The Force is Awake!

tfa_posterI recently saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Who am I kidding, I saw it opening weekend.  Not opening day, mind you; I have some restraint.  With the sting of the prequels still in my head, I waited for critical consensus to appear before I ventured to the theater.  It was Sunday, the 20th.  As an avid Star Wars fan, I have a few thoughts about the movie.  Unlike when I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, I did not bring a notepad and a pen to take down thoughts during the film, opting instead to immerse myself completely in this new saga.  These thoughts are a mixture of first-impressions combined with thoughts upon repeat viewings.  I have seen The Force Awakens twice now, diligently taking notes the second time.  There are massive spoilers in this as I run down the film from start to finish, so if you’re interested in seeing the movie (who isn’t.  The better question is, why haven’t you seen it yet?), you may want to look away.  And let’s be frank, you really don’t want to spoil this film for yourself.  It’s a good one.

If you’re afraid of spoilers, run away as fast as you can!  I’m serious; drop your computer and sprint away from it.

Everyone gone now?

Good, let’s dig in shall we?

The Force Awakens is the first film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, commissioned following the acquisition of the franchise by Disney in 2012.  It was written by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a treatment by Michael Arndt, and directed by Abrams.  After a disappointing series of Star Wars canon material, the fantastical but poorly developed prequel trilogy (1999-2005), Abrams sought to bring the magic back to the franchise.

It’s not a spoiler; he did.  Whereas the prequels tried to nod to fans by throwing in excessive visual and dialogue references to the original trilogy, The Force Awakens does it by replicating moods, plot lines, and characters, with a few sight references to boot.  The plot is both simple and convoluted — there’s a droid with secret information and the bad guys are looking for it.  Meanwhile the good guys are trying to get it to the main good guy base, safe and secure.  That’s pretty much it, but there are diversions and conflicts along the way to flesh out the journeys of both our heroes and (some of) our villains.

The heroes in this case are The Resistance, a military group sent by the New Republic to crush the rising remnants of the Empire, The First Order, our villains.  It maintains the aesthetic of the Rebels versus the Empire, however in reality the roles are reversed.  The First Order is the “ragtag” bunch of Empire ideologues, while the New Republic is attempting to establish their order in the galaxy by crushing this upstart rebellion.  There’s not a lot of ambiguity in which side we’re rooting for — the first scene features Storm Troopers straight-up murdering a village of innocent civilians; later The First Order annihilates not just one planet, but the entire system of the New Republic’s capital at once.  Last time I checked, the Rebels weren’t genocidal (at least on purpose).

Where the film becomes less straight-up good versus evil is in the arcs of our main hero, Rey, and our main villain, Kylo Ren.  Rey is a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku (a Tatooine retread, for some reason) who is searching for a home.  She has a mysterious past and an unknown parentage which we’ll no doubt learn more about in the sequels.  Star Wars loves their familial relationships and speculation over where she comes from runs rampant, especially as she gains power throughout the film.  Meanwhile, Kylo Ren, the mask wearing, deep-voiced knight seeks to finish the work of Darth Vader, whose melted mask and ashes he possesses.  It’s revealed about halfway through the film that Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa.  Early on he proves himself to be exceptionally adept at wielding the force; in a great new perspective on the Jedi and the Sith, Kylo’s conflict shows him to be pulled toward the light side of the force, seeking advice from his master Supreme Leader Snoke on how to resist the temptations of the light side of the force and stay within the dark.  Some have criticized Kylo Ren as too much of a whiny brat, however it’s clearly in his genes from his grandfather Anakin to his uncle Luke, but we’ll get to more on that soon enough.

Without jumping around too much, here are my thoughts on the movie plot points, character reveals, and other randomness, scene by scene, beat by beat, starting from the top (last warning, I spoiled the entire film):

Intro:

  • The Force Awakens starts unlike any previous Star Wars film: without the 20th Century Fox fanfare.  When the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” appeared on screen, followed by the standard STAR WARS logo and title crawl, I felt something was off.  Turns out, that was probably it — Fox no more.  It might be better this way, but the lack of fanfare was jarring to my subconscious.  I so associate this fanfare with Star Wars that any time I hear, in any movie, I automatically append the introductory blast of the Star Wars theme to its conclusion in my mind.  It helps that they’re in the same key. 🙂
  • The crawl describes the film as a search for Luke Skywalker, spearheaded by Leia.  A plot refreshing in its simplicity, setting up a clear adventure that’s already underway.  (Clear, for the most part.)

