I’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens twice and I so want to talk about it!
I’ll start out spoiler-free, but then we’ll dive heavy into the spoilers. I’ll warn you when it’s coming in case you want to jump ship.
I don’t even know where to start. Being a writer, I want to craft the perfect essay about this experience. But I also need to process and just get my thoughts down. So this is probably going to be a mess. It’s a blog, not a polished essay.
Wow. What a great movie.
I’ve seen it twice and I want to go back for more. It was just a super fun thrill ride.
Now I’ve been caught up in Star Wars nostalgia before. I said this in my expectations—it’s Star Wars, and I’ll love the adventure. And I totally did. I’m so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that I have absolutely no objective judgment.
That’s how I walked out of The Phantom Menace excited. But when the childhood wonder and excitement wore off, objectivity came back and I realized how ridiculous that movie was.
That could maybe happen here, but I doubt it. I need to give it some time for the wonder of the moment to pass. But at this point I’m pretty confident it’s going to be one of my favorite Star Wars movies.
So a few fun (non-spoiler) thoughts about the experience of watching the movie:
- The first thing I did after seeing the movie ? Stop at Target at 9:50 p.m. to buy Star Wars toys. The merchandising is strong with this one. And I love it!
- After my dad saw it we spent an hour and a half on the phone talking nothing but Star Wars (OK, we maybe gave five minutes on the Captain America trailer).
- My screening plan of seeing it before I took my kids worked out really well. The movie is intense and I had to prepare my kids. My almost 10-year-old still hid her face, and my 7-year-old buried his face in my chest a couple times and outright sobbed at one point. We didn’t have to leave the theater, but it was pretty distracting. I was glad I knew what to expect when and didn’t miss anything because I’d already seen it.
- Unfortunately, I think preparing my kid with a half spoiler made him think that half spoiler wasn’t a real spoiler. So while getting supper at Panera after the movie he’s jumping around with his light saber and tells some stranger that half spoiler. The guy slapped his hands to his ears and says, “No spoilers! No spoilers!” Sorry man. We had another talk about spoilers. 10 minutes later another guy asked us if we’d just seen the movie (OK, we’ve got a light saber in the restaurant and we’re all wearing Star Wars shirts… nerd central), asked if it was another Phantom Menace (“Absolutely not!”) and then quickly said, “OK, don’t tell me anything else” and covered his ears.
- While preparing the children for the movie, I showed them a picture of the bad guy, Kylo Ren. They had seen the trailers, but these masked men in black can be frightening in a big, loud, dark theater, so I wanted them to see what Kylo Ren looked like before he was big and scary. They took one look at his mask and dubbed him “Kylo Duckface.”
- At the beginning of the movie I leaned over to my son and read the opening crawl to him. I’ve done that for both kids as we’ve watched all the earlier movies. But doing it in the theater? That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that to be a moment.
- One of the first things my daughter asked me this morning was, “Can we go see the Star Wars movie again?” That’s my girl.
Such a great movie-going experience.
Now let’s talk about the actual movie. Which means spoilers.
OK, did you catch that? SPOILERS start now.
You’ve been warned.
The SPOILER Parts
I love how the movie introduced new characters that really resonated, but also gave us such solid connections to the old.
Rey, Finn, Poe and BB8 were all great.
I loved Poe’s dashing swagger, like a younger Han Solo. I hope we get to see more of Poe fleshed out in future episodes.
I loved Finn’s every man nature. He wasn’t a hero, though when push came to shove he certainly stepped up like a hero. I also love his humor. He had some great lines that weren’t quite Han Solo one-liners, but had great attitude in them. I feel like we haven’t seen that in Star Wars before. (The trash compactor joke is a great example… Han: “Is there a garbage chute? Or a trash compactor?” Finn: “Yeah there is.” Han’s joke was pretty great on its own, but the way Finn said his line was just classic.)
And Rey? Wow. She was such a strong character. Full of wide-eyed wonder, but the girl also knows her stuff. And the surprise when she could tap into the force? That was cool.
BB8 was awesome. I was a little worried when I saw that droid in the trailer an thought we had another CGI monstrosity on our hands. But the fact that the droid is real and has such heart in the story is fun.
Even new bad guy, Kylo Ren, has a different and engaging take on the black-cloaked baddie. We don’t get another brooding, grunting Darth Maul who’s all design and no substance. He’s almost funny. And he’s got an anger management problem. We also see that he’s not all-powerful. He can do some scary stuff, but he hasn’t reached Darth Vader levels of unstoppable bad ass yet.
And then we get the nostalgia.
Bringing back the old characters was so right. That moment when they reveal the Millennium Falcon (a character in its own right) was spot on. The reveal of Han Solo and Chewbacca, even though we’d seen it in the trailer, was a surprising joy. When Leia steps out, when C-3PO gets in the way, when R2 is unveiled, even when Luke finally is revealed—feels every time. I wanted to cheer for each one.
