“I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil… the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is… it’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It’s all true.” – Han Solo
The original Star Wars trilogy is the most popular and beloved film trilogy of all-time. For this reason, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (TPM) was the most anticipated movie ever. Unfortunately, it totally failed to live up to the lofty expectations. As such, it is the most disappointing movie of all-time. The entire prequel trilogy is generally criticized and blamed for tainting the greatness of the entire franchise. Nevertheless, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) was probably still the second most anticipated movie of all-time. Director J.J. Abrams revitalized the Star Trek film franchise. Accordingly, there was plenty of hope and faith in his ability to do the same for Star Wars. Of course, he faced the impossible task of making a film that lives up to the original trilogy. There is no way to replicate the novelty of that special trilogy which built the mythology and universe of the franchise. It features the perfect cast of fun lead characters with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. Moreover, it tells the story of the ultimate villain, Darth Vader. In a stunning and shocking twist, Vader is actually a victim of evil and the conclusion is about his redemption. It is an epic space opera about the ultimate battle between good and evil and also a lot of fun. For all these reasons, it is impossible to recapture the novelty, chemistry among the cast, and magic of the original trilogy.
From my perspective, Star Wars might be a fun story for children that fans ultimately outgrow. It is a cheesy space adventure with lightsabers. Of course, it is a kid’s fantasy. Not surprisingly, most of its fan base fell in love with the franchise when they were young children or young adults. In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Empire), was Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) saying to Han Solo (Harrison Ford) “Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy looking Nerfherder!”really great dialogue or objectively have significantly greater literary value than some of the dud lines in the Prequel trilogy? I am not so sure. Nevertheless, I definitely know it worked and is one of the most iconic lines in the saga. Obviously, the Prequel films are not close to as good as the originals. However, I believe that one of the primary reasons they are hated is that the fan base grew up but the story did not grow up with it. The movies remained a child’s fairy tale. In fact, they went the other direction in the prequels. In my opinion, the original films are made for young adults. The mastermind of the franchise and Director, George Lucas, made the prequels more for children. The disparity between the expectations of the fans and reality is drastic and generally irreconcilable. My own experience is a case study. I actually enjoyed TPM and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (AOTC) as a 14 and 17 old respectively more than I did Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (ROTS), which is considered the best of the maligned prequel trilogy, as a 20 year old. On the car ride to the movie theater to watch AOTC, my heart was pounding with excitement and I thought it was amazing. Of course, I realize my naivety at the time now. As blasphemous as it may sound, the teenager version of me probably enjoyed those two movies more than a 30 year old me watching TFA. In the end, Star Wars is a beloved story that brings us back to our childhood. Everyone wants it to be magic and bring us back to the euphoria we felt when we watched the movies for the first time. Consequently, it is impossible to satisfy the expectations and wishes of each fan.
On the other hand, the prequels help TFA by lowering the bar. There is a meta-moment at the beginning of the film when Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) hands a piece of a map to X-Wing pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), and says “This will begin to make things right”. Naturally, TFA does not link too much too much to the prequels. The only line in the movie that references it is when the main villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is annoyed with his Stormtroopers’ incompetence and failure to track down the map and states to General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) “They are obviously skilled at committing high treason. Perhaps [Supreme] Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) should consider using a clone army.” There are legitimate reasons for criticism of TFA, mainly paralleling a lot of plot lines to ANH. I admit some of my other gripes are personal preferences for what I wanted to see. The new main characters are decent but definitely do not measure up to the original three leads [Leia, Han, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)]. The inclusion of those legendary characters is still the most special part of TFA. Of course, any movie that stars Harrison Ford as Han Solo has a floor of being very good. Although TFA has it flaws, the fan base was hungry for a good Star Wars movie after the disappointment of the prequels. For most fans, Abrams delivers that film. Accordingly, I am still happy that he rejuvenated the franchise and launched a sequel trilogy so we can enjoy the original cast and experience the magic of the universe again.
