SPOILER ALERT: Taylor Yermolaev’s In-Depth review of The Force Awakens

So, I’ve officially just come back from my third viewing of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It hit my top 2015 films list and yes after repeated viewings I’m still happy to give it the top spot, this movie is everything I’ve wanted in a Star Wars movie since Lucas first announced there’d be new films back in the 90’s. Force Awakens achieved all of that, so without further ado I present the spoilerific nerd analysis of Star Wars VII… (Applause).

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Let’s start with the easy stuff, the good: I absolutely loved The First Order, these guys were perfect. I’ve heard some complaints about overt similarities to the Nazi party, but personally I think it worked perfectly. Allow me to be a history nerd for a moment; the Prussian Empire was a major force in Europe up until the end of the first World War, when you compare the might of the Prussian Empire to that of the Galactic Empire there are blatant parallels. After the fall of the Prussian Empire there was a brief period from 1918 to 1933 Germany was a republic before an organised political group (The Nazi’s) took over and utilised a lot of propaganda praising the glory of the Prussian Empire and promising its restoration. The First Order fits perfectly into this narrative; they’re obsessed with bringing back the Galactic Empire, seeing it as a grand achievement in galactic civilisation. For me The First Order works perfectly, a group of extremists hell bent on restoring a tyrannical regime and willing to aggressively destroy a relatively peaceful democratic government.

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“Sieg Heil Mein Fuhrer”

Moving on, Kylo Ren; excellent villain. Remember how Anakin in the prequels was supposed to be this conflicted character that was constantly pulled between the dark side and the light side of the force? Also remember how it didn’t work because Hayden Christensen’s shitty acting multiplied by George Lucas’ shitty scripts meant all we got was a whiny bitch who spent the whole movie saying stupid garbage like “I hate the sand, it gets everywhere”. Yeah remember that? Kylo Ren doesn’t do any of that shit; Ren is the perfect caricature of a conflicted character. When he’s first introduced he gives off one of the best Vader impressions ever, in fact his early scenes establish him as a cold and calculating individual, that is until roughly a third way through the film when he lashes out violently and destroys part of his ship in a lightsaber rage. It’s this depiction of genuine emotion that makes the character work, time and time again we see him swaying back and forth between light and dark only to fall further and further toward the dark. It’s a sensational performance and the first time I’ve cared about a Star Wars villain since the original trilogy. (Darth Maul, General Grievous and Dooku, suck).

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“My parents didn’t hug me enough”

Coming up next, Rey; Daisy Ridley is on her way to becoming the next goddess-tier nerd actress joining the likes of Kristen Bell, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Summer Glau and Zoe Saldana. Her portrayal of Rey is incredibly entertaining. Much like Ren, the character is torn, this time between feelings of safety and security versus adventure and danger. The reveal that Rey is extremely powerful within the Force is expertly done, while I do feel she acclimatised to her abilities a little fast, it is actually implied her ability to pilot the Millennium Falcon without any experience is due to the force as well, so theoretically she spends the whole film unlocking preliminary Force powers. The only critique I have so far is that Rey runs the risk of becoming a Mary Sue, if you’re unfamiliar that’s a female character who is inherently good at everything and never faces any challenges, this in my opinion would be an unfortunate turn of events because part of the joy in Star Wars is characters overcoming challenges to succeed. Luke did that very thing in Return of The Jedi, in Empire he actually gets his ass kicked in part due to his overconfidence after blowing up the Death Star. I’m excited to see Rey’s character develop, given the hints at childhood trauma I’m actually curious to see if that is worked into Episode VIII as an inhibitor to her Jedi training.

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“Stop holding my hand”

Finally we get to Finn or FN-2187, Finn is quite possibly the most natural character I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie. Let me be frank, Star Wars even at its best has never been great at capturing how people behave in a particularly realistic manner, now this was really obvious in the prequels but even the original trilogy had some pretty weird stuff, especially Leia’s dialogue in A New Hope. Finn however reminds me a lot of the dialogue in the rebooted Star Trek universe; he’s sort of a mix between James T. Kirk’s bravado, Montgomery Scott’s nervousness and Leonard McCoy’s pessimism. In general his story line is quiet well done, the opening sequence that has him showing signs of PTSD after seeing a fellow trooper die, his decision to free Poe Dameron and his desire to escape The First Order all seem genuinely realistic. In turn when his character switches to a more heroic figure due to his connection to Rey it’s entirely believable in spite of it being a 180 in terms of his established personality. He wants to do the right thing, he’s just not sure how and that’s why Finn makes such a great main character.

