All right, people. After several days of frantically dodging spoilers on social media, I FINALLY saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The more I think about it, the more I find small flaws and nitpicks, but overall I had a great time watching this.
Hm, shall we err on the side of vagueness today? How about this: thirty-ish years after the events of The Return of the Jedi, the galaxy is still being threatened by the remnants of the Empire, now known as the First Order. Luckily, there is still the
Rebel Alliance Resistance fighting them off. Also, we’re introduced to a scrappy young band of new heroes, namely a scavenger, a fighter pilot, and a Stormtrooper who deserts his post.
1. Here’s the thing: I was excited to see this movie, but unlike the rest of the internet, I did not get particularly misty-eyed when I watched Han tell Chewie, “We’re home,” in that one teaser trailer. I felt vaguely bad about this, but eventually made peace with the fact that I had no heart and moved on about my day.
Watching it in theater was different. And I don’t know if it’s just because the tiny pieces of my geek soul finally caught up to me, or I was just having an emotional day (later on, I also broke down during the season finale of Adam Ruins Everything, although in my defense, that shit was totally depressing), but when STAR WARS appeared on the big screen, followed by the opening scroll, I was mildly horrified to realize I was actually tearing up. I was also excited, though, so excited I almost forgot I had to actually read the opening scroll this time.
Cause the thing is, this felt different to me. I grew up with the original trilogy, but I’m too young to have seen any of them in theater. I did see The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones in theater, but . . . yeah. I didn’t despise The Phantom Menace when I watched it, but it didn’t feel special to me, either; it didn’t feel like a return, you know? And the dialogue in Attack of the Clones was so bad it turned me off the new trilogy entirely, so that, to this day, I still haven’t seen Revenge of the Sith. (I really meant to watch all of them this year and give everything a second chance, but never quite got around to it. Maybe in 2016?)
This, though. I sat in theater and finally had my “Chewie, we’re home” moment, and that was pretty cool.
(Especially since someone brought their four-year-old along to periodically kick the back of my seat throughout the film, and that sense of wonder helped me grit my teeth and remember that I actually like children, usually, when I’m not stuck in a theater or on an airplane with them.)
2. The Force Awakens is basically A New Hope for a brand new generation. That is simultaneously the best and worst thing about it.
On one hand (the positive, happy hand–keep your lewd jokes to yourself, people), The Force Awakens feels like the old Star Wars movies and is chockfull of great homages to the past films while updating the story with some much needed diversity. A female hero! A black hero! A Latino hero! Also, the humor is really excellent in this film, like the comedy totally outshines anything in the past. In the middle of watching, I distinctly remember thinking, This might actually be my favorite Star Wars movie.
On the other, more negative hand, the basic plot of The Force Awakens is so derivative of A New Hope as to be a little lazy, and it’s not like A New Hope had a particularly exciting plot structure itself, since it’s basically a step-by-step model of the hero’s journey, but with lightsabers and neat, cinnamon bun hair. I won’t detail all the similarities between the two films until the Spoiler Section, but there’s definitely a way to invoke the feel of something without directly copying it, and I think The Force Awakens falls down a little in that regard.
3. But back to the happy. Let’s talk about our new heroes.
Rey’s pretty great. She’s funny, smart, badass, interesting. She needs very little rescue from her male co-leads, and has a mysterious past that I’m looking forward to exploring in the future films. I buy her character and Ridley’s performance entirely.
Of course, Max Landis and others have called Rey a Mary Sue because, I guess, she has all the qualities that make an action hero great and just happens to be a woman? I mean, there’s an argument to be had about a hero being so awesome that the story fails to have tension or stakes; the problem is that a) The Force Awakens HAS tension and stakes, and b) people are far, far less likely to call out that particular story flaw, so long as that awesome hero is a man. (I’m bummed here, by the way, about Max Landis. I really like Chronicle, which he wrote, not to mention The Death and Return of Superman. I still like those things, but it’s nonetheless disappointing when you find out that someone whose work you’ve admired or enjoyed has opinions you seriously disagree with.)