Again, there are valid reasons for criticism of TFA. The most obvious reason is that the film is too much like ANH. In the opening scene of ANH, a freighter is being chased by a Star Destroyer because it is carrying the plans for the Death Star. It is boarded by Darth Vader and Stormtroopers. Before Princess Leia is captured, she gives the plans to a droid, R2-D2. R2 and C-3PO flee aboard an escape pod and land on the desert planet of Tatooine where they wander. In TFA, Poe Dameron is pursued by Kylo Ren and his Stormtroopers because he is acquiring a piece of a map that leads to Luke Skywalker. Before he is captured, he gives the map to a droid, BB-8, and it wanders the desert planet of Jakku. In ANH, R2-D2 runs into Luke Skywalker and drags him into the events of the saga. In TFA, BB-8 runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley) and pulls her into the conflict. In terms of the main antagonist, Kylo Ren is a poor man’s Darth Vader. In fact, he tries to look like him and desperately wants to be like Vader. The character will be discussed in detail later. Next, the Starkiller base in TFA is a bigger Death Star. It is an actual planet. Instead of destroying planets, it is even more powerful and can destroy an entire galaxy. A similar weapon is featured in the books of the Expanded Universe, which is now classified as Star Wars Legends and not canon by Disney. For this reason, it is not a novel idea. Again, the structure and extremely similar storylines from ANH is clearly copied by TFA too. There are many more examples in the film. After the acquisition of the franchise, Disney completely ignored George Lucas’s ideas for a sequel trilogy because it stated it wanted a totally original story. Replicating elements from the first film and the Expanded Universe seems inconsistent with the notion of new and creative. While J.J. Abrams should have definitely paid homage to the original trilogy, replicating exact elements is unoriginal and I did not like it. If I wanted to watch ANH again, I would just pop it in to watch it.
Another issue I have relates to being confused on how TFA links to the end of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (ROTJ) during the first time I watched the movie. While it standalones as a film that a new viewer can follow without ever watching another Star Wars movie, it is difficult for a fan to link to the original trilogy if he avoided spoilers and stayed away from tie in materials to the film. When I watched the film the first time, I had trouble tying the sequel to the end of ROTJ. First, what is the Resistance? Next, why is Leia leading it and not officially a part of the Republic? She was one of the key leaders and heroes of the Rebel Alliance. All those plot points make a lot more sense once you read the tie-in materials that explain the events in between movies. Leia is a Senator whose reputation is tarnished once it is revealed that Darth Vader is her father. At the end of ROTJ, the second Death Star is destroyed and Emperor Palpatine is killed during the Battle of Endor. The Empire still has a lot of forces and the war raged on but the catastrophic defeat at Endor is the beginning of its end. Nevertheless, remnants of the Empire survives and reorganizes as the First Order. However, it operates and stays in the Outer Rim while a New Republic emerges and flourishes in the middle of the galaxy that it mostly controls. Consequently, it loses its desire to continue the war to rout out the shambles of the Empire in the form of the First Order. In the original trilogy, the Empire is intended to parallel Nazi Germany. In this regard, the First Order being pushed to edges of the galaxy is similar to surviving Nazis fleeing to South America after World War II. In the case of the First Order’s situation in the film, it would have been like the Nazis reaching South America and setting up shop but no one going after them so that they are left alone to slowly rebuild. The Republic no longer sees the First Order as a legitimate threat so it chooses to have a cease fire with it and does not want to provoke further hostilities. Naturally, Leia does not feel the same way. She understandably does not want to stop till the First Order is completely eradicated so nothing remains of the Empire in the galaxy. However, she is seen as a radical warmonger and generally ignored by the leaders of the Republic. As a result, she forms a private army, the Resistance, to continue the fight against the First Order. I actually love these background stories in between films. They definitely fill in the gaps I had after my first viewing of the movie. Unfortunately, I get very little of them in the film and I need the information before I have a comprehensive understanding of the plot of TFA and how it makes sense as a sequel to ROTJ.
