylo Ren’s mask. At one point he is asked why he wears it and so he takes it off. But the question remains. Why on earth does he wear it?
  • Carrie Fisher’s performance. It was subpar by any measure. Where was the spunky character from the first three movies? Fisher looked uninspired in most of her scenes, not the confident princess or beloved leader she was supposed to be. Even her scenes with Harrison Ford fell flat.
  • Rey’s epic strength. I’m sorry but the actress playing Rey looked like she weighed all of a hundred pounds. And while Kylo Ren isn’t exactly the Hulk, she is able to hold him off for a seemingly infinite amount of time while on the edge of a cliff and he’s got leverage. Does the force give you super strength too?
  • The snow fight scene in general. Kylo Ren first immobilizes Rey and then fights Finn who has probably never held a light saber in his life. Yes, Ren is injured, but Finn holds his own with a supposedly well trained jedi for several minutes. Then, when Finn goes down Rey wakes up and somehow Kylo doesn’t think to, you know, just force stun her again? I did like all the tree chopping, though. That was a nice touch.
  • Finn and Rey’s…relationship? I hope these two just stay friends because the few hints that there might be something deeper between them just felt incredibly, ahem…”forced”.

star wars force awakens rey finn

Unlike most people apparently, I did not have a problem with the movie’s similarities to the plot of Episode IV: A New Hope. It was distinct enough that it didn’t bother me. I think throwing Finn into the mix was one of the biggest reasons for this. A storm trooper that defects? This was a brilliant stroke of writing. And then having his character be so unheroic also helped him stand out. It is really easy to see ourselves in his shoes. He just wants to escape, get some water, start a new life, etc. But he comes around by the end and his growth is one of the more satisfying parts of the film.

The force is strong with that one

If Han Solo’s death was the biggest disappointment then Kylo Ren was certainly the biggest surprise of the film. Following in the cinematic footsteps of one of the most iconic villains of all time is no small task but the actor playing Ren more than lives up to the responsibility. He is everything that the Anakin from Episodes I-III was not: strong, intelligent, driven, and intense. And yet he was unexpectedly vulnerable at times, making him in some ways even more compelling than the original Darth Vader, and that was the biggest surprise of all. I thought his scenes with Rey were his best moments and really allowed his inner struggle to come out.

And those are my unvarnished thoughts on the film. I could write a lot more, but those are the main issues I had with the movie. I am eager to see where the story goes from here and my hat goes off to the cast and crew for producing such a fine film. But a part of me got lost on the screen the day I saw this movie, I won’t deny it. Because Han was a real hero, one of my heroes. And characters like that don’t come around every day.

 

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Comments (9)

  1. Pingback: Star Wars the Force Awakens Review - djedwardson.com

  2. Jenelle January 14, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Can I just say…. “YOU DON’T KILL HAN SOLO!!!!!”

    Agh. Had to get that out there, and I’ve been unable to post it online for fear of it being a spoiler for everyone who hasn’t seen it. But seriously. Just… no.

    Nice to know I wasn’t the only one who was mad about that scene. I told my sister after we went to see it with them the second time that the reason I didn’t feel like that point worked was because it didn’t make me sad, it made me angry.

    And don’t even get me started on their blatant disregard for fans of the EU. *seethes*

    The only thing I disagree with you about is Kylo Ren. I don’t feel that he is a compelling anything – and the moment I decided he wasn’t going to be a believable villain? The moment he kneels down to talk to Poe Dameron. No. True villains don’t squat down to get on eye level with their victims, they use the force to raise their victims up by their throats to come to eye level with them (actually, the first time I saw the movie, that moment had me certain that we were eventually going to discover that Kylo Ren was a girl).

    Also, they gave far too much away about Ren and who he was and all that he’s struggling with. The “aha!” moment was spoiled because there was no build-up to it. The writers just went ahead and told us, “He’s Han and Leia’s son. Move along.” What? Wait a second. By the time Rey discovers this and is shocked by it, the audience is wondering WHY she’s so surprised, because doesn’t everyone know this already?

    Anyway.

    I think he just wears the mask because he wants to be like his grandpa… and apparently Han and Leia and Luke did a terrible job explaining Anakin Skywalker’s last moments and true self-sacrificing heroism…. you’d think they would have focused on that a bit more….

    Urgh. I would have been totally willing to ignore the blatantly overboard stealing of plot and storyline from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back if they hadn’t destroyed my desire to even like the movie by killing Han Solo. And I’m annoyed by that, because you’re right: so much about this movie is epic and wonderful and made me feel like I was 9 again… and I wish I could just love it wholeheartedly. But I can’t.

    I really can’t wait for Honest Trailers to get their hands on this one. *rubs hands together gleefully*

    • DJ Edwardson January 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Phew, that was practically a mini review in itself, Jenelle! Yeah, it was just such an “un-heroic” moment. And Star Wars should be heroic.

