After the prequels, Star Wars appeared to be…well, complete. Lucas was no longer talking about a third trilogy. All had gone quiet on that front. Instead, Star Wars thrived in animated fare like the Cone Wars cartoon and in comic books through Dark Horse. Dark Horse had even started a Canon series that took place between a New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.
But then, in 2012, came a very unexpected announcement. Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and all it’s properties. And with this announcement came the news that they were working on a new trilogy. And on top of that, Disney would also be making Star Wars films set outside the main storyline.
This came with some controversy, as Disney declared that the extended universe of Novels and comics were, in no way, canon. Only the Six movies counted. This was partially to allow new novels and comic books to start building the universe anew. Dark Horse lost the rights and Marvel took up telling all new stories within the Star Wars universe.
J.J. Abrams was brought in fresh from rebooting Star Trek (ironically enough, he was often criticized for bring a Star Wars attitude to the franchise) to create the new story that would continue the adventures. Of course, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all brought in to reprise their roles (some more limited than others). So let us go forward, back to that galaxy far, far away…and be ready for spoilers!
Opening up about thirty years after Return of the Jedi, we are greeted by a star destroyer. It appears that while the Republic was restored, the remnants of the Empire formed as the First Order. The First Order is getting bolder and are trying to wipe out the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa. She has sent a top Resistance Pilot named Poe Dameron to the planet Jakku in an effort to get information that could lead them to Luke Skywalker.
First Order ships arrive on the scene, and Poe tries to escape, but his ship is damaged. He puts the top secret info into his astro droid BB-8. The droid goes on the run and Poe is captured by the mysterious Kylo Ren. It is quickly revealed that this is the son of Leia and Han Solo.
In the middle of this, one of the Stormtroopers seems out of step with the others. When they return from Jakku, he removes his helmet to reveal a young man who is not a clone (later in the film, it is explained the First Order takes young children from their families and trains them to be unquestioning soldiers rather than clones). The Storm Trooper helps Poe escape. In the middle of their escape, Dameron asks what his name is, and the Trooper responds with FN2187. Poe determines that he will just call him Finn, and the newly christened Finn declares he likes it. They crash back on Jakku. Finn cannot find anything but Poe’s leather jacket. He wanders the desert planet, tossing aside his Storm Trooper armor.
Meanwhile, BB-8 has been found by the young scavenger Rey. She helped BB get away from a junk collector and offers to help the droid get to the city. They arrive and Rey finds herself being followed. BB-8 sees Finn in Poe’s jacket and Rey attacks. Finn claims to be a member of the resistance, and that he can help. Finn hears a familiar sound and they realize they are under attack from the First Order.
They rush to find a spaceship. Finn points to a ship offscreen and Rey mocks it as being garbage, but the ship she wants blows up…resulting in her yelling out “The garbage it is”…but it turns out to be a very famous hunk of junk. It is the Millennium Falcon. Rey pilots while Finn mans the guns. This leads to a very exciting chase through the air forcing the two to rely on their best wits. At one point, Rey flies the ship through the carcass of a crashed Star Destroyer.
Once they reach space, they start to try and figure out how to get BB-8 and Finn back to the Resistance. Finn, of course, has no knowledge of the Resistance, but manages to convince BB-8 to play along. They are overtaken by a larger ship, and it turns out to be Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Things take a turn for the worse as two factions Han has double crossed show up. After a narrow escape, the newly formed crew head to meet up with someone Han knows can help. Their mission is now to get BB-8 to the Resistance, especially after they find that BB-8 holds coordinates to finding Luke Skywalker. They reach a lush planet and Han brings them to the temple of Maz.
Maz is a small alien who is even older than Yoda. She apparently has a crush on Chewbacca (she refers to him as her boyfriend, and it is unclear if this is playful or serious).
Finn confesses that he was a Stormtrooper and he is terrified. He only wants to run as far from the First Order as possible. Maz points him out to a couple of guys he could run with. Rey gets distracted, believing she hears a child calling for help. She goes to the basement of Maz’s temple where she finds a trunk with a familar item. Luke’s lightsaber, last seen in the Empire Strikes Back. As soon as she touches it, she faces a barrage of visions and sounds, voices and images of the past and future.
Rey runs from the Temple in terror. Unbeknownst to Maz, Han or the others, spies for both the Resistance and the First Order have sent out alerts, as the First Order and Resistance are both on the hunt for BB-8.
The first order has a new weapon they call Starkiller Base (this is a reference to the original scripts for Star Wars, when Luke was named Luke Starkiller). It is basically a variation on the Deathstar, except they used an actual planet to create it.