On the other hand, I admit that some of the reasons I do not love the film are personal preferences. For example, I wanted to see the gang (Han, Leia, and Luke) back together again for another adventure. Moreover, I love Han Solo like every fan but Luke is my favorite character. As we know, he only shows up at the very end and does not speak. Before the release of the movie, there is a mystery about why Luke is not featured on the cover and promotional material for TFA. Based on my experience with J.J. Abrams’s movies, an attention grabbing mystery is a typical and clever move to create additional buzz and curiosity for the film. One of the most popular theories was that Luke turned dark and is Kylo Ren. Of course, we know that idea not to be true now. The reason is that he is not really in the film. The Force Awakens is about the search for Luke Skywalker, which is completed in the last scene. Objectively, it is not a bad plot line or twist. I can appreciate if other fans do enjoy that it. On a personal level, I hated it. I wanted to see Luke in the middle of every film in the sequel trilogy. Of course, I also wanted to see him interact with Han again. It does not happen. As one could see, TFA is good but has its flaws. Some of them are objectively legitimate such as the fact that it is too much like ANH. Other criticisms spawn from impossible expectations to live up to the original trilogy and the inability to make every fan happy.
In regards to the new main characters in the sequel trilogy, I believe they are decent. However, they are certainly not as great or beloved as the original characters. I personally would prefer all the new characters as supporting characters to the lead characters from the old films. Of course, I can understand the creative decision to make a sequel trilogy being equally or more about the new characters. Again, the first new main character who appears in the film is Poe Dameron. In the opening crawl of TFA, it describes him as Leia’s and her Resistance’s “most daring pilot”. She sends him to retrieve part of a map that she hopes will lead them to her brother Luke. Dameron is fearless. In my opinion, he is like the fan favorite supporting character from the original trilogy, Wedge Antilles, turned into a main character. Of course, the idea is probably to make Dameron the next Han Solo but Wedge is more realistic. In the opening scene, he is pursued by Kylo Ren and his Stormtroopers to the desert planet of Jakku. When he cannot escape with the map, he gives it to BB-8 so it can run while he fights off the Stormtroopers. In addition, he is brave enough to shoot at Kylo Ren after the villain interrogates and executes Lor San Tekka, who gave the map to Dameron. He also shows himself to be a fast talker who tries to talk his way out of situations. When Ren subdues and restrains Dameron with the force, he responds by saying “So who talks first? Do you talk first? I talk first?” and “It’s very hard to understand you with all the… [mask covering his face]”. In this regard, he has a little Han Solo in him. Dameron is definitely bold and courageous. Even though he is subjected to torture and the dark powers of Ren during his captivity, he resists. Moreover, he is the squadron leader of the Resistance’s X-Wing fighters and always leading the charge during their raids in the film.
Another character in the opening scene is Stormtrooper, FN-2187 (John Boyega). He is shell shocked by the death of a fellow trooper during the battle. When Ren orders his Stormtroopers to execute the villagers in the scene, he hesitates and is the only trooper not to fire at the innocent civilians. FN-2187 defects shortly after and breaks Dameron loose because he needs a pilot to escape from the First Order. Since FN-2187 is just an identification number given by the First Order, Dameron renames him Finn. Instead of flying away to escape, Dameron flies back toward Jakku against the desperate pleas of Finn to flee. Finn has been raised and trained to be a Stormtrooper since he was stolen as a baby. Not surprisingly, he wants to get as far away as possible from the First Order because he has seen firsthand how evil it is and cannot be a part of it anymore. Accordingly, he follows one of storylines for Han Solo in ANH in regards to looking like a coward trying to flee from the fight for a lot of the film before finding the courage to fight for his friends and good against evil. Finn also has a lot of funny lines and provides comic relief throughout the film. However, it is not a realistic attribute for his character. My friend, who graduated from West Point and served in the military, made a great point about Finn. It does not make sense that he cracks jokes all the times. He is supposedly conditioned to be a soldier and be a killing machine for his entire life. With that experience, he would have never acquired a sense of humor. Both Poe Dameron and Finn are decent characters. Each have elements and characteristics of Han Solo. Of course, neither comes close to the matching the charisma or intrigue of Han.
