A Star Wars review: The Force Awakens

Okay, with a full four weeks behind us — since Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted — I think I can safely discuss the particulars of the film, without being wary of spoilers. But, if you still haven’t seen the movie? Stop reading now.

(This SNL skit is totally canon! It has to be!)

On a scale of 1 to 10 (for the franchise as a whole) I’d give SW:TFA a solid 7 — with Empire Strikes Back at 9, and Revenge of the Sith at 2.

SW:TFA hit a lot of right notes with me. The acting was solid, there was a fair balance between practical and CGI effects, and I think they were smart to give the relationships in SW:TFA a very dysfunctional 21st-century sensibility.

I mean, Han and Leia were clearly a train wreck. As fairy tales go, that’s a lousy way to plot their relationship. Return of the Jedi was a very happily-ever-after finish to the first three films. But if we examine who these characters are, realistically, it’s pretty obvious that they were headed for some rough times, following Jedi. Neither of them was what we might call good parent material. Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) was probably more of an accident, than he was planned. We’re not even sure Han and Leia were married at the time. With the re-rise of the Republic, duking it out with the remains of the Empire — and the founding of the Resistance — there was precious little time for settling down and raising a family. Han and Leia were probably grateful to pawn Ben off on Luke, the way some parents might send a sulking, troubled boy to a military academy. In the hope that Uncle Luke could straighten the kid out.

Except, Ben (the Force-sensitive emo basket case) wasn’t so easily steered away from the Dark Side. Unloved and unloving, he was probably a major thorn in Luke’s side. So that, try as he might, Luke could not get the kid to turn around. Probably, the harder Luke tried, the more Ben plunged into his anger — at having been raised by a shitty set of parents, who never gave him enough love and structure when it counted. So that when Luke tried to fill the role of surrogate, Ben’s frustration and hatred were already a large component of his general state of mind.

This is all, of course, armchair psych analysis. But when writing bad characters, it’s important for any writer to really crawl inside the bad guy’s head, and figure out why he is the way he is. I liked that we were given a lot of strong signs, pointing to Ben’s apparently unhappy childhood. Kylo is filled with rage, and a need to control. That kind of sentiment doesn’t come from nowhere.

Which made Han Solo’s death — at Ben’s hands — the best scene in the movie, in my opinion. Without it, there is nothing to anchor SW:TFA to the larger family drama stretching all the way back to when Darth Vader boarded the Tantive IV at the beginning of the fourth (first, for my generation) episode. Ben clearly wants to throw himself over fully to the Dark Side, and Han clearly wants to try to find some way of getting his son back.

Speaking as a father, those few moments when Han and Ben are face to face, that made the film for me. Because even though Ben is a mess, and has been doing some terrible things, Han Solo is still a decent man. And a decent man looks at what has become of his son, and he asks, How did I screw my son up this much? Let it go this far? What am I prepared to do, to try to salvage what’s left?

When Solo says, “Anything,” I believed him emphatically.

Han doesn’t even struggle much, when Ben runs his father through. Just cups Ben’s cheek with a fatherly palm — as if to say he still loves Ben.

Now, if you’re not a parent, this might not key so hotly for you. I really do think being a parent sets this scene apart, from almost any other scene I’ve ever experienced in any of the other Star Wars films.

For Han, he’s looking in Ben’s face, and seeing the eyes of his five year old child staring up at him. Vulnerable. So much pain and hurt, between those early years, and that cat walk in the center of Starkiller Base. And Han felt responsible. Solo was ready to give his life for the sake of his boy. That touched me in a very personal place.

As the saying goes, you never stop being a parent.

