Tag Archives: Adam Driver

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 7: ‘The Force Awakens’

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Copyright Disney/Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: My pithy, two-word review of “The Force Awakens” after seeing it in theaters was “Good enough.”  I can see why “The Force Awakens” was such a big hit; the things it does right, it does very well, including introducing us to a group of compelling characters and giving us a number of exciting moments in cool locations. But it is also one of the weaker Star Wars movies, in my view, because for all its technical wizardry and thrills in the moment, the screenplay is severely lacking, leaving us with half-baked mysteries and incomplete characters papered over with reference and nostalgia. The plot is an almost beat-for-beat retread of “A New Hope” (orphan on a desert planet has to get a droid containing the plans for a super weapon to a group of rebels), and the details about our characters and the groups they belong to are so vague in the name of “mystery” as to be essentially meaningless. We get the destruction of an entire planetary system and the death of Han Solo, but no reason to care about much of any of it, leaving us with a sugar high of echoes from Star Wars history. However, there’s enough good stuff to leave room for optimism regarding future installments, so all hope is not lost. Let’s enter the post-Lucas Star Wars galaxy.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- Especially after watching episodes I-VI in rapid succession, it’s weird to not have the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the Lucasfilm logo and the opening crawl.
  • 00:05- Still have John Williams as our anchor.
  • 00:10- “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” OK, there’s a good hook right off the bat.
  • 1:00- OK, so the First Order is the remnants of the Empire, and they want to kill Luke, so we kind of get what they want. But why would the Republic not go after the First Order directly if the Republic is the new, legitimate government in the galaxy? What separates the Resistance from the old Rebel Alliance or just the modern Republic? This is important stuff to know so we understand the scope and nature of the broader conflict, but we never get answers to any of it. This is why J.J. Abrams and his “mystery box” obsession drive me nuts.
  • 1:20- Leia sends Poe Dameron to find an “old ally” who has a clue to Luke’s whereabouts, but I’m fairly certain we don’t get the name of that ally (he’s played by Max Von Sydow), nor do we know how exactly he got the information on Luke. Again, this is important stuff to know so we can better understand the stakes of what’s happening, but we don’t get it. Story structure matters, and it’s an area where Lucas rarely struggled but Abrams frequently does.
  • 4:00- The opening Imperial raid on Jakku is pretty well staged, and it certainly reacquaint us with the Empire/First Order’s brutality. Abrams makes pretty much every individual scene sing, it’s how they’re put together and the connective tissue that’s lacking.
  • 5:45- The moment when the Stormtrooper leaves the bloody handprint on Finn’s helmet is really well done. Finn’s arc is, like that of most of our main characters, only about half-realized, but the idea of a Stormtrooper growing a conscience and deciding to fight back against his former superiors is something we haven’t seen before in Star Wars, and John Boyega is a blast to watch in the part.
  • 6:45- Kylo Ren gets a suitably intimidating entrance and musical cue. Ren is easily the best part of “The Force Awakens”; he’s got a great look, he’s the only one of the new characters who gives us a full look into their psyche, and Adam Driver makes him into a fascinating creature of unchecked anger and self-doubt.
  • 7:00- Kylo Ren and the old man clearly have history, and the old man gives us a hint that Ren is a fallen Jedi when he mentions that the First Order “rose from the dark side. You (Ren) did not.” We still don’t get a name for the man before Ren cuts him down.
  • 7:45- Ren stopping the blaster bolt in mid air is admittedly really cool.
  • 8:05- Oscar Isaac is great as Poe Dameron, giving us a variation on the Han Solo type with some new wrinkles. Abrams’ incredible gift for casting helps make up for his missteps; all of the new actors are so good in their roles that it’s easy to overlook the movie’s flaws at the script level.
  • 10:30- Captain Phasma is suspicious of Finn after his apparent refusal to kill the villagers on Ren’s orders. Boyega conveys Finn’s struggle to contain his growing fear and doubts in admirable fashion.
  • 11:00- Rey scavenging through the old Star Destroyer contains a number of memorable images, including the first shot of her opening up the panel in the dark, and some great moments of her dwarfed by the fallen ship. Small moments like that help sell the idea that the struggles of the past movies belong to an older generation. It’s too bad we don’t get more time with and a better story involving the new heroes instead of simply an update of “A New Hope.”