The new lead character in the sequel trilogy is Rey (Daisy Ridley). She is the new Luke Skywalker and is following a similar journey. Interestingly, George Lucas initially conceived of Luke Skywalker in his original trilogy as a woman. Ultimately, that strong woman character was written into the trilogy as Leia. Of course, a female lead character in the Star Wars universe is a big deal. It paves the way for Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso to be the main character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which is released a year after TFA. Daisy Ridley does a good job with her character and Rey is probably my favorite among the new cast. Like Luke, she lives on a desert planet: Jakku vs. Tatooine. She is abandoned on Jakku as a child. While Luke is looking to leave home for adventure in ANH, Rey has no desire to leave because she has been waiting for her family to return and reunite with her since the day she was marooned. Obviously, the reveal of Luke’s father as Darth Vader is the biggest twist in the original trilogy. The identity of Rey’s parents will be a key reveal in the sequel trilogy. The theories have been numerous. Fans have speculated that she could be the daughter of Han and Leia, Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi or even Emperor Palpatine. I tend to lean toward her being a Skywalker in one way or the other. The Episodic movies in the Star Wars franchise has been about the Skywalker family. Similar to Luke, she gets dragged into the conflict by a droid. She finds BB-8 wandering around in the desert. As a scavenger, she generally sells salvaged parts to Unkar Platt (Simon Pegg) for portions of food. When Platt sees BB-8 and knows the First Order has a bounty out on it, he gives her a big offer for it. Although it is difficult to turn down the food, she turns it down because of her conscience. Nevertheless, Platt alerts the First Order.
In addition, Finn and Dameron crash land on Jakku after the Tie Fighter they steal gets “disabled” by Ren’s Star Destroyer during their escape. Finn assumes Dameron is dead because he leaves the scene before Finn wakes up and his jacket behind. When BB-8 sees Finn wearing the jacket, it believes Finn has killed Dameron. As such, Rey confronts and whacks him with her spear. However, they come to a quick understanding when he explains and she mistakes him for a Resistance fighter who was aiding Dameron. Accordingly, they team up quickly when the First Order pursues and tries to kill them over BB-8. The plot also plants potential seeds for a romance between Finn and Rey. He is clearly attracted and interested in her when he tries to convince her not to return to Jakku and immediately transitions to asking about her relationship statue: “Hey, Rey, you’re a pilot. You can fly anywhere. Why go back? You got a family? You got a boyfriend? A cute boyfriend?” Although Rey definitely cares about Finn and wants him to stick around, it appears she has no romantic feelings for Finn. He is stuck in the dreaded friend zone for a guy who likes a girl. Unlike Han and Leia, there is not really sexual tension between the two that both characters feel. Any feelings are clearly only Finn’s toward Rey. Consequently, I hope the rest of the sequel trilogy does not force a romance that really has no chemistry nor is set up adequately by TFA. In summation, Rey is a good character with a lot of important story lines that will be keys to the next two films. Nevertheless, I hope a romance with Finn is not one of them.
In terms of the new big bad in the sequel trilogy, Kylo Ren takes front and center. He is a dark, shadowy figure who makes a solid entrance at the beginning of the film when he lands on Jakku after his Stormtroopers attack. Again, he shows his ruthlessness immediately by executing Lor San Tekka. Before his death, Tekka notes “I know where you come from. Before you called yourself Kylo Ren.” and “You may try, but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.” The identity of Ren was the biggest mystery before the release of the movie. One popular theory, which turned out to be false, was that Luke turned to the dark side and is Ren. Tekka’s line is definitely a hint that Ren is at least in the Skywalker lineage. His identity is confirmed in the middle of the film when he is talking to Darth Vader’s helmet that Luke burned at the end of ROTJ and he refers to Vader as his grandfather. Eventually, we learn that he is Ben Solo and the son of Han and Leia. It is not really a shock for me. In the novels of the now non-canon Expanded Universe, they have multiple children and one of them turn to the dark side to be a primary antagonist in the story. In my opinion, the most interesting part of the Kylo Ren’s story is his struggle with the conflicting pulls from the light and dark side of the force. However, he sees the light as evil and promises not to be “seduced” back to the light the way Darth Vader is when he was redeemed at the end of ROTJ by Luke. Nevertheless, he views his grandfather, who was as an infamous Sith Lord, as his role model. He wants badly to be just like and as powerful as Darth Vader. He even dresses like Vader and sports a mask even though nothing has happened to his face. His fear is that he cannot measure up. Obviously, it is impossible for Kylo Ren to match Darth Vader as a villain in the franchise. Nevertheless, he does not even come close in my opinion. I think of him as Emo Ren. He is like an angry teenager with temper tantrums. The outbursts where he slashes and destroys property (e.g. consoles, walls, etc.) in rage with his lightsaber are more annoying than scary. For example, there is a scene when Stormtroopers are walking through a hallway and hear him destroying stuff inside a room. They are a little afraid but they give a look like “He is having another one of his moments” and we should just turn around to avoid him. The scene is much more funny than scary. In the original trilogy, Vader calmly uses the force to slowly choke his incompetent subordinates to death as his other men watch nervously and are petrified. Those calm, cold hearted actions are infinitely more scary and imposing than Ren’s animated gyrations. Ren wants to be like his grandfather. In some ways, he is but not in the way he wants. For me, he is closer to Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker (albeit a much better and intriguing version) than Darth Vader. It is like buying a knock off Gucci bag. It may look the same but you definitely know it is not the real thing.
