Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the spoiler-laden editorial

Do not read this if you have not seen the film. I will be freely mentioning plot points, surprises and other things which are widely and rightly considered to be major spoilers and I don’t want you blaming me for it when I put this warning right at the top.

You heard me, person at the back who hasn’t seen the film yet. Go on. Out with you.

Right. Let’s get on with the spoilers – but first a disclaimer. This is all my opinion, and you’re free to disagree with it. I do not necessarily represent the views of any other Bureau 42 author.

This film has been described as the Star Wars film that the fans of the original trilogy really wanted to be made. I’d say that’s an accurate assessment. It feels like the original trilogy, not like the prequels. Yes it’s thirty years later, but they haven’t, as we quickly discover, been peaceful years by any means.

The other reason why it feels like the original trilogy of course is because it parallels A New Hope so strongly. I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. Back in that film, Star Wars itself had to be established, along with a hero in the form of Luke, a number of allies, and of course a suitably dastardly villain to defeat – and the death of a wise mentor. It’s the hero’s journey, with some extra parallels because we see a plucky little droid who can’t speak Basic carrying the vital data, a giant superweapon which the good guys need to destroy, and the destruction of a planet. The reasons and links between these things may be different, and there’s a very knowing echo of Return of the Jedi in Han, Chewie and Finn going to Starkiller Base to take down the shields before the Resistance’s X-wings arrive, but fundamentally the plot is the same.

So of course they decide to throw us a curveball and give us two brand new shiny heroes for this film.

Rey

Rey has to be the most interesting character to talk about. After all the trailers and posters everyone was quite sure that Finn was going to desert from the First Order and become a Jedi. I’m extremely impressed at Disney for managing to keep it under wraps that the Jedi was actually going to be Rey, and that for the first time we have a female Jedi in the primary cast. Obviously she has a long way to go, but she’s a powerful Force user and could go far with the right training. She’s also an orphan, left by her family on Jakku when she was very young, yet with absolute faith as a young adult that they were going to return. Possibly a delusion she clings to in order to stay sane, but it drives a lot of her early decisions in the film.

So the question we must ask is, who is Rey? Who are her family? Is she another Skywalker?

I rather hope she isn’t, because we can’t have all the Force-sensitive main characters end up being related, but it’s an obvious possibility. Luke could have had a daughter, started to train her up, but when she was very young Ben Solo went to the dark side and Luke fled, deciding to abandon his daughter on a desert planet (hey, he was fine on his!) rather than take her with him. It’s a terrible thing to do, but he might have felt that it was the only option to protect her. Later on, she turns up on his nice remote island holding Anakin Skywalker’s old lightsaber and giving off waves of Force potential having survived a duel with his old student… you can imagine his next chat with Obi-wan’s ghost is going to be quite interesting.

She could also of course be Han and Leia’s daughter, but that would probably have required Luke to wipe their memories of her, because there’s no way they wouldn’t have mentioned if they’d had a daughter as well as a son who turned to the dark side and murdered a load of trainee Jedi. Plus Ben would presumably have known, and I doubt a skilled Force user of any stripe can stand in front of their Force-potential sister and not recognise the connection. Luke didn’t take long to realise who his sister was once he knew he had one, and he was far less experienced than Ben is by the time of this film.

Finn

Finn is initially just motivated by fear. Get away from this terrible place, something that he only realises he has to do after he also manages to develop a conscience during his very first slaughtering of innocent villagers – an activity I assume is quite common for the First Order, judging by how casual they are about it.

But then he falls in love with Rey (given their histories I’d say it’s fairly likely that she is at least not his sister), and things change. He’s introduced to the wider galaxy and the motivations that people have when they’re not being indoctrinated as stormtroopers, and eventually his lie to Poe about rescuing him “because it’s the right thing to do” (where did he even learn about that concept?) becomes the truth. In this sense Finn is a strong parallel to Han. And speaking of which…

Han

Oh poor Han. Not only did he manage to lose the Falcon, his wife and his son, he no sooner gets the Falcon back and reunites with Leia than his son’s sticking a lightsaber through his chest.

Obviously on the hero’s journey a mentor has to die, and of course one of the original trilogy characters also had to die to help pass the baton on to the next generation, but goodness me. What a scene. I also thought his line “I used to have a larger crew” was one of the best in the entire film.

