The Force Awakens – You’re Damn Right
I don’t usually experience nerd excitement over films any more. I remember going to The Phantom Menace thinking I was getting new Star Wars for the first time in forever and realizing that Star Wars doesn’t have to be awesome. It can be bland and nonsensical.
I remember watching The Matrix a few dozen times and thinking whatever the Wachoskis had planned for that universe, there was no way they could mess it up. I remember being dead certain that Peter Jackson could make a trilogy about The Hobbit that was going to be just as awesome as The Lord of the Rings.
So entering the theater to see The Force Awakens, I was not vibrating with excitement. I was guardedly optimistic.
And while The Force Awakens may not have ensured I will be excited about every nerd title that comes to theaters from now on, I can honestly say it made me excited about Star Wars again. For the first time since The Empire Strikes Back, the next film can’t come soon enough.
I realize the internet does not require my take on the film. I’m writing it anyway.
And I’m going to focus on one thing: what I loved about the film. The film has faults. They aren’t huge and they don’t border on the gaffes that filled the prequels or even Return of the Jedi. But they are there. And if you want to focus on them, you go right ahead. You have as much right to dislike the film as I do to like it.
I don’t like it, though. I love it. And here’s why.
Darth Vader was an amazing villain. But when we first meet him, he is a dark presence. He is the embodiment of the empire and he is complete. We are not seeing a villain in the making.
Kylo Ren is all kinds of messed up. He is random. He is destructive. He is disobedient. He is doubtful. He is powerful. He is, in my opinion, far more dangerous than Vader ever was. He wields amazing power but he is completely undisciplined.
Vader wanted to rule the galaxy. I get the feeling that Kylo Ren wants to see the galaxy burn. Whoever this Snoke fellow is, I would like to believe he’s secretly terrified of Ren. Just as Han says, Snoke wants to control Ren. But Ren won’t be controlled. He can’t be controlled.
I have no idea what will happen in the sequel but I’d love to see Ren complete his training by obliterating Snoke and taking over the First Order himself.
And speaking of the First Order, I fucking love the First Order.
The First Order
The Empire as we see it in the original trilogy is just evil. They want to kill, enslave, and control. We never really know why. Nor do we care. Seems to be a dark side sort of thing. But we don’t really get a whole lot of insight into their deepest atrocities.
Aside from blowing up a planet. That was pretty cold blooded.
The First Order is sinister. Keep in mind, they aren’t employing clone troopers. They are kidnapping children and brainwashing them. That means even though we don’t know these troopers, every single death is a tragedy. Every single trooper that dies is the son or daughter of someone, somewhere, who will never see their child again.
Is that why Rey was hidden away on Jakku? Because her parents didn’t want to see her twisted by the First Order?
Sure, the First Order goes old school by building a new Death Star. Probably because they want to remind people of the Empire. That’s likely also why they use Stormtroopers. They are working off a living memory of something people already fear.
Their goals are similar. But their methods are far more horrifying.
Which brings me to the next thing I love.
I love everything about the character. I love his origin. I love the way John Boyega plays him. I love that he isn’t super brave or super competent or even super smart. He’s just never been sold on the First Order bullshit and when he’s told to exterminate a village full of people, he can’t do it.
Finn lies about his involvement in the Resistance to impress a girl. Which is dumb. In just about any film, the truth would come from someone other than him. This movie has the good sense to show Finn coming clean by himself.
I don’t know if there is a romance coming between Rey and Finn. Honestly, I hope there isn’t. I hope it’s just a strong friendship that is earned because he was honest when he had everything to lose by being so. And when his instinct was to run away, he went into the lion’s den without a plan just because he wanted to help his friend.
I love thinking about what could be next for him. Is he paralyzed because of his fight with Kylo Ren? Is he potentially a new dark Force user because of how much fear he has inside himself? Is he, like Solo, going to try to run away from the war until he simply can’t avoid it any longer?
And hey, speaking of Han Solo…I love Han Solo.
Harrison Ford nails this character in a way he has never nailed it before. He is still a charming rogue but there is a deep sadness there. You can tell the loss of his son to the dark side is just tearing him up.
When he steps onto that bridge, he has to know that it is possible Kylo Ren will kill him. He wants to believe his son can be saved but Luke couldn’t do it. He tries anyway. Because it would destroy him if he didn’t.
Let me say here that when Kylo Ren killed Han, my visceral response was to hope Ren doesn’t get a redemption arc. The fucker killed Han Solo. You don’t get a redemption from that.
If Chewbacca doesn’t tear off his arms in episode IX, I’m going to be a little bit disappointed.
Han gets to be Han for most of the film. His death is all the more tragic because he isn’t an afterthought in the film. He is moving Finn and Rey towards their destiny.