I won’t talk too much more about the Mary Sue thing, partially because a lot of other writers are already handling the topic, and partially because I was already planning to write this thing next month about the whole concept of Mary Sues, but just for the record: Rey is totally awesome, and if you find her that unbelievable . . . well, fine, you don’t have to like her. But try thinking of it this way: maybe she isn’t for you. Maybe, just for once, you’re not the target audience. Feel free to repeat this to yourself if you’re also struggling with the shocking idea of black people in the Star Wars universe.
I pretty much adored Finn. John Boyega brings the humor in a big way, but I also buy his more serious moments too, which is great. I really hope we get more on his backstory; I feel like there’s a lot that can and oughta be fleshed out, and I’ll probably be a little annoyed if it never is.
Also, not for nothing: Boyega’s American accent is spot-on. I actually forgot he was English for a good solid ten minutes before remembering that, Nope, this is the kid from Attack the Block. The American is a lie.
Because of the way the story plays out, Poe doesn’t have as much to do as Rey or Finn, but I liked him pretty much immediately. He kind of feels like a throwback to an old school space swashbuckler, like he’s the cocky, quippy, fighter pilot dude who’s not really scared of much and can fly pretty much anything. I’ll talk more about him in the Spoiler Section (well, all of them, really), but for now I’ll just say that I found Poe rather charming.
4. We also have the return of some of our old heroes.
It was mostly good to see them all again, but for the most part, I’m going to table this discussion until I can continue with spoilers. For now what I’ll say is that it was a little strange listening to Leia since Carrie Fisher’s voice has changed with age. Mind you, that’s not a knock or anything. People, like, age. It’s just that Han basically still just sounds like Han, and Leia sounds almost like a whole different person. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it because I’ve seen Carrie Fisher in plenty of things since Star Wars, and her voice has never seemed off to me until I watched her as Leia again, and that dumb part of my brain was like, “But . . . wait?”
5. And to talk a little bit about our bad guys:
For the most part, Kylo works for me pretty well. I wouldn’t call him a hugely intimidating villain, but he has just enough character to be interesting. Although I read one review that called him “sympathetic and menacing,” and I’m like, “Menacing, maybe, but uh, sympathetic? Yeah, meet me at camera three, guys.” Kylo primarily works for me because I don’t find him particularly sympathetic; if I was supposed to . . . well, we might have problems in future films. Much more on that in a while.
Gleeson does everything he’s supposed to do in this movie, and I don’t dislike him, exactly, but . . . unless there’s a plot twist where it’s revealed that he’s secretly a younger clone of Grand Moff Tarkin, I’m not really sure what to do with him. I meant what I said before, about liking a lot of the specific homages to the original trilogy, but after a while, the movie starts staggering under the weight of just how many homages there are. Gleeson feels so much like Tarkin that it’s nearly impossible to judge him as his own character.
My brain keeps trying to insist her name is Captain Plasma. Go home, brain, you’re drunk.
Captain Phasma is kind of cool, although Christie is almost as criminally underused here as she was in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II, so hopefully she gets a lot more to do in future movies. Then again, maybe we should all just try to start a cult love of Phasma, anyway. After all, it worked with Boba Fett, and really, what did he do except die extremely ingloriously?
Finally, we also have our new Emperor dude, Supreme Leader Snoke, and . . . guys, I snickered every single time we went back to this loser. He appears to be some kind of fifty foot tall abomination that’s like a weird mix of Gollum and the aliens from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (Holy shit, he was actually played by Andy Serkis? Hand to God, I didn’t actually know that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make me like Snoke any better.) I just couldn’t take him even remotely seriously. I understand why we couldn’t have Ian McDiarmid back, but maybe we could have done, like, anything else with this guy’s design. Like, we could have modeled him after the Gatekeeper in Atmosfear. (Skip about 18 minutes, if you click on that link, unless you really want to know the rules for a V/H/S board game that you almost certainly don’t have because it’s just about 2016, come tomorrow.) Sure, the Gatekeeper was basically the Emperor already, but come on, I think we all know The Force Awakens wasn’t too worried about being original.
6. Other than Snoke, I thought the film looked pretty great. I’m afraid I don’t have any particularly deep analysis on that: it just looked and felt like old school Star Wars to me. (Nobody has any crazy Amidala-esque hairstyles, unfortunately, but I won’t hold that against the film.)