ACT ONE

The Attack on Jakku:

  • The first shot of The Force Awakens has the planet Jakku eclipsed by a First Order Star Destroyer.  Very sinister in its symbolism and execution.  This isn’t your grandfathers Empire, as we’ll no doubt see soon enough.
  • As Stormtroopers descend, BB-8 watches.  The new, yet iconic ball droid looks on worriedly.  That’s right, this little guy displays more emotion in its subtle movements and gestures than most of the characters of the prequel trilogy.
  • “This will begin to make things right.”  The first line of the film, spoken by Max von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka to Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron.  Or, taken another way, J.J. Abrams to jaded Star Wars fans.  Brilliant.
  • Tekka refers to Leia as “royalty” in response to Dameron calling her “General.”  Right in the nostalgia, already.
  • Poe observes the approaching troops through night-vision binoculars, complete with 70’s style grain and Aurebesh HUD.  The first of many, many minor, but immersive visual callbacks.
  • He has an X-Wing, painted blue.  Its configuration is based on early designs (two engines, split on the wings) rather than the type seen in the original trilogy.
  • Poe strikes several Stormtroopers with a blaster, including the one whose death scars Finn and catalyses his defection.  The bloody handprint on the armor is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time we actually see blood in Star Wars.
  • Kylo Ren lands in a vessel not unlike the Lambda-class shuttles of the OT.

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  • The dialogue about the dark side and family between Kylo Ren and Lor San Tekka is much more loaded upon repeat viewings.
  • After Ren cuts down Tekka with his fancy crossguard lightsaber, Poe lets off a shot with his blaster — which Ren freezes mid-air with the force.  Freakin’ awesome.
  • On the ground and captured Poe’s first chat with Kylo Ren is pure snark.  I already love his character.
  • Captain Phasma makes her first appearance.  Under Ren’s instructions, she orders her troops to massacre the villagers.  Sure, this kind of violence has been in Star Wars before (Luke’s foster parents, the Tusken Raiders / younglings in the prequels), but never explicitly shown on camera.
  • Finn doesn’t shoot.  Kylo Ren notices.
  • Poe is brought aboard Kylo’s Star Destroyer, via a shuttle bay that looks a lot like the shuttle bays of old.  I am happy with this.
  • FN-2187 sounds like it should be a reference to something.  In fact, Leia’s cell in the original Death Star was 2187.

Rey’s Introduction:

  • The cut between the Stormtrooper helmet and masked scavenger has their covered visages aligned in the frame.
  • Rey’s scavenging is mostly stuff we’ve seen in trailers already. (And therefore, thoroughly analyzed.)
  • A lovely flute theme plays over Rey’s unmasking outside of the vessel.  Classic John Williams.  The score has grown on me more and more every time I listen to it.
  • She speeds across the sand, panning over that wonderful shot of the crashed Star Destroyer.  So beautiful in its desolation.

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  • Rey’s master, Unkar Plutt, is the first (of thankfully only a few) CGI characters in the film.  Not sure why someone so regularly humanoid shaped would need to be done in CGI, but here we are.  I didn’t find out until after watching the first time that he’s voiced by Simon Pegg.  I still can’t tell.
  • The sequence in Rey’s home is one of the coolest in the whole film, in my opinion.  We see a rebel pilot doll, an interesting instant bread creation, the fact that her home is actually a wrecked AT-AT!, and she also owns an actual rebel pilot helmet, complete with rebel insignia.  This is also when she rescues BB-8 from a junk trader.  Her first spoken words aren’t even English.  What a way to introduce our main hero.
  • There’s also the etched tallies.  She’s tracking the days; when do they start?
  • I love the way BB-8 rocks its ball while keeping its lowered head stationary; it’s like a begging puppy!  So well done.  I’m gushing and it’s barely been fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, back on the Star Destroyer…:

  • Kylo Ren mind rapes Poe Dameron, who’s already been through extensive torture.  Ren is clearly very powerful.  Poe resists snarkily, putting up a fight.  Gilligan cut to Ren ordering General Hux to find the droid the plans are in.

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Meanwhile, back on Jakku…:

  • Rey muses that her family will return for her.  Sad in hindsight.  I’m sure devastatingly so once the sequels come.
  • BB-8 is so adorable that she won’t sell him for 240 times her normal food wages.

Escape From the Star Destroyer:

  • Finn and Poe begin the fastest bromance ever.  Poe is daring and excited.  Finn is nervous and shaky.  They make it work.
  • The new TIE Fighters are supremely durable.  Poe’s X-Wing was disabled by two or three blaster shots on Jakku; the TIE takes a barrage in the hangar, mostly deflected by its wings.
  • They also “really move,” catching Poe off-guard.  He’s used to flying an X-Wing.  Seems the First Order has made an upgrade.
  • Poe names FN-2187 “Finn.”  Finn’s reaction to having a real name is also adorable.  He’s so excited, like a little kid.
  • As the TIE escapes, we shift to the bridge of the Star Destroyer.  I cannot tell you how happy I am to be in this setting again, a major one in my favorite film, The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Also, Star Destroyers have missiles now?

