The Force Awakened, but Originality Slept In

There’s this movie you might have heard about. I’ve already written about the experience of seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens — the first of the three times I saw it was probably the most fun I’ve had at a movie theater in thirty years.

But what about the movie itself — was it any good? (Warning, lots of spoilers. Although if you haven’t seen the movie already, you’re probably not going to.) I’m not going to write a proper review, since it’s far too late and you didn’t need a review to decide whether to go see it, anyway. But I will share a few thoughts before we talk about the important stuff.

The movie was good, good enough to see it three times. Enjoyable. A breath of fresh’ish air after the catastrophies that were Episodes 1–3. In fact, I think a lot of the fan feelings in general about the film are a result of comparing it to 1-3 instead of 4-6.

Bigger is Better

Because, if you compare it to 4-6, you quickly figure out that it’s a remake of New Hope.

  • Bad guys in a big ship trying to find out information held by the good guys. Check.
  • Main bad guy (MBG) wears a mask that hides his face and distorts his voice. Check.
  • MBG kills a bunch of people in an attempt to get the information. Check.
  • Good guy gives information to a droid to protect. Check.
  • Droid gets dropped on a desert planet. Check.
  • Desert planet also contains a 20-something “orphan” left on the planet as a child. Check.
  • 20-something is magically united with the droid. Check.
  • 20-something picks up some companions, has several adventures and narrow escapes but eventually gets the information to the good guys, while in the process discovering he/she has, and can use, “The Force”. Check.
  • MBG reports to an ugly, hologram Bad guy with a capital B who seems to be in charge of all the Badness. Check.
  • Bad guys have a giant device that can destroy a planet. Check.
  • Bad guys destroy a planet with the giant device. Check.
  • Good guys figure out a far-fetched way to destroy the giant device. Check.
  • Bad guys fire up the giant device to destory the good guys, but, with only seconds to spare, good guys destroy the giant device instead. Check.

There are more, but you get the idea.

Having a few homages to the original movies is fine; we all expected them and would have been disappointed without them. But the degree to which Abrams, director and co-writer of FA, copies New Hope is just slavish and unnecessary.1 And, ultimately, distracting. Abrams seems to realize it — at one point in FA, someone says the obvious — “it’s the same as the Death Star”. “Oh, no, no, no,” says another character, “this one is a LOT bigger!” while showing a picture of the two next to each other.

And that sums up what passes for movie-making in 2015 — make it the same as the last one, only bigger.

In With the New, Out With the Old

Moving past that, it’s a rollicking good film.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is confident and assured, but with the underlying uncertainty that comes from being abandoned as a child, and Ridley plays her perfectly. The shot of her eating with an ancient pilot helmet on is beautiful, and communicates an enormous amount about her without using words. Her initial interactions with Finn are hilarious (“Why do you keep holding my hand?!”). Her scene with Maz as she (Rey) is forced to face the facts of her abandonment is also exactly on target. She’s easily the best discovery of the new trilogy.

Johh Boyega is likewise a great addition. His Finn2 is a Stormtrooper with a conscience. I appreciated that initially his goal of getting the heck out of Dodge overrode his affection for Rey. His humor isn’t forced, and his bravery isn’t overdone.

Adam Driver is a little too old to be playing an angst-driven teenager, which is essentially what Ren is, regardless of his age (which would appear to be several years older than Rey/Fin). I’m not particularly crazy about the character or his portrayal of it, but I don’t actively dislike it, either.

Oscar Isaacs is largely wasted, has one good moment (“Do I talk first or you talk first?”) and twenty completely forgettable ones. I’m hoping they’re not planning on him being a main character going forward.

Harrison Ford steps back into Han Solo like he was born for it, which maybe he was. His dialog is pitch-perfect throughout (“Women always figure out the truth. Always!“) He’s so good you knew it was too good to last. (I realize this is at odds with many commentators. It’s a free country, they are free to be wrong.)

Carrie Fisher, on the other hand, should have stayed home. The energy and sass she had in Episodes 4–6 are long gone, her scenes with Ford had no spark and no believability, and her “May the Force be with you” felt like exactly what it was — a clunky, out-of-place line forced in to supposedly pay tribute to the past.

Mark Hamill had no lines and almost no screen time, which might be the smartest thing Abrams did with this movie.

The cinematography was fantastic. The CGI, while everywhere, didn’t scream, “Hey, I was done on a computer!” The visuals of the wreckage on Jakku were spectacular3, and everything felt much very “at home” in the universe we know from Episodes 4–6.

What Child Is This?

On to the more interesting stuff. At the top of the list: who are Rey’s parents?

Let’s start with what we know about her.

