Warning: Spoilers for The Force Awakens ahead. You have been warned.
“Hope is not lost today… It is found.” -Maz Kanata
I got to see the new Star Wars film while on vacation with my wife in NC. It was a good trip and now that I’m home and I’ve gotten some time to mull over the finer details of the movie, I’m ready to talk about it.
So what did I think of the newest chapter in the saga? I adored it. It was a return to form for the franchise and the critics and (most) fans seem to agree with this sentiment (94% Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad).
This post won’t be going into too much detail on specific points. Instead, I’d like to quickly go over the aspects I really enjoyed or that I thought were important.
I didn’t realize how much I missed the aliens of the Original Trilogy until I saw this film. In fact, this entire gorgeous film just has a tangibility to it that was sorely lacking in the PT.
That’s not to say there wasn’t CGI (it’s a 2015 film, no way they wouldn’t have used some), but when computer animation was used, it complemented the look of the film instead of dominating it.
There’s no getting around it, The Force Awakens personifies the trope Happy Ending Override more than Legends ever could. Sure, the Empire finally fell at Endor followed by Jakku, and a New Republic was established to bring democracy to the galaxy, but the film portrays anything but a post-VI happy ending. Let’s count the ways the film tramples on our hearts.
1. A fanatical offshoot of the Empire (First Order) remains a credible threat despite being dismissed by the New Republic. The FO proceeds to cause the…
2. Destruction of the (current) New Republic capital world Hosnian Prime. Nice job dismissing Leia’s warnings, NR senate.
(Remember what I said about spoilers? I’m warning you again, because this one is a doozy)
3. Han and Leia’s son, Ben, is seduced to the dark side by Snoke and the legacy of Ben’s grandfather, Vader. Their marriage goes sour. They reunite briefly only for Ben (now called Kylo Ren) to skewer his father through the chest. If you didn’t feel Chewie and Rey’s anguish in that moment, perhaps you need a heart check.
4. Luke Skywalker. I’ve never been shy about the fact that Luke is my favorite character and a fictional hero of mine. Although his appearance was brief and wordless, his face spoke volumes about the heartbreak and failure he had experienced.
I think I came to realize that I had held on to fragments of his post-ROTJ Legends counterpart. In my pre-TFA mind, Luke successfully reestablished the Jedi Order in order to combat the First Order’s Knights of Ren and the new dark side threat.
Well, I was half right. Luke did start a Jedi Academy, but I never predicted that he would be betrayed by his nephew and that he would see his apprentices slaughtered. Having another Jedi purge just decades after Order 66 is horrific.
That being said, tragedy often makes for good storytelling. My naive, idealistic desire to see a New Jedi Order in the film is fanfic material. What I actually got lends itself well to character development. As much as I hate to admit it, a downtrodden Luke is more believable than the one who essentially became a human god in Legends. (Please note that I guarantee Luke is still absurdly powerful, but the film only gives us a brief glimpse of his physical and emotional state and not his Force prowess).
I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one, but of all the characters I was most excited to see in The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley’s Rey was number one. Boy, was I not disappointed. This girl is clearly the star of the show, and the movie shines all the more for it.
Rey averts the tired damsel in distress trope in a huge way. She is a self-sufficient, intelligent, and likable. As Luke was the hero I wanted to be as a kid, she will be to a new generation of female Star Wars fans.
I strongly disagree with the Mary Sue criticisms, by the way. If any male character (like Luke) showed aptitude for any of the things she does, he’d merely be seen as a standard superhero. She’s been shown to be incredibly Force-sensitive and perhaps has some (suppressed) former training. Plus, if the most obvious parentage theory is correct, she’s got the Chosen One’s blood in her veins. (Why else would the Skywalker family lightsaber call out to her?)
You’d think that after all the atrocities this character has committed both on-screen and off, I’d hate this character. Truth is, I really like this character a lot. He’s genuinely angsty and brooding in a way Hayden’s Anakin failed to be on every level.
Ben’s conflict between light and dark lends itself well to his character’s persona and his psychotic fits of rage show just how undisciplined he is. Plus, the guy takes a bowcaster bolt and is still able to fight. That says a lot about him.
I’ve seen the final duel between Finn/Rey and Kylo Ren criticized as “boring” and “unflashy.” I disagree. None of these characters were masters with the lightsaber and their incessant hammering on each other carried far more emotional weight than the sterile, overly-choreographed fights of the prequels. Watching Rey smash through Kylo’s defenses was extremely cathartic considering who he had just murdered minutes before.
Oh! And I really liked how lightsabers now cast a glow on their wielders and surroundings like they should. It makes for a really cool effect.
That’s about it. I’ll save some content for next time. It wasn’t a perfect film by any means and it did borrow quite a few things from a New Hope (like a plot coupon hidden in a droid) and yet another (sort of) Death Star. But all in all, Abrams and Kasdan nailed it. It is a Star Wars film through and through. I can’t wait to see more of Luke and Rey in VIII and the inevitable clash between light and dark.
“That’s not how the Force works!”