Beware: Spoilers below
Never before has there been a more anticipated film than Star Wars: The Force Awakens and so far the reception has been very positive. The film somehow achieves the task of keeping existing fans of the franchise happy while welcoming new ones with open arms (big-ass wookie arms). There’s no doubt that the sheer fun this film exudes will have a new generation of movie-goers revisiting Episodes 1-6 to catch themselves up on the iconic franchise. Written by J.J. Abrams, with Michael Arndt and the Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, The Force Awakens premieres ten years after the release of Episode 3. The undertaking of bringing throngs of rabid fans back to a galaxy far, far away seems like a daunting task, to say the least. Who better then, to helm this Kessel Run than Mr. Abrams. Part of the strength of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is due to Abrams’ casting of strong, yet relatively unknown actors. The success of the film can be attributed to the creation of characters that advance the Star Wars lore while simultaneously creating their own.
John Boyega plays Finn, a former First Order soldier who finds himself unable to deal with the brutal life of a stormtrooper. Finn defects and makes a run for it, head first into…no one, also known as Rey. Part time scavenger, part time pilot and full time ass-kicker Rey, portrayed beautifully by newcomer Daisy Ridley and Finn have an undeniable chemistry. Finn not only rescues Rey from some baddies throughout the film, but he also rescues her from a life of waiting for a family that will never return. Rey rescues Finn back (baddies included) by accepting him as the man she sees instead of the man he was. Where neither have had anyone to trust in their lives, they now all of a sudden do, and that surprising trust builds the relationship quickly for the characters and the audience. Whether that chemistry will move from friendship to romance has yet to be revealed but either way, we’re rooting for them.
There are several familiar themes in The Force Awakens, including the unrelenting desire by the Dark Side to have their very own Death Star. I know its a really cool space station guys, but at some point you’ve got to cut your losses. Blow me up once, shame on you. Blow me up twice, shame on me. Blow me up three times…well…that’s just poor planning. Leading the charge this time is resistance pilot Poe Dameron, played by the exceptionally talented Oscar Isaac. Poe’s scenes in the cockpit are reminiscent of Luke’s assault in A New Hope, minus the Obi-Wan pep talk. Poe is a veteran in the fight against the First Order and his character screams confidence and leadership. If he survives long enough in the films to come he’s going to be a great character to watch. Look for him to succeed Leia should her time come to an end.
It is clear that there was a passing of the torch (or lightsaber) mind-set when writing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Where Luke, Leia and Han once seemed irreplaceable, enter Rey, Finn and Poe. Three fresh new characters that fit perfectly into the role of their 70s/80s counterpart. Or do they? Which new character fills which role? At first glance it seems like an easy task – to categorize the new characters into the old roles, but on closer examination they prove too complex to stereotype. Initially, Finn seems like the new Solo – an outcast making his own way with a touch of humor and a lot of bravery…but Poe is the expert pilot, isn’t he? Wait a minute…so is Rey. Rey bonds quickly with Solo as her piloting and mechanical skills shine through…but then she picks up a lightsaber. Each new character’s similarities with the original characters dance refreshingly back and forth and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, a new character trait makes you rethink your position. Hopefully we continue to learn more about the new “holy trinity” as the trilogy continues, making the comparison-task more and more difficult.
Continuing our theme of stereotyping (never a good idea), Kylo-Ren, The Force Awaken’s resident baddie, draws parallels with Darth Vader both physically and positionally. Ren, a master of the dark side of the force is a powerful figure within the First Order and, like Vader, Ren’s internal conflict stems from family ties. Where Vader took out his frustrations with a plethora of force chokes, Ren’s therapy of choice is lightsaber tantrums that would make an intergalactic insurance broker cringe. Kylo-Ren, played by Adam Driver, presents a villain that is striving for power for all the wrong reasons and we can’t wait to see how far he’ll go to get it.
Each new character in The Force Awakens presents a different dynamic and internal struggle that audiences can’t wait to see fleshed out in the next films. Abrams succeeded in his casting and creation of the new characters, but now the more difficult task of allowing them to grow is at hand. The two preceding trilogies presented character arcs that, upon reflection, are staggering. Take the dreamy-eyed Luke in A New Hope for instance and compare him to the saber wielding hero who faces off against the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Or Anakin’s journey from the innocent boy who wants nothing more than to free his mother to the murderous Sith that destroys everything he loves. Character arcs are what make the Star Wars trilogies so epic and if Episodes 7-9 hope to stand the test of time, Abrams has his work cut out for him. Luckily, he’s off to a great start.
Afterthought: Chewbacca is an a$$. Who else noticed this: After the Falcon returns from its mission to the surface, Chewie walks right by…and I mean RIGHT by Leia, giving her the cold shoulder after Han’s shocking departure. Your crossbow game may be on point Wookie, but your friendship/compassion game needs some work. Step it up you big furry oaf!