• Analysis: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

    Force AwakensIf you have not watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, do not read any further. This analysis contains spoilers. You have been warned. With that said, why should you care about my analysis of this film? I take my Star Wars very seriously. A number of years ago, I created an online Jedi Temple called the Temple of the Balancing Force. In grad school, I wrote an academic paper about Star Wars. I have studied the Star Wars Saga in depth and have focused a great deal on the philosophy within the saga. I will touch on some of that philosophy in this analysis.

    Before going into The Force Awakens, I was very worried about how the Disney team would deal with the Sith. For me, this film could very well rise or fall depending on whether or not they stuck to the two (possibly four) Sith rule. As it turns out, they did a good job with this aspect of the film. Grand Leader Snoke acts as the Sith Master while Kylo Ren serves as the apprentice. I would have liked to have learned more about Snoke, but hopefully that will come in later films down the road. In this film, he was merely a hologram reminiscent of the hologram of Emperor Palatine from Empire Strikes Back (ESB).

    The first main character that we are introduced to is the rebel ace pilot, Poe. He is given the map to the MacGuffin (i.e. the location of Luke Skywalker) by Vigo the Carpathian (Max von Sydow). I was disappointed to see that von Sydow’s character was underutilized in this film. He seemed interesting enough and was played by a top rate veteran actor. The character clearly knows Kylo Ren’s secret identity and clearly had the respect and admiration of Poe Dameron and yet I am not even sure of his name without looking it up on IMDB (it’s Lor San Tekka, btw).

    In any case, I liked Poe. He was a witty character who was… wait for it… underutilized. We are told he is an ace pilot, but we don’t really get to see that in action in any real meaningful way. We certainly don’t feel it. It isn’t like he did some awesome maneuver like Rey did when she piloted the Falcon through wreckage and in a way that allowed Finn to use the guns that jammed in the upward position. If Poe had done something like that, I would have believed he was an ace pilot. As it is, I am much more likely to believe that Rey could fly circles around his cocky ass. Early in the movie, Poe serves to introduce us to two other main characters, Finn and BB-8.

    Finn is “a good man,” who was raised to be a Stormtrooper from near birth. He moved from the Dark Side (i.e. Stormtrooper) to the Light (a “big deal” resistance fighter). His conversion seemed rushed. He was ordered to murder innocent people and couldn’t do it. I get that, but he has been a Stormtrooper for his entire life. Maybe he had doubts for a long time. Maybe he didn’t. It would have been nice if we got that sense before he shifted sides. The death of a fellow Stormtrooper affected him, but why? Who was that other Stormtrooper to him? Maybe there is a Biggs Darklighter type deleted scene here in which we learn that this particular Stormtrooper was a close friend of his and that they had talked about leaving the First Order together; I don’t know.

    BB-8 is great! There is no other way to say it. When he gives the lighter thumbs-up to Finn, it cemented that this was an R2-D2 type character and not just a prop. Who doesn’t love BB-8? The only disappointing thing concerning this character was that he went back with Poe instead of staying with Rey at the end of the film. I should also point out that there is some origin story missing from him. Mot droids are just droids. C3-P0 is who he is because Anakin built him. R2-D2 was modified by Anakin and that is why he has as much personality as he does. But where does BB-8’s personality come from?

    Through BB-8, we are introduced to Rey. We don’t know much about her yet. It appears that she was taken from her family when she was young and that she is waiting patiently for them to return. Contrary to early speculation, it is unlikely that she is Han and Leia’s daughter. However, I strongly suspect that she is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. Luke may not even know she exists and we have no idea who her mother is. Perhaps, she has no mother and was birthed by the Force similar to the way Anakin was conceived by the Force. The Force is unusually strong with Rey and Maz Kanata seemed to hint at a Skywalker legacy. Plus, her ability to pilot is clearly a nod to Anakin’s natural piloting skills. Maybe she should have fiddled with BB-8 to give him the personality he has. That was a missed opportunity.

    As for Maz Kanata, this is a character who I really love. She is the Yoda of this episode and while her home has been destroyed, I truly hope she will be back in future films. In another universe, I would seriously question how she got a hold of the lightsaber that Luke lost when Darth Vader cut off his arm on Bespin, but in the Star Wars universe I can overlook this simply enough by speculating that it was the will of the Force, which binds the universe together. Plus, it adds to the MacGuffin affect.

