TCR Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (As originally published on The Catholic Response http://www.thecatholicresponse.us/tcr-review-star-wars-the-force-awakens/)

FORCEREVIEW (2)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars film saga.  It has been 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi.  After the fall of the Galactic Empire, a new regime called the First Order has risen and is wrecking havoc upon the galaxy.  Embarking on a new celestial adventure are a Jakku scavenger named Rey, a former Stormtrooper called FN-2187 who now goes by “Finn,” and gifted pilot Poe Dameron along with General Leia Organa’s Resistance army.

The Force is strong in my family.  My uncle introduced my brother to Star Wars at a young age and my brother has been a fan ever since.  He and my future sister-in-law even named their dog “Leia.”  My mother saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope at the Pantages Theater when she was a teenager.  As for me, I consider myself a newbie convert to the Star Wars fanbase and have recently finished watching the original trilogy (Return of the Jedi is my favorite), as well as the notoriously bad prequels.  Given that Star Wars is a huge part of my family’s identity, I went into Force Awakens with my fingers crossed, praying that it would turn out to be an amazing experience.  Let’s see how it holds up.

The Hits

John Boyega is adorable as Finn!  It is obvious that he is having the time of his life being in a Star Wars film.  His redemption from Stormtrooper to resistance sympathizer is made believable by his youthful face and committed performance.  Also his “bromance” with Poe Dameron is quite charming.  Something I should mention is how Finn isn’t made into a stereotype, which unfortunately tends to happen with minority characters.  He is the comic relief, but not in a condescending way.  Loyal, resourceful and steadfast, Finn is a three-dimensional character.

Daisy Ridley is a wonderful female lead.  I admire that she is not written as a clichéd independent woman who says she doesn’t need a man, but ends up being saved multiple times.  Daisy Ridley brings a nuance of innocent resolve to Rey.  The way she is written, her character could have been male or female; she is easy for everyone to relate to.  I also like how Rey is just the right age.  She is old enough to be going on a perilous quest and young enough for we, the audience, to sympathize with when she is in danger.

Kylo Ren is frightening when he is wearing the mask.  When the helmet is covering his face, he carries the villanous aura of Darth Vader.  Given that Darth Vader is such an iconic antagonist in the Star Wars universe, the task of creating a brand new villain to step into the shoes of Darth Vader was a challenging feat.  I feel that Kylo Ren is a worthy stand-in for Darth Vader and will prove to be a formidable foe in the coming films.

A few days before the film came out, it was revealed that J.J. Abrams was in panic mode over how well the film would do with critics and audiences. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can sympathetize with Abrams, who was given the task of rebooting (and redeeming) the Star Wars saga after the mishandled prequel trilogy.  Having seen the film as a Star Wars fan, I can say that J.J. Abrams has treated the movie with the utmost respect for the Star Wars mythos.  Interestingly enough, J.J. Abrams had initially turned down the task of directing Episode 7, but eventually changed his mind and took up his Lightsaber, sitting himself on the director’s chair.  With each frame and passing scene, I could feel Abrams’ passion for the story through his characters and respectful parallels to the original trilogy.

The Misses

Am I the only one who feels that Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is underused?  He’s such a charismatic character that I would say aloud, “No, don’t go, I like you,” every time he left a scene.  After his introduction in the first fifteen minutes, he doesn’t get much screen time.

Notice how earlier I said that Kylo Ren is a scary dude with the mask on.  When the helmet does come off, that is when the scare factor is lost.  One of the reasons Darth Vader was so intimidating was because his mask never came off until the end of Return of the Jedi.  Some of the mystery of Kylo Ren is lost once we see his face.

[KIND OF A SPOILER] I would say that 75% of Force Awaken’s plot elements are recycled from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.  Granted, I like New Hope and I adore Empire Strikes Back, but I would have liked some new storylines.  I know that J.J Abrams has said that A New Hope is his favorite and I have no issue with him paying homage to the film that inspired him, but I really hope that Episodes 8 & 9 contain new plot elements.


