It was more or less exactly what I expected. The story hit the formulaic Star Wars beats, it showcased some visually impressive special effects, and overall confirmed my prior statements that the reboot Star Trek movies demonstrate J.J. Abrams is the correct person to be running Star Wars.
Some spoiler-y thoughts below the cut:
- There were pretty much only two moments in the whole movie that surprised me. More on the first later, but the second is that I really expected Rey to say, after Luke turns to face her in the final scene, “That’s impossible,” and Luke to respond, “Yes, Rey, I am your father.” Credits. That they’re holding that reveal to the next movie shows remarkable restraint. Perhaps they will even change their mind about doing it, though I doubt it.
- It would be nice if they did, though. The Star Wars movies’ obsession with one family contributes to this problem it’s always had, which is that in its moral universe some people just don’t matter. That’s why storm troopers wear masks, and why the prequel trilogy had armies of robots fighting clones: so that the Bad Guys can be a faceless, inhuman Other our alleged heroes can slaughter with impunity. Of course most action movies feature heroes who are mass murderers, but at least most of their victims have facial expressions. In Star Wars, we the good guys are varied individuals; they the bad guys are a faceless monolithic Other. The world is a simple place, and there are no moral restrictions on what you may do to the bad guys: kill them, mind-control them, it’s not like they’re real people who matter.
- Which is why, just a few minutes in, The Force Awakens had already taken its place in my mind as the best Star Wars movie, and the rest of the film cemented it as being almost good, which is to say better than any of the others. Because The Force Awakens starts out by questioning that simplicity, and I’m not actually talking about Finn; he’s the most obvious case of a stormtrooper being an individual, but he very quickly ceases to be a stormtrooper, literally shedding the identity as he walks across the desert of Jakku, leaving a trail of armor. No, I’m talking about someone else: the unnamed stormtrooper who dies in Finn’s arms, who reaches for his face and leaves a bloody handprint on his mask. Never before in the series have we been asked to feel anything about a stormtrooper’s death, or seen what is clearly friendship between two troopers. The later trooper who calls Finn a traitor is another example: he recognizes Finn, knows him, and is angry at him for leaving. His motivation is not just inexplicable loyalty to the regime; it’s personal, and thus renders him a person.
- It would be nice if the movies continued to explore this, and perhaps ended with getting some or most of the First Order’s forces to turn against Snoke. I’m not getting my hopes up, but it’d be nice.
- Another thing I want that probably won’t happen: for Snoke to turn out to be two feet tall, which is why the hologram projects him to be so enormous.
- One thing confused me: What system did Starkiller base actually destroy? I thought it might be the system in which it was constructed or maybe Jakku, but it seemed to densely inhabited to be the former and Rey keeps talking about going home after, so probably not that either? I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter, but it was a very oddly set up scene, seeming to deliberately defy any sense of space, which otherwise is pretty meticulously maintained in the rest of the movie–we get a fairly good sense of how the key positions on Starkiller Base relate to one another, for example, or that the ship graveyard on Jakku is a long walk but a quick spaceship flight from Rey’s village, but just like the destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek, here the planets destroyed are simultaneously in a distant star system and incredibly close. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Thing.