7. Finally, the script generally works for me–I’m pretty sure I preferred the dialogue here to the old movies, actually, although my opinion on that might change after a second viewing–but holy shit, there are a couple of moments where the lack of subtlety just killed me dead. Like, come on, guys. If you’re going to be that obvious about your symbolism, you might as well just show the scene with captions that read: “Get it? GET IT?”
Everything else I want to say includes spoilers, but you’ve probably already seen The Force Awakens, right? Like, it’s been out for weeks. If you haven’t seen it, what have you been doing with your life?
Assuming you have your priorities in place, you may continue onward.
So, I was pretty bummed when I first heard that the new Star Wars trilogy was going to include the old Star Wars characters, and The Force Awakens proves that my fears were founded: Han Solo bites it.
Of course, it’s not that surprising that Han Solo bites it. For one, it’s that whole ‘the old gives way to the new’ thing that generally happens as franchises age. Our once-young heroes are now old enough to be the mentors, and mentors die: that’s just a fact. For another thing, Harrison Ford is a grumpy old bastard who’s wanted Han Solo to die for years. Going into this movie, I had a pretty good idea that he was going to go, and if it wasn’t him, it’d be Luke or Chewie. (I was never particularly worried about Leia, for some reason; I would have put money down that she’d survive, and hey, she did.)
So, sure, it wasn’t a shock. And the death doesn’t feel entirely cheap, either, even if it was obvious that Han was a goner from the very moment he stepped out onto that bridge. (Although, for me, it felt a little bit too reminiscent of Obi-Wan dying in A New Hope, particularly with Finn and Rey watching on, and for fuck’s sake: Kylo kills Han the second the sunlight is obscured!? Jesus. Yes, J.J. Abrams, I understood Poe’s hideously clunky line, “As long as there’s light, we’ve got a chance!” YOU ARE KILLING ME, MAN. I mean, I like your work more than a lot of my friends do, and I don’t give a shit if you want a lens flare every 25 seconds or not, but the foreshadow in your movies hurts me. Do we need to talk about the dead tribble again?)
Okay. My point, before I got off track, was this: eventually, you hit a mark where your heroes have survived so long that, if they were killed off, all you’d feel is bummed out and annoyed. My favorite example of this is NCIS–uh, SPOILERS here, although seriously, that show’s been on for like twelve years or something, so, like, deal with it. At the end of the second season, Kate, one of the main characters, is killed, and it’s kind of awesome. Not because I hated Kate or anything; she was generally fine, but it was a really well-handled, surprising moment, particularly for a procedural where killing off characters is a little trickier. (NCIS ain’t exactly The Walking Dead. You’re supposed to win in procedurals; that’s kind of the whole point.)
So, yeah, Kate’s death was a totally good, daring moment of the show. But nobody would have wanted to see her die in Season Ten, just for a Shocking Moment. That’s bullshit. Ziva was Kate’s replacement, and admittedly, I’ve always liked Ziva better than Kate. But if Ziva had died after eleven seasons when Cote de Pablo wanted to leave? Nope. Nobody wants that. At a certain point, you’ve been watching people long enough that you feel that they (and frankly, you) deserve to have a happy ending.
The Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. We’ve all known that Han, Leia, and Luke have been living their Happy Ever After for over 30 years . . . until now. Now, Han’s been murdered by his own evil son, impaled on a lightsaber and tossed to his doom. Call me silly, but that bums me the hell out. I feel like I’m going to go back and watch the original trilogy now, and every time Han makes it out of some scrape, I’m going to be like, “Yeah, you’re alive for now.” And of course it’s true that everyone dies, but I’ve got to tell you, I don’t really come to Star Wars looking for nihilism. I want cool lightsaber battles, not an existential crisis.
So, yeah. All of this is to say that while Han Solo dying isn’t ultimately a problem I have with the film, it does, for me, definitely detract from my enjoyment of the story. Maybe this will happen less and less with repeat viewings, but for now I’m just like, You bastards, you’re ruining my childhood! What’s next? John McClane? Maverick? INIGO MONTOYA?
Okay, let’s see. Well, perhaps we should talk some more about the similarities between A New Hope and The Force Awakens.