So of course Ben has to off his dad, thus becoming Kylo Ren permanently. It’s the singular act of Ben’s young life, up to that point. The one he hopes will erase all doubts. Thus making his later chest-beating — during the forest fight with Rey — reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

As for Rey, we were served a steady diet of question marks. Is she a Kenobi? Is she a Skywalker? It seems like a fifty-fifty proposition at this point. I personally would love for her to be a Kenobi, just because I think that would make for some wonderful symmetry with this whole series. But the how and the why of Rey’s abandoning on Jakku is a real humdinger. It was obviously necessary, for reasons not easily discerned. She certainly seems to have emerged from her childhood damage in much better shape than Kylo. Surviving as orphans on a desert world seems to do the Force-sensitive a lot of good, if Luke (in the originals) is any indicator. But what’s Rey’s connection? What was the whole vision in Maz Kanata’s cellar about? How about the memories from being dropped off on Jakku in the first place?

Personally, seeing little Rey screaming, “Don’t go! Don’t go!” was hard for me to take. Great, brief moments of acting on that little girl’s part. Hit me right in the feels. So much so I had to ask, “What terrible thing would force me to dump my own daughter, at that age, on a barren, hostile planet?”

I guess the next two movies will help us find out.

Again, I gave the movie a 7 out of 10. Not perfect. No way. But then, nothing — after over 30 years of waiting for some true sequels to the originals — was going to make SW:TFA perfect. All of us have wondered, and there have been the Expanded Universe books and series (now scrapped.) We have all, I suspect, also written our own personalized scenarios in our hearts, and in our heads; about how things worked out. Like I said, Jedi served us a very fairy tale ending. The Emperor is dead! Vader is dead! The new Death Star is destroyed! The Imperial fleet has tucked tail and retreated! Han and Leia are going to be together! Luke is finally a Jedi!

Except, fairy tale endings don’t lend themselves well to sequels. You have no conflict upon which to construct more story. SW:TFA needed conflict, and that conflict had to be rooted in the events of Jedi. So, the First Order rises from the — assumed — competition between the remaining, loyal Imperial generals and admirals, to salvage their power. Some of the galaxy has gratefully gone back to the pre-Rebellion days, when the Empire did provide a kind of order. Tyranny, sure. But order. Some people want and need order, above all else. With the Empire down, the galactic economy and political situation must have been a pure mess. The First Order offers structure, and a chance for stability — even if they are iron-fisted about their work.

As a writer, I feel like my job is not to back-seat-drive another writer’s work. That’s usually something a lot of critics do — their ranks being replete with frustrated and failed writers. If I am examining a piece, and especially if I am examining a piece that’s been successful with a broad audience, I am seeking clues to that piece’s appeal. What made it tick? What was the general audience reaction? What was my own reaction, and does it square with most everyone else’s?

I said up top that SW:TFA hit the right notes, for me. It provided a healthy amount of spectacle, twined with nicely-written drama. There was enough meat on these bones — which I didn’t find with the prequels — that the movie kept me suspended in a timeless state for the duration. That’s usually my bottom-line gauge. Did the movie make me forget the clock? Few movies do, these days. But SW:TFA did. And I was grateful for that.

But I also thought the film erred in a few ways. Such as giving Phasma almost no dialogue. And in gifting Finn with a thousand-yard stare that didn’t mesh with his position as a relatively inexperienced combat troop. I mean, for a guy whose job it is to burn the galactic shitter, he sure became disillusioned with the horrors of war mighty quickly.

Now, it’s not unheard of. Humans, as a rule, struggle to kill. Failure to pull the trigger is a documented phenomenon in every war since World War One. Many men simply can’t bring themselves to do it. Even hard men, who’ve endured hard training. But Finn talks like he’s dropped on two dozen worlds, and seen far too much death and blood for his taste.

That’s something I’d have expected from Phasma, frankly.

Which makes me ask: how did the guy who burns the galactic shitter wind up on a combat insertion in the first place? Was he replacing somebody who went to sick call? Is the First Order that short on guys, that the shitter-burner has to put down his matches and his can of galactic diesel, in order to draw a weapon and go out on an op?

Speaking of which, the clone nature of the vaunted Imperial Stormtroopers seems to have been scuttled. I mean, all through the original three films, we never got any indication that any of the Stormtroopers are clones. The prequels made it clear that they were, but now the First Order is changing things up? Or is Finn merely part of a series, derived from one of many different samples? How about Phasma? Also, how about the black-uniform officers? They don’t seem to be clones. We’re never clear on whether or not the Empire promotes up, all the way from Private.

