(Archive) Movie Monday: The Force Awakens
“I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is… it’s true. The Force. The Jedi… All of it… It’s all true.” -Han Solo
With the full version of the Last Jedi trailer released, I think it's time to dip into the archive and look back at my break down of The Force Awakens. It's been through quite the rollercoaster of acceptance. People loved it when it came out, but soon that appreciation degraded for some strange reason. You can Google "The prequels are better than Force Awakens" and find plenty of wrong opinions right now.
How did we get here? Well time to set the record straight. (Again) There are spoilers, of course, but you’ve heard them all by now, and maybe you are here to see if I am going to say anything that hasn’t already been said. (Ron Howard Narrating: He didn’t)
First, let me reference some things that actually have already been said. If you have the time, this video is totally worth checking out and brings out a lot of the magic of Star Wars in general.
Okay Monday morning movie writers, what if you suddenly had to write the next movie in a gigantic franchise? You had to create the next…well, Star Wars. I tried to think of something as daunting, but there are few franchises that have the cultural impact this has. It would be one hell of a task trying to make something new, honor what’s old, not be the prequels, and make hardcore and casual fans happy, all while bringing in new ones. At least the fan base is a fairly reasonable bunch.
Ron Howard: They weren’t
Agree or disagree with me; The Force Awakens does all these things pretty damn well. And freeze me in carbonite all you want, Kylo Ren is a more complicated, deep, and well-written character than Darth Vader. Said it. Don’t care. The story is about the characters more than the plot.
Let’s look at Star Wars in general here for a moment. What’s so special about it? It’s not a groundbreaking story at its core by any means. A destined hero of sorts, a wise counselor, companions that help in the journey, an impossible task, a love interest (luckily avoided), a coming of age theme, a tempting darkness, and a progression through the character’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s called the Hero’s Journey. It’s a type of narrative told over and over, and we absolutely love it, so it just keeps on being told. If you think The Force Awakens is too much like the original, then I have bad news for you…the original is too much like a ton of other things.
Star Wars does something special with that narrative, though. There’s wonder in it and the spark of imagination that brings out something small yet fantastic in so many people. The inner kid. The one that thinks that cardboard box the couch was shipped in is the cockpit of an X-Wing. The same kid that now believes that they can go to the stars to fight evil back with nothing more than the power of their own minds…and their friggin awesome lightsabers. And that kid is there in all of us, somewhere down in the depths past the noise of due dates, schedules, work, commitments, meetings, customers, and that damn neighbor who’s dog somehow always has to poop right in front of the house. That kid needs to escape sometimes and remind us there are beautiful things to our own imaginations. Story can be that link between that kid and us. Star Wars is the perfect prescription.
The Force Awakens specifically does this is some solid ways, while placing in a layer of something more than just the basic Star Wars fanfare. Yes, it is very similar to A New Hope, and this is done on purpose, and if you don’t like that personally, then I actually get it. It completely makes sense to want something fresher, and here’s to hoping it really does start going its own way as the series continues. Let’s take a look at a couple of things you may have missed, though, because I hope you don’t dismiss what the story does just because of the similarities.
Let’s start with Rey (Daisy Ridley) because she’s badass and that’s always a good place to start. From the very first trailer, the question was, who is she? Where does she come from? Is she a Skywalker? Solo? A Kenobi!? Is she somehow a Kenobi?? Please let this last one be true. Then have a movie with Ewan McGregor (one of the very few things that worked in the prequels) to link some things together. I digress.
The point is, there’s mystery. Mystery that doesn’t lose new viewers, but utilizes current fans knowledge to make conjectures at the same time. That’s perfect! Even better, that mystery isn’t answered in some lame throwaway dialogue. Even better still, that mystery is still a mystery. Immediately, there’s more I care about for her than I do for Luke (Mark Hamill) in A New Hope. Now, it turns out of course that Luke is Vader’s son, and that twist might be the most iconic pop culture movie moment in history, and for good reason. But, it’s out of nowhere, and it’s not like there was some dissection into who Luke was the way the internet is examining who Rey is.
Luke, also, is begrudgingly brought into his coming of age story where Rey doesn’t need handholding to take care of herself. Not to say Luke is inept, but she doesn’t whine her way through most of the movie. I don’t mean to just compare the two characters either, but it’s point of reference. There’s something to Rey that keeps us wondering and invested.
Cut to the scene where we first see her go back home after a day of scavenging. She lives in a hollowed out AT-AT, a relic from the Civil War we saw in the original series. She brings out an old X-Wing pilot helmet that she found and puts it on, lost in her own imagination. There’s no dialogue here. There’s no need. At that moment, she’s us, and we are her, living in the ruin of a past series that is made anew, wishing we could relive those days of what the original Star Wars meant to us. Incidentally, here we are doing just that. Character developed through just visual storytelling. It’s a story moment we feel because we have an emotional connection to what the character is doing based on our own love of a franchise, all while not breaking the fourth wall to do so. Not a cheap moment of nostalgia, but true understanding through such a simple action.
The Force Awakens utilizes the wise counselor archetype, just as the originals did. This time, it comes in the form of a character we already know. A character who was a completely different role in the originals. A character we saw grow, and we cherished. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) still has his brash, on the fly approach to how he handles things, but with a new undertone of understanding as he does it. He knows what he’s good at and he keeps with it. He connects the old and new in this movie and isn’t just a cameo for fan’s sakes. He plays an important role that makes us remember what we loved about the characterization of the originals while playing to the strengths of new characters we are just getting to know. When Han is killed by Kylo Ren, it’s a moment we saw coming, and it did nothing to lessen the impact of childhoods getting stabbed in theaters across the country. But more on that in a second.
The new villain also builds on what has come before. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a daunting presence when masked and cloaked. He stops a blaster bolt with the Force in mid-flight and holds it there until he has no more need of being kick-ass. This happens in the first minute or so of seeing him on screen. Instant character impression.
The mask, we learn, does come off, though, and isn’t there for any kind of physical need like Vader’s was. Under it, there is a young and completely unexpected face for what that mask represents. And that’s just the thing. That juxtaposition is who the character is on deeper levels. He is a character in constant conflict dealing with the seduction of…the light side? It flips the same old dark side versus light side arch. He want’s to be something he isn’t. That call back to a true, good self is at odds with his need to have the power he wants, so that he can be this imagined ideal for himself. When he kills Han, his father as it turns out, it’s so that he can keep falling to what he wishes he could be. This makes me so much more invested in his character then the old archetype, he’s pretty awesomely evil but still, you know, just evil. I care about his character, I care about his choices. That’s good characterization folks.
There’s Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) and many more that add to the collection of great characters that I could go on and on about, but I have to cut corners somewhere, or we will be here forever. There’s instant chemistry between these two, though, and mostly anyone who comes in contact with them. The characters drive this story. The characters are what drove the original story. The characters are what ruined the prequels. It’s about that connection. It’s about being able to be the kid inside you and realize that there’s still something wonderful in the galaxy that your own mind needs to open up.
It’s storytelling that perpetuates more storytelling.
There will probably be more articles and The Brothers Geek episodes on Star Wars as we approach December, so be on the lookout for more soon!