Having seen Rey run off, Finn starts to run for her, but everyone is stopped by a sight in the sky. The Starkiller Base has fired on the Republic’s central planets. The First Order knows that the Republic has been helping the Resistance, and without them, the Resistance loses key support. Everyone on the ground near Maz’s temple can see the lasers burning through space towards their targets.
Then, the First Order shows up, firing on the temple and it’s fleeing occupants. Rey and BB-8 are running through the forest while Stormtroopers are in pursuit. Han, Chewbacca and Finn fight Stormtroopers trying to get to Rey, but end up overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has found Rey.
Ren discovers that Rey has seen the map and dismisses the need for BB-8, instead taking Rey with him. In the meantime, the Resistance shows up with X-Wings to chase off the First Order troops, saving Han, Finn and Chewbacca.
They are greeted by General Leia Organa, who embraces Han. Now, instead of running from the First Order, Finn argues for a direct assault on Starkiller base so they can save Rey. It is also revealed that Poe survived the crash landing, just as Finn had.
Rey is being interrogated by Kylo Ren, though, he seems to have deeper motives. He sees that Rey seems to have a natural gift for the Force, much like his grandfather.
After Ren leaves, Rey feels emboldened and tries a “force” trick by getting a guard to unlock her restraints. The seen is quite entertaining, and more played for the humor than the drama. But the scene works pretty well, showing Rey both a quick learner and more than willing to accept things on faith.
Back at the Resistance base, they prepare for their attack. They plan for Han, Finn and Chewbacca to take out the shields that will allow the Resistance fighters, led by Poe to take out the base before it can fire. The Starkiller Base’s primary weapon actually requires the energy of a star, so they have until the star being used for power is snuffed out.
Arriving in the Millennium Falcon, the heroes go in to find both Rey and set up the destruction of the base. As they search for Rey, Han realizes she has already escaped. They meet up with Rey and start planting explosives. Han sees Kylo and calls out to him. Han and Kylo meet on a bridge. Han reaches out, and Kylo speaks hesitantly, wanting his fathers help. Solo promises to help him, in this moment, Han’s facade of cocky hero drops to reveal a father who lost his son, and sees an opportunity to heal the relationship.
Instead, Kylo impales him with his lightsaber. Han, in a touching moment, touches the face of his son before falling from the bridge. Angrily, Chewbacca fires and hits Kylo Ren. The horrified trio of Rey, Finn and Chewbacca race out of the structure, setting off the bombs. This allows the X-Wings to start strafing the surface. Chewbacca heads for the Falcon, while Finn and Rey run into another obstacle…
Finn turns on the lightsaber and engages Ren, but it is a short fight. He starts to use the Force to grab the lightsaber the unconscious Finn dropped, but instead, it find’s Rey’s hands. This is a really nice dramatic and exciting moment, scored just tight by John Williams.
Rey and Kylo have a furious lightsaber duel, only to have the planet starting to break up around them. Ren tells Rey he could train her, she may be a strong raw user of the Force, but he can teach her better control. They are split apart by the turmoil around them. Chewbacca appears with the Falcon and they get Finn, leaving before the Starkiller Base is fully destroyed.
Returning to the base, Rey meets Leia (an they embrace, which Abrams admits was probably a mistake, there is no reason for the attachment, as Leia and Rey have never met). Using the information from BB-8, they have the missing puzzle piece. Earlier in the film, it is revealed R2-D2 has been in powersave mode, he wakes up and provides the rest of the map. Rey and Chewbacca fly off to the remote planet that Luke is staying on. Rey walks up and stands before Luke reaching out with his old lightsaber and the film ends…
Probably the two biggest knocks against the film were the fact that it mirrors A New Hope far to much and Rey is a Mary Sue.
The film does follow the beats of a New Hope quite closely. A young desert planet nobody is drawn into a larger battle of intergalactic forces and learns to use the force…while helping to destroy a planet sized planet destroyer. But I do not find this overall a problem. The repetition is certainly a valid storytelling device. I confess, I wish the big plot device did not hinge on a planet killer all over again, but I do like the visual design of Starkiller Base.
But the whole “Rey is a Mary Sue” thing. This is often leveled as a criticism along with folks upset by the film having “diversity”. Finn is played by a black man, Rey is, of course, a girl and Poe is played by a man of Cuban and Guatemalan heritage.
Before then, the casts were largely white. Lando and Mace Windu were exceptions. And I think Mace was mainly “Wouldn’t it be bad ass if Samuel L. Jackson was a Jedi???” There is a silly contingent of people out there that are certain having non-white male actors in roles is a problem. It somehow ruins the stories to have a variety of actors. They claim, of course, not that their problem is the diversity, but forced diversity. But John Boyega’s presence did not force some magical change on the story. Opening up considerations for actors in the Star Wars universe is hardly a problem. Especially when you consider how baked in the cake it is with Star Trek. And it sure seems to work okay there.
