It’s been a month since the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens as I write this. The film has destroyed nearly every box office record in existence, earned five Oscar nominations and exceeded the wildest expectations of the greater Star Wars fan base. In my opinion, Episode VII is the Best Picture of 2015 and you can read my original review here, which I tried my best to be as spoiler-free as possible. I said in that review that, once everyone had a chance to have their own Star Wars experience, that we’d revisit the film and start dissecting it as Star Wars fans are wont to do. I have just seen the film for the fifth time, and I think it’s safe to start to delve into the questions raised by the film’s events and spoilers. So it goes without saying, that if for some reason you are still waiting to see this movie…..GO SEE THIS MOVIE AND STOP READING OR I WILL RUIN IT FOR YOU, I KID YOU NOT!!!
What Disney did right from the very first seconds.
Disney made an extremely subtle, but wise decision to not put their logo in place of 20th Century Fox’s. The Fox Fanfare has been a link in the beginning of all previous Star Wars films and to have the Disney castle replace it would have been jarring right from the beginning. It also showed complete confidence in the film that they didn’t feel the need to even brand it. They simply put up the Lucasfilm logo, then the familiar STAR WARS, followed by a crawl that had you from the very first sentence: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
Why would you cast an actor of Max von Sydow’s stature and have Kylo Ren butcher the character in the film’s first scene? What’s Lor San Tekka’s deal? Is he important?
Lor San Tekka (von Sydow) gives the last piece of the map to Luke Skywalker’s location to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), then is captured by The First Order and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Tekka clearly knows Ren, knows what happened to him, knows he’s really Ben Solo, and has a history with Ben. “Look how old you’ve become,” Ren greets him.
I believe Tekka was part of Luke’s Jedi Academy in some capacity. The books have him as a follower of the Church of the Force, a non-Force user who unwaveringly supports the Jedi. I think Tekka brought Rey to Jakku for Luke. I have a feeling that the fall of Luke’s Academy will be shown in flashback and we’ll see Tekka’s role in it then. But as for wasting Max von Sydow, hey, he had more lines than Mark Hamill!
Is Kylo Ren Potentially the Deadliest Dark Side Character Yet?
Yes, absolutely. Kylo has a command over The Force that is erratic and wildly powerful. Stopping blaster bolts in mid-air for minutes, freezing people, skillfully torturing information out of them and wielding an ancient saber design like a knight’s broadsword more than the traditional design, Kylo is clearly immensely powerful. His training with Luke was obviously unfocused and Snoke, it seems, has been careful in doling out tips (probably to keep Ren from becoming a threat to himself).
What makes Kylo so fascinating though is that he’s psychotic. Anakin was a sociopath as a Sith. Kylo is freaking insane. He exhibits extreme behavior that holds him back as an effective Dark Side wielder, because he has little control, whereas Vader was always emotionless. If Snoke stabilizes his nature, completes his training and lets him loose, I think he could grow to be the most powerful Force user the Dark Side has ever shown us.
Who is Rey Really?
I think, and we’ll explore this more fully through other questions, that Rey is Luke’s daughter. I think she was the sole survivor of his Academy and was dumped on Jakku with repressed memories (more on this later) to keep her safe from Kylo Ren, who I believe is fully aware of her and that she survived. Every time “a girl” is mentioned in connection with events, he gets extremely agitated and during their duel on Starkiller Base, in the novel, he shouts “IT IS YOU!!!”
Rey has a scary aptitude for the Force, far beyond her father at that age. She’s a naturally gifted pilot and mechanic (both Skywalker traits). The episode movies of Star Wars are supposed to focus on the Skywalker line and by process of elimination, Rey is the only character that fits the bill. I’ve heard a lot of theories about cloning, her being another “chosen one” (you’re never going to hear the word “midichlorian” in a movie again, so stop it) or even Anakin reincarnated. I think that’s all a case of trying to overcomplicate something that is fairly obvious. “Rey”, by the way, is not her real name. It’s printed in one of the Star Wars languages on the side of the pilot helmet she’s wearing after she eats her dinner on Jakku, so that’s where she got that moniker.
Will Finn’s Family Be Important?
