How do I describe the genius of this film? With a buttload of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the Force Awakens, two things: 1. What?!?!?! 2. Don’t read this if you don’t want to know.
Part of me wants to react to the criticisms I have read/heard. The other part of me wants to just focus on the facts and speculate on what they mean. Dammit, let’s do both!
This movie is NOT A New Hope made over. That seems to be the loudest criticism and it’s off base. Yes, it starts on a desert planet. Yes it includes a droid carrying a secret. Yes, Kylo Ren looks like a hipster Darth Vader (more on that in a minute). Yep, the bad guys have built a weapon of ultra mega super mass destruction. Sure, it includes a stormtrooper defecting from a group that is the equivalent of a Neo Nazi version of the Empire. Yes, the female hero of the story spends the entire movie complaining about getting back to her boring existence on a backwater world. Yes, the new heroes are guided by a grizzled old vet of a massive war from decades before who didn’t even believe the Force existed most of his life. Yep, there is a Force sensitive small creature that runs a pub for vagrants in a centuries old castle on a world of lakes and greenery… Oh wait, most of that is nothing like A New Hope.
There is much more that is different. Like, that time when our heroes were surrounded by stormtroopers and a squadron of X Wings came blazing across a lake and tear it up! A Force vision brought on by touching an important relic. A “sibling” rivalry at the highest level of the First Order.
The second most frequent criticism I have heard/read is some version of “Rey is a Mary Sue.” How did she know how to do a mind trick? How could she use the Force to grab a saber when a clearly more Forced trained badass is trying to do the same? How does she fight back from a Force user’s mind probe? How does she then kick his ass in one of the best lightsaber fights in all of the films?
This criticism is dumb, even when presented by smart people. These questions are entirely the point of the film… To set us all up for two more movies that answer the questions. I mean, how did Luke Skywalker use the Force to guide proton torpedoes after about 27 minutes of training with Obi Wan? Because his dad was the most Force sensitive being in the history of the Universe. Something we didn’t know explicitly in a film until 1999 (the Force sensitive part, we knew the father part in 1980).
Is Rey Luke’s daughter? Seems like it, which means probably not. Is Rey a Kenobi? Completely unlikely, so maybe so. Is Rey a Solo? Seems like a guy who knows he will likely be killed by his son but tries to redeem him anyway might tell his daughter that, well… she is his daughter. Or that her mother, after losing her husband at the hands of their son, might tell her shortly thereafter. None of that happened, so probably?
In other words, we have no clue what’s coming next. If I were to guess, I’d expect that the Kung Fu: The Legend Continues style ending is visual storytelling where folks expected verbal recognition. Rey is the child of Luke Skywalker. And really, visual storytelling is happening in many more places in this film. For instance, I think we know who Rey’s mother is. Rey was wearing her helmet. Her name is Dosmit Raeh. She was a pilot in the Rebellion. This info comes from The Force Awakens: Visual Dictionary. How did she and Luke get together? Do they have other little badasses roaming on backwater worlds in hiding? Did Luke’s New Jedi Order not frown on attachment or did he pull an Anakin? No idea, and I love it.
I could be completely wrong on both counts about Rey’s parentage. But… We don’t know and I love it!
As for Starkiller Base and it’s alleged similarities to the Death Star… That’s entirely the point, just as Kylo Ren’s hipster Darth Vader is entirely the point (a fact my friend Nathan can tell you I guessed way back when we saw the first trailer, Kylo Ren as Vader fanboi, I mean. Not as Vader Grandson, though that makes a lot of sense in the narrative). Imagine post WWII Nazis regrouping in South America. Now, those guys decide that the fatal flaw in their plan to bring order to the world was that Hitler didn’t push hard enough. Translate that to Star Wars… You have the First Order, dedicated to succeeding where their heroes failed.
Quick segue, another criticism I have read and heard is the “Darth Vader’s Grandson?!?!? SO LAME!” Star Wars, the Saga, is the SKYWALKER SAGA. That’s why. It’s not the Solo Saga. It’s not the Kenobi Saga. It’s not the Yoda Saga… those characters all play hugely important parts in the overarching story, but the Saga is about the Skywalker family. It will continue to be about the Skywalker clan.
This brings us to Kylo Ren and Snoke, Supreme Leader of the First Order.
Kylo Ren is the most complex villain the Star Wars franchise has ever had. He is conflicted. He is emotional. He is unpredictable. He is a new piece of a triangular die that I thought was a coin before this movie. He is not a retread of Anakin Skywalker, he is a bizzaro verison of Luke Skywalker… Remember ESB and RotJ were all about Luke fighting a tug towards the Darkside. He faced countless situations that resembled what we later saw his father face. Where Anakin stumbled, seemingly unaware to the dark path, Luke chose the light. Now we have the next generation of Skywalker and he isn’t stumbling toward the dark path… He is choosing it! He is both Vader and Luke and something completely different. And he is choosing to follow the dark teacher, unlike his Grandpa, who was manipulated into following a dark teacher. It’s a huge difference and not really that subtle. The fact that he is Vader’s Grandson gives his character more weight than some random fanboi in a costume. A lot more weight.
Who the Hell is Snoke? No idea, but I expect that he is from beyond the Outer Rim. In the books Aftermath and Lost Stars, it is explained that a year after Return of the Jedi a final, desperate battle was waged over Jakku (thus the crashed Star Destroyer and Super Star Destroyer amongst various TIE Fighters and X Wings) in which the Rebellion defeated the last vestiges of the Empire, decisively. Some portion of those Imperials stayed in the known universe and signed on to the Galactic Concordance while others fled to the “Unknown Regions.” It’s also explained that the Unknown Regions had been partially explored by Palpatine, exclusively to find the source of Darkside power he felt came from that part of the Galaxy.
Now, why is this all in books and not in films? Because… Prequels. Treaties, politics, etc. They suck in the Star Wars Universe, at least as more than peripheral plot points in films.
Anyway, it’s my belief that Snoke, the Unknown Region, and that Darkside power are all related. Add the Imperial remnants and you get the genesis of the First Order. Those remnants don’t really think the Empire ever ended, not in their heart of hearts. They see Snoke as the new Emperor. They don’t follow him for the reasons Kylo Ren does. They are not religious zealots drawn to a dark cult and I have a feeling that this split will be the undoing of the First Order… Think of it like the pro business, libertarian type that aligns with the ultra religious, anti civil liberty type to win votes. They aren’t really natural allies but they share a common enemy so they agree to be cool with each other.
To wrap this up, where is this new trilogy headed? The short answer is “I don’t know but I think it’s going to be awesome.” The longer answer is “It’s going to answer the big questions but leave enough mystery for Episode 10-12 to answer.”
Big questions? There are many, but here are a few I’d expect to be answered: How did Snoke turn Kylo Ren and can Ben Solo be redeemed? How will the tension between Ren and General Hux, representing the two unnatural allies with a common enemy, unfold and what will the ramifications be? Who is Rey and how does she relate to the Skywalker legacy? Will Luke Skywalker attempt to rebuild the Jedi a second time? What actually happened to his first attempt when Ben Solo turned and was Rey already being trained? What is the state of Galactic Politics now that the First Order has suffered a crushing defeat? What fills the vacuum left by the instantaneous incineration of the Republic Senate (I’m rooting for Chancellor Calrissian)? Can we see some damn space battles, please?
I can’t wait to find out.