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“tfw you betray The First Order and start having regrets”

The subject of the main character is actually a pretty interesting topic itself; one of the biggest flaws in the Star Wars prequels was that they had no main character. I’m being completely serious when I say that, who is the main character in Phantom Menace? It isn’t Anakin, he doesn’t show up until 40 minutes into the movie and aside from the podracing scene and blowing up a Trade Federation ship he does nothing the entire movie. Obi Wan spends the entire film as a sidekick up until he fights Darth Maul, Qui Gon Jinn plays the mentor role the whole time, it really is a film without a lead. The same is true for Attack of The Clones, the film is split between Obi Wan and Anakin but neither of them really progresses as a character, it tried to make Anakin the lead but he’s almost impossible to identify with during the film, mostly because he behaves like an angsty teen the entire time. I’m not even going to touch Revenge of the Shit…Sith.

Anyway, The Force Awakens successfully pulls off having two main characters; both Finn and Rey have intertwined stories that work incredibly well. Finn’s story is that of the reformed Storm Trooper who is introduced to us as simultaneously as a coward, a deserter and yet also a slightly brave in his actions. It works brilliantly because the audience have all had moments where they’ve regretted their actions, removed themselves from a group and everyone’s had a moment or two where they had to be the brave person. For this reason Finn works very well as the everyman character, he’s got positive and negative personality traits and they’re so perfectly balanced by John Boyega’s performance that he’s incredibly human. Daisy Ridley accomplishes a similar yet different connection with the audience too; Rey as a character is faced with issues of abandonment and fear, her story is about overcoming those issues, in fact we see her journey past those hurdles quite succinctly. Her character is plagued in the first half of the film with a constant desire to return to her home planet where she awaits her “family”, the reality is she was abandoned on the planet and no one is coming, but in turn this story addresses the fears faced by many young people, about moving out into the world and experiencing life. Rey is the adventurous, pure hearted go-getter who isn’t afraid to show fear but also confront that fear and Finn is the cautious and occasionally cowardly soldier but when push comes to shove he has an underlying desire to do the right thing and to help those in need.

Both characters work extremely well and I think it’s a testament to Abrams’ ability as a director that he was able to create dual main character arcs that allow the film to have a broader appeal to a general audience; there will be some viewers who identify with Finn, others with Rey and some will identify with both characters! There are even humanistic traits in other characters like Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren, in terms of audience appeal this film goes above and beyond all previous entries. Despite this identifying with the characters has created an unfortunate situation, I am of course talking about this:

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Exploitation of children to held you sell books is bad Carrie. 

This letter is fake, how do I know it’s fake? Well let’s look at some facts, the letter claims to be written by eight-year-old Annie Rose, who in some reports is referred to as Annie Rose Goldman. Her purported mother is Carrie Goldman. She’s written a book about bullying; it’s okay. There are a lot of books about bullying, myself as both a qualified psychologist and school teacher have had to read a lot of studies, journal articles and books about bullying, Goldman makes some good points but rule #1 of academia, the reliability of any scholarly work follows this scale: Study > Journal Article > Book, why? Because as the reliability goes down personal profit goes up, you make money selling books that push a particular agenda, you make fuck all conducting studies. This is true across the board in academia; David Suzuki makes more money pushing his books on Climate Change than actual Climate Scientists working in the field to address the issue. Vandana Shiva makes more money selling people books that lie about genetically modified food than Kavin Senapathy who actually works in the field of genetics.

So why don’t I believe this letter is real? Well, because I’ve taught over 200 8-year olds in the past 3 years and none of them have ever spoken like that, I’ve met some intelligent kids for the record, I once taught a six-year-old who gave me a blow-by-blow rundown of how filtration and sanitation systems function, immediately following that he started pretending he was a dog. Smart kids exist for certain, but the manner in which that letter is written feels more like I’m reading the words of an adult, trying to communicate an adults message but have it sound like a child is the one saying it. You might ask why, but let’s be honest cat videos and kids always draw more attention on the internet than anything short of a school shooting or a racist tirade on public transport. I completely understand what happened, Carrie Goldman dictates a letter to her kid, kid writes letter, Carrie Goldman uploads letter online “look wut muh kid dun did”, media jumps on it because “Omgz kidz be fightin’ muh patriarchy”, makes for a nice story but it’s also a load of shit. The reality is if Goldman had posted an adult critique it would’ve been more appropriately received by people like myself, but it would’ve generated fuck all clicks because “Middle-aged feminist author, doesn’t like Star Wars Monopoly” isn’t as fun of a headline.