For the next film, I’d like to see more of Phasma, and more of Poe Dameron, frankly. His character’s satus is largely implied, by reputation, but we don’t see or experience much of him. Will this be true for the next two movies? Is Poe merely the new Wedge Antilles? Seems like you could do a lot more with this guy. Fill in his story. He’s the Resistance’s top fighter jock. And he’s not a kid, either. What’s his journey?

As for Rey and Kylo . . . it’s all but certain that these two are going to be saber-battling until the end of the third and final movie in the latest trilogy. Rey as the heir to Luke, and Kylo as the heir to Vader. Will Kylo turn back to the Light Side at the end, as Vader did?

I know a lot of people have hated Kylo’s mopey petulance. What kind of bad guy is that? Vader was a scary, imposing mofo. Kylo makes you want to pick him up and dangle him by his ankles, with his head in the toilet, while you flush repeatedly. (See the video at the top of this post.) Frankly, I think it’s fitting. Kylo is a neurotic, unhappy soul, who wants to bring “order” to the galaxy, thus living up to his grandpa’s legacy. In other words, he’s just like all the children — on modern college campuses — who are angry at the universe, and who expect the universe to change for them, otherwise they need a safe space to run to.

Hitler and Stalin were also neurotic, and expected the whole universe to change for them. And they were some of the most evil men — along with Mao, Che, Castro, Pol Pot — the world has ever seen. Ever. They were also, in their own minds, the heroes. Of their own stories. Which Kylo is too. In his world, it’s the Resistance who are the bad guys, because the Resistance means the Republic, and the Republic means Mom and Dad, and dear God let’s not go there again, because it makes Kylo want to thrash a computer workstation with his lightsaber.

Nice work, Abrams. And nice work, Disney. If you can do this well with the next two movies, and also the auxiliary spinoffs, I think the Star Wars franchise is going to be healthier and more enjoyable than it’s been in decades.

Speaking as a Star Wars fan, this makes me smile.

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30 thoughts on “A Star Wars review: The Force Awakens

  1. There is a line- almost a throwaway line- about how cloned stormtroopers were better/preferable. Kylo’s ‘handler’ says it.

    And Lucas needs to STFU with what he’s saying about it.

  2. There was a line about the clones. There is some dissension among the officers, with some saying they should go back to clones instead of going through this new experiment.

  3. I haven’t seen the movie but I have read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization and thought it was a good read.

    I will say that Foster added bits that can explain some of the back-story of the movie.

    Hopefully, Foster’s bits are canon.

    Oh, there was nothing to “clear up” Rey’s background but we do learn that the Supreme Leader was tempting Ben even before he went to Luke’s school.

    Oh, IIRC in the novelization Han and Leia had married. [Smile]

  4. I came away with the impression that he wasn’t a janitor, but a stormtrooper assigned to guard the area.

    (Insert joke about troopers guarding the trash since some fools messed up one on the death star here)

    I’m leaning Skywalker, but mostly because I think a Kenobi would be too complicated to explain to the film’s primary target audience – kids.

    Its trying to appeal to everyone, of course, but they’re the primary target.

  5. Haven’t seen an SW movie since RotJ, so I didn’t mind your spoilers. Since the Expanded Universe has been Jossed, I’m vaguely amused to see that TFA is the dark!Jacen arc from the novels …

    Luke trains Jacen/Ben; Jacen/Ben falls to the Dark Side; Jacen/Ben goes on a rampage to destroy the Republic and crush the galaxy under his heel; Jacen/Ben battles family member (IIRC, Jaina ended up killing her twin).