Finn’s Trek:

  • It’s the first shot from the first teaser trailer.  No probe droid sounds to be heard.  In fact, they don’t really show up at all during the film, do they?
  • Poe’s jacket is safe and unscorched in the ruined TIE Fighter.  Thank goodness.
  • From the top of a ridge, we get the Mos Eisley shot of the village, complete with accompanying score.

Star Destroyer Interlude:

  • We learn the history of the First Order Stormtroopers.  They’re not clones, recruits programmed from birth.
  • We also see that Hux is not afraid of Kylo Ren.  Ren’s no Vader.

Finn and Rey:

  • In the scavenger village, Finn finds water in the form of a livestock feeding trough.  It’s currently occupied by a hippopotamus-thing.  That’s not CGI.
  • Rey kicks Finn’s ass thinking he’s a thief.  This is after she already kicked the asses of her master’s henchmen.  Badass.
  • When Finn reveals that Poe didn’t survive the crash, BB-8’s head sinks and it lets out a whimper.  There’s more emotion packed into this droid than… wait, sorry I’ve already said that.  No, I’m not crying, why?
  • Luke Skywalker’s name is revealed to Rey and she responds astonished, saying she thought he was a myth.  Oh, he’s more than just that.  Not there yet, though.
  • Stormtroopers?  Here!?  We’re in danger!
  • Finn gets knocked out by a TIE Fighter shot.  Rey shakes him to consciousness and the first thing he says: “Are you okay?”  Rey reacts incredulously, curtly replying “Yeah!” (Of course I am, silly)
  • They run towards an escape craft that is quickly destroyed.  Just like I assumed in my trailer analysis!  Good job, me!
  • “The garbage will do!”  Pan to Millennium Falcon.  Predictably, that one elicited cheers in the theater.  The Falcon’s theme music was a nice touch.
  • Rey’s launch of the Falcon is less than graceful, but more than competent for someone who’s never flown it before.  The twisting camera shot from the first teaser trailer does a good job of unsettling the audience and bringing them into the head-space of a pilot still getting used to her craft.
  • TIE Fighter pilot reverse-POV shot.  Nice.
  • Classic HUD for the Falcon’s gunner.  Nice.
  • The Falcon’s escape from two pursuing TIE Fighters through a field and wrecked Imperial starships might be one of the finest action pieces of the entire saga.  The tension is edge-of-your-seat, the visuals are epic, and the urgent score brings it all home.  Highlight from the film, for sure.

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  • Death Star Super Star Destroyer fly-through, straight out of Return of the Jedi.  I always wonder what would happen if the tunnel, you know, didn’t go all the way through?
  • The shot of the Falcon leaving Jakku is CGI.  It’s not overly obvious, but enough for me to tell.
  • Finn and Rey’s actual official introduction is also super adorable; they’re so awestruck by each other’s abilities during their escape that they cannot stop praising each other until BB-8 interrupts.
  • The Falcon has technical difficulties.  Some things never change.

Meanwhile, back on the Star Destroyer…:

  • A First Order officer doffs his hat in preparation for giving Kylo Ren the bad news.  He’s clearly familiar with what kind of punishments such news often receives in turn.  Ren ignites his lightsaber.
  • He shreds the console station he was standing at, narrowly missing the officer who thought himself destined for the blade’s edge.  A nice subversion with a humorous touch.
  • The sound effects for the lightsaber’s ignition and disengagement are cool, the latter especially so.
  • “What girl!?”  Ren’s response to that tidbit seemed excessive.  Does he know about Rey?  Maybe… (probably.  This is Star Wars — everyone’s related to everyone else, somehow)

ACT TWO

The Smuggler:

  • Finn and BB-8 bond over the location of the Resistance base.  The droid is taken aback by Finn’s deceit that he’s not actually with the Resistance, but trusts Rey who saved its life.  BB-8’s indecisiveness when prompted to reveal that information to Rey is hilarious.
  • When BB-8 tells Rey, Finn gives BB-8 the thumbs up.  BB-8 sticks out a lighter.  Yep, pretty sure BB-8 just flipped off Finn.  Love it.
  • The Falcon gets tractored into a strange ship’s bay.  Finn and Rey rig a trap and hide in the floor compartments.  So much nostalgia here, but it’s not shoehorned in or seemingly out of place.
  • Han Solo and Chewbacca rush aboard!  More cheers from the audience!
  • Yep, it’s Han.  Worries about Harrison Ford delivering a lifeless performance (a la Crystal Skull) seem to be unfounded.  It helps that he’s given good dialogue too.
  • “You’re Han Solo!”
    “I used to be.”
  • “This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in fourteen parsecs!”
    “Twelve!… …fourteen…
  • Unfortunately, the sequence that follows is more or less universally regarded as the worst of the film.  Another J.J. Abrams thrown-in-a-random-monster-to-add-some-action bit.  Luckily, we’re not quite there yet.
  • The first pirates who board are led by a very, very Scottish guy.  I love that accent.
  • “I got a bad feeling about this”
  • There’s the monster action.  Han Solo mercilessly throws a bad guy into a rathtar’s mouth.  Brutal.  Han threw first.
  • Finn gets snagged, but not immediately eaten.  He lives long enough to have Rey find him on a camera terminal and slice the rathtar’s tentacles off with a door.  That’s some plot armor Finn’s got.
  • Chewie gets hit with blaster fire during the escape.  The noise he lets out is brutal.  Never heard that before.

Starkiller Base:

  • A shot of TIE Fighters flying pans to a planet, slowly revealed to have a giant gun sticking out of a massive equatorial trench.  Death Star, redux number two.
  • Suddenly, this movie becomes Lord of the Rings.  A large shadowy being in a massive throne, lit by streams of light from behind, looms over two standing figures, Kylo Ren and General Hux.  The being is Supreme Leader Snoke, our second major CGI character.  He’s Gollum-like in appearance, played by Gollum himself.
  • Wham.  Han Solo is Kylo Ren’s father.  I kind of love that this “twist” isn’t lingered on or made with any fanfare.  In fact, there’s a good chance it’s not a mystery to most of the main players in the movie, including Poe Dameron.
  • As mentioned before, Ren is training to not be seduced by the light side.
  • Snoke vanishes, revealed to be a hologram.  I bet he’s actually tiny.  (So do a lot of people.)  He’s probably an evil Yoda.  Or Darth Plagueis. Or Jar Jar??  Who knows?

Meanwhile, aboard the Millennium Falcon…:

  • Flying through hyperspace.  I’ve missed that visual.
  • The warning alarm in the Falcon’s cockpit is the one from A New Hope heard as they approached the ruins of Alderaan.  Continuity!  References!  Nostalgia!
  • Finn’s sitting at the holo-chess table.  What could possibly hap– oh, yep, there it is, he turns it on.  Stop-motion creatures fight each other.  Continuity!  References!  Nostalgia!
  • BB-8 reveals the map, filling up the interior with a 3D representation of the galaxy.  I really love this visual.  This was done once in the prequels too; I liked it then as well.

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  • Han fills in the past thirty years with exposition, teaching our heroes as he teaches the audience, a.k.a. the best way to do exposition.
  • He’s no longer a skeptic.  You can just feel in the way he speaks how the years have changed him.  He’s Han, sure, but he’s wiser, seasoned, weighed down by his past.  Things weren’t a fairy tale for our original heroes after Return of the Jedi.

Maz Kanata’s Castle:

  • “I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.”  I can’t think of anything in the world that would amaze me as much as Rey is amazed by the forests, lakes, and life of Takodana.  Probably only another world can do that for me, too.
  • “Did you just call me ‘Solo’?”  I love the dialogue in this film!
  • I saw this film before going to Peru.  The jungles of the Andes kept bringing me back to Star Wars — Yavin, Dagobah, Endor, and now this too.  Takodana is a lush green planet with ancient looking castles.  Inca architecture isn’t too far off.
  • The old temple-looking castle in the trailer?  A bar.  Full of aliens and other creatures.  Cantina plus Jabba’s Palace, just less seedy.  Sort of.

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  • Maz Kanata is a yellow, goggle-wearing Minion creature, our third and final major CGI character.  No, she’s not a Minion, but her introduction ripped away my immersion due to her obvious fakeness.  It’s too bad; this is a great scene and she’s an intriguing character to be sure.  It’s just prequel level distracting.
  • Most of the creatures in the bar appear practical.  There’s another cantina band, some overgrown insects, a robot that resembles Engima from Unreal Tournament 2004, and many more the camera pans over or cuts through quickly.
  • A really freaky looking droid signals the First Order, alerting them of BB-8’s location, echoing the role of Garindan from A New Hope.  The resemblance is similar; this droid has small, close-set eyes and a long nose that resembles and old school radio microphone.  Its movements are uncanny, easily nightmare fuel for little me.
  • …and another bounty hunter signals the First Order too.  This isn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile, back on the Star Destroyer…:

  • A brooding soundtrack, similar in tone to “The Emperor’s Theme” from Return of the Jedi.  Another welcome sound.
  • Kylo Ren prays to Darth Vader, whose melted mask is on a pedestal in his possession.  A slowed “Imperial March” plays over the reveal of the mask.  The imagery here is stark and intimidating, even in ruin.  Some icons are too great to tarnish.