  • 14:00- Daisy Ridley does the best she can with Rey. The performance is solid throughout, it’s the script that fails her; Rey’s entire backstory being essentially put on hold for this movie hurts her character more than anyone else.
  • 16:00- BB-8 is admittedly adorable. His little noises are especially cute. Very nicely done by the live-action and CGI teams who brought him to life.
  • 17:45- Ren’s Force interrogation of Poe Dameron is a good scene for both of them; it gives Driver another chance to show off Ren’s anger and power, and Isaac gets to show off his charisma as Poe endures Ren’s wrath.
  • 20:00- Finn’s rushed, improvised escape is a good scene, and his friendship with Poe is another highlight of the movie. All the ingredients are here for a great Star Wars story; they’re just not very well utilized.
  • 20:15- Finn talking to himself as he nervously walks Poe through the hangar is fun. Abrams definitely has a knack for humor Lucas does not. The funny moments in “The Force Awakens” are unforced in a way they rarely were when Lucas was at the helm.
  • 22:00- Poe gives Finn his new name, which is a nice touch. And the two of them working together to escape Ren’s ship is a nice twist on Han and Luke fighting off the TIE Fighters in “A New Hope.”
  • 24:15- Finn crashes on Jakku and finds Poe’s jacket, with no sign of Poe, and yet Poe miraculously turns up to save Finn and the others later on with nary an explanation. It’s another really sloppy subplot in the script. It’s a bit of a personal thing, I’ll admit, but stuff like that drives me crazy.
  • 26:30- Domhnall Gleeson is a lot of fun to watch as Hux. And he had worked with Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina” earlier in 2015. Hux and Ren’s jockeying for power is a fun subplot, in part because they’re both kind of petty.
  • 32:00- The Millennium Falcon escape sequence is pretty well done, even if the narrative justification is slim at best.
  • 34:00- BB-8 rolling around the Falcon as the ship twists and turns is fun to watch.
  • 35:30- Rey with a pretty sweet move to set up Finn’s final shot.
  • 37:20- Ren going ballistic on the ship console with his lightsaber is a good moment; it helps differentiate him from Vader, the Emperor and the other villains. His emotions are much closer to the surface than Vader’s, so it would make sense that he’s much more of a raw nerve.
  • 40:30- Han and Chewie appearing on the Falcon is an impossible moment to resist. It’s undeniably great to have them back on their beloved ship, even if again the narrative justification is really slim.
  • 42:30- Enough time has passed that Han, Luke and Leia are more legends than actual historical figures. Gotta figure news may sometimes be hard to come by when you’re talking about an entire galaxy of star systems.
  • 44:00- Harrison Ford didn’t lose a step between 1983 and 2015. Han is right back where we left him, trying and failing to talk his way out of a dangerous situation.
  • 48:30- The Rathtar escape sequence is pretty lackluster. Not exactly sure why; the creatures have a cool design, but somehow the scene just doesn’t really pop. It might be in part because the bad guys are mercenaries we don’t care about instead of being affiliated with the First Order. It takes away from the main conflict that’s been set up to this point.
  • 49:45- First appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, our new Emperor to Kylo Ren as our new Vader. It’s a fine bit of motion-capture work from Andy Serkis, but his motivations and goals are also frustratingly vague.
  • 50:15- Snoke approves Hux’s plan, and Hux gets one over on Ren. Again, their rivalry is fun to watch, but it’d be nice to know a bit more about what their overall goals all.
  • 50:30- Snoke says “There has been an awakening,” giving us the title of our movie. It’s not exactly clear what Snoke is referring to, though presumably he means Rey; her broader significance in the Jedi-Sith conflict will most likely become more clear in Episode VIII.
  • 50:45- Snoke also spills the beans about Ren’s identity: Ren is Han’s (and Leia’s) son. So many strained parental relationships in this series.
  • 51:00- Ren is the “master of the Knights of Ren,” whoever they are. He’s the only Sith we see in the movie outside of Snoke, but I suppose there could be more of them elsewhere.
  • 53:00- BB-8 showing us the map as Han gives us Ren’s backstory is a good scene. For all the ambivalence Ford has had with his fame as Han, he does a great job giving the movie some real stakes.
