Some final thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens after my third time…
Since my second viewing, I’ve devoured the beautiful art book and the visual dictionary, both of which fill in a ton of critical blanks that you could argue the movie should’ve devoted some time exploring. Also just read the prequel novel by the awesome (as always) Greg Rucka, which digs into some important events in the lives of Finn, Rey, and Poe immediately before the events of the movie. The most important entry delves into Finn and the lives of his squad mates, two of which have fairly significant roles to play during The Force Awakens, one of them contributing the bloody handprint during the Jakku assault, and the other, well, let’s talk about the other in a minute.
Finn (or FN-2187) is introduced as something of a Luke/Han amalgamation—equal parts bold and eager, pretty good with a blaster, and a natural born leader, even though there’s something a little different about him. He’s beginning to seriously doubt the nonsense The First Order is feeding him. This newfound sense of hesitation and conscience is referenced several times, and it’s clear that the door is still very open on him developing some Force sensitivity in the future, and that he and Captain Phasma are headed for a serious showdown. They have a great, contentious relationship, as he continuously garners the wrong kind of attention and develops close bonds (a big no-no) with his teammates.
Most interesting thing is that this prequel story version of Finn is pretty amazing at everything he does, which is not how he’s depicted during the movie in many instances. In this prologue, he’s fairly confident, though considerably unnerved at the idea that he’s the only one starting to find some of this First Order business pretty objectionable. His scores and conduct during simulations have him on the First Order fast track, and he’s an absolute boss with a blaster and in hand-to-hand combat, dominating a string of opponents while wielding an energy mace and a shield.
Even before reading this, I thought him not winning his fight against the trooper now dubbed TR-R8 was a mistake, and would’ve put a little more “oomph” into his character. And it turns out this guy was actually part of Finn’s former squad, which provides a little more context for him shouting “Traitor!” at Finn, and attacking the runaway trooper with some additional enthusiasm. Finn was his leader, perhaps even his role model, and knowing that adds an additional layer to the scene, though knowing that wasn’t as necessary as Finn winning a head-to-head fight with him.
Even if the sequence had to be reframed so that Han (using Chewie’s crossbow thing) disarmed the guy, or took out another trooper nearby, giving Finn a distraction or an opening for the kill shot, I think the whole thing would’ve gone down much better. This tiny alteration would’ve had a massive narrative result, netting Finn a critical hand-to-hand victory over an opponent he should’ve beaten, to go along with his already impressive body count. Seriously, past The First Order, no one blew people away like Finn, which is why this whole “Finn was a weak nigga” narrative is more exaggerated emotional projection than actual fact.
I do understand the conversation though, and I was much more enthusiastic about the Finn we got in the deceptive marketing, and in Rucka’s prequel story, than the one we saw in a few questionable elements from the actual movie. I know that the arc of “brainwashed disillusioned child soldier finally stops running” isn’t as prominent if his fear and desperation isn’t so present, but past all the Will Smith hollering and terrified expressions, if he strikes down TR-R8 in a sloppy, yet furious display with that lightsaber, all (most) is forgiven. Cause the Kylo Ren thing was never going his way, and anyone that didn’t see Rey being the primary Force wielder wasn’t paying attention. But I wanted that power shared and still do.
So why am I okay with it, ultimately? Because John Boyega was fantastic, and held the screen with everyone he shared it with, bringing a sense of warmth, humor, morality, and (eventually) raw nerve that’ll be great to watch develop further over the next couple movies. And because I’m clearly drowning in Star Wars material, I always knew that he’d be coming back, and that he was initially imagined as a white character, who was always destined to play a critical, yet supporting role in the adventures of a young, female Jedi. Since the movies have never featured a female Jedi of any real significance ever, the writer in me just can’t be too mad at that, even though the black dude in me is a little disappointed to have “Black Han Solo” and not “Black Luke Skywalker.”
Seeing the movie a third time really hardened my thoughts on it into stone, and I am now content to sit back and wait for the Blu-Ray and deleted scenes. I liked it a lot, but did not LOVE it, and despite the above, the Finn thing wasn’t my biggest criticism. As a kid, I had a very complicated history with The Empire Strikes Back, because the good guys got their asses handed to them, and as a child, that was highly offensive and off-putting to me psychologically. This new movie triggers something very similar, and though obviously I know that “there are no happy endings,” and that in a lot of ways, our parents screwed things up, the weight of absolute failure and loss draped onto these iconic heroes was a little sad to see, you know? A little too much like actual real life, but which makes for a better story, as we watch them finally get it almost right over thirty years later.
Last tiny thing I would’ve tweaked is the reveal of Kylo Ren’s parents, which I think should’ve been held until that great scene where Han and Leia reconnect after what seems to be a very long time. Imagine if they had strung us along until then, playing with the idea that Ren’s father could’ve been either Han or Luke, and having the reveal happen there with the old smuggler growling out, “I saw him. I saw our son.” That would’ve been more than a gut punch, more like someone reached into our chests, removed the heart, and then stomped on it with both feet. Harrison Ford did great playing the tortured, regretful father, and every time I think about the little wry smile that came to him with he said, “Yeah, I knew Luke,” it gives me all the feels. So much implied and expressed in a single moment there.
The character work was on point, even when parts of me didn’t agree with what they were doing or had done. This movie gave them a rock solid foundation to build on, and say what you will about J.J. Abrams (I love his work to death, personally) but his eye for casting is remarkable. He excels at making unconventional choices seem glaringly obvious (Quinto as Spock, Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, etc.) and the mind explodes at the infinite possibilities for the incredible actors now taking Star Wars into the future.
I’ll grade everything much harsher in the next episode, but this one is steeped in over eagerness, which is far from a cardinal sin. The Force Awakens is soooo very desperate to be liked that it didn’t take near enough risks, or reach quite far enough. The shadow of the prequels looms largest, and the mission for this movie seemed pretty simple—Bring Star Wars Back, by any means necessary. And it does so in all the most important ways.
Now that everyone is back on board and feels great about Star Wars movies again, I expect the real deal next time, packed with new planetary environments, weapons, ships, and Force powers. I want them to consider changing the classic opening a bit, and possibly even moving on from John Williams doing the music. Embrace the new whenever possible, and get the older fans (like myself) all worked up because they took things too far.
We’ve got an amazing cast of fantastic new characters, and almost everything around them deserves to be something new as well…
Oh, and in a few hours, I’ll post up my version of the very first scene from Episode VIII in all its fan fictiony glory, so be on the lookout for that. Thanks.