Leia

A strong performance by Carrie Fisher as the weary General Organa. She’s spent her entire life fighting the Empire, and now the First Order are here to mess things up all over again, and what’s worse her son is deeply involved in it after turning on her brother and, we assume, killing all the other students. And in the process of this she lost her husband and her brother and she’s had to do all this work with only C-3PO for company.

What a nightmare.

That said, she’s come through it with an impressive dignity. Right at the beginning of the movie she’s referred to as a Princess, and certainly if you believe in the ideas of a royal family which puts their duty above all else (as Alderaan’s were supposed to, as per the old expanded universe) then Leia certainly seems to have done that. Unlike Finn’s rather naive declaration that he’s doing the right thing (and actually just trying to facilitate his own escape), Leia really is doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. She may not have learned to use the Force like a Jedi Knight, but to me Leia exemplifies the qualities that a Jedi should have. Rather more than Luke does, to be honest.

Poe

Described in the opening crawl as Leia’s “most daring pilot”, he’s certainly good. Implausibly so. Poe’s flying the kind of crazy maneuvers we’ve only really seen before from people like Luke and Anakin – who were cheating. So does he qualify as a badass normal? I’d guess so, because I don’t think the Star Wars universe is likely to acquire a load of low-level specialised Force users or anything like that. Poe’s just a really, really good pilot with a sadly truncated role in the film. He serves a purpose – get the map, get Finn away from the First Order, back Finn up in front of Leia, finish off Starkiller Base – but he doesn’t actually have a character to be. I hope we get to see more of that in Episode VIII, because if he’s just there to fly a spaceship at the right moment he’s going to feel very empty over the entire trilogy. Really the only thing we see of Poe other than “hotshot pilot” is his obvious and deep affection for BB-8, who also clearly is very fond of Poe.

BB-8

The R2-D2 of the new generation, only far cuter. BB-8 basically does Artoo’s role from A New Hope, carrying the vital data, getting friendly with the local potential Jedi and becoming instrumental in helping them get off their boring desert planet and in to the action. He basically steals every scene in the movie, even the ones he’s not in, and he’s going to be huge as merchandising too.

The glorious thing to me being that he hasn’t been obviously compromised in order to achieve that.

Kylo Ren

Or rather, Ben Solo. Or Ben Skywalker might be more appropriate, given his retreading of Anakin’s path. Of all the people Kylo Ren could’ve turned out to be I never for a moment considered that he might be Han and Leia’s son. Or even that he might be that young. Suitably menacing, he strikes me as a young man who idolises Darth Vader but is nowhere near the adept that Vader was and he desperately wishes to be. As Rey found out while fighting his mental probe, he’s afraid that he’ll never be as strong as Vader was, and he clearly doesn’t have as much control of his rage as Vader did.

He’s also a pretty awful swordsman. Okay so his fight with Finn and Rey only went how it did because Chewie had shot him in the kidney shortly beforehand, but his bladework is wild, uncontrolled and possibly relying entirely on channelling the rage and the dark side of the Force instead of actual skill. Go look at how Vader fights in the original trilogy, from his duel with Obi-wan which looks so strongly like kendo, to his second duel with Luke where that influence is still very strong (but with more acrobatics from his opponent). Then look again at Kylo Ren’s wild slashes and swings. He’s menacing, he’s powerful, but he doesn’t have the control yet, even if killing his father has helped to cement him further on the path to the dark side.

By the time we see him again in Episode VIII he might have been through Snoke’s final training and become far more powerful… or will he be broken by it, abandoned and possibly drawn back to the light? Rey’s path seems fairly obvious, but I think Kylo Ren’s is a lot less certain, and he’s probably going to be the source of at least one big surprise in the next installment.

Snoke

Which brings us to Creepy Giant Hologram guy. Clearly a dark side user of considerable power and influence, and clearly in keeping with some other “Knights of Ren” or Kylo wouldn’t be able to be master of them, but where did he come from? Who is he? And why does he seem to have a big hole in one cheek?

Rather like the Emperor in the original trilogy, I think we’ll see more of him later on. And you just know someone’s going to end up fighting him, but right now I’m not sure if it’s going to be Rey or Ben… or Poe, from orbit, with a brace of proton torpedoes.