  6. I suppose it’s always possible Rey is Kylo’s twin, though I would think Solo and Organa both would have reacted much differently to Rey, if that were the case. But yes, the similarity to the Jacen arc, is undeniable. I admit, I can see why it’s also irresistible, to have a Solo kid go to the Dark Side. Only this time, he kills Han, not Chewie. Which reminds me: what happens to Chewie now, and why is Chewie always some human’s sidekick? He falls right in behind Rey, like it’s natural.

  7. My guess is that Chewie believes that Rey will meet Kylo again and wants to make sure she wins. [Very Big Evil Grin]

    On the other hand, Han may have known something about Rey that he told Chewie about and that something relates to why Chewie chose to follow Rey. [Smile]

  8. IIRC Finn was more of a maintenance engineer than “janitor” and it’s possible that his squad had been assigned that duty on Starkiller base before they were put into the field.

    The New Order may want trusted people assigned to such duties rather than trust regular “military” for such duties.

    Just imagine the fun-and-games, a resistance agent could do in a New Order installation. [Evil Grin]

  9. Ferreting out Resistance moles would seem to provide Kylo with more than full-time employment. When does he have the hours to obsess about Uncle Luke? Kylo needs to think about his career. I mean, thrashing workstations can do hell to a man’s LES. Statement of charges! Does Hux do Kylo’s OER? 😉

  10. Early in episode 4, Luke couldn’t stop whining about wanting to go join his buddy Biggs Darklighter at the Academy. The Imperial Academy.

  11. yup, because, without retconning, at that point stormtroopers weren’t clones, or if they were, pilots and troopers officers weren’t.

  12. If that’s what you got out of it I respect your opinion, but I can’t say as I agree. If anything, this new movie finished the job of diminishing and outright wrecking the source material.

    What’s the point of watching the original trilogy again when you now know all the heroes’ struggles and sacrifices have achieved nothing?

    The iconic: “I love you/I know moment”? this is what it comes to.

    Han’s character development from a mercenary smuggler to a responsible leader who would have made an excellent father? Gone.

    Luke, who had never given in to despair even before the Emperor’s throne, a broken man who’ll probably bite it in a movie or two.

    Han’s death? So obviously contrived. Ford hated the role and wanted out of the franchise and everyone knew it, so this was the price of his appearance. A death scene in public with everyone getting a front-row seat rather than the intimate confrontations between Vader and Luke/Vader and Obi Wan, etc.

    And finally: another Death Star and a plot that was an embarrassingly blatant rip off of A New Hope.

    I’d loved Star Wars and appreciated its impact in bringing a new sense of optimism and heroism to the science fiction of its time, but for me, the magic’s gone. Fortunately I’ve managed to find it in other stories.

  13. After a full four weeks since debut, I will say TFA was at best the best X-Wing Fighter scene to date and at worst a terrible plot built entirely on resonance with the original trilogy. I’m sorry, but this whole article just illustrates all the blaster holes they shot into this script. I don’t want to come out of a theater at the end of a movie guessing about how it started. They could seriously build another three prequels to this movie. Please don’t tell me there going to reveal all of that in flashbacks smeared across the next two films. They didn’t have to do it like this in IV. I didn’t come out of that movie thinking what the hell happened in the beginning. Obi One, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Berue(?) told us all we needed to know. I came out thinking that was awesome. When’s the next one?

    What the hell happened after Jedi? Am I supposed to know and/or care about the Obi One clone? What’s a First Order? Don’t even get me started on this alien Sith. What’s a Rebel Resistance when there’s a New Republic? And what does a New Republic do? They don’t help the Rebels. They let super weapons get built under their noses, although everyone knows about Kylo Ren, just not where he works? What’s the deal with a galactic map that has a missing puzzle piece in the middle? Did someone erase that star sector from every map in the galaxy, except R2D2’s of course, the last place anyone would look for Skywalker data? How does Han bump into the Falcon the moment it enters orbit after being stolen and grounded for nearly twenty years? Really? Your going to do Han Solo like that? Cause he’s the kind of guy that just lets his ship get stolen, knows the pedigree of every thief who had a hand in stealing her, but can’t find her until she takes off twenty years later. I think Biff had a better theft protection device! Did I mention Han Solo? Good. Because that brings me to my biggest gripe with this poorly orchestrated (aside from the soundtrack which was great as always) jumble of incoherent and overly convenient scenes. If you’re going to have Han Solo in THAT scene, I want some damn background and buildup. I felt nothing. Nothing! Because I knew nothing about their relationship other than ‘he wasn’t there for me.’ Perhaps the empty chasm was befitting. It matched how I felt, which was no more than a resonance with the parallel scene in Jedi but by this point in the movie that plot device had become predictable and cliche.

