I wanna discuss A Thing about Star Wars. If you’re not interested in Star Wars or are avoiding spoilers, move on, this is not the post you’ve been looking for.
Seriously, spoilers ARE ahead ……. I tried really hard to hide them from those who don’t wish to see, but I can’t guarantee. Please don’t sic the Force on me.
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I am skipping enough space here for you to turn back. Do it now, or I am not responsible for what you read ……..
I am trying very hard to keep you away from this ….
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A preface: I don’t read fan sites, so I have no idea how this fits into the larger conversation that is no doubt raging out there. I’m putting my flag in the sand now, before whatever plot details leak to the wider press.
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We seem to have generated enough comments about not-commenting below, so that the previews won’t show spoilers.
Do you think that’s a good enough warning for this blog entry too? Take it as a warning that there will be spoilers below. Massive, chunk blowing spoilers that will make you want to kill me if you haven’t seen the film yet.
I want to say first that the latest Star Wars film captures all of the magic and the feeling of the original Star Wars films, including episodes four through six, and that’s really saying something. I was twelve years old when A New Hope was first released in theaters, and I felt a bit like a twelve year old again watching this one. Who wouldn’t be drawn to a story about a young, no-account, and impoverished hero who discovers hidden powers and a hidden destiny just in time to rise up against a great evil that threatens to consolidate its power across the galaxy? Who wouldn’t be inspired watching a ragtag group of unlikely heroes band together to destroy a huge, moon-or-planet-sized weapon?
The beautiful thing about discussing episode four alongside episode seven is that the same plot summary works for both films.
But the film was still great, even magical.
I am such a sucker.
Here’s the Star Wars universe as we find it in episode seven: Han and Leia got married and had a son named Ben. Ben grows up to be extremely powerful in the ways of the force and is seduced by the Dark Side, which is currently embodied in a revival of the Empire called the First Order. The First Order is led by an alien named Supreme Leader Snoke. Ben now goes by the name of Kylo Ren, a dark and brooding young man who seeks to complete the work that his grandfather, Darth Vader, began.
If you’re hearing echoes of the annoying teenage Anaken Skywalker, don’t worry. Those echoes are there, as Kylo descends into occasional psychotic temper tantrums to the extent that my eight year old daughter Grace compared him to my five year old daughter Zoe, but he’s not nearly as annoying as Anaken in episodes two and three. He has a certain charisma. He was your high school crush. Han and Leia have since split up: Han has returned to his old smuggler days with Chewbacca, and Leia has become a general in the new Resistance. They still love one another, and their son, and when they meet, Leia asks Han to bring their son back home.
Prior to this meeting, a lonely young scavenger named Rey meets a runaway stormtrooper named Finn and escapes with him on the stolen Millenium Falcon. While Finn is essentially a Han Solo replacement — his key decision is to either cast in his lot with Rey and the Resistance or take off on his own — he is still a very different character within the Star Wars universe. He is a First Order defector, which creates the possibility of some unpredictability in his character arc. Rey is the new, but female, version of Luke Skywalker, and is I think the highlight of this film and the best thing about the reboot of the series. She’s been criticized for being too perfect a character, a Mary Sue in Abrams’s fan fic film. I think that’s both a little justified and a little harsh — she’s too engaging a character to reduce in this way. While there have always been female Jedi, Rey is front and center, playing the role that Luke Skywalker played in episode four. This character will inspire young girls to believe that they can fight and have powers too. She’s the next best follow-up to Queen Elsa. I see a lot of young girls getting lightsabers for Christmas.
During their escape, Finn and Rey recover the droid BB-8, who is carrying a map revealing Luke Skywalker’s location. Luke has gone missing, presumably to train new Jedi at the original Jedi temple. So yes, cue in a replacement R2-D2 with plans to the Death Star that have to be taken to the Rebel base — only this time it’s a map to Luke’s location that has to be taken to the Resistance base. In both cases, the droid is carrying something that needs to be retrieved by Leia. During their escape they meet Han and Chewie, who take charge of the Falcon again, and they all then go to a planet to meet a person who has some clue about Luke’s location. She turns out to be a wise, old, undersized alien named Maz Kanata who introduces Rey to both Luke’s old lightsaber and her destiny. Oh, she’s short, alien, has funny, yellow, wrinkly skin and bug eyes. Yes, meet the new Yoda. Normal her diction is, however.
Han, Chewie, Finn, and Rey find the Resistance base and with the section of the map provided by BB-8 (the rest a little too conveniently provided by R2-D2) they now have a complete map leading to Luke’s location. But, the First Order has a mega super big planetoid death ray star thingy that the Resistance has to blow up before it destroys their planet. Finn’s friend and X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron — if Rey is the Jedi apprentice part of Luke, Poe is the pilot part of Luke — blows it up, of course, and Rey fights Kylo Ren and wins, of course, but doesn’t kill him, of course, otherwise what would we do in the next two films?
Han Solo confronts his son, who acts like he wants to return home, says he’s too far gone to do so (see Satan in Book IV of Paradise Lost), and then kills his father with a stab through the chest. Han, in a final gesture, lays a loving hand against his son’s face before he falls. Leia feels his death — remember she’s force sensitive too — and grieves. So does Rey, who had found in Han the father she never had. So the death planet is blown up and, ironically, turns into a star when it does so, and Rey finds Luke at the very end, offering him his old lightsaber back, which she was told she was destined to carry.
So yes, you’ve seen this all before. But it’s still so freaking good I want to see it again tomorrow.
I’m actually not at all complaining about this first film. While it was essentially a remake of episode four using Anaken’s character from episodes two and three as the villain, it works. Maybe I’m a massive sucker, but I think it works.
I am worried that J.J. Abrams’s handling of remakes might influence the development of next two films; even though Rian Johnson is writing and directing the next one, Abrams is still an Executive Producer for Episode 8. It would be far, far too easy for Kylo Ren to follow the Darth Vader character arc here, turning back to the light side of the force to finally defeat the First Order. Ren will wind up being either his twin sister or his cousin, in which case she would be Luke’s, rather than Leia’s, daughter. Given what Abrams did with his Star Trek remakes, especially his remake of The Wrath of Khan in Into Darkness, I don’t completely trust him to avoid making two more remakes that essentially retell episodes V and VI too. I hope he deviates more than he has previously in the next two Star Wars films, and to his credit, Abrams is aware of these mistakes and is actively trying to avoid them this time around:
For example, I didn’t want to enter into making a movie where we didn’t really own our story. I feel like I’ve done that a couple of times in my career. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my work, but the fact is I remember starting to shoot Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness and feeling like I hadn’t really solved some fundamental story problems.
I do want Ren to turn back to the light side, but something else needs to culminate the trilogy. That event won’t work as a climax this time because we’ll all see it coming, just like Kirk’s death scene didn’t work in Into Darkness because it was a modified repetition of the same scene in The Wrath of Khan.
The franchise producers really need to get this point to keep from screwing up the next two installments of the new Star Wars trilogy. Spock’s death in The Wrath of Khan was a very unexpected end, in 1982, to a character that we had loved since 1966. Abrams’s repetition of Spock’s death scene in Into Darkness couldn’t hope to carry the gravitas that it did in the original version. His inversion of the characters — so that it was Kirk’s death scene rather than Spock’s — reduced what should have been a moving, dramatic moment to kitsch. We knew that Kirk wouldn’t die in Into Darkness, or at least wouldn’t stay dead, because this reboot of the franchise was too young. When Spock’s character died in 1982, though, it felt like the end of an era, like we had lost an old and beloved friend. We didn’t know at the time that he would be brought back.
If the people guiding the franchise have Kylo Ren follow the Darth Vader story arc in the most predictable way possible, they will be repeating Abrams’s past mistakes. The Force Awakens did have its surprises and its drama, so there is hope. I didn’t see Han’s death coming, and since he was the figure who really brought the new characters into the same universe with the older films, it meant quite a bit. Han’s death carried the weight and feeling that Spock’s death did in The Wrath of Khan. Rian Johnson has the opportunity to create something very different. If he repeats Abrams’s mistakes in Into Darkness, though, he will have missed a golden opportunity.
 A new one, even?