Today’s subject: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This little-discussed sequel by a former television director follows the maligned 2005 prequel Revenge of the Sith. The Star Wars universe is complex, to put it mildly, making it intimidating for the the ten or twenty people out there who haven’t yet seen the original films to figure out how to jump in. So we asked two of our film critics—mega-fan Eric Stolze and the interested-but-inexperienced Erin Hickey—to burn a billable hour at their day jobs talking about what the film was like for grizzled old vets of the Clone Wars and fresh young padowans alike.
Be warned: major spoilers ahead.
He (Eric Stolze): Okay, so the first and most pressing question: is Kylo Ren attractive or not? I keep hearing mixed responses.
She (Erin Hickey): No, he isn’t.
He: But he has the best hair in the galaxy, right? His hair is as glamorous as it gets, especially after being stuck in a mask all day.
She: I mean, yes, definitely props to his hairspray for keeping its hold under a helmet. It’s just hard for me to be attracted to a man who’s constantly throwing lightsaber (lightsword?) tantrums.
He: The official term is “lightsaber.”
She: Yeah, but his looked more swordy. It had a hilt.
He: As someone who’s been to the Star Wars exhibit at Disneyland, I can tell you that hilt expels extra raw energy that makes his lightsaber even stronger. Here’s my lunch money.
She: Hand it over, nerd! Speaking of which, how did you feel about his tantrum throwing? Did you find it odd that they played it comically, even though he’s supposed to be this scary villain?
He: Oh, I LOVED the tantrums. Those are what sealed him as an interesting character to me. It’s funny, but also scary. Because every time you see a character with a lightsaber up to that point in these movies, they use it with poise and grace, like a knight. The tantrums showed he’s a lunatic with the strongest weapon available. Darth Emo.
She: Yeah, I mean, I loved the tantrums too. I just felt weird about them playing it comically.
He: The two Troopers going, “Ummm, let’s walk the other way.”
She: It could have been so much more terrifying—like, he’s essentially this spoiled teenager wielding unlimited power. Instead, I feel like they set him up as a joke from the get-go, which makes the stakes feel way lower.
He: I think the movie does that a lot. “Here’s a Stormtrooper who’s been basically PTSD’d out of a life of war training and wants out. Now here’s some funny one-liners from him an hour later.”
She: I think they could’ve gotten away with the Stormtroopers turning around—because yeah, that was hilarious—if they had played it more serious the first time he throws the tantrum.
He: But that’s the inherent conflict in tone with Star Wars across the board. It’s for kids, but it’s also for adults who take it even more seriously. It has to please many masters. This movie seems to walk that tightrope by basically setting up two separate tightropes and jumping back and forth between them. To J. J. Abrams’ credit, it executes those jumps pretty smoothly.
She: Yeah, I think it was a great success overall, I just think Kylo Ren could have been way scarier. And they definitely could have had him listening to Rilo Kiley.
He: Hahaha. Right. Would explain all the tears brimming in his eyes.
She: Cheer up, Darth Emo.
He: The new villains were definitely lame compared to the new heroes. The CGI of Supreme Commander Snoke was worse than that of the prequels, practically. And Hux sux.
She: Yeah, but Hux was just boring. That Snoke CGI was straight offensive.
He: And there have already been a lot of complaints about how their master plan is to build a bigger version of the shit that failed twice already.
She: Okay, please elaborate on that. I am a bit of a n00b.
He: Well, the Death Star from Episode Four got blowed up real good because it had one weak spot. Then there was a second Death Star under construction in Return of the Jedi. That got blowed up real good because it was just one giant weak spot… and not at all threatening or scary… or new… or cool.
She: I see where you’re going with this.
He: And now Episode Seven has a Death Star under a new name. They even stop the movie to say, “No! No! This one’s bigger!” But, again: it has one itty-bitty little Achilles heel that compromises the entire thing
She: Yeah, I mean, you’d think they’d have hired better engineers by now.
He: Clearly the turnaround in the First Order is very high.
She: Well, their employee of the month ceremony is basically just an execution, so…
He: And HR is “Report to reconditioning” or whatever. But what I ultimately liked about this is how fun, magnetic, and funny the heroes were. It’s fun when the heroes are the characters you most want to spend time with, especially in a series defined by one of the most iconic villains ever.
She: Yes, I agree 100%. The new characters were spot on, and I’m not just saying that cause Oscar Isaac is such a hunk.
He: I’ll second that. Did you buy Rey and Finn as characters who could throw themselves into this ongoing conflict so bravely?
She: I definitely bought Rey as brave enough to jump in. And I felt like they did a good job of setting Finn up as kind of a doofus blindly following his crush.
He: That’s a good way to put it.
She: He wouldn’t have been brave enough as an individual, but once he’s trying to impress Rey, all bets are off. Did you have any problems with how quickly Rey was able to harness The Force? I’m not the most well versed in this world, but isn’t most of the original trilogy about Luke trying to figure out how the heck to use it?
He: I didn’t really. I could see how that’s a valid criticism but she sold it well in her performance. And it’s clearly setting her up like the Neo of The Force—someone who can bend and shape it all with sheer willpower.
She: That’s an interesting way to look at it.
He: It’s rushed on one level—again, this movie’s trying to please an impossible number of people—but overall it made me excited to see what she’s capable of.
She: Yeah, I think that’s the biggest takeaway for me. I can’t wait to see eight!
He: Especially with Nerd Hero Rian Johnson at the the wheel!!!