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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie review: a new hope

Star Wars The Force Awakens green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Charts a path to a future that refuses to get mired in nostalgia. Yet all the Star Wars notes are here, remixed into a glorious new arrangement.
I’m “biast” (pro): huge Star Wars fan…
I’m “biast” (con): … but was deeply worried about this new film
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There’s no 20th Century Fox fanfare this time, of course, which is weird, because to this day, whenever I hear it, no matter what film it’s allegedly attached to, the excitable eight-year-old inside me pops up to whisper, “Maybe it’ll secretly turn out to be Star Wars.” Thankfully, there is no Disney ident, either. X-wing fighters doing a flyover of Cinderella’s castle would have been an unpleasant reminder of how worried I was about the Mouse’s takeover of this franchise.

All those worries have been laid to rest. J.J. Abrams has done a marvelous job of rebooting Star Wars for a new generation not only of fans but of the people who live in the story as well. The Force Awakens — Episode VII! — gets everything exactly right, though in some instances it’s painful to acknowledge that, in how it charts a path to a future for this story, one that steadfastly refuses to get mired in nostalgia or in rehashing the journeys of the original-trilogy characters. (Episode VIII is currently scheduled for release in May 2017. The future of this is soon!) Those we already know and love — Han Solo (Harrison Ford: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher: Maps to the Stars, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Battle for Terra) — are no longer center stage. They are here, some more present than others, and their spirit is strong in the ethos, some moreso than others, but there is no doubt: they are legends, they are almost myths, and they are the past.

The future is in the hands of–

First, let me reassure you that I am going to reveal the absolute minimum I can in order to give you a rough idea of how well The Force Awakens works. Because one of the great joys of this movie, apart from the fact that it is a Star Wars geek party, is how its secrets have been kept. Almost nothing about who the new characters are or what their stories are about has been revealed prior to the film’s release. When trailers tend to tell us the whole movie in two and half minutes, this is astonishing. Star Wars may be a universe we know well, but there is a wonderful sense of discovery to be had while watching this movie for the first time. To not know in advance who everyone is and what they’re doing! Amazing. I’d almost forgotten it used to be like this with all movies all the time.

That’s not to say that these characters aren’t familiar, in the best way. Of course there is an analog for Luke: she is Rey (Daisy Ridley), scavenger loner on the planet Jakku (another desert world, so here’s a Tatooine analog) who scratches out a living selling parts she digs out of crashed Imperial star destroyers rusting in the dunes. The ruins of the war that Luke, Leia, and Han won decades back are everywhere, including in the galaxy’s politics: the power vacuum left by the fall of the Empire has given rise to a new military force for badness called the First Order; its face is that of the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver: While We’re Young, Tracks), the Darth Vader analog; the Dark Side of the Force is strong with him. There’s a Resistance pushing back against the First Order, and its star X-wing pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac: Ex Machina, The Two Faces of January), all swaggering snark, fills the Han Solo niche. Only Finn (John Boyega: Half of a Yellow Sun, Attack the Block), a stormtrooper with the First Order, is a character unlike any we’ve met before. And so I won’t say any more about him.

All the Star Wars notes are here, remixed into a glorious new arrangement. With The Force Awakens, Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness, Super 8) — who also wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan (among his many credits: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Toy Story 3) — gives us more of what we love without it feeling like a rehash. Little droids can be adorable, but they can also be a pain in the ass. It hurts to see starships blasting off into the sky when you can’t get off the ground. There is magic in the universe, and danger, and adventure, and even when things are at their worst, it’s all so much better than being stuck on Tatooine (or Jakku). This is exactly what my tender little geeky heart was hoping for when I burst into tears at that famous Star Wars logo up on the screen once again, and that iconic opening crawl bringing us up to speed on the last 30 years of Galactic History. And The Force Awakens delivered. It made me feel like a kid again, falling in love with movies all over again. I have no idea if this is a perfect movie. I’m too blinded by how perfectly Star Wars it is.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for its representation of girls and women.

see also:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie review: a great disturbance in the Force

green light 5 stars

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) | directed by J.J. Abrams
US/Can release: Dec 18 2015
UK/Ire release: Dec 17 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • InUrFridge


    Having been alongside you all the way with your assessment of the decline of Doctor Who I’m suprised to find that we seem to have seen completely different Star Wars films. I do agree with your assessment that it’s not a rehash. On the contrary: it’s a reMAKE. The characters and themes are so painfully similar that the film never even establishes a fourth wall, even in IMAX 3D, even with glorious design and cinematography I was unable to immerse myself in the film because every time the story progressed I was smacked in the face with the incredulous idea that anyone could have greenlit the script. The introductory text sets us right back to where A New Hope started with an evil organisation in charge of the galaxy, opposed only by a small, plucky group of fighters who have managed to acquire information which could destroy the evil one. The holder of said information is intercepted by the evil power and only manages to keep the information from them by secreting it inside a droid who escapes to a desert planet where it is found by a young adventurer (who has been abandoned on this planet by someone who recognised that they were special and sought to keep them from the eyes of the evil organisation) takes it upon themself to return the information and so is thrust into the conflict. The films climax is the infiltration of shield generator on a heavily wooded planet in order to expose a planet-killing weapon to aerial attack. Someone unexpectedly turns out to be someone else’s father. Am I taking crazy pills?

  • RogerBW

    What I am hoping for is less “this happens because it was in Star Wars” and more “this happens because it’s the sort of thing that happens in a Star Wars film”.

  • Harold Hill

    Agreed. The intro to Star Wars needs to be changed to “In a small, small galaxy, far, far away”, cause this place ain’t got much variety.

  • You are not taking crazy pills. We just disagree about how much of a problem this is.

    I only wish that new Doctor Who felt as much like old Doctor Who as this film feels like old Star Wars.