Next, Kylo Ren answers to the Supreme Leader of the First Order, Snoke. The identity of Snoke is another mystery that needs to be answered. I was hoping that he would be Emperor Palpatine’s old master, Darth Plagueis the Wise. In ROTS, Palpatine tells the story of Plagueis to Anakin during an opera performance. He mentions that Plagueis’s apprentice, which is actually him, murdered his master in his sleep. However, he also claims that Plagueis had the ability to manipulate midichlorins to create life and cheat death. Accordingly, it is conceivable that Plagueis survived the murder attempt and has been hiding in the shadows during the first six films and potentially pulling the puppet strings behind the events of the saga the entire time. Moreover, very similar music to the music played during that opera scene in ROTJ is played during Snoke’s first scene. In my opinion, it would have been an amazing link to the prequel trilogy that could tie all the stories together. However, J.J. Abrams has already confirmed that Snoke is a completely original character so he is not Plagueis. There are many theories out there. Some are ridiculous (e.g. Mace Windu surviving and turning to the dark side). Regardless, Snoke’s origins or identity should be very interesting in the rest of the trilogy. First, what is Snoke? He is not a Sith because they use the surname “Darth” and he gave the name of Kylo Ren to Ben Solo. However, he is a master of the dark side. In addition, Snoke appears to be old enough to have seen the fall of the Old Republic and the reign of the Empire. What was he doing that whole time? They are very interesting questions and I am dying to have them answered. For this reason, Snoke is a very fascinating character. However, it is highly unlikely he tops Palpatine as a villain, who Ian McDiarmid played brilliantly in ROTJ and further enhanced in the prequels.
Despite my issues and impossible expectations for TFA, no Star Wars film can be bad if it has Han Solo in it. It is amazing to see Harrison Ford take up the mantle and be fully committed to playing his iconic character again, especially since he has repeatedly declared how much he hates Han in the past. When Rey and Finn evade and escape from the First Order on Jakku, Rey’s transport is destroyed by TIE fighters before they can board it. Accordingly, they are desperate and stumble onto a ship in a junkyard they believe is trash: “That one’s garbage. The garbage will due.” Ironically, the ship is actually the legendary Millennium Falcon. After they destroy the TIE fighters and escape into outer space, the Falcon immediately appears on the radar of its former owner, Han. The Falcon loses power, which allows Han and Chewbacca time to get to and board it. It is one of the best and chilling moments in the film when they enter the ship and Han declares “Chewie… we’re home.” When they find Rey and Finn, she is shocked to learn “This is the Millennium Falcon? You’re Han Solo?” Rey and Finn have a back and forth about the myth, the man, and the legend that is Han Solo. Finn knows Han as a Rebellion General and Rey knows him as a smuggler. It is a great moment that shows how men can become legends through their heroics. However, the stories are so epic that they seem to be unrealistic and more like myth over time. It is an awesome recognition of how larger than life Han appears to the characters in that universe and is to Star Wars fans. Another amazing moment in the scene is when Rey asks “This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs?” Han immediately and firmly corrects her when he notes “12!” It is a shout out to the super fans who know that trivia better than the back of their hands. It is the perfect entrance for Han.
