See, was that so hard?
I just saw TFA today on January 1, 2016. I figure I should download my initial reaction given that it is fresh.
I saw it on an Imax screen, and I believe I am done with Imax screens for awhile. Unless you can sit directly behind the projector, I do not believe there is a good seat in the house, I was just to the left of the projector, and I found the whole experience distracting and unrewarding. I think technology has already created the perfect viewing experience, and it is the home theater where you have some measure of control over your experience. I look forward to re-watching this movie several times in this manner.
Clearly the first thing I am obliged to mention is that the movie is essentially perfect. It is pure, 99.9% perfection. I am certain that there are plot holes to be revealed, and performances or effects to nitpick in the future, but for the moment, it is clearly a winner. Star wars is not dead, and JJ Abrams did not kill it.
This is admirable, although I hesitate to praise Abrams all that much. A Star Wars movie carries with it so much weight and backstory that it really ought to be incredibly easy to write. The bar had been set so low by the prequels, that this really should not have been so hard to do. Although, of course, there was the prequel series. So clearly its an all-or-nothing game, but conditions could not be better.
The movie takes its rhythm from the original Star Wars: A New Hope, but shuffles the roles around a good bit.
I couldn't help but compare the two movies at every opportunity, especially the various characters' action figure potential. The original movie gave us about a dozen distinct characters with clearly identified names, and all were merchandised at an unprecedented level. There is some of that here, but there isn't much I can really say that hasn't been said already. Star Wars is a fucking Cash Cow for disney, and they know how to make a buck. Anyhow, The Force Awakens has a good bit of the action figure mentality going on, but its a part of Star Wars, so what can you do?
The first notable re-shuffling of the character roles from A New Hope was the division of Luke's role into two separate characters - Rey and Finn. Rey is the one stuck on a desert planet trying to make ends meet, while Finn is the frightened youth fleeing danger. Luke was both of these at once. Both Rey and Finn go through their own hero's journey, and their paths combine without resorting to romance.
- Rey is a tremendously well written character. There are a million other bloggers out there talking about female empowerment and role models, so I wont belabor the point. It is noteworthy to show how simple it can be to just make the character be a female in control of her own destiny. TFA even passed the Bechdel test by having Rey talk to the glasses lady alien about the force. That's two female characters talking to each other about something other than romance. Rey is clearly a warrior class.
- Finn is another great character and foil for Rey. I say that they are both new analogs for Luke, although Finn has a good bit of the Han Solo character as well. Han is, of course, in this movie as well, but he plays a slightly different role. Finn is very roguish and clever, although above all, cowardly and prone to run from danger. I couldn't help but imagine him as being a version of the traditional female protagonist. Rey is clearly proving that a female can be the alpha hero, Finn seems to be doing the opposite. He is proving not all men have to be aggressive and brutish to achieve their goals.
The second re-shuffling I saw was the 'wise old sage' archetype. In episode 4, this role is taken by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke goes to him for guidance, and it leads him to leaving Tatooine by help of the new ally, Han Solo.
- In The Force Awakens, Han Solo is the sage who guides the protagonists. Just like Kenobi, he ends up also being the sacrifice that ensures victory. I thought this was great, although it may be impossible to get beyond him being Harrison Ford. I look forward to watching the movie again in a more pleasant environment. I could not stop analyzing his every move to decide if I believed he was Han Solo. I think it was great, but I can't be sure. I have a lot to say about the use of the aging actors in this movie, but I'll save that for now.
The rest of the cast is virtually all direct analogs of characters from A New Hope. I am not faulting the movie for this - it was the right thing to do. This is what Lucas should have done in the prequel series.
- BB-8. Good lord. The ball droid is just a triumph of design, and a total kick in the nuts to George Lucas. Lucas knew he had to include some kind of comic relief character into his prequels, which led to Jar Jar. Lucas hit the jackpot with C3P0 and R2D2, and he didn't know where to go from there. He attempted to go further with the silliness and increase the complexity, when the answer was simpler and less complexity. There is a fair amount of humor to be found in all the characters, although for this to truly be a star wars movie, it must include some kind of comedy character throughout the movie, and the answer is BB8.
- Kilo Ren is a clear analog of Darth Vader. I hope that someday someone will remake the Anakin Skywalker story. The Clone Wars series nails the character, but that is unfortunately just one short period of his life. Darth Maul was Lucas's attempt at creating a Darth Vader analog for the prequels, but he failed in a number of ways. Ren is great. He is a classic example of a well written character - he has clear desires and motivations and he acts them out rather than just saying them.
- Chewbacca is still Chewbacca.
- Poe? I'm not sure what to say about him yet. He gets one early scene indicating his importance, and I was sure he was going to die a horrible death. He seemed like a character created to emphasize how young and inexperienced Finn is. Then he didn't die and came back in the final act. I guess he's sort of like Wedge from A New Hope. I believe Wedge had a much bigger part intended, because Luke knew him from back home as he mentions right before they all leave to blow up the Death Star. I can only assume Poe will have more to do in the later episodes. Again, Lucas should take note - this is how you write interesting side characters. Poe has very little screen time, but he manages to create a lot of intrigue.
- The Wizard of Oz is the new Emperor.
So, characters aside, the movie really mirrors A New Hope in many ways. R2D2 is entrusted with crucial information and escapes, finds a hero in a backwater town, and together they complete the quest. Here, BB8 meets Rey in on a rural dusty planet, and together they deliver the vital information. Luke made new allies and was drawn into the galactic struggle for peace while learning to use his newfound Jedi powers. Rey does essentially the same thing.
We even have wildly similar set pieces - the desert planet, the giant death ball, star destroyers, the actual millennium falcon, and even a snow level. JJ Abrams even gave us a swordfight and ships flying inside of something to blow it up.
All this repetition of the Star Wars format is reassuring and welcoming and fantastically well done.
Now what else can I learn from this movie? It is fascinating to think how, in 1982, Return of the Jedi ended and fans began speculating about what might happen next. There were certainly novels and comic books and games all full of well written stories that expanded the lore of Star Wars, but these did not bear the Lucas brand of approval, and are therefore "non-canon". This means that, The Force Awakens finally expands on a story that has been brewing for 34 years. This movie has answered some questions and raised even more.
Did the Empire just crumble when the emperor was killed?
In the original Return of the Jedi, the movie ends with the celebration on Endor. The later remastered version included shots from other planets cheering at the killing of the emperor, including the capitol planet of Coruscant, where people can be seen tearing down a statue of the emperor. Is Leia now the president or something?
I guess not. The prequels taught us that the Emperor seized power over a democratic republic. He used his Sith power to coerce planet governments and organize a separatist movement of non-republic planets. The separatists raised an army so the republic raised an army, both being secretly manipulated by the emperor. The war led to financial crisis in the Republic, and the Emperor was elected as temporary prime minister of war or something. He allowed the war to progress and solidified his power. His final move was to use a secret protocol to command the clone army to turn on the Jedi knights and kill them all. He indoctrinated Anakin to the Dark Side, and the two of them eliminated all other living Jedi. Anakin gets turned into Darth Vader and placed in charge of the clone army. The separatists are quickly defeated, and Emperor Palpatine is credited with the success, and becomes the new galactic dictator.
So then there is the inevitable unrest, and later outright rebellion against the empire, and about 25 years after seizing power, the emperor is finally killed. It is plausible that the empire would just go back to being a republic as it was in the prequels and before. It is also plausible that there was still loads of soldiers and weapons and generals to command all elsewhere in the empire. Surely some other powerful general might rise up.
It seems that the Empire still exists in some form. They are still led by a Sith Lord. There is still plenty of Nazi imagery.