There were also a lot of great nods to the original trilogy with the 14 parsecs line, the chess game, even a quick shot of the floating ball thing that Luke trains with. I’ll admit it was a lot—we were swimming in the nostalgia. But as a fan I also reveled in it.
One of my favorite parts about the movie was the gritty realism. Long gone was the fake CGI of the prequels. Every laser blast and explosion felt real and made sense. You saw a blaster fire and you saw where it hit and it all felt very real. You didn’t just see Stormtroopers falling down like in the originals, and you didn’t see an over-the-top melee of fake action like in the prequels. It felt different than the Star Wars norm, but it also felt right.
From the X-Wing and Tie Fighter duels to the troops shooting it out on the ground, everything felt so much more believable.
As for tying it into the nostalgia, I loved that we got to see Finn working the guns on the Millennium Falcon (using the same targeting screen we saw in A New Hope). As much as I loved Empire and Return of the Jedi, I always thought it was funny that the guns fired magically and we never saw anyone manning the guns. We also got to see Rey actually fly the Falcon. In the originals Han and Chewie always just sat there pushing buttons, but it was never clear how they worked a flight stick or something to actually fly the Falcon. We couldn’t see what controls Rey was working, but it was clear she was flying the ship. That was pretty cool.
For me the part of the movie that seemed the least Star Wars was the weird monsters Han and Chewie were transporting. So weird monsters are a part of the Star Wars ethos and it’s good they worked them in, but just the look of those things seemed odd. Almost too generic monster and not enough specific Star Wars. However, I thought the way Rey saved Finn was both original and awesome. That was a great moment.
Rehashing the Originals?
Now I’ve read some complaints that The Force Awakens did too much re-hashing of the originals. There was a lot. Not only did we have the nostalgia of the favorite characters coming back, but there were a lot of parallels:
- A droid carrying secret information.
- A masked bad guy dressed in black.
- An orphaned youngster living on a desert planet and longing for something more.
- Hiding out in the smuggler compartment of the Millennium Falcon.
- A grizzled old fossil serving as a mentor (albeit a reluctant mentor).
- A mysterious puppet master bad guy we only see in giant holograph.
- A stunning revelation about a character’s parentage.
- A cantina scene full of bizarre aliens.
- A terrible super weapon that can destroy planets.
- Han and Chewie leading a mission to take down the shields of said super weapon.
- An X-Wing assault on the weakness of super weapon, complete with trench.
- A showdown between mentor and mentee (father/son) where one is struck down while defenseless.
- Our young hero watches this showdown while completely helpless.
Yes, there are a lot of parallels. Some of it is Star Wars reveling in its many tropes. Some of it is very intentional nods to the past. And, yeah, some of it is a little ridiculous (a character actually says, “It’s another Death Star!”). But that’s OK. It’s a space opera.
But suggesting that it’s just rehashing A New Hope goes too far. A New Hope was centered around the Luke-Han-Leia trio—while they don’t spend the whole movie together, they really connect with each other. Poe-Finn-Rey are never on screen together. Poe and Rey don’t even meet.
There’s also a lot of backstory to The Force Awakens that is only hinted at here (which is great storytelling—dive into the story in the middle—and one reason the prequels sucked). We come into the middle of this drama where Kylo Ren has defied his mentor (Luke Skywalker), left his parents and gone down the path to the Dark side. We see the terrible moment where he makes the choice to commit fully by confronting his father and killing him. And we see Han Solo’s tender response to being murdered and betrayed by his own son.
That’s a bit of depth we didn’t get in A New Hope. And while hints of it are in the rest of the original trilogy, this takes it in a new direction (“There is still light in him, I can feel it.”). We never saw that sort of believable moment in the prequels.
Plus, the battle doesn’t end there with the showdown. We get Kylo Ren confronting both Finn and Rey. This is where I thought The Force Awakens really triumphed over A New Hope. As much as I love A New Hope, those posters showing Luke Skywalker wielding a light saber are misdirection at best. They lied to us. He only ever trains with a light saber and we had to wait until Empire to see him truly fight with one.
But here in The Force Awakens we get both Finn and Rey wielding a light saber. YES! Now I can understand complaints that this is oddly inconsistent. Neither has been trained and Finn hasn’t shown any aptitude for the Force. But so what? How hard is it to swing a sword? And Finn is clearly bested pretty quickly (both times he tries to use a light saber—he’s no pro, and it shows). And Rey, she’s mostly bested until that moment when she’s backed to the edge of a cliff and Kylo tempts her: “I could show you the ways of the force.” And Rey closes her eyes and lets the Light flow through her, just as Maz told her. Then the Force is truly flowing through her as she pushes Kylo back and ultimately bests him.
Yeah! Where is that whole sequence in the originals? It’s not. This is a powerful new moment.
All the Secrets
One of the things I’m most amazed about with this movie is that they managed to keep all the secrets. The major moment of Han Solo’s death was kept completely hidden. The lack of even a spoken line for Luke Skywalker. But even the lesser reveal of Rey awakening to the force and wielding a light saber was hidden. With all the merchandise and posters showing characters holding their weapon in front of their face, we never saw Rey with a light saber. That was a great bit of holding back (and honestly, misdirection).