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If you bought this piece of shit…fuck you!

Anyway, as far as the Star Was Monopoly “controversy”, I’ll keep it quick: themed versions of Monopoly are nothing more than a quick way to cash in on dumb fans that buy shitty merch. I doubt anyone at Hasbro even thought about which characters they were using, in fact given that it has four pieces; Luke, Vader, Kylo Ren and Finn, I imagine the poor bastard in charge of the situation took one look at the email that said “sort out the Monopoly figurines” and said “Hmmm, everyone knows Luke and Vader, and these two guys were featured heavily in the trailer so yeah red lightsaber guy and blue lightsaber guy, done”. It’s not as though the filmmakers had any input, or even the parent company Disney. On top of that, you’ll notice a fuck ton of Rey merch is being released after the film, idiots would be happy for you to believe it’s because they complained about it on twitter/facebook. They’re called idiots for a reason; if Star Wars VII had sucked, no one would’ve wanted merch, ergo if you’re a company that makes merch you’re not gonna release the expensive shit until you’re guaranteed to make money, the reality is we no longer live in 1995, Star Wars isn’t a guaranteed seller anymore thanks to the prequels, so if you ask me to believe one of two options: Either Star Wars merchandisers are all sexists or Star Wars merchandisers were waiting to see which characters got the best reception from fans before spending money on making the products, I’m going to go with the one that doesn’t sound like a 9/11 truther conspiracy.

PS: The letter actually gets something blatantly wrong; the Force doesn’t “Awaken” in Rey, the Force is a living entity and the title refers to a line by the villain Supreme Leader Snoke, he asks Kylo Ren if he has felt an awakening in the dark side and the light, he’s not talking about the individual characters of Ren and Rey, he’s quite blatantly referencing the fact that Force itself is alive, which I imagine is a return to form in line with how Alec Guinness described the Force in the original film. You know, instead of that shit about midi-chlorians living in your bloodstream. So even if that letter was written by a kid, fuck you kid for not picking up on that part of the story! Seriously the Force can’t “Awaken” in anyone, Force-sensitive beings are Force-sensitive at birth it’s just a matter of training. Hence Rey being an expert pilot without any experience.

Now that we’re done with that predictions for the future series:

Kylo Ren: After Force Awakens concludes, General Hux is seen taking Kylo Ren to see Supreme Leader Snoke, Snoke wants to complete Kylo Ren’s training, this is great because some fans felt Ren wasn’t powerful enough, mistakenly referring to him as a Sith Lord (he isn’t, the Sith died with Vader and Palpatine, Ren is a dark Jedi at best). So we’re going to see a more powerful Kylo Ren in Episode VIII. On top of that I am hoping we get more information regarding The Knights of Ren, it’s established that Kylo is The Lord of the Knights of Ren, so whether he effectively established an imitation of the Sith is interesting, I do know that Benicio Del Toro (Snatch, Guardians of The Galaxy) has been cast and while no one’s sure if he’s a villain or hero, I’d be interested to see the establishment of other Dark Side users. At the very least there’ll be some expansion on The Knights of Ren as they briefly featured in Rey’s vision midway through the film.

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“We are the Knights of Ren…We also say Neep”

Rey: So the film closes with Rey meeting an aged Luke Skywalker, there are all sorts of fan theories regarding Rey, some say she’s Luke’s daughter and that he wiped her memory, others say she’s Han and Leia’s daughter and they wiped her memory. All of these theories are stupid, I’m quite happy having Kylo Ren be the heir to Vader, I would love for Rey to remain an entirely new character, in part because I feel that having her be a secret-Skywalker cheapens her character because it implies that her power comes from her bloodline and not herself. If I had to pick a crazy theory though, I’ve seen one that suggests she’s Obi Wan’s granddaughter, if there has to be some ridiculous bloodlines story I’d prefer that because at least it would make sense instead of heroic characters abandoning a child with a junk dealer. As far as story predictions, obviously she’ll train with Luke, I’m interested to see if Luke is a reluctant teacher due to his failings with Ren or if he’s less of a cryptic dickhole than Obi Wan and Yoda. If I had a choice, Rey would fall to the Dark Side because that would be so cool to have this likeable positive character become a hateable and violent sociopath. It’d be like actually getting what the prequels promised with Anakin. Sadly, due to her popularity I see her staying as a good character the entire saga which is fine so long as they don’t make her a character who always succeeds, she’s quite human right now and I’d hate to lose that.

