So, guess what I went to see last weekend? That’s right. Alvin and the Chipmunks. It totally rocked. There were chipmunks Alvining all over the place, and a couple of them even Daved. It was crazy, and slightly pornographic at times.
I’d tell you all about it, but there would be spoilers, so I guess we’ll talk about this other little film that came out. I’m not sure you’ve heard of it, as it didn’t get a lot of media attention, but its called Star Wars.
Yes, that was all me being humorous. How could you tell?
The highly anticipated, long awaited return of Star Wars to the theater has finally happened, and the entire internet is talking about it, so why shouldn’t I? Granted, there will be less incoherent screaming on my part, and even less complaining about how it wasn’t as good as the originals, but what can you do? I’m just not that kind of person.
Now, obviously, there will be spoilers here, so if you’ve not seen the movie, then stop reading and come back after you have. Unless you don’t care, then fine. If anyone whines about spoilers in the comments, though, I’m gonna dude you, just so you know.
Two other items of business to attend before we go any further, and these are kind of important. The first is that I tend to take things for what they are, rather than what I want them to be. For the most part, I can enjoy any movie, unless it’s just so bad that I find myself daydreaming about getting a root canal. Kind of like what happened when I watching Fantastic Four.
So, please do bear in mind as you read this, that I’m not the kind of person who gets upset about stuff in movies. Sure, the Death Star was the single most impossible plot device ever, but it was cool as hell, so I rolled with it, and still do. It’s just a movie after all.
Which brings me to the second thing. I am a fan of the Star Wars films. I’ve seen all seven of them now, and I enjoyed them to greater and lesser degrees. I know exactly shit about the Expanded Universe, and have no stake in it being considered cannon or not. It’s just the films themselves I enjoy, and even then, just as highly entertaining movies. Even had this film been terrible, it would not have ruined my childhood, is what I’m getting at. My childhood ruined my childhood, and even if it hadn’t, there is no way a movie could accomplish such a gargantuan feat as to undo the first fifteen or so years of my life.
Point is, I don’t feel like this movie owed me anything other than an entertaining experience. That the price of admission would be worth it to me when I walked out. That’s all it had to do, and while I am aware that others place a larger emotional stake in it, I don’t.
Now, bearing all of that in mind, and with another reminder that I will be spoiling the film, let’s look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Right at the opening scrawl, we learn that after the Empire was defeated around Endor, that wasn’t the end of things, as a section of the old Empire called The First Order has risen up and is even more obnoxious about owning all the planets. I get wanting to have a full collection, but I think these guys might need therapy.
We also learn that in the thirty years since, Luke Skywalker whatevered out and hasn’t been seen in a very long time. This matters, as much of what happens in the movie is the result of everyone looking for him. He’s the only Jedi around, so the good guys want him to save the galaxy, while the bad guys want him to go ahead and use that grave his Uncle Owen bought from a Jawa way back when.
It’s a family plot, guys. He’s got to use it sooner or later.
General Leia Organa, the leader of the Resistance, which is what the Rebel Alliance has become now that the Republic is sort of reformed and playing nice with The First Order, sends her finest pilot to Jakku to meet with Max Von Sydow to recover a map to Luke’s hidden tree fort. Things are going well for said pilot, a rakishly handsome and cool guy named Poe Dameron, until The First Order shows up with their new low rent Darth Vader, a guy called Kylo Ren.
Poe get’s captured, but hides the map in his astromech, a little ball of cute called BB-8, who transforms and rolls out of the fire fight. As all of this is happening, a Stormtrooper starts behaving oddly, which brings us to our second major plot point.
It seems that kidnapping and brainwashing children is more cost effective than maintaining clone facilities, but now and then it requires that Stormtroopers be sent to re-education so they don’t start getting ideas in their heads. Everything about this is actually horrible, and makes The First Order a lot sleazier than the Empire ever managed to be.
