NON-SPOILER VERDICT (lets start with the conclusion)
The world got a Star Wars film for Christmas! Thanks, Santa Abrams! Considering the enormous pressure and expectations to make this something good, Star Wars 7 delivers the goods. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is good enough. It is more than good enough. And again considering the expectations, that is an enormous relief and quite an achievement. I say it with satisfaction: it’s good enough.
The characters and the story are quite solid, and there are lots of throwbacks and echoes to the original trilogy to make this feel like a real Star Wars film that really takes place in the same universe. And most importantly, it is just a colorful and enjoyable adventure story. This is a perfect introduction into the Star Wars universe for a new generation.
1.What I like about it
1.1 The journeys of Rey and Kylo Ren and their fight.
Kylo Ren is really trigger-happy when it comes to lightsabers. At first I was concerned that this would devalue the whole lightsaber element because he pulled it out often, but I actually appreciated that it was also a sign of Kylo Ren’s insecurity. He is young and inexperienced, and the lightsaber gives him a sense of power although he isn’t that good yet at handling one. Rey, meanwhile, has to get familiar with the Force from scratch. So, when their lightsaber fight starts, we have two people who hardly know what they are doing. They are clumsy and uncontrolled, and their fight really reflects their emotional swings. I really like that fight and Kylo and Rey are lurching at each other; I felt involved and worried for their safety.
1.2 The variety of aliens, robots and assorted puppets.
Visually, this is a great movie that tries its utmost to show the rich Star Wars universe. All the quirky robots and aliens add to this sense of wonder and fascination, and hints to the scale of the universe. It adds some much-appreciated humor to the movie too.
1.3 The old cast bringing us back, giving way for the new one.
Seeing Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia and Luke on the screen was really great, and I think that it is good that they also make room for the new cast of Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. The moments between Han and Leia were suitably touching. The way Han Solo left the movies was well done. It wasn’t due to some random fight that he got to his end. Thank god it wasn’t some random Stormtrooper or bounty hunter shooting him. Instead, it was a family event and very much part of the still-evolving story. It also echoed the scene of Darth Vader and Luke from episode 5 in a poetic way (it rhymes).
2. What I don’t like about it.
2.1 The overpowered weapon and the plan to destroy it.
That discussion about that attack literally lasted two minutes. “Ok, there is a superweapon, how do we deal with it? We disable the shield and blow it up. Ok, let’s go.” Now, this may have been a joke, a referral to how easy it was to blow up the previous two Death Stars, but it was also unrealistic. I don’t want the end of an exciting adventure to be the pun of a joke, I want something more serious. But then… it wasn’t really played as a joke. That was literally the plan. One second they discuss it, the next second the Millennium Falcon crashes on the snow planet and they go about the plan. Related to this over-simplistic plan is the whole deflated feeling I have about the superweapon in general. It was played up as huge and threatening, but the way the rebels destroyed it felt like a balloon being deflated. I think a good alternative would have been to save the superweapon for the third film (Star Wars 9), and just show the construction. This film, number 7, could have ended with the destruction of the General’s flagship instead.
2.2 Convenient plotting.
The worst moment was the end of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. They are separated by a chasm opening up in the ground between them. I really didn’t buy this. It is much too convenient. I would rather have seen Rey debating with herself whether to attack Kylo Ren while he was on the ground, and then leaving without doing it. Or something like that. This whole chasm thing is a non-event.
3. What I am ambivalent about.
3.1 Echoes of the previous Star Wars.
The whole situation of Rey as an orphan in a desert world, fumbling around with left-over tech, and getting possession of a cute little bleeb-bloob robot, that is just a straight, deliberate echo of Luke Skywalker in Episode 4. Not to mention that BB-8 was carrying secret data. Maybe the reason behind this was to make the movie feel familiar to us, and maybe the writers had this theme in mind of history repeating itself. I like the setting and the creatures walking around, but it also feels like covered ground already. I don’t think it adds enough new material, but it is a good introduction to Rey. And, who knows, it might give Rey and Luke Skywalker a shared understanding of each other.
3.2 Maz Katana.
Another echo of the previous Star Wars was the Maz Katana character and her party castle. It’s a mixture of Yoda and Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Maz Katana, we learn, is like 1000 years old and just as tiny and wrinkly as Yoda. And wise, of course. The castle is like the bounty hunter hotel of Jabba. I didn’t think that Maz Katana is as memorable as Yoda and I actually had already forgotten her name immediately, and her CGI face was a bit… unsubstantial to look at. Speaking of echoes, Rey’s descent into the basement and her dream journey after touching Luke’s lightsaber is an echo of Luke’s challenge during Yoda’s training. That was ok.
I’m not so sure whether I like this character. During the first half hour he doesn’t do much more than panting. He’s always sweaty and breathing into the camera. I wish the film used his character to show a bit more about the Stormtrooper indoctrination. The script could have given him some psychological quirks like him struggling with indoctrination, or him reacting subconsciously to orders, or something to that effect to make him more like a new unique character. He needed some more character.
3.4 Supreme Leader Snoke.
Eh. This one seemed detached from the whole movie, and the whole Star Wars universe, really. I hope that Snoke is connected with Palpatine in some way to give the big bad evil some continuity with the rest of the movies. I don’t really know what to think about this guy. His name sounds a bit silly, and the CGI was very present with this one.