Note: This article contains SPOILERS for the movie. If you haven’t seen it and miraculously haven’t seen spoilers on your social media, you might want to give this a miss until you’ve had a chance to see it or just don’t care anymore if you’re spoiled as to most/all the major plot points.
Let’s start with the basics. I loved this movie. It wasn’t perfect, but for me, it did what it had to do: it had to be better than the prequels – which I liked despite their flaws – and it had to be Star Wars. It did both of these far and away more than I was expecting. Sure, I was hopeful. A lot of people had trepidation going on because they weren’t fond of JJ Abrams’ version of Star Trek (me, I liked the first Trek movie tons better than the second). Me, I was on board when he emphasized two words in his early presentation: practical effects. When he proved it by having a real BB-8 roll out on stage at Celebration in Anaheim and over four thousand fellow Star Wars fans around me in the convention center arena lost their collective marbles, I was sold.
So, I was going into it on a fairly high tier of the hype train, but I was also a little cautious. I wasn’t blind to the potential that this could crash and burn. Still, as the pressure mounted, and people were getting worked up whether this was going to be good, was it going to be Star Wars, I was reassured by the behavior of the cast in media interviews. The new actors seemed pretty cool and with it. The old guard were still themselves. Carrie Fisher (and her dog Gary) routinely stole the show in interview after interview, acting as mouthy old broad and class clown at the same time. I had a huge fangirl moment when I replied to a tweet from my friend and Obi-Wan voice actor James Arnold Taylor that also went to her, saying that she was a firecracker and that I loved her, and she favorited that tweet. I have screenies because of course you’re going to ensure you have proof!
Let’s turn to the actual movie. I saw it at the very first showing in my area, successfully avoiding spoilers by carefully curating my social media, not clicking on any links and avoiding the plethora of douchebags out there who were seeding spoilers in unrelated places. I only knew that Mark Hamill’s Luke was mysteriously absent from the media blitz, and after a cheer at the Lucasfilm logo, the real, non-Photoshopped opening crawl began.
The crawl was so good. It set the scene perfectly, something that has been missing for awhile, although sometimes Clone Wars set their opening info blurbs just as well. The movie’s overall pace was pretty much a headlong rush. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit around and be philosophical, because stuff was constantly happening. The ‘quiet’ moments that we occasionally saw in the original trilogy and even in the prequels were rarely present.
One thing I really liked was how we’re not told every last detail. That was one of the failings of the prequels, their need to explain who everyone was and what they were doing, and instead we get more of an organic learning process. There were mysteries to many of the characters, even familiar ones like Han and Leia, so it was exciting to learn new details about each character, but not get the entire story. Some of this mystery makes sense, because we still have two more movies in this trilogy, and they can’t blow their wad as it were in the first one. We get just enough info to know who the characters are and what their basic motivations are, and we’re left to follow along their adventures because this was supposed to be their journey of discovery. One of the biggest criticisms about the prequels is that you pretty much can’t describe their major characters’ personalities without using their job titles, unlike the original trilogy. The Force Awakens is like the original trilogy in this respect. You can easily describe Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, General Hux, and Kylo Ren without using their basic titles of ‘scavenger’, ‘trooper’, ‘pilot’, ‘military officer’, and ‘Force-user’. Their personalities outshine their role in the story, and this is great.
Speaking of personality, what about BB-8? I was concerned that he would be another Artoo, sassy and independent and capable of completing his mission without help. Instead, we get a ‘young’ droid, someone who needs looking after but still useful to the human heroes. BB-8 was sweet and endearing without being saccharine. Also due to Artoo’s own role in the movie, we don’t get any of those silly droid vs. droid battles. At the end when Artoo finally does something (he does a little more in the novelization), the two droids work together to accomplish a goal, not compete with one another.