Finn: Man I love this character, I seriously can’t get enough of how great this character is and how great John Boyega is in playing him. With the possible exception of Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, Finn may actually be my favourite character in the entire Star Wars series. This made all the better because of the racist tirades directed by idiots at John Boyega because “black people can’t be storm troopers”, which originally started with “The Empire didn’t like black people” must’ve missed that part in the Original Trilogy and then tried to morph into “All storm troopers are clones of Jango”, which isn’t true, all Clone Troopers are clones of Jango, but Clones died out after the Clone Wars and the Empire introduced conscription. On top of that, The First Order actually address the issue with Kylo Ren suggesting General Hux consider replacing his disobedient soldiers with a Clone Army. Anyway, Finn fucking rules I think I like him because I myself identify quite positively with the character I can draw a number of parallels with his character and myself, granted I never got to be on a space ship or use a lightsaber, but hey parallels! His story is one I’m really intrigued by, in the film we get to see him use a lightsaber and he uses it pretty damn well too. A lot of people have decided he has no force powers but I’m not convinced, personally if Rey does turn to the Dark I would love for Finn to train in an effort to redeem her, much like Luke redeemed Vader. In particular I think this would work because neither Rey nor Finn has any real reason to redeem Kylo Ren, their sole connection to him is the asshole that tried to kill them. Some people have posited that Finn’s capabilities with a lightsaber are due to his training as a Storm Trooper, after all there’s a brilliant scene where he fights FN-2199 or TR-8R (Thanks internet) who uses a riot control Z6 baton. A few fans think that The First Order requires all Storm Troopers train in melee combat and that’s why Finn was able to use a lightsaber despite a lack of strong Force powers. I still think he’s a potential Jedi, mainly because no one so far has actually said he trained with the baton, in fact given FN-2199/TR-8R was kicking his ass, I’d suggest Finn had fuck all close combat training. Anyway, if Finn doesn’t become a Force user, I see him becoming a hybrid of Leia and Han Solo, leading the resistance and organising covert operations against the First Order + searching for Rey when he eventually wakes from his Kylo Ren-induced coma.

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Poe Dameron: Fuck I hope they expand on this guy some more, so far he’s been excellent. The original Star Wars made a pretty big deal about Luke’s abilities as a pilot, but in Empire and Jedi he flew a snowspeeder once and after that we only ever see him use space ships as a means of transport. I want a badass pilot and epic space battles to become a key aspect of the series and Poe has the potential to pull it off. They’ve set the ground for a brother in arms relationship between Poe and Finn, so hopefully they’re the Chewbacca and Han of the new series. At the very least more space battles and a little more backstory.

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BB-8: This little fucker is cool, especially his thumbs up thingy. I like that even though he’s an astromech droid he hasn’t been given the R2 treatment of being a glorified lockpick, he’s a ball and he does cool shit. I like him, I like him especially because he’s an actual robot as in he’s not a computer generated image or a costume; he’s an actual working robot. That is cool.

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“They see me rollin’, they hatin’, patrollin’ and tryna catch me ridin’ dirty”

Supreme Leader Snoke: It wasn’t until my second viewing that I realised Snoke was a human, he’s badly scarred, not unlike the Emperor. I know he’s played by Andy Serkis (Gollum!), but other than that not a lot has been explained. He’s well versed in the Dark Side of the Force, he apparently corrupted Kylo Ren, but other than that a bit of a mystery. Some fans think he’s Darth Plagueis, which is dumb, Plagueis is dead and in terms of actual continuity we don’t even know if Plagueis existed or if Palpatine made him up to trick Anakin into believing he had more power than he actually did. The same people that think Snoke is Plagueis were arguing that Kylo Ren was Darth Revan, they’re mostly fanboys obsessed with the expanded universe that almost completely de-canonised by Disney. As it stands JJ Abrams has said that Snoke is a new character and while some people are trying to argue that “JJ Abrams also said Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness” the difference, is that people actually care about Khan Noonien Singh, no one gives a fuck about Darth Plagueis a character who comprises exactly two lines of script in Revenge of the Sith. Personally I’m thinking that Snoke might be revealed as a fallen Jedi who escaped Palaptine’s Jedi Purge but became corrupted by the Dark side during the reign of the Empire. In fact, it makes a lot of sense that a young Jedi apprentice in hiding would be pretty old by now so it’d fit the mould pretty well. Alternately I see him as an entirely new character who discovered the Dark Side independently from the Sith and created his own order of Dark users.

So yeah, that’s my 10 cents on Star Wars (My 2 cents is free).

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