    To that end, the written works published prior to this fiasco are my official Star Wars Canon, and the events in this movie never happened. Except for the X-Wing Fighter scene. That was cool.

  14. Bob, I think everything you say is true . . . from a certain point of view. 😉

    Is SW:TFA the film I would have written? Nope. Because I agree: the character development of the major players (from the original three films) definitely points in a certain direction. A direction that SW:TFA did not take. When I walked into the theater to see SW:TFA I tried to clear my mind of such expectations, mostly because I suspected that in order to give SW:TFA the necessary conflict and drama that would drive a new trilogy, the tidy ending of Jedi would need to be laid to rest, in favor of a more troubled and protracted denouement — which happens off-screen.

    And I adored the way the major players were developed for the first three movies — IV, V, and VI.

    But I can also see how even a very happy ending, won’t tell the whole story. Good relationships can turn sour over time. Couples that seem like they’re working, can get disrupted when a child is introduced into the situation. Especially if Ben is not planned. And especially again, if Leia and Han are right back at it combating the remains of the Empire; remains trying to consolidate under a new flag. Luke was probably doing great, until Ben/Kylo flipped, pulled an Anakin, and slaughtered Luke’s first class of New Jedi grads. (the last is my extrapolation, based on flashbacks from SW:TFA.)

    So, while I can fully grasp and appreciate how disappointing SW:TFA is for those of us who loved the way the originals ended, I really tried to put my expectations aside, and just let the story be what it is. It’s very different from how I’d have done it. But then again, TRON Legacy was also very different from how I’d have done that movie, too. I still liked it very much, even though it was a completely different movie from what my mind had scripted, in the 30 years after the release of the original.

  15. After watching TFA, I put on my Evil GM hat, and managed to come up with a single viable plot that twists a number of the big plot holes in TFA into a coherent, really intriguing whole.

    I have trouble seeing Rey as Kenobi’s granddaughter, because that would require introducing and telling the stories of her parents. Likewise, her existence seems to be a surprise to Han and Leia. Still, she has the force, and an incredible knowledge of melee combat, mechanics and piloting for someone her age, especially someone working as a scavenger on a backwater desert planet. The parallels to Skywalker are obvious… desert planet, mysterious background, improbable piloting skill, saves the day… but that describes both Luke from IV and Anakin from I. We know they have the technical know-how to make clones. She’s a clone from the Skywalker line, created by our mysterious Sith Lord badguy (the Serkis character) with false memories and pre-programmed skills, because he’s trying to recreate Vader.

    If you take that as a starting point, a number of other plot holes and odd characterizations close up. Finn’s a Manchurian Agent set up to (convolutedly, admittedly) awaken Rey; his mental breakdown was pre-programmed. The First Order, led by a total idiot, believe they’re the successors to the Empire when they’ve been set up to play the role of the Trade Federation as starter villains, and Kylo Ren believes he’s an up-and-coming Vader when he’s a sacrificial Dooku, because his boss knows he’s an Emo Squish. We look and see Luke II (Rey), the Empire II (The First Order), and Vader II (Kylo Ren), and we believe it because we want to believe it and we’re expecting A New Hope II, but it’s not the only explanation. The ultimate conflict for the trilogy, then, becomes Rey’s struggle to not fall victim to the anger and hatred for Kylo Ren.

    The only problem is I can’t see Abrams pulling off a deception of this magnitude after the Khan II obviousness.