The Bad Bits

Okay so I had to get to this part. I’ve mused a lot about characters and roles (and thanks for getting this far, those of you who have), and I’ve really liked this film, but there are some bits that I would wish were different. Firstly: scale.

J.J. Abrams has no idea how big space is, and how fast the speed of light is (and isn’t). He demonstrated this ably in Star Trek, for although we could handwave Spock being able to see Vulcan’s destruction as a construct of the vision Spock was sharing in his mind meld, we can’t handwave the bizarre disparities in travel time or the idea that transwarp beaming is really a thing that Scotty invented in the prime timeline and it can land you precisely on a starship that’s travelling at many multiples of the speed of light and has been for quite some time.

And so now in The Force Awakens we have a “hyperlight weapon” which at least lets us assume it’s not just a giant laser this time (and it curves, so it obviously isn’t), but it destroys four planets which all seem to be closer to each other than the Earth is to the Moon, and which are all visible from the surface of whatever planet it is (did it have a name onscreen?) that Maz Kanata set up her bar on.

Quite cross about it. It’s dramatic, and maybe you could say it’s just a visualisation for dramatic effect, and I’d accept that for the space scenes, just about – but the protagonists clearly saw it from Maz’s doorstep, and that’s just not on. Sorry. Likewise, without doing a hyperspace jump the Falcon ends up being caught by Han’s new ship, and Han has no idea they came from Jakku despite that they must be in the same star system (and where the heck’s that First Order star destroyer, eh?). Nothing new to the franchise, as the Falcon previously made the trip from Hoth to Bespin without a hyperdrive, but it’s still annoying. Maybe the Falcon’s sublight engines are actually warp-capable…

Still, Starkiller Base got blown up, so hopefully we won’t have to deal with another one.

And speaking of that, we have an unanswered question – if it consumes a star in order to fire, where did it get another star from? The implication is that Starkiller Base – a converted planet – has hyperdrive. Or it can bring stars to it, which is even crazier. The technology of this universe is pretty insane, when you get down to it. And it’s pretty awesome that everyone just treats it so casually. Oh the First Order have a hyperlight weapon that can blow up several planets at the same time without even being in the same star system. No shock that the technology exists, just a determination to figure out how to blow it up. Kudos, Resistance folks.

What else? Early direction is pretty bad. If Poe’s scene had started a bit earlier, we wouldn’t have needed him to awkwardly restate what the thing he’s holding in his hand is and hold it up for the camera to make sure that we know he’s holding it in his hand. We could also have done without the quick cutaway shot to him pulling the trigger while taking out stormtroopers with his X-wing’s underbelly blaster. I think we can follow that it’s him firing. These annoyed me equally both times I saw the film, although having annoyed me the first time I was probably just waiting to be annoyed by it again.

The other thing that seems kind of bad is how small the Resistance is. They send something like twenty little fighters against the entire Starkiller Base, and their torpedoes don’t appear to be even as powerful as a large bomb available to modern military forces, let alone nuclear armaments. There are also only two TIE fighters trying to take out the Falcon during the escape from Jakku. It’s the kind of scale we saw in A New Hope, but it doesn’t seem quite right that they could ever expect to succeed. There may have been more explanation of this in the script at one point – Threepio does say “without the Republic fleet we’re doomed”, implying perhaps that the fleet didn’t survive the destruction of the Republic capital planets (or is unable to respond due to the destruction of their command structure), but we could’ve done with a bit more on why they had so little stuff.

Which leads me to my last thing.

The Resistance

They have the support of the Republic, apparently, but why aren’t the Republic just fighting the First Order?

The backstory material released so far gives us some clues. The Republic and the Empire did sign a peace treaty. We know that the First Order arose from the Empire’s remnants, so presumably that peace treaty still applies. The Republic, perhaps very worried by the First Order but unwilling to dive into a galactic war, sets up a deniable group and sets them to disrupting the First Order’s plans, with Leia at the helm due to her admirable track record in disrupting the Empire’s. Now the First Order clearly are fully aware of this, so it’s a little bit pointless, but then the part of the First Order on Starkiller Base is clearly not representative of their average citizenry…

We have a lot more to learn about what’s going on here, but basically we seem to be spending the film cheering for the good guys who are an undercover operation engaging in the kind of activity which in the real world people object to very strongly.