The Stormtrooper from earlier has been getting ideas in his head, and decides to help Poe escape. Unfortunately, it’s after Ren used the Force to find out that Poe hide the map in BB-8, so the race is on to recover the droid. First, however, Poe and his Stormtrooper buddy, who he names Finn, have to steal a Tie Fighter, resulting in the best buddy comedy ever. They crash on Jakku after being shot at by a Star Destroyer, and Finn thinks Poe died, then runs for it.
Meanwhile, BB-8 has run into a scavenger named Rey and they become besties. Their new friendship is tested when Finn shows up and BB-8 recognizes that Finn is wearing Poe’s jacket. Before they can sort this out, Tie Fighters attack, and Finn, Rey, and BB-8 have to haul ass out of there.
Lucky for them, somebody left the Millennium Falcon sitting around. They steal it, leading to the most awesome escape scene ever put to film. They don’t make it far from Jakku, however, before they are picked up by a freighter owned by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, who have left the Resistance to haul giant man eating squids.
Seems Han is also in debt up to his eyes to some very unpleasant people, who come looking for their money. Rey accidentally lets the giant man eating squid loose, which happens to save Han and Chewy’s lives, but leads to one of the squids trying to nom nom on the Falcon. It gets toasted as they hyperjump right out of the cargo bay, escaping with their lives, if not their dignity.
They head to another planet, where Han has a few friends that can put BB-8 and the Scooby gang on a freighter that won’t attract The First Order’s attention. Everything is going well on this front until Finn admits that he isn’t interested in saving the galaxy, but would rather get his ass as far from The First Order as possible. Considering they kidnapped him, brainwashed him, and turned him into a killer, I don’t blame him.
Rey is sad about this, at least until she hears weird voices leading her down into the basement, where she finds Luke’s old lightsaber, as in the one he lost when his Dad took punishment to a new level by chopping off his hand. She has a vision that freaks her straight the fuck out, and she decides she’s with Finn on things, and just wants to go back to Jakku to wait for her family to come back and get her.
She doesn’t get a chance, any more than Finn does, to dust this place, because somebody ratted them out and The First Order arrives, trashing the whole place. Finn ends up with Luke’s lightsaber, and promptly proves he has no idea what to do with it when he gets his ass kicked. Rey gets taken by Ren, and things look bad for our heroes, when the Resistance arrives, as they were also tipped off to the gang’s presence.
Leading the charge is none other than Poe Dameron, who not only survived the crash, but managed to make it back to the Resistance base while The First Order was chasing the others. With that, everyone gets ready to head for a safe space. Before they can, though, The First Order decides to show off their new superweapon, the Starkiller.
The whole thing is a planet retrofitted into a gun, and they use it to blow up the seat of government for the New Republic, which is kind of a shitty thing to do, but hey, these guys are evil. Their leader is a Snork, just to tell you how evil they are.
The heroes head back to the Resistance base, unwittingly alerting The First Order to where it is, which means they get to shoot their super cool new planet gun again. This makes The First Order happy. Finn, however, is unhappy, because all he wants to do is go rescue Rey. Not for romantic reasons, mind you, but because she is one of only two friends he really has. His other best bud, Poe, is down with that, but has to lead the Resistance in an attack on the Starkiller so it won’t blow up any more planets.
Han, having met back up with Leia, decides to help the kid out. Somebody has to sneak on to the planet and disable the shield generator so the Resistance can attack. Han figures do that and rescue Rey, bang-boom, two birds, one stone.
Now, it was revealed earlier by The Snork, but it matter more here, so I’m going to tell you that Han has another reason for this mission. Keylo Ren is he and Leia’s son. Seems Ben, as he was named, displayed awesome Jedi powers, so they let Luke train him. Turns out, Luke was no Yoda, and little Ben went Dark Side in an effort to be like his Grandfather, Darth Vader.
Also, he’s the most emo little shit you’ve ever seen. Seriously, whenever things don’t go his way, he throws temper tantrums, and spends other parts of the film sitting in the dark, writing poems about how much life hurts. You wouldn’t understand them.
Point is, he thinks being the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo sucks, so he’s trying to be the next Darth Vader to show them just how much it sucks. This guy, he takes emo to a new level. Personally, I think he just needs to be grounded for a while.