His life wasn’t over. Unlike Obi Wan, he still had a part to play. And we aren’t going to get a Force ghost. But if we don’t have Han, we at least have one of the single greatest protagonists in the Star Wars universe.
Rey is a character of such depth and intelligence, I can’t even begin to codify all the ways she’s my favorite.
Is she overly competent? Yeah, I guess. She’s a hero. Her job as a scavenger has probably given her a lot of mechanical acumen. How did she learn how to fly a spaceship? Because she did. I’m cool with that.
What’s the deal with speaking so many languages? I don’t know – it seems like she is surrounded by species that speak a bunch of different languages. It all seemed logical to me.
Moreover, the way her Force awareness awakens (hey – check out the title of the movie) is craftily done and masterfully performed by Daisy Ridley. When Ren tries to use the Force to read her mind, you can see that he unwittingly unlocks something within her. Was she trained in the force before?
But that training isn’t needed. She is very strong in the Force, as Ren observes. Once she resists Ren’s initial attack, she becomes aware of what she can do. So she starts to try things out.
Is she as accomplished as Ren? No. But she is, from the beginning, considerably more focused.
Focused enough to beat a completely uncontrolled Ren who has been shot by a bowcaster and who has just murdered his father.
I want to see what a trained Rey looks like. I want to think that this trilogy will avoid an arc in which she is tempted by the dark side because I think she’s already been tempted and she just isn’t interested.
That Rey is also a woman is simply the masterstroke of an already masterful character. Because her gender is completely irrelevant. Nobody in the film comments on her gender. She is just our hero. And she is also a girl.
She, like Luke, is our entry point into this universe. And she isn’t whiny. And she doesn’t need to be saved (she was doing a fine job of being saved on her own thank you very much).
Also, here’s what I loved about the story.
The Echoes of Past Star Wars Films
Yeah, I get it. The Empire had a Death Star and the First Order has a Starkiller Base.
We see regular echoes of what took place in the original trilogy. And that is what they are to me – echoes.
It is as if this same battle has been fought over and over again for a millennia. Sure, the Jedi ruled the Republic for a long time. Eventually, though, the Sith rose and took over. This fight between the light and dark sides of the force has been waged forever and it never changes.
That is why the First Order is using a similar template to the Empire. That is why Kylo Ren copies his grandfather’s wardrobe. Because this battle between opposing forces is familiar and even a bit stale.
Again, I have no idea where the next two films are going. But to me, the characters that are introduced in this film are characters who exist to disrupt the pattern.
I think Kylo Ren is aware that building gigantic planet killing bases isn’t a useful path. He wants to see the First Order become something that doesn’t need to destroy planets because it will simply be too powerful to stop.
I think the entire idea that the light and dark sides of the force are opposing forces that must always be in conflict is about to change. What if the Jedi could use the dark side for good? What if the Force should be more of a shade of grey but that has been forgotten?
Maybe the force was split like the dark crystal.
OK, let’s hope it isn’t going that way…
The echoes of the original trilogy exist to remind us that this battle has been joined before and, ultimately, nobody knows how to stop it from happening again. The galaxy is being torn apart by the conflict between the light side and the dark side.
I loved that theme.
And I also loved how we see things we recognize and then we are shown how this universe is different. Kylo Ren wears a helmet because he wants to and that means when he takes it off, we understand he is a pretender. He wants to be Darth Vader. But he isn’t.
In my opinion, The Force Awakens has delivered the Star Wars universe in a way we’ve been waiting for since the end of The Empire Strikes Back. And it has given us characters with stories we want to follow. That’s what Star Wars is supposed to be about.
Which brings me to my final point.
It Felt Like Star Wars
Star Wars is about big events affecting little people. Our heroes are expected to provide us a window into a conflict so massive, we can’t even envision it. And it is about a universe that feels lived in.
If there was one thing that drove me nuts about the prequels, it was how clean the films looked. Even Tatooine looked clean.
Star Wars is lived in. The Falcon looks like a piece of junk. Characters have dirt on their clothes.
CGI is a fine tool but it can be difficult to make computer generated realities look like anything but a perfected version of a universe. BB8 as a practical effect is so much more effective than he would have been as a computer generated character.
You can use every tool in your effects tool box on Star Wars. There is a place for CGI. What made this movie feel like Star Wars, though, is the way the filmmakers seemed to understand that there are times to use CGI and times to use practical effects.
This film manages to strike a great balance and for the first time since Return of the Jedi, we have a Star Wars movie that feels like it takes place somewhere real.
So yeah. I loved the film. I loved the characters. I loved the aesthetic. I loved the performances. I love that I’m looking forward to the next Star Wars film again. Bring it on.