This was the Star Wars movie I was looking for. This is the first Star Wars film I have ever wanted to own. The original trilogy isn’t available, apart from downloading the “Despecialized Editions.” And why waste money on the prequels when the far superior Clone Wars are available on Netflix?
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then read no further. I’m going to be discussing the movie in detail, including the Big Deal. I suggest you listen to the soundtrack instead!
Also, PSA: do *not* type any character name into Google. The automatic suggestions will ruin the movie for you.
From here on out, there be spoilers.
If you’ve read this far, I am assuming you have seen the movie. You’ve been warned.
WHAT. A. MOVIE.
What do I gush about first?? The opening crawl starting with the words, “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Everything about BB-8. Rey’s theme. The looming, derelict star destroyer (Inflictor) on Jakku. The escape in the 2-seater TIE. “Obviously.” “Stop taking my hand!” “That ship’s garbage.” Han and Chewie’s entry (spoiled by the teaser trailer, alas). “Grandfather.” Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber reveal. “That’s one hell of a pilot!” “You’ve changed your hair.” C3PO’s entrance. “Don’t mention the Death Star!” “Ben!” And of course, Luke at the end.
AN EXPANDED UNIVERSE
I loved the way Kylo Ren’s identity reveal was handled. No games at all – First, Snoke flat out warns Ren about his father, Han. So we are clued in without drama, and given an immediate window into what Ren’s internal struggle is. At that point the question still is, who is his mother? We want to assume it is Leia, but hey, it’s solo, who knows? And then Ren engages in monologue with Vader’s mask, and calls him “grandfather”, and it all just clicks into place. Rather than try and milk a parallel with Empire Strikes Back, Ren’s family ties serve to develop his character for the viewer. And in so doing, we are given a hint of Han and Leia’s pain as well, which is confirmed when they meet.
Han’s death was telegraphed the moment he stepped out onto the walkway. But it was perfectly done. Ben/Ren’s honest confession of his internal struggle – but with deliberate ambiguity that gave Han hope. After the killing blow (which perfectly evoked Qui-Gonn), the way Han stroked his son’s face before he fell off into the abyss.
Is Ren irredeemable? He has murdered his own father after all. But then again, his grandfather murdered his wife, and many others, The fact that his true name is Ben is also not insignificant – Ren’s struggle against the light, which he acknowledges in monologue to his grandfather’s mask, is a perfect mirror to the call of the Dark Side to Anakin. Kylo acknowledges his grandfather’s legacy, but Obi-wan Kenobi’s legacy is also omnipresent. It’s probably too early to predict whether it is Ren who takes down Snoke in Episode IX, but I think the probability of Ren’s redemption is better than even odds.
It’s worth noting that Luke was wearing the traditional brown and beige robes of the old Jedi. The only time we have ever seen him as an experienced Force user before was in ROTJ, and he was clearly straddling the line between Light and Dark that whole film (here’s a fan theory that tallies the evidence, though it takes it one step too far IMHO). Luke has clearly matured in the Light after all these years, and I am sure the betrayal by Ren and the destruction of the New Jedi Order have “radicalized” Luke even further towards Qui-Gonn levels of piety for the Light Side.
What about the galactic geopolitics? The rationale for taking out Hosnian Prime was briefly alluded to in dialogue – I assume it will be clearer on second viewing. We know that the Republic exists and is covertly supporting the Resistance against the First Order. In the movie, Starkiller Base destroys the entire Hosnian System, where the Republic’s fleet is located, and possibly the (temporary?) location of the Senate. So there will be a drastic change in the balance of power going forward, with the Republic likely crippled. Overnight, the New Order has the upper hand. And whatever peace treaty the Republic and the New Order had signed before, it’s clearly time for Wars. among the Stars. Again.
Of course, I had my complaints. The Rathtars. Jabba wannabe gangsters harrassing Solo (and the painful repartee). Finn’s dialect. The total waste of Captain Phasma, who didn’t even get a Boba Fett moment of true menace. Maz seemed to be a victim of the cutting room, but hopefully she gets some time back in the Extended Edition. But all of these things are forgiveable, and fixable.
The real Jar Jar for me, however, was Starkiller base. Everything about it, in fact. Starkiller Base (henceforth abbreviated SKB) was clearly designed to be “Death Star v3.0” with Moore’s Law thrown in. Second Death Star was bigger than the first? OK then, this one is even bigger! (here’s a diagram to show you exactly how big…) Death Stars kill planets? OK then, this one kills solar systems! Where did this concept come from? How does the New Order have any resources left to do anything after the defeat at Jakku to build this crazy thing, when the old Empire couldn’t even finish a simple moon-sized superweapon in the time between ANH and ROTJ?