So, even during the movie’s opening scroll, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit letdown that in thirty years essentially nothing had changed in the political landscape of the Star Wars universe. Of course it would be silly and unrealistic to assume the entire Empire was destroyed simply because the Emperor was dead, but some movement here would not have been a terrible idea.
Instead, it’s almost as if the events of The Return of Jedi had zero effect at all because, apparently, all that’s really happened is that the major factions have changed names. Everything else is the same: the Resistance is still the underdog, the First Order still favors totalitarianism, despite not seeming to have any real clear platforms or goals about what they plan to do with the whole universe anyway. (One just assumes they’re big 1984 fans, you know, “the object of power is power” and so forth.) Even their methodology hasn’t changed: the First Order just keeps building bigger and bigger Death Stars (that are totally different this time because they can take out multiple planets at once!) and the Resistance keeps destroying them with their little dinky ass planes because their whole “The Little Guy Always Wins” philosophy is reflected even in their starship design.
I’m saying, none of it’s terrible, but The Force Awakens would be a lot neater if it felt like the original trilogy had any sort of consequence on the universe, particular because the plot feels so recycled. After all, the movie begins with one of our heroes sticking a vital message into a droid and releasing it on a desert planet to keep it out of the hands of the bad guys. Of course, this time our hero is Poe instead of Leia, the droid is BB-8 instead of R2-D2, and the message is about Luke’s whereabouts instead of blueprints for the Death Star, but yeah, it’s the same godamn plot. And sure, that’s obviously intentional and might even have been something I would’ve enjoyed conceptually, but since the plot continuously echoes the original and never really veers anywhere new, I find myself, on reflection, more and more disappointed by the film’s lack of originality.
But let’s get back to the story, shall we?
Okay, so our dashing pilot hero, Poe, is captured by Kylo Ren (and not Rylo Ken, which I keep trying to write), who turns out to be Han and Leia’s evil child. A bunch of people seem to think Rey is also their child, but while I wouldn’t mind the nod to the tie-in novels, I hope that isn’t the case, mostly because the writers would have to work awful hard to make me believe that Han and Leia happened to have another kid who nobody decided to mention during this movie. I mean, that just seems like shoddy writing. Personally, I’m in favor of the fan theory that Rey is one of the kids who was training to be a Jedi before that little asshole Kylo decided to kill all of them.
Because oh yeah, this guy?
SUCH an asshole.
When we meet Kylo Ren, he’s busy killing a harmless old man and also burning down an entire village, so, you know, sympathy is already a little hard to come by. Like, you can’t just say, “Whoops, my bad, I probably shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t my fault! The Dark Side made me!” Mass murder isn’t like shoplifting a pack of gum; the excuse of peer pressure really isn’t going to cut it.
Now, we do know that Kylo feels some inner turmoil about all this, but not because he acts particularly conflicted throughout the film. No, we mostly know about his inner pain because he confesses being drawn to the Light while talking to the twisted shell of a helmet that his dead grandfather used to wear, like, oh okay, that’s normal. But seriously, inner turmoil only counts for so much. After killing Max von Sydow and dozens of helpless extras, Kylo Ren also tortures Poe, tries to torture Rey (while doing that creepy too-close talking thing that male characters are always doing to women, like, I bet you guys everything that Kylo wasn’t all up slithering on Poe Dameron’s cheek) and then, if that wasn’t enough, blowing up entire planets of innocent people. And that’s all before he murders his father/beloved fan favorite of the franchise.
Star Wars has always been desperately weird when it comes to family. For one thing, so much seems to rely on genetic predisposition, like Luke isn’t a farmer because his dad wasn’t a farmer, despite the fact that he never met the man, and Kylo Ren is swayed to the Dark Side because he has too much of his grandfather in him, despite the fact that Darth Vader was dead long before this kid was even born and his parents are pretty godamn awesome. Does this mean a certain aptitude for the Force is a dominant genetic trait? After all, even Leia has Force intuition, although it doesn’t appear she ever learned to levitate shit. And perhaps the inescapable pull to the Dark Side is recessive, since it seemed to skip Leia and Luke (please, he was tempted for, like, a second) but hit Kylo (or Ben) pretty hardcore. What I’m saying here is that Darth Vader’s spunk apparently had some serious godamn staying power, and I think more essays about Star Wars should talk about that.
