I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night.
It was an 11 p.m. showing, and I got home about 1:30 in the morning, and I had to get up at 5:30 for work the next day, and none of this matters because I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night, and it was fantastic.
As someone who happily got infected with the Star Wars nostalgia bug as a child (I remember my dad trying to sell me on the first movie while we were in a video store when I was six or seven by talking up Luke’s flying car; as someone who’s never been a gearhead, I’ve always wondered why the go to feature wasn’t laser swords, but that’s neither here nor there), I’ve been waiting for this event for the majority of my life. Even though I’m a millennial, I’m a total original trilogy fanboy, and I never had the opportunity to see any of those movies in a theater. Return of the Jedi came out two years before I was born, and because of a fit of stubbornness in 1997 when the special editions first came out, I never saw those (my mom said I had to clean my room before I could go see Star Wars, and to my twelve-year-old mind it was more important to have the moral victory of not cleaning my room). I did see all of the prequel movies in theaters (I think I even saw Attack of the Clones twice; I was in high school, and high schoolers have terrible taste in movies; don’t judge me), but those can hardly be counted considering that everyone recognizes that they’re just not good movies. No, my Star Wars is the one with Luke, Leia, and Han, and I made it thirty years before I saw a Star Wars movie in theaters.
But we’re not here to discuss the odd chimera that is my millennial adoration for a decidedly baby boomerish phenomenon. We’re here to talk about the movie.
Obviously, spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens follow.
Let’s just get the gushing bits out of the way first, because by the time this post goes live there will have been tons of gushing. It feels obligatory at this point, almost as much as the frantic search for things to nitpick and critique about the movie feel obligatory as people move past the initial relief that yes, it didn’t suck lemons.
Random gushy things:
- Poe Dameron has the best hair. The first shot where we meet him at the film’s start is magical simply because he’s sporting some incredible feathered ‘do with magnificent sideburns that feels like a natural progression of galactic fashion since Luke’s moptop (on an unrelated note, Oscar Isaac has probably taken the place of Ewan McGregor as that one actor in Star Wars I’d consider making out with if given the opportunity).
- One of the random stormtroopers is voiced by a woman. Yeah, people have been making a big deal that that one stormtrooper in the really funny scene where Rey figures out the Jedi Mind Trick was played by Daniel Craig, but the significant thing here is that in addition to learning that stormtroopers consist of more than just white dudes since the clone army was discontinued, we also learn that the grunts have women in the ranks. It was a throwaway line, but I loved it.
- Finn’s arc as a stormtrooper who suddenly develops a conscience on his first combat assignment works really well for me. I liked the nods to the idea that stormtroopers are abducted and indoctrinated from childhood to be unquestioningly obedient to the First Order (that’s a detail pulled from the old Expanded Universe by the way, for anyone who’s keeping score), and the recognition that this process isn’t totally full proof (an officer makes an offhand remark that Finn will probably just need to be referred for reeducation since it’s his first offense, which implies that this break with conditioning isn’t as absurdly rare as some people might speculate). That Finn would be brought face to face with the kind of violence he’s supposed to do on a regular basis and recoil with horror really worked for me; even though we see Finn engaging in some heroics against other stormtroopers later, that underlying current of reluctance to even be involved in fighting is a nice through-line for his character. Also, his misguided attempts to rescue Rey when she clearly doesn’t need it are adorable.
- For that matter, Rey never needs rescuing, and both of the times when she does get in real trouble, Finn’s attempts to save her are proven to be kind of ill-conceived. I love that Rey breaks herself out of prison on Starkiller Base, and I don’t care about any arguments that try to explain why her awesomeness is implausible. She’s our hero for this new trilogy, and given that Star Wars is space opera in the vein of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, I think it’s perfectly acceptable for the hero to be over-the-top awesome.
- C-3PO is the most annoying character in the movie, and that’s the way it should be.
- Luke doesn’t have a single line, and I don’t care because Mark Hamill sells wise space wizard so hard in his one scene (also, I love the detail that he doesn’t hide his cyborg hand anymore; it’s a good visual cue that he’s at peace with what he is after all the turmoil he goes through in Return of the Jedi).
Some observations about the movie’s details:
- Lightsabers are used sparingly, and when they appear there’s an emotional weight to their use (also, I never realized how much lightsabers actually casting light on their surroundings would improve the way they look). This is a nice contrast to the prequel trilogy, where it was decided that what everybody loved was the laser swords, so let’s have laser swords in every scene regardless of whether they’re necessary (I mean, go all the way back to the first scene of The Phantom Menace with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan; they sense a disturbance and their first reaction is to pull out their lightsabers; as an old man Obi-Wan only draws his weapon when he has to in order to protect Luke or when he’s confronted by Vader; random non-Sith threats don’t rate a laser sword, so their appearance lets you know things are serious).
