May the Fourth be with you. It's been over four months since the long-awaited new entry into the Star Wars canon opened in the cinemas and began its remorseless assault on worldwide box office records. Now it’s setting its sights on world domination of the home entertainment market with its release on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
When the film opened, everyone was commendably wary of spoiling the film in any way for those who hadn't seen it yet, even though it inevitably meant whole swaths of the film were off-limit for analysis and discussion. At this point, however, we feel comfortable in saying that anyone who is going to view it at the cinema has already duly done so, and that the arrival of the DVD surely means it's time to throw the shutters wide open and allow some light into the deepest, darkest recesses of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and finally talk about some of its biggest secrets.
Luckily, for the purposes of this endeavour, we have an expert on hand in the form of Generation Star Wars' John Hood, who is so knowledgeable about all things in this field that we suspect he actually really was born a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and is only on Earth with us now because he took a wrong turning at the local spiral cluster roundabout. By comparison, Taking The Short View's Andrew Lewin is a mere dilettante in the subject, but he is also a classic example of where a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing in the wrong hands.
Andrew's going to start off pitching the questions and John will be initially taking care of the answers, but anyone who has followed our previous collaborations will know that such a tidy and orderly format won't last long before descending into chaos. Hopefully amid the turmoil along the way we'll tackle all the burning issues arising from the rebirth of the Star Wars franchise, and even take a look at what we think might be to come in future installments of the sequel trilogy.
Now this should be obvious from the headline and the preceding introduction, but just to be completely clear here's your first and final warning: this article will be smothered in major spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven't yet seen the film and want to maintain your purity and innocence then it's absolutely imperative that you stop reading now. Okay? Clear? Good.
Right. Let's jump to spoiler space!
Andrew: Okay John, let's start with the biggest question of all: how was it for you? Did Star Wars: The Force Awakens live up to all your expectations? Where would you place it in the hierarchy of official Star Wars films?
John: JJ Abrams took Star Wars back to 1977 and I couldn't bestow higher praise than that. Given the significance of the franchise in my life, which regular readers may already appreciate, it's no surprise to learn I was fighting back tears from the shimmering Lucasfilm logo onwards…
Luke Skywalker has vanished. The opening line from the crawl assuaged my fears and banished all memory of the prequels.
I'd place The Force Awakens as my third favourite Star Wars installment after The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope. It's that good.
A case in point is Rey’s introduction. It's a masterclass in silent movie storytelling and the best example since Disney PIXAR’s WALL-E trundled onto the silver screen in 2008 and brought PIXAR’s savvy study of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to multiplexes everywhere.
From the depths of a derelict Star Destroyer to Lawrence of Arabia-inspired vistas, underscored by John Williams’ majestic orchestrations, it's a cinematic tour de force that owes a debt to Akira Kurosawa and anime. I was invested in Rey’s journey long before she said a single word.
Andrew: Those are some pretty big shoes for the film to be aspiring to fill! That opening 15 minute sequence in WALL-E is one of the most amazing things I think I’ve seen in any film to be honest, and it does seem like Abrams is perhaps intentionally riffing off that with his wordless introduction to Rey and her world. I think Abrams is also quite the student of the cinematic arts, so a few nods to David Lean would have been entirely intentional and completely warranted.
John: In my review for WALL-E, I suggested it brought back a sense of wonder to multiplexes in an era of banal nihilism. The dance between EVE and WALL-E is a spellbinding ode to the boundless wonder of falling in love for the first time.
Abrams channels early Steven Spielberg and his fixation for seeking the fantastical to escape familial dysfunction coupled with George Lucas’ visionary technical prowess.
Andrew: I agree that The Force Awakens recaptures a lot of the old magic. I enjoyed it a great deal, and would probably also put it third in my ranking of all the Star Wars films to date - I was never wild about Return of the Jedi (damn Ewoks!) and of course the prequels had their own issues. I thought this film got a great deal absolutely right, but I do have some reservations, chiefly its overwhelming reliance on huge amounts of nostalgia. Not just the return of original trilogy characters like Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO, or even the way that almost every scene in the film had some sort of 'kiss to the past', but mainly how the entire plot was essentially the same one we got in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. None of that bothered you at all?
John: No love for the Ewoks? Those teddy bears were in no way overtly commercial. Oh, wait... Back to the present. It truly didn't! I got swept up in Rey and Finn’s adventure in this reprise of A New Hope with darker moments worthy of The Empire Strikes Back. Daisy Ridley, as Rey, is a revelation and she carries the movie with bewitching aplomb.
Andrew: So we’ve already confirmed that the classic fanfare and sight of the opening crawl sent shivers down your spine. At least there was no mention of the taxation of trade routes this time! Instead we learn that Luke Skywalker has vanished, Leia is now a general and works for the Resistance rather than the Rebel Alliance, and the First Order has arisen from the ashes of the Empire. We’ll come back to that shortly, but in the meantime I was struck by by final line, “an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts” - it kind of implies that perhaps we should know who Lor San Tekka is, especially when played by an actor of Max von Sydow’s (“Heil Ming!”) calibre. So should we? Or if that a thread that Abrams and co. are expecting fans to grasp and run with?
John: You’ve touched on an interesting point in this era of billion dollar transmedia franchises. There’s an assumption fans will have consumed media from comics to television and books to cinema. Disney’s other franchise the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a case in point. One can watch episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and Agent Carter in the expectation references will be made to big screen adventures. Is it getting too much?
Andrew: For me I have to say yes, or at least that we’re in danger of getting to that point.
Now I confess, I have a problem with the film’s principal ‘McGuffin’ in that it doesn’t really seem to make much sense. In A New Hope the equivalent item was plans of the Death Star - and that was fine. To an audience brought up on Sunday afternoon World War 2 films, it was immediately understandable that Rebel spies had succeeded in a bit of counter-intelligence to steal the original blueprints just like the Allies always did against the Nazis. We didn’t need to know any more - although ironically that’s exactly what we’ll get next in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But the idea of this road map to Luke is bizarre: who would have been able to make it in the first place? Why would they even have done so? How would a Jakku village elder (Lor San Tekka) have come across it? It’s a McGuffin for a McGuffin’s sake, only needed because the whole plot is being made so similar to A New Hope that it needs something - anything - to stand in for the Death Star plans. Can you help me out with ideas here?
John: The flashback/flashforward vision Rey experiences later in the movie suggests Episode VIII may explain events more clearly. JJ Abrams has gone on record saying he worked with his directorial successor Rian Johnson during the production of The Force Awakens. Especially as this is a planned trilogy from Disney whereas the franchise’s creator George Lucas had no such guarantee, nor perhaps inclination, Star Wars would become the cultural phenomenon it did back in 1977.
Andrew: In what way do you think the flashbacks promise any kind of retroactive explanation of the ‘road map to Luke?’ aspect? I’m sure we will certainly be handed a lot more information about Rey, and I promise that we’ll talk about her character before very much longer. As for Lucas - well, he always said that he planned a six-part series too, and yet his original McGuffin of the Death Star plans needed no follow-up explanation whereas for me this aspect of The Force Awakens lacks any sort of logical sense on the face of it.