    The reemergence of Vader’s old lightsaber was something I worried about coming into this film. The lightsaber is a pretty strong symbol in the Star Wars universe. In A New Hope (ANH), Old Ben Kenobi tells Luke that the lightsaber is “the weapon of a Jedi Knight” but then at the end of the film, Obi-Wan turns his lightsaber off in order to become “more powerful” than Vader could possibly imagine. In ESB, Yoda warns Luke not to take his lightsaber into the cave, but Luke does so anyway. When he is confronted with Vader, Luke ignites his lightsaber first and that leads to his “failure in the cave” as Yoda later put it. In Return of The Jedi (ROTJ), Luke becomes a Jedi by creating his own lightsaber, but shuts his lightsaber off and throws it away before declaring that he is a Jedi toward the end of the film. The prequels play into this a lot. We see Obi-Wan obsessing over the lightsaber much more than he should and even taking Anakin’s lightsaber before leaving him for dead. My point is that the lightsaber was never the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Kenobi was wrong.

    Kylo Ren’s lightsaber is obviously poorly made. It isn’t even close to the lightsaber Luke created in the deleted scene from ROTJ. Vader’s old lightsaber is used in The Force Awakens (TFA) not as a weapon, but as a connection to the Force. It is what awakens the Force in Rey (hence the title of the movie). See, this is why you are reading my analysis. You aren’t going to get this kind of incite anywhere else, folks. 😉

    We have to talk about Kylo Ren (A.K.A. Ben Solo). Why the fuck would Han and Leia name him after Ben Kenobi? They barely knew the guy and Han thought he was an old fool and a fossil. I get why Luke would name him Ben, but Han and Leia probably would have named their son after Leia’s adoptive father, Bail or maybe after their old friend Lando (who is missing from this film). So that is a nitpick that bothered me. But aside from that, I really liked Kylo Ren. He reminded me a lot of Anakin. He has way more power than he can control and he is completely out of control. Kylo is arrogant, moody, and emotionally immature. He is filled with anger, fear, and hate.

    Kylo Ren believes that he is being seduced by the Light Side of the Force and he refuses to give into that. He aims to “finish” what Darth Vader “started” – whatever the hell that is. I have to re-watch the film because I didn’t get a clear sense of what he believes Darth Vader started. The only thing I can think of is Darth Vader’s mission to hunt down and destroy all the Jedi, but that was merely his orders from the Emperor and not what “he” started. He has to know that Darth Vader turned back to the Light Side of the Force at the end of ROTJ so I am confused here on why he worships his grandfather so much – aside from his similarity in the before mentioned temperament. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he just identifies with Anakin emotionally. I don’t know. Hopefully that will be answered satisfactorily down the line. I did like how Kylo Ren goes ballistic on the control panel twice. The first time, I was surprised he didn’t kill the messenger the way Vader did but I thought it was funny when the two Stormtroopers decided to go back the other way when Kylo went ballistic the second time.

    Kylo Ren has a lot of power. He can stop a laser blast in midair, he can probe people’s minds in a way we have not seen before and he can stop people in their tracks with the Force. These are some new Dark Side powers and yet he couldn’t use any of them in his lightsaber fight with Finn or Rey. I get Rey. She was calm and at peace. She was channeling the Force that had just awakened inside her in a big way, but Finn? He might have some Force ability later, we will have to see, but he shouldn’t be a match for the grandson of Skywalker. Darth Vader was Force-hurling stuff at Luke in ESB and Kylo Ren can’t do shit except fight poorly in a lightsaber duel. That’s just poor imagination on the writer’s part.

    I do love how Kylo Ren is using the Force to pull the lightsaber from the ice only to discover that it is Rey who is doing the pulling. Kylo has to almost jump out of the way at the last second. That was also a nice callback to the Hoth cave in ESB.

    Which reminds me of one of my big criticisms of this film – it relies way too much on reminding us of things in the other films. That’s cool for a James Bond movie (Die Another Day), but it just seems really forced (no pun intended) for Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, some cheap reminders are cool and even funny, but this film went over the top. We really didn’t need to see the chess set and the remote ball on the Falcon. It was enough to show us the smuggling compartments and to once again be smuggling people in them. The before mentioned lightsaber being Force pulled from the snow was cool, but the trash compactor comment was just silly and not in a good way. In fact, this entire movie seemed to be trying to be exactly like the original trilogy instead of trying to use the trilogy to take that story in a new direction.