Turning to the new human actors, the new trio (Rey, Finn, Poe) are refreshing. You can’t say that one is ‘the Han of the story’ or ‘the Luke of the story’, because they’re not the same. Sure, two of them are Force-users, but they’re not related. One is the best pilot in the galaxy but he’s not the best with fixing beat up Corellian freighters and he’s not a Force-user. None of them wore cinnamon bun hair or a skimpy slave outfit. Of course, the fact that all three of them are minorities has upset some people, including the growing thought that this trilogy may ultimately be Rey’s story rather than Finn’s or Poe’s. There have been some who have used the term ‘Mary Sue’ to refer to her because it’s a term of derision used in literary circles to discount characters (often female) who seem to be flawless. She’s tech-savvy, she can fight to protect herself, and she knows a little bit more about the bigger galaxy than her compatriot Finn, even if only in terms of myths and stories. However, Rey isn’t perfect, nor is she an author-insert. She’s capable and self-rescuing, and that apparently is good enough to draw the ire of certain segments of the population. Also, some of the things that detractors point out as being her Mary Sue traits… are things that are facets of both Luke and Anakin. So if she’s a Mary Sue, they’re totally Gary Stus by definition.
She’s also a mystery. We don’t know yet who she is, although I suspect she’s Luke’s daughter, not Han and Leia’s. Only one real clue hinted she was Leia’s daughter (the hug toward the end when they first meet – it felt like a scene was missing or could be handwaved as Leia sensing who she was), and the whole notion of there being Skywalker siblings again might somewhat satisfy folks still lamenting the loss of the Expanded Universe. However, I’d rather see her as Luke’s kid because of the one trailer of Luke’s voice from RotJ explaining his family to Leia. If you apply that to the current movie, he’s not talking to or about Kylo Ren, he’s talking about Rey. The same wide-eyed wonder and learning about the Force is there, as is the desert upbringing. However, she also has a well-known hairstyle. Young Rey had it in that one flashback. Adult Rey (who is 20 years old according to the novelization) wears it… and we first saw the same hairstyle on Naboo when Padme reveals herself to Boss Nass and the Gungans. The only thing I dislike about the notion of her being Luke’s kid is that we have no idea who her mother would be, and I’m gonna be salty with someone on the writing team if Luke had a wife who’s conveniently dead.
Mothers really get a short shrift in the Star Wars movies compared to fathers. Anakin’s mother dies a terrible death. Padme dies for no real reason on-camera, although a fan theory about Darth Sidious killing her from afar has appeal. Aunt Beru (who raised Luke as if he were her own son) dies a hideous death. Leia’s adoptive mother Queen Behta dies when Alderaan explodes. Leia herself doesn’t even bother to try to help save her own son, instead sending Han off to do it alone.
Speaking of Han and Leia’s son… yes, Kylo Ren was originally called Ben, the name yelled by Han confirmed by the novelization. Why Ben, I wonder? Neither Han nor Leia really knew Ben Kenobi, and Leia never met him aside from at her birth. One might argue that she remembers him from then since she remembers her mother, but he didn’t start calling himself Ben publicly until his self-imposed exile.
As for Han himself, his death at Kylo Ren’s hands was necessary, not only for his son’s continued fall to the dark side, but also for the franchise in general. Han Solo almost stole the show from Rey and Finn, and it’s like playing Lord of the Rings video games… unless you are a member of the Fellowship, you’re always going to be second banana. Han and Harrison Ford are too good to randomly be off having adventures while other people save the galaxy. Having him and Luke and Leia there front and center doesn’t help with the whole torch-passing process, and Han had to go out in an epic way. It was tragic, but it had to happen. It also raises the stakes on Ren’s potential redemption. If Anakin could be forgiven and redeemed, could his grandson be as well? It made Kylo Ren’s story suddenly more interesting, and it paved the way for Leia to fade into the background as she rightfully should.
However, Leia herself was not well-served by this movie. We’re so used to her being the firebrand who could stand up to Vader and still maintain bravado, who could use her sharp tongue to whittle down the ego of the galaxy’s most famous smuggler, who could free herself from Jabba the Hutt with some help from her friends. In TFA, Leia was a much diminished character. She was war-weary and almost passionless, although there were a few sparks of her old fire when she and Han were talking. She said she went back to what she knew best, but she didn’t, not in this movie. General Organa was a much paler shade of Princess Leia, a much more passive character holding down the Mon Mothma role more than her own. Her estrangement from Han made sense after their son went to the dark side, and going back to being a war leader would explain why she herself never bothered to train her Force abilities, but the only reason I can think of as to why she didn’t go after Kylo Ren with Han is guilt. She’s the reason their son was a Force-user, but her family bonds should have proven stronger than her bond to duty.
