There’s been an awakening. And baby, I can feel it.
So, we all saw Star Wars. This is a post for people like us. It’s a review, yes, but moreover it’s a discussion. The after-theater standaround where you want to shout about the movie but don’t want to spoil anything for the passerby heading TOWARD the theater.
Obviously, SPOILER ALERT, full power to forward shields. Every single ounce of this article, barring this intro, is going to be riddled with spoilers. You have been warned.
First, the review, then after I’m going to examine some of the predictions I made on this very website and see how close I came. Also, a bit of EU Scorecard to see if anything survived.
To the review. Punch it, Chewie.
Yup, yup. It’s really good. I loved it.
Somewhere around the halfway point of the movie, I had a twinge of genuine sympathy for George Lucas. Now, I’ve been known to take the piss out of George Lucas at every possible opportunity, but some things cut too deep. George Lucas’ defense of the shitty prequel movies has always been “it’s not my fault, the nerds are just unpleasable.” He’s shouted it to the mountain tops in every interview in the past sixteen years. It’s a sentiment he clings to like a big dumb door in a freezing ocean – it’s clearly the last line of defense for his own peace of mind.
Sure, everybody still talks shit on those movies he made, but it’s just because you can’t please . . . uh-oh. I honestly do feel bad for him, because seeing his last defense stripped away is probably something that’s going to dig at him.
I mean, I don’t feel THAT bad because he literally makes sandwiches out of hundred dollar bills. Maybe he’ll be alright.
The Force Awakens Is Fucking Good
Okay, here’s what the flick comes down to – I understood every character after their first scene, and moreover, I liked or didn’t like them as the plot required.
These characters leap off the screen.
I was more connected to Finn before he even took off his Stormtrooper helmet than I was with pretty much any character in the prequel trilogy. Rey’s scrappy, hard exterior hid someone who just badly wanted to connect with other people (or soccer-droids). Poe Dameron is the humble virtuoso, the guy who should be a hotshot but isn’t – he’s so respectful of his own skill that he throws up an “everybody’s best friend” vibe that keeps him human. Kylo Ren is the perfect example of a young dark-sider, what Anakin Skywalker should have been – a “look how cool I am” jerk who wears a rad mask just to look scary and flips out when things don’t go his way. He’s a bully – when he gets no resistance, he feels powerful, but the second he comes up against a challenge he ragequits.
Obviously all the old favorites are pretty much themselves, and it’s great to see Harrison Ford play a character who isn’t a fucking grumpy sourpuss all the time. He’s still Han Solo, the charming-sometimes-bumbling scoundrel who operates on equal parts luck and explosive cunning. Chewbacca is great in this movie, and he gets just enough memorable moments not to fade into the background (as he is want to do). Leia is used about as well as you could use “elder statesman of the good guys,” which is generally a kind of staid, stoic role. Her small moments of true emotion are well done, and Carrie Fisher underplays them to incredible effect.
C3PO is still cock-blocking Han Solo after all these years, and it’s kind of funny why he and R2-D2 aren’t in the movie very much – their roles have been replaced. BB-8 fills the R2-D2 role (obviously), but (less obviously) C3PO’s role is filled by Finn. Yeah, really. Finn is the bumbling comic relief that everyone keeps shutting down – and, honestly, I think it worked just fine.
Oh, by the way: I’ve got some nitpicks. Please ignore them, because they don’t really count as part of the review. They don’t affect my enjoyment of the film one iota, it’s just a writer being write-y, or a fanboy being fan-y.
NITPICK #1: While we’re talking about returning characters: Luke Skywalker – I even told my wife, going into the movie, this: “I’m positive this is a ‘search for Skywalker’ thing, but I’m going to be really bummed out if he’s not in it at all. If he’s just in the third act, that’s cool. If he’s only in the epilogue, that’s going to be a letdown.”
Womp womp, Bobby. Womp to the womp.
The Unnecessary Structure
The movie, as I’ve said before, is fun as hell. I’m so glad Star Wars is “back,” to coin a phrase (I did not coin that phrase). So, please keep in mind that ALL of my complaints are nothing more than nitpicks. Because, let’s face it, complaining is more fun to read than gushing. Yes, everything was rad, we all agree. BUT . . . .