  1. She was left on Jakku as a child, from the looks of her in the lightsaber flashback probably six or seven.
  2. She speaks several languages, including Wookie(!).
  3. Ren appears to know of her; when he’s throwing his tantrum after being brought news that the droid had gotten away with Fin, he suddenly perks up when informed that a girl was with them.
  4. She’s a really good pilot. Like, really good. Dameron says he can fly anything, but I would venture that Rey can fly circles around him.
  5. Han shows up almost literally the minute she gets off the planet. (I’m including this because I think it’s possible Han was monitoring her, not just the Falcon.)
  6. She thinks Luke was a myth.
  7. When mind-probed, she’s said to think Han was like the father she never had. (“You would have been disappointed,” Ren snaps. Did I mention he sounds like a teenager?)
  8. She’s preternaturally force-capable.
  9. Han offers her a job almost immediately. Well, at least he’s thinking about it.
  10. Leia gives her a very long hug upon meeting her, for no discernable reason.
  11. It is she who is given the task of taking Luke’s missing lightsaber to him. Again, for absolutely no discernable reason.

The predominant theory is that she’s Luke’s — #3, 5, 9, and 10 fit if she’s a cousin/niece, #8 obviously fits, #7 can fit, but #6 is a big problem. She was too old when left on Jakku not to remember Luke. #11 makes some sort of movie sense at that point, but not real sense – there would have been a lot of discussion about it. And, frankly, even if she is, Leia still should have been the one to deliver it.4

The other main theory is that she’s Han/Leia’s — #2, 3, 4, 9, and 10 fit. #6 can fit, if Luke left to go train the Jedi’s before she was old enough to remember him. (Although, spending even her first six or seven years in Leia’s house should have been enough to know Luke wasn’t a myth.) #8 can fit; her brother (in this scenario) obviously is adept, so there’s no reason she couldn’t be. The big problem is #5 and 7 — 7 could be made to fit, if Han left Leia either before Rey was born (which would mean he left a pregnant wife), or when she was a baby and too young to remember him. But if that were true, he would have no reason to be monitoring her, which would make #5 purely about the Falcon. Which I’m not convinced of. Further, there’s no reasonable scenario where neither Han nor Leia would tell her she’s theirs.

Add to this that while on Takodana, Maz asks Han, “who’s the girl” as Rey heads off to talk Fin out of leaving. We don’t hear the answer. The question could be significant, because it means Maz doesn’t know, which would imply Han’s never talked about her. Us not hearing the answer could be significant, because it could be Han answered with information he has that we don’t. If she’s Luke’s daughter, that fits pretty well; if she’s his, we must acquit.5

But, it could be that #6 fits in the “Luke is your father” scenario, if we imagine her being left twice. She could have been left (as a baby?) with someone originally when Luke left to go train the Jedi’s, and then when Ren went bad she could have been moved to Jakku to make sure Ren wouldn’t know where to find her.

The problem is that the obvious people to leave her with are Han/Leia, and then we encounter some of the same problems we have in the second scenario above, not the least of which is that she should recognize one or both of them.

I guess we’ll find out in two years.

What Child is This, Part II

As interesting, to me, is who Fin’s6 parents are. There’s more to FN2187 than meets the eye. There’s a reason that stormtroopers aren’t clones anymore, and I suspect it has more to do with making for a good storyline than anything in-universe. (I’m not saying they can’t explain it in-universe, just that that wasn’t the driving force behind the decision.)

Given Fin’s ethnicity, the two obvious choices, at least from characters that are known in the universe so far, are Lando Calrissian and a descendent of Mace Windu. (Windu was killed too long ago to be the father, but he could be the grandfather.)

Either would make for an interesting back-story, but there’s next to no clues so we’ll just have to wait.

(Yes, he holds his own against Ren in a lightsaber duel, one of the many preposterous things in the movie, but he fails miserably in a fight against a Stormtrooper. I think the former tells us more about Ren than it does about Fin.)

That’s a Wrap

All in all, Force Awakens was a good (but unoriginal) return to a galaxy long ago and far, far away. It gave us two great new characters and gave one of its heroes a hero’s exit. Many of us in the seats could have echoed Han’s line as he stepped onto the Millenium Falcon — “Chewy, we’re home.”

Let’s talk some more in two years.

  1. Yes, I’m aware of the Star Wars Ring Theory. There are several problems with it, both in general and with regard to Force Awakens. First, it begins with “The Hidden Artistry of the Star Wars Prequels.” Anything that tries to find “hidden artistry” in those disasters has a credibility problem. Second, Lucas is already on record as saying FA detours from where he would have taken it. To try to ascribe the choices in FA to Lucas’ grand vision is thus null and void, because FA isn’t part of Lucas’ grand vision. And, last, the ways the first six movies work together is through subtlety, not blatant copying to the extent present in FA.
  2. Why two n’s? If you’re making up a name from an FN prefix, wouldn’t you just add the vowel and be done with it? His name should just be Fin.
  3. And tells us something I haven’t heard discussed amongst my circle of friends. Jakku was obviously the scene of a very large battle between the Empire and (presumably) the Republic; that would probably make Jakku more important than we realize.
  4. And what to make of Ren’s declaring, “Give it to me, that’s mine.”? As far as we know, that lightsaber has been missing for 30+ years, since Luke’s hand was cut off in Cloud City. Why would Ren even know it existed, much less think it was his? Did Luke somehow find it between Return of the Jedi and beginning the Jedi training? That’s a remote possibility, but it’s not the impression left by the movie, which makes Ren’s question an anachronism.
  5. Because, you know, it doesn’t fit. Never mind.
  6. I’m starting a campaign for a one-n Fin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *