To say that Star Wars (by which I mean Episode IV: A New Hope) changed my life would be an understatement: as I discuss here, it set me on the course to becoming a writer of sci-fi and fantasy. So of course I saw the latest installment—The Force Awakens—on opening weekend. If you’re one of the four people in the United States who hasn’t seen it yet, fear not: this review contains no spoilers.
As is my wont, I won’t go over everything: instead, I’ll touch briefly on a number of things I liked and a few I didn’t. Ready?
The Force Awakens is everything the prequels are not. Fans had worried that Episode VII would colossally disappoint, the way that I, II, and III did. Rejoice, because TFA is fast-paced, exciting, interesting, witty, and fun—qualities the prequels lacked. The familiar opening crawl informs us that Luke Skywalker has disappeared, and that the First Order, a specter of the supposedly-defeated Galactic Empire, has risen as a threat to the New Republic. The film briskly moves on from there, and what a ride it is.
A great mix of old and new characters. I never got into any of the Star Trek shows and movies that spun off the original series because they didn’t have Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones McCoy, and the others I had come to know and enjoy. TFA has a raft of new characters, but the old ones—Han Solo and Chewbacca, General (no longer Princess) Leia Organa, C3PO, and R2D2—are there to hand off the series to them.
And the newbies don’t disappoint, particularly junk-salvager Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and the droid BB-8. Hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he’s still a good addition. Speaking of new characters…
The bad guys are good enough. Let’s be honest: there’s no way the filmmakers could create a better villain than Darth Vader—which the movie acknowledges with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the masked wanna-be who idolizes and emulates the deceased Dark Lord of the Sith. Ren has tremendous power but not much skill; he’s still developing his confidence, commitment, and abilities. It’s refreshing to see a bad guy (and Ren proves he is that) who’s working his up instead of simply starting out on top.
General Hux (Domhnall Gleason, which already sounds like a “Star Wars name”) is the slimy upper-management weasel who abuses his underlings, throws his peers under the bus (when he isn’t talking crap behind their backs), and kisses the big boss’s butt. Andy Serkis, master of portraying CGI characters, is Supreme Leader Snoke, who presumably will have more to do in future installments. And while we’re on the subject…
The acting is great. Let’s continue to be honest: while the acting in the prequels was awful, it wasn’t a whole lot better in the original trilogy (exception: most of The Empire Strikes Back). And it is much, much improved here, particularly with the young guns. Ridley and Boyega drew me in to their characters, and Driver did a great job keeping Kylo Ren sinister while almost being sympathetic.
But enough about that artsy stuff. Let’s get a bit more down-to-earth. Another reason why TFA succeeds is because everything looks real. Director J.J. Abrams relied on a lot of physical special effects (actual sets, vehicle models, stunts, costumes, make-up, explosions, etc.) in place of computer-generated images, and it shows.
The prequels relied so much on obvious CGI that after a while, I no longer believed in or cared about what I was looking at: “ho hum, another ‘alien landscape’”. And while the originals’ effects were great at the time, they have not aged well. TFA is a visual marvel that will actually make you excited to watch spaceships, weird critters, and lightsaber battles again. Speaking of battles…
Stormtroopers are finally badass. The foot soldiers of Episodes IV-VI were supposed to be fearsome, but quickly became jokes, falling for Jedi mind tricks, hitting their heads on doors, unable to hit anything (“Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise”—what dope were you smoking, Obi-Wan?), and ultimately defeated by teddy bears. Worse than being similarly ineffective, the Clone Troopers from II and III were merely boring.
In TFA, the guys in white armor finally earn some respect. To be sure, lots and lots of them get killed—I mean, that is why they’re there—but along the way, they’re actually a threat: massacring villagers, harrying Our Valiant Heroes, even getting in some good hits.
Do I have complaints? Not many, and most of them are on the order of “more of this, please,” which hopefully, we’ll have addressed in future episodes. The film’s very fast pace (none of the dragging that plagued the middles of V and VI) makes up for it borrowing heavily from IV (droid with secret information sets young desert-dwelling do-gooder on adventure with roguish companions against evil army bent on destroying planets and crushing opposition).
The Force Awakens is A New Hope for a new generation, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
If you’re looking for last-minute gifts for readers who want something different, the Kindle version of my fantasy novel Dragontamer’s Daughters is $0.99 on Amazon this week, and the Kindle of Lost Dogs, my other novel, is free! And I will be donating all my profits from sales of DTD in December to the Navajo Water Project, a non-profit initiative to provide running water to Native Americans on their reservation.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in fall 2016.
Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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