Han and Leia played well as an estranged couple. Older, somewhat wiser, with a shared sorrow rather than a shared anger. Their overt flirting days were long past, but the love was still there, below the sorrow. I was amused that when Han and Leia finally met in the film, Chewie gave zero shits and just walked right up to her and hugged her, whereas Han was nervous and didn’t know what to do at first. It was good and right that they didn’t do the ‘I love you/I know’ thing, because those days were past and that was too far into fanservice to be effective. It would actually detract from the story of these two parents long separated.
One thing I liked about the movie was the cheerful lack of midichlorians. They re-mystified the Force in an awesome way with the use of Maz and her possessing Anakin’s old lightsaber that was lost on Bespin in ESB. Remember now, it’s 30 years after RotJ, which is about 25 years after the Clone Wars ended and the fall of the Republic. So, you’re talking 55 years here, and even in ANH, Imperial officers were trying to give Vader shit about his ‘ancient religion’ and ‘sorcerer’s ways’. The general galactic population don’t know a Jedi from a spittoon really, other than myths and legends and things that don’t involve them. That’s why it took an eyewitness (Han) to tell the new heroes (Rey and Finn) that ‘it’s all true’. I really liked the fact that we didn’t really get overt clues that Rey was a Force-user until she was drawn to Luke’s lightsaber. Sure, fancy piloting, but Poe can do that and he’s not a Force-user. In this, the marketing people were very smart, even if they were supremely stupid in not having hardly any Rey merchandise at all, even though she’s the actual leading character, not Finn or Poe.
Speaking of Poe, he works so much better than having an aging Wedge in there, as much as I love Wedge. That sort of flying is a game for the young(er), and the ‘buddy film’ aspects of the Finn/Poe friendship wouldn’t work if the pilot character was as old as Wedge is by now. I also loved the relationship between Poe and BB-8. They were definitely friends, so I was happy during the reunion scene when Poe realizes that the droid is all right.
I loved the little nods here and there that weren’t in your face. The 501st logo at Maz’s place, along with the Mandalorian symbol hanging amongst the flags, was cool. Finding out via Chuck Wendig’s twitter that Captain Snap Wexley played by Greg Grunberg is Temmin Wexley from his novel Aftermath was pretty cool. Also, he said the crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku was the Ravager, which featured in Aftermath. It’s certainly pointing to some interesting things in his two upcoming sequels to that novel.
Another thing I liked about the movie was the debunking of the various Star Wars tabletop RPG rules that pretty much said that if you weren’t a trained Force-user and picked up a lightsaber, you were likely to hack your own limbs off. Sure, both Rey and Finn are Force-users, but I would argue that Finn is the lesser of the two. There wasn’t that moment of meditation that Rey had before she beat back Kylo Ren’s attack. She is more of a natural than he is, and she was the only one who had a Force-vision. Let’s talk about that vision too. James Arnold Taylor confirmed on his twitter feed that he had originally recorded his Obi-Wan yelling her name, but said they re-recorded it with ‘Ewan McSomething’. Later reports confirmed that Lucasfilm had McGregor come in and reprise his Obi-Wan’s voice for the flashback, and also brought in Frank Oz to do Yoda. Also, there is reused Sir Alec Guinness in there too, which was perhaps the best way they could have done that scene. It was right and it was perfect. James got to do other voices in the movie as well, so I’m pretty sure he’s not upset at all to take a back seat to Ewan McGregor for a single line.
Turning to the villains of the piece, I was most impressed with General Hux and Kylo Ren and less impressed with Captain Phasma. By the way, Gwendoline Christie is freakin’ tall. However, I felt she was sadly underused in this film. I felt no real fear of her character or had any real notion why she had the shiny chrome armor and cape. She wasn’t badass at all, especially when Finn and Han forced her to help them in that one scene. On the other hand, Kylo Ren and Hux were also new to their roles, much like Finn, Rey, and Poe… they weren’t so secure in their positions in the First Order to go without question. Certainly, no one got to mouth off to Darth Vader more than once in the original trilogy, but Hux practically got up into Ren’s face more than once and actively challenged his authority. That particular pack has two young alpha males fighting for dominance and it’s unclear which will win. I liked the fact that Kylo Ren can’t just have his way, because it gives him a chance to grow into his power as well. With the death of his father as the last tie to his old life, Ren can now progress further into the Dark Side without that piece of sentimentality and light in his way. However, I have to note that two weeks before I saw the movie, I tweeted my prediction that Ren was Luke’s apprentice who went bad and that was why Luke was off being all emo or something. Called it!