Finn is 23-years old in Episode VII. I originally thought he might be a legacy character, but I think the mention of his family is more of an example of how The First Order has taken the old Jedi model of removing Force-sensitive children from their families and twisted it to create a better, more lethal, actually able to hit things when they shoot, class of Stormtrooper.
Is Supreme Leader Snoke Someone We’ve Heard of Before?
Right after the film, the rampant assumption was that Snoke was Darth Plagueis. In Episode III, Palpatine cements Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side by telling of his master, Plagueis, who had the secret to conquering death. Andy Serkis, who plays Snoke, flat out said that Snoke is just Snoke. So we’re assuming this is a new character. He doesn’t seem like a Sith. He seems more interested in the Force as a whole and he’s clearly been very careful about how much knowledge to imbue Kylo Ren with. I don’t know that Snoke looks anything like his hologram, but I can tell you he’s not 25 feet tall. That was a Wizard of Oz homage. Who Snoke is (new character or old) and what his story is, I think will be a key part of Episode VIII.
What the HECK Went Wrong at Luke’s Academy?
This is one of the biggest questions out there: how did Luke fail so badly in training his nephew and allowing him to fall as Obi-Wan did Anakin? I think the answer lies with Snoke. Leia and Han both seem familiar with him, like they know him. I believe Snoke presented himself as a surviving Jedi to Luke and wormed his way into the Academy to bring it down from the inside. He directed Ben to his grandfather’s legacy and encouraged him to leave the Academy, possibly with a group of disaffected students to form his Knights of Ren. They then returned and slaughtered the students (the vision we see in Maz’s castle) and possibly Luke’s wife. Luke fled with Rey and left her in Lor San Tekka’s care on Jakku, blocking her memories to prevent her from ever trying to follow in his footsteps. He then went back to the very roots of the Jedi Order, finding the first temple on that island, where he buried his wife and remained in seclusion for a decade. Realizing that he might have to deal with his mistake once his grief passed and his knowledge of how he failed Ben was enhanced, he left a map to his location in pieces.
Isn’t This Film Just a Remake of A New Hope?
This is, by far, the biggest criticism of Episode VII; that it is essentially a remake of Episode IV. I think that’s ridiculous. The Star Wars films are about parallelism; always have been. There are obvious parallels between the films, but I think they smartly started a new era by drawing parallels to the start of the last beginning of the war for the galaxy. You know what, Dave McRae, does a much better, more energized and saltier version of explaining this on his YouTube channel, so just watch this.
What Did We See During The Force Vision and Who Did We Hear?
On Takodana, in Maz Kanata’s castle, Rey is drawn to a chest that contains Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. We last saw this tumbling to the depths of Bespin after Vader cut off Luke’s hand in Episode V. How does Maz have it? She says that’s a good story for another time, so we’ll find out eventually. When Rey touches the saber she experiences a series of visions: past, present and future. This is how StarWarswikia.com describes the visions:
Upon touching the lightsaber, she receives a series of visions. Rey glimpses moments in time from the saber, in which she finds herself in Cloud City where Luke battled Darth Vader, she then sees Luke placing his metallic hand on top of R2-D2 near a fire watching the burning of his Jedi Temple, and then she finds herself lying in the rain at night to see the Knights of Ren surrounded by slaughtered victims. She then notices herself as a child on Jakku watching the departure of her parents (THIS MAY BE A LEAP OF DEDUCTION ON THEIR PART), yelling out to them to come back, and being told to quiet herself. Rey then finds herself being chased by Kylo Ren in a snowy forest. Rey pulls herself out of the vision in terror.
During the vision, you hear several familiar voices. Yoda’s Frank Oz and Obi-Wan Kenobi (both Alec Guiness and Ewan McGregor) speak to Rey. If you’re wondering how they got the deceased Guiness to say “REY!”, they pulled it from the middle of a word with the syllable in the Original Trilogy and it fit perfectly. Ewan McGregor actually recorded a new line of dialogue for the film that closes the vision, “Rey, these are your first steps….” So if we count Anakin’s head and Obi-Wan’s ghost, they’ve both still been in every Star Wars movie.
Who is the Breakout Minor Character from the Film?