NITPICK #2: The flick’s slavish devotion to the plot structure of “A New Hope” is a negative. The funny thing is, they “did it.” They made a great Star Wars movie. They didn’t have to ape “A New Hope.” I get that they did it as a way to hedge their bets, to bank on nostalgia, but the movie was so good they didn’t need it. I wish I could have approached them halfway through the scripting process, placed a gentle reassuring hand on their furiously typing fingers, and shook my head, “No,” I would say, in sage tones, “Your weapons. You will not need them.” In this case, “weapons” is “A New Hope’s” plot structure, and “not need them” means they don’t need them.
The structure is so nostalgic that you pretty much know what sequence is coming next at any given time. “Oh, here’s the McGuffin put in a droid, escaping the Sith guy and his Stormtroopers on a desert planet.” Then, “Oh, here’s the hapless young desert dweller who finds the droid.” Then, “Oh, here’s where the Sith guy interrogates a prisoner at the heart of his big spooky ship.” Then, “here’s where the old man tells them about the Force in the rumpus room of the Falcon.” Then, “here’s where they get to the rebel base and have a confab about the big super weapon.” Then, “here’s where Han, Chewie, and a third party come to rescue the girl trapped in the big super weapon.” Then, “here’s the daring X-Wing attack on the big super weapon.” Then, “here’s where the old guy gets killed by the Sith guy and the main characters all witness it from afar.” Then, etc, etc.
Some reviewers are going so far as to call it essentially a remake of A New Hope (or a reboot), which is a good critique, but is unfair. Because . . .
Now, the movie works because they execute all of the structure at maximum resolution and pathos, AND because of all the gaps in between the New Hope guide rails. Finn being a Stormtrooper adds a lot of nuance that wasn’t in the original, and it makes for fantastic world-building – the Stormtroopers are people now, which means they’re also occasionally badasses.
Poe Dameron adds a wrinkle because while he fills the “Luke in an X-Wing” role, he does it from an insider perspective – he’s already caught up in the war before the movie even starts, and like Finn’s role it shades the movie in a different way.
And the stuff with Han and his son is a completely new plotline for the structure – we didn’t get into family drama until the second movie. Same with Rey’s, erm, accelerated aptitude with the Force.
The Mary Sue Situation
Okay, for months leading up to the release, I was like, “It’s fine that Finn is becoming the Jedi – according to the posters – but I honestly would have preferred Rey. We haven’t really had a female Jedi, and that would be a nice spin.” Well, I got what I wanted! And honestly, that makes me happy.
NITPICK #3: What doesn’t make me happy (and what I didn’t expect), is that Rey is pretty much the textbook definition of a Mary Sue at this point. I really liked her character, and I still do, but they hit every checkbox on the Mary Sue list: she is literally good at everything. She’s the best mechanic – okay, she’s a scavenger. Fantastic. And we haven’t really had a straight mechanic character (who wasn’t R2-D2), so it’s new. Love it.
Oh, and she’s fantastic at flying the Falcon, and when asked about her breathtaking piloting skills, she’s like “oh, I don’t know, I just knew how to do it.” Then she uses a blaster for the first time in her life, and after one calibration shot she hits every shot. Okay. Then, as SOON as her Force powers kick in, she’s able to resist Kylo Ren (specifically shown to be a great Force interrogator – he broke Poe Dameron without much effort) and even read HIS mind. Then, she’s able to execute a Jedi mindtrick despite not really knowing that such a thing exists, and then finally she beats Ren in a lightsaber duel, despite the fact that she’s never even touched a lightsaber before.
The movie seems to think that having the Force means you’re good at everything, which is really not what it is (quothe Han Solo: “That’s not how the Force works!”). It certainly doesn’t mystically grant you lightsaber-fighting techniques. And without training, aptitude with the Force is little more than intuition and enhanced reflexes or “luck” – see Leia for what “powerful Force-Sensitive with no training” looks like.