The film has a perfect combination of Han as a mix between the same old scoundrel and the Obi-Wan Kenobi type mentor. Shortly after he enters the film, he is confronted by two gangs that board his ship. Naturally, he is in trouble again because he conned both gangs. In response to another self-inflicted predicament, he boastfully tells Chewie that he will do the “Same thing I always do. Talk my way out of it.” Hilariously, Chewie disagrees but Han defiantly reaffirms “Yes, I do. Every time.” The banter and love between the two friends are classic and as entertaining as ever. Of course, Han is still the same scoundrel he was in the original trilogy. He is up to his old tricks again. However, he may be losing a step and the element of surprise. As one of the gangsters, Bala-Tik notes “Your game is old. There’s no one in the galaxy left for you to swindle. That BB unit. The First Order is looking for one just like it. And two fugitives.” On the other hand, the character has progressed significantly since his first appearance in ANH. At first, he is portrayed as the cynic and non-believer in the Force. Over time, he witnesses the supernatural forces first hand. It is an interesting contrast seeing him as a believer and preacher in TFA: “I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil… the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is… it’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It’s all true.” It is also ironic watching Han as a mentor and father like figure to the new characters because he is skeptical and mocks that similar character type in ANH, Obi-Wan. Han takes a quick liking to Rey because she has a mind of an engineer and able to diagnose and repair issues with the Falcon. He takes her under his wing and even offers her a job that involves joining him and Chewie on their adventures. Han also gives Finn some tips. Naturally, Han sees right through Finn’s claim that he is with the Resistance. Accordingly, Han advises: “Listen, Big Deal. You got another problem. Women always figure out the truth. Always.” Again, the combination of scoundrel and mentor is the perfect balance and natural progression for Han Solo in TFA.
Of course, Han and Lea still have the great chemistry they have in the original trilogy. Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side leads to Luke’s disappearance: “He was training a new generation of Jedi. One boy, an apprentice… turned against him, destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He just walked away from everything.” Obviously, it hits Han and Leia, who are his parents, very hard too. During the film, Leia regrets sending away her son instead of nurturing and caring for him herself. Not surprisingly, it totally strains their marriage and they deal with the loss in their own way by doing what they do best in an attempt to avoid thinking about and feeling the pain. For Han, it is smuggling and being a space pirate. For Leia, it is fighting for and defending the weak and innocent as she forms and leads the Resistance as a General. Nevertheless, she will always be the beloved Princess Leia to all Star Wars fans. As Lor San Tekka states at the beginning of the film “Oh, the General? To me, she is royalty.” As any fan of the franchise will attest, the romance between Han and Leia is one of the most fascinating and memorable elements of the original trilogy. The chemistry between the characters is still natural and seamless in TFA. In the film, Kylo Ren and the First Order track Han, the group, and BB-8 to Takodana. His forces attack but they are eventually fought off by a squadron of X-Wing fighters who are led by Poe Dameron. Once the Resistance secures the battle field, a shuttle arrives with Leia so she can survey the situation. Han knows she is on it and anxiously awaits to finally see her again. They instantly renew their chemistry. It is a brilliantly acted scene by Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. Even without a single word, the actors capture the essence of the love/ hate relationship between their two characters with facial expressions. They fight constantly but also cannot help but love each other. In a classic C-3PO move, he butts in to greet Han and completely ruin the moment. In Han and Leia’s next scene together, they squabble like they are known to do. Leia is annoyed with Han getting in the way despite his protest that “I’m trying to be helpful.” It is the perfect answer when she asks “When did that ever help? And don’t say the Death Star.” As one could conclude, their arguments are as passionate and entertaining as ever. Nevertheless, she later admits “You know, no matter how much we fought I’ve always hated watching you leave.” They share a touching moment when they reminisce about their unique romance. When Han asks “It wasn’t all bad, was it? Huh? Some of it was… good.”; Leia responds “Pretty good”. For all those reasons, their love story is one of the best parts of the Star Wars saga and continues to be iconic in TFA.