In every Star Wars film, there’s a character who has almost no screen time that blows up into a huge deal. On the net now, it’s FN-2199 also known as TR-8R. He’s the riot trooper who battles Finn on Takodana and screams TRAITOR! at Finn (Kylo does too later, poor Finn). After an awesome fight scene TR-8R gets blown away by Han and his new-found fascination for Chewie’s bowcaster. FN-2199’s backstory is told in Greg Rucka’s novel Before the Awakening.
Did The First Order Destroy the New Republic?
The immensity of what The First Order did when they fired the weapon on Starkiller Base really didn’t strike me until I read Star Wars Episode VII The Visual Dictionary and saw the film the second time. After the peace treaty (The Galactic Concordance) that ended open hostilities a year or so after Episode VI, the remnants of the Empire relocated to The Outer Rim and morphed into The First Order. The New Republic was established, and to make all the member worlds feel more included, the Senate was moved from Coruscant and rotated between worlds. At the time of Episode VII, it’s located on Hosnian Prime and you can see a brief shot of the current Chancellor before he’s fried.
Leia was convinced that The First Order was an imminent threat and broke with The New Republic, who labeled her a warmonger, and formed The Resistance. The First Order literally blew up a good percentage of New Republic fleet and their system of governance (and five planets). In the wake of that, it’s likely that Leia’s Resistance will become the established face of government and it may well be Chancellor Organa by the time Episode VIII rolls around.
So, yes, The First Order suffered a huge blow, but we don’t know what else they’ve been cooking up in The Outer Rim and they didn’t lose a giant portion of their fleet or leadership.
Did You See Stormtrooper James Bond?
Daniel Craig is one of a number of celebrities that have secret cameos in Episode VII. Bond plays the Stormtrooper that Rey mind controls into releasing her when she’s captured by Kylo Ren. If you listen closely, you can hear 007’s voice behind the helmet. Simon Pegg, Scotty from JJ Abrams Star Trek films, also has a small role as Rey’s taskmaster on Jakku.
What’s Kylo doing Vader’s head and how did he get it?
Here’s JJ Abrams direct answer to why Kylo is Vader-fixated:
“KYLO REN IDOLIZES DARTH VADER, NOT ANAKIN SKYWALKER. HE IDOLIZES WHAT VADER REPRESENTS AND WHAT VADER WAS TRYING TO DO. AND THE IDEA THAT VADER DIDN’T SUCCEED, IF YOU LOOK AT IT FROM REN’S POINT OF VIEW, HE WAS SEDUCED BY THE ENEMY AND FAILED BECAUSE OF THAT SEDUCTION. SO THE IDEA IS THAT REN WANTS TO COMPLETE THE THING THAT VADER STARTED.”
The director also touched on how Ben Solo was manipulated and, ultimately, captured by the Dark Side: “AN INCREDIBLE POWER, AN INCREDIBLE FORCE, AND INCREDIBLE POTENTIAL THAT WAS, LIKE MANY YOUNG PEOPLE, SORT OF MISGUIDED AND UNCLEAR. AND THE STORY FOR HIM IS ONE OF CONFLICT, NOT JUST INTERNAL CONFLICT BUT EXTERNAL CONFLICT. AND IT’S WHAT MAKES HIM A RATHER INTERESTING VILLAIN.”
Vader’s visage clearly inspired Ren’s costume (now he’ll need a mask) and I think he uses the recovered relic as a focal point to commune with what he feels is the spirit of his grandfather. As to how he got Anakin’s head (it’s not just the helmet), only one person was present at that funeral pyre on Endor: Luke. It’s possible that he told his sister and she told Ben, but I think it’s more likely that Luke relates the tale of his father’s redemption and what happened afterward. Ben, I think, gleaned from that story, “Papaw’s noggin is probably being used as a soccer ball on Endor. Imma gonna get me it!”
Was Captain Phasma a Disappointment?
The second biggest criticism behind it’s similarity to Episode IV was that Captain Phasma was a letdown. It was important in this film to pass the torch from Han to Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. Those are the characters it was critical to deeply establish (and Poe Dameron too to a lesser extent). Phasma got about as much screen time as Boba Fett in ESB, and was set up quite nicely as Finn’s arch nemesis. Gwendoline Christie is confirmed back for Episode VII, so Phasma got out of the trash compactor and I think we’ll see a whole lot more of her. By the way, her visually striking chromium armor is made from the melted down hull of Senator (at the time) Palpatine’s yacht that is the main ship for our heroes in Episode I.