For another thing, though, being related to one of the story’s heroes probably shouldn’t garner the audience’s automatic sympathy for any one character, like, this is Darth Vader going to Glowy Blue Jedi Heaven all over again, despite all the terrible things he’s done, including Little Kid Slaughter. I mean, for Christ’s sake, he is standing a foot away from the man he fucking murdered. But we’re supposed to forgive him because he had one measly moment of, Huh, maybe I SHOULDN’T let this guy kill my son in front of me? What kind of bullshit is that? The last thing you do, whether it’s good or bad, shouldn’t be the only thing you do that matters.
If I’m honestly supposed to sympathize with Kylo (up till the point where he kills Han, anyway, because I’m pretty sure that’s the No Going Back moment–as if murdering all his fellow Jedi classmates prior to the movie was just an example of the foibles of youth), well, the movie completely failed to make that happen, kind of like how nobody actually feels sorry for Anakin Skywalker even though you’re supposed to, because Anakin’s a whiny piece of shit. There are obviously plenty of parallels between young Anakin Skywalker and Kylo Ren, but what I enjoyed about Kylo was that I felt like the movie was inviting me not to give a shit, not that he’s a parody of Anakin, exactly, but that he’s never meant to be the tragic figure Anakin’s supposed to be. (It’s probably worth mentioning that, thus far, none of the Star Wars movies have sold me on the oh-so-tempting power of the Dark Side. Like, when it comes to makeup, I totally get it. Dark Side’s makeup obviously kick’s Light Side’s ass. But the movies themselves have always had a very tell, don’t show storytelling approach to this that’s never really won me over.)
While watching the film, I felt like Kylo was intentionally built up as a villain who you love to hate, an angsty, almost adolescent type guy who needlessly murders people and constantly throws temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. That interpretation works for me, so we’ll see how his character develops over the course of the trilogy, because if I’m supposed to feel sorry for him (or worse, if they actually do try to redeem him later on), well, we’re going to have problems.
(By the way, Kylo’s big temper tantrum–I think after Rey escapes?–was one of the funniest moments in the whole movie. Two Stormtroopers come up as he’s in the midst of his giant hissy fit, and just as Mek and I are silently gesturing, Run, Stormtroopers, run, the Stormtroopers slowly back away and leave. I laughed so hard I clapped.)
Okay. Back to the beginning, again. Evil Sulkmonster Kylo Ren captures Poe and successfully tortures information out of him with the Force.
Meanwhile, Finn (or FN-2187), is a Stormtrooper who’s horrified when he’s asked to help slaughter that entire village, so he breaks Poe out of his cell and they escape together.
Two things about this:
A. Like all Stormtroopers, apparently, Finn was abducted (either at birth or a very young age), conscripted into duty, and brainwashed. Somehow, Finn easily shakes off that conditioning, and I’d be pretty disappointed if the sequels don’t follow up on that. I don’t necessarily need to know where Finn comes from or who his parents were or anything (unless that’s significant to how he broke through the brainwashing, which, given the weird genetic predispositions of Star Wars, it probably is), but I would definitely like to know more about his upbringing and exactly how and when Finn grew a moral conscience, if it never properly worked on him, if it’s not working on other Stormtroopers as well, etc. Also, who was Finn’s dead friend from the beginning? I mean, sure, they probably just added him so that Finn could get blood on his helmet and be distinguishable from all the other dudes in white armor, but Stormtrooper Friendship is fascinating and I’d love more expansion on that.
B. Finn and Poe are my new OTP.
Here’s the thing: The Force Awakens was out for almost a week before I had the opportunity to see it. During that time, I tried desperately to avoid reading spoilers online and was, for the most part, successful, but my eyes scanned over something on Twitter that made it sound like a Finn/Poe romance was canon. I turned away very fast and was about 98% sure I’d misread it–mostly because if the two had kissed, I was pretty sure no amount of caution could have stopped me from seeing Gay Star Wars! all over the internet–but I kept it in mind, and when I watched the two characters in the movie . . . I was like, Hell YES, I want that.
There’s just . . . I don’t know, some kind of chemistry there. I honestly don’t expect the relationship to bloom into a romance (partially because I think they’ll go Finn/Rey, particularly with that line about boyfriends, and partially because I just don’t think anyone in Hollywood is bold enough to have the main heroes of their giant mainstream blockbuster franchise be gay, unfortunately) but I’d be ecstatic to be wrong about that. Because I was into it, and because it’d be a big deal to have action heroes who weren’t straight. Not a tragic gay romance or a family dramady with a gay brother or something, but badass gay fighter pilots and rogues. Like, let’s make that whole ‘this generation’s Star Wars’ really mean something, you know?
So, okay, Finn and Poe crash-land on Jakku, and Poe appears to be dead. Poe is totally not dead, which you know because you don’t see his body. What’s funny about this is that I was actually really worried about Poe, right up until the moment you’re supposed to think he’s a goner, because there was something about that opening scene that made me think, Oh shit, he’s going to be a fake out hero. He’s going to be one of those guys that’s heavily promoted as a big star, but he’s really just the dude who sets up the plot and gets killed in the first act, paving way for our REAL heroes to take the stage. I was pretty much convinced when Poe explains to Finn why BB-8’s important and what he looks like, and kind of bummed about it because there’s just something about the guy that’s immediately charming. But when there was no body left behind, just a fabulous jacket, I was like, Oh, okay, I’m pretty sure he’s coming back. Cool beans.
Two things, quickly, before we move on:
A. About that jacket . . . wasn’t Poe wearing it when he escaped? I’ve only seen this movie once, so maybe he took it off when he got into the TIE fighter for some reason, and I just forgot? Because I initially assumed that Poe wasn’t thrown from the crash like Finn was; I figured he’d woken up, found Finn was gone, and went to go looking for him. And I was like, That’s weird he left he jacket behind, like, it’s almost a stupidly convenient passing of the hero mantle. But I could have sworn he was wearing it when they crashed, right?
B. Apparently, JJ Abrams’s initial plan was to kill off Poe, so ha! Instincts! Also, this is just like Lost all over again, although, hopefully, Poe will remain considerably more lovable than Jack ever was.
So, Poe goes missing for most of the movie, and the story shifts focus to Finn and Rey. Rey, of course, has come across BB-8 and saved him from people who would salvage him for parts. There’s no way I’m actually going to recap everything that happens during this movie, not with a review thats already’s probably upwards of 5,000 words, so this seems as a good of a time as any to stop and talk in more detail about how awesome Rey is.
Cause, yeah, Rey is awesome. She’s funny and super competent and, while she doesn’t know how to do everything right away, has the typical action hero learning curve where she figures it out pretty fast. She rescues herself. She has a mysterious past and a child’s hope that whoever abandoned her will someday come back.
And, oh yeah, she also has THE FORCE.
I’d make a lousy Jedi. The Jedi philosophy doesn’t do much for me and never has, but nonetheless, I (and many girl nerds, I imagine) have always been disappointed that there were no girl Jedi characters, that all the telekinetic action and big glow stick fencing battles were reserved for those with penises. So it’s a big deal to me, to finally have a girl pick up a lightsaber or read someone’s thoughts or command weak-willed Stormtroopers to do what she wants, particularly when I believe there are only, what, four women with speaking roles in the entire original trilogy? And only two of of those characters are actually named in the films. (No, Mon Mothma doesn’t count. They don’t say her name in the movie.) If you go here, you can see every line spoken by a woman who isn’t Princess Leia in the entire original trilogy. The whole video, including credits, is less than two minutes long.
I think this is why I wasn’t really upset when JJ Abrams said that Star Wars would no longer be a boy’s thing. I think a lot of female fans felt like Abrams was effectively trying to erase them with that statement, like oh thanks, Great Male Savior, but I’ve liked Star Wars pretty much my whole life without your help, and I think I’ll just go ahead and keep on doing that, okay? I totally get that reaction because it can be incredibly frustrating to be treated like you’re some rare mythical creature, like, a girl willingly entering a comic book store on her own with the intent of purchasing comics for herself? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?
Still, that’s not really how I took Abrams’s comments when I read them myself. I, personally, assumed that he’d made an effort to actively be more inclusive, that he wanted The Force Awakens to have more interesting and active female roles that little girls could get excited about. Because while there are plenty of girls who’ve been fans of the Star Wars universe for years, I’m sure there are plenty of other girls who looked at the original trilogy and said, “Fuck this shit. I’m going to go watch a movie where the male to female ratio of the entire universe isn’t 99 billion to 1.” Which is a fair reaction. (Especially for non-Caucasian girls, who get absolutely zero representation in the first trilogy. Things unfortunately aren’t much improved in The Force Awakens on that front, at least from what I remember . . . obviously, Lupita N’yongo is in it, playing some kind of Barkeep Yoda character, but since she also looks like this, you know, it’s not quite the same sort of presence that John Boyega has. It’s possible that I’m forgetting more minor characters, though. Like I said, I’ve only seen this once.)
Anyway, overall, The Force Awakens gets a yay, feminism! vote for me. It’s not just Rey, although obviously seeing a super competent girl-Jedi is a huge plus. It’s also that you see a few more women in the background, too, like they actually exist in this universe now. I was unreasonably happy about the female fighter pilot. She didn’t even do that much, and I was so excited to see her.
(Now if we could only get the toys to catch up. If you’re reading this more because you like me than because you know or care anything about Star Wars toy merchandising, look at these links to get an idea of just how hard it is to find Rey action figures, despite the fact that she’s the main character. This is what you get when you search “Poe Toy Star Wars Force Awakens.” This is what you get when you search “Finn Toy Star Wars Force Awakens.” And this is what you get when you search “Rey Toy Star Wars Force Awakens.” Notice the difference? Girls play with action figures too, people. Cardboard cutouts, costumes, and travel mugs rarely made my Christmas list as a kid.)
Hm, what else do we have to talk about? You know what, I’m just going to give up and do alphabetized notes for the rest of this review because, damn it, I would very much like to get this done before I go to sleep. So.
A. I really hope Leia gets more to do in the next movie.
I’m okay with her not having much to do here because Han kind of takes center stage when it comes to original characters, but now Han is super dead, so. I know it won’t happen, but I really wish Leia would kick her evil son’s sulky emo ass. (You know, without a big “you can be good again speech” because seriously. See the above rant.) Mostly, though, I just want Leia to get in on the action. Changing her title to ‘General’ doesn’t do much for me if you don’t actually have her really doing anything, like, I don’t find Princess a derogatory term if she literally is a Princess.
B. Personally, I’m hoping that Supreme Leader Snoke is, much like the Fear Demon in BTVS’s “Fear, Itself,” only about six inches tall in real life. Seriously, there’s somebody out there besides my sister who thought this dude was ridiculous, right? I can’t find anyone talking about this, and I don’t know if that’s because nobody else noticed, or if people are so jazzed about the movie that they don’t want to admit that the Chief Villain looks dumb as hell.
C. At the end of the movie, Dumb Looking Snoke says that Kylo Ren has to complete his evil training. I’m . . . curious as to what this entails. He can already read thoughts, levitate shit, and freeze people in place. He’s also already committed both patricide and genocide. For his Dark Side Graduation Ceremony, does he get to eat babies or something? Will this allow him to, like, somehow generate fireballs? Shapeshift? Ooh, will he FLY?
D. Here’s a thing: you never really feel the mass slaughter when the bad guys are just blowing up planets wily-nily in Star Wars. Like, this is an improvement on A New Hope because we actually get to (very briefly) see some of these people before they die, but there’s, like, zero gut punch to it. Can you even imagine how many people died in The Force Awakens? More people died in The Force Awakens than in every single movie you watched this year COMBINED. You think it’s all popcorn and lightsabers, but there is some seriously bleak shit in this movie that nobody wants you to notice. (Related: it would be pretty awesome if they introduced a character in the next film who was from one of those now annihilated planets and was utterly devastated. It has always bothered me how little Leia was allowed to react to the destruction of Alderaan in the original trilogy. Oh, the fanfiction that needs to be written.)
