It’s been 10 years since cinemas around the world held a new Star Wars adventure. However, some would say they’ve been waiting for the next installment into their beloved franchise for over 30 years. In 1999, George Lucas began his reign of terror over our childhoods, trying to destroy every memory, every character and every concept we held dear in the Star Wars universe. Luckily, The Force Awakens has resurrected Star Wars like a phoenix from the ashes, placing it upon the pedestal that it’s meant to sit on, above all other movie franchises.
The Force Awakens succeeds not because it’s trying to be the original trilogy, but because it feels like a natural extension of the original trilogy. As cinema evolves and as cultural changes, so should Star Wars. The Force Awakens was never going to be as highly regarded as A New Hope, Empire, or Jedi because those films are legendary pop-culture icons that nothing in media history or future can come close to matching. That being said, The Force Awakens sets up the new generation of Star Wars perfectly in every way that the prequels didn’t.
The story begins on Jakku, the new desert planet that’s meant to mimic Tatooine. It’s a desolate planet no doubt, lifeless for miles and miles around just as Tatooine is. And like Tatooine, we find our two main heroes there – stormtrooper FN-2187, aka Finn, and a force sensitive young girl named Rey, who this film and the next two films presumably center
around. The third protagonist we meet, who is actually my favorite of the bunch, is Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s most experienced pilot. Unlike the other two, Poe is already accomplished in the Star Wars universe. He’s a confident young man who’s seen his share of fighting and who is relied on heavily to accomplish missions against the new bad guys – The First Order. Unfortunately, we see him very little throughout The Force Awakens. He’s around in the first half hour of the film – he’s captured by The First Order and creates a relationship with Finn who breaks him out – then disappears until about the fourth act. Since Rey goes off on her own by the end of The Force Awakens, I hope we see Poe and Finn on screen together more in episodes 8 and 9 with a sort of buddy-buddy relationship like Han and Chewbacca.
Finn’s progression from skittish stormtroopers to lightsaber wielding hero is most interesting to me because it gives us a behind the scenes look at what these new stormtroopers are and how they’re recruited. Finn was captured from his home as a child and indoctrinated to believe in The First Order’s cause. The indoctrination didn’t set into Finn’s brain as well as other stormtroopers, however, and Finn began to question his purpose. With the help of Poe, he goes AWOL, stealing a Tie Fighter and crashing on Jakku where he meets up with Rey and BB-8. They begin their adventure and so on…
Finn is a very Disney character, which rubs me the wrong way in some instances. He’s the type of fast-paced, wisecracking, action personality that populates all of today’s big summer blockbusters (see Jurassic World, Iron Man and Ant-Man). That’s fine for most – like I said, Star Wars must evolve as cinema changes – but for me, I hold Star Wars characters to a higher standard than others. Jokes are fine, but they have their moments. I thought Finn in particular tossed a few too many quips into serious situations. That being said, his excessive jests are by no means a deal breaker for me. As I said two paragraphs ago, I’d love to see him and Poe team-up. And his lightsaber battle with Kylo Ren was pretty awesome, but more on that later.
Speaking of stormtroopers , I love that they have more of a personality in The Force Awakens and that they’ve evolved into the competent threats than they weren’t in the original trilogy. I felt genuine concern for Finn, Han, Chewie and Rey when stormtroopers showed up to Maz Kanata’s watering hole looking to capture BB-8 or when they raid that village on Jakku, killing all the villagers as they go. These new soldiers really reflect the brutal nature of The First Order, more brutal than even the Empire before them.
To that point, all weapons feel like they have more impact on targets. In the original trilogy and even the prequel trilogy, laser fire had no tangibility – they felt like simple noises and flashes of light. In The Force Awakens, each gun blast has solid bass when fired and each laser impact has, well… impact! Not only that, but the lightsaber fights sound a lot heavier than they ever have, adding to the brutal factor. Though Star Wars in under the Disney guise now, John Boyega’s comment about igniting to kill was spot on.
One big surprise of the film (I deduced it early on) was Rey as the new Jedi protagonist. Left by her parents on Jakku from an early age, she’s had to fend for herself on the hostile desert planet. Her fighting skills are great, but mysterious as to where they came from. She holds her own against Kylo Ren – a trained lightsaber duelist, which is odd considering before their fight she’d never even held a lightsaber. You could say the force guided her, but I think there’s a lot to her backstory that we’ll learn over the next two films. That, plus her grasp of the force is sort of bewildering. She finds out she has force powers during her interrogation by Kylo Ren, fights his force mind control off with her own newly discovered power, uses the Jedi mind trick to escape captivity, then again bests Kylo Ren in force pulling her lightsaber towards her. It took Luke Skywalker two films to be able to pull his lightsaber out of the snow, but Rey does it in a half hour? I wonder how robust her grasp of the force is and how powerful she’ll become over the series.
Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo, is by far my favorite part of this new trilogy. He’s not a menacing, dark, scary overlord like Darth Vader was. He’s a messed- up, emotionally disturbed young man trying to live up to his grandfather’s legend. We learn he’s the main reason why Luke went missing – Luke was training Ben Solo, Leia and Han’s kid, but he somehow turn to the Dark Side. After Ben became the leader of the Knights of Ren and took up the mantle of Kylo Ren, Luke reached a breaking point and seemingly ran off, infinitely disturbed by Ben’s turn. Like Rey, we only get the tip of the iceberg on Kylo’s back story in The Force Awakens. All we know is he trained with Luke as a child, Supreme Leader Snoke persuaded him towards the Dark Side and his training is not complete. He is powerful though, using force powers we’ve not seen before. He can extract information out of people’s heads and freeze their whole bodies where they stand. Maybe it’s been a while since I saw a true Disney cartoon, but when did they start putting blood and torture in their movies?
The biggest scene in the movie was, of course, Kylo Ren killing his father and beloved Star Wars hero Han Solo. Trying to reach the goodness that still exists in Ben, Han meets him on a precarious platform above a giant chasm, the perfect place for father and son bonding time. They speak for a moment, then right when we Han is reaching Ben, Kylo ignites his lightsaber right through Han’s torso. There’s a clear expression of remorse on Kylo’s face after looking in his father’s dying eyes. He’s not the awful, heartless Sith Lord that he wants to be. Like his grandfather who he means to mimic, the light in him is not completely missing.
We knew nothing about The Force Awaken’s story from the trailers, which was very good – we obviously wanted everything in the film to be big surprises. But now after viewing it multiple times, there are just as many unanswered questions as there were going into it:
- Who are Rey’s parents?
- Where did Maz Kanata get Luke’s old lightsaber?
- Who are the Knights of Ren?
- What exactly happened to make Luke go missing?
- Who is Supreme Leader Snoke?
- Where’s Boba Fett (personal question)?
Immediate theories suggest Luke is Rey’s father. It would explain how she’s force sensitive and how Luke’s old lightsaber called to her. It was also follow the trend of Skywalker-based Star Wars films. I, however, hope she’s not related to Luke and don’t think she is either. That’s too easy of a copout to just say she’s a Jedi because Luke. I think she’s the daughter of someone evil, someone Dark Side related. I think as her training progresses, she’ll become seduced by the Dark Side, by the thought of having all the power and control she never had on Jakku. Conversely, I think Kylo Ren will have a change of heart, no matter how hard Snoke tries to infest his mind.
J.J. Abrams and Disney reignited my Star Wars fervor. With so many questions, these next couple years until episode 8 will be painful, but I’m happy to know the franchise is in good hands and the story is going to wonderful new places.