The nature of the weapon itself is also painfully convoluted and irrational. It fires a beam weapon, that can travel through hyperspace, but can also be seen in the skies of planetary systems it passes through? So is it fast or slow? How does a beam weapon split apart into different pieces and curve around? The optics of course were spectacular, both of the massive beam erupting from the ground, decimating the forests, and the intake of the star to recharge. But the concept was very typical of JJ Abrams, as if envisioned by a 9-year old saying “how cool would that be!” with no regard to any kind of physics, or awareness of distance between planets and star systems for that matter. Yes, I know, it’s Star Wars, not Star Trek, but this was way beyond the already generous “willing suspension of disbelief” budget and marched straight into the realm of magical fantasy.
There’s one possible saving grace, if we take the (admittedly very cool) act of Kylo Ren to freeze a blaster shot in midair early in the film, and speculate that in the Star Wars universe, “blasters” don’t actually fire pure energy but instead are firing a plasma beam of particles of some kind. This would explain a lot of things, like why you can see blaster shots move from gun to target rather than virtually instantly traveling to their target at the speed of light, and how lightsaber blades can “deflect” them like billiard balls. If we assume that all “energy” weapons in the Star Wars universe are consistent in this regard, then it makes SKB’s beam weapon slightly less ridiculous.
The plot to destroy SKB was also utterly contrived. Here, the deliberate attempt to evoke previous films fell flat, down to the war room shots and the absurdly short timer countdown. Did all that action really happen in 15 minutes? Including landing on what basically is a giant planet, finding Rey, sabotaging the other thing, and watching the Ren/Solo drama? Just running from the hangar to the super exhaust port should have taken an hour. The Death Star, though being the size of a small moon, was suspiciously compact inside, granted. But this is a planet. I can’t crash land in Chicago, find a friend in Cleveland, and then sabotage Niagara Falls in 15 minutes.
Honestly, if everything about SKB was just excised from the movie entirely, including the on-screen destruction of the Hosnian System, the movie would not have suffered an iota. Something like the Darksaber concept or the Eclipse would have sufficed to destroy the Republic without burdening the plot. Han’s death was relegated to subplot in shadow of the SKB, when by all rights it shoudl have been the other way around. Maybe someone will do a Phantom Edit of The Force Awakens someday…
There were a lot of callbacks to the original trilogy that weren’t as clumsy as the SKB, though, and downright fun. Maz’s eyes-only cantina, the obligatory bad feeling about this, the trench run from ANH combined with the blow-it-up-from-the-inside maneuver from ROTJ, Luke’s old lightsaber training remote, the holochess table, the trash compactor line, and many others I am sure I’ll pickup on the second viewing (and 3rd… etc).
The plot structure was clearly deliberately intended to parallel previous films. In fact, someone on reddit even spelled out the parallels explicitly. There were also thematic parallels as well. As alluded before, Kylo Ren feels the lure of the Light the same way that Anakin felt the pull of the dark. Leia says she still feels the Light ion him, echoing Luke’s (vindicated) sentiment about Anakin. And Kylo Ren is much like his uncle in Empire Strikes Back, brash and untrained, needing to finish his training.
Overall, it all served to tie the movie on a deeper level to its predecessors, and reward the fans with more detail and worldbuilding. The movie didn’t shut down fandom the way the prequels did, it enriched it, and made the Star Wars universe feel alive again.
THE WAIT FOR XIII
The next one doesn’t hit theaters until May 26, 2017. Add it to your calendars, and in the meantime we have the Aftermath trilogy to tide us over by filling in essential backstory between episodes VI and VII.
Here are my predictions for Episode VIII: There will be a time jump of at least a couple years, skipping past Rey’s training with Luke. Rey goes for a double-bladed saber: green, or maybe Ahsoka-yellow (please?). Obi-wan Kenobi and/or Yoda force-ghosts. Captain Phasma will face off against Finn. Luke will reunite with Leia. We’ll learn more about the Knights of Ren. General Hux will have a lovely day. Snoke is actually Yoda-sized, and gets schizophrenic when talking to his reflection in a pool of water.
Our faith in the Force paid off. Star Wars is back.