  • Patrick

    I’m fine with this movie for the simple reason that it has kept JJ Abrams away from Star Trek (However seeing the teaser to ST:B, I guess the damage is done…)

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    NO SPOILERS (haven’t seen the damn thing yet):

    Oh thank the gods. I’ve been hiding under a rock for a few days, avoiding at all costs the reactions of the lesser among us, just waiting to see if this thing got a green light.

    Yippppeeee!!!!! Can’t wait to catch it in an empty theatre by my damn self on some Wednesday afternoon in January. Please everyone just keep your frakkin’ mouths shut till then, please and thank you.

  • Vern Ballard

    A few months ago I found this really intriguing theory on the recursiveness of themes found in the emerging trilogy of Star Wars trilogies. It explains how every crucial plot point revealed in the original trilogy (no matter where you start) is repeated with variations in the subsequent one.

  • Academic analysis is all fine and good, but it cannot make up for the lack of an engaging story. A story cannot be only about structure. TFA works for me, but if it didn’t work for InUrFridge, no amount of explanation about recursive themes can overcome that.

  • Matt Clayton


    I enjoyed large sections of the movie and LOVED most of the new characters (Rey, Finn, Maz Kanata, Poe FTW). However, it felt like Abrams, Kasdan and Michael Arndt were happy to just retread similar territory from the original trilogy story-wise. Also felt that there’s actually a bit too much of certain original characters and not enough of one character.

    I’m rewatching it today, so hopefully it’ll grow on me. Definitely better than the prequels, but it’s imperfect.

  • amanohyo


    This is my primary complaint as well. If you showed the average director episodes 4 and 5, and said, “I want you to make another movie exactly like these,” this is the movie most of them would make. The reliance on established formula is the film’s strength – without the fan service, easter eggs, and nostalgia, this would merely be an average action movie. However, the script’s timidity and lack of imagination is also the film’s biggest weakness – whereas the prequels feel like movies made by a team of people that said yes to every suggestion, this movie feels like a movie made by a team that said to no to anything that strayed beyond established Star Wars conventions.

    Surprisingly, the pacing is a tad flabby – at around the hour and a half mark things started to drag as I realized that nothing surprising was going to subvert my expectations, and the most emotional scene didn’t pack quite the punch it should have because it was telegraphed about ten minutes in advance. The symbolism is rather over the top when the crevasse conveniently opens up between Ren and Rey, and the power source of the Death Planet jumps right over Star Trek physics and movie physics straight into comic book physics. Again, I get the symbolism, but even an elementary understanding of mass and energy invites a slew of questions that have no reasonable answers.

    Now that the nitpicking is out of the way, there were a lot of things I liked. The restrained/subtle use of special effects and frequent use of physical props and effects was a welcome change. Every time Fin tries to use a standard “hero coming to the rescue” line on Rey, she either ignores him or looks at him like he’s speaking an alien language which was a welcome continuation of a trend in this year full of self-sufficient action heroines. And of course, I loved the Nausicaa vibe of the beginning with the hulking relics of a fallen Empire in the background establishing the perfect mood. The acting is uniformly good with the exception of Fisher, whose lines feel forced and out of step with everyone else. Adam Driver does an admirable job walking a tricky line between the petulant teen of the prequels and the imposing malevolence of Vader in the original trilogy – I wish I could send him back in time to replace Christensen.

    So, not a bad movie, not a great movie, but now that all the boxes have been checked, I am genuinely looking forward to episode 8 which I assume will essentially be two parallel training montages. I’m hoping that, as with the original trilogy, the second entry will be the best opportunity Abrams will have to thrill us with something truly unexpected.

  • Hank Graham


    I kinda see InUrFridge’s point, save for one thing, and that’s the character of Finn, which you were wise not to discuss, MaryAnn. ‘Cause you’re right, he’s precisely what’s new here, and his is, to me, the far more compelling story.

    The original trilogy was all about there’s a bigger universe out there, if you’ll just go out and see it, and about a Hero’s Journey (before the Joseph Campbell thing got driven into the dirt by every other would-be blockbuster looking for some easy formula for How Lucas Did It).

    In this one, Rey is, rather obviously, poised to repeat Luke’s story from the first movie. She’s really good, but we’ve seen that story.

    But Finn–Finn is all about maybe we can change the paths life has laid out for us. Maybe we can choose who we want to be, in the face of enormous pressures beyond anything we know. It’s only hinted at here, but that’s the part of TFA that I found most intriguing. That’s a new story for this universe.

    The offhand way Captain Phasma spoke of his need for “reconditioning,” and their shock that a storm trooper would question his orders–after being casually ordered to murder a bunch of villagers for no reason–speaks to the story problem of the storm troopers. What keeps them loyal? What makes them tick?

    And if a storm trooper can abandon their cause, maybe the solution isn’t to just shoot them, but to persuade them to change their minds.

  • amanohyo


    Also, Phasma better come back and have a decent action scene in 8 and/or 9. If she doesn’t become this trilogy’s Boba Fett, it will be a colossal waste of talent (literally).

  • Robert M.


    …Rey is, rather obviously, poised to repeat Luke’s story from the first movie. She’s really good, but we’ve seen that story.

    I disagree, but it’s subtle.

    Luke’s motivation, like the heroes Lucas was drawing from, was fairly simple: he wanted adventure, and for something to happen that was more exciting than farming in the middle of nowhere.

    Rey’s motivations, though, are centered on family–and moreover, on faith in the idea of family. It instantly makes her a more interesting character to me, because it means her motivation has to shift over the course of the film.

    Luke wanted to get away, while Rey wants to build something for herself. And while their respective arcs do have a number of obvious parallels, I think the distinctions between them have immense consequences for the direction of the next two movies in the trilogy. Among other things, there’s the critical difference between Luke acquiring a father figure as he travels and Rey going out to look for a father figure.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Trying to keep this spoiler free…

    I like it, I have it tied for 3rd with ROTS. I find that, after 6 films, the familiar story beats are part of what makes a movie a Star Wars movie. I’m also a sucker for stories that play on a cyclical nature of Time and History.