Is Han’s Death the Most Heart-Wrenching in the Saga?
Beyond any doubt. Death is nothing new in Star Wars films. Every film has character deaths, but none of the main characters who have died (Anakin, Yoda, Obi-Wan, etc.) were ever killed in this horrible a fashion. Additionally, Han isn’t a Jedi, he’s not going to return as a ghost to give us closure. He was simply butchered by his son at the end of a tragic conversation. Han thought he was talking Ben back to the light. Ben was asking his father to help him extinguish that light forever (nicely mirrored by Starkiller base draining the star to darkness just before the murder). At the midnight showing on opening day, I was surrounded by grown men weeping uncontrollably (so was I). Harrison Ford had wanted Han to die in both Empire and Jedi and I think having the character die was a stipulation of his return to the role, but even expecting it, I think we envisioned a blaze of glory, not this. Not this.
Is Kylo Ren Redeemable?
That anyone can be redeemed is a central tenet of Star Wars. Anakin murdered millions and was redeemed by the love of his son. That being said, I don’t know if Kylo is redeemable. I think he may have crossed a line with his patricide that there is no returning from, but it’s still too early to say. I don’t think fans will ever forgive him Han’s murder, but he clearly still has a long road to travel.
How Were Finn and Rey Able to Beat/Survive Against Kylo Ren?
I’ve heard this as a criticism, but let’s break it down. Kylo has really poor focus to begin with and he had just killed his own father, an event that the novel says makes him feel weaker, not stronger as Snoke had assured him it would. Chewie shot him with a bowcaster, so he’s already entering the fight barking mad and bleeding.
From his fight with FN-2199, it’s clear that basic combat with bladed weapons was part of the new Stormtrooper training. Finn’s not using The Force to fight with the saber, he’s just combat trained and he gets a lucky shot in to Kylo (wound #2) before Ren refocuses, gouges a whole in Finn’s shoulder and nearly kills him. He then tries to call Anakin’s lightsaber to himself through The Force. It flies right past him into Rey’s hands, which is another indication that she’s direct lineage: Anakin to Luke to Rey.
I believe Rey had as much training as any nine-year old would’ve at Luke’s academy before Kylo destroyed it. I think Luke blocked off that part of her mind and her memories to prevent her from pursuing him or her gifts. When Kylo tortured Rey, he clearly broke down a barrier and over the course of the rest of the film she exhibits increasing aptitude (like muscle memory combined with newly-returning instincts). This, plus Kylo’s erratic and weakened condition, allowed her to hold off her cousin long enough for her to surrender to The Force at the end of the duel and give him a real reason to wear a mask next time.
Is Rey Already the Best Female Star Wars Character Ever?
Yes. By far. All due respect to Leia (and we’ll always be grateful for the slave costume) and Padme, Rey is an independent and talented pilot, fighter, mechanic and Force user. She’s untrained, but at 19, which is the age Luke and Leia were in A New Hope, she’s far past them in terms of maturity, survival skills and potential for further growth. She’s clearly the protagonist of this trilogy, and I wouldn’t count out another one (did you really think Disney was stopping at IX?).
Should The Empire/First Order Knock it Off with Super Weapons?
Ok. So…..Starkiller Base seemed like a really solid idea. It eats suns and spits them at planets. A bit of a leap in forward thinking rather than Death Star III. However, I think at this point, from an architectural standpoint of success versus giant explosions caused by shoddy design flaws, it may be time to diversify into larger ships like Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer: The Finalizer.
What is Luke doing on that island?
Han says that Luke went looking for the first Jedi Temple, and there are rudimentary structures we can see on the island that may be part of that. What I didn’t notice until the fifth time I saw the film, is that if you look right by Luke’s feet when he is first shown from the back, there is clearly a gravestone (I assume Luke’s wife and Rey’s mother).
Further shedding some light on things are the script notes Hamill was given for his emoting, and they also give the name of the planet. Check out this summary from IGN:
According to the script, the planet on which Rey (Daisy Ridley) meets Luke Skywalker(Mark Hamill) during the film’s final moments is called “Ahch-to” and is said to feature a “pristine and mighty” ocean that is “dotted with random, beautiful, mountainous black rock islands,” as well as “countless green trees.” Not much is known about the planet, but /Film notes that Ahch-to is Hebrew for brother, which may be a clue as to Rey’s relation to Luke.