E. Finn lies to Rey for quite some time, pretending to be a part of the Resistance instead of an ex-Stormtrooper, and I’ve got to tell you: I was ecstatic when there was never a huge “I’m so betrayed!” blowup, like, I was so sure we were gearing towards that part in a romantic comedy where the girl realizes that the boy was paid to ask her out, and then the guy has to show how he’s really, truly fallen in love with her, and I was like, “Ugh, no; please no manufactured drama bullshit!” And then they pretty neatly sidestepped the issue. I was deeply relieved.
F. There are a good number of cameos in this movie, some that I missed (like Simon Pegg, for instance, or Daniel Craig) and some that surprised and delighted me. I should have known Greg Grunberg was going to show up, considering who was directing the movie, and I was especially happy to see Ken Leung, whose presence will always make me happy. Is it too much to hope that he comes back for the sequels and actually has stuff to do?
G. I think The Force Awakens does have the occasional pacing problem. Sometimes, it feels a little unnecessarily stuffed with action pieces, like, the scene with the monster dudes that Han’s smuggling felt fairly silly to me. (I mean, I enjoyed Rey saving Finn from them and all. But . . . did this scene actually accomplish, like, anything? It felt pretty squeezed in.)
I was also a little disappointed by the big attack on the Super Death Star. It’s not a huge flaw, but it does feel a little uneven because while all the stuff with Rey and Finn is exciting, Poe and his fellow Resistance fighters feel almost stranded, like, there is zero tension in any of their scenes. I don’t think I even noticed the moment when they destroyed the big weapon; it was just like, “Oh, hey, did they succeed? I guess they succeeded. Uh, yay?” I wish the movie could have found a way to make that part of the battle more exciting, partially because I like Poe, and partially because it suffered pretty deeply from comparison to the original. Like Luke turning off his computer and using the Force to destroy the first Death Star is kind of iconic. This stuff, not so much.
H. Finally, finally, I really like the last shot of this movie, with Rey desperately holding out the lightsaber to Luke, while Luke makes a face that’s like, “Jesus, no, I have to go back? NOOOOOOO!” I’m super excited to see where the next one goes, especially because Rian Johnson’s the one directing it this time, and I suspect he’s going to take the franchise to whole other, weirder and wilder places.
Rey: “This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs!”
(mumbling to himself, irritated)
Rey: “Stop grabbing my hand!”
Poe: “Why are you helping me?”
Finn: “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Poe: “. . .you need a pilot.”
Finn: “I need a pilot.”
Finn: “We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!”
Han: “That’s not how the Force works!”
Rey: “You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”
Stormtrooper: “What did you say?”
Rey: “You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”
Stormtrooper: “I will tighten these restraints, scavenger scum!”
Rey: “You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”
Stormtrooper: “I will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”
Rey: “And you will drop your weapon!”
Stormtrooper: “And I’ll drop my weapon.”
Han: “Escape now. Hug later.”
Finn: “Okay, stay calm, stay calm.”
Poe: “I am calm.”
Finn: “I was talking to myself.”
Finn: “He almost killed me six times!”
(Chewbacca grabs him by the throat.)
Finn: “Which is okay.”
Han: “Is there a garbage chute? A trash compactor?”
Finn: “Yeah, there is.”
Finn: “I need help with this big hairy thing!”
Finn: “What about that ship?”
Rey: “That ship’s garbage.”
(The ship they were running toward is blown up.)
Rey: “The garbage will do.”
Han: “You sure you’re up for this?”
Finn: “Hell no.”
Poe: “. . . do I talk first or do you talk first? I talk first?”
I know I picked at it a lot (I can’t help it; it’s my way!) but I really had a great time watching this in theater. I wish it could have been a little more imaginative at points, and I’m still making my peace with Han’s death, but credit where credit’s due: JJ Abrams gave me the kind of return to the series that The Phantom Menace never did.
. . . you know, I think I’m going to give this one to John Boyega. It’s super close, and I think Daisy Ridley did an awesome job, but there was something about the humor that John Boyega brought to this film and franchise that really resonated with me. (Also, I’ve just got a thing for henchmen who are like, “Hmm. New life plan, maybe?)
As long as there’s light, you’ve got a chance. Once the sun is gone, though, RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Especially you, mentors. Get living while the living is good because, eventually, your father figure days are coming to an abrupt and depressing end.
Also, girls can do anything boys can do better.
Also, POE AND FINN 4EVER.