Why The Force Awakens Is On Par With Episode I

The Force Awakens is finally here, and it is huge. It's the biggest thing since, well, Jurassic World, actually. But it's still big. And credit where credit is due, it's a fun movie to watch and it's great to see a galaxy far, far away on the big screen again. But even though we and everyone else truly loves this movie, an argument can be made that it is, in fact, a product of the Dark Side. That's right: if you look closely enough, there are parts of this movie that look a whole lot like that most evil of cinematic experiences, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Let's have a look, shall we?


Finn was a really great character, but something seems to have happened in the script that ultimately hurts him. The idea of a soldier who has an attack of conscience is a great one, especially for a Stormtrooper. This could have been awesome. But then we learn early on that Finn doesn't even have a name, just a number. He's been raised from childhood to be a Stormtrooper. If the First Order didn't bother to name him, and they dress everyone exactly the same, we can assume training for these guys is pretty much an endless life of battle and duty. No love, no playtime. This is the story of the Unsullied from Game of Thrones or, more accurately, Kurt Russell in the movie Soldier.

The thing Kurt and characters like Grey Worm in Thrones have in common that Finn completely missed is that they're socially confused. Blind, even. The idea that this character could somehow understand, independent of a life of training, that what they're doing is wrong is very cool and has a lot of deep philosophical questions behind it that could make for an amazing character. How does a boy raised by wolves adapt to the real world? Instead, the Finn we get is just a cool guy who cracks wise a few times with some comedy relief and even tosses out the odd bit of slang here and there. It may be entertaining as hell, but it makes no sense for the character as he's introduced. He should be struggling constantly to understand how to be in the world, how to be good, how real people live. Instead he has none of that.

Finn is like a good guy version of The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul in The Force Awakens, in that the director never knows what to do with him, or if he should even have a history or personality that makes sense. Instead, he just gets a cool first appearance in the movie. Let's all hope the rest works itself out.

Maz Kanata

This mysterious newcomer is introduced by Han Solo as an old friend. But what we're really given is basically Yoda's sister who chooses a different color and silly steampunk goggles. The use of a character like this is a crutch in so many movies it's become very cliché. A wise, old character who possesses mysterious knowledge because...they're old? We don't know. Doesn't matter. It will never be fully explained, we're just supposed to accept that old people know more things and have access to wisdom that, in movie universes, is always important but often rather vague. That's why Maz can have the blue-bladed lightsaber that Luke loses in Cloud City, and just not mention why or even be bothered to say the name of who used to own it. Sure, we'll hear about it more in Episode VIII, but it's pretty frustrating to have her tell everyone, "that's a story for another time." Now's a good time, Maz!

Maz is very much a Yoda replacement in this film, as though J.J. Abrams couldn't think of a way to introduce the mysterious elements of the movie without falling back on thing Lucas has done in the past. While Episode I confused audiences with Qui-Gon Jin and his talk of midichlorians, this movie just gives us orange Yoda and her eyes that can see...what? The Force? Yoda was always big on the ability to see what can't be seen: "see much anger in you," "hard to see the Dark Side is." Maz is just the literal, bifocal-enhanced version of that.

Captain Phasma

On this one, we can all agree: Captain Phasma is the Jar Jar Binks of The Force Awakens. That's a heavy criticism, but don't forget, before we ever met Jar Jar, he was a really hyped character. We were promised something awesome. He was featured on all kinds of branded products, from cups to shirts to toys and more. Just like Captain Phasma. And then, when we finally got the movie, we realized the character was 100 percent useless. She could've been the Darth Maul of The Force Awakens, but at least Darth Maul actually does something.

The only redemption for Phasma over Jar Jar is that Phasma is played for laughs only once in the handful of scenes she gets. And that's the other problem: she only has about ten minutes of screentime. She was so hyped up—the only Stormtrooper with an actual name, wearing some bad-ass chrome armor and played by Game of Thrones' Gwendoline Christie, the six-foot-three powerhouse that is Brienne of Tarth. And she has maybe four lines then they make a trash compactor joke at her expense and we never see her again. With any luck Phasma has a role, maybe even a story, in the later films, but Force Awakens made her basically the living embodiment of her uniform—something shiny that doesn't do much.


There are plenty of criticisms online already that point out how Rey is basically Luke Skywalker v2.0. But isn't she also just Anakin all over again, too? How do so many of these kids who raise themselves in the desert learn the finer points of robotics and engineering, anyway? How do they learn to speak Droid? While we're on the subject, how is the only salvageable piece of technology from a ship bigger than a city a fist-sized piece of metal from inside the engine? Doesn't matter, because Rey is the Chosen One and can do no wrong.

We're simply told early on that Anakin is the most powerful Jedi ever and we shrug and accept it despite no evidence to support it. Rey, who lives in a universe that used to be dominated by the Force no less than 50 years previous, doesn't even know anything about it other than myths and legends apparently, and after having a vision while touching a lightsaber, she's using Jedi mind tricks within a half hour. And it works. And no one even told her about it. A few minutes later and she's out-Forcing Darth Vader Jr. How is that even possible? The same way it's possible for little Anakin to be the best pod-racer in what would be a devastating, high-speed desert blood sport in which few contestants survive—if it was devoid of goofy cartoon characters, that is.