- Han Solo plays the role of Obi-Wan to Rey’s Luke, and the story beats have more depth knowing Han’s history. I loved seeing Han in a mentor role here, even if it did mean that his death at Kylo Ren’s hands was inevitable (as soon as I saw Ren out on the catwalk with Han hurrying to confront him, I knew it couldn’t end well for the old guy). I think it was particularly poignant to have Han redeliver Obi-Wan’s explanation of the Force after his extreme skepticism in A New Hope (it was also a nice extension from Han’s reluctant acceptance of the Force’s existence after seeing Obi-Wan and Luke in action as fully realized Jedi).
- When people compare Captain Phasma to Boba Fett, they are being remarkably accurate: lots of hype outside the movie, doesn’t really do that much in the movie. Of course, I know that it’s been pointed out that Phasma will have a larger role in Episode VIII, and I’m cool with that for now, but I think it’s important to remember that Boba Fett was also a character that a lot of people got excited about when he was first introduced. Then he got knocked into a sarlacc pit by a blind guy. Let’s hope that Phasma doesn’t has her own sarlacc waiting for her in the future.
Okay, let’s move on to some more in-depth discussions now.
On the axes of female and person-of-color representation, this film’s doing significantly better than a lot of comparable action movie fare. In a cast of nine major humanoid characters (I’m not counting Luke or the droids since his appearance is more of a cameo, and even though we generally read droids as male, they’re really nongendered), there are four women and three people of color. Those ratios aren’t bad, and when you exclude the legacy characters from the original trilogy they get even better (without Han, Leia, and Chewbacca it becomes a cast of three men and three women, and three white people and three people of color). The gender parity is fantastic (though the obvious push from here is to work towards including nonbinary and genderqueer actors as well), but the racial diversity, while an improvement, could still be better. As amazing as Poe Dameron and Maz Kanata are, they’re really minor characters in comparison to Rey and Finn, and in Maz’s case, her actress Lupita Nyong’o is hidden behind CG. Considering that many people overlook Oscar Isaac as a person of color (he’s originally from Guatemala), that just leaves John Boyega to do most of the heavy lifting, and it’s a very awkward scenario to be the only black man in the galaxy (this is exaggerated a little bit; I don’t remember specifically, but I want to say that people of color do appear as background characters throughout, which is definitely appreciated). Nyong’o’s situation leaves me feeling rather ambivalent, since she’s really great as Maz, but I also can’t help but remember that the last black actor who played a significant nonhuman in Star Wars was Ahmed Best–we don’t remember his character too fondly at all. Nonetheless, the big issue with the ratio of white people to people of color is simply that the ratio won’t be satisfactory until white stops being treated like a default and people of color are placed into a single catch-all representational group.
Now let’s discuss Kylo Ren, because he is the most delightful villain in all of villainy. In a move that seems to me to be the absolute best meta-joke ever, we learn that Kylo Ren, who is obviously a marketing attempt at giving the audience someone as iconic as Darth Vader for the new trilogy, is motivated by a desire to emulate his hero, and he’s actually really bad at it. Ren throws multiple tantrums, whines about the fact that becoming a true master of the Dark Side requires him to kill his father, and he wears a helmet that he doesn’t even need to survive. The big reveal that Ren is totally unscathed underneath his mask is such a wonderful anticlimax because it lets us know that this guy really doesn’t understand what made Vader so scary, while also giving us a glimpse of what Anakin Skywalker should have been like in the prequel trilogy. Ren comes across as a kid who’s honestly never been challenged his whole life, and that’s left him with a huge ego that can’t handle the small failures he suffers throughout the film’s runtime. When Rey comes along and demonstrates that she’s his peer even though she hasn’t had any Force training at all, he just comes unhinged in the most entertaining way. The fact that he still has considerable raw power helps him remain threatening, and the specter of what he could become after completing his training with Supreme Leader Snoke and actually learning the secret to Vader’s power (seething rage channeled through iron willed self control) leaves me with high hopes for what we’ll see of him in the rest of this trilogy. Besides that, I also love the subtext of Rey and Ren’s relationship where Ren is the entitled guy who is furious that he’s being beaten by a girl.
Speaking of Rey, I’m going to call it now that she’s not Han and Leia’s daughter (again, I have Expanded Universe stuff bouncing around in my head, and I couldn’t help thinking that she was supposed to be Ben Solo’s twin; it wasn’t until I later read that Kylo Ren is supposed to be around thirty while Rey is no more than nineteen so they can’t possibly be twins; he acts so immaturely that I read him as much younger) despite the movie’s extensive pains to show that Rey has a ton of parallels with Han. It’s possible that she’s related to Luke somehow, but I think there’s a strong possibility that she has no connection to the Skywalker line at all; the special specialness of the Skywalkers was George Lucas’s thing, and considering that Anakin effectively succeeded in resetting the balance between Jedi and Sith when he killed the Emperor and left Luke as the only known trained Force user in the galaxy (as a young man Luke was a lot more influenced by the Dark Side than he cared to admit), there’s no real narrative imperative for the next generation of heroes to center around another Skywalker. I’ll be happy either way, but the direction they go with Rey’s parentage will do a lot to determine Star Wars‘s broad thematic interest in the notion of legacies and generational sagas for a specific family.
And one last thing to ponder: Han and Chewbacca have been friends for decades at this point, and Han’s never asked to try out Chewie’s bowcaster before?