  16. Civilis, I’ve heard something like that theory floating around: that there’ll be a switch and Rey will turn to the dark side with Kylo Ren turning to the light, and while it sounds good, it’ll never happen. It would be far, far too original for Abrams. It pains me to say it since I loved all the surprises in Fringe, but Abrams has demonstrated that when he has a guaranteed hit on his hands such as the Star Trek/Star Wars brand, he phones in the story.

    Also, it would involve Rey actually screwing up and having flaws and needing help, and that would never be allowed.

  17. She’s a clone from the Skywalker line, created by our mysterious Sith Lord badguy (the Serkis character) with false memories and pre-programmed skills, because he’s trying to recreate Vader.

    … Finn’s a Manchurian Agent set up to (convolutedly, admittedly) awaken Rey

    I think the word you’re looking for here is “ghola”.

  18. I enjoyed SW7, but I agree with the holes in the story. At the same time it seems so weak that Luke would just pull a Yoda and hie off to some little backwater planet, but if Ben slaughtered Luke’s new Jedi students, and Luke felt their deaths, I can totally understand – speaking as someone who has experienced the loss; the emotion isn’t the same, but it is similar enough.

    Han and Leia’s relationship would never have been smooth, in my opinion (the novels of the Expanded Universe do that too) but I do appreciate the bringing in of the EU novel story plot elements to the movie canon (The Jacen/Ben character merging) because it was clear that the fandom wasn’t very happy that the EU was discarded wholesale. This seemed to me, as a viewer, a nice compromise.

    Abrams did okay with this, all considered, and while it’s really IMPOSSIBLE to make everyone happy, I think what he did was a good movie that would pull in new audiences (especially the younger generations) and had enough callbacks – cinematically and thematically – to give the fans of the ep 4-6 something to enjoy, while also giving the fans of the EU something. Heck, I laughed when I found out that Lucas was bitching endlessly about how popular Abrams’ SW is; which, in my opinion, means that Abrams did something right with the story, despite it’s flaws. (I mean, I was unhappy with how Sarek was NOT an emotional wreck after Amanda’s death, but I can let it slide because I can recognize the limitations of time/storytelling they had, which is why I can forgive a number of the flaws of the new SW movie.)

    I like Civilis’ Evil GM interpretation; but Abrams isn’t going to be directing the next one, IIRC. So who knows? We might get a bit more of a backgrounding. That’s ultimately a problem when you’re doing movies; you have to compromise a LOT with giving out enough info/scenes to rough out the scenario to connect it with previous events and yet move the tale forward at the same time.

    I didn’t know the novelization was out already; I’ll have to get it. Alan Dean Foster is very good with these so knowing he did the novelization of the movie really bumps it up my ‘must get’ list.

    That said, Abrams has a method of bringing in story elements (re: Star Trek) that made references to the other Star Trek series (Section 31 had lots more screentime in the post TNG series, I’m told) and other bits and pieces from the novels. I actually appreciate this and am aware that this makes me oddly a minority in that. I could see that in play with TFA, and I think he did a bit better with TFA in that regard.
    /two cents

  19. As a fan, the movie felt *right*. And the updates to the ships are visually striking. (Forget your flying cars, I want a black X-Wing!) As a growing writer, it was frustrating to see the abuse of resonances with the first trilogy and a smallness to the galaxy of a long, long time ago. I am glad that the story is moving out of J.J. Abrams’ hands.

  20. Agreed, there was a LOT of backstory missing, to the point where when I came out of seeing it the first time, I had a hard time deciding whether I enjoyed it or not. My understanding is that the novelization does a lot to fill this in. And I’ve always been good at extrapolating headcanon, so I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the Resistance is, the First Order being an obvious analog to the Imperial Remnant in the now-defunct EU, etc. Which is the part that bothered me the most – what the heck was “The Resistance”? The “Resistance”? Not “The New Republic”? Not “The Republic Fleet”? Seriously, I felt like Bugs Bunny walking around saying “Hansel? Hansel?”

