There has been an awakening… Have you seen it? (Chances are yes, you have.)
Star Wars is back in theaters. Star Wars is destroying the box office. Seriously. It is making more money than any other movie ever. EVER. Less than two weeks after it has opened, it has made over A BILLION DOLLARS WORLDWIDE. That’s not even hyperbole.
This post is full of spoilers for all things Star Wars, so stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie and wish to remain Star Wars pure until you see it. The spoilers will begin after this humorous picture of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.
SPOILERS BEGIN NOW.
Previously, I didn’t know what to think about the movie. Next, we had Gregg’s thoughts as he wrestled himself about the movie.
Now I have had time to digest it and then I saw it again… in a better theater with good sound and 3D.
I am here to tell you… I liked it. It’s the worthy sequel we have waited for. The only negatives the movie has are the shortcomings it had to overcome. If this were made before the prequels, we would have had a very different movie.
The Disney Awakens
As it stands, Disney had to do two things; 1. Establish that it can make a good Star Wars movie, and 2: Establish that it wasn’t going to be like the prequels. So what do we we get? What we needed. This film is a baseline for Star Wars, to borrow a medical term. When you are evaluating a patient, you need a baseline. You need to know what is more or less “normal” for them at the time of observation. The Force Awakens has the unfortunate task of having to be a baseline. We know what we liked about the original movies, and we know what we didn’t like about the prequels. This movie had to show us that it could be Star Wars like we have wanted, and show us that it isn’t like the George Lucas-fronted prequel movies.
I know George Lucas created Star Wars.
I am grateful Lucas created Star Wars.
However, I don’t think George Lucas should still be making Star Wars movies. I actually did a lot of study of Mr. Lucas back in my late teens. I wrote a huge final paper for an English class. In my research, I discovered that he never really wanted to do something like Star Wars. He wanted to do abstract art films. He wanted films without characters and story. He wanted to make films all about editing and images. Makes sense now, right? He was interested in the technique, the technology. He never cared about story or acting, at least when he started out. I hate to say it, but the real reason Star Wars got even bigger than the first film was because he let others play in his sandbox. I am glad he let go. I’m sure it was hard for Lucas to do. I’m sure Disney had reservations about buying it. In hindsight – of course it was a brilliant move – but it could have been a gigantic failure. I wonder how George really feels about the whole thing? I’m sure there is a twinge of bitterness (or at least bittersweet-ness) to see it do so well. Especially when it’s doing so well by essentially being a remake of the original movie.
I’m tangenting. I am pretty good at that.
Sure, there are things to like about the prequels. The battle scenes and lightsaber battles in particular are very well done. They surpass anything that was done in the originals, choreography-wise. The special effects, while at times seem dated now, pushed the envelope of digital effects and ushered in incredible innovations in the effects field. Lucas – if nothing – is an innovator. He just wasn’t the best director. I think the choice for him to come back and write and direct the prequel trilogy was the major misstep. The prequels dripped with “Yes-man Syndrome”. George was too much of a force (pun intended) for anyone to say no to him or question his choices on things. As an artist, he was in the perfect place to be: he had all the money to do things himself and nobody to question him or his choices. The prequels got to be ALL GEORGE LUCAS ALL THE TIME. It’s too bad that most of the viewing public didn’t like what he had to show us. I respect Lucas for what he did… but I didn’t like his movies. I liked parts of them, but as whole films and a whole trilogy they were subpar. That is a whole other article for a whole other time.
The Force Awakens had to overcome this negativity, deserved or not. It had to show the world (and the fans) that it was the Star Wars that was the worthy successor of what came before it. It had to re-introduce the world (and the fans) to the story that we all fell in love with decades ago. To do this, it had to be familiar. You could say that it was too familiar, and I’d be inclined to agree with you. However, it also hit all the right notes at the right times. The movie is not only getting old fans to remember what they loved way back when, but it is gaining new fans that had never seen the originals. It’s the perfect win-win scenario.
The Phantom Problem
We get some great new characters in this installment. Characters so great, you really don’t even need the original cast. That’s a great problem to have, but it obviously creates some issues. We old people are expecting the cast we grew up with to actually move the plot along. Only one character does, and it’s not in a way that most of us were cool with. Han gets to carry this film on his back, and we gleefully get to see him do more in the Force Awakens than I think we ever did in the original trilogy. It’s that much more heartbreaking when Han is brutally murdered by his son, Kylo Ren. It left me bummed out at the end of the first time I saw it. I really enjoyed most of the movie, but to see a childhood hero killed so completely on the screen was unsettling. I know it was supposed to be unsettling and I know Harrison Ford wanted to have Han die back during the filming of Return of the Jedi. That still doesn’t mean I have to like it. My brother and I were chatting about the movie after the first time I saw it, and we came to a conclusion; It was like being a kid on Christmas morning and there under the tree was every toy you ever wanted. Amazing, fantastical stuff. But at the same time, you learn that your parents had died in their sleep. So yes, you got every physical material thing you may have ever wished for but a deep sadness permeates the proceedings. It’s nearly impossible to enjoy.