The screenplay also makes it clear that Luke is well aware of who Rey is, saying Skywalker “doesn’t need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here.” It also describes Hamill’s character has having “kindness in his eyes” despite the “tortured” feelings within.
I think “Ahch-to” might also just be a in-joke that this begins Act Two, because there’s no way Rey is Luke’s brother. I definitely think he knows exactly who she is and he DEFINITELY knows what she’s carrying. I think the main question is did Luke not look for Rey because he thought she was dead or because he didn’t want to screw up his own daughter the way he did his nephew? I think the latter, because if Luke blocked Rey’s training memories, I believe he did it to prevent her from ever having to deal with the Jedi life and if she had died, he would have certainly felt it through The Force.
Why Was Mark Hamill On Set the Whole Time for 1 Minute!?!
Mark Hamill was on-set for the entire shoot and ends up being in the last minute of the film, so why was he there looking Obi-Wannish the whole time? The first draft of the script, Michael Arndt’s draft, had Luke involved heavily in the film. There’s lots of concept art from this draft if you check out The Art of Star Wars Episode VII (which you should). However, after Larry Kasdan and JJ Abrams significantly rewrote the script, Hamill was kind of a hostage to JJ’s need to keep security tight. He spent a lot of time practicing those facial expressions (which, to be fair, are better acting then he did in all of Episode IV).
Top 5 Lines in the Film:
1. Han Solo to Kylo Ren: “BEN!”
2. Finn to BB-8: “Droid, please!”
3. Finn: “We could use The Force!”
Han: “THAT’S NOT HOW THE FORCE WORKS!!!!!”
Han: “Oh, YOU’RE cold!?!
4. Kylo Ren to Dead Vader: “Forgive me. I feel it again… the pull to the
light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the
darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me,
Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”
5. Han to Chewbacca: “Chewie, we’re home.”
How Long a Time Jump Between Episodes VII and VIII?
This will be extremely interesting, because there has never been a Star Wars Episode that’s taken place less than a year after the preceding installment. So we’ll never know what happened up on that hill between Luke and Rey. I can’t imagine the jump will be more than a year because of filming already beginning on VIII and because so many plot threads were left dangling for next time. Arrrgh, I would kill to hear the next 10 minutes of what happens atop that glen when the credits rolled!
What Will Episode VIII Be About?
Well, since it just got kicked back seven months to December 2017, we know it is definitely going to continue to be character-driven on the popular new characters, since that’s why Rian Johnson is revisiting the script. Certainly not a bad thing. Total speculation on my part, but I think we’ll see a duality between Luke training Rey and Snoke training Kylo leading to Kylo being sent on a mission (possibly to kill his mother this time, since he’s on a roll) that Luke and Rey rush to stop leading to a confrontation between either Luke and his fallen apprentice or a Rey/Kylo rematch, or a three-way brawl. With the New Republic obliterated, Leia’s assertion that The First Order is a genuine threat seems like it probably will be finally accepted and I think The Resistance will become The New Republic with Leia at its head. Poe and Finn, since they have a good bromance going, will be instrumental in helping Leia transition to power and rebuild the New Republic military. Those are my preliminary guesses.
Where does Episode VII Rank in the Saga?
After five viewings of the film and a month to reflect, I think I’m ready to tentatively offer my new ranking of the films. The Force Awakens is so good, so perfectly executed and such a fantastic beginning to Disney’s stewardship of the franchise. From opening shot to close, it’s perfect and the only other Star Wars film that can say that is The Empire Strikes Back. ESB remains number one for me, because while TFA introduces and sets-up, ESB paid off. The endings for both films are, by far, the best of the seven. Both make you want to “turn the page” immediately. The acting is better in TFA, but the story of ESB is superior. To me, the two are in a class above the other five films. Here’s my ranking as we head into Star Wars: Rogue One (this ranking thing is going to get reeeeally hard if the films keep being this good and coming this fast).
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
2. Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
3. Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
4. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
6. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
7. Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)