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Meanwhile, back at Maz Kanata’s…:

  • Han and Leia are fighting.  Like I said, things weren’t a fairy tale.  They probably were never going to be, realistically.  It actually went much, much worse.
  • Maz Kanata is over a thousand-years old, clearly knowledgeable in the history of the Force in the galaxy, and diminutive.  She’s like a new Yoda!  Okay, I’m starting to see why people think this movie is derivative.  But it works so, so well.
  • “I’m looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run.”  Well, to be fair, Finn has done almost nothing but run so far.  Good eye, Maz.
  • “Who’s the girl?” asks Maz to Han.  I bet one (or both) of them knows the answer.
  • The sound of a crying girl lures Rey away from the cantina down dark stairs.  BB-8 follows, rolling down the steps in pursuit.  I love the care BB-8 is taking, one step at a time.
  • A secret chest!  What’s inside?  It’s Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber.  Rey grabs it and:
    • A lightsaber ignition sound and Darth Vader’s breathing are heard as the room becomes the corridor in Cloud City where Luke and Vader fought in Empire.
    • Luke’s scream of “No!” can be heard as the corridor becomes an outdoor scene.
    • A hooded Luke puts his mechanical hand on R2-D2 beside a fire.
    • It begins to rain and the Knights of Ren slay a man.  They stand around in a field of bodies.
    • Kylo Ren approaches.
    • A young Rey screams as she’s taken away by Unkar Plutt on Jakku, whoever left her flying away on a transport
    • In a snowy forest, Obi-Wan Kenobi calls her name.
    • She runs into Kylo Ren, whose lightsaber is drawn.
    • She falls away from him, back into reality
  • Maz Kanata is there, claiming Anakin’s/Luke’s lightsaber calls to her.  Obvious lineage is obvious, but is it really?  She can’t just be Luke’s daughter.  That’s too easy, right?
  • Maz teaches Rey of the Force, awakening that part of her.  She’s taken her first step into a larger world.

The Starkiller Attacks:

  • General Hux delivers his Nazi speech.  The imagery is on point and his delivery is over the top.  So much for subtlety.  The sound of cold wind whipping in the background is a nice touch.
  • The base fires.  Forests are leveled.  Hux looks on at what he hath wrought.  Ren’s mask reflects the red glow of the beam.  The sound is lowered to accommodate a stirring score, imperial and mournful, as a cascade of destruction annihilates the Republic capital.

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  • For the first time, we witness a tragedy of the sort that befell Alderaan first-hand.  Powerful stuff.
  • But then, how do we see that from Takodana?  They’re not in the same system…
  • Somehow this is so much worse than just having Alderaan blow up without witnesses.  It’s like Star Wars 9/11, the way everyone just walks outside staring at it.  Heartwrenching.
  • Rey is running away through the forest.  Finn was running away to the Outer Rim.  Then comes the First Order and our heroes answer the call to resist.  Good timing.
  • That shot of the TIE Fighters flying away from the setting sun — outstanding.

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  • Where did Maz get Luke’s lightsaber? “Good question… for another time.”  Seriously, I want to know now.  It was lost down the shaft of Cloud City, along with Luke’s hand.  I presume it didn’t follow him outside into the atmosphere.  If it did, how the hell did it resurface?  They must answer that question in the sequels.
  • Rey’s a natural born killer, taking out that Stormtroooper with a blaster, followed by an absolutely horrified look — only to quickly start shooting others.  Maybe there’s some dark inside her?
  • Han shot first.  Without looking.
  • It surprises me that Han never used Chewie’s bowcaster before.  It’s been what, 34 years since A New Hope?
  • “Traitor!” – badass Stormtrooper who tosses aside his weapon and shield, only to pull out an electrified staff and defeat Finn, who’s wielding Luke’s lightsaber.  So cool.
  • Seeing Han and Chewie in the hands-behind-the-head pose brings back memories of Endor.  They get rescued shortly after that.  Look here, the Resistance, right on time.
  • Poe Dameron.  Good to have you back.  This movie has been sorely missing his presence.  Obviously we knew he wasn’t dead — thanks trailers.
  • We’d never seen X-Wings snipe infantry before.
  • I love the long shot of Poe downing 10 (!) TIE fighters and several ground troops.  That’s one hell of a pilot.  (Woohoo!)
  • Rey is in the jungle, feeling the presence of Kylo Ren.  She walks into a dark place and he appears, lightsaber ignited.  Empire, much?
  • He uses his Force freezing powers on Rey, much as he did Poe and his blaster shot.
  • Maz’s castle is utterly ruined.  What happened to everyone else who was inside?  (Maz included)
  • A Resistance shuttle lands.  Han looks concerned.  He shrugs off Finn’s worries about Rey — he’s got bigger problems, namely:
  • Leia!  They share a look, “Han Solo and the Princess” swells — goodness! It’s C-3PO!  I didn’t recognize him because of the red arm.  Way to be a perpetual cock-block, goldenrod.
  • Chewie gives Leia a hug.  What a nice reunion, except for all of the circumstances around it, of course.