Actually - a slight deviation here - how much do you think Lucas really did plan ahead when writing A New Hope? I get the distinct feeling that he had no idea that Luke would turn out to be Darth Vader’s son, because there’s no intentional foreshadowing at all. For example, Darth detects Obi-Wan on the Death Star but never gets an inkling about Luke until the climax when he’s trying to shoot down Red Five in the trench, and even then “The Force is strong with this one,” seems to indicate he’s just impressed with this unknown pilot’s flying ability and not that he’s detected anything familiar - like a very close relative! I rather think that it was Lawrence Kasdan coming along and picking up on a few unintended hints (for example, Aunt Beru’s “He has too much of his father in him”) that sent the saga off a whole new path in The Empire Strikes Back, one that I suspect Lucas never originally saw coming.
John: As a child, I assumed Vader’s revelation was intended to deceive Luke and sow seeds of doubt. Thus turning Luke to the dark side with tragic consequences in Return of the Jedi. Something Mark Hamill deliberated over during a serendipitous filmed conversation with JJ Abrams over a decade ago.
Andrew: Oddly I don’t think I ever doubted Vader’s statement. Maybe that’s me as a naive child talking, someone who used to believe what adults said was automatically true!
Okay, let’s get back on target. The meeting between Poe Dameron and Lor San Tekka on Jakku is abruptly broken up by a stormtrooper assault, and it’s our first sight of FN-2187 (John Boyega) who is having a crisis of conscience about slaying the villagers in cold blood when ordered. I’m guessing that a stormtrooper going rogue and disobeying orders is quite a big deal, the way the incident gets sent up the chain of command right up to the attention of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) himself?
John: Well, it did garner the attention of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who gave FN-2187 a knowing look after mercilessly striking down Lor San Tekka, who knew his true identity, and capturing Poe Dameron in the one of the coolest demonstrations of the Force we’ve seen on the big screen. I wasn't alone in whooping with delight.
Andrew: Fittingly, you read my mind! I was going to ask you about that moment when Kylo arrives and gives Finn-to-be that penetrating glance. What should we read into that? Did he just think “there’s an awful lot of emotional turmoil coming from that stormtrooper,” or was there more to it? Together with the way that Finn later picks up lightsaber technique awfully quickly and holds the admittedly injured Kylo to a standstill for a commendably long time, do you think there’s going to be a major twist about his background in the upcoming films?
John: Hmm, it's possible Finn’s Force-sensitive, but the stakes are higher if Rey’s alone in her abilities.
Andrew: In this film perhaps, but Jedi are not meant to be solitary folk. There has to be more than one or two if they’re to regain their former standing, surely?
Obviously the focus in terms of mystery is on Rey’s origins. The fact that she was dumped on Jakku by unknown parents, has no surname, and yet clearly has considerable natural talent with the Force practically screams out “Unexpected parental lineage revelation incoming!” in the way that The Empire Strikes Back divulged the truth about Luke’s daddy issues. Do you think it’s as simple as Luke being Rey’s dad, or are we being sold a red herring here?
John: With the franchise well and truly back on track in the wake of JJ Abrams’ blockbuster behemoth, director Rian Johnson has the perfect opportunity to go left field with the sequels, which he's penning. Is Rey Obi-Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter? We hear his disembodied voice, along with Yoda, during her vision.
Andrew: It would be a bit out of left field for Obi-Wan to have a grand-daughter, wouldn’t it? There wasn’t even a sense of him being interested in the opposite sex in the original film or the prequels. I wonder, how much is the Force supposed to be passed down purely or primarily by family genetics? Can there be no other Jedis except those who come from a long line of Force-sensitives? Anakin came out of nowhere of course, but that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Obi-Wan and Yoda reveal that “there is another” - who turns out to be Leia - does rather signify that they’re critically short of potential recruits to form a new Jedi Knight corps.
One theory that I heard was that she might be the sole survivor of Luke’s Jedi academy after Kylo’s rampage, the one padawan that Luke managed to spirit away to safety. Just dumping her in the middle of the desert seems a little careless though - even Obi-Wan made sure that baby Luke himself was fostered with family on Tatooine.
Do you think that there’s any significance in the fact that Luke and Rey’s stories both begin on very similar desert planets? Or is this just done by Abrams as a touch of nostalgia, a homage to the original film? I’ll be honest, I found it somewhat lazy to basically copy the 1977 film so closely in this and in many other regards.
John: Yes, the sole survivor theory is doing the rounds. Seems entirely plausible. Maybe worth mentioning the bleak season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels has ignited suggestions Ezra could be Supreme Leader Snoke and a few friends are convinced the Ghost drops Rey off in her vision.
On the subject of desert planets. I'm skewing towards nostalgia for the original trilogy and George Lucas’ preoccupation with narrative stanzas.
Andrew: I somehow very much doubt they will go as far as establishing Star Wars Rebels as absolute canon, at least not to the degree of having it be the basis for a major franchise ‘reveal’ such as the identity of Snoke. I have caught quite a few episodes of Star Wars Rebels now and have to say I particularly enjoy Darth Vader’s cameos - the way they draw him very close-up is really very creative and effective, and of course we have the original voice artist to make it perfect.
John: Star Wars Rebels is canon and there's suggestion a character or characters may appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this December.
Andrew: Really? I’m surprised. Cynical ol’ me still reckons that Star Wars Rebels will be retconned out at some point down the line, but an appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would certainly be quite a statement.
John: Cynical? Surely not?
Andrew: It’s my default setting I’m afraid.
For me, the choice of a desert location for The Force Awakens just felt a little too obvious and lazy as far as I was concerned. But at least it was another planet and not actually Tatooine despite the sandy similarities - Lucas having the prequels go to Tatooine and finding Anakin growing up there really did some terrible damage to the series history, logic and continuity.
One thing I did really love in The Force Awakens was the sight of all the beached Imperial Star Destroyers and crashed TIE fighters on the surface of Jakku. It conveyed in breathtaking imagery a real sense of the epic upheaval that has transpired since the end of Return of the Sith. Speaking of which, what do you think happened in the interim years - and what exactly is the First Order other than a spray paint and quick rebranding exercise on the original Empire?
John: Marvel comics’ Shattered Empire directly picks up from the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star. The Empire has suffered a serious defeat, but is not entirely destroyed. Incidentally, this was a theme I explored with Junior School friends as we continued Star Wars adventures with Kenner’s action figures in the wake of Return of the Jedi. I’m reminded of a playground G.I. Joe/Star Wars/Transformers crossover in which Cobra Commander and Megatron battled for the leadership of a new Empire. Will Hasbro and Lucasfilm get any ideas from reading this?
Andrew: Oh dear God, I hope not. It’s just the sort of dreadful thing they might do, as well. I’m leaning on you to supply all the details about the various contemporary spin-off books and comics back then, because I was a movie purist and didn’t really get into anything that wasn’t strictly celluloid canonical.