    My brother put it best when he described this film as “safe.” It had a plot and all, but it suffered from not really having a meaningful story. The plot was to find the MacGuffin (i.e. the map to Luke Skywalker), but what is this movie trying to tell us? What is the story that the writer wants us to know? What makes the Star Wars Saga so great is that there are a million stories going on. The prequels were largely about politics and the rise of the Empire, but it was also about how a good hearted boy can turn into an arrogant teen and then to a Dark Lord of the Sith. It was about dealing with strong emotions, the fear of death and lose, and so many other timeless themes. The Original Trilogy focused on the hero’s journey, finding one’s place in the universe, redemption, and more. We see the beginnings of some of that stuff here, but too little of it for a Star Wars film. At best, this film seemed to me to be the set up for the next film… the real film. But I didn’t get the sense that this was its own film with its own worth.

    J.J. can make a fun and entertaining film. There was never any doubt in that, but it didn’t have the gravitas that I was hoping for. Case in point, the extremely anti-climactic Starkiller battle. In ANH, the Falcon comes in and gives Luke the shot, “You’re all clear kid, let’s blow this thing and go home.” Luke uses the Force and makes that magic super climactic shot that ends the Death Star “in their moment of triumph.” In ROTJ, the ships fly into the superstructure and take out the two shield thingies and then the Falcon takes the final climactic shot into the main power thingy before the whole thing blows up and the Falcon blasts out of the explosion. But in this movie, they just keep blasting that thing and no one takes a meaningful kill shot. It just sort of happens and even when it does happen, the whole thing doesn’t just blow up right away. There is still plenty of time for fight scenes and for presumably all the bad guys to escape without much of a hustle. Even Captain Phasma was able to escape from the trash compactor.

    Speaking of Captain Phasma… yet another underutilized character. Finn should have had his lightsaber/electro-gun-thingy fight with her instead of some random Stormtrooper. It would have been way more meaningful of a battle for Finn and it would have given Phasma something interesting to do besides order troopers around poorly. We could have even gotten some witty dialog in there too. It was an underutilized moment that could have been utilized for an underutilized character.

    And about that Starkiller thing – Did we really need it? It seemed like it was a poor knock-off of the Death Star but five times the size and with more firepower. It just doesn’t add anything to the plot or the story and despite its massive firepower, doesn’t seem all that menacing. I guess because we have already seen the Death Star before and this just seemed like more of the same. The First Order could have just used a fleet of ships to add the same kind of menace to this story.

    Now to the characters we all know and love. Han and Chewie were great. Han went back to smuggling and talking his way out of various situations of his own making and Chewie was right there for the ride. The explosive charges at the Starkiller shield reactor was yet another example of heavy-handed call back (his time to the explosive charges on Endor in EOTJ), but his final confrontation with his son was pretty great. And who didn’t tear up when Han and Leia reunited? And laughed when C3-P0 interrupted that moment?

    Leia has become the leader of the Rebellion, but we didn’t really get to see her actually lead. That was a missed opportunity. We could have replaced her with any leader and it wouldn’t have made any difference. She didn’t do anything that was particularly “Leia.”

    Old Admiral Ackbar returned and while I didn’t expect or want him to deliver his trademark phrase, I was hoping he would deliver a new phrase that would become equally as memorable. That didn’t happen and it was a huge disappointment.

    C3-P0 delivered on his traditional comic relief brought about by his self-absorbed poor timing. But there wasn’t enough of those moments. He really needs someone to play off of and if R2-D2 was in a coma, BB-8 should have stepped into that role in a much bigger way. And why was R2 in a coma, exactly? And what brought him out of it so suddenly? While we are at it, why did we even need his large portion of the map when the destination was on the other part of the map? They couldn’t find the star system with BB-8’s portion of the map alone? Really? That’s pretty weak especially when an easier explanation could have been that R2 had the decoder for the map that BB-8 obtained.

    As for Luke, unlike most people, I was not terribly disappointed that he was barely in the film. I had predicted that he would only show up at the end of the film. They could have given him a line or two though. Still, I expect him to have a much greater role in the next film.

    Over all, I enjoyed the movie but it definitely didn’t have the depth or gravitas of the other films. I really wish they would have let George Lucas help them out with the story. I get that no one but me liked the prequels, but the problem with the prequels wasn’t the story. Lucas could have consulted and then they could have regulated on him a little. Lawrence Kasdan was really helpful, but it just wasn’t enough. This movie was missing the Lucas magic.

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.