I read an article a few weeks back talking about how hard it is to find Star Wars toys and how there’s a lack of Rey merchandise. And they talked about how there’s going to be a great flood of Rey merchandise after the movie. I think this is why. They were wisely holding back that Rey was going to be the real Jedi hero. Come January, I imagine the Rey with light saber toys and T-shirts will be everywhere. And who wouldn’t want one? (Again, my first stop after seeing the movie? The toy aisle of Target.)
And Han Solo’s death?
Oh my. All the feels. My son sobbed in the theater. In the moment you knew it was coming. We had a moment of uncertainty. Kylo offers his light saber and I remember doubting—maybe he will come back to the Light. But then the sun darkens and Kylo struggles. The dialogue there was powerful.
And then it’s over. Han is killed. And he reaches out to his son with this tender gesture of forgiveness.
That’s one of the powerful things about Star Wars. Luke Skywalker saved his father by refusing to become him. He gave in to his hatred momentarily and struck his father down, but then realized what he had done, and Luke tosses his light saber aside. He allows the Emperor to destroy him, and in that sacrificial act Darth Vader embraces the remaining good inside himself and saves his son.
We see something similar in Han’s death. He didn’t lash out at his lost son. Revenge was not Han Solo’s dying breath. The man who shot first (that’s right, Lucas!) died still loving the son that killed him.
I think as this sequel trilogy continues, we’ll see that moment truly weigh on Kylo Ren. He thinks killing his own father has sealed his fate with the Dark side, but I think Han’s act of forgiveness will continue to haunt Kylo Ren.
I’m also curious if this death is what Harrison Ford wanted. He wanted Han Solo killed off in Return of the Jedi. I wonder if he agreed to come back to reprise the role because Han Solo would finally be killed off in a meaningful way that really pushed the story forward. It’s the death Harrison Ford wanted.
What’s also interesting is that all the actors are coming back for Episode VIII, including Harrison Ford. Which probably means we’ll see Han Solo again, at least in flashback form.
Not seeing Luke until the very, very end was a little disappointing, but I think it worked with the whole story. Honestly, it’d be a little hard to connect with the original trio while also introducing a new trio. I think they had to hold something back for future movies.
This also really nicely sets up Luke and Rey for a Yoda and Luke Degobah-type training sequence in Episode VIII. Will we see Luke come back? Will he wield a light saber again and confront Kylo Ren? I’m thinking no. I think it will take a lot more for him to come out of hiding—and coming out of hiding to exact vengeance on Kylo Ren for killing Han Solo? That’s not the Jedi way. That would be Luke’s path to the Dark side, which I don’t think will happen. I expect Luke to remain in hiding and be more of a Yoda/Obi-wan mentor.
But we’ll see.
So Many Questions
That’s one of the wonderful things about this movie. It raises so many questions and doesn’t even attempt to answer many of them. Some it even jokingly pokes at (“You probably didn’t recognize me because of my red arm…” Oh, C-3PO, you’re such a dork). Who is Rey’s family? What’s the long story of how Maz got Luke’s light saber? How did Kylo Ren get turned to the Dark side? Who the heck is Supreme Leader Snoke?
In good storytelling fashion, I don’t think some of these questions will ever be answered (or it will be in ancillary products that we can ignore) because they don’t need to be. Why is 3PO’s arm red? There’s probably a story there, but is it a good story? Probably not.
One question of consistency I’m hoping will be addressed—what happened to force ghosts? Yoda, Obi-wan, Anakin and apparently Qui-Gon Jin can all appear as ghosts and speak to the living. This is probably used as more plot device than anything consistent, but it makes me wonder what happens to this kill. Do Yoda and Obi-wan continue to guide Luke? Will we see them again (I’m guessing not)? If they can come back and guide people, why didn’t Anakin appear to Kylo Ren and tell him to stop the stupid Vader obsession?
This question seems to needlessly complicate things and I’m guessing it will just be dropped and ignored. A little frustrating for continuity’s sake (they went to great pains to work that into the end of Episode III), but it might be like an X-Men movie where those continuity details are kind of ignored in order to tell a better story (meh).
So much to digest. And only 18 months (May 26, 2017) until Episode VIII comes out.
It’s been fun watching people dissect every trailer frame by frame, trying to piece together clues about this movie and theorize about what’s going to happen. It’s even more fun to go back and read those now and see how wrong people were.
With all that trailer dissecting, it’s interesting what scenes in the trailer didn’t make it in the movie, what dialogue wasn’t in the movie and how sometimes scenes and dialogue were mismatched to tell a story in the trailer. That’s all part of the marketing and how you do trailers, so I’m OK with that. Though I am a little disappointed that the line “Hope is not lost today. It is found.” was not in the movie.
It’s been an amazing ride (clearly; I just wrote 3,000 words about it). I don’t know how well they’ll be able to finish this whole thing off, but this new chapter was flat out fun.
When can I go see it again?
Update: And here are more post-movie thoughts.