I found TFA to be an almost excessively ‘meta’ denunciation of the PT era cinematic franchise beholden to far too many of the cliches and painful trappings of modern blockbusters…including elements of the Prequels. If there’s any dispute, the first line of dialogue in the film, from Lor San Tekka, was ‘this will begin to make things right. I’ve seen too much despair’.
Phasma was entirely unnecessary to the plot, serving purely as a Boba Fett surrogate-slash-merchandising tie-in. Gwendoline Christie, who portrays such a unique and strong warrior, Brienne of Tarth, in ‘Game of Thrones’, deserved far better than this silliness. BB-8, similarly, was another aesthetic ‘selling point’ to orient a younger audience. BB-8 was executed pretty well, in all fairness, but the design and its off-putting designation/name were more oriented for a Pixar release than Star Wars.
The film arduously inserted mystery and myth into the narrative (likely in reaction to the overly-explained and expository nature of the Prequels). However, ‘The Force Awakens’ sense of mystery and unconnected dots led to an often vapid narrative. Rey’s untold parentage and lack of identity were as troubling as they were needless. We were subject to a trilogy of movies in which the origins of the protagonist were also shrouded in unresolved mystery and an original set of films which turned its protagonist’s sense of identity on its head three times (father as space navigator, then noble Jedi Knight who fell in combat against the antagonist, then the very villain himself). Rey’s parentage, other than that they were likely Jedi based upon her flashback, was simply confused and directionless, rendering her a no-one in the process.
Similarly, TFA’s mythology simply didn’t provide considerable interest, as it was entirely what was presented in the Original Trilogy (e.g., Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, the Force and the Jedi Knights). But it was not without its own original mythology, as we were presented with Luke’s failed attempt at reviving the Jedi, Snoke, Ben Solo’s fall and his ancestry’s impact on his transformation into Kylo Ren, the Knights of Ren, Han and Leia’s separation in the face of their son’s descent into Dark Side extremism, the First Order’s origins from the vestiges of the Empire, the nature of The New Republic and the Resistance, Lor San Tekka and Maz Kanata’s origins and role in galactic affairs, et al.). All of this could have more fully exploited to have created a richer and more rewarding exposition and sense of mythology. Instead, it was ultimately all unfilled spaces and uncrossed 't’s.
Rey’s alleged status as an almost infallible ‘Mary Sue’ should also be mentioned. While many of her abilities were indeed relative sufficiently explained by her rough and self-sufficient way of life on Jakku (including staff combat, some modicum of piloting skills, etc.), her extraordinary and innate prowess often recalled Anakin’s prodigious excess throughout the Prequels (particularly ‘The Phantom Menace’). Her use of The Force, like Anakin’s, was innate rather than, like Luke’s in the original Star Wars, learnt and guided by instruction.
As for other modern cinematic trappings and cringe-worthy adaptations thereof, the movie was inundated with Marvel Cinematic Universe-styled witless humour. This was not Star Wars-signature humour as illustrated by Leia and Han’s duelling witty barbs or C-3PO and R2-D2’s comic relief (or even the barbs and dated racial and toilet humour of the Prequels). It all proved jarring, although I still enjoyed Boyega’s performance and Han’s ‘that’s not how The Force works’ line, as it further depicted the once Force sceptic rogue’s maturation into a dispenser of knowledge of that very ‘hokey religion’.
On that note, the narrative highlight of the film was Han’s aforementioned transformation and simultaneous regression and rediscovery of his earlier smuggling ways. The Han Solo of ‘The Force Awakens’ wasn’t the uncannily orderly, institutional and respectable figure of ‘Return of the Jedi’ or the old EU (‘Legends’) works set after it. This was a complex and nuanced character who both grew and yet didn’t change, and lost and gained. His very namesake, however, saw the most crucial character development in our old scruffy-looking Nerf Herder. Han ‘Solo’ was now a man with a family…and torn asunder by its collapse. Han indeed sacrificed himself in death, and in a way both suiting and advancing to his character, by defying the odds and any logic in boldly confronting his mass-murdering, hateful son. In Han’s most desperate, touching, and cocky, move, he died.
Kylo Ren also played on the expectations of a Star Wars villain in often masterful ways. His is a vulnerable ‘menace’ who hides behind a mask he doesn’t need to advance his newfound identity. His Force powers are unorthodox and unexpected. Otherwise, Kylo is vulnerable, weak, and conflicted. He is also a ‘meta’ figure, in that he is a parallel for the Westerner who zealously and inexplicably adopts militant Jihadism. His extreme rage is authentic and unpredictable, as opposed to Anakin’s hackneyed ‘anger’.
Leia was soundly underutilised, as were C-3PO and R2-D2. Once more, Chewbacca was not given his due from Leia, who did not greet him particularly warmly upon his return with Rey. It is hoped that they filmed scenes between the two characters for ‘The Last Jedi’, as there is now no chance for that in future after Carrie’s untimely demise.
Luke Skywalker and his family’s iconic lightsaber served as an archetype and plot device. Honestly, this was pretty novel…and, once more, ‘meta’ (embodying the reclaiming of the ‘old’ Star Wars).
In conclusion, ‘The Force Awakens’ was a severely challenged film, but one which nonetheless offered critical character and narrative developments and, in the case of Han, conclusion. At long last, Star Wars boasts skillful acting in all areas and respectability. Its dependence on the core narrative of the original Star Wars film, setting the tone for the new, revitalized franchise, and unfortunate immersion into some of the modern industry’s worst elements, will require its sequel to truly advance the new characters and their story to something of greater originality and interest.
I agree with much of this.
As for Phasma’s character, wouldn’t it have been great if she were the one to fight Finn at Maz’s castle instead of TR-8R? She was on the set and everything!