Real quick aside, about the Rey/Kylo fight: Upon sleep and the morning light (and a second viewing), I felt a little better about this fight for a few reasons – A) Kylo Ren is basically an apprentice gone bad – he’s still a newbie, and he relies on looking scary to get most of his work done and B) Rey is shown to be good with a staff, which while doesn’t translate directly to sword-fighting, would at least give her a leg up. C) Kylo Ren is badly injured – he had just taken an explosive round to the gut, care of Chewie’s crossbow. He’s also completely scattered, emotionally – he just killed his dad like one minute ago, and is obviously blown out.
Even Finn holding his own in the lightsaber fight (for a moment) makes a kind of sense, when I saw the movie the second time – Kylo Ren is not only diminished because of that earlier stuff, but he’s also clearly screwing with Finn. He even casually sidesteps a couple of Finn’s swings. Plus, Finn is a fully trained soldier, and as we saw in the flick, Stormtroopers get some pretty thorough melee combat training. So I can let it go.
Back to the Mary Sue checklist: Everyone who likes Rey’s character is good, and everyone who doesn’t like her character is bad. I mean, that’s textbook MS disorder. Han and Finn and Chewie and even BB-8 fall in love with her on sight, and even Leia hugs her in the climax of the movie – even though the two characters hadn’t actually met yet, and really didn’t even know each other existed.
Kylo Ren despises her (really for no reason), that’s how you know he’s a bad guy.
CAVEAT: It’s possible that the next movie will reveal that Rey is Luke’s daughter and that she had some Jedi training as a little girl and either forgot it or was made to forget it when she was hidden. The truth is, we don’t know. It’s possible the next movie will make the effort to explain her natural facility with both the Force, lightsaber fighting, and everything else.
Again, I like Rey a lot, but I feel like they need to crank the dial back a little and show us some of her flaws. Finn can be bumbling and scared, Poe can be cockyballs, Kylo Ren is a wannabe, Hux has petulant anger problems, etc. I feel like Rey just needs some more shading to be a fully formed character.
Again, let me state – this is all nitpicky crap. I love the movie. It’s just that, here’s the thing: JJ Abrams is a great director. No question. When it comes to emotion and action, he’s the guy. His only real problem is logical consistency – he goes for whatever’s most emotionally affective for the audience, whether or not it makes sense for the characters is immaterial.
For instance: NITPICK #4 – Kylo Ren being named “Ben.” When Han says “Ben,” the audience gasps, because that name means something to us. To see Obi-Wan’s legacy corrupted in this way is heartbreaking. However, let’s think about – why would Han or Leia EVER name their son after Obi-Wan Kenobi? Leia never even met Kenobi, and Han Solo’s opinion of Obi-Wan could best be defined as “hey it’s that weird old guy I insulted a lot.”
In the EU, it’s Luke that names his son Ben, which makes a lot more sense because they were very close (even after death). Here, the name was used to evoke emotion in the audience but really had no place in the logic of the universe.
The Death We’ve All Been Waiting For
Yeah, that scene. They did it. They finally blew it up.
Harrison Ford has been clamoring for Han Solo’s death since 1983, so it really shouldn’t come as a shock that Han is the one who took the business end of a lightsaber. Now, I say “shouldn’t” because I know that myself and everyone in the theater gave out a gut-wrenching scream of agony when it happened. I actually shouted “NO!” and threw myself back in my seat. When Chewie roared, out came the tears. That scene put me on the ragged edge of a truly ugly cry, and more credit to it.
Kylo Ren was the anti-Darth Vader – an evil character struggling with good, rather than a good character struggling with evil. He wasn’t a big powerful unstoppable badass like Vader – though he played at it. Instead, we get to see a villain start here, whereas Vader was already max level by the time “A New Hope” started.
Actually seeing his first real moment of darkness was fantastic, and it definitely set him up to be a fascinating character. Plus, he’s kind of a Luke counterpart as well – he struggles with killing his father, and his choice to do it or not do it defines his path. Luke didn’t, and became a Jedi, Kylo did, and went Dark. It’s a nice parallel that is way more subtle and effective than the big “hey it’s a Death Star again” parallels that riddle the movie.
And let’s be honest – as soul-destroying as the moment was, Han Solo needed to die. The movie is positively crowded with characters, half of which are wise-cracking ace pilots with questionable morals. Him pulling the “Obi-Wan” was an appropriate send-off, and his last act being a self-sacrificing attempt to save his son is a perfect cap to his entire arc. He went from unattached asshole to ultimate dad, and it’s a beautiful statement on the character.
