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A Star Wars: Episode VII Review
So, it goes without saying, but SPOILERS! If you don't want to know anything about the movie before you go and see it, stop reading right here, get to your local theater, and come back when the show is over. Don't worry, I'll wait. Again, reader beware, SPOILERS ahead.
The Force Awakens opens with the traditional Star Wars script crawl, where we learn that Luke has disappeared, leaving the New Republic without Jedi guardianship. In his absence, a new villainous organization has arisen in the First Order. They are opposed by a small band known as the Resistance, led by Leia Organa Solo. Both sides are seeking a lost map that will lead to wherever Luke has gone to. In pursuit of that, Leia has dispatched her best pilot to the desert world of Jakku to follow up a lead, but the jackboots of the First Order are not far behind.
Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) and his astromech droid, BB-8, meet with a village elder on Jakku and receive data on Luke's location just ahead of a First Order assault. When his X-wing is damaged, rendering it in-operable, Poe gives the data chip to BB-8 and sends the droid off across the desert while he confronts the enemy. Unfortunately, Sith wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is on hand to make Poe's attack ineffectual, and Poe is captured. Ren orders the villagers executed before departing, yet one Stormtrooper, FN2187 (John Boyega), does not take part.
Cut to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger eking out a living searching for valuable components from a wrecked Imperial Star Destroyer. She runs across BB-8 by accident, and somewhat unwillingly takes the droid under her protection.
Meanwhile, Poe has given up the maps location in his droid under some form of Force induced torture. Then FN2187 breaks Poe out, and together they steal a Tie Fighter, where Poe gives the rogue Trooper the name Finn. While making their escape the ship is damaged and they crash back to Jakku. When Finn awakes, he finds no sign of Poe, who he assumes died in the crash. After trekking across the desert, Finn arrives at the same settlement as Rey, where BB-8 recognizes the jacket he wears as belonging to Poe. Just then the First Order arrives, and to make their escape Finn and Rey jump into the nearest available ship: the Millenium Falcon.
After managing to get into space, they discover the hyperdrive is damaged, but before they can do anything about it, they are captured by a passing freighter. Rey and Finn hide, fearing First Order troops, but the new arrivals are revealed to be none other than Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Rey and Finn are quickly found, but Han and Chewie are in bigger trouble, as they are transporting three dangerous alien creatures AND being pursued by two groups to whom Han owes money. Rey accidentally unleashes Han's cargo, which allows the group to escape in the Falcon.
Han brings them to Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong'o), a wise and mysterious old alien who runs a tavern on the world of Takodana. Finn takes an offer of employment to get to the Outer Rim and leaves. Rey discovers the ligthsaber built by Anakin Skywalker that Luke lost on Bespin. It gives her a vision that leaves her shaken, and she runs off into the forest.
On another world, Kylo Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) meet with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Hux suggests the time has come to use the First Orders' Starkiller Base to decapitate the New Republic, leaving the Resistance without any means of support and the galaxy open to conquest. Snoke approves, and the Hosnian system is destroyed by a weapon that makes the original Death Star look like a pea shooter. At the same time, Ren leads an assault on Takodana to capture BB-8. Finn returns, and takes up the lightsaber to fight, but he, Han, and Chewie are surrounded and forced to surrender. Just in time, the Resistance arrives, with Poe Dameron at their head. The First Order retreats, but not before Ren captures Rey and takes her away.
Leia (Carrie Fisher) arrives after the battle, and Han drops the bombshell that Kylo Ren is actually their son. We learn that he was studying under Luke to be a Jedi when Supreme Leader Snoke corrupted him and lured him to the dark side. C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 also put in an appearance at this point, though R2 has been in low power mode since Luke vanished.
Finn reveals to the Resistance the existence of Starkiller Base, and a desperate plan is conceived to destroy the weapon. Han, Chewie, and Finn take the Falcon to rescue Rey and lower the shields to allow Poe and the Resistance to strike at the First Order. In the meantime, Rey has discovered a latent Force sensitivity, which she uses to free herself. She ultimately joins with Finn, Han, and Chewie as they attempt to sabotage the base.
Han confronts Ren, begging him to come back to the light. Ren holds out his lightsaber, and Han places his hand on it. Ren ignites the saber, killing Han. Rey and Finn escape into the surrounding forest, but are pursued by Ren. Finn is badly injured, but Rey takes up the Skywalker ligthsaber and defeats Ren.
The groups sabotage allows Poe to strike at the heart of the First Order superweapon, unleashing the energy contained within and destroying it. Chewie, Rey, and Finn escape in the Millenium Falcon while General Hux escapes, bringing Kylo Ren to Supreme Leader Snoke.
R2-D2 wakes up when the Resistance fighters return, and together with BB-8, completes the map to Luke's location. Rey and Chewie head off in search of him, and the film ends with Rey standing before Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) holding out his lightsaber to him.
To me, all of this came across as very derivative. It takes everything that was good about the old movies and reworks it, but it doesn't have anything new to say. I make the analogy that this is the Star Trek Into Darkness of the Star Wars franchise; it's not a bad movie, per se, but it could've been so much more.
It might be interesting to run this film side by side with A New Hope because the plot is virtually identical. Jakku is indistinguishable from Tatooine, which may be why characters keep referring to it by name. Rey is very similar to a young Luke, growing up on a desert world without knowing her parents, only to discover she is a powerful force user. It even seemed to be implied that she is in some way related to Luke, but I could be wrong. Poe is the hotshot pilot, supremely confident in his own skills.
Kylo Ren is just never very strong as a villain. They try to portray him as a successor to Darth Vader but he comes across as a wannabe with unresolved family issues. General Hux is a far more convincing villain and just doesn't get enough screen time. This may be part of the problem with Ren though, as Hux is constantly able to undercut him and make him seem less effective. The Starkiller Base is literally the Death Star on steroids, a planet killing weapon that consumes stars to power itself. Snoke only ever appears as a massive hologram, and the image he chooses to have projected seems frail and badly injured.
The final assault is highly reminiscent of both the ends of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, with Han and Chewie trying to knock out the defensive shields, and the final climax even features Poe making a run down a trench to make his final attack.
All in all, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a decent film that to obviously takes too much from what has come before.