Regardless, everyone sets out to stop the Starkiller, save Rey, and maybe get a father-son fishing trip in if time allows. The first thing that needs to be done is to lower the shields, so Han flies the Falcon at hyperspeed through the shield, coming out a few inches from the planet’s surface, because he is a crazy bastard.
With the Falcon safely parked on a cliff, they head for the shield control, which is when Han learns that when Finn was stationed on the Starkiller, it was in sanitation. He’s not thrilled, but what are you going to do?
While these guys are bumbling around, Rey rescues her own damn ass, cause she’s awesome. She Jedi mindfucks James Bond into letting her go, then scampers around the base, evading capture, even though literally everyone is looking for her. Seriously. This lady has some mad skills.
Finn and the gang manage to get the shield down by threatening Gwendolin Christie, and act that requires either titanium reinforced balls, or massive levels of stupidity. With the shield down, Poe leads the attack on the Starkiller’s weak point, the thermal regulator.
Calling it a weak point undersells it a bit. This thing is heavily armored and defending by a crap ton of laser cannons. The First Order is obviously a little smarter about protecting their super weapons weak spot than the Empire was. Just to make things harder, they throw in a crap ton of Tie Fighters.
Realizing that they don’t need all the explosives they brought to destroy the shield generator, Finn and the gang head over to the thermal regulator and decide to blow that up instead. This goes pretty well, until Han tries to get his son to turn from the Dark Side. Ren looks like he might actually do it for a moment, then remembers that one song by The Cure that really speaks to his inner darkness, and kills his own father, Han Solo.
Chewy flips out and shoots Ren, along with every Stormtrooper in sight, before blowing up the regulator. Poe and his fellow Resistance fighters appreciate this, and it makes their job a lot easier. Thanks to the armor being destroyed, Poe even gets to barnstorm the inside of the regulator, blowing up even more shit.
Finn, Rey, and Chewy haul ass for the Falcon, but Chewbacca wanders off in a fit of Bigfoot grief. Finn and Rey get cornered by Ren, who is consumed by emo rage that these people wouldn’t just let him kill his dad in peace. Rey gets knocked out, and Finn takes up Luke’s lightsaber to fight Ren, which works out poorly for him.
Rey wakes up just in time to see Finn takes what appears to be a mortal blow. Ren powers up to super emo mode and tries to Force yank Luke’s lightsaber, figuring it should really belong to him, as it was Anakin’s first, and he’s the new Darth Vader. Rey Force yanks it away from him, though, and proceeds to kick his ass.
Like, seriously. She curb stomps this thankless little brat. Because she’s awesome.
She doesn’t kill him, though, because she’s a better person than he is, and can resist the lure of the Dark Side. Chewy shows up with the Falcon, they haul Finn’s mostly dead ass aboard, and whatever out of there as the planet explodes. While part of me kinda hopes Ren died there, I figure Evil Overlord Snork managed to rescue him, and he’ll be back in the next movie to spread even more emo cheer.
Back at the Resistance base, Leia sensed Han’s death, and she and Ren have a touching moment. Finn will recover, but is unconscious as R2-D2 wakes up from the longest nap in history to reveal he has the rest of the map to Luke’s super secret clubhouse. Rey decides to go check in on him, and she and Chewy fly off to find him staring at his navel. He appears somewhat surprised and mildly confused that this total stranger has interrupted his deep thoughts with his old lightsaber, and roll credits.
Now, a few things.
First, yes, this is a rehash of Episode VI: A New Hope. But there are a few key differences, mostly to do with the characters. Young Luke Skywalker wanted nothing more than to get the hell off Tatooine, but Rey wants nothing more than to go back to Jakku. Where Luke eagerly embraced the idea of a greater destiny, Rey soundly rejects it, until she has literally no choice, as she will die if she doesn’t take up the mantle.
