By Bryan Garcia (Tampa, FL)


A Return to the Things We Love About Star Wars

I went into this movie doing my best to keep my mind blank, lower the expectations that had swelled inside me due to the trailers, the return of the original cast and just the fact that it was A NEW STAR WARS MOVIE. Before any confirmation of a new film, before Disney bought LucasFilm for $4.4B, I had hope, which only grew due to such events (one might even call it “A New Hope”). In the theater I was able to contain myself… until the opening crawl began, I, like many others in the theater around me, LOST MY MIND from the pure excitement and almost adrenaline levels of happiness at the fact that we had finally arrived at this moment, I, being quite young, have only waited 8 years of my life for this moment, while many others have waited for over 30 years now (that was a diss to the prequels by the way).

The plot of the film revolves around the evil First Order (the new Empire) trying to find Luke Skywalker who disappeared after he built a new Jedi Order which fell when an apprentice of his turned to the Dark Side and destroyed everything. The First Order also has a planet sized super weapon called Starkiller Base. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, is trying to find her brother Luke before the First Order does, so that he can help her bring peace and justice to the galaxy, while also trying to destroy Starkiller Base. The plot itself is quite similar to the original Star Wars, which is something that can be noted throughout the film, it’s all one great, big homage to the original, jumpstarting the franchise after over 30 years, but also succeeds in introducing new characters and elements in the process.

Although the events taking place have to do with finding Luke and destroying Starkiller Base, where this movie really shines are the extremely likable characters we find in Rey, Finn and Han Solo. Much of this is due to the incredible acting performances by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and of course Harrison Ford. The relationships that develop between these characters in the movie are great to watch, especially Rey and Finn, two characters who have been alone for the majority of their lives finding friendship in a dire and dangerous situation. They were developed in such a way that we come to care about these characters and what their ultimate fates will be, which is where I feel the prequel trilogy failed the most, everyone was much too cookie cutter and wooden in those films, so once it finally got halfway decent and the climax was happening in Revenge of The Sith, we didn’t feel it as emotionally as we should have due to the fact that we never came to care about these characters in the first place. This film doesn’t have that problem.

One of the biggest character development moments in the film is the reveal that Rey is force-sensitive, we see this through her having a vision that is started by her touching Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from The Empire Strikes Back, the vision shows her the past, present and future. Hinting at how the film will end and her origins. The fact that we don’t exactly know what her lineage is adds a layer of mystery to her character that will keep us waiting for Episode VIII to answer our questions.

Another big reveal in the movie (arguably the biggest) is that the films main villain, Kylo Ren, is Han Solo’s son, who was once known as Ben Solo. This gives Han Solo some much needed character development, putting him in a place where he had no choice but to grow as a person, this also adds completely new layers to Kylo as a character, because as we can see throughout the film, he still feels at times the call to the light side, causing a great inner-conflict within him. The whole situation adds a family tragedy dynamic to the film, which one can argue, is what the whole saga is about. Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side and Luke, his son, trying to avoid making the same mistakes. The son trying to prove that the sins of the father aren’t always passed down from generation to generation, while also trying to bring his father back to the light, even after being lost in the darkness for so long. Kylo’s character parallels Anakin’s in various ways, I would even say that Kylo is what Anakin should have been in the prequel trilogy.

There’s one scene in particular I want to go in-depth about and that is, of course, Han’s death. Once Han stepped on to the walkway and yelled “BEN!” I think we all knew what was about to happen, though we couldn’t really believe it until we saw it, which made the tension building inside that much worse, which is in a way better as far as how good the film is, it shows your emotional investment and connection to these characters and the world they live in. The desperation in Han’s voice as he tries to bring his son home is heart breaking. The conversation that ensues between Han and Ben shows just how much inner-conflict Ben has inside him, Ben himself says “I’m being torn apart” and asks Han if he would “help” him. He proceeds to hand Han his saber, but he doesn’t let go completely.

The subtle symbolism in the scene elevates it that much more, with a lighter color on one side of Ben’s face, and a dark brooding red on the other, much like Luke in Return of The Jedi during his confrontation with Vader, except unlike Luke, Ben chose the dark instead of the light, the red abruptly devours all the light in the room and in that same moment, Ben ignites his saber, killing his father. His journey towards the dark side is now complete; the Ben Solo who was raised to live by the morals of the light: selflessness, use of the force for knowledge, defense, peace and the safety of others, is dead, all that is left is Kylo Ren, embracer of hate, anger, fear, suffering and lust for power, things of the dark side. Even after Kylo thrusts his saber through Han’s chest, Han slowly grazes Kylo’s face, because no matter what decision he made, he’s still his son, Han then falls into the abyss below the walkway, never to be seen again. There were audible gasps in the theater, among tears as well.

I like to believe that Han’s instinct told him what would happen if he confronted his son, but that he didn’t care, that he simply wanted to do what every parent should do, guide their child in the right direction. Despite the risks, the pure love he felt for his son compelled him to try and bring him back to the light. Han was no longer JUST the gun slinging, swashbuckling smuggler we once knew, he was a loving father who was overwhelmed with guilt and regret, with a longing to fix the wrongs done in the past. A fitting end to a legendary character, sacrificing himself out of love just for the slightest chance of saving his son from the darkness and bringing him back to the light.

Shortly after Han’s death, we arrive at a scene between Rey, Finn and Kylo in a snowy forest on Starkiller Base. Kylo pounds a wound he received from Chewbacca’s bowcaster, causing him pain, causing him anger, strengthening his connection to the dark side. Rey immediately tries to shoot Kylo, but she is easily subdued by Kylo’s use of the force. Finn then engages Kylo in a lightsaber duel and loses, taking a slice from Kylo’s saber up his back. Kylo attempts to use the force to retrieve the saber that was once Luke Skywalker’s saber. But the saber goes to Rey instead, and a duel ensues. Initially, Rey struggles against Kylo, but once she allowed the force to guide her actions, she easily beats Kylo. The duels are quite fun to watch since they are a combination of both the styles of the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. Choreographed so it looks like Kylo has been trained, adding a cool factor, but it doesn’t look like they’re dancing either. Just enough grittiness to make it look somewhat realistic and make it feel like a fight for survival. Combined with the emotional build-up to the climax and the involvement of likable characters we can invest ourselves in, makes this one of the best duels of the entire saga. The strong visual of the bland, color-less snowy forest as a backdrop for two completely opposite and extremely vibrant colors clashing in the middle of the scene makes the duel that much more visually striking and memorable.

Ultimately, the film ends with the destruction of Starkiller Base and the Resistance sending Rey to Luke’s location (the first Jedi temple); where she finds him on an island overlooking the ocean and the credits start rolling. A cliffhanger ending to keep you interested and waiting for December 15, 2017 to arrive, hopefully with answers to many questions.

Although an incredible film, like any film, it still has its problems, these include R2-D2’s awakening which felt too convenient story wise, the underuse of Captain Phasma and Starkiller Base being nothing more than a bigger Death Star. But these are issues that, in my opinion, don’t take away from the enjoyment of the film.

In review, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that has everything you love about the originals with great characters, direction, visuals, music and homages that should be seen and enjoyed. The tone and feel of the film is spot on, the perfect combination of action, comedy and family drama. It gave CPR to a franchise that many thought would never be returned to its former glory and set up a brand new trilogy that will keep us excited to go to the theater for the next few years.

Rating: 3.5/5



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