John: I voraciously read Marvel comics until the original run ended and watched the animated series Droids and Ewoks at teatime. Took a timeout until Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy and Dark Horse Comics reprinted classic newsstand serials set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back in the 1990s.
Andrew: Droids and Ewoks have been retconned away, now, right? I do vaguely remember some of those serials set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back but don’t recall any of the plots: I saw them as fun, enjoyable but ephemeral.
John: Alas, the Expanded Universe (EU) was reset when Disney bought Lucasfilm. However, I wouldn't rule out knowing nods to that fertile pre-Disney era. There's a Dark Forces vibe to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The most memorable plot from Classic Star Wars was an encounter with a bounty hunter on Ord Mantell, which Han Solo references in The Empire Strikes Back as justification for leaving the Rebellion to pay off Jabba the Hutt or he’s a dead man.
Andrew: Going back to Shattered Empire, I can buy the theory that the Empire took a serious blow and wobbled but did not entirely fall down. However this ‘First Order’ seems a bit of a mealy-mouthed approach to the whole thing. I have no idea where it fits into the picture, how they got hold of the Empire’s toys (like the Imperial Star Destroyers - or did they just have the one?) and how they have the resources to build a new super weapon that’s even deadlier than the Empire did at its zenith. And don’t get me started on the physics of the Starkiller which make no sense whatsoever.
John: The First Order appears to have emerged from the ashes of Emperor Palpatine’s beleaguered forces and its actions directed, from the shadows, by Supreme Leader Snoke who appears to be a Sith, although this hasn’t been established as yet. Talking physics. The second Death Star’s demise should have shifted the Forest Moon of Endor out of orbit and ended the Rebellion’s celebrations real quick.
Andrew: Oh, that’s a point. I took it for granted that he was, in that he’s training Kylo in the Dark Side and there’s a lot of dialogue about the Resistance needing to find Luke so that he can restore the Jedi as a balance to Snoke’s growing power. You think that he might not be, and instead is just some sort of ‘talented amateur’ rather than a full-blown Sith? He seems to have done awfully well for himself if that’s the case...
John: Snoke could be Darth Plagueis, the Sith master betrayed and seemingly murdered by Palpatine. His reconstructed skull suggests a brutal battle in the distant past. So, Snoke’s forces could have remained in deep space whilst his apprentice held the galaxy in his thrall.
Andrew: Aren’t there always two Sith Lords? I seem to remember some dialogue in the prequels about that, which is why first Darth Maul and then Darth Tyranus (Dooku) had to be dispatched before Vader was able to take up the vacancy? Maybe I’m wrong about that.
John: Yes, Lucas added that limitation in the prequels. A misstep amongst many.
Back to Rey for a moment. What do you make of the theory Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s Jyn Erso is her mother? I couldn’t help making the connection whilst watching the first teaser trailer for director Gareth Edwards’ upcoming spin-off. It may be a standalone movie. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t tie-in to the emergent transmedia universe incubated at Disney in much the same way as studio stablemates Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man hold clues to the continuity-heavy MCU.
Andrew: I wouldn’t have a problem if they use a prequel film like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to build up some necessary new material on which the future films then later rely on - it’s almost Moffat-esque in its timey-wimey approach to plotting, a way of broadening and deepening the Star Wars cinematic universe which I think is much needed. It’s been looking a bit overused and threadbare of late and in sore need of creative talents like Abrams, Edwards and Johnson to reinvigorate it.
That said, I’ve not seen the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer and nor am I intending to. I’m not making a particular fetish of avoiding spoilers, it’s just that I find I get so tired of PR campaigns wheeled out over months (and longer!) that by the time the film itself shows up in the cinemas I’m almost fed up of hearing about it. Hence I’m trying not to see any of the build-up, purely so that I can view the film when it does arrive with as fresh an eye as possible.
But that said, I’ll bite: what is it about Jyn Erso that makes you think she’s Rey’s mother? And who is she anyway?
John: It could be her Received Pronunciation (RP) and brunette hair, but that's too superficial isn't it? However, the teaser trailer suggests she’s captured by the Rebels before embarking on a journey that, cleverly, suggests a dark path toward becoming Darth Vader’s apprentice. Now that's an ending I'd applaud.
Andrew: Clearly you have quite a dark side of your own to be applauding that!
John: Ha! You wouldn't be the first to say that.
Andrew: Hang on: received pronunciation? Brunette hair? Surely that’s General-Princess-Worshipfulness Leia?!
John: Leia was my first big screen crush. Vividly remember asking my late mum if Leia would wait for me to grow up? The age of innocence.
Andrew: Awww, that’s sweet! To be honest, I think many of us of a certain age at that time had much the same thought. You are not alone!
John: You're not wrong, sir. I won't mention my concurrent crush on television’s Wonder Wonder Lynda Carter too. Oh, wait.
Andrew: Hands off! I saw Lynda Carter first!
Talking of Leia, I found it weird that in the middle act of The Force Awakens Leia is so disinterested in any discussion of the girl that Finn is talking about, and entirely dismissive of any attempts to rescue her. It doesn’t seem that Leia is particularly strong in the Force if she can’t pick up certain clues about Rey’s powers and importance.
And yet oddly, when the Millennium Falcon returns after the climactic battle and Leia realises what’s happened, the person she runs to embrace is … Rey, whom she’s never even met before. Not even a word of comfort for Chewbacca whom she completely blanks in the process. It was a very strange directorial decision and I can’t work out of Abrams just made an honest mistake in his instructions to the cast or whether this signifies something I simply don’t get? Is she, for example, picking up some familial connection? Or just shared grief?
John: Whilst it was lovely to see Princess - I mean, General - Leia again, her return wasn't as memorable as Han and Chewie. Perhaps Abrams and the team weren't too sure what to do with the character? Leia’s inconsistent behaviour was odd. Perhaps an explanation ended up on the cutting room floor.
Andrew: Actually I think Leia is very important to the film, and the development to her and Han’s relationship and their pain over their son is one of the welcome new additions to the franchise’s mythology. The fact that she and Han have moved on, got older, and gone through experiences rather than just been wheeled out as a bit of nostalgia for the older fans was one of the strongest parts of The Force Awakens. For sure there could have been more, but the film is a balance of many things (appropriately!) and they can only do so much in one outing.
John: Her return packed an emotional punch, but then it felt like she was sidelined, which is understandable given the focus on Rey, Finn, Han, Chewie and the search for an elusive Luke. Star Wars shouldn’t become bogged down by too many characters vying for screen time, particularly within the constraints of multiplex-friendly running times.
Andrew: Yes, I’d agree with that.
As for Chewie, he looked amazing didn’t he? Not a grey hair in sight. I’d hate to foot the bill for a course of Grecian 2000 for a Wookie though! He looked very nimble, too, much more so than in the original films. Clearly Wookies just get better with age, like a fine wine.
John: I'm teetotal, but take you at your word.
Andrew: And sadly I can’t afford fine wines!
I think I read somewhere that Abrams has publicly admitted that Leia ignoring Chewbacca in that scene was a genuine mistake, which is fair enough. It’s just that I don’t get the logic of why he thought that Leia should have any interaction with Rey at that point whom she’s never met nor shown any interest in. I guess you could account for it as being a Force connection - that in closer proximity, Leia recognises Rey for either who or what she is, or identifies that she shares Leia’s grief at that moment - but I get twitchy ascribing too many plot holes to ‘the Force’ or else you just end up at a point where the plotting goes out the window and everyone just says in effect “it’s magic.”
Talking of which, I think we’re going to have to dive into the mounting number of mega-coincidences in The Force Awakens. You can have one or two, certainly, but if you keep doing them then it starts to stretch credibility to breaking point, so let’s count a few on display here. The first is that in all the worlds in all the solar systems in all the galaxy, Rey just happens to be on the same planet where Poe Dameron is sent to retrieve information about Luke’s whereabouts. Umm, okay - any actual reason for that? No? Just one of those coincidences? Fair enough, provided they don’t keep coming every 10 minutes.
John: Coincidences are a hallmark of the Star Wars saga. I was too enamoured with the spirit of adventure and hopefulness to be overly critical. There’s a place for criticism, of course. But, sometimes it’s more than OK to get swept away...
Andrew: I guess I’m grumpy because the coincidences stopped me from getting as swept away by the film as I really wanted to. And actually the first two Star Wars films are notable for doing a commendable job not over-relying on coincidence - the story does all make sense more or less at the time without having to swallow giant servings of improbability. It’s why those films feel so credible despite all the fantasy elements going on, because it has a solid plot foundation.
John: Grumpy Andrew is grumpy.
Andrew: I’m told that it’s one of my more endearing qualities!
John: Between your grumpiness and my dark side aspirations, we could rule the galaxy...
Andrew: Could? Only could?! I find your lack of faith in our combined omnipotence disturbing!
To continue the brisk trot through sundry plot contrivances: so the Millennium Falcon happens to be on the same planet as well? That’s really starting to stretch things, but as long as it’s the last one…. Oh. And now Han and Chewie just happen to be in the neighbourhood when the Falcon takes off, and they’re immediately able to spot it on their sensors in time to dock and come on board? That really has to be the last one. Certainly we can’t have a situation where they decide to go to another completely random planet and stumble across Luke’s original lightsaber in a storeroom for example - that would just be absurd, wouldn’t it?
Okay John, talk me down and tell me why this isn’t the laziest screenwriting of the year?
John: Well, I’d argue The Force Awakens was about bringing fans old and new back into the spirit of romance that typified the original trilogy and rinse away the bad taste of the prequels.
Andrew: You know, I almost feel sorry about the prequels now. They’re the little stepchild no one loves. I kind of want to dive in and defend them in some way. The problem is that you’re right, The Force Awakens does do such an excellent job of recapturing the magic of the original films and reminding people why they loved them in the first place, which in turn only serves to point out just how badly the prequels failed in that regard.
John: Abrams was wise not to take too many risks in a brand rebuilding exercise, something he did with aplomb on the Star Trek reboot, and allow his successors, Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, to take story risks, once the audience is invested in the characters, thereafter.
Andrew: Well in my original review of The Force Awakens I summarised it as “almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015,” which I think is very much the same sentiment. A solid if perhaps tad too-safe reboot, definitely promising even better to come from the next films that get to stand on this one’s broad and successful shoulders. But that’s not to say that The Force Awakens deserves a free pass just because we’re too busy running around saying “Yay! Star Wars is back!” to pay attention to proper (but loving) film criticism.
John: I may have said and wrote “Abrams takes Star Wars back to 1977!” and then yayed and cried tears of joy.
Andrew: Anyway, I think that’s more than enough of me picking holes in the plot. Let’s move on and take a look at some of the new characters. Since we’ve arrived on Takodana I guess Maz Kanata is as good a place to start as any. What did you make of our diminutive former-pirate-and-smuggler-turned-tavern-owner, and where do you think she fits into the larger picture?
John: Love Maz! She’s the sequel trilogy’s Yoda. Her poignant scenes with Rey reprised the Arthurian archetypes of A New Hope. A wise master and a reluctant hero unwilling to go on a quest until a baptism in fire changes everything.
Many cited Rey’s discovery of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsabre as evoking Harry Potter, but that series also mines mythic archetypes and Star Wars was there before it.
Andrew: Maz didn’t make such a deep impression on me, I have to say. I think I was distracted by how much she resembled Edna Mode from The Incredibles (“No capes!”) It’ll be interesting to see if Maz plays any larger role within the saga or if that was it - I rather felt she was somewhat dispensable in the wider scheme of things, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be proved wrong on that down the line.
John: Funny you should mention The Incredibles as Brad Bird declined directing chores on Star Wars in favour of the middling Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, which contained references to our beloved space opera.
What did you make of Rey’s Force vision in which it appears Kylo Ren, leading the Knights of Ren, seemingly slays an Inquisitor from Star Wars: Rebels? I recently rewatched the enigmatic sequence on digital download and on Blu-ray. Quite possibly one of my favourite scenes from the saga to date. This is storytelling I live for.
Andrew: To be honest I tend to tune out during ‘vision’ sequences in any film, The Force Awakens included, regarding them as somewhat overused and usually (intentionally) entirely misleading. I’ll have to watch it properly now it’s out on Blu-ray so that I can pay proper attention to it, especially with your high recommendation. (We’ll get to my own favourite scene shortly.) I don’t think that I would have recognised an Inquisitor at the time, but I’ve watched more Star Wars: Rebels since then so it might be more obvious to me now.
John: Tuned out during a ‘vision’ quest. Heresy. Admittedly, I only made the connection on repeated viewing at home.
Andrew: That makes me feel slightly better in that case.
Moving on through the list of new characters, I guess we should mention BB-8. I know he’s a big favourite of yours: you’re doubtless sitting down to rewatch the film with your own mini BB-8 at your side as your constant viewing companion?
John: The moment our discussion turns dark! I jest of course. Couldn’t resist watching a digital copy, gifted by a friend, with Sphero’s BB-8, on a shiny new 9.7-inch iPad Pro in Space Grey. ‘Twas the realisation of a childhood dream and should please Apple and Disney shareholders alike.
Andrew: I’ll be honest, BB-8 irks me a little. I can certainly appreciate and admire the technical accomplishment of the design and performance, but as a character he felt a little flat. In terms of plot function he’s essentially a like-for-like replacement for R2-D2 in that he’s the little droid who could, the one entrusted to smuggle crucial plans to the Resistance after the stormtroopers attack. But what I always loved about R2 is that he’s ironically almost the one ‘grown-up’ in A New Hope: level-headed, reliable, taking his responsibilities very seriously and determined to get the job done and not let anyone down, and with a terrific skill set helping him to achieve it.
John: R2 was the first action figure I was gifted before seeing Luke and friends on the big screen. That droid and me have been through alot together.
Andrew: And now you’re cheating on your lifelong R2 pal by stepping out with the shiny new BB-8 instead!
John: So much for loyalty, eh?