    But I did enjoy the movie a lot on subsequent viewings. It’s not perfect, but it hit all the right emotional notes. I thought Han Solo’s death was necessary, and frankly I’m wondering if Leia will blame herself for sending Han out like she did. (Will she wonder if she pushed him into it using the Force?) And it was REALLY interesting, though it took a few viewings to start piecing it out, to see how closely Finn’s Hero’s Journey matched Rey’s, right up to the climactic fight at the end.

    I am optimistic for Episode VIII.

  21. I won’t rehash the negatives already raised. By BT’s scale, I give it a 4.5-5 of 10, well under Episodes 4-6, but better than 1 and 2.

    The anti-hero was unimaginative and unbelievable, but is eclipsed in the unbelievable index by our entire too perfect Mary Sue. Can The new Jedi do anything wrong? She intuits her powers, is a master mechanic, a master class pilot (in a dogfight, no less) and a master class swordsman – defeating the baddie who has been training for years.

    Luke was a whiny, petulant git who got his ass kicked all the time.

    Arguably the new face with the chops got dick for screen time and lines, too (Christie). Why hire her for the role and NOT use her?

    Boggle.

  22. What should we have expected after Return of the Jedi? As I understand it, the old canon had the New Republic, but where did it come from? Sure the Emperor and a bunch of the Imperial Fleet arge gone, but every planet is still under the control of Empire military units, and surely elements of the empire would hang on for years, possibly competing with one another in their claims as legitimate successor to Palpatine.

    TFA refers to the New Republic, but why does the film refer to the forces formerly known as the Rebel Aliance as the resistance; are they a thing separate from the navy of the New Republic?

  23. Best I’ve been able to figure, the First Order and the New Republic had a peace treaty.

    There is some stuff in the book explaining who the lady on the balcony is when the New Republic capital gets blown up – she’s an envoy sent there by Leia to try and warn them. Leia doesn’t go herself because she’s so much a pariah there she’d “suffer an accident.”

    My inference is that the Republic (who likely doesn’t believe in the force) doesn’t see the First Order (and especially the Knights of Ren) as a threat.

    It’s likely the First Order is little more than a fraction the size of the empire. Yeah, they have Starkiller base, but that would be a lot easier than a full blown Death Star, and note that we see only a single capital ship (Kylo’s) on either side.

    So, basically, (part of) the Republic is funding the Resistance quietly while publicly maintaining their peace treaty with the First Order.

    There is also a large chance that the dominant political groups in the Republic don’t have the will or stomach for more warfare. Even Mon Mothma was really anti-military and was practically itching for an excuse to reduce the military back down to the pre-clone wars levels.

  24. Lots of thoughts to respond to so this might seem pretty scattered.

    My take on Kylo’s chest beating was that he was hitting the wound for the pain. Lots of Sith in the EU and other places have derived strength and power from focusing on their pain.

    I don’t think Rey is a Kenobi. That would require Obi-Wan to have had a child sometime after bringing Luke to Tatooine. Not impossible, but very unlikely I think. I’m hoping they make her some kind of Jaina alternative. She fits the description ( has her mother’s Force ability and her father’s technical understanding ) as a lot of people here have pointed out. But even if Han and Leia don’t recognize her after many years, you’d think Leia would feel something through the Force if she was reunited with her daughter. Her being a clone is an interesting idea that could have been lifted from Timothy Zahn ( just think, Rey heard Luke’s old saber because it was calling out to its missing hand ). And yes, she can be Luke’s daughter and he abandoned her to hide her from Kylo once he flipped.

    I thought Finn’s combat prowess was explained in the novelization and extra material ( if it’s canon ), or so I’ve been told. While he was mainly a guard, I thought he was supposed to be fairly skilled at melee combat. Let’s be honest, while he may have used a lightsaber decently, it was far from polished or proficient. Rey’s adeptness can be explained as her learning quickly through the Force. Then again, you don’t see a lot of saber skill from Kylo either. If he was the whiny emo student, I can understand him being unfocused on his saber training and not caring about it as much as increasing his Force powers.