      I can see why you weren’t as taken by Kylo Ren. I agree that it would have been nice to hold off revealing his identity until later. I just liked that we got so much insight into who he was and what his motivation was. The scene with his grandfather’s helmet made him more complex, I thought. With Vader, we never get that until they end. I think they were trying to make Ren out as still rough around the edges, still not fully tried and tested (he is rather young). Maybe Anakin would have acted in similar fashion when he was that age as well and was just learning to use the dark side. I think if you look at it that way, the moments of weakness make a bit more sense.

      Still, Han Solo…(sigh). I think you said it best when you said, “YOU DON’T KILL HAN SOLO!!!!!”

      • Jenelle January 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm

        LOL yeah… sorry, a little more long-winded than I meant to be.

        However, my husband and my brother both pointed out that… “we didn’t see a body” and we did see something else in Force Awakens that was recovered from a “fall into nothingness” AND it’s been sort of leaked that Harrison Ford will be in Ep. 8 (I’m guessing in flash-backs or something… but… my brother is firmly convinced that all this means that Han Solo survived 1) being stabbed through the heart with a lightsaber, 2) falling down a pit, and 3) having a planet imploded upon him and that “it was really funny that moment that Jenelle thought Han died and she cried about it.”) Well… we shall see. If any character ever created could do it, it’d be Han. 😉

  3. Whitney dotson January 14, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Agreed completely..the Han Solo scene did it in for me exactly…so unnecesary.

  4. Abbey January 17, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    I have to chuckle a little bit reading this post and the comments below because I had exactly the opposite reaction to Han’s death: I thought it was necessary from a storytelling point of view. Han is everyone’s favorite character (including mine). He is a ruffian space-pirate and an all around epic guy. You can’t have two of those in the same franchise or else the characterization is redundant. To make way for the new characters (and to make way for one of the new characters to be the epic, ruffian character), I think they had to kill off Han Solo. Also, maybe his death didn’t impact me as much because I was expecting him to die (for the reason stated above) since the trailer where he said, “Chewie, we’re home.” They definitely could have killed him in a much, much better and nobler way, though. I completely agree with you there.
    Anyway, it was probably better to kill him off now before Harrison Ford dies filming Indiana Jones 5, haha.
    I didn’t mind that episode VII was like episode IV either. They’re different enough that it doesn’t feel redundant. There were so many plot problems, though… Like: Finn seemingly has a moral problem killing the villagers on Jakku, but has no problem blasting to death all the stormtroopers in the docking bay when he and Poe are trying to escape? What makes it okay to kill stormtroopers, but not villagers? Where did he learn to have compassion for the “good guys” if he was raised by villains?
    And, yes, I agree Rey was waaaay too good at fighting with a lightsaber. I can understand Finn a little more; he was probably trained in hand-to-hand combat (that one stormtrooper did have a sword-like weapon).
    As for Carrie Fisher, I would assume that her portrayal wasn’t as upbeat as the originals due to who she is. I was just reading an interview with her where she says that she’s not so much an actress as a writer. Also, she’s a very different person from Princess Leia, so I imagine it was hard for her to “slip in to” the role again, especially after so many years and so many struggles (she’s battled with addiction as well as being bipolar. She’s quite the interesting lady and has been very outspoken against the stigma attached to mental illness).
    Other than the plot problems (many of which I hope will be fixed in episode VIII), I loved The Force Awakens. I loved the humor and the new characters and the cinematography. And I loved that it felt like a Star Wars movie.

    • DJ Edwardson January 19, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Replace Han Solo??? Surely you jest! Yes, I understand the scriptwriters’ intentions by offing their “rogue archetype” but it’s a little like replacing Michael Jordan with…whoever they got to replace Michael Jordan. Sure somebody has to play his position, you need 5 guys to make a basketball team, but you just don’t replace a legend like that. If they really wanted to write him out of the saga, I think they could have made it much less visceral and more ambiguous, leaving a hint that perhaps he wasn’t really dead after all. I think this was the scriptwriting equivalent of using a sledgehammer to pound in a screw! But, I’m probably just repeating myself.

      That’s interesting what you say in defense of Fisher. I knew she has led a troubled life but didn’t know it was quite so troubled. Too bad for her. Also in her defense, I’ve seen Harrison Ford turn in a few really lackluster performances in his old age. This movie, however, was not one of them.

      You also make really good points about Finn’s on/off conscience. Maybe the fact that they were fighting villagers and civilians mostly in that first battle was what he had a problem with? I know Poe’s friend offered some resistance, but not much. With the storm troopers Finn was fighting it was more of a fair fight. I’ll have to pay more attention the next time I watch it.

      Thanks for your insightful comments!

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