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WARNING: This article contains massive spoilers regarding Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Do not read this if you haven’t seen the movie. In fact, one probably shouldn’t read this anyway. Go outside and get a job or something.
SERIOUSLY: I’m about to go ape-shit over all the spoilers in the film, so don’t read this unless you’re the kind of fool who would follow a fool, can you dig it?
Ok, you’ve been warned. If you’re reading this, you’ve either seen the movie or are an idiot. Possibly both.
I’ve seen Episode VII twice, first at a press screening on Tuesday the 15th, and then again on opening night. By now, you’ve surely seen The Force Awakens (or you wouldn’t be reading this), and maybe you’ve even read the PopCultureGalaxy review of the film. I wrote that. I elected not to spoil anything in the review that wasn’t in the trailer, so I decided to make no reference to characters like Supreme Leader Snoke, Moz, and returning champion Luke Skywalker. Relating to Luke’s non-appearance, I elected not to dive too deeply into the performances of Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher (as well as other veterans like Chewbacca and C-3PO), because I didn’t want to imply that their roles were significantly larger than that of Mark Hamill.
But now that we’re all on the same level, let’s go nuts.
The first spoiler we’re going to get into is the destruction of Coruscant… Er, Hosnian Prime, by Starkiller Base (I checked the Star Wars Wiki). Actually, the whole Hosnian system gets destroyed. But didn’t everybody at your screening think that was Coruscant? I wonder now if it was intended to be Coruscant until JJ Abrams or someone decided to take pity on the heart of the Old Republic. Either way, I found that the sequence did not play very well since there is practically no mention of the destruction of an entire system of planets and all of its inhabitants after the event. I suppose they didn’t want to a scene of mourning to slow down that point of the film, but it reminded of the scene in G.I. Joe Retaliation in which the entire city of London gets destroyed and nobody says anything about it afterwards. Either way, it had much less emotional punch than the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope
Speaking of Starkiller Base, although it was the most varied and original landscape in the film, it felt oddly shoehorned into the story, and, despite destroying an entire system, it felt much more like a plot device than a genuine threat. If Kylo Ren had taken Rey back to his Star Destroyer, the final act could have played out in virtually the same way, with very few changes.
The Force Awakens is intended to be the jumping-off point for everything that will follow, from Rogue One next year, to Episode VIII: The Force Is Still Awake, to the seriously ill-advised Han Solo prequel, and beyond. JJ Abrams had a delicate balancing act when it came to setting up the future of the saga while still offering a complete experience in this film. One way in which he approached this was to keep the action comparatively small in scale. The shootouts rarely involve more than a handful of fighters per side, and the dogfights, while flashier, are beholden to the physics of the original trilogy. JJ’s directing style, however, elevates what could have been cookie-cutter filler into beautifully-shot, intimate sequences. Every time a Stormtrooper gets blasted by Chewie’s bowcaster, a rush of adrenaline coursed through the audience. The first chase aboard the Millennium Falcon recalls a stripped-down version of the chase through the asteroid field from The Empire Strikes Back. These decisons, I believe, were very deliberate choices, not as backlash towards the CGI-dense action of the prequels, but as an acknowledgement that this is a new starting point, and that it will be up to Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow and everybody else to escalate from here. Besides, the reason we’re all watching the movie has nothing to do with the action being bigger, but a return to what made us fall in love with Star Wars in the first place: its “used future,” imaginative creatures, lightsabers, and the coming-of-age story of a trio of youths…
…Which brings me to the three… Or rather four young leads. None of them truly fit into the archetypes of the original power trio of Luke, Leia, and Han, but it’s a lot of fun to see how they do and don’t fit, so let’s do that now.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey most superficially stands in for Leia because they are both girls, and they are both feisty, taking charge of their own rescue from the enemy base and being completely capable of kicking ass without any help. On the other hand, she’s Han, in that she’s a great pilot, Chewie likes her, she scavenges junk for a living, and she doesn’t want to leave Jakku and expand her horizons, somewhat comparable to Han’s initial denial of The Force in A New Hope. However, the role she most fits into is that of Luke, in that, plain and simple, she’s the chosen one. Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber seems to call out to her, and she, after some hesitation and refusal, ultimately chooses to accept her Force powers and Jedi potential. In addition, Rey, like Luke, has a serious familial mystery surrounding her. Who are her parents? Why did they leave? Many believe she may be a Skywalker, but I don’t think that’s the case. The line of dialogue that hurts this theory is when she learns of the map to Luke and says, “Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth.” While it’s possible Luke was using an assumed identity when he sired his heir, I would honestly be disappointed if this turned out to be the case. The Chosen One is never as interesting as someone who is Chosen One-Adjacent. Like Life of Brian or Kingdom Hearts, the more interesting story than the designated hero is that of the person who just happened to be around and had to take up a mantle they weren’t chosen for.
In fact, the film already explores the potential of this kind of story with its second character, John Boyega’s Finn. Born into the service of The First Order, FN-Four-Digit-Number refuses to fire upon unarmed civilians in his first real battle. This act of defiance is what leads to his grand adventure and a place in The Resistance. He wasn’t born into greatness; he chose to defy evil. Later, both he and Rey try to run away from their responsibility; Rey chooses not to pick up Anakin’s lightsaber, and Finn tries to avoid the galactic conflict by fleeing to the Outer Rim. Eventually, when all hell breaks loose at Maz’s stronghold, Finn returns to the battle first and takes up the Skywalker blade because he’s the only one around to do so, not because it is his destiny. Unfortunately, this leads to him getting his ass kicked by Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel, at which point Rey steps in and claims the blade herself. Finn’s arc feels unfinished in the film itself, as it ends with him unconscious with a bad injury. Presumably, Episode VIII will begin with him a beloved member of The Resistance, which leads me to loosely place him as the Han of the trinity. He can inspire and lead, he’s pretty handy with a blaster, he flees from the conflict before returning just in time to help turn the tide, and he appears to be somewhat smitten with Rey. Here’s hoping they’re not related! It remains to be seen if he has any Force potential, but I doubt it.