Second, yes, the Starkiller is a suped up version of the Death Star. The First Order rose up out of the fall of the Empire, though, and clearly has kept the mentality that giant planet destroying weapons is a good tactical choice. Considering they actually blow up the center of government for the New Republic, I can’t say they wrong, either. Unlike the Death Star, the weak point on this weapon is something that makes more sense than an exhaust port, and is heavily defended.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that film touches on the idea that pretty much everything that happened in the original trilogy is considered a tale tale by most of the galaxy, which actually makes sense. I doubt the Empire was big on a free press, and dealt mostly in propaganda, so word of what happened to the first Death Star and around Endor is going to be largely spread by word of mouth, and greatly changed as it is told. By the time the New Republic was getting itself together, the story of the fall of the Empire was already going to be more myth than fact.
This matters because those who fail to learn the lessons history teaches are doomed to repeat them. This is a thematic element the movie uses to set the stage for the next step in the Star Wars saga. There is enough similarity, and enough disparity, to make it work as well. The First Order has failed to learn that a giant super weapon doesn’t make all your problems go away, so they must learn this lesson yet again.
It’s an impressive bit of writing, really, as it never really felt forced, at least, to me. The story beats are similar, yes, but the characters are different enough, and their decisions impact events in ways that are new. That is really what makes the film work as a separate entity.
And what characters they are, too!
Right away, Oscar Issacs as Poe Dameron wins me over. Faced with Kylo Ren in the opening moments of the film, he snarks off at him. Like, actually snarks at him. It was beautiful. As was the entire escape scene he shared with John Boyega’s Finn. The two have a wonderful chemistry that just lights up the screen.
Of course, Boyega has that with literally everyone. He is, without a doubt, the best thing about this whole movie. From his buddy comedy routine with Issacs, to the way he latches on to Daisy Ridley’s Rey, to his snarking with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, every moment this man is on screen is a delight. He even shines when paired with Chewbacca and BB-8.
His earnestness, not only to save Dameron and Rey, but to get as far from the First Order as he can, and how reluctantly he steps into the role of a hero is all portrayed perfectly by Boyega. He switches effortlessly from comedy, to sincerity, to fear, and every bit of it is believable, making him easy to invest in a a character.
Then, there is Daisy Ridley as Rey. While we never get any answers as to who she really is, or why she was left on Jakku, much less by whom, Ridley owns the role from the moment she steps on scene, infusing Rey with a quiet strength that makes her instantly relatable, and easy to root for. Her desire to get back, in case her family returns, her refusal to get messed up in galaxy spanning events, all is delivered in this quiet, soft manner that infuses the character with a sense of solitude.
Then, there comes the moment she must accept she is meant for something greater, and that even if she were to return to Jakku, she would die of old age awaiting a family that was never going to return. That quiet wall of isolation Rey has built around herself shatters, and we see this emotionally torn young woman as she flees the harsh true she does not want to face. This is what opens her up to her own inner strength, however, and nowhere is that on greater display than when Keylo Ren attempts to interrogate her and she pushes back, accepting that she has a power hidden inside her, and through the Force, saves herself, not just from the First Order, but from herself.
I would be remiss if I did not credit Adam Driver with a wonderful performance as Keylo Ren. I joke about how emo he is, but Driver brings and intensity to the character as he seeks to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, but remains conflicted as to if it is truly his destiny. His deep seated anger and resentment at his parents, leading him to crossing a line that can never be uncrossed, and the complete loss of self control that follows, speaking to a young man who is trying to bury his grief and sorrow under the anger he thinks will sustain him. At every turn, Driver brings a sense of loss to Ren, a feeling of desperation to prove himself, and his performance is wonderful to behold.
Naturally, a lot can be said about Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher as they reprise the roles that made them famous, not to mention Anthony Daniels returning as C-3PO. The young cast had major talent to stand beside, and that they held their own, and made the story theirs, is a testament to their own skill as performers. They are truly in worthy company, and have proven themselves deserving to join this cast in the legend of Star Wars.
The baton has been passed, and as we look ahead to the next film in the new trilogy, I feel a sense of excitement for it. While I am not a hard core Star Wars fan, I greatly enjoyed this movie, and am eager to see more of Finn, Rey, Poe and the rest as they begin their own struggle to save the galaxy from evil.
May the Force be with them.