    Two things did keep dragging me out of the movie:

    First, it’s a very modern take on Star Wars, particularly in the dialog.

    Second, JJ Abrams just has this almost Baysian indifference, bordering on contempt, for plot logic and sense of scale, when it comes to putting characters into position to witness and/or participate in events.

    More after the spoiler embargoes start to lapse.

  • Geoffry Shreckengost


    Several have already posted how this felt like a rehash. In several moments I agree – the opening scroll, several of the interactions with Han, etc. But there are key areas where this movie took the one thing that made me love Star Wars and progress it just a bit further down the road: the dark exploration.

    You see, episodes 5 and 6 were the first movies I saw where the bad guy was *really* evil, but for some reason was also sympathetic. And, at the same time the good guy really struggled with staying the good guy. This was a revelation to me! When the prequels came out I was so excited because they had an opportunity to show me why I felt that compassion for a bad guy; the painful story he came from and how a good guy can become bad. Instead, they made me feel bad for everyone around this loathsome beast. Though, in truth, the acting was too bad to ever let me get to that level of emotion.

    This new movie, however, really succeeded for me when it walked that line with Kylo Ren, and when it showed the resistance of a programmed soldier with Finn. I thought they could have gone a little more nuanced, but they might’ve missed the fun of the popcorn-y Star Wars universe. All-in-all I really enjoyed it!

    Also, thanks MaryAnn, for being the geek reviewer we need, if not the one we deserve…

  • Nathan

    The story isn’t a rehash, the plot definitely is. The only issue I had was the pacing. There were times I felt like shouting “slow down!” Also, why are the SPOILERS…

    …Resistance and the New Republic separate. And how are they so unaware of the Remnant’s *ahem* New Order’s activities? I just hope that the next two films let the characters breath and form a new legacy of Science Fantasy.

  • Danielm80




    I liked the parallels to the earlier movies, because they emphasized the themes of the film, and they did it in a way that built on, and complicated, the Lucas movies. I love the idea that the characters—like the filmmakers, and the audience—are responding to the stories we remember. They’re trying to live up to the history.

    Luke is trying to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he’s afraid that he’s already failed.

    Kylo Ren is trying to be Darth Vader, but he’s not very good at it, because he’s young and conflicted. He might turn into a great villain, or he might become heroic, like Anakin was in his early years, and in his final moments.

    Rey is trying to be Luke Skywalker, but she’s a very angry person, and she could turn to the dark side of the Force.

    When I read the news these days, it’s obvious that we have to keep fighting the battles of previous generations, and we don’t always do it as well as they did. I found it very moving to see that reflected in the movie—almost as moving as seeing the opening crawl in 3D.

  • amanohyo

    That’s an astute analysis. Perhaps the theme of the next movie will be this new generation meeting and surpassing the accomplishments of their idols, and then in episode 9 they will each discover that instead of correcting the mistakes of their elders, they have merely repeated them and still have much to learn. It would be a little predictable, but I like the symmetry.

  • amanohyo


    I think the quick pace is ironically of the reasons the movie felt like it was dragging at 90 minutes. The whole middle third is a rush from one chase scene to another, so when the film finally slows down during the final attack, it feels like it’s crawling. This is compounded by the feeling of deja vu – as soon as the battle plan is described, the audience knows that everything will go down pretty much exactly the same as in episode IV, so there’s no anticipation, only an impatience to see the film to go through the motions. I was kinda hoping that the heroes wouldn’t be in time and the weapon would get off one final shot just to shake up the formula, but that’s probably an unrealistic expectation (I also wanted all the toys to melt to death at the end of Toy Story 3 and the screen to cut to black and stay there for five minutes before the credit roll).

    I’ll have to go back and watch 4 and 5, but it felt as though they were more willing to slow things down in their first hours. It’s not as though they aren’t roller coaster popcorn movies too, but I felt as if they were confident enough to let a silence hang now and then. I guess the opening scenes with Rey scavenging are fairly relaxed – probably why I like that part of the movie the best (along with the “dream sequence” when she touches the saber – that was the only scene that really surprised me).

  • Nathan

    I liked that the end wasn’t a blob of exposition from Luke, I also like the character development thus far. I’m seeing it again for that reason alone.


    I liked the little touches here and there;
    When Kylo Ren is fighting Finn, he keeps hitting his blaster wound to keep his rage up. This sheds light on the amount of inconsistency apparent with the Dark Side. Your power depends on your emotional state, which is a huge limiting factor. This is why Vader fell to an apprentice who happened to be his son.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I wonder if people felt the same way about the Senate and the Rebel Alliance after seeing ANH. My guess is that the official position of the New Republic is to leave the First Order alone. The Galactic Civil way probably didn’t end at Endor, and the feeling may be that the member worlds of the New Republic haven’t the stomach to fight every Imperial remnant that gains power. I also think the name “the Resistance” might be a hold over from an earlier version of the script where the foundling New Republic lost, and the First Order has replaced the Empire wholesale. Either way, I’m sure an over-emphasis on the political details was something Abrams, Kennedy, Kasdan and Arndt wanted to avoid like the Darth Plagueis. ;)

  • Bluejay

    Random thoughts (SPOILERS, NATURALLY):

    I liked it, a lot. And of
    course I’ll have to see it again. I think Danielm80’s comment
    is on point about how the repeated themes of the films can
    lead to deeper meaning or further exploration. I’m willing to forgive a
    lot of the familiar plotlines for that reason, although I do think we
    can be done with the whole “giant round superweapon must be blown up”
    bit. Surely there must be other, more interesting ways to threaten the universe.

    The movie FEELS like Star Wars. Abrams’ decision to go
    real-world and tactile as much as possible really paid off. The junkyard
    universe, with its Jim Henson-y aliens, is back, and it’s a feast for
    the eyes (and not in a distracting manner, the way Lucas’s
    fill-every-corner-of-the-screen approach was).