And now of course what happens to the Republic, with its capital blown up?

The wait for Episode VIII is going to be a long one.

24 replies on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the spoiler-laden editorial”

  1. Foeclan says:

    I think that a lot of things in the Star Wars universe start to make more sense if you think of the Republic/Empire as a supercivilization. Planets with a single dominant ecosystem? Probably terraformed that way. Multiple inhabited planets in a single solar system? It saves on fuel if your entire supply chain is, galactically speaking, nearby. Maybe the Death Star started its life as a civil works project to make mining and recovery of resources more efficient.

    There were definitely some spots where some indication that they’d traveled would have helped. My impression after-the-fact is that Starkiller Base was mobile, and was jumping around to the systems where it was blowing up planets, but I missed the ‘hyperlight weapon’ line. I figured they just blew up whatever Republic planets (or possibly they were moons, which could explain their proximity; would have to see it again) were in the system where they were hunting BB-8 as an opening shot in a new war, then planned to do it again to the Resistance base once they found it.

    I was expecting Poe to basically be a decoy character and never to show back up after the TIE fighter exploded. Not that you can effectively have a decoy lead with the amount of hype this movie had, mind you. Now that Finn and Rey are firmly established leads, I hope they justify his survival by giving him more to do next time.

    The ‘how do the characters run into each other when space is so big’ thing at least has some explanation in Star Wars that it didn’t in Star Trek. Obi-Wan certainly implies in A New Hope that there’s no such thing as coincidence and that the Force nudges things in a particular direction. Destiny seems to be as much a law of physics as gravity in the Star Wars universe. You can defy it, but you’re still going to feel its pull.

    I liked the movie quite a bit. It hit a lot of the same beats as the original, which is a perfectly valid way to revitalize the story. They went back to square one, and it was a good place to be. I hope they diverge more in the subsequent films now that they have their footing.

    I left the theater thinking, ‘Ok, there were a couple of holes, but nothing major or particularly inexplicable; so what the hell happened in Star Trek?’.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      So, yeah, I’m not even going to add to the comments on the technology.

      Is this better than the prequels? Well, yeah. a zillion times better.

      Did I walk away feeling like I couldn’t wait to see the next one?

      No. Not really. I’ll see them, of course, but I don’t feel like this is the second, uh, something.

      I was not a reader of the old expanded universe or the sequel novels, but I really wanted to see the Republic in power and experiencing an interesting challenge based on the role reversal, or, well, anything Star Wars that wasn’t just a remake of the original pretending to be its sequel. I thought Han and Chewie were great, and I like the character who I’m sure will be Luke’s daughter, and the shots of downed ships on Not-Tatooine, so I’d have to say I enjoyed the movie, but….

      Look, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was this cool little movie called Star Wars that recycled and processed and distilled a half-century of pop-culture and a lot of myth into a fun story with heroes and villains for a culture (70s America) that no longer believed in them. Then they made some cool sequels that were required to expand on the originals and took therefore themselves a little more seriously. I liked all that.

      It grew into this massive self-referential thing that I can enjoy but, honestly, I much prefer to see something new and different than watch A New Hope Redux.

      Yeah, yeah. Get off my lawn.

      Still, a decent film.

  2. J_W_W says:

    Regarding that talk with a force ghost, Obi-wan is not who I want to see Luke talk to in the next film. I want to see Ghost Yoda, voice by Frank Oz, acted as a puppet, have the parallel to Yoda and Obi-wan’s discussion about training Luke on Dagobah. Regardless of Rey’s parentage, this discussion needs to happen. One, because Luke is in the same place Yoda was in Empire, the only Jedi to train new Jedi, and two because it makes sense within the context of the films. Restoration of the Jedi was Yoda and Obi-wan’s main goal, Luke still has work to do.

    • Blackadder says:

      Thinking about this further, WHy not have Luke conversing with a variety of ghosts? If he has grown more in tune with the force, why not converse with Anakin (played by anyone except Christian Hayden) or Gui-Gonn as well as Yoda and Obiwan. Having those guys argue about a course of action could be very interesting to watch and allow for some of the not as good movies to be integrated into the universe better.

