Ever wonder what happened after The Ewoks got done signing “Yub Nub”? After the ghosts of Jedi past faded away again, and fireworks stopped going off in the Endor sky?
A lot, it turns out…and it wasn’t all the best of times.
THE FORCE AWAKENS begins thirty-something years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI. The Empire was vanquished, but in its place has risen an insurgency calling themselves The First Order. They are led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, and their public face is a totalitarian named General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). The real muscle though is a Knight of The First Order named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren holds Sith-like abilities to wield the Dark Side of The Force, and is hellbent on finding the self-exiled Luke Skywalker and wiping the Jedi Order out of The Galaxy once and for all.
One problem; nobody knows where Skywalker is.
When a Republic-back Resistance pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac) finds a clue to his whereabouts on the planet of Jakku, he stows it in his droid named BB-8 and tells him to flee before he can be taken captive. Poe is captured; BB-8 makes it away.
Poe’s imprisonment doesn’t last long though; a stormtrooper breaks ranks and frees Poe because he cannot stand idly by any longer and watch the bloodshed that The First Order leaves in its wake. Poe dubs this unnamed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and escapes with him back to Jakku in search of the hidden BB-8.
Before they can find it, the droid makes its way to a scavenger trading post where it runs across a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey has been living in a bombed-out AT-AT walker and waiting for her family to return. She answers to no one and trusts even fewer. So when Finn catches up with her and looks to get his mitts on BB-8, Rey is skeptical to the tune of knocking Finn on his ass.
However, they have very little time to argue; The First Order catches up with Finn and BB-8, and looks to reclaim them both. Finn and Rey have to be quick-witted to get off the surface of Jakku and away from enemy fighters. Once they do though, the fun really begins, as our old friends Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca intercept them and underline just how deep in it they are.
The last time we visited this universe, it was to learn about the fall of Annakin Skywalker – or the rise of Darth Vader, depending on your point of view. The films and stories we were told as that trilogy played out were laden with politics, hokey religions, and ancient weapons. We learned a few things we didn’t know and much we didn’t care about. So if there’s a master stroke to THE FORCE AWAKENS, it’s making Han Solo our link to the past. Who better to propel us forward than the rogue who didn’t care or fully believe in the past?
His smartassery helps keep everyone’s romance in check, and his quiet moments of belief are arresting given the source. As he takes both Rey and Finn under his wing, one begins to realize that only Han Solo would do as a hinge to the past.
We then turn our attention to our newbies, and realize how dearly we wanted and needed them. We want a person like Finn to look around at what’s happening around him and say “This is wrong”. We don’t want legions of dissent to filter through the ranks of The First Order (or The Empire before it), but we want to believe that just one person facilitating all of that evil would wake up one day and say “no mas”.
What’s amusing at that point is seeing how ill-prepared Finn is for his rebellion-of-one. He has heart, he has guts, and apparently he’s the only Storm trooper in The Republic who can hit a target. Beyond that, he has much to learn…which is fine; we have time to watch him learn.
If there’s a rebel who seems a few classes ahead of him, it’s Rey – and finding her with a few extra notches in her gun belt feels like it couldn’t have come at a better time. Up until now, this series of films has had precious little to offer its females other than roles as flies in the ointment. So when we arrive on Jakku to find Rey fending for herself, spelunking through the depths of Star Destroyer wreckage, and warding off all who approach with ill intent, it isn’t just a breath of fresh air as much as it is feeling that Star Wars has finally figured how the rest of the world actually breathes.
The days of women of The Republic being fawned over or fought over are finished. Just in case we ever forget, Rey reminds us any time Finn tries to pull her out of harms’ way:
“Stop holding my hand!”
Let it not be suggested that this movie is without flaw – much of it coming on the dark side of The Force. If Kylo Ren is an outstanding villain (and he is), the ciphers he is flanked with pale in comparison. General Hux is a weasel trying to play sabre-rattler, and the ‘live-via-hologram’ Supreme Leader Snoke seems like he’s sitting two chairs down at the same table as Thanos. Neither seems as intimidating as Kylo Ren, which is curious considering Ren seems to be outranked by both. Snoke’s identity seems to be a round the storytellers want to keep in the chamber until a future episode, but Hux really feels out of his element here as the face of The First Order.
In the end, one or both of them may work better down the line, but in this chapter both men seem to continually take away from the intrigue at-hand.
When the dust settles, the question will be asked if THE FORCE AWAKENS is a true new chapter in a well-known saga, or the most elaborate piece of fan fiction in history. The question is a fair one since this is the first time a Star Wars film has been created without any input from the creator of the universe itself. It brings about cautionary feelings that accompany 007 novels not written by Ian Fleming.
However, that’s the crazy thing that nobody expected – the unforeseen side effect about turning a singular vision into a broad collaboration. It handed the reins over to people who both study the sacred text of what they are interpreting and worship at its altar. These devotees have not only found elegant ways of draping the story on to the shoulders of a new generation of characters, but have likewise brought something back to the Star Wars saga that has been sorely missing: