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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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WARNING: contains major spoilers.

That was amazing.

Sure, The Force Awakens isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There are big plot holes and things that Just Don’t Make Sense if you think about them too hard, some clunky lines, and attempts at fancy directing that are just distracting. But somehow, the movie gets away with all of it. It has an epic feel, with thrilling battles and great characters, and once it gets moving, you’re too swept up in all the fun of the action to really notice any of its flaws.

You might come out of the movie and go “wait, why would Luke ever make a map to where he was hiding??”, but as long as you’re willing to roll with it for as long as the movie is playing, that doesn’t really matter. The logic of the story isn’t as important as how it feels to the audience, and The Force Awakens is one of the most heart-swelling-ly awesome movies I’ve ever seen.

The Force Awakens follows the formula of A New Hope, from the plot-sparking droid to the death of the protagonist’s mentor to the giant laser-beam station that will destroy everything unless our heroes can hit one little part of it and make it explode. That might feel a little derivative to some people, but it’s also one of the reasons why the movie is successful. A New Hope is excellently plotted, to the point that many writers use it to understand how a good story is structured. It quickly draws the viewer into the action, gets them emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships, and delivers on all its promises for danger and dramatics. And this familiar story structure, more than the familiar characters and throwback references, is what makes The Forces Awakens really feel like a worthy Star Wars movie.

Throughout, The Force Awakens finds a great balance between the familiar and unfamiliar. A little hand-waving allows the movie to recreate the Empire and the Rebellion under different names, and all the familiar trappings of giant ships and lightsabers and Stormtroopers are there. It also sticks to the series’ thematic roots, with a villain tied to our protagonists, and a reluctant hero motivated by family who turns out to be a Jedi. And of course we have the reappearance of characters like Han, Chewie and Leia, and the significant use of the Millennium Falcon. But The Force Awakens doesn’t stay stuck in the familiar. It uses the past as a foundation to build a new story, one that feels like Star Wars, but with new characters and new stories to explore. It’s Rey living inside the fallen shell of an AT-AT — the original trilogy is there, but it’s not the main focus any more.

The movie is a new beginning for the franchise, but it’s also a clear transition, with the old characters handing the mantle on to the new. So we see Han Solo first being impatient with Rey, then offering her a job. We see Rey respecting him, then wanting to see him as a father figure, then dealing with his death, before she seats herself next in Chewie, in the pilot seat of the Millennium Falcon, ready to carry on the adventure herself.

And that, sadly, is one of the reasons why Han’s death really works. It worked so well, in fact, that it was fairly obvious what was going to happen as soon as Han stepped onto that bridge. It was the “mentor death,” as I already mentioned, with Han easing both the characters and the viewers into this new incarnation of the story before stepping aside. It also helps the audience to really hate Kylo Ren and feel like he poses a serious and personal threat — an important thing if he’s going to stand a chance of measuring up to Darth Vader. And it allowed us to see the battle between good and evil still raging inside him. He hasn’t been redeemed yet, because it’s only the first movie, and he’s taken a decisive step toward evil now, but you know the third movie will have him redemption, which can now feel complicated and hard-earned.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Feminist Fiction review without mentioning the new diversity of this Star Wars world. Race representation in media is a really complicated issue, especially when you’re dealing with Good vs Evil and alien races and all that jazz, and I’m supremely unqualified to comment on it, so I’m going to leave that analysis for people far smarter and more articulate than I am, except to say that the movie has multiple non-white characters, and that in itself is a huge step forward.

But I am going to talk about the new presence of female characters in the world. We got to see a female hero wielding a lightsaber! Of all the things that made me giddy like a five year old in this movie, I think, subconsciously, that fact was one of the biggest. And it wasn’t just Leia and Rey. There were enough speaking female characters that I was able to forget some of their names. They were fighter pilots and heroes and villains and potential future Jedi and members of the Resistance and generally interesting and there, and it was amazing.

They even got to have significant relationships with one another. Sadly, the relationship between Leia and Rey isn’t as developed as I would have liked here, but it has huge potential for the future. If the series keeps the old characters around — and I assume it will, with the signficant introduction of Luke at the end — then I really, really hope it takes the time to let Leia and Rey talk more to one another, strategize together, and learn from one another. Please, please, please. There is so much potential there, especially as Han’s death is going to be one of the motivating forces as Rey and Leia fight Kylo Ren and the First Order. Whether it turns out that Rey is Han and Leia’s child, or Luke’s daughter, or just some random person unrelated to anybody (unlikely, given this series’ preoccupation with family), I really want to see them take this opportunity for character development. The series has so much fantastic material to work with.

And now I guess it is time for me to abandon all pretence of articulateness and talk about Rey. Oh my god, Rey. Rey! How can I possibly write about Rey? All my thoughts are just melting together into mindless squee. Little girls are going to grow up wanting to be Rey. I want to grow up and be Rey. She’s a fantastic protagonist. Resourceful, brave, intelligent, and all-around brilliant, with some fantastic moments of badassery. I absolutely fell in love with her. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about her later, once I’ve seen the movie a couple more times and can figure out my thoughts. Right now, all I have is, “Eeeeee!”

Finn is a great protagonist too. While Rey breathes new life into familiar Star Wars tropes, Finn provides us with an entirely new perspective, and the “rebellious Stormtrooper” narrative adds depth to the series’ morality. Unfortunately, it also creates a problem. Through Finn, we learn that Stormtroopers are kidnapped and brainwashed, and that at least some of them would choose another path if they had the chance. So now every time our heroes kill Stormtroopers on a massive scale, it’s sad to watch. They’re not really all evil! We have to give them a chance!

But then, we don’t know what the new instalments will bring. Perhaps the Stormtroopers will continue to be disposable enemies. Or perhaps Finn and Kylo Ren mean that the story will explore how people are manipulated or forced into evil, and how perhaps un-brainwashing the Stormtroopers is a worthwhile mission. We can only wait and see.

Either way, simply noticing the deaths of Stormtroopers is part of a greater change that JJ Abrams brought to the series, although it’s one I’ve been struggling to find a word for. All I’ve got is that it feels grounded, like it has actual weight. Not just in a “it doesn’t feel like 100% CGI” way, but in a way that it felt real, from the dust and dirt that gathers on the characters as they fight, to the angry, terrified tears in Rey’s eyes as she faces Kylo Ren for the first time.

All details that made the movie feel realer, somehow. And that’s what really matters here. The Force Awakens is an experience. It’s the bouncy, giddy feeling I felt as the cinema lights came up and that hasn’t left me since. It’s that need to talk and talk about it — and whisper when other people are in earshot on the street, because Han Solo’s death is a secret that must be kept safe. It’s laughing and aww-ing over how damn human they managed to make BB-8 feel, and wanting to freaking cheer when Han and Chewie stepped into the Falcon for the first time instead of the Stormtroopers we were expecting. It’s the feeling that you’ve just been on a crazy adventure, and you can’t wait to meet up with those friends and adventure with them again.

On that basis, the movie was absolutely fantastic, and May 2017 can’t come quickly enough.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

29 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  1. I was soooooo happy with all of the female extras! Just “oh hey, some of those operators on the Star Destroyer are women!” “Oh hey, some of those x-wing pilots are women!” Just…..yay! It’s a major sci-fi film with realistic gender distribution!

      1. Third viewing bonus! There’s even a female stormtrooper! It’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but at one point a random stormtrooper answers a question and it’s a woman’s voice!

  2. Regarding the stormtroopers. In the Clone War the jedi used clones who never had the chance to chose their own lives, They were even genetically modified to become more obedient than normal humans. Still they were thinking human beings who could think creatively, far superior to droids, according to the cloners. But noone seems to have given a second thought as to if it was unethical, at least not in the movies.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting! I’m sadly not very well-informed on my Star Wars lore. I always imagined the clones as drone-like beings, even though obviously that’s not what “clones” means. I really hope they explore this more, even if it does really complicate the morality of our Good Guys fighting them.

      1. In the new rebels series they’ve covered a bit of that being unethical and some of the fallout for what was done. They also covered an interesting angle of how they were forced into doing the bidding of the Dark side. The last episode I watched has some former clone troopers talking about having removed the chips in their head, explaining how they all obeyed the order of slaughter against those they had formerly worked with.

  3. I love the diversity in this movie. It´s everywhere: in the Resistance and in the New Order; Also every new character was so sympathetic: from Finn to Poe to Kylo Ren, and of course, Rey who is amazing and I hope she is Luke´s daughter.
    The only thing that I dislike was Leia not be a Jedi or start to fight with a blaster. I know Female Characters dont have to be “bad ass” so they can be well-written characters but fight is a character trait for Leia. And also it broke my heart that we couldn´t have a reunion of the original trio.
    But this movie is definetely in the perfect direction.

    1. I didn’t think much about Leia being a Jedi when watching the movie (does she become one in the Extended Universe? I’m not sure), but I definitely felt like it was a missed opportunity when I read other people’s thoughts on it afterwards. I mean, her being force sensitive is a major part of the plot, with Kylo Ren and possibly Rey… did she really not care to explore that at all?

      At the very least, I demand stories that cover the gap between the trilogies to explore all of this!

      1. Yes, Leia was a jedi in the EU. So was her daughter Jaina. And of course Luke’s wife Mara Jade.

        I seriously tried to like TFA, but I couldn’t and the biggest reason is that they erased all of Leia’s developtment.

        I know, people are sick of us old fans complaining that the EU was erased, but we read those books for years or even decades, and while some of them were shit, some were really good and we got some awesome female characters, who were all erased by Disney.

        I can’t help comparing the EU’s Leia Organa-Solo, president of the New Republik, Jedi, wife and loving mother of 3 childrend to TFA’s Leia Organa, who gave up on her own son, her family, and is now reliving her teenage years by being part of yet another rebellion.

        And we had to give up Mara and Jaina and Tenel-Ka and Tahiri and Winter and all of the other great female characters from the EU for this?!
        I’m sorry, but if Disney couldn’t come up with sth at least equally good, they had no right to cancel the EU.
        Daisy Ridley is a great actress, but Rey is not a good enough reason that they erased Leia’s daughter Jaina Solo. The least Disney could do is finally release the Jaina trilogy “Sword of the Jedi”, that was announced but never published because we can’t have fans confuse Jaina with Rey *eyeroll*

  4. Another great thing about Rey, besides everything you mentioned, is that she shows how a “badass” female character doesn’t have to be snarky all the time – she is kind and compassionate, and it works very well. And speaking of female relationships, the scene where Maz Kanata was telling Rey about Luke’s lightsaber reminded me of Yoda and Luke. It’s amazing how closely the story structure mirrors A New Hope (with women taking some of the previously male roles), and how well it works.

    In terms of female extras, I felt we were a bit far from 50/50, but we are so used to seeing a very skewed gender distribution that whenever we see some women in the background, it looks like they are a lot. I thought the absence of background women was noticeable in some groups, such as among the two gangs that come for Han in the beginning, and also some scenes at the Resistance. But overall the improvement is amazing and the female character we did get were great.

    A few points didn’t make sense, but everything else was so good that it was barely noticeable. At this stage I am mostly missing Kylo Ren’s backstory. Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side was well justified and relatable, but it seems like Kylo Ren went though none of his grandfather’s experiences and simply wanted to be like Darth Vader when he grows up. I’m curious what they will do there since if that’s his only motivation, it will be difficult to redeem him. The other thing I’m worried about is Finn’s desertion. It’s hard to believe he is the only stormtrooper who feels doubt and regret, but then what is happening to the others? They are just getting killed by the hundreds by the good guys, and we’ll likely never hear their stories.

    Overall, can’t wait for the next one!

    1. I didn’t notice the Maz/Yoda parallels, but that’s a really good point. I kind of loved how closely it echoed A New Hope (and Empire Strikes Back a little bit), simply it has a really strong feel of “This is the real, serious sequel, about the real, serious next galaxy-saving Jedi, and yup, she’s a girl, deal with it.”

      I did notice that the number of female characters was often the movie world’s idea of an equal split, which is far from an actual even split… but so much better than “literally everyone is a guy.” I was also bothered slightly that we had a couple of scenes where female characters spoke to one another, but they were majorly outweighed by the scenes where it was all male characters or one guy and one girl. Leia didn’t even say a word to Rey until almost the final scene! They clearly tried, at least, and hopefully they’ll continue to improve. I’m putting a lot of hope in big Rey and Leia scenes in the next one.

    2. “Another great thing about Rey, besides everything you mentioned, is that she shows how a “badass” female character doesn’t have to be snarky all the time – she is kind and compassionate, and it works very well.”

      YES! One of the things I loved was the way she completely broke down when Han died and Finn almost died. It was heartbreaking to watch, but that’s what makes it so amazing, because so often tough, competent women are only “allowed” if they’re stoic and unemotional. Rey cries unabashedly, and I love her for this as much as I love her for kicking ass without any man’s help.

      1. I think I missed this! I must have been too distracted by what happened to Han to be paying attention to the screen. Must rewatch. Cos you’re right, that is fantastic. God, I love Rey.

      2. Agreed. It reminded me much of Katniss from the recent/final Hunger Games movie toward the end, when she’s allowed to just let her emotions out in all their raw, ugly intensity. This has been a good holiday season for female protagonists in movies.

  5. I´m gonna stick out and say this is the best Star Wars movie so far.

    I know that´s blasfemi, but though I enjoyed the original trilogy, I wasn´t amazed by it, and I still find it hard to understand the “cult” surrounding it.

    This new movie isn´t perfect either, but it´s darker (despite the humor), more complex, has more interesting characters, more female characters and more diversity. This wouldn´t have helped much if the plot had been crap, but though it has its flaws, it is at least as good as in the original trilogy. Maybe the plot is slightley better in Empire Strikes Back, but that´s all.

    And Rey is a great heroine. She shows a perfect balance between strengh and vulnerability, she is good hearted but no saint, she can be badass etc.

    I have some doubts about the guy portraying Kylo Ren. He looks more like an evil stereotype than Han´s and Leia´s son, and I wasn´t that impressed by his acting. Best in the movie was Rey, Finn and Han Solo.

    1. Blasphemy! Burn!
      Just kidding, it’s fine, people are going to be arguing about “which one is the best” for ages. I don’t really know yet. It was a bit too much like a rehash of New Hope, you could predict every plot point by just remembering what happened in that one. Other than that… Well. It was quite good.
      I think that the old trilogy gets cult following because it was a big influence on a lot of people (myself included) when we were growing up. My parents were obsessed with it and they passed the torch to me. And it had a special kind of, I don’t know, innocence? A world which, despite all the evil in it, was just pure in some way. A fairytale a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
      I’d agree on the new movie being noticeably darker. And I love it.

      Rey… oh Rey, let me adore you. I want to be a child again just so I can dream of being like you.

      Kylo Ren was honestly one of the best parts of the movie for me. I can understand him and relate to him (who doesn’t relate to feeling inadequate, at least at some point in their lives?), he is much more human than previous Star Wars villains (and not named Darth Bad Guy for a change), and I was fine with Adam Driver’s acting. But he seems to be very polarizing – people either love him or dislike him, with not much middle ground. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out.

      1. Yeah, I don’t know where I would rank them… I’d say The Force Awakens is as good as A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and it definitely lacks that pureness of A New Hope that you mentioned, although whether that’s better or worse is really debatable. I really liked the darkness, though. But I’m probably not the normal overexcited nerd on this one, since I only remember seeing Return of the Jedi once as a kid (I was scared of all the loud noises, haha) and didn’t really getting fully immersed in it all until I was 18 and my Star Wars obsessed friend forced me to watch them with her. One movie per evening. I could barely even wait the 24 hours between ESB and ROTJ, since I was totally unspoiled about what happened to Han. But it was definitely a different nerdy experience from growing up with them or seeing them as they were released.

        Kylo Ren was interesting… I can’t decide whether I like him or lot. I really like his backstory and moral struggle, at least what we’ve seen of it so far, and it’s interesting to see a raging villain rather than one who is emotionlessly evil. But I’m not sure the actor sold it completely.

        1. As I said, I love Kylo and think that the actor was just fine, although I have to admit that I was a bit shocked when he took off his helmet. He just looks so young! Took me a while to absorb that, then I started to really enjoy his performance. Okay, honestly, I might have developed a little obsession with Kylo Ren *embarrassed head scratching* so I probably shouldn’t be discussing him. I’m quite biased already as it is ^^

          Heh, it’s always so strange for me to see people who weren’t obsessed with Star Wars when they were children (usually because of their parents). I was doing a rewatch of the entire old trilogy every month or so between ages 7 and 11. I used to play pretend with my dad – he was Darth Vader, I was Luke (or rather I was jedi!Leia – we pretended that Luke was raised as a prince and Leia was with Lars and Beru Owen, just so I could be a girl jedi. Otherwise the story was unchanged. Another reason why representation matters), and we were having epic lightsaber duels. So much fun.

          1. I was shocked when he took the helmet off too, but I thought that really worked, especially since I think the actor doesn’t always look that young? It was a real punch to the gut that this awful villain just looked like a kid. Definitely makes him interesting.

            Haha, my dad is Star Wars-obsessed, so he TRIED to give me the childhood Star Wars experience. Younger!me just stubbornly thought she didn’t like scifi. God knows why. Thankfully I saw the light eventually!

  6. I love Rey and Fin too! They were so great together, and I love the girl being badass while the guy being an incompetent (at first) reluctant hero! Also, a female Jedi!! AT LAST!!!

    I agree with everything you said about Rey hopefully developing a relationship with Leia and Luke. It’s only the first movie so there’s still time! Personally, I’m on Team Luke’s Daughter because the parallels between them are just too obvious.

    1. I keep changing my mind. First, I love the Luke’s daughter idea because of the parallels there. Then I love the Han and Leia’s daughter idea because she can be a foil to Kylo Ren, and I really really want to see that relationship with Leia. But then she’ll have that mirroring and that relationship with Leia anyway, and the Luke thing is so interesting…

      So now it’ll probably turn out that the writers are trolling us and she’s actually Boba Fett’s daughter or something.

          1. I hope she´s Luke´s daughter. Then Leia will be her aunt, and in any case they can develop a great relationship.

            But a twist would be kinda fun, and I´m happy as long as she´s not Jar Jar Bink´s daughter or something like that 😀

  7. I’d be more enthused about Rey having scenes with Leia in the future if not for the fact that I thought Carrie Fisher was kind of bad in this one. I feel a bit bad for saying this, given how she’s had a hard time for much of the period after the Original Trilogy, but she pretty much wrecked her voice, which I thought was flat and lacking in any affect.

    Regardless, on the level of characterization, Rey is a great success, and the actress is terrific (and has good chemistry with all her various scene partners). I’m not really sure about the new series’ take on the Force, which seems to make Rey almost instantly good at anything she tries — it didn’t work like that before, from what I recall. It may be a bit of a cheat to get her to the competency level she needed to be at to be the protagonist in the first movie.

    1. At first I wasn´t that impressed by Fisher´s perfomance either, but soon she kind of grew in to it. I thought she and Ford did have some chemistry, though it wasn´t perfect, but it was okay. Partially built on nostalgia yes, but it worked for me. I´m glad they included all of the old guys (the trio), even if Fisher and Hamill never have been excellent actors (they weren´t in the original trilogy either).

      Star Wars has never been known for it´s great acting perfomances, but Harrison Ford and wonderful newcomer Daisy Ridley sticks out.

    2. I wasn’t sure about Carrie Fisher either, but I’m not sure if it’s more because she didn’t have a great deal to do. She spent most of the film greeting people and receiving news. The scenes with Han were her main bit and I thought those were okay. A little awkward, not really in love, but with a huge amount of love and affection for each other, and a mutual understanding of each others’ pain. Perhaps I’m being charitable in reading the awkward chemistry between Fisher and Ford as something deliberate to show Leia and Han’s current relationship.

      Han’s death, though easy to see coming, was extremely well done, and I really appreciated the emotions you could feel coming from him. The fatherly love and tenderness in his dying gesture was something you don’t get with a lot of fictional fathers and he’s a long way from the infamous “I know” non-response!

      And this discussion is on a different comment string but I thought Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, while looking surprising (his youth was a deliberate shock, I think) and delivering his lines somewhat oddly, is otherwise excellent. They weren’t afraid to linger shots on his face and let him emote the inner conflict he’s got going on without any dialogue at all. There was very little telling over showing and it’s a new dimension on the good versus evil. (Also it’s the evil son rather than the evil father this time, aha. Those poor Skywalkers.)

      1. I would disagree about it being “far away from the infamous ‘I know’ response”. It seems that you’re coming from the popular interpretation of that line as Han a cocky asshole, but to quote a recent article by someone who only recently finally saw the original trilogy, in spite of being a child when the later movies came out:

        “For years, I have heard discussions implying this was yet another display of Han’s cockiness, but seeing it in context… it really doesn’t come off that way? Look, Leia had spent the better part of Empire insisting she felt nothing for Han even when he (and us) was convinced otherwise. But when they both found themselves in a position where they might never see each other again, she picks that moment to finally come clean, and his “I know” was simply his way of acknowledging that she didn’t need to say it, because he already…well, knew. And he had made his feelings for her more than clear before, so it wasn’t terribly necessary to say it back in that moment. I think the “I know” was actually a pretty compelling choice.”

        This is from the article “My Remedial Star Wars Education” by Kate, on the new (founded less than two months ago) Fandom Following.

        1. I definitely agree with that interpretation. It’s kind of a “don’t worry about me, don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t tell me, because I already knew.” And thank you for introducing me to that blog! There’s so much good stuff there.

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