ACT THREE

The Resistance:

  • Yavin IV, redux!
  • Poe and Finn, reunited.  BB-8 and Poe, reunited!  Even better 🙂
  • I want to be Poe Dameron.
  • Leia’s and Han’s interplay hasn’t missed a beat.
  • Not crazy about the sudden reveal of R2-D2.  That did seem a bit shoehorned in.  Cool to see BB-8 among the classic droids though.
  • The whole Kylo Ren story is so sad.  There’s too much Vader in him, but maybe that means he can be redeemed.  There’s already a conflict within him.

Rey’s Interrogation:

  • The Kylo Ren / Rey interrogation scene is another of my favorites from the film.  It’s slow and dark, like the best scenes from Empire, diving deep into the minds (no pun intended) of our leads.

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  • Kylo Ren takes off his mask and drops it in a pile of ashes.  Probably Darth Vader’s, as I mentioned above.
  • He’s not nearly as intimidating without it on, hence the reason he wears it.  Already he’s more complex than any of the characters in the prequel trilogy.
  • Ren sees inside the mind of Rey; she dreams of an ocean and an island as she sleeps.
  • The back and forth between them as Ren tries to pry into her mind is a masterful acting job on both parts.  Not over-the-top, but consisting only of nuanced expressions with barely a word said.
  • Rey appears to pry back into Ren’s mind.  Neither of them knows how that happened.
  • Hux walks in on a maskless Ren talking to Snoke.  Embarrased, Ren tried to hide his face in the shadows.
  • The way Snoke says “bring her to me” is 100% Nazgul.  It doesn’t help that Snoke’s hologram room looks like Moria.
  • “You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”  Third time’s the charm, eh James Bond?  I like how he relaxes and stands upright when Rey gets through to him.
  • “…and I’ll drop my weapon.”
  • A pair of Stormtroopers walk around the corner to hear Ren yelling and sparks flying out of the room.  They quickly nope right back out of there.  Easily the biggest laugh of the film in the theater.
  • Starkiller absorbs the actual matter of a sun to charge.  Oof.  I guess it was right there in the name.

The Assault on Starkiller Base / Rescue Mission:

  • It’s a bigger Death Star!
  • Ackbar! “How is possible to power a weapon of that size?”  Kinda wish he’d said “magnitude.”  Maybe that would have been too much.
  • Good to see Nien Nunb is still around too!
  • The Return of the Jedi vibes are strong in this scene, given the return of familiar Rebels and the fact that it’s a briefing set around a holographic display of a spherical battle station.
  • Leia and Han’s goodbye is heartbreaking.  They still obviously love each other despite all that’s happened, but they know it can never work the way fairy tales do.  A pragmatic romance.
  • Hyperspace through shields.  Insanity.  A lot of people seem to hate the logic of this scene.
  • Starkiller Base is a frozen wasteland.  So, in this film alone we’ve covered Tatooine (Jakku), Endor (Takodana), Yavin (Resistance Base), and now Hoth.  What’s next, a city in the clouds?
  • “That’s not how the Force works!” “Oh really?  You’re cold!?”  I love grumpy incredulous Han Solo.
  • Phasma sure hasn’t done much in this film, has she?
  • Starkiller Base has a massive chasm inside its hangar bay.  Of course it does.  Star Wars is king of this trope.
  • “Is there a garbage chute? Trash compactor?”  Hey, another call back!  Finn would know where they are if he worked in sanitation, right?
  • Contrary to the excess of the prequels (and Jedi, for that matter), the attack force against Starkiller Base is only a dozen X-Wings.  Feels nice to have the battles scaled back a bit.
  • “As long as there’s light, we got a chance.”  Is there such a thing as a literal metaphor?  Because here’s one.
  • I mentioned in my trailer analysis that we need a new Star Wars first-person starfighter video game.  This movie is only deepening that desire for me.
  • “The weapon will be fully charged in ten minutes.”  Okay, the retreads are getting a little tiresome now…

That One Scene:

  • “Set the charges against every other column.” “Rghrah rhagr rahr.”  “You’re right, that’s a better idea.”
  • Kylo Ren tells his troopers to “find them.”  It’s obvious that he already knows where they are.
  • That above shot looking down at the bridge over the chasm is awesome.
  • “Ben!”  Chills.
  • Han walks out to meet Ren on the bridge, in the middle of the chasm where the sunlight from outside is shining through.  Both of their faces are lit in red from the station lighting.  Ren is facing the sunlight.
  • Ren hands out his lightsaber to Han as optimistic music fills the silence.
  • The star disappears and all of the light fades, except for the red.
  • Han and Ren stare at each other in silence for what feels like an eternity.  Finn and Rey look on, appearing more curious than anything.
  • And then it happens.  Ren ignites his lightsaber, piercing Han through the gut.  “Thank you.”
  • In one last act of love, Han reaches out to caress his son’s cheek; one last act of stirring the light inside Ren before he succumbs and falls down the chasm.
  • It’s not the kind of death I imagine a lot of people pictured for the cocky smuggler turned Rebel hero, but I think it makes a lot of sense.  Han turned from the self-absorbed skeptic of A New Hope into a man of faith in the Force and love for his family.  It ultimately led to his downfall, yes, however his heroic sacrifice was made in an attempt to fulfill Leia’s wish of bringing him home.  He may have failed here, or he might have succeeded in fomenting a stronger conflict within Ren.  We won’t know until the third film, probably.
  • I think Han’s death is excellently shot.  The space, sound, music, and lighting are employed extremely effectively.  It’s too early to say, perhaps, that this scene will rise into the pantheon of great Star Wars scenes, among Ben’s death and Vader’s reveal.  I think it just might.
  • Leia felt Han’s death.  I bet Luke did too.
  • Ren takes a bowcaster bolt to the gut.  The same kind of bolt that launched “Traitor!” away and sent several Stormtroopers sky high.  He barely falls to a knee.  Tough cookie.
  • Chewie goes ape-shit, one-shotting troopers before detonating the planted charges on his way out of the hangar.
  • Finn and Rey stare Ren down.

The Duel:

  • Somehow Ren appears in the woods ahead of Rey and Finn as they leave the base.  Force teleport?
  • Ren beats on his wound, leaving a trail of blood on the ground.  Trying to focus on the pain, no?  Perhaps he’s taking his mind off the emotional trauma he just inflicted on himself?  Maybe both?
  • “Traitor!”  Ren knows how to push Finn’s buttons.

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  • This lightsaber duel is awesome.  Again, remove the excess of the prequels and focus on what lightsaber battles really are, an emotional struggle between good and evil, in the guise of sci-fi swordfighting.  Visually, the clash of red and blue in a dark, snowy forest is hard to top.
  • Finn seems to hold his own, until we remember Ren is severely wounded, physically and emotionally.  Ren knocks him down anyway, several times.
  • We see the usefulness of lightsaber crossguards as they sear Finn’s shoulder during a blade lock.  Yikes.
  • Finn gets a tap on Ren, Ren launches Finn’s saber away, and then slashes him all the way up the back with one heavy stroke.  Game over.
  • It’s too bad, ruining Poe’s jacket and all.
  • A lightsaber in the snow, being called for using the Force.  Where have we seen that before?
  • It flies past Ren and lands in Rey’s hand.  Again, she’s more surprised than anything.  “The Force Theme” plays.  Her entry into the larger world of the Force is complete.
  • Rey is pissed.  She thrusts and stabs at Ren.

Meanwhile…:

  • X-Wings fly down a trench.  It’s slightly different than A New Hope, but… not really.
  • Poe goes to town on the interior of Starkiller’s oscillator.  It’s slightly different than Return of the Jedi, but… not really.
  • As the base explodes, a shock sends puffs of snow up off the surface.  It’s a really cool special effect.

The Duel, Part Two:

  • Rey runs from Ren.  Even in his weakened state, she’s no match for him.
  • Ren offers to teach Rey the ways of the Force.  I get the feeling this will come up later on in the trilogy.
  • Rey centers herself, employing her new found abilities to escape from Ren’s lock.  She advances on him with rage, striking blows similar to Luke’s on a crippled Vader in Jedi.  Remember how much the Emperor loved that display?
  • She shatters his lightsaber and slashes him across the face.  Ren is beaten; Rey is still pissed.
  • Kylo Ren is a dark Jedi, seduced by the light side; Rey is a Force-sensitive, clearly unable to control the dark side of her when emotions take over.  This should set up an interesting character arc for both of these two over the course of three movies.  Hopefully.
  • Hux and Ren return to Snoke.  I’m curious what Snoke’s role will be in the next film, or if we’ll see him in person.  I bet we will.
  • Rey mourns Finn, whose gravely wounded body lies in the snow on the collapsing planet.  Thank goodness I was wrong about that being Chewbacca.