  • 54:30- Rey’s surprise at seeing so much green after growing up on a desert planet is a nice moment for her.
  • 55:15- “Women always figure out the truth.” Han, with some good advice for Finn. And really, his secret about being a former Stormtrooper is just a source of potential manufactured tension. The First Order is clearly after him, so why not just dispense with the secrecy?
  • 57:45- The hideout where Han brings Finn, Rey and BB-8 is another in the long line of great Star Wars locales.
  • 58:45- Starkiller Base looks cool, I’ll give it that.
  • 59:16- Ren talking to Vader’s burned helmet as he discusses feeling the pull of the light side is a great moment for his character.
  • 1:01:30- Finn’s desire to run from the First Order has never really scared with me. He started acting against them by breaking out one of their prisoners, and now he just wants to run? Something is lost in translation along the way with his character out.
  • 1:04:15- Rey’s hallucination leading into her discovery of Luke’s lightsaber is “The Force Awakens” at its best and worst: It’s incredibly well staged, with the eerie sound design as Rey moves deeper into the building and we hear the echoes of a little girl’s cries (presumably Rey earlier in life). And then we get Luke’s lightsaber, but the only explanation is Maz saying “A good question for another time.” Rey is our Luke analogue in this story, and by this point we knew a lot more about Luke and had seen him start to change, which is more than we can really say for Rey.
  • 1:09:00- Hux’s speech before the First Order blows up the Republic capital is straight out of Nazi Germany, making the parallels unmistakable. Anyone who says Star Wars isn’t political is lying or misguided; the entire series is about standing up against the forces of tyranny and oppression.
  • 1:10:00- The Republic capital being destroyed is clearly meant to echo and even surpass the destruction of Alderaan, but because we have no knowledge of what that system is or why it matters to any of our characters, the moment rings hollow. We cared about Alderaan because we knew it was Leia’s home planet, and that they weren’t even directly involved in the Rebellion. Alderaan makes for a much more vivid demonstration of the Empire’s cruelty, even if more people die in “The Force Awakens.”
  • 1:13:15- Ren knows Rey is significant for some reason beyond the fact that she’s protecting BB-8; it’d be nice to know what that reason is.
  • 1:14:20- Finn shouldn’t be the first person to wield Luke’s lightsaber; Rey’s our Jedi-to-be. It’s cool to see Finn use it, but think about what a payoff it would’ve been for Rey to activate the lightsaber we once saw Luke use for the first time.
  • 1:16:15- Poe shows up to rescue Finn, Han and Leia, with absolutely no explanation of how he found them, where he’s been or how he managed to survive crashing on Jakku and escape the planet. Sloppy, sloppy writing.
  • 1:18:30- Ren shows classic Sith overconfidence and just takes Rey, assuming he can get the map from her, instead of continuing to look for BB-8.
  • 1:19:45- Leia just looks C-3PO off when he gets in the way of her reunion with Han. Carrie Fisher could do a lot with just a look. Rest in peace, princess.
  • 1:21:45- Poe and Finn bro out when they reunite. They’re a good pair.
  • 1:23:45- BB-8 finds R2-D2 sitting in a corner, waiting for the movie to end so R2 can get us ready for Episode VIII.
  • 1:25:30- Leia tries to convince Han to go after Ren because she thinks Han can find the good still hidden in their son. It makes sense, given the events of the previous movie, though in the end Han proves unable to get through to his son. Han’s death is still a pretty lackluster moment compared with what it should be, but it is tragic that he couldn’t reach his son in the way Luke was able to redeem Vader.
  • 1:28:00- Ren’s interrogation of Rey is a pretty good scene, even if we get some Lucas-worthy lines where they both explain each other’s flaws. Driver is especially good with showing how hard Ren is trying to hide his fear and appear intimidating.
  • 1:31:00- Rey is suddenly able to use the Jedi mind trick because…she just can?
  • 1:31:45- The Stormtroopers just turning around and walking away to avoid Ren’s freak-out is another good moment. Clearly the First Order has learned to just sort of accommodate these occasional tantrums from Ren.