People might have wanted a more obviously heroic death, but it’s subtly heroic. And it reminds us all about a very important fact – winning doesn’t make a hero. Trying makes a hero, and Han Solo made the choice that most of us wouldn’t. Salute the man – he’s going to that big Mos Eisley Cantina in the sky.
The Final Statement
On the movie itself – it’s great. No question. All of my complaints are more “writer inside baseball” than true complaints – the shadows stand out because the light is so bright. It’s a phenomenal flick, and more importantly, a good Star Wars movie, which is what we all needed. I am for one ecstatic about what the future has in store.
The EU Scorecard and Predictions
Okay, here’s where I break down the predictions I made on this very site. Let’s do this:
When they first announced the cast (with no characters), I wrote an article. In it, I predicted who the characters might be playing (using my knowledge of the EU.
Daisy Ridley: I guessed she would be Jaina Solo, Jacen’s twin. An ace pilot with Force powers who fights her evil dark-side brother. Again, while she’s not technically named Jaina, she fills that role to a T. She even acts as Han’s surrogate daughter for awhile – I think Han even references “like a daughter” at some point. She’s also one of the few people Han let’s fly the Falcon, much like her EU counterpart.
However, while she fills the role, the fact is she isn’t their kid, and she isn’t named Jaina. In fact, signs point to her being Luke’s daughter. I’m only going to give myself half-credit here: +0.5 points.
Adam Driver: I predicted he would be playing Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s son who goes dark side. Now, while he wasn’t named Jacen Solo, he was playing Han and Leia’s son who goes dark side. He is Jacen Solo in all but name, so I’m calling this one for me. +1 point.
This is unrelated to my predictions, but just a funny little thing for EU fans – Adam Driver’s “Kylo Ren” is kind of a weird amalgamation of Jacen Solo and Kyp Durron. He’s got Jacen’s parentage, but he shares a few things in common with Kyp Durron. Not only was he an apprentice of Luke who went dark-side and fought his fellow apprentices (like Kyp), Han Solo is also sent to bring him back to the light side. PLUS, Kyp Durron’s story involves a splinter group of the Imperial Remnant wrecking shit with a weapon called the “Sun Crusher” (instead of Starkiller Base). Just something I noticed on the second viewing.
Domhnall Gleeson: I took the big swing, predicting he’d be Luke’s son “Ben Skywalker.” Total whiffer – he plays nu-Hitler “General Hux,” which could not be further from my guess. -1 point.
Max Von Sydow: I guessed Gilad Pellaeon, the head of the Imperial Navy. He was instead “Old Guy McGuffin Deliverer,” and then he died. -1 point.
John Boyega: I played around with the idea that he could be a Calrissian or Zekk, but I finished with a prediction that he’d be a new character. Here’s what I said in the article, about John Boyega:
Smart money is on a brand-new character – J.J. Abrams will want to make his mark on the franchise, and my guess is this is the guy he’s going to do it with.
It’s kind of a bullshit prediction, but whatever, I was right. +1 point.
Oscar Isaac: I guessed one-hundred percent new character, a badass pilot with a roguish/charming nature.
Feel free to bet money that he’ll fly by the seat of his pants and will not like it when you “tell him the odds.”
Bingo, right on the money. +1 point.
Andy Serkis: Boom, CGI alien. Kind of a gimme, but I’ll take it. +1 point.
Unnamed Female Actress: I predicted (with all the hope in a little boy’s heart) that it would be Mara Jade, Luke’s sometime paramour and complete ass-kicker. Instead, it was Captain Phasma (or Maz Kanata, depending). -1 point.
Final Score: +1.5 points. Slightly above statistical average, which ain’t great. But it’s positive, so I’ll take it.
The movie was incredible, and I’m definitely in love with the new generation of Star Wars flicks. I can’t wait for more. I love Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, and I’m convinced he’s going to bring some really new, interesting stuff to the story. He’s an unconventional storyteller who takes risks, and I think we’re going to be getting an “Empire Strikes Back” quality movie that shows us something we’ve never seen before.
Thanks for reading this giant, stupid article. May the Force Be With You.