The movie also features some other interesting new characters aside from the main characters although I have mixed feelings about them. The one I enjoy a lot is Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). J.J. Abrams models her after one of his favorite teachers. Maz is very old and wise. She also has a crush on Chewie and refers to him as her boyfriend. She has experienced and lived much of the events in the Star Wars saga as proven by her observations when she convinces Han to fight again: “The only fight. Against the dark side. Through the ages… I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.” Maz also guides Rey when she advises “Han told me. Dear child. I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku… they’re never coming back. But… there’s someone who still could.” In addition, Maz somehow has Anakin’s blue lightsaber when he was a Jedi. I have no idea how she could have obtained it because Luke loses it on Cloud City during his battle with Darth Vader at the end of Empire. I hope there is a decent explanation in one of the sequel movies because it is a silly plot point that relies too much on coincidence otherwise. Nevertheless, Rey stumbles on to it as it is re-introduced as an important item in the film. Naturally, Kylo Ren worships his grandfather and will want it too. Again, I enjoy Maz’s role as a conscience and guide to the main characters, old and new.
On the other hand, I do not really care for a couple of the supporting villains. The first is General Hux. He has an antagonistic rivalry with Ren because they are each trying to win favor with Snoke. It is like two brothers fighting for the attention and approval of their father. I cannot help but try to compare their relationship to the one between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) in ANH. Both men are psychopathic tyrants and killers who respected each other’s ruthlessness. Moreover, Tarkin may be the only person, other than Palpatine, who can keep Vader under control. After Tarkin’s demise at the end of ANH as collateral damage with the destruction of the first Death Star, Vader is completely off his leash and on a rampage during Empire. In contrast, Ren and Hux constantly snipe at each other and bicker. Both are a bit incompetent. It is a little annoying more than scary and imposing. The latter is what you want from primary villains. In addition, he has none of the cold and frightening presence that a great villain displays (e.g. Tarkin). Nonetheless, Hux does have one badass scene when he addresses his troops before they unleash the firepower of the Starkiller base. He is an exemplary, rousing fascist when he declares “Today is the end of the Republic. The end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder. At this very moment in a system far from here, the New Republic lies to the galaxy while secretly supporting the treachery of the loathsome Resistance. This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand will bring an end to the Senate, to their cherished fleet. All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!” The most fascinating aspect of his speech is how he believes freedom is equivalent to disorder. Accordingly, he views it as evil. Next, I think Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is underutilized in the film. Christie is most known for her role as Brianne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. I am a fan and was hoping to see a lot more of her. Phasma has a chance to be corrected in the sequels if they unleash Gwendoline Christie. Hux is probably what he will be already as a prototypical incompetent, cartoonish villain.
Similarly, I have mixed feelings about the ending of the movie. On Tokodana, the Resistance arrives to fight off the First Order but not before Kylo Ren captures Rey in the belief he can extract the map from her mind with his powers because she saw it. He mistakenly assumes he does not need the actual map with BB-8. Next, the First Order uses the Starkiller base to destroy the galaxy that is home to the Republic’s Capitol system, Hosnian Prime, and the bulk of the Republic fleet that could stop them. There is an interesting tidbit in the tie in material to the film that explains why the Capitol is no longer Coruscant. As we know, the Clone Wars was a civil war. In order to better their democratic system, the Republic rotates its Capitol to different systems now so that power is not concentrated in one system and the people are better heard. Back to the destruction of Hosnian Prime, it sets up the finale of the movie because the system, where the Resistance is based, is next. There are a few things I do like about the ending. First, it is entertaining to watch the dysfunctional task force that includes Han, Chewie, and Finn. Their mission is to disable the shields to the Starkiller base so the Resistance’s fleet of X-Wings can destroy it. Finn forces his way on to the team because he wants to save Rey under the guise that he worked on the base and knows the layout. Once they are on the snow planet that Starkiller base is built on, he admits to Han that he only worked in sanitation. However, he hilariously reassures Han that “Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force.” An annoyed and frustrated Han rightfully notes that presumption is not how the Force works. Finn has another funny moment after they capture Captain Phasma to force her to turn off the shields. Finn gets overly excited since he has turned the tables on his former superior. He emphatically asks her who is in charge now. It is comical when Han asks him to “bring it down” then ask whether there is a trash compactor to dump her in. The trash compactor is a call back to ANH when Han, Chewie, Leia, and Luke fall into one during a botched mission to rescue Leia. It also utilizes Finn’s background in sanitation for comic relief. The banter between Han and Chewie is also great. For example, Chewie complains about being cold. Han gets annoyed because Chewie is covered in fur and gives him a “Are you kidding me?” response. One of the best moments in the movie is when Han borrows and fires Chewie’s crossbow for the first time. Han enjoys it and fires it multiple more times throughout the film, which includes a time on the Starkiller base. As one could see, Han, Chewie, and Finn are a lot of fun and entertaining in the final act of the film.
