“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had fans rushing to the theaters at the end of 2015 to see the beloved franchise reignited on the big screen. Director J.J. Abrams switched over from rebooting “Star Trek” to continue the story of the Skywalker family and a fallen Empire in a galaxy far, far away. We expected spaceship battles and galactic politics but mostly, we were dying to seewhat happened next.
Sadly, many fans were disappointed that the film was, at best, a rehash of the originals and didn’t do much to further the franchise’s most interesting stories, like the war between the Jedi and Sith, or much interesting in the way of the Force. That said, CBR decided to analyze 15 reasons this movie, while a loving homage, was nevertheless the worst in the entire franchise.
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for all “Star Wars” movies
15. OVERPOWERED HERO
Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) was a scavenger, abandoned as a kid on the desert planet, Jakku, and left waiting for her mysterious family to return. She proved to be completely self-sufficient until she met the ex-Stormtrooper, Finn. This began a quest to fight a new Empire (known as the First Order) and find Luke for the Resistance (backed by the Republic and his sister, General Leia Organa).
However, from being a master mechanic to suddenly being able to fly the Millennium Falcon to being able to use the Force, everything just seemed to go her way. Many folks criticized this as a Mary Sue factor (meaning she could overcome anything easily) and while this description was perhaps unnecessarily harsh and condescending, seeing her go toe-to-toe with Luke’s lightsaber against Kylo was a bit of a stretch. The fact she ended up beating him (even though he was injured) made things hard to believe in some peoples’ eyes. Characters like Luke and Anakin spent years trying to master the Force, whereas it seemed Rey was using a Force app for everything. She even used the Jedi mind-trick to escape Kylo’s clutches! We are hoping, however, that this will all be explained in “The Last Jedi.”
14. UNDERWHELMING VILLAIN
We never really got to understand Kylo’s motivations for turning his back on his family, betraying Luke, his Jedi master, and also eliminating the new Jedi order with his Knights of Ren. Abrams and company probably left this to be expanded on in future movies, but context was needed to inform just why he was such a whiny, emo brat. His constant frustration at Rey made him underwhelming and a far cry from intimidating villains of old such as Darth Maul, Moff Tarkin, Count Dooku, Darth Vader and the Emperor. We appreciate that his more emotionally-driven character was the point, but it rung surprisingly hollow.
The scene where he melts down in the control room, using his Sith powers and lightsaber to destroy everything, felt like a child who lost his toy, and Snoke (his new master) constantly checking in on his emotions really took away from how scary he could have been. As a contrast, Vader in that final “Rogue One” scene felt much more gruesome than what Kylo offered in this entire movie.
13. LACKED INNOVATION
This film exists in a time where CGI and sound effects are in their prime, as seen with the new “Planet of the Apes” franchise, the “Transformers” movies and of course, the plethora of comic book movies out there. However, for some reason, it didn’t feel innovative and like the “Star Wars” properties actually moved into the future. Sure, we loved Abrams’ use of practical effects, but the overall visual aesthetic still felt like we were back in the “Revenge of the Sith” days.
The lack of things like new ships, for example, was particularly frustrating, because we really would have loved to see some new fighters that could have rivaled the Millennium Falcon or a new breed of X-Wing, perhaps, rather than dusting off the old models. There should have been new Stormtroopers akin to the Deathtroopers of “Rogue One,” and even cooler robots than BB-8 (who just seemed there for the cute factor and to sell toys). The design, look and feel of the movie didn’t feel like a grand spectacle at all, and “The Force Awakens” didn’t come off like an updated or contemporary piece of art.
12. TRIED TOO HARD
This film tried too hard to shroud everything in secrecy. From the mystery of Snoke’s identity, Kylo’s fascination with Vader and the Dark Side, Luke going missing after Kylo turned on him with the Knights of Ren, and lastly, Rey’s heritage and marooning on Jakku, everything all came off as forced (no pun intended). We’re hoping “The Last Jedi” addresses all these issues come Christmas, but the older movies never crammed such big revelations down our throats or tried to keep us guessing. Everything just felt more organic; although, admittedly, the originals did have the shock of the new on their side.
Luke and Vader’s big fatherly chat in “The Empire Strikes Back” and Leia being Luke’s sister were well-kept and smartly executed in a franchise that didn’t succeed or fail necessarily on big jaw-dropping moments, but more on a rollicking and fun plot. Having too many mysteries doesn’t always allow fans to enjoy the space saga as a true adventure; sure, it helps, but the enjoyment of a film or its ascension to cultural phenomenon shouldn’t be contingent simply on hidden revelations and throwing in a semblance of a plot to connect them.