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  • Speaking of, he’s in this scene, alive and well, flying the Millennium Falcon.
  • On the Falcon, Finn gets set down in the bench Luke was lying in after his brush with Vader in Empire.  Finn is in considerably worse shape; fully-limbed, though.  (In fact, none of our heroes or villains lost any limbs in The Force Awakens.  Progress!)
  • Poe Dameron escorts the Falcon off the planet.  I really wish we’d had more of him in this film.  Fingers crossed for the sequel! (Aside: I’ve been saying that a lot.  Can’t tell if it’s a good thing or not.  When I was little, I could watch all of the films at once, so the unresolved end of Empire could be resolved not 20 minutes later.  This film doesn’t entirely stand on its own… yet.  Maybe in May of 2017, those questions will be answered and we can look back on The Force Awakens as an even better movie.  Right now, there is a bit left to be desired.  Personally, I think that’s okay.)
  • Starkiller explodes, leaving behind the sun it absorbed in its place.  That’s pretty cool.  It’s almost like an homage to Star Trek II.  Maybe it was intentional and J.J.’s still got some residual Trek left in him?

Meanwhile, back at the Resistance Base…:

  • Amid celebrations, Leia singles Rey out for an emotional embrace.  Why does she do that?  Does Leia know more about Rey than she let on?  Take this, among other things as a sign, and certain theories start to make a ton of sense.  Not getting into that here, though.
  • Sad Chewie makes me sad.  First Empire, now this. 😦
  • R2-D2 comes back to life right then.  It’s not explained why.
  • C-3PO calls R2-D2’s awakening “much needed good news.”  Usually in a Star Wars, film when the bad guy’s base is blown up, that’s a win, plain and simple.  Why is good news “much needed?”  Well, for one, it’s just another battle station they destroyed; the First Order remains strong.  Secondly, the losses on the Republic side were innumerable, from the capital system, to at least half of the starfighters deployed for that fight, to the legendary Han Solo.  It’s a Pyrrhic victory and it’s treated with a somber mood.  This is a new one for Star Wars — it’s not so black and white anymore.
  • “We’ll see each other again.”  Rey’s goodbye to Finn is an optimistic echo of the conclusion of Empire, where the heroes didn’t know if they would in fact see each other again at all.  It’s like poetry, it rhymes.
  • The Millennium Falcon is now Rey’s.  Chewbacca is her co-pilot now.  Torch passed.

Epilogue:

  • It’s the island from Rey’s dreams.  So, she’s been having prophetic Force visions this whole time?  Who is she, dammit!?
  • That’s a really neat island.  Reminds me of Riven, if a bit foggier.
  • The ruins atop are closer to Inca architecture than anything I’ve personally seen in recent history.  This scene must have been living in my subconscious while I was in Peru.
  • A hooded figure stands in waiting.
  • Luke Skywalker. With a beard.  And a flowing mane of silver hair.
  • Rey extends Anakin’s lightsaber in offering, pure wordless desperation upon her face.
  • Luke stares back, the gravity of the galaxy’s peril weighing his expression down.
  • The camera swirls around the two, motionless on the top of that island, holding the pose in anticipation.

And then it’s over.  I got teary-eyed at the conclusion on my second viewing.  This is a really good movie, you guys.  The first time I saw it in theaters, I found myself getting upset, not because The Force Awakens was disappointing me, but because this is what the prequels should have been.  It’s a return to form, absolutely a Star Wars film in the classic sense, if a bit derivative given the familiar visuals and multitude of callbacks.  However, like any franchise regaining its sense of self, it’s a solid re-entry into what made those films memorable and great;  from here, Star Wars is free to move in, hopefully, an original direction while maintaining the emotional depth and character development we had here.

We’ve established some wonderful characters, but they’re not completely fleshed out — which is fine; remember how much we knew about Darth Vader after the first film?  Basically nothing.  In a way, that only raises my expectations of Episode VIII.

There are those who would be disappointed in The Force Awakens and that, given those expectations and the absolute media torrent that immersed our entire culture in Star Wars over the past few months, was inevitable.  The fact that I can’t get this film out of my head, combined with the feeling of excitement for what comes next only cements this in my mind — The Force Awakens is a welcome, fantastic, nostalgic thrill ride and great, if somewhat flawed, addition to the Star Wars legacy.  Next May and Episode VIII is a long way away — for now, I will repeatedly enjoy the gift that has been given to me.  I feel like a kid on Christmas morning again.

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