Andrew: For me, BB-8 is the ‘babyfied’ version of R2 - in effect a little child compared to the ‘middle aged’ R2. He’s mainly there for comedic effect - every time Abrams feels like we need a laugh to relieve some of the larger tension he’ll cut to BB-8 rolling around or doing something cute and humourous. And you know where we’ve seen that before in the Star Wars franchise? Yes, that’s right: BB-8 is this film’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace.
John: BB-Binks? Great Scott!, to invoke another cherished cinematic franchise.
Andrew: Possibly my biggest issue with BB-8 is simply that I felt he caused R2 (and to a lesser extent C-3PO) to be sidelined in the movie. R2 only wakes up in the closing moments of the film and I would have liked to have seen more of him here. That said, I totally appreciate that it would have stretched plot contrivance too far to have had R2 himself entrusted with super-secret information for a second time, and it would have made it painfully obvious just how closely The Force Awakens heaved to the plot of A New Hope. A new character here was undoubtedly correct.
John: I was disappointed to see R2 wasn't with Luke. An iconic character covered in a dusty tarpaulin. K-H-A-N-N-N!
Andrew: Yes, me too. That would at least have explained his absence. Having him on standby parked in a storage cupboard on low charge like an unloved, superceded smartphone just felt so wrong, even allowing for what we said earlier about the film already having to service a lot of different characters in the running time.
Okay, so let’s move on. We’ve mentioned Poe Dameron a few times already, but what did you actually make of him?
John: Thought Poe Dameron was great from the get go! Oscar Isaac’s charismatic turn made me care about the stakes involved.
Andrew: What’s really fascinating about Dameron is that from the opening scenes it’s clear that he’s the obvious stereotypical male hero figure - but then he gets captured, succumbs to questioning, has to be rescued and then disappears without a trace until near the end when he returns in time for the final battle. Yet even here he’s mostly off-screen for the duration, while we follow the adventures of Han, Chewie, Finn and Rey planetside.
In other words it feels like you could have told an entirely different version of this film in which Dameron is the traditional lead heroic figure - “Captain Peter Perfect, Hero of the Resistance!” - and the others are all merely minor background supporting roles. I find that thought absolutely fascinating, and very clever writing indeed - and I’m sure it’s entirely intentional. I would have loved to have seen a simultaneous two-film release showing both sides of the events - sort of like the Rashomon subjective viewpoint perhaps, or maybe more accurately Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?
John: I like where this is going.
Andrew: As it is, I do wish we’d seen more of Dameron (sorry, I just can’t call him ‘Poe’ without having Teletubbies flashbacks!): if it hadn’t been the casting of Isaacs in the role in the first place I suspect the character would have barely made an impression on screen. As it is, Issacs is one of the best breakthrough stars of recent years and you’re entirely right that his star charisma alone can challenge the raw power wattage output of the Starkiller itself, meaning that he genuinely does manage to stand out and become a fan favourite despite the lack of screen time.
Inevitably his warm friendship with Finn (despite only having about five minutes of screen time together) has got tongues wagging. After introducing one main protagonist in The Force Awakens who is female and another who is black, I know some fans have been pondering whether Star Wars is about to go one step further and have its first gay characters as well, with Dameron high on their list of candidates. What do you reckon?
John: It’s highly plausible and most welcome. I know gay friends and fellow Star Wars fans have adopted Finn and Poe. I’ve got Rey and Kylo Ren. The latter for non-romantic reasons.
Andrew: I’m by no means averse to having gay characters in the Star Wars universe, but I don’t really get that vibe from Dameron and Finn. It just seems to be another case in which any situation where two male characters are friends without overt stereotypical alpha male conflict automatically means people think that there must be some homo-erotic connotation bubbling away under the surface. Sometimes a bromance is just a bromance, and a cigar is just a cigar.
John: I likened their relationship to a bromance in my review. I’m sure we’ve all made new friends of the same sex and the relationship was instantly one more akin to a longterm friendship from childhood. Because empathy.
Andrew: Agree completely!
Whatever they do, I hope it’s kept low-key and natural and not made into some Big Statement (with Capital Letters) for political correctness’ sake. The way that Rey and Finn are simply right for their roles in The Force Awakens without a big song and dance being made of gender or race considerations is just perfect in my book.
John: Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are phenomenal. Ridley deserves special mention simply because she carries the weight of the movie on her shoulders with an assuredness that belies her lack of leading roles to date. Deservedly, she must be inundated with potential roles including Lara Croft from the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot in the wake of the movie’s critical and commercial success.
Andrew: As well as Dameron, another character who gets surprisingly little screen time in The Force Awakens is General Hux, which was disappointing as I’m a big fan of Domhnall Gleeson (with whom Isaacs coincidentally co-starred in one of my favourite movies of 2015, Ex Machina). I felt he was somewhat wasted as a Grand Moff Tarkin-a-like, although he did at least have a highlight moment with his maniacal address to the massed ranks of stormtroopers.
John: The chilling personification of a Nuremberg Rally. Worryingly, it was almost too easy to get caught up in the fascistic rhetoric of the First Order such is Gleeson’s self-belief.
Andrew: Even though Hux didn’t get much screen time, I did particularly enjoy his scenes with Kylo - the way the two of them were engaged in bitter, petty inter-office sniping and conducting an ongoing battle of one-upmanship to curry favour with Snoke. It gives the whole First Order that extra bit of texture and depth to it, making it all feel much more realistic than the often one-dimensional bad guys portrayal of the Empire in the original films
John: The tense interpersonal drama is a delight to deep dive into in repeated viewings.
Andrew: There’s one new character we’ve mentioned a few times already, albeit without going into full detail about, and that’s Kylo Ren - and it’s here that some of the biggest spoilers of all reside.
So, what did you think of Kylo? Is he a success as the new main bad guy of the franchise?
John: Kylo Ren is, without doubt, the most interesting villain in Star Wars since Darth Vader strode onto the silver screen and into infamy.
Complex, unpredictable and prone to temper tantrums that make Anakin Skywalker look feeble in the prequels. I almost, and I stress almost, let slip an audible expletive when Kylo destroyed a control console with his divisive crossguard lightsabre, instantly calmed and then brutally Force pulled a luckless First Order officer into his chokehold at the mention of a mysterious girl. Rey.
Adam Driver’s petulant portrayal of a conflicted villain is what Hayden Christensen’s should have been in the prequels. Am I a Kylo Ren fanboy? Hell yeah.
Andrew: I’m glad you’re a Kylo Ren fan - so I am, massively so. Apparently he’s quite a Marmite figure with a lot of fans not really taking to him, but I think he’s brilliant and one of the best new elements of the Star Wars franchise in many a year. We’re so used to our bad guys being monolithic, unswervingly evil, ruthless, dominating and completely unstoppable that to have someone like Kylo who is so multifaceted, recognisably human and conflicted and yet so deadly all at the same time makes him very much a villain for the 21st century. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad guy in a genre film have such a complete and utter meltdown as the tantrum that you mention, which incidentally contains my favourite sight gag of the movie - where two stormtroopers happen across Kylo midway through his assault on the console, take one look at each other and about-turn to walk off in the opposite direction. You can almost hear them trying to whistle nonchalantly as they go.
