It’s taken me awhile to process Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I walked out of the theater satisfied. It was just what I wanted from the new Star Wars movie. As far as I’m concerned the mantle passes to this one from A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and Empire Strikes Back. The stars of these previous films were even brought back to signal this.
Now that Disney owns Star Wars I don’t expect too many surprises, or mistakes. J.J. Abrams did a great job with this one but won’t direct the next. Disney’s hired Rian Johnson (Looper) to take the helm as director and writer. We will be delivered competent, satisfying, risk-free, well-told stories in subsequent films. Disney serves up a carefully developed formula for successful storytelling and I will drink it. Hopefully at Maz Kanata’s Takodana bar, which needs to be the next thing Disney puts in one of their theme park.
Maz Kanata is my favorite new character by far. Maz is an enigma. She’s a space pirate who runs a bar and is an arms dealer but philosophizes like Yoda who she physically resembles. The force is strong in her but so is practicality and humor. More, please.
The new crew of young characters, Rey, Finn, and Poe are fresh takes on the archetypes represented in previous films rather simple remixes of successors. Rey bears some similarities to A New Hope Luke. She is an orphan in need of a mentor on a desert planet. It is obvious she is the next great hope for the Resistance and we expect that with the proper mentor she will learn to use the force and face down the Dark Side.
Neither Finn nor Poe imitate Han, but both exhibit some of his sensibilities. Finn is definitely the skeptic while Poe is the cocky, talented pilot. We don’t get backstories on these two yet, but their abilities tell us there is more to them. Finn is definitely force sensitive. Nobody picks up a lightsaber and goes at it with a Darth Vader wannabe the way Finn does without being pretty strong in the Force. Will we be treated to scene in an upcoming film in which Mace Windu delivers the lines “Finn, I am your father?”
In this film Poe also fulfills Leia’s function in New Hope as he explains and interprets the mission of the Resistance for newcomers Rey and Finn. One thing I’m wondering about is whether Poe has the force or is just a fantastic pilot. Luke didn’t become the best X-wing pilot in the galaxy without using the force, but Han was amazing without it. I’d like to see some sort of buddy sub-plot involving these two. Like Luke and Han, neither of them is mere sidekick material.
My response to the Dark Side is a little conflicted. I want to be fair to this generation of villains but Darth Vader is a tough act to follow. Through A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and most of Empire Strikes Back Vader is a mysterious, helmeted figure who can speak into people’s minds. The mask, the breathing and James Earl Jones’ deep rattly voice contributed to the terror for me. Unlike the creepy, calculating Palpatine, Vader is reactive and emotional which makes him more terrifying. Supreme Leader Snoke struck me as another Palpatine and Kylo Ren comes off as more unbalanced than menancing. Vader was both.
There are three whole films explaining how Darth Vader became Darth Vader and a few lines of exposition about how the son of Hans Solo and Princess Leia could wind up taking Vader lessons. Then he’s unmasked and seemingly dispensed with in the first movie. That might be the only really surprising part of the movie. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him but I’m not sure Kylo has enough Force in him to “come back more powerful than you can imagine.” I guess I’ll find out because I will definitely be one of the millions in line for the next one.