Too heavy handed? In retrospect, yes. But it captured our raw feelings at the time. We both loved Han Solo. He was our avatar into the Star Wars universe. Lots of kids wanted to be the Luke, the hero. They wanted to save the girl, be the wizard, swashbuckle the villain. My brother and I wanted to be the human in a fantasy land. The cool, level headed loner that takes everything with a dash of skepticism and detachment. No fancy swords and magic spells. You see the bad guy? Shoot him in the face. That was Han, and it was great.
As I grew older, I began to realize that Han did nothing in Return of the Jedi. Sure – he does STUFF, but it could have been anyone. It could have been a new character helping disable the shields. I began to despise Return of the Jedi for this. I began to see Harrison Ford’s point about the character. When the new movie was announced and we see Han in the trailer, I thought to myself: “Harrison wants him to finally die. That’s why he agreed to the movie.” As the Force Awakens digitally unspooled before my eyes, I was waiting for it. I knew it was coming. There was a dread I felt, and when we are on Starkiller base and Han sees Kylo… I knew it was coming. As they approach each other on the bridge, I was hoping against hope that this would happen somehow:
I knew it was it. Time for Han to go. I cringed as the saber plunged through his chest and he fell into the abyss below. Afterwards I kept thinking that maybe, just maybe, somehow… he survives. Watching it again made it clear Han is not coming back. Even if he survived the impalement and the fall… the planet blows up. We see Leia react to his death via force text message alert notification or whatever. Harrison Ford got what he wanted – a chance to do something interesting with the character and for the character to finally end. I guess I’m okay with it now. I’m still miffed that there wasn’t more of a reaction to his death in the movie. Chewie screams and blasts Kylo, and Rey and Finn scream. Leia hugs Rey later… and that’s it. No memorial service, no acknowledgement that a leader in the resistance – a decorated war hero has been killed. That bothers me.
Another point that bothers me about Han in this one is when he uses Chewbacca’s bowcaster, and reaction to it. He likes it! It’s powerful! It’s a funny moment! Except for the fact that you are telling me that after being friends for like 40+ years, the only time Han has picked up and fired Chewie’s blaster is the same day that he dies? That honestly took me out of the movie for a second.
Enough of my Han Solo diatribe, why don’t we get to why we all want to see the next one!
LUKE SKYWALKER. Wait no, I actually don’t really care about him. He had one scene and he over acts it. When Mark Hamill slowly lets down the hood at the end, I wondered if they ran out of Hard Drive space and only got the one take? It just seemed so awkward and self-important, and maybe in a bit of this movie’s own “Yes-mannery”, nobody told Hamill or Abrams that maybe they wanted to shoot/choose another take.
I half expected Mark Hamill to be humming the Star Wars theme as he pulls off the hood. Honestly I didn’t care a whole lot about Luke in the originals, and I’m hoping he has a supporting, not starring role in the next ones. Why, do you ask? Because the new characters are great!
When the camera closes in on a random stormtrooper early on in the film and he gets the blood on his helmet, clearly marking him for easy identification, I knew something special just happened. As we follow FN-2187‘s journey of self-actualization and journey to becoming the heroic “Finn“, I was sold. Sign me up for more movies with this kid! I remember thinking the same thing after seeing Attack the Block, John Boyega’s first movie. He certainly has a star quality about himself and is capable of carrying a movie like this. It did make me wonder about the defection of Stormtroopers. How often does it happen? according to the dialogue in the movie itself, there is a process in place for when Stormtroopers get out of compliance and so that is a thing in the Star Wars universe. I wonder if they end up just running away on whatever planet they are on, or if the “conditioning” works, or do they steal ships like in this movie? Maybe all of these have happened? I remember there was a (fan?) theory back during the original trilogy that Han Solo did the same thing as Finn. Han was a Stormtrooper that witnessed the abuse of a creature and couldn’t take it. He helped the creature escape and abandoned the Empire. This creature, of course, turned out to be Chewbacca and they were fast friends ever since. Maybe Finn’s journey was a nod to this theory.
The next character I want to talk about is a hero without fault. They are super-confident, good at everything they do and show little signs of weakness.
I am of course, talking about Poe Dameron.
Oscar Issac brings a likability to what could have easily been a throw-away character. His virtue, pluckiness and heart ooze through every time he is on screen. He feels like the book version of Faramir from Lord of the Rings. He’s a righteous leader that you want next to you during battle. Again, I can’t wait to see him blow up more TIE Fighters in future movies. Added bonus – seeing a resistance pilot finally get to pilot one of those things was amazing.
Rey has been polarizing the internet. People seem to love her or hate her. Or love to hate on her? Whatever. She is our “real” hero this time around. She is the “Luke Skywalker” of this story. Yes, she is very capable. It appears she has been living on Jakku by herself for at least a good 10 years, where she has honed several survival skills. She has spent quite a bit of time inside at least one crashed Star Destroyer, giving her the inside knowledge of it’s inner workings. That’s important and will come into play later in the story. She also has developed keen fighting skills, allowing her to take on at least two people at a time with a melee weapon. That’s important and will come into play later in the story. She is also a capable pilot and able to fly spacecraft. That’s important and will come into play later in the story. I guess what I’m saying is… all her strengths are both natural and explained in the writing. If she is a Skywalker, like many assume, I think it’s safe to say that the natural piloting ability shown by her grandfather in the prequels has been passed down to her. Remember little
Anniekid Anakin? He could fly a Podcaster Podracer with expert ability and ZERO Force training. Just saying. Personally, I think she is perfect. Daisy Ridley is fun to watch, just like John Boyega and Oscar Issac. What I really like is the incredible message her character sends to a whole new generation of little girls. Being the father of a young daughter, my heart swelled with pride that she now has a fictional hero to look up to like my boys (and myself) have had to look up to for decades now. Rey is powerful, sincere, kind, resourceful and clever. This has nothing to do with, neither is it in spite of being a female.
Now we get to the big bad guy of this movie: Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo).
Ben/Kylo is what George Lucas was trying to do with Anakin in the prequels. This is what a young Darth Vader was supposed to be like. Young and impulsive, misguided and misled. Powerful, but unhinged. Adam Driver pulls off all these things well. His aggression and brutality is both frightening and captivating. You don’t know what he’s going to do next because he is so impulsive and logic at times seems to escape him, traded for blind rage. His final duel where he is acting like a wounded animal is a great example of this. I can’t wait to see where the character goes from here. I want to talk about this battle in a little more depth, but we have to talk about one last character before we move on.
BB-8 is purely manufactured cuteness. It was designed to be cute. It does cute things. BB-8 was clearly designed to be the next level of Star Wars robot cuteness. Plus, it’s a mind-bending bit of technology. When we saw the Star Wars Force Awakens teaser, we all just assumed BB-8 was CGI. Then they actually rolled him on stage in front of people and then they announced you can buy your own mini version. Just about every nerd lost their minds for one day. The dumbest thing is that I know it was created just to be adorable, and I can’t stop thinking that BB-8 is adorable. Well done, Disney!
Attack of the Critics
Like any good movie, we get a thrilling climax. It’s good vs. evil in a swashbuckling showdown. Kylo Ren has just murdered his father and Rey and Finn are taking him on using Anakin’s lightsaber on a backdrop of an exploding planet/space weapon thingamabob. I’ve heard critisism that this scene shouldn’t even be possible. Kylo Ren should just be able to wipe the floor with these newbies.
Give me an open mind and allow me to enlighten you, critics! Let’s get the first point out of the way right now. This is a movie. The battles have to happen. The good v. evil showdown needs to occur for the movie to be satisfying. Do you remember the end of Iron Man 2? The buildup of the whole movie is over in about 5 seconds as the heroes mop the floor with the villainous Whiplash. While it may be accurate, it was not satisfactory nor was it satisfying.
This movie – along with the whole Star Wars saga – is fantasy. It’s a pure form of mainstream escapism where the good guys usually win and the bad guys usually lose. So let’s be honest, you knew that the good guys were going to win.
With that aside, let’s get to the finer details of the matter. We know that both Rey and Finn are more capable of fighting than some random dude off the street would be. Finn is a trained stormtrooper. He has had formal, structured training in combat and combat techniques. He probably has had melee weapon training, as we see Stormtroopers in this movie with melee weapons. Remember this guy?
In fact, the fight where Finn takes on this guy is important. Finn had just been given Anakin’s lightsaber and he complains that he doesn’t have a weapon. It is pointed out to him that he actually does, so he fires up the blade and starts testing it out. That’s when our Elite Riot Stormtrooper friend pulls out his stun baton and gives Finn a quick lesson on how to actually fight with a lightsaber. By lesson, I mean the type of knowledge that comes with actually doing something. It could be classified as experience. So Finn got a very quick primer in the basics of lightsaber combat, but in a relatively non-lethal environment. He wasn’t in danger of having his arms or face chopped off.