    The BANTER is back
    as well. I *loved* all of Finn’s conversations with, well,
    everyone — his camaraderie with Poe, his misplaced
    chivalry with Rey, the way he gives Han Solo lip, even his snarking on Phasma. And Rey’s “I’m capable
    of running without holding your hand” is destined to be a classic. It’s
    all so *fun,* and I’ve missed the fun.

    The new actors are all
    excellent. Whatever flaws the film may have, it gets this very crucial thing right: it gives us interesting characters, performed enthusiastically by good actors, that we can root for, feel invested in, and want to spend time with for the duration of an entire new trilogy. I’m totally on board with Rey, Finn, and Poe, the way I never was with Anakin, Padme, and all the glum Jedi of the prequels. And Adam Driver would have made an infinitely better Anakin Skywalker than Hayden Christensen did.

    And Daisy Ridley rocks so damn hard. I loved seeing her come into her powers as a Force-user (“And drop your weapon on the way out!” “…and drop my weapon on the way out.”), and the moment she ignites the lightsaber is one of the best in the franchise. All the ads have focused on Finn wielding the saber; kudos to the marketing team for keeping a lid on that it’s *Rey* who duels Kylo to a standstill. (AND what a pleasure to see a saber duel that’s less about flashy virtuosic swordplay and more about the emotional clash between the characters, as they grunt and push and swing wildly at each other.)

    There’s a lot more to discuss, but I’ll leave it there for now.

  • the dark exploration.

    Nicely said.

    Also, thanks MaryAnn, for being the geek reviewer we need, if not the one we deserve…

    I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a compliment, so I’ll take it! :-)

  • GeeksAreMyPeeps


    Certainly there were a ton of elements that had parallels in the original trilogy:
    • Plans left with a droid
    • Desert planet
    • Cantina scene
    • Good/evil family relations
    • Big bad weapon
    • Plans to destroy the big bad weapon
    • Rescuing the captive from the baddie’s fortress, etc.

    But none of them bothered me, because they worked in the story. And since there’s elements of all of the original movies present, in a way I feel that this as Abrams saying “I get it; I know what you found appealing about Star Wars.” I predict we’ll see fewer obvious correlations in the coming movies.

    I thought the scene of Ren talking to Vader’s mask, noting his resistance to the pull of the light side, was very nice foreshadowing for the scene when he asked Solo for his help to find the strength to do what he needed to. I don’t think there’s going to any redemption here. I think he’s going to be as bad as they come. I imagine the interesting emotional struggles are going to come from elsewhere.

    Can we agree that if you’re a character in fantasy or sci fi, you don’t walk alone out onto the long catwalk?

  • Each of the new trilogy characters are an amalgam of the original trio: Rey is part Leia (all-loving action princess) and Luke (The Hero of Campbellian Destiny), Poe is part Han (rogueish and cocky) and Leia (natural leader who fights for the Good), Finn is part Han (skeptical snarker) and Luke (a naive young man whose first step into the larger world, except Finn’s was a nightmare that woke him up to the horrors of the ongoing war).

  • this needs to get mentioned often: Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the screenplays for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, came back to work on this screenplay.
    I’ve seen in other posts about how the new characters are so easily likable and interact well with each other, I am wondering how much of that is Kasdan’s work. One of the great things about Empire and Return was the witty and engaging interaction between the characters, something sorely lacking in the prequels.

  • Jim Mann


    I thought that the Resistance was being supported by the Republic in the same way some groups were supported by countries like the US and USSR during the Cold War. The Republic doesn’t want to directly go to war with the first order, but is willing to support a large resistance movement.

  • My own non-spoilers review:
    Ok, here we go. I’ve had a day and a half to think about this.
    a very kinetic movie, and almost impossible not enjoy as it’s
    happening. So many sights! So many characters, old and new! This is
    Then you sit down, and really start thinking about what
    you’ve seen, and things start to unravel a bit. Not a LOT, mind you, but
    enough to knock it down a peg from truly Great, to very good.
    I’d have to go into spoiler territory to explain my reasoning in total, but I can say a few things.

    This is a bullet point, committee-driven movie. Yes, I know they ALL
    are, but this feels like it even more so. It’s like they sat around and
    said “We have to have this happen, and this type of scene, and this type
    of character, etc. etc. to make the fans really happy”.
    It feels
    very much like a reboot instead of a sequel, from a structural
    standpoint. I don’t blame them one bit for this, but it does make a lot
    of what happens here a bit overly familiar.
    The new characters are
    likable and truly interesting, and I look forward to seeing where the
    story takes them, especially now that they’ve gotten this crucial first
    outing with them out of the way, in a quality fashion.
    Benjamin(14-year old son) enjoyed it, and we may even go see it again in IMAX over the holiday break.
    There’s so much more to say, but it requires spoiler talk so I’ll leave that for later. Or message boards, FB messages, etc.

    Definitely go see it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a very good Star Wars
    movie, and infinitely better than any of the prequels. That’s about as
    good as we could hope for, right?

  • Ok, so this will be my SPOILERS POST:

    I enjoyed the movie, but with reservations. I also have comments and questions I’d like others input on.
    -The whole thing with Luke really falls apart once you start thinking about it a little. So he flew off and has been hiding on some island by himself? How long ago did he do this? That island didn’t look all that habitable.
    And how in the world was there a map created to show exactly where this island was? Who made the map? Him? and stored it all in R2 minus one piece? Why? In anticipation of wanting to be found someday? And where did the other piece of the map come from? Presumably Luke created it and gave it to someone? This all just makes no sense to me.
    And then the whole movie, with gobs of bloodshed, is simply about who can find him first. Just to kill him/bring him back? To do what? Is he truly the last Jedi?
    Speaking of Jedis and such, how does one get jedi powers/sith powers anyway? inherited? trained? If it’s genetic, how did Kylo Ren get them? Neither Leia or Han have any powers, although Leias father did, obviously.
    It can’t just be training or everyone would become Jedis or Sith Lords.
    – I actually don’t like that it seems anyone at all can pick up a lightsaber and use it. It would add to the mystique if only true jedi/sith could. Reys scene with Kylo would have been more powerful if Finn hadn’t just used the saber to fight him before she did.
    – I wish they would stop killing off their new bad guys in the first movie! Kylo would have been better used over all 3 movies. That was the mistake they made with Darth Maul. Killed him too early. Now we have some stupid alien voldemort looking thing with a terrible name. Snoke? Really???!!! I assume another cool bad guy will replace Kylo, but they should have gone the Vader route, and developed him over all 3.