11. A MEDICORE SCORE
John Williams won an Academy Award for the original “Star Wars” movie, and with its two sequels, he received further nominations. He returned to “The Force Awakens” (also nominated for an Oscar) and tried to inspire the same magic from the originals. In composing this score, he stuck to what was already there for Luke, Leia and Han, to maintain the nature of these characters from the old days, and it was nostalgic as he constructed their musical stories as big parts of the fabric of this universe.
However, when it came to the new characters, he continued the same set of ideas, and treated Rey, Kylo and Poe without any impetus. He didn’t seem to grasp it was a continuing story, and the symphonic vibe he tried to shape just couldn’t identify melodically for a new saga. The orchestral beats felt way too familiar with the older heads, and in this case, just lacked any resonation with the new faces of the franchise. As for the battle scenes, particularly the climax, it wasn’t anything inspiring and Williams felt surprisingly bland without any recognizable signature.
10. DEATH STAR REMIX
“Star Wars” was about enslaving the galaxy through the Empire’s politics and corruption, with the planet-destroying weapon, the Death Star, at the center of things. When “The Force Awakens” revealed that it would be using a similar weapon, but this time in the form and size of a planet (Starkiller base) instead of as a moving satellite, there was an air of unoriginality. They basically grounded the Death Star on the Starkiller Base, harnessing energy from the stars and firing at targets.
You’d think by now the Empire (or Empire-like entities) would know not to place all their hopes on one major weapon, especially as the Resistance usually attacks head-on and destroys it. How about improving your fleets? Having multiple WMDs? Or even extending your political reach like we saw on “The Phantom Menace?” Brains over brawn and brute strength seems to work as opposed to terrorist weaponry and come “The Last Jedi,” we’re hoping for something other than a major laser.
9. UNNECESSARY CHARACTERS
In the old films, there were hardly filler characters, but here so many felt unnecessary. Lando Calrissian is an example of the original movies having someone introduced to really push the heroes up a notch, while Dooku in the prequels helped evolve Anakin into a true Sith contender. They all had a purpose but here, Finn (John Boyega), while incredibly fun, came off as someone who could be taken out the story and whose omission wouldn’t slow the plot down.
Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron also felt peripheral and was chucked in just to help bring in the cavalry at the end. He lacked the importance of, say, a Han Solo or an Obi-Wan Kenobi, who all became part of the family and shaped the heroes’ destiny. This pilot was purely a deus ex machina. Lor San Tekka, who gave him info on finding Luke, was also barely explained. He felt super gratuitous in the grand scheme of things and just chucked in to kickstart the search for Luke.
8. NO EPIC SPACE BATTLES
The space battles were shockingly weak as well, and something could have been done as per what “Rogue One” memorably produced years later. The escapades of the Falcon on Jakku when Rey piloted it were cool, but we would have loved to see Han using it to take on or outrun the First Order and their battleships. “The Phantom Menace” and the first movie in 1977 gave us some of the most awesome space fights in the history of cinema, and here, it felt like a missed opportunity.
The climax did see the Resistance attack the Starkiller Base, but there wasn’t any moment that kept fans in awe and disbelief. This was a run-of-the-mill showdown that felt very by-the-numbers. That was the one advantage of using the Death Star — we got epic battles in the depths of space. Still, “Rogue One” took the fight inside the planet and it was awesome, so there’s no reason why Abrams couldn’t have done the same or better here.
7. THE FIRST ORDER LACKED INTIMIDATION
When it came to the old Empire, there was always a sense of dread looming overhead. It felt decisive and threatening, ruling with an Imperial fist. Emperor Palpatine, while working from the shadows, had everyone cowering at Darth Vader’s feet. But here, that same scare factor wasn’t replicated with Snoke and Kylo. This also trickled down to General Hux, who felt more like a lackey than an apt replacement for someone like Grand Moff Tarkin.
The First Order never felt like a true army rebuilding, but instead like an incompetent bunch with an itchy trigger-finger at the Starkiller Base. To top it off, we got even more bumbling Stormtroopers (again, a far cry from the Deathtroopers we saw in “Rogue One”), and most disappointingly, Captain Phasma, who brought a ton of hype with her. It was a shame she was reduced to being sent down the garbage chute by Finn. Abrams had a chance to position the First Order as a true powerhouse instead of this inept organization of poor copies.
6. THE NEW REPUBLIC FELT WEAK
After ending the reign of the Empire, one would think that the New Republic that rose from its ashes would be a bit more grand and authoritative. The fact that it had to rely on the Resistance, a splinter faction of its army, says otherwise. With so much time passing since “ROTJ,” it’s shocking that they haven’t grown and evolved into something equally as formidable as what the Empire was, so as to be better perched to stave off any potential Imperial resurgence.
All we got with regards to a New Republic was just a slightly larger and more sanctioned Resistance army, still tucked away. Being stuck in this mode showed little evolution, which is surprising because it appeared that the First Order’s rebirth still managed to be bigger in scope than this heroic bunch. After being in the trenches for so long, General Leia and Han could have overseen a stronger line of defense, which fans thought would have been the case after past incidents like the battle on Endor, and the toppling of two Death Stars.