It’s almost as if this scene was written to lead up to something later in the story… Oh yeah! He fights Kylo Ren with that same lightsaber! Finn’s moves are clunky, but he does his best holding his own. He’s no Jedi master, but I’m assuming that Finn has a level of Force sensitivity. We have never seen someone handle a lightsaber in the movies without it. Now, a stormtrooper with basic melee weapon training would probably have no chance against a more experienced lightsaber user, unless that lightsaber user has a handicap of some sort… like perhaps being hit by a powerful blast? Maybe from a weapon that visibly pushes back a normal being? Yes, that’s right – we saw Kylo Ren take a direct hit from Chewbacca’s bowcaster. A weapon that has demonstrated it’s ability to blast back regular people a few feet. Kylo Ren is hurt, and shown to be in extreme pain. So when he is fighting Finn, he’s not all there. Add in the fact that we know his training hasn’t been completed and he’s a bit unstable and that seals the deal for me. Finn could fight Kylo Ren. Could he win? No. …and in the movie, he doesn’t. He gets injured by the side blade of Kylo’s lightsaber and then sliced up the back, which brings round 2 of the match into play.
Rey uses her newly developing Force powers to grab the lightsaber and then take on Kylo herself. Where did these Force powers suddenly come from? Well, we already know she has them. Kylo was probing into her mind and I think he unlocked something when he was doing that. He opened a door to those latent powers and the funny thing about doors is that once open, things can go through them. Either way.
When Kylo tries again to get into her mind, he encounters something that scares him. Power he has never felt before. He even tells Snoke about it. This event awakens the Force inside of her. I’m going to assume based off previous movies that she was also being trained by Luke when she was young. The Jedi train very young children. In fact, both Anakin and Luke were deemed “too old” to begin training at first. Based off the brief flashback we get, it looks like Kylo got seduced to the Dark Side by Snoke and he takes his buddies (the other Knights of Ren) to go and kill all the Jedi in training.
Rey is hidden away on Jakku and whoever is supposed to be looking after her either flakes out or dies. In the flashback, it honestly looks like the big alien dude that Rey keeps bringing scrap to for food rations. I can’t imagine that is who was entrusted to keep an eye on her, though. Unless Kylo sold her to him, in a “Joseph from the Bible” scenario. Maybe he couldn’t (as in morally couldn’t find the strength to) kill her and instead sold her to keep her out of the picture. This would also account for his being upset when told that Finn was helped by “some girl” down on Jakku. He put two and two together. Anyway, the point is that it is very likely that Rey has already had some basic Force training at a young age. I’m basing all of this off seeing this movie twice, the originals a billion times and the prequels a couple times each.
Back to the battle, Rey struggles through some fighting with a wounded Kylo Ren. We also know she is capable of fighting off multiple assailants with her staff – so fighting off one dude with a sword isn’t too much of a logic leap. It looks like she is going to be bested and she stops to focus – a Jedi technique that Maz reminds her of earlier in this movie’s version of the cantina scene. This gives Rey the second wind to fight Kylo Ren back and eventually gets him to yield, as a literal giant rift forms between them in a bit of over-obvious foreshadowing to the next movie(s). With the villain defeated and the new heroes established, plot devices happen to get Rey bringing Anakin’s lightsaber to our pal Luke Skywalker.
The movie ends with Rey and Luke staring at each other with the Lightsaber outstretched in Rey’s hand between them. There are still so many mysteries and questions to be solved, and I’m guessing some or most them may not even be answered. Remember the original trilogy? Years pass between films. I am making an educated guess that the next film won’t begin where this one left off. It will begin in the middle of another story and lots of things will have happened between the two. The filmmakers will give us movie viewers just enough to not be frustrated and Disney/Lucasfilm will fill volumes of comics, novels and videogames that fill in the gaps between movies.
That is after all… the Star Wars legacy.
One final thought: I haven’t cared enough about Star Wars over the past 10 years to write this much about it. The Force Awakens has made me feel that sense that I did back when I was a kid, and it has made my kids feel the excitement that I once experienced a long time ago. That is an incredible achievement by the filmmaking team.
Oops, one more bonus after credits thought. I remember going to the store as a kid and looking at the Star Wars toys – always hoping to find a main character to add to the collection – and staring at pegs of background characters like the Rancor Keeper or Pruneface. This past Christmas, I found myself with that same problem when looking to buy Star Wars figures for my kids. Racks of weird aliens and Jakuu line denziens with nary a Finn, Rey, or Kylo in sight.
It hit me as a bit of weird nostalgia.