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
11 thoughts on “Hope and Fear as The Force Awakens.”
Disney’s strength is remaking a proven story/classic and making it appealing for a family audience. Rey is a strong role model, less flawed than Luke, but in some ways that makes her seem more artificial, because Luke’s flaws were all familiar human characteristics that made him realistic, an imperfect callow youth. Rey is the more golden, but less human seeming perfection to Luke’s frustrated, repressed youth and rebellion. She is lovely, has whatever skill is needed in extreme crisis, but no reasonable explanation why she is the genius mechanic she appears to be, the implication being she is a Force blessed savant with high tech.
I was 9 when Star Wars came out, and I argue that the generation of first run Star Wars saw Luke as the perfect protagonist because he was the exemplary portrayal of a teenager for that time, flaws and saving graces combined. Han was the grizzled and jaded rogue who is both guide and companion to the fledgling hero, influenced by Luke to become a more involved and caring participant in the great Rebellion. Without Luke, Han would have continued down a purely self involved road that led to a very skeevy end.
It always comes down to taste, of course, and the character that enchants one viewer may leave another with “meh.” Luke got better and more interesting in the succeeding movies; in Return of The Jedi he really comes into his own. But, taken singly—looking at A New Hope and The Force Awakens as separate and finished pieces—Rey played the roll of The Hero better than Luke.
And yes, Rey’s easy mastery of the Force was a bit irritating (if funny in spots); but in A New Hope I easily swallowed Luke-the-farmboy being able to outfly imperial pilots in a space-fighter he’d never flown before—it’s all part of the heroic meme, and at least Rey showed at the beginning of the movie that she could kick much ass without the Force helping her out (or maybe it always was…).
I will be the first to admit, however, that Rey is a bit of a Mary Sue.
I liked it okay when I first watched it, but over time the rushed events and the way Rey can seemingly do everything even force use without having to train for it has begun to grate on me.
She isn’t just any Mary Sue, she’s Wesley Crusher in a dress.
I don’t see a way to really fix what’s broken here in the next movie. Even if they make her Luke’s half trained child prodigy of a daughter whose memories were suppressed then Kylo Ren should have recognized her right off even if they had never met. There just isn’t any plausible way for a poor teenage scavenger from a sparsely populated and backwards desert world to have such a wide range of technical skills.
spot on, imho, I had exactly the same thoughts. And I had been soooo afraid after what JJ did to trek that I was happy it wasn’t a travesty of retcon that undermined what was good about the morals and norms of the ‘verse. I didn’t bother to go back to see TFA again, in part because of the Han thing but mostly it was just 1.5 original star wars movies, redone a bit better. And I saw those…well, and embarrassing number of times (substantially more digits involved than your count).
My wife said it best. “When I was watching it, I asked myself if I felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie.” We both agreed that it felt like it. It had that indefinable SOMETHING that made it feel right. It hit all the right buttons.
Just happened to notice the “About George” blurb. FWIW, I think you’re a *damn fine* writer of fun fluff. Which, imho, is not faint praise at all. At some pt in my pers dev I developed an allergy to all the ubiquitous “darker edgier” crap and horrific trauma and toxic norms. Writing that doesn’t poison my brain is much appreciated, and you do a pretty fair job at it, more so than your tenure in the community might lead one to expect. So, tyvm.
Well thank you. Not a fan of the “darker edgier” stuff myself. Bite Me was as dark as I could get.
Will we ever get more New Orleans books? I was hoping for more on that part of your universe.
Plus fairies. Elves, gnomes and tiny pixies please. We’ve seen Kitsune so more folklore has to be out there.
An Artemis short story might be in the cards. We’ll see.
I’m young enough that I only saw Return of the Jedi in the theaters, but my first Star Wars experience was at my Uncle’s house. He had both SW and ESB on VHS and my sister and I watched them literally from dusk to dawn the entire week we were there. It helped we were small, he had a huge TV with an upstairs ‘movie room’ and a great sound system! We watched each several times a day while we were there…much passed Marion’s 7 count!
I played the Decipher CCG, I played the bad SNES Video games, I read the Zhan trilogy and Shadows. I enjoyed SW until…we’ll, until those unmentionables…those that must not be named. Now? SW has been “meh” for me.
So, Like Marion, my expectations were ‘please don’t suck’. Pretty simple. In the end, it didn’t suck, but i would have liked to see less “Star Wars” and more “The Force Awakens”. But in the end…I”d watch it again in a heart beat AND more importantly, i’m interested in seeing where the story goes. That’s not happened in two decades.
My only complaint was seeing Luke in that…that…that Outfit. You know, the reject one from “those that must not be named”. I was really hoping Disney would join in the rest of us and ‘forget’ those ever happened…but NO…stupid Jedi in stupid clothing with stupid midichlorians….it least the bad guy killed someone and never ran away. Already better then General “I keep all my fleshy parts exposed even though i’m a cyborg” Grievous.
Sigh…alright…breath in…breath out…
I’m good now.
Sorry…meant from Dawn to Dusk (and past even)