Now, I wonder other things about the movie still. Finn doesn’t know his family. I’m torn on the notion that he might be a Calrissian, Lando’s son. It would be a great way to shoehorn Billy Dee Williams into things, but honestly, I’m not sure I want the story to go there. I like BDW, but it’s already feeling rather full of the old characters and we don’t need any more of them overshadowing the new characters. Another viable theory is that he’s a distant Windu relation (assuming Mace never had children of his own according to old Jedi rules), but again, too much coincidence and shoehorning. However, anyone else notice the mention that the First Order took children from their families and trained them since nearly birth? That remind you of any other Order out there? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, the Jedi used to do that in the Old Republic, and we certainly learned why that was a bad thing.
I liked Finn a lot in the story. Sure, he brought a bit of real life into the movies, and some of his behavior was because he was a black man. When he started to charge to Rey’s defense on Jakku and realized she didn’t need his help, when he was buddying up with Poe during their ill-fated flight, when he was playing gunner for Rey on the Falcon, a lot of those behaviors are ones we see due to his ethnicity, and that’s fine by me. He and the other two had excellent chemistry, particularly him and Rey. The actors were brilliant and worked so well together, and it showed! It really gave some heart to the movie, seeing how they interacted and learned to care about one another. I also loved the fact that Han knew Finn wasn’t being entirely honest and that little scene of him telling Finn that women always figure out when you’re lying was pure gold. The scenes on the freighter with the rathtars was pure Han Solo as well, so he’ll be missed.
The lightsaber battles between Kylo Ren and Finn and then Kylo Ren and Rey were brilliant. Here was one mostly-trained Force-user up against two untrained Force-users, one of whom is very likely a Skywalker of some kind like him, and it just worked. The only one of the trio who truly lived in the Force was Rey. There were none of the fancy lightsaber forms we saw from the prequels, none of the dancing about that Obi-Wan Kenobi did in his youth. These fights harkened back to the original trilogy, when the swordplay was more like a brute attack rather than a more controlled fencing style, and it simply worked. When Finn fell, and Kylo Ren reaches for Anakin’s lightsaber, only to have it come to its true mistress Rey, that was utter brilliance. I was glad to see that the crossguard on Kylo Ren’s saber actually served a purpose in the fight in close quarters, rather than just being an affectation. Here, as in so many places in the movie, the music was key to the action. Rey falling into her light trance, enhanced by those epic few notes that John Williams gave us so long ago, was just a perfect scene for her full awakening as a Force-user. I don’t recall if that same Skywalker theme was used when Finn first took up the lightsaber, but here it was clear that she was the rightful owner of both lightsaber and legacy. And yes, that scene when she first used a Jedi mind trick was epic and hilarious – and it’s been almost confirmed that the unfortunate stormtrooper she tricked was played by none other than current James Bond, Daniel Craig.
Finally, at the end of the movie, after Finn gets his ass handed to him by Kylo Ren, and Rey is about to head off to find Luke, I was honestly expecting the movie to end there, just like Empire Strikes Back with Lando and Chewie flying off in the Falcon. However, we get this powerful coda scene set on a stunningly gorgeous Scottish island, and we see Luke in the present. Older, bearded, a hermit, and he immediately recognizes his (father’s) lightsaber. Mark Hamill had no lines in the movie, yet his presence was felt the whole time. The look he gives Rey, was it simply for the lightsaber or for her as well? If she was his daughter, he probably would have sensed it, despite the fact that Vader never sensed that Leia was his daughter until Luke’s thoughts betrayed him on the second Death Star. It’s a much more powerful scene if Rey is his child rather than just his niece.
So far, those are the thoughts I have on the movie. I do know I want to see it a few more times, and I want to read all of the ancillary canon novels and comics so I can get the full story. The novelization filled in a few blanks without giving away too much of the side stories, but I want more. I don’t mind buying more books. The toys? Yeah, I have a few of those, mostly because I like X-wings.
I hope you enjoyed the movie as much as I did.