    Why is Chewie the sidekick? I thought that was because he swore a life oath to Han. With Han dead, that passes to Leia, and Leia may have asked him to go with Rey on her search for Luke.

  25. Brad,

    Thanks for this review. I think it is spot on in many ways. I think that one thing you did not credit in the characterization and portrayal of Finn is that it’s not just that he has his 1000 yard stare from his first combat experience (whether you want to term that PTSD, or some other kind of deep seated psychological wound), but from his entire upbringing in the First Order. We learn from Phasma and Hux’ exchange that Finn was forcibly taken from his family as a child and put into a “standard” conditioning program to make him a First Order Stormtrooper. His most recent non-combat job may have been in maintenance, but he has been put through not only whatever “basic” the twisted First Order runs its child recruits through, but has likely been through all sorts of desensitizing and harsh discipline. From his and Phasma’s interaction, we know that troopers aren’t even allowed to take off their helmets without permission or orders. If we think about what is done in real life to child soldiers to make them fearless, compliant, obedient and ruthless, I think we might have a young man who, even only having witnessed his first “in theater” combat, has already earned that 1000 yard stare. The heart of him as a character is that he has retained enough of his core humanity, despite training, conditioning, brain washing, propaganda and harsh discipline, to want to do and be something else, to take that opportunity and break ranks when he has the opportunity to rescue Poe, and then go from there to experience some actual emotional connections with Rey and others denied to him in his sterile, demanding, terrifying FIrst Order world. I think that we see the early “crack” in his conditioning as he tries to comfort a fallen comrade, the one that leave the bloody hand print on his helmet (a smart device to allow us to differentiate him from the anonymous hoard of troopers). A trooper should be disciplined enough to continue the mission, not get caught up with one of the fallen, the weak, the failed. But he does stop because he knows that trooper as a person, despite all his conditioning, and to see that life thrown away by the First Order, in the service of a massacre, that is the final straw that allows him to go rogue and escape to live as a human being.

    At least, that is the way that I see it.

    And I will never look at the First Order Stormtroopers the same way again. No longer faceless drones who maybe signed up for the job, they are all now just victims of a program even more ruthless than the Empire’s, which depends on the abuse of children to build its cannon fodder.

    Chilling.

    Thank you again for your thoughts and review. I found them interesting and valuable.

  26. Well . . . looks like my decision to stay home, re-read Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn Trilogy, and wait for SW7 to come out on TV was the right one. I just *knew* they were going to completely banjax whatever was left of the franchise once they jettisoned the Expanded Universe in favor of Chuck Wendig’s weebling-and-wobbling TIE fighters and Abrams’ new emo Darth Vader picking up where Lucas’ emo Darth Vader of the prequels left off.

    Sigh. OTOH, perhaps it’s just as well Abrams and Lucasfilm dispensed with the Expanded Universe; I hate to imagine what an emo Thrawn would have been like. 😛

  27. Now, I don’t think that he hated his parents at all and he may have resented his dad but mostly because he left while in mid-teen-rebellion and never got that reconcile – in-your-20s opportunity. I think that he got it in his head that the force needed a Darkside and he was destined to fill it, thus his anxiety about never being as powerful as Vader.

    My theory, and I just saw the movie today, is that Luke didn’t run away because of his failure. I think that he had visions of the future and he needed to go away until Hans died. Which is why R2 stayed asleep until Hans died. I think he knew. I think that Rey is his daughter. I think that when she found him he knew that all had come to pass.

    I think that the Supreme leader also saw the future and knew. Knew that Kylo Ren would fight and fail and would have to be rebuilt and reborn. The question will be if Hans’ unconditional love when his son killed him will plant a seed that will defeat the Supreme commander’s plans.

    Granted… I don’t pay attention and haven’t read any of the books, nor watched the cartoon, nor played the video game.

  28. That feeling… when you’ve taken so long to see a movie that no one is talking about it anymore…

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