    I’ll probably have more, but that’;s good for now. Discuss?

  • Danielm80


    I don’t care how the Jedis get their powers, as long as it has nothing to do with Midichlorians.

    Why wouldn’t someone be able to pick up a lightsaber? It’s a piece of hardware. But as with an electric guitar–another piece of hardware–some people have an unusual ability to figure out what to do with it after they pick it up.

    Leia clearly does have Jedi powers, as demonstrated in more than one of the movies. In this movie, she felt Han’s death the moment it happened.

    I actually think the movies would be more interesting if she’d trained as a Jedi. The galaxy obviously needs more Jedi knights. But then, her decision to become a general instead is pretty interesting on its own.

    And as far as I can tell, Kylo Ren didn’t die. He got injured and went off to “complete his training.”

  • Interesting. He seemed pretty darn dead to me. If you’re right, that’s a good thing.
    I know the logic with the sabers, but I’m thinking more in a fantastical sense. Kind of like Thors hammer, or The Sword and the Stone legend. Yeah, I’m reaching, but it’s fantasy, right?
    I agree about the midichlorians, but I still feel there should be some sort of explanation. Genetics? Ok, problem solved. Next question.
    Maybe Leia can feel the force, but if that’s the case, she was incredibly wasted as a character. I agree with you that that would have been pretty fun and interesting. Also, how can someone who has it(supposedly Leia) feel what happens to someone who doesn’t(Han)? Hmmm.

  • Bluejay


    As Danielm80 said, Leia *is* attuned to the Force: she sensed Luke calling to her when he was hanging at the bottom of Cloud City, she sensed that he survived the Death Star explosion in ROTJ, and Luke told her “The Force runs strong in my family; my father has it; I have it; and my sister has it.”

    Kylo Ren didn’t die.

    I think the Rey/Kylo duel *is* more powerful because Finn used the saber first — and failed. It sets up Rey as the unexpected person to fight and disarm Kylo. (And there’s at least one non-Jedi who’s used a saber in the films: Han Solo, who used it to cut open a tauntaun in ESB. As Daniel says, it’s just hardware, but talent and/or training enable some people to use it better than others.)

    The questions you ask about Luke and the map are good ones, but the movie is clearly leaving a lot of threads unresolved for the next installment, so hopefully we’ll get some more answers then.

  • See my response to Daniel below(up?).

    Did we see someone scuttle Ren off the planet? Why is everyone saying he’s not dead? She cut him down, they all left, the place exploded. Assumptions are being made, obviously. Unless I missed something?

  • Bluejay

    I agree about the midchlorians, but I still feel there should be some sort of explanation. Genetics? Ok, problem solved.

    I think it’s partly genetics, which would explain Luke saying “The Force runs strong in my family,” but I think the reason people didn’t like the midichlorian explanation is because they actually DON’T want a scientific basis for it. In terms of the story, I think the Force works best as a quasi-religious/spiritual presence that certain people are just open to, in the way that some characters in Biblical stories and myths are open to the voice of God and become prophets and oracles.

    Maybe Leia can feel the force, but if that’s the case, she was incredibly wasted as a character.

    I would have liked to see stories of her training to become a Jedi herself. But she was a strong central character in the original trilogy, and in these new films they clearly want to try to shift the focus to the new generation. Maybe she’ll still play a crucial role in the next films, though.

    how can someone who has it(supposedly Leia) feel what happens to someone who doesn’t (Han)?

    Well, if you consider that the Force actually flows through everything and binds everything, then people who are sensitive to it can tap into it and sense what’s going on with other people that the Force surrounds. Leia is untrained and can probably only feel the Force-connection with the individuals she’s closest to; but remember that a highly trained Jedi like Obi-Wan could sense when an entire planet (presumably of non-Force users) was destroyed.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Yeah, Snoke’s call for the general to take Ren and bring him to complete the training came after Ren lost the fight and the planet started breaking up. That’s pointless exposition if he’s dead, and enough to imply that he was scooped up by fleeing First Order troops.

    It’s also a phenomenal waste of a compelling villain.

  • Danielm80


    Supreme Leader Snoke* announces that it’s time for Kylo Ren to “complete his training.”

    This article answers–or, more often, fails to answer–some of your questions:


    *And his title really makes me want to see the Rocky and Bullwinkle version of this story.

  • Bluejay


    Also: I’m waiting for someone to put together the inevitable YouTube video of Qui-Gon Jinn explaining midichlorians to young Anakin, followed immediately by Han Solo in The Force Awakens saying to Finn, “That’s not how the Force works!”

  • Danielm80


    I liked Finn better–and I liked him a lot already–when he stepped into a fight he was almost certain to lose. And he got beaten pretty badly, but he did remarkably well for someone who hadn’t used a lightsaber before. I was cheering inside. It’s one of the ridiculous contrivances that makes me love the Star Wars movies so much.

  • Bluejay

    Here’s more info on what the filmmakers have in mind for Kylo Ren:


    I like the idea that the trilogy will be not just about the evolution of the hero, but the evolution of the villain as well. I think Kylo Ren is pretty clearly sticking around.

  • all-loving

    I’m hoping that is some sort of weird autocorrect typo…

  • If it’s genetic, how did Kylo Ren get them? Neither Leia or Han have any powers, although Leias father did, obviously.

    Obviously. We do share genes with our grandparents! (And Leia does has some Force sensitivity.)

    I actually don’t like that it seems anyone at all can pick up a lightsaber and use it. It would add to the mystique if only true jedi/sith could.

    That could still be the case. (Except we know it isn’t: Han used Luke’s lightsaber on Hoth.) What if the Force is strong with Finn, and that’s at least part of what prompted him to reject his conditioning?

    I wish they would stop killing off their new bad guys in the first movie!

    Kylo’s not dead.

  • Liz D

    possible SPOILERS…

    I actually LIKE the repeated plot points from the earlier movies, because that sort of thing happens in mythology all the time (for example the story of Zeus killing Kronos is very similar to the story of Kronos killing Uranos). And Star Wars has a very mythological feel, to me.

  • Wow, I totally missed that. I’m glad that’s cleared up! I didn’t want him to be dead. Thanks!

  • Yeah, I’ve had the facts handed to me in regards to Kylo. I totally missed that he was removed. I’m glad he’s not dead.

  • Bluejay

    I’m still trying to figure out what it could have autocorrected *from.*

  • Gforce27

    I don’t know what it is about that opening crawl with the classic Star Wars theme! I was choked up at the theater! Cynics be damned.

  • all-loving as is “roots for the underdog, hangs out with puppies and Ewoks in her spare time, crushes the throats of slavers” etc.

  • Bluejay


    So I was reading this article, and this comment caught my eye; so much discussion has been around how Han Solo’s death serves the story or serves Kylo Ren’s character development, but the commenter points out that the death completes Han’s arc as well — from being the ultimate cynic and selfish looking-out-for-number-one guy to meeting his death with the ultimate act of selfless faith and love. If he had to go, it’s hard to think of a more powerful or meaningful way for him to do it.

  • amanohyo

    I liked the wound punching too. It accomplishes multiple things at once – it let’s you know what a badass Ren is by reminding you that he took a shot from a weapon that knocked a ST through the air, it also shows his weakness and limitations as you described, and it makes the final battle’s outcome feel more believable. There’s a lot of talk online about whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue (I’d put her at around 60% Sueosity), and if it weren’t for Ren’s wound punching, I’d tend to agree with Landis:


    Hopefully, we’ll get to see some epic Empire Strikes Back level failure in episode 8 to flesh out her character some more, and it won’t just be some kind of “I trained with Luke and am awesome at everything, but then he wiped my memory with the force because he got scared when Ren went nuts,” lazy Jason Bourne BS.

  • SaltHarvest

    You might be looking for the term “self-similarity.”

  • SaltHarvest


    Finn does have counterparts in both trilogies, but they’re a bit more subtle than the others (and in varying degrees).

  • RogerBW

    I think the Sue thing is about 70% “oh noes, a female character who actually does stuff in My Star Wars” and about 30% “hang on, everyone in a Star Wars film is like that”.

  • Danielm80
  • RogerBW

    Not seeing the relevance?

  • Danielm80

    It’s a movie made by Max Landis, which MaryAnn described this way:

    An unambitious slacker stoner dude who gets unquestioning support to a saintly degree from a perfect girlfriend? Check. *yawn*

  • Bluejay
  • amanohyo

    I haven’t seen American Ultra yet, but thought Chronicle was a promising start – although it certainly didn’t have any female characters at the center of its story.

    If MA and you are right, Landis may be a hypocrite, but he appears to be giving his honest opinion and as icky as it feels to be on the same side as MRAs in a discussion, what he says almost rings true for me… almost.

    Abrams anticipated this criticism by building in explanations: Rey’s a scavenger who has to know how to extract parts and has probably explored the Falcon extensively looking for something of value/out of boredom as she was growing up.

    Her scavenging has also given her climbing practice, and some of her skill with a staff (taught to her by… Luke I guess?) translates to the saber fight. I buy the explanations, but just barely and under the assumption that her badassery will be elaborated on in the next film.

    The wound punching really sealed the deal for me in that last fight. If it had gone down in exactly the same way without the Chewie shot/punching, I would have been right beside Landis in thinking that she was a tad too perfect. It’s a minor fault in the scheme of things and doesn’t hurt the movie as much as the death star retread, but I agree with Landis when he says that it lessens the “stakes” and flattens her character. In a hypothetical world in which her character was male, I’d like to think I’d have the same criticism.

  • Danielm80

    Rey has two obvious flaws: She’s a very angry person, and she has a slightly delusional belief that her family is going to come back to her. They’re small, defensible flaws that, arguably, make her more appealing, but they’re the same sort of flaws that led Anakin to the dark side of the Force. He was criticized by the Jedi for holding on too tightly to his personal attachments.

  • amanohyo

    Abrams and Kasdan have built explanations into the film for the mechanical knowledge, running/climbing, and combat abilities up to a point. Her force abilities strain credulity a tad – the next movie(s) have some ‘splainin to do.

    Like most qualities, being a Mary Sue is a spectrum and despite the groundwork her opening scenes lay out, Rey has a bit of Sue in her. I know female characters are often unfairly damned if they do and damned if they don’t, but she really is astonishingly good at everything she does in the movie. I disagree with Landis about the extent, but I see his point and I’m glad he voiced his opinion.

    I will say this though – her abilities make me more curious about her origins which deepens her character design. She mentions a dream about islands – is it a premonition or a memory of time spent with Luke? I’m confident that she’ll get some rough edges and complexity in the next movies.

    To put this all in context, I’m not really a fan of Episode IV although I understand its historical significance. I like post-Hoth Empire and the opening and final battle of Jedi. This isn’t a bad movie, and its new generation of main characters (including Rey) are more interesting on average that the characters in A New Hope. With a different culminating space battle/evil plan and a couple minor tweaks, I would actually like it more than episode IV – as it is, it’s very close.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s kind of what I’m thinking. This is one of the really great things about the TFA script: there’s abundant evidence of 30 years of stories since Endor.
    There are awful things in the script too (all of Leia’s dialog), but that part is great.

  • Bluejay

    She’s a very angry person

    I’ve just seen the film a second time, and I don’t get that impression at all. What makes you think she is?

    I’ve always thought that Jedi non-attachment philosophy was BS. Luke’s devotion to Han and Leia (his unwillingness to sacrifice them and just continue with his training on Dagobah) and his refusal to give up on his father are precisely the qualities that make him a hero, not to mention make him human. The detachment of the prequel Jedi, their above-it-allness and consequent obliviousness, are precisely what made them unsympathetic and uninteresting characters, to me. And the dark path that Kylo Ren is walking REQUIRES him to sever his personal attachments! It’s possible the Jedi have got it all wrong.

    What saved Vader? The love of his son, and his love FOR his son. You can’t get more personally attached than that.

  • Danielm80

    Rey’s facial expressions during the fight scenes were extremely angry, much more so than any other character’s.

    I agree with everything else you said, but the Jedi rule book may not.

  • Bluejay

    I interpreted those expressions as “I’m concentrating very hard on not being simultaneously cut in half and cauterized.” Also, she just witnessed Kylo Ren committing his Despicable Act and any anger towards him would be justified, I think.

    I would love it if the new trilogy complicated our (or the Jedi’s) understanding of the Force. It’s just too simplistic to say “Anger is bad,” when anger can clearly be harnessed for good purposes (see: civil rights activism of any kind), or to say “It’s good to let go of your personal attachments” when the San Bernardino killers willingly left their 6-month-old baby behind. The mere existence or absence of emotion isn’t enough to make it Light Side or Dark Side. What matters is what you *do* with the emotions you have.

  • Danielm80

    I’d like to see that sort of complexity, too, and I think Abrams and company are capable of it. But Rey’s refusal to leave her home planet, and live a better life, on the remote chance that her family will come back seems a little unhealthy.

    I’ll watch Rey’s facial expressions again the next time I see the movie.

    There’s a Jewish idea that when people disagree, some arguments are “for the sake of Heaven,” and have a productive purpose, while others are just pointless anger. But George Lucas is not, I suspect, Jewish, and the Force has a different set of rules.

  • I had a few disappointments in the movie, but one was not giving Christie a big bad action scene, preferably with a light saber but a staff would have been fine. She’s been a terribly good sport about being wasted in the first movie (maybe laughing all the way to the bank) but I hope she’s a more active character in the next movie.

  • I’m sure Kylo is not dead.

    I was sorry that the Leia character was so wasted in this movie. She was more of a bad-ass at 19 than at 59 and that’s a shame.

    I don’t want to talk about spoilers here, but I wrote about them in blogpost – http://nolongerslowblog.blogspot.com/2015/12/i-went-to-this-movie-not-knowing.html

  • Bluejay

    Lucas was raised Methodist, according to my computer screen.

    the Force has a different set of rules.

    (SPOILERS) The thing though is that the way the Force plays out in the films (in the original trilogy and in TFA at least) is inconsistent with what the films themselves say the Force is about. Yoda instructs Luke that a good Jedi sacrifices his personal attachments, but Luke’s personal attachment to his father is what redeems Vader. Meanwhile Kylo Ren repudiates his personal attachment to his father, which leads him further to the Dark Side. And Luke, in abandoning all his personal attachments to go into exile, doesn’t seem to be doing the universe any good (or himself either; he looks miserable). So if Yoda and the prequel folks like Qui-Gon are supposed to accurately describe the Force, then the Force isn’t behaving the way the films say it should behave. The more interesting possibility is that the Jedi have simply gotten it wrong all this time, and that the relationship between the Light and Dark Sides is more complex and contradictory than even the Jedi could comprehend. Maybe that’s something Luke and Rey can figure out together.

  • Also, in Star Wars movies, one major character may die, but not two. And that’s something Abrams and Kasdan stuck to – they’d intended to kill off Poe but decided not to (and I’m glad about that!).

  • Landis may be a hypocrite

    He is.

    Everything Landis has written includes male protagonists that could fairly be deemed male Mary Sues. (Victor Frankenstein‘s central character is an uneducated circus freak who teaches himself medicine and is brilliant at it.)

    Landis needs to sit down and shut up.

  • Of course, in the real world, religion doesn’t do the things everyone claims it does, and people who claim to be religious don’t always act like they actually are. :-)

  • Bluejay

    Well, yeah. It’ll be interesting to see if the Star Wars films take on that kind of nuance.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Explain what? She hasn’t done anything unusual for a Star Wars character. A stronger argument could be made that Rey is a re-skin of Luke, but meh. Are we really calling the degree of extraordinary abilities, in a universe where tens of thousands of people are possessed of extraordinary abilities, a strain on credulity?

    60+ year old Han Solo pulls off two impossible hyperspace jumps and no-look shoots a stormtrooper, Finn brushes of year of brainwashing, and Poe Dameron survives a crash, gets off a sparesly populated planet, and does thing with an X-Wing that no SW character has ever done, but Rey is the too perfect character?

    I’m with MAJ and Roger and Charlie Jane Anders: this “Rey is a Mary Sue”* nonsense is just covering up a disbelief that an insanely competenat character can be described as “the girl”, despite the way the script lampshades the living shit out of it by calling her that.

    *I do like how Max Landis opens his video telling viewers to “Google Mary Sue”, something he clearly did not do.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Seriously, fuck Max Landis.

  • Maurice Depestre

    the original Star Wars made me dream. The last one? Not so much. (partly because i had seen it before)… – I also think that Finn should not have been able to use a lightsaber as well as he did – in fact, he should not have been able to use a lightsaber at all.

  • Bluejay

    in fact, he should not have been able to use a lightsaber at all.

    Remember that Han also used a lightsaber to cut open a tauntaun in Empire.

    The lightsaber is just a sword that happens to be made of energy. Anyone can pick up a sword and swing it around and use it to hit and stab people and block strikes by others. The Jedi are just a lot better at it than anyone else.

    I think Finn used the lightsaber about as well as a physically fit, combat-trained stormtrooper could. And remember that he lost against his opponents, both times that he used it.

  • Danielm80

    I have a theory that the lightsaber was originally developed as a can opener, and the Jedi built a larger-scale version for combat. It’s not a very good theory, but it’s mine.

  • RogerBW

    It was originally just meant to be a longer-lasting flashlight, but someone got lucky during the design phase.

  • Danielm80
  • Nathan

    Finn is nothing like Lando or Mace…

  • Nathan

    Yeah, there’s a reason why the rebels say… “may the force be with you.” Everyone has some force sensitivity.

  • Nathan

    Ah, so the New Republic are Europe before the second world war then.

  • Nathan

    Wound punching is a juicy bit of lore… it tells us that the Dark Side isn’t evil, it’s the user. Power corrupts and all that, it implies that we could see a chaotic good dark force user… this excites me.

  • SaltHarvest

    That’s not all that subtle, although I’m not excluding Windu.

  • Danielm80

    All right, I’m going to ask: Do the boldface letters have some significance, or are they totally random?

  • SaltHarvest

    They have significance, imo. I’m inclined to believe the Star Wars writers have fun with names.

  • The Kool-Aid drinking is strong with his one.

  • Jwcorey

    After seeing The Force Awakens, I was pleased – no, delighted – in how they presented Rey without the filter of “male gaze” in any way, shape, or form. We fell in love with her completely and thoroughly, but without a camera following her backside… without her boobs poking through her top… without her legs bare and flashing all over the place. Her lips were devoid of glistening red paint, her bodice was not torn at any time, and she didn’t even have lilting, girly theme music. They wrote her as a three dimensional, layered personality… yet (wisely) didn’t direct the audience to any sexuality whatsoever. Add the light but substantial portrayal by Daisy Ridley, and it’s like a breath of fresh, clean air. What a great way to usher in the next generation of this modern mythology.

  • BraveGamgee

    Not really a spoiler, but can I just say how nice it is to finally have a protagonist who isn’t whiny in the slightest? Luke and Anakin both suffered in this regard

  • TheLastDreamer

    I have nothing to say except I’m loving BlueJay’s posts. I’m going to lift some of this stuff the next time someone cites the prequels as proof that Jedis (and hence, what’s “right”) have to be these sexless, emotionless pieces of cardboard in order to be true Jedis. I kind of hope someone at Disney is reading these posts–hopefully interject something though-provoking in the upcoming movies other than, “Can our heroes destroy a big physical object in the sky?”

  • Danielm80

    I’d like Bluejay to write the next Star Wars movie.

  • lilyboosh

    Agree about Kylo Ren. Furthermore, I think he’s going to be turned into a cyborg like Vader at some point. He was left lying defeated and on the verge of death (much like Anakin was) and his master says he’s going to “complete his training”. Given Kylo Ren’s need to purge out his humanity *and* his hero-worship of Vader, it would make sense. I just hope he doesn’t get breathy-noises.

  • lilyboosh

    Technically Mace Windu was that kind of Jedi, at least in combat. He would let his anger loose in order to harness the ferocity usually associated with Sith users. It’s a style called Vaapad (or Juyo for Sith) practiced only by a few.

  • Bluejay

    Hey, thanks. :-)

  • Bluejay

    I’d like Bluejay to write the next Star Wars movie.

    You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this. In place of a Lucas or an Abrams you would have an Internet Commenter! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the seas! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!!!

  • BraveGamgee

    I totally heard this in Cate Blanchett’s voice as well <3

  • LaSargenta

    I hate comic relief. Just needed to put that out there.

    Saw this yesterday. I’m afraid I was bored and felt most of the characters were terribly shallow. Sorry.

  • TheLastDreamer

    On that note, wouldn’t it be cool if in the next movie, Luke takes the piss out of wanting to jump into the fray again because “What’s the point?”

    We would then find out how exactly the First Order came to be. (And yes, I realize this is not at all remotely hinted at in the Force Awakens.) He could go onto say how at first the First Order were the “good guys.” They responded to the death of the Empire with the best intentions. And in order to ensure that “something like this never happens again,” they–yup–go onto impose Dragonian measures and become control freaks, limiting free-will, to make sure that any potential “problem behavior” is quashed immediately so that another Empire doesn’t happen down the line.

    And of course, in doing this, they became the next Empire. And people across the galaxy are willingly signing on to become soldiers because, hey, everyone knows the First Order are simply trying to bring order and security to things after the evil Empire messed things up! It could be thought provoking, in the way that some of the philosophical stuff from Yoda was in the original trilogy.

    As it is, I don’t think Disney’s going there. I fear that the “climax” of the third movie will be to arbitrarily kill another big baddie (Snoke), everyone cheers, the end.


    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Considering how flawed *all* Star Wars movies are from a perspective of someone who demands verisimilitude and continuity, I think that TFA does a great job.

    I mean, consider that in Episode 4 Darth Vader oversees the torture of his own daughter without even realizing it, or that under such distress Leia’s own Force-potential wouldn’t somehow show up as with Rey. The Death Star should have at least hundreds of interceptor fighters, and yet, they are unable to stop a meager 30 rebel fighters. And they have the absolute best fighter pilot in the galaxy, Darth Vader himself. It goes on.

    I was the kind of kid that memorized dialogs from the first three movies. I hated the prequels at first, but then I relaxed and now I love them and accept them as well. They’re part of the family. Yes, despite Christensen’s acting.

    So TFA absolutely rocks. And this blog, too!


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