The Catholic Response

[Contains Spoilers]

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has Christian symbolism all over the place and that is a wonderful thing.
When we first meet Finn, he is wearing his Stormtrooper helmet.  During a Stormtrooper attack on a village in Jakku, he witnesses a fellow Stormtrooper die near him.  The dying man places his hand on Finn’s helmet and as he falls, his blood smears Finn’s mask.  For me, this brought to mind Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool.”  Shortly after this, Finn returns to the First Order’s base, where he pulls off his helmet, revealing his face.  The next time we see Finn, he is helping pilot Poe Dameron escape, during which he tells Poe, “My name is FN2187.”  Poe replies, “FN…Finn.  I’ll call you Finn.  That’s your name now.”  Sitting in the theater, I couldn’t help but smile as this exchange between Finn and Poe reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  I remembered this scripture every time the antagonists would refer to Finn by his Stormtrooper name, while the protagonists address him by his new name.  From this point on, Finn lives out his new calling as a former slave of the First Order turned redemptive ally of the resistance, as well as a protective friend of Rey.

As I looked back on the film, I came to realize that there is something very Marian about Rey.  For one, we are first introduced to Rey in the desert planet of Jakku.  Similarly in the Bible, we meet Mary in the desert city of Nazareth.  Rey has brown hair and wears white and beige clothing; comparatively Mary is often depicted as a brunette with either a white or beige veil.  The day after she takes BB-8 under her wing, an alien trader offers her 60 portions (food) in exchange for BB-8.  Rey, who is normally lucky to get one packet of food to last her a day, has every reason to trade in BB-8.  However, her innate goodness leads her to decide against it and declare, “The droid’s not for sale.”  Given that this is a lonesome character who should be a bitter, self-preserving survivalist, the fact that she remains uncorrupted by the world was reminiscent of our Blessed Mother, who remained without sin throughout her own life. Once Rey and Finn meet, the First Order attacks Jakku, forcing Rey, Finn and BB-8 to flee.  One might easily call this their ‘exile’ moment, comparable to the Holy Family’s exodus from Bethlehem into Egypt.

Finally, in the film’s climax, Rey and Kylo Ren fight against each other in a lightsaber duel.  As I watched the battle in awe, I found myself thinking about Mary crushing the serpent’s head.

Now saying that Kylo Ren is the serpent and Rey represents Mary may seem like a stretch until you take into account that Kylo Ren was training to become a Jedi, but then turned to the Dark Side, much like the fallen angel Lucifer. Also, there are a few scenes wherein Rey is mentioned, Kylo Ren goes into a fiery rage.  Exorcists who have confronted the Devil have said that the name of Mary is Satan’s worst nightmare, a burning thorn in his side.
At the end of their first battle against each other, Rey and Kylo Ren are separated by a chasm that splits the collapsing planet.  Genesis 3:15 echoed in my mind, “I will put enmity between you and the woman…”
While Rey is not an exact replica of the Virgin Mary, her character could certainly be considered a Marian type.  I’m sure that J.J. Abrams didn’t intend to make a Mary vs. Satan analogy with his narrative, but I feel that devotees of Mary will appreciate the subtle parallels to Our Blessed Virgin Mother.

 

Final Verdict

Star Wars fans have had to put up with the sting of the lackluster prequel trilogy, so obviously rebooting the franchise with Episode 7 was a nail-biting endeavor for everyone involved.  As a new fan of the Star Wars universe, I highly recommend The Force Awakens.  The characters are lovable, the action is fast and well-realized, and the story is packed with intensity and humor.  Kids will watch the flying ships with wide-eyed wonder while the adults will be able to rest easy knowing that this saga has been resurrected for a new generation to enjoy.
The hype…it’s calling to you.

Saint Mary of Nazareth, pray for us.

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