  • 1:33:00- A bunch of technobabble as the Resistance explains their plan to blow up Starkiller Base, but basically we’re in “Jedi” territory again: Somebody has to blow up a shield generator before the pilots can go up the big weapon.
  • 1:35:00- Han and Leia’s final moments together are very heartfelt.
  • 1:35:45- There’s no way Han and Chewie could pull off their landing on Starkiller Base, but it’s a cool moment and Abrams makes it look plausible enough.
  • 1:37:00- “That’s not how the Force works!” Han, for the win.
  • 1:38:00- Captain Phasma and Finn clearly have history; it’d be nice for her to have more than do than look cool, say some exposition and get tossed in the trash compactor after being forced to help Finn and Han. It’s also just a waste of Gwendoline Christie.
  • 1:40:00- Abrams has a better knack for hand-to-hand combat and ground battles than Lucas, at least in general, but Lucas was better with the aerial dogfights and space battles. The Resistance attack on Starkiller Base has nowhere near the tension or excitement as Luke’s trench run in “A New Hope.”
  • 1:43:00- I have to admit that having the sky grow darker as Starkiller Base charges and the tension rises is a nice visual touch.
  • 1:45:30- Most of “The Force Awakens” is a riff on “A New Hope,” but Han’s confrontation with Ren is straight out of “Empire,” complete with a platform over a dizzying height. It’s cinematic reappropriation straight out of the Tarantino playbook, except Tarantino is a lot better at how he repurposes his influences.
  • 1:49:00- Han’s death should hit a lot harder. It just should. The fact that it doesn’t is one of the more significant flaws in the movie. And it’s because we don’t have enough reason to care about Han and Ren’s relationship.
  • 1:52:30- Finn should not be fighting Ren with Luke’s lightsaber. I’m sorry, it just diminishes Rey and her role in the movie. And Ren, as a powerful Sith Lord, should not struggle against a non-Force user at all. That said, Rey’s moment where she takes the lightsaber for herself is very well done.
  • 1:54:30- Poe gets his trench run and blows up Starkiller Base. It’s no Han saving Luke’s bacon in “A New Hope,” but it’s pretty well done.
  • 1:58:00- Rey’s fight with Ren is pretty good from a choreography perspective, but dramatically it’s a little flat because we don’t get to see her change in any real way. All of a sudden she can just use the Force in ways she couldn’t before. She even looks pretty angry when she gets the upper hand on Ren, which doesn’t fit with the general Jedi cosmology we’ve seen to this point in the series. Luke’s growing Force abilities reflected his long arc across the prequel trilogy, but with Rey there’s no method to how she becomes strong in the Force.
  • 2:00:30- It’s been said elsewhere, but it’s absolutely right that Leia should hug Chewie when Rey and the gang get back from Starkiller Base. Leia and Chewie were the ones who were closest to Han, so they would be the most upset at his death and want to comfort each other.
  • 2:01:30- R2 comes back to life for no reason to give us the missing information on Luke and wrap things up.
  • 2:03:15- Why wouldn’t Leia go with Rey to find Luke? Luke and Leia are siblings, after all.
  • 2:04:30- Rey finds Luke on a planet with an endless ocean, which Ren mentioned when he talked about Rey’s dreams. So I guess Rey has prophetic dreams like Anakin did?
  • 2:06:00- The final scene where Rey finds Luke is pretty good. Mark Hamill got lots of money for this one scene; nice work when you can get it.

Wrap-up: “The Force Awakens” is probably the one Star Wars movie where what went wrong is a failure of ideas, not of execution. The movie looks great, has a lot of fun characters brought to life by a good cast and contains some exciting moments of action, but the end product fizzles because not enough care went into the story itself. It all works in the moment, but as soon as it’s over you find yourself trying to remember anything that really stood out. Episode VIII has a lot of potential to build on what “The Force Awakens” started, but I’d be more excited if we’d gotten a better beginning to the next phase of the Star Wars saga.

And that brings “Star Wars” Revisited to an end. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this project, and I hope all of you who have been reading have enjoyed it as well. I’ve definitely learned a few things and had some of my ideas about Star Wars challenged, and with any luck you’ve had some new insights as well. We’ll be leaving the galaxy far, far away behind for now, but Star Wars will be with us forever, certainly if Disney has anything to say about it.