John: I love Marmite. So, there's that. The finely tuned comedy in The Force Awakens was welcome and a laugh-out-loud treat. JJ Abrams’ movie was funnier than most so-called comedies on film or television.
Andrew: I have to say, I’m not a big fan of many sitcoms, but I do love it when you get laugh-out-loud humour coming naturally out of a high-stakes dramatic situation - for example in Doctor Who, or The West Wing which blissfully combined screwball humour with some very serious subject matter and where you never, ever noticed the join. Abrams has always been good at that, too, and certainly succeeds in bringing it to the table in The Force Awakens.
Back to Kylo for a moment. When we first see meet him, as he strides into the camp on Jakku in the opening sequence, he looks rather disappointing - robes flapping feebly around him, a rather naff-looking mask making him look like an uninspired Sith Lord knock-off. His voice is weedy and petulant too, nothing like the magisterial tones that we’re used to from James Earl Jones. All in all, this first impression is totally underwhelming when compared to Darth Vader - and that’s no accident, because the brilliant thing is that this observation genuinely nails the entire character. Even Kylo considers himself to be a mere pale imitation of his idol and fears he will never live up to the comparison. In fascinating contrast to how Luke used to obsess whether he was strong enough to avoid turning to the dark side of the Force, here we see Kylo losing sleep worrying that he’s being pulled too much toward the good side.
Adam Driver is great in the part - for me he almost steals the show from Ridley and Boyega, which is no mean feat. But it’s not just Driver’s performance, it’s the whole background to the character that represents the biggest and bravest jump in the Star Wars narrative since Vader and Luke had their first father/son evening together in The Empire Strikes Back. The idea that Han and Leia’s son could have turned out like this and done the things that he’s done is perhaps the most tragic turn in the whole saga and truly heartbreaking when you think about it.
John: Daisy Ridley is the standout for me. But, Driver was exceptional. Distilling the tragedy of the Skywalker saga. William Shakespeare would be proud.
Andrew: It’s also great that we don’t know any of this going in. It’s not infodumped on us but rather drip-fed through a number of moments as the film progresses: first we find out that he has the original Vader’s melted helmet and wonder how (and why); then he lets slip that Vader is his grandfather (but that doesn’t rule out the possibility he’s Luke’s son); then it dawns on us that he’s actually Leia’s son; and later still it’s confirmed that Han is actually his father. But we have to follow the clues and work this out as we go rather than just have someone blurt out “Oh yeah, he’s Han and Leia’s kid Ben gone bad, didn’t you know?” How brilliant is that?
John: I was sat deep in introspection when the revelation dropped.
Andrew: By the way, I can’t help but think that the choice of given name - Ben - is an odd one. Why do you think he’s called that? Of course fans assume he’s named after Obi-Wan, but that doesn’t make an awful lot of sense since Leia never met Obi-Wan and Han was hardly the guy’s biggest fan in their brief acquaintance travelling from Tatooine to the Death Star via Alderaan-as-was.
John: Well, Han Solo tells Rey and Finn “It’s true. All of it,” in a statement that is a reversal of his snide remarks following Luke’s initial lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope. Perhaps the old fossil meant more to Han, and Leia by extension, in the intervening years.
Andrew: It’s an idea. Of course Han would surely have had to come around to believing in the Force to some extent purely because he what he’d seen firsthand with Luke, and later with his own son. But I still can’t really see him suddenly getting teary-eyed about some old guy he butted heads with for half an hour.
Incidentally, Kylo is at the heart of my single favourite scene in the whole of The Force Awakens, the moment when he tries to interrogate Rey. I’d describe it as the single most important single scene in the entire film, the tipping point around which the entire narrative - possibly even the whole future of the Star Wars saga - hinges. It’s just a brilliant moment in every respect. The performances, writing, direction, editing and even the music all impressively combine to signal the subtext of what’s going on before we even realise it consciously.
We’ve already seen Kylo effortlessly rip what he needed from classic hero figure Poe Dameron’s mind early on, so when he walks into the cell it looks pretty bleak that Rey can resist any better. Kylo swaggers in, she’s cowering in the restraints and no one - not the protagonists, not the audience - doubts what will happen next. It’s fascinating how subtly the scene then plays out, as gradually we become aware that something odd is happening and that the balance of power is shifting, slowly at first and then emphatically toward the end so that it’s Rey who ends up confident and triumphant and Kylo left sprawled on the floor, devastated and in tears. If we hadn’t been sure before this, then this one moment makes it clear just how exceptional and important Rey really is. A truly brilliant scene.
John: Yes, it's a deliciously dark, claustrophobic and traumatic scene in which Kylo Ren, ironically, fully awakens Rey’s Force powers in the midst of an interrogation and then goes apoplectic with rage when she escapes by way of a mind trick on a First Order Stormtrooper, played with zeal by Daniel Craig (James Bond).
Andrew: Ahh, so that was Daniel Craig! I knew he had cameoed as one of the stormtroopers but had never gone looking for confirmation of which one it was. Thank you for filling me in on that point.
John: The first time I saw the movie, I kept thinking that the voice sounded familiar. Whilst walking back out of the theatre with fellow fans, who were complete strangers over 2-hours previously, we discreetly - to avoid spoiling it for anyone else - mused over why he sounded so familiar and then. BOOM!
Andrew: Of course, talking about Kylo Ren means we finally have to face up to the pivotal shock moment of the entire film. I think you know the one I mean?
John: Han’s death. I need a hug from Chewie.
Andrew: Awwwww! Allow me to fill for a minute or two while you and the Wookie gather yourselves in that case.
Coming into the cinema to see the film for the first time, I didn’t know they were going to do this with the character - somehow I’d successfully managed to avoid any spoilers for the better part of three weeks since the premiere. But one thing had been puzzling me for months, and that was how Abrams had managed to get Harrison Ford to come back and star in The Force Awakens, since it was so clear that Ford had long felt he was well and truly done with the franchise. For him to sign up to the film felt oddly out of character for him.
I think it’s common knowledge that Ford suggested that Han should be killed off in the last of the original trilogy, mainly so that there would be no question of him ever coming back. He also felt that Return of the Jedi needed a bit of a bite to it and that Han’s death would have provided it - and for what it’s worth, I think he was absolutely right. In many ways Return of the Jedi was the moment that the franchise lost its nerve and became as soft and fluffy as a baby Ewok’s backside, where everything is just fine and lovely and fireworks and campfires and friendly happy smiley ghosts. The franchise had ended up ditching the darkness and tragedy that made the first two films so powerful and as a consequence was left with a bit of a sappy blancmange of an ending to the then-complete saga. That said, if they had killed off Han in 1983 it would have rather scuppered the whole Ben/Kylo plotline that’s central to the new films, so it’s probably just as well that they did resist Ford’s script input at the time.