  3. J_W_W says:

    I am going to go right out and say that Kylo Ren MUST be redeemed in this trilogy or it will be quite disappointing. And not redeemed my the noble death like Vader, he’s going to have to live with his betrayal, and use what he knows to make a restored order of Jedi Knights better and stronger for it.

    He’s a fantastic dark character. The scene of him trashing the console cements his rage and uncontrollability, yet it is far less cruel than just blithely killing an underling, like Vader always did and like we truly expected in that moment. i.e. he’s no Darth Vader.

    His story should be great in this new trilogy. A lot of people have been commenting about how irredeemable he is because he killed Han, but that only makes his redemption harder. How does Leia forgive him for that when he turns back to the light, or even better how does Leia make HER plea for him to turn back to the light (and hopefully be successful) knowing what he did to his father.

    The Kylo Ren character is the best new thing about the new trilogy.

  4. J_W_W says:

    Regarding the wait for the new movie.

    I could only smile when my daughter said that now she has to wait for the next movie.

    She, and he younger sister too, were only old enough to see the prequels but the time Revenge of the Sith came out, so she of course could watch one and immediately start the other. In fact that’s how all my children saw the original trilogy of course.

    Now its different, Episode VII is not available, and she’ll have to wait, perceptively noting that watching these movies hasn’t felt like that for her yet. My response is, with a huge grin, is “I know how that feels”.

    My son, however, is old enough to have watched the prequels with me in sequence as they came out, but this one is different. We don’t know how the story ends, we don’t know the twists. He was a fan of the prequels (apart from disowning Ep. I), but not as big a fan as he is of THIS movie. He’ll have seen it three times by the end of the day today.

    Yeah, Star Wars is BACK!

  5. Blackadder says:

    My spoiler thoughts echo some of the above.

    I will probably spout heresy but there was no need for Poe as a character. If they don’t do something with him in the next movie he will be a complete waste. They could just as easily have had Han and Chewie on Jakku searching for the Falcon and stumbling over the map. Poe seemed to be an empty shirt just there for events to unfold around.

    Finn was predictable but I’m glad he isn’t the Jedi character going forward.

    Did we need another weapon of mass destruction? I did like the way they compared it to the Death Star in size but is there some other plot device we could use? Destroying a WMD Base has been used for Episode 1, 4 and 6 enough already.

    Where was the Republic? What planet/system was it that was destroyed by the new weapon? WHy weren’t they mobilising after that had happened?

    Frank Herbert’s Dune series is the master of time lapse between books. Each book shows the change in power to the new order and then you come back after the order has been in place for an established period. As bad as the prequels was they got this right. the gap between 3 and 4 worked as enough had been setup in 3 that the state of 4 was acceptable. If Return was the transition to the new order, there needed to be something to describe what the status quo was. Sure there were parts in the reveals but nothing about why the First Order existed or that the Republic and Empire had fought each other to a final battle over Jakku. This could have been in the opening crawl rather than Luke has disappeared.

    Is R2-D2 force sensitive? He goes to sleep when Luke goes into exile and wakes up when Rey starts using the force.

    • J_W_W says:

      R2-D2 is the one all seeing, all knowing entity in Star Wars!! That droid literally knows everything that went on in both the original trilogy and the prequels. No reason to think he doesn’t have all the information for this series too. After all he had the bigger part of the map ;-)

  6. octa says:

    I enjoyed it overall but I seriously hated everything about Cantina 2.0. It was giving off some crazy prequel vibes. I had this sudden fight or flight instinct when the all CG Maz Kanata came on screen. “Not this again!”

    Other than that I echo a lot of the comments above. It was great to see a well done Star Wars and the anticipation for the next one feels good. JJ nailed it!

  7. Jethro says:

    Ok, this thing definitely had some plot-holes in it, and yeah, you can hand-wave a lot of them by saying The Force etc.

    One that leaves me somewhat baffled, though, is why the First Order has lightsabre-proof hand-to-hand weapons. That just seemed… weird.

    Another that leaves me baffled is C3PO basically going “No, why would R2D2 know anything about where Luke went? He shut himself down right when that happened!” Seriously, guys?