I also respect and appreciate how the father-son relationship between Han and Kylo Ren is concluded. When Snoke learns that Han is in the picture, he tells Ren “Even you, master of the Knights of Ren… have never faced such a test.” A reunion with his father could turn him back to the light side. Leia shares the same sentiment when Han has doubts about breaking through when Luke could not: “Luke is a Jedi. You’re his father. There is still light in him, I know it.” Again, Ren’s struggle with the light and darkness is interesting, especially since he is trying to fight away the light. When Han calls for his son “Ben” and confronts him, Ren admits “I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?” In the biggest twist of the movie, Ren commits patricide. Han’s death is not surprising. I had anticipated it before I watched the movie. I realized that Harrison Ford was not doing to do another trilogy. We are lucky to watch him in a fully committed performance as Han Solo one final time. In addition, his death triggers the most powerful emotional response from the fans. Immediately after Han dies, Chewie shoots his crossbow and injures Ren. It is exactly the same feeling a viewer has. Accordingly, it legitimizes Kylo Ren as a villain because he is the one who kills Han, his own father. Even if fans do not enjoy Ren’s role as the villain, they can at least hate him for killing the most popular Star Wars character of all-time. For all those reasons, Han’s death is necessary even though I did not want to see it.
On the other hand, I have issues with the ending too. The first is the battle scenes with the X-Wings. They are acceptable but forgettable. It is also unoriginal and predictable that the Starkiller Base would have a critical weak spot that the Resistance can exploit just like the first Death Star. My biggest issue is how powerful Rey is out of nowhere. In all previous films and the established universe, it takes a lot of training for a force sensitive being to hone and master his abilities. Rey does not need any training. First, she fends off Ren’s psychic attacks when he tries to interrogate her and pry the map from her mind. Instead, she actually plucks a thought out of his head to point out his fear of not being as powerful as Darth Vader. In this instance, I could have accepted it as a powerful force sensitive being accidentally tapping into her powers. Unfortunately, Rey goes well beyond it in TFA. Next, she mind controls a Stormtrooper and tells him to release her. In the final battle with Ren in the movie, she exhibits an array of powers to beat Ren. Those powers include beating Ren in a force pull to obtain Anakin’s lightsaber and swordsmanship. The counterargument is that Ren is injured by Chewie’s shot to his torso and the additional injury when he fights Finn, using Anakin’s lightsaber, before fighting Rey. Nevertheless, he is supposed to be an experienced and skilled practitioner of the dark side. He should be able to overcome most conditions to beat a neophyte. Luke is trained by Yoda during Empire. Nevertheless, he is defeated relatively easily by Darth Vader during their fight at the end of the film. In my opinion, Rey defeating Ren contradicts established law in the Star Wars universe. I hate it. Moreover, it is another reason Ren is not a great villain because he gets beat so early in the trilogy by a novice. In the last scene of the movie, Rey finds Luke Skywalker after BB-8’s piece of the map is combined with a piece from R2-D2. Interestingly, R2-D2 shuts down and is in standby mode since Luke’s disappearance. Not surprisingly, the hope at the end of the movie wakes him up. R2-D2 and BB-8’s combined maps leads to the first Jedi temple, which is where some characters in the film theorized Luke disappeared to. Rey should not have been able to beat Ren until after she trained with Luke.
In my opinion, there are legitimate issues with The Force Awakens that prevent it from being a great film. The main issue is that too many plot lines are very similar to A New Hope. The new cast and characters are acceptable but could have been better. They certainly cannot overcome the large shadows of the original cast of Han, Leia, and Luke. Nevertheless, TFA is definitely a good movie set in the Star Wars universe. After the prequel films, good is good enough to excite a fan base starving to love the franchise again. In this regard, J.J. Abrams accomplishes the mission and his film ushers in the Star Wars era under Disney’s reign. Consequently, I am happy Abrams has reignited the passion of the fans and brought the beloved saga to the old, present, and next generations of fans.