I’ve now seen the movie several times and I like it a little more each time. One thing I particularly admire is the depth of the production design. It’s like ESB, everywhere you look there are details in the environment that make it seem real. I have no idea how much that costs, but it’s a big failing in a lot of sci-fi movies.
I’ve refined my thinking about Supreme Leader Snoke. I’m fine with having him so much in the movie. In fact, it’s kinda cool to see that General Hux and Kylo Ren report to Snoke separately, and that they don’t really get along with each other. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out in the next movie. BUT I think it was a mistake to reveal that Snoke was a giant hologram in the very first scene where he appears. It would have been much better to let the audience think that he might actually be a 30-foot tall dude for most of the movie, and only reveal that he’s a hologram at the end, when Hux comes to report that the planet is about to blow. Keeping people guessing like that has been a traditional strength of Star Wars – it’s a minor thing but it feels like a missed opportunity here.
(Also, I really hope that Snoke is a life-sized hologram of a 30-foot dude, and not a giant hologram of a normal-sized dude. And if he turns out to be like Yoda small, I’m going to be disappointed. How awesome would it be if the final battle of the sequel trilogy was Rey going up against a giant?)
I think the lightsaber fight at the end of this movie is my favorite out of all of the Star Wars movies. In large part because they’re so clumsy and desperate. Kylo Ren is passionate and undisciplined at the best of times, and he’s still reeling from having killed Han and from having been shot by Chewie. And Finn and Rey are clearly trying their hardest but kind of fumbling around. That the fight happens right after Han’s death gives it an emotional weight that a lot of other lightsaber fights can’t match. The big fight with Darth Maul at the end of TPM is still thrilling but it’s almost the exact opposite – everyone is technically super-proficient, and the fight starts with essentially zero emotional freight. Here are two Jedi, here’s a Sith, time to fight, because that’s what you do in these situations.
Also, getting back to the immersive environments, I was astounded to learn that the lightsaber fight at the end happened on a soundstage. I never suspected for a moment that it wasn’t a real forest. And I’ve spent a lot of time stomping around in the woods. Impressive.
It’s kind of funny that Kylo Ren offers to teach Rey to use the Force at the turning point of their battle, because he already has been. A lot of critics have asked why Rey is able to affect the stormtrooper’s mind, without ever having been trained. Because – duh – Kylo Ren had already shown her how, in their immediately previous scene together. Rey’s proficiency in the Force is in part a problem of his own devising.
Rey’s strength in the Force is not – and one of the best things in the movie is that Rey’s abilities come as a surprise not just to Kylo Ren, but to Rey herself. Daisy Ridley gives the best performance of the movie, with her visible uncertainty, exhilaration, and wonder as Rey discovers her powers (and somehow not deploying her million-watt smile). But my absolute favorite thing is that she is only successful at using the Force when she is at peace. In both the stormtrooper mind-control scene and the final fight with Kylo Ren, Rey visibly struggles at first, and makes no headway. But then she calms down, her brow smooths, and the Force flows through her. Dynamite, and a perfect example of “show, don’t tell”. Yoda tells Luke that his access to the Force will be best when he is “calm, at peace, passive”. Oddly enough, I think Qui-Gon kneeling for a quick meditation during the final TPM lightsaber fight, and now Rey acting that out when she uses the Force, are the only times we’ve really been shown that on screen. (Maaaybe Luke when he chops off Vader’s hand in ROTJ and then looks down at his own.)
Perhaps the best thing I can say about The Force Awakens is that it has sufficient depth to reward multiple viewings and subsequent noodling. I am looking forward to the next two episodes, but if for some reason they never get made, TFA would still be a great, rewarding movie.