    Now, the whole megaweapon…. ugh. That was painful. You know, never mind that it’s basically a bigger death star. Never mind that it’s incredibly impractical. You know what, never mind that all it took to blow the whole thing up was a handful of ships and a couple of guys and a wookiee and that the security of that place makes Star Labs look like the Pentagon. Never mind those things.

    But the First Order had the resources to build that gigantic piece of insanity in the first place, and then it just… the whole planet exploded, and I bet you that doesn’t even hurt The First Order’s bottom line. They should be financially crippled at this point.

    I /did/ like that not one of the lightsabre-wielders seemed to really know how to use one. Finn clearly had some hand-to-hand combat training, so that makes sense. Rey showed that she knows how to use hand-held weapons, too, and what’s his mask has clearly been messing around with that sabre for a while, too, but clearly never fought against another lightsaber before.

    • Don says:

      If you watch Star Wars: Clone Wars, General Grevious’s droids had hand to hand weapons almost exactly like what was in the movie. They were also capable of blocking a light saber. They were called an electrostaff.

      http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Electrostaff

      • Jethro says:

        I remember his guards had those in Episode 3 – the thing the stormtrooper was using in this movie was a COMPLETELY different thing – it was like a police truncheon. And while it might have made sense to use lightsaber-resistant waefeapons during the Clone Wars (what, 60+ years ago?) when Jedi were all over the place, it makes zero sense in The Force Awakens when nobody has even seen a Jedi in ages.

        • J_W_W says:

          What I thought was really interesting about that stormtrooper was that he originally had a shield too.

          He struck me as a callback to McQuarries concept stormtrooper that had both a shield and a lightsaber.

  8. Don says:

    My expectations were very high going into this. So high, I realized that I was setting myself up for disappointment. However, after watching the movie with my wife, who is fairly meh on Sci-Fi, we were both grinning ear-to-ear after the movie. It exceeded my expectations. Were there plot holes? Sure. Were there things that did not make quite so much sense? Sure. Tactics, weapon feasibility, etc… All the movies had them, yes even Empire Strikes Back. So instead of over analyzing it, I am going with my first gut reaction, I loved it!

    • J_W_W says:

      Yeah, Empire would have been a really short movie had the Empire used even halfway rational tactics at the Battle of Hoth.

  9. Fez says:

    Most ground has already been covered but I have a few extra things to mention:

    I think Rey’s casting was deliberately biased on how she looked. She could have passed for a Padme decoy. There must be some shared lineage there, despite it being all too coincidental.

    Kylo’s tantrums and everyone’s reactions to them were great, though at times I saw flashes of Angsty Anakin in there.

    I won’t be surprised if by the end of the trilogy, Ben is light and Rey goes dark.

    No love for Capt Phasma? Given her actions, I’m almost convinced she’s a resistance member or at least sympathizer. The way she handled Finn (Reprimanding him but giving him plenty of opportunity to escape or “explain” his behavior), and her actions at the base (Not really putting up any fight when made to lower the shields, etc) I find hard to swallow in any other context than she was doing so deliberately.

    Judging by the size of the overinflated hologram I’m guessing Snoke is less giant and more Gollum-sized, or even Yoda-sized. Perhaps a relative to whatever species Maz belongs to.

  10. quantaman says:

    Brief Thoughts:

    Ooh, we have stormtroopers who are humanized and capable of making moral decisions…. nevermind.

    Hey! It’s Tantooine!

    It’s Neo Vader? Does he really need that mask? I bet it’s just a terrifically uncomfortable style choice.

    Voldemorte is a Sith Lord?

    Hey! We do have a Republic in this Universe! Why do we need a rebellion then? Hey! It’s the Death Star! Ok, I guess we don’t have a Republic afterall.

    It’s eating the whole star? What happened the first time it shot? Is that a different Death Star?

    Oh no Obi Won! I mean Han Solo!

    Hmm, that’s a very desolate island. I wonder what he’s been eating?

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      Hmm, that’s a very desolate island. I wonder what he’s been eating?

      It’s the Star Wars universe! Even the most desolate places have megafauna.

  11. AveryRegier says:

    Did anyone else have a hard time taking Snoke seriously? It made me cringe whenever Leia, or anyone else mentioned him.

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