But back to Rey. So, Mary Sue is a term that is a part of fan fiction. If you are not aware, Fan Fiction communities are folks who love to write stories continuing the adventures of shows, movies, comics, etc that they love. Sometimes they work within the cannon of the franchise, but often, this is their way of saying “what should have happened.” Some writers are specifically focused on relationships they want to see that the official works clearly won’t be doing (*cough, cough* Finn and Poe *cough, cough*). But the most derided thing in fan fiction is the dreaded “Mary Sue”. A Mary sue is a character that is created by the author that is simply better and smarter than everyone else. There is nothing they cannot do. They always save the day and fix everything. It is generally believed that a Mary Sue is a way for the author to insert themselves into the story.
In the film we see Rey fly the Millennium Falcon, fix the Millennium Falcon, use the Force and have a lightsaber duel with a trained Sith Lord. Does this make her an all powerful Mary Sue?
There, that was not so hard.
Not satisfied? Okay…then we are going to break this all down.
We know Rey is familiar with the Millennium Falcon, because when she is running with Finn, he calls out the Falcon and she says they are not going to take it because it is garbage. Unkar Plutt owns the Falcon at the beginning of the film. We know this in part because as Rey fires it up, he yells out about his ship. Later Rey tells Han about modifications that Plutt made that she disagreed with. So, she has been in the Falcon probably many times. So, between being a scavenger and working for Plutt? It stands to reason fixing ships would be a skill she might have.
She also points out how she has flown ships before, though never in space. And even with this, the film portrays her as a pilot who gets farther on luck than actual skill. When she first tries flying the Falcon, she nearly crashes it. This is not Mary Sue Territory.
Okay, okay. First off, the films have clearly established that those who are Force Sensitive may find themselves using it without even realizing it. You do not have to have training to use it, training simply helps you better control it it. Rey does a bit more than we see Luke do in the first film, which does not mean anything. Luke has nobody to duel Lightsabers with, that falls to Obi Wan in the first film. Luke has no more training than Rey in the beginning of Empire when he uses the Force to retrieve his lightsaber from the snow. There is no in movie argument that he could not have done that in a New Hope. So, this notion that a person who is Force Sensitive cannot do Jedi mind tricks and the like is not based in anything other than “It was not done by Luke in a New Hope”, which is, frankly, not much of a point at all. Still not Mary Sue territory.
So, in closing, the Mary Sue accusation does not hold up under scrutiny. In addition, unless you are condemning the original trilogy, the arguments for Rey as Mary Sue apply every bit to Luke Skywalker. If you think Luke is not a Mary Sue (or, Gary Sue, because people seem uncomfortable applying a feminine descriptor to a male character) than Rey cannot be either.
A few things that were bothersome…
Captain Phasma played by Game of Throne’s Gwendolyn Christie. While I liked the character’s visual look (and loved that they were comfortable always keeping the Helmet on, leaving for mystery), I felt like the character never got to show off, so to speak. They hired Christie, who is a commanding physical presence and she never really gets her moment.
Supreme Leader Snoke is only seen in in the form of a giant hologram. Who he is gets played up as a big mystery, but I do not find him particularly threatening here.
I was not sure how I felt about Luke being this legend and enigma in this film, the Last Jedi has given me perspective I will address in that piece.
But, for me, the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. I enjoyed returning to the universe and the characters. Seeing Han Solo and Chewie and General Leia were all welcome.
Driver gives a fascinating performance. His Kylo Ren worships his grandfather Darth Vader. He seeks to be like him, but he is a young fanboy desperate for approval from Snoke, but struggling with a part of him that still desires the love of his parents. The first six films all focused on the allure and deceit of the Dark Side. The Dark Side is an almost romantic threat that can overpower good. The Force Awakens is the first time we see the idea that the Light Side of the force has it’s own pull. And I like this.
I really like Rey and Finn. Both are in struggles that sometimes cause them to be overtaken by fear. Finn has only known the First Order, and the concept of friends like Rey and Poe quickly start to give him a new kind of hope. Rey has never had the courage of Jakku believing that some day her parents will return. When Maz points out that Rey knows this is not true, but she has the potential of a new family, Rey is terrified to face this and runs. Poe Dameron is one of those fun swashbucklers, who makes things work by kind of flying by the seat of his pants and hoping it all pays off.
When I saw the Force Awakens in 2015, I enjoyed it a lot. I have revisited the film a few times in the past few years, and my feelings have not changed.