Now that pretty much everyone has seen The Force Awakens, I can seriously (and unseriously) talk about it. Nothing I write here will change anybody’s mind about the film, one way or another, but you get to hear what I think.
I should start by saying that Star Wars formed a huge part of the geography of my imagination as a kid. I was 12 when it came out. I remember hearing radio-adds for it before it opened, already exposed to the fantasy of J.R.R Tolkien and the science fiction of Robert A. Heinlein. So… Luke Skywalker? Darth Vader? A Death Star? It sounded like cheesy Flash Gordon sci-fi pulp and I wasn’t that interested. But our dad took me and my brother to see it.
Over the next half a year I spent my allowance to see it seven more times. I collected every one of the original Star Wars bubble-gum cards. I bought a bunch of the action figures. To play with. And I endlessly wrote author-inserting fanfic in my head. Yeah, it was kind of a big deal.
So, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi? Also good, although not quite the magic of the first film. The prequels? Um, moving along.
Actually, the prequels did me one favor; having survived them, I went to see The Force Awakens with practically zero expectations. I hoped it wouldn’t suck.
It didn’t suck.
Mind you it wasn’t great, either. I give it a 6 or 7 out of 10. 4 out of 5 Amazon stars.
First the bad: it was so closely derivative of Star Wars: A New Hope that it wasn’t funny. A rebel carrying vital information is captured by the Evil Minion of the Empire/First Order, but not before he gives it to his faithful droid to keep safe. Faithful droid wanders until discovering The Hero, who is then forced by circumstance to flee her “home,” beginning her quest to get the McGuffin where it’s supposed to go. A planet is blown up, there is a capture and rescue, cliff-hanging inside the Death Star 3.0, scrappy rebels blowing the First Order’s new Big Freaking Gun to dust-bunnies by exploiting an ill-guarded weakness…
I also wasn’t fond of the way Han died.
I’m going back to the theater.
Mainly because of Rey.
Rey may very well be the best character of the Star Wars franchise. She’s a non-whiny and self sufficient Luke, with a powerful moral compass. She doesn’t buy a stolen droid, she rescues (and then refuses to sell) a wandering one. Far from whining about wanting to “leave the farm,” she’s right where she wants to be (or thinks she needs to be); when she sets out to return little BB-8, she intends to do the job and then come right back “home.” She’s not tagging along after someone, either, and, captured, she rescues (or half-rescues) herself.
In many ways, by sticking so closely to the original character-story of Star Wars: A New Hope—desert-world farmboy/salvager thrust into The Fight Against Evil—The Force Awakens makes Rey The Hero 2.0. Thinking about it afterwards, I couldn’t help thinking that Rey was what Luke should have been in A New Hope. There’s a reason why most Star Wars fans of my generation thought Han Solo the most interesting character (admit it; if Luke hadn’t had the Force with him he would have been completely uninteresting).
In TFA, Rey is the one who chooses the goal; she’s nobody’s sidekick. Her desires are far more compelling than Luke’s; she longs for family, not adventure. She is a strong though untested hero from the very beginning, and because she feels so solid as a character, she is the emotional and moral center of the movie; the other characters were never inconsequential, but Rey’s is the central story and the one that shapes the others’.
So my final take on The Force Awakens? In some ways it feels like A New Hope done better. For all the derivativeness I complained about, it is a worthy entry in the Star Wars franchise, with a new band of very strong characters, of which Rey is the best. Since the new story has only begun, I will suspend judgement of the plot until we see how it ends.
And until then I’m just going to enjoy it.
Marion G. Harmon