As a result, when I watched that fateful scene unfold in The Force Awakens, my primary thought was: “Oh, so that’s how they got him to come back!” - basically by telling him they were picking up his idea and running with it, and that this would emphatically be his final time in Star Wars as a result. Suddenly it all made sense just how they had talked Ford into a final encore. And looking back, there was a definite sense of inevitability about the impending moment: Ford’s last scene with Carrie FIsher some 20 minutes earlier had been an odd one at face value, a moment of farewell that seemed to contribute little new of substance to the story. It’s only later on, when you rewatch the film knowing what is to come, that you realise why it’s so important: that having been reconciled, this is to be their very last time together and that to a degree they both already know it. They’re saying ‘goodbye’, not ‘see you later’, which is why it’s different from previous similar scenes between them.
As soon as Han stepped out onto that long gantry to try and talk his son around, I was pretty sure how it was going to go. But I was still thinking: “No, they’re not. They wouldn’t. They can’t. Are they really going to? They are. They’re actually going to bloody go for it. Oh, this is huge...”
John: The scene left me numb and in denial. It wasn’t until Rey joined Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, towards the end of the movie, that Han’s death hit me. Hard. He was my late mum’s favourite character in Star Wars. I was all about Luke until my teens.
Andrew: Really? I guess I always knew that Luke was meant to be the hero and star, but even I found Han to be the more interesting and appealing character of them all. With your own honourable exception, I think he ended up being pretty much everyone’s favourite character in Star Wars, mostly because of the comedy he brought. I’m sure Lucas never originally meant that to be the case but Harrison Ford simply ran with it and stole the show, rightfully becoming a huge movie star in the process.
John: Mark Hamill was sidelined, but has carved out a niche in genre. His Joker for DC Comics is lauded.
Andrew: It’s kind of odd that after Star Wars, Hamill never did quite become the star that everyone expected him to be. It’s a shame that he’s ended up known mainly for just his voiceover work in animated serials - his live action outing as the Trickster in The Flash shows how good he can be in the flesh. He has quite the knack for portraying the really weird and crazy characters.
So, do you think it was the right call to kill off Han at this point? What did you think of the actual scene and the way it played out? Did it have the impact of, say, the moment Obi-Wan raises his lightsaber in salute and allows Vader to strike him down in the Death Star hangar in A New Hope?
John: Han’s death underscored the raised stakes and reminded me of my theory that Luke was going to die in Return of the Jedi and Leia would, ultimately, defeat Vader and his Emperor.
Andrew: Wow, that really would have been dark! Certainly not how the light and fluffy Return of the Jedi actually turned out, and such an angle never occurred to me for a minute. I admit, I was always rather disappointed that Leia never did get to develop any of her Force skills in the original trilogy, and apparently not even in the interval between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens either. I know that in the 70s and 80s it would have been revolutionary to have had a female character (indeed, the only female character of any significance in the entire Star Wars saga at the time) become the leading action figure, but I’d have thought in the interim they could have found something for Leia to redress that oversight in terms of modern sensibility, especially in view of how Rey takes point in the new film.
The only problem that I have with Han’s death scene is the timing of it within the movie: it’s such a shock, such an overwhelmingly powerful moment, that arguably the film never picks itself back up and recovers from it. For me, it was almost halfway into what was intended to be the big climax of the movie with Finn, Rey and Kylo squaring up to duel in the forest before I finally managed to recover from it and get my head back in the game to reconnect with what was going on up on the screen.
John: I love an intense lightsaber duel packed with emotion and this delivered and then some. I’ll go as far as saying the duel was the best since The Empire Strikes Back. Visceral, ferocious and we finally see Rey embrace the Force, which floored myself and almost every fan in the packed auditorium.
Andrew: Not a fan of the lightsaber battles in the prequels, then? Whatever else one might think about The Phantom Menace, I always thought the face-off Darth Maul has with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan was one the franchise’s more successful stand-out moments. And later we had Yoda throwing down with Dooku in Attack of the Clones. Why did those scenes not do it for you in the same way that the confrontation between Rey and Kylo clearly did?
John: The duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan was balletic, but repeated viewings reveal a weightlessness both literally and metaphorical. The most memorable part was when Qui-Gon used the Force to disable the forcefield. Yoda and Dooku’s duel was too whimsical.
Andrew: They fell foul to Lucas’ over-fondness for CGI and green screen unreality, in other words? Such a shame.
John: Suffice to say fans (myself included) openly wept when the lightsaber flew into Rey’s outstretched hand in The Force Awakens, mirroring Luke Skywalker of old. Now, I know my feelings were being manipulated with all the nods back to the original trilogy, but this is my Star Wars, the saga that saw me through a life-changing trauma in childhood, back on the big screen…
Andrew: The battle of wills over which of them the lightsaber would go to was certainly a stand-out moment - although after Rey’s powerful vision and the way that she’d overcome Kylo in the interrogation scene we both admired so much, I didn’t really feel there was any doubt about the outcome and so I didn’t think that it was as tense as it might have been.
I know there was quite a lot of grumbling from certain sections that Rey, despite her evident strong Force abilities, and in particular Finn shouldn’t have been able to make anywhere near such a good stand against Kylo in that scene given Kylo’s clear superiority in experience and training. Luke was never anywhere near that good wielding a lightsaber for the first two original films by comparison. Should the battle have been more one-sided in Kylo’s favour, do you think?
John: I assumed Kylo was toying with Finn whilst trying to control the pain from the wound inflicted by Chewie’s bowcaster in the wake of Han’s death. Kylo dispatches Finn with aplomb, after torturing him with the crossblade lightsaber, and leaving our luckless hero with a severed spine. In contrast, it becomes clear that Kylo has ambitions to train Rey.
Andrew: I’m glad you also concluded that Kylo’s less-than-optimal combat performance in that scene was the result of his wound. It seemed to me to have been very carefully set-up that Kylo came into the climactic battle badly compromised and seriously injured, which accordingly somewhat rebalanced the scales between himself and Rey. Driver did a very good job of selling the pain while not overplaying it at the same time. Unhurt, Kylo would likely have wiped the floor with them both without even breaking his stride; now he’s going to go away and complete his training with Snoke, and unless Rey can find someone to train her up in the ways of the Force I don’t think it will be a very happy rematch for her next time they meet.
There was a lot of advance publicity about how these films were going back to basics and dispensing with George Lucas’ preference of largely shooting on sparse green sets and adding everything in digitally afterwards. If I understand it right, the climactic lightsaber battle was the one moment that reverted back somewhat to Lucas’ approach and was mainly done on a soundstage with a lot of post-production CGI. I can’t say I noticed any discrepancies though, unlike the prequels where there was a tendency for things to look plastic and artificial. Did you spot anything?
John: Nothing in the slightest. The vibrant visuals popped on Kodak film and I'm delighted the medium will be used for the next two sequels. The renaissance in analog formats, including vinyl, is welcome in an era of sterile digital.
Andrew: I’m afraid I’m not one of those people who is misty-eyed for the old days of crackly vinyl and jittery film prints that were scratched and marked. I like the precision and clarity of digital for the most part. The problem is that digital is quite hard and unforgiving, and does show up any flaws in the filmmaker’s approach - certainly when it comes to the use of CGI and green screen. In many ways the prequels did us all a favour by showing how it can go quite wrong despite the best of intentions when the digital tools are wielded without proper regard for the end result.
John: Green screens and actors searching for motivation, which didn’t magically manifest in postproduction. Don’t get me started on the prequels laboured editing. Abrams’ movie moved with kinetic energy and didn’t outstay its welcome. I didn’t want it to end and couldn’t ask for more than that.
Andrew: I’m always amazed when I remember the running time of The Force Awakens is only 135 minutes. That’s commendably brisk for such a big movies, and it still packs a huge amount in. Very much leaves the audience wanting for more rather than having them lose the will to live before the end credits like so many modern blockbusters.
John: Yes, it’s as if the declining Hollywood studio system is more concerned with bloated blockbusters at the expense of storytelling. A topic we’ve covered previously.
Andrew: I’ll admit that my biggest fear in the final lightsaber battle was that they would end up killing off Kylo as retribution for his slaying of Han. As arguably the standout new character of The Force Awakens I very much wanted Kylo to survive to be around as the antagonist for the next few films and not summarily dispensed with, because I think the consequences of his actions here should almost be the main driving force behind the next few films.
Looking at it now it’s easy to think “Oh, that was never going to happen, of course Kylo was always coming back,” but Star Wars doesn’t have a great history of always making the right call at such moments - look at the way they threw away the intriguing character of Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace for no good reason. In many ways I think that careless off-handed decision was one of the things that did most harm of all to the prequels.
John: That’s why Darth Maul has been retconned back into the saga since his decapitation at the end of The Phantom Menace. The former Sith Lord makes a noteworthy appearance in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels Season 2.
Andrew: Unfortunately too late to help out the remaining prequels, which could really have used his ongoing presence.
So, what do we think will happen in the next film of the franchise?
John: I wouldn't rule out a major twist with Rey. Some fans suggest she's the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker no less. The idea is predicated on the notion that the chosen one, bringing balance to the Force, is always the same person. There’s a passage in Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation of The Force Awakens in which a young boy, possibly Anakin Skywalker, appears during Rey’s vision. Kylo’s injuries will necessitate bionics a la his late maternal grandfather and Snoke may seek to seduce Rey to the dark side as her Force powers would come in most useful.
Andrew: I didn’t know that the Force included the concept of ‘reincarnation’. I’m not sure I buy that one; I don’t recall Rey saying “Yippee!” even once in The Force Awakens! Anyway. isn’t Anakin safely tucked up in happy, smiley space ghost heaven with Obi-Wan and Yoda now?
John: It’s not something I’ve ever mused upon beyond Force ghosts. Rumours are rife that we’ll see Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Anakin Skywalker. The latter was intended to appear to Kylo Ren whilst he battled his inner demons. Vader’s melted helmet better served that purpose.
Andrew: I can buy the idea that Anakin was never actually the chosen one (Yoda never did buy into it, after all) and that the prophecies were in fact always about Rey. It would certainly make her a prize asset for Snoke. but wouldn’t that be just reheating the original trilogy’s story with the Emperor determined to ‘turn’ Luke? And in the prequels where he succeeded in winning over Anakin? Haven’t we been down that road too many times already?
Personally I’m rather expecting Episode VIII to pick up where The Force Awakens left off with Luke and Rey’s meeting on the island, filling in some of the backstory about why Luke went into seclusion in the first place. I’m assuming Luke saved infant Rey from the massacre of the apprentices and hid her on Jakku before going walkabout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has no clearer idea of her true lineage than she does.
John: It’ll be the first Star Wars movie to do so. There’s usually a passage of time. Presumably the opening credits will reflect that: “Rey found Luke Skywalker with the help of a reassembled map and returned his late father’s lightsaber to him. What happens next will blow your mind…”
Andrew: Overall, Episode VIII could be about getting Luke’s mojo back and putting him back into the game, which would mean not only training Rey but also searching out other Force-gifted candidates to set up a new Jedi corps before Snoke and Kylo can beat him to it. I still wonder whether Finn might be one of those new recruits; I was rather surprised that his fate was left somewhat up in the air at the end of The Force Awakens with him still unconscious from the injuries inflicted by Kylo. It’s almost as if there’s some doubt about whether he’ll be back for Episode VIII.
I’d also like to find out a bit more about the First Order - at this point it seems both their Starkiller superweapon and their only known Imperial Star Destroyer have both been destroyed, so what’s left? And what are they actually trying to do anyway? Unless we have some sense of the First Order’s plans and objectives and whether they have the resources to achieve them, they’re not really much of a threat.
John: I’d like to hear Captain Phasma deliver a mission statement in a hail of laser bolts! The First Order’s single Star Destroyer did surprise me. I was expecting to see a fleet of them surrounding Starkiller Base a la Return of the Jedi or at least appearing out of hyperspace to rescue Hux, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma.
Andrew: I hope Phasma gets more of a role in the next film - she’s in danger of being this era’s underused Boba Fett. A bit of a waste of Game of Thrones’s wonderful Gwendoline Christie really.
John: She didn’t even get to fire her blaster in anger! I was gutted.
Andrew: I also hope that Episode VIII goes a bit more into the background of the restored Republic. We got only a single line about it in
I don’t have any definite ideas or suggestions about a specific plot for Episode VIII that would encompass these thoughts. The only request I make is that the next film must try something genuinely new: with The Force Awakens being such a self-avowed nostalgia fest and the next standalone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also taking us back to a very familiar time, place, scenario and set of characters as the original Star Wars movie, Episode VIII must be the point when the franchise shows that it can successfully extend the saga with new ideas rather than endlessly mine the past.
I have high hopes for it, but it absolutely can’t afford to disappoint. In terms of the longevity of the series I rather think that Episode VIII could well prove to be even trickier and more crucial in terms of finding success than even The Force Awakens. It may even be the single most important moment in the history of the Star Wars saga since May 25, 1977. No pressure, then.
John: One need only look to the series’ highpoint, my all time favourite film, The Empire Strikes Back. Had that not been a critical and commercial success, it’s unlikely we’d be discussing new Star Wars now. Over to you, Disney.
And that’s where the end credits roll on our spoiler-filled retrospective of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it’s given you a lot to mull over, whether you agree or disagree with our ruminations. Let us know what you think in the comments section below. And if you liked it, maybe we’ll make this a regular occurrence and return in around 12 months for a similar analysis of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or the following year for Episode VIII where we’ll get to find out whether any of our predictions were anywhere near the mark. Until then - May the Force be with you!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services. Extras on the Blu-ray include a 70 minutes making-of feature entitled Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey, an all-too-brief look at the table read, and featurettes on creature design, John Williams’ iconic music, the creation of BB-8, ILM’s work on the FX of the film, a detailed look at the climactic lightsaber duel and a collection of interesting if not essential deleted scenes. Alas, no sign of any audio commentary on this release. However, Disney’s stated a 3D Blu-ray will be released this holiday season.