5. THE PLOT WAS PREDICTABLE
A lot of this movie dragged out and actually ended up being highly predictable. It was all a quest to ascertain the whereabouts of Luke, which didn’t even utilize the old cast well (bar Han Solo). Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 were relegated to being peripheral, and a lot of what was transpiring felt like middling material that you wanted out of the way to find out why Luke ran away. No “Star Wars” movie has ever had that effect — you always wanted to enjoy the ride.
Abrams was all about the destination and not the journey. Maz Kanata’s base, the Finn and Poe dynamic, and keeping Rey’s background in the dark all the time just felt like the film was asking you to bear with it until the sequel where more could be explained. Had this movie shed more light on Rey, or Kylo’s villainous turn, it would have been a more robust and fitting entry. Also, leaving out Luke for so long really diminished the plot, as it ended up being a treasure hunt with space villains chasing as opposed to something more cerebral like the past films.
4. DESTROYED THE THEME OF FAMILY
The theme of family is the foundational magic that this franchise is built upon and Abrams totally lost that in the translation. The Skywalker legacy was shot to pieces as he hid Luke away and barely used Leia in an attempt to redeem Kylo. The Solo legacy itself felt like a plot tool and a MacGuffin to force us to view Kylo in a dark light. Even with the new crew, there wasn’t that sense of togetherness with everyone — Poe and Finn included — as when the old movies had everyone on the Falcon with Han and Chewie.
Family’s the heart and soul of these films and making Kylo literally destroy its concept felt like a slap in the face of the old movies, which used the love of family to heal the galaxy. Abrams tried to revive that with Han but quickly threw that idea in the bin when he confronted Kylo. This movie ended up feeling like strangers just doing things to find Luke, who they hope will fix the galaxy, as opposed to people coming together and working as one. Having Luke abandon ship said it all.
3. INSULTING FINALE
This was a finale that left a lot to be desired. From a played-out space attack on the Empire’s weapon of mass destruction, to R2-D2 being used as a GPS for Luke, to Rey and Leia sharing a connection that would go unexplained, it was all filled with fluff. It’s not often this franchise comes off as style over substance (well, except maybe the prequels), but here, that’s what happened. Also, why would Rey go alone to meet Luke? Isn’t she the new *ahem* hope?
All of this we had to power through, only for one shot of Luke being a reclusive hermit. She was offering him his lightsaber and sadly, we got not even a single word. It was insulting and felt like a cop out. Your finale should inform and act as a suffix to what came before, book-ending and wrapping like a novel, but instead the last 10 minutes here felt like an extended trailer for a sequel. It told us to stay tuned for Luke as the new Yoda and Kylo as the new Vader, nothing more.
2. ALL FIZZLE, NO SIZZLE
Leia sent her estranged husband to bring their son back as his betrayal tore the family apart. However, Kylo was having none of it. The sad thing is that when they confronted each other, the dialogue was poor and by then, Kylo failed to connect as a Judas. This, coupled with Han’s death being telegraphed from a mile away, saw Kylo conduct what should have been a very important turn and death, which didn’t resonate at all.
There was no emotional connection, so we didn’t feel hurt as when Maul killed Qui-Gonn or when Obi-Wan sliced and diced Anakin. Even the Vader reveal as Anakin managed to echo in our geeky souls. The death of Han Solo, though, felt like when we saw Vader kill Obi-Wan. It’s only later on that we understood who Obi-Wan really was, so we missed him, but when Vader struck him down, he hadn’t been developed much as a character. That same thinking is what made Han’s death come off cheap and for shock value. Kylo didn’t strike the right chords with us to care abut his actions, unless it was facing Luke.
1. A NEW NEW HOPE
“The Force Awakens” felt like a “New Hope” rip-off. Abrams lacked ideas and inventiveness in a plot that was severely unoriginal. So many iconic beats were rehashed from the original movie. A planet-junker gets roped into an unwitting battle against the Empire with random folks, including a debonair pilot, thrown into the mix. She just so happens to be a mystical Force wielder who may have familial ties to the Skywalkers and their Jedi legacy, while protecting a robot that’s being hunted.
The villains have a planet-destroyer and now, the Resistance must attack them proactively, with an infiltration unit sent in first. Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what happened when George Lucas first brought this to life in the ’70s. At least Abrams showed a unique and fresh spin on his “Star Trek” reboot, but here, it was as much a love letter to Lucas’ original movie, as “Superman Returns” from Bryan Singer was to the Richard Donner era. We don’t mind the new paths forward being nostalgic with throwbacks, but we don’t want homages overdone or carbon copies.
Let us know in the comments if you felt “The Force Awakens” fell way short of the mark!