Lastly, we have the wildcard of the trio, Poe Dameron. He spends most of the movie presumed dead, so his role is significantly smaller than Finn or Rey. I’m placing him as the Leia of the team. Although he is a devilishly handsome hotshot pilot like Han, his loyalty to The Resistance, as well as to General Organa herself make me believe that, like her, he will put the revolution and his duty before his personal aspirations.
Oh, and there’s Kylo Ren. I knew he’d be polarizing, and I was proven correct at my second screening, where he had as many supporters as he did detractors… By which I mean, supporters of Adam Driver’s acting and the writing of his character, not supporters of the crimes he commits in the film. Some people thought he was scary and entertaining, and others compared him to Anakin Skywalker circa Revenge of the Sith, with his long hair and angsty attitude. I suppose now would be a good time to confide to the PopCultureGalaxy that I openly wept during the Han Solo’s death scene. Some complain it was too telegraphed, but that’s what made it more emotional; we knew, and Han surely suspected, that he was going to die, but he promised Leia that he’d try, and he did. But, despite his death, could he have succeeded?
The problem with Kylo Ren’s character is that it’s all subtext, and he often delivers his lines in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it’s nigh-impossible to tell just where he stands in his internal battle between good and evil. It appears that he is plagued by “the call to the light,” and that struggle culminates in his tearful (for both Kylo and myself) killing of his father, Han Solo. When we next see him, his character is open to be in one of two places: either he will have fully committed to being a slave to The Dark Side, his act of patricide solidifying his commitment; or the guilt of his crime, combined with the embarrassment over losing his subsequent lightsaber duel with Rey, will lead him to doubt the power of The Dark Side and begin on the path back towards the light. However, since he literally kills the childhood hero of forty years of children, this path will surely end with a heroic and violent self-sacrifice. In the eyes of the fans, nothing he can do will ever truly make up for killing Han. Like, seriously.
The First Order characters were non-entities. I got the impression that Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma were only part of the film’s marketing so that they wouldn’t have to reveal any legitimate details about more important characters and events in trailers and TV spots. I feel that way about Starkiller Base itself, also. Phasma’s only character trait is that she is a shiny Stormtrooper, and Hux is indistinguishable from the Imperial officers who preceded him, like Piett and Needa.
I thought the CGI face of Supreme Leader Snoke was entirely unconvincing. In fact, I’ll venture so far as to say that neither he nor Lupita N’yongo’s Maz were particularly more believable than Jar Jar Binks, solely with regards to their ability to share the screen side-by-side with live-action actors. Maz holds up better than Snoke, but perhaps this is by design; I got a strong Wizard of Oz vibe from Snoke; he only ever appears via hologram, which makes me believe he is hiding his true identity. A revived Palpatine, perhaps? Snoke is a mysterious character, for sure, but Han Solo at least knows about him, as he drops his name while pleading with his son to come back to The Light Side. The circumstances behind Snoke’s corruption of Ben Solo/Kylo Ren and the collapse of Luke Skywalker’s next generation of Jedi are still mostly unclear beyond the broadest of strokes, and will surely be explored in the future… Hey, maybe they could make a whole new prequel trilogy about the fall of Ben into Kylo… Or not.
Anyway, despite being part seven in the saga, we all know that The Force Awakens is really just the beginning. Perhaps we’ll see more of Phasma and Hux in Episodes VIII and IX. I don’t think future movies will be as beholden to the structure of their respective chapters in the original trilogy as The Force Awakens was to A New Hope. I think Episode VII following IV so closely was JJ’s way of saying, “This is Star Wars, just as you remembered it. Only newer.”
I can only guess, but if you’ve read this far, then you want to hear what I have to say. I predict each chapter will follow our new leads as they are mentored by a different member of the original trinity. Han Solo very clearly filled that role this time around, with Leia and (especially) Luke being relegated to minor supporting roles. Again, I can only guess, but it seems reasonable to predict that Episode VIII will focus on Luke training Rey and coming out of hiding while Leia and the rest of the crew prepare for war, and Episode IX will feature Leia leading the final battle against Snoke and The Dark Side… With the help of Ewoks, of course.
Lest you think I didn’t love the movie, that is incorrect. I adored it! I would never have written this much about it if I didn’t love it. Most of my complaints are nitpicks at worst (mostly), and It feels great to know that the future of Star Wars on the big screen is as promising as it was in the late 70’s. I sure hope Gareth Edwards doesn’t f*ck up Rogue One the way he ruined Godzilla. Maybe they meant Gareth Evans! I love that guy! Is it too late to fix what was surely just a misunderstanding?
Stay tuned for a very special Galaxy View Podcast in which Mark Bridge and guest Rob Keyes will discuss the movie at length. Think of it as complementary to this article and vice versa.
Okay, here’s one thing that kind of pissed me off. Ken Leung is a lovely actor, and he seems like a nice guy. However, he’s in a scene with General Leia, Nien Numb, and Admiral Ackbar, the greatest military mind of any galaxy, ever. Ackbar only has a couple of lines during the “planning the battle” scene, but Ken Leung gets a whole speech, one which I think would have rather heard from the mouth of the baddest Mon Calamarian strategist this side of the Core Planets, am I right?! It really hurt the scene for me.