Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of those movies placed in an unfortunate situation. Not only would this movie have to appeal to the hardcore fans, but it also has the task of creating a new generation of fans. All while building on story that has seen better days. How could one movie accomplish all of this, without being crushed by the weight of its predecessors? If you’re J.J. Abrams the answer is simple. You go back to the source.
A New Hope 2.0
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope. The same plot points that appeared in George Lucas’ first Star Wars movie are here on full display. And for some, this might be a misstep. If this is a new movie, why would you use the same plot points from a movie that’s 30 plus years old? Because it works. What J.J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens is what Converse did with the Chuck Taylor. It updated a classic formula for a new age. Abrams is able to use the old formula to introduce us to a new cast of characters and story, while blending in the original cast and universe. Unlike the prequels, that felt like an unwarranted departure from the universe, this movie feels like a continuation of what we have come to know and love. Using the first movie as a base allows Abrams to tell the story at a slower pace, giving us time to attach ourselves to the characters and story. When familiar faces appear on screen it never feels rushed, more like a natural progression of a story we all know. When we first see Han and Chewie we are greeted with a focus segment to reintroduce us to these characters. Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the path of popular anime series like Naruto. It blends generations in a way that feels natural to the story without feeling forced or pushed strictly as fan service.
New Characters Means New Flaws
While The Force Awakens does a great job with the story, there are some missteps with character development. For some, the most egregious is Rey, one of the new heroes.
When we first meet Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, she is a scavenger on backwoods planet in the galaxy. Similar to Luke Skywalker, she begins the story with humble beginnings. But unlike Luke, she gains a grasp of the force at a pace that eclipses others that we have seen in previous movies. For some movie goers this breaks the hold that the movie was casting. “How could she use the force when it took another one two movies to use the same skills?” I actually had time to think about it about it and came to this conclusion; Abrams is using the Dragonball Z model.
Rey = Goten
For those who have never seen Dragonball Z let me give you a quick synopsis. In DBZ, the main character, Goku, trains for years to achieve a certain power level. Because he is the first, he must go through hell to achieve his goals. But with each generation that same mountain top becomes easier to reach. Goku’s son Gohan reached the same level while he was still a child and even surpassed his father at one moment in time. Goku’s youngest son, Gohan reaches the same level with ease. In fact he wields his power like a child’s plaything. I believe the same is happening here. What took Luke and those before him years to achieve becomes easier and easier with each generation–That or Abrams wanted to make Rey strong enough where he wouldn’t be criticized for making her too weak. I will say that the movie does a good job of making her progression fit with the storyline, even if it seems far fetched to hardcore fans.
What Happened to Finn?
John Boyega…the target for angry nerds who were upset that a Black character would play a lead role in a movie dominated by White actors. John’s character, Finn, had as much pressure as the film itself. Not only did he have to “prove” that he belonged but he also carried the entire race on his shoulders, whether he asked for it or not. Which is why I’m excited to say that he killed that shit! Seriously, Boygea brought a level of depth and range that was much needed. Unlike the other characters who were locked into a certain mold, Finn was able to give us a range of emotions. He would make us laugh, cry and even feel pride. I can’t tell you the emotions I felt when Finn grabbed the lightsaber to fight Kylo Ren. It was one of those moments when I wanted to jump out my seat loudly boasting,
hell yeah! my nigga Fin! That’s what the fuck I’m talking bout!
But sense of pride slowly slid as I contemplated the film. The marketing push for this movie lead me to believe Fin was going to be the hero. But as the story progressed I slowly began to realize that Finn wasn’t the person I thought he was. He didn’t have a command of the force like Rey did. Nor did he have any of the “force whispers” that Rey encountered. In the final action sequences of the movie my dreams of the first Black Jedi on the silver screen were slowly killed. Instead of a Black Jedi, I got a janitor. A goddamn space janitor. Finn might have been a Stormtrooper, but his post was sanitation. Finn wasn’t some warrior with a conscious, he was a janitor. It felt like a slight against a great character. Like many Black characters Finn couldn’t be too good. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t be just a Stormtrooper. Why did he have to occupy a station that belittles his character. It’s hard not to think,
If Finn were White would he have been janitor?
It didn’t seem fair. And by the end of the movie you are lead to believe that Finn’s station in life is to replace Han Solo. Sure, he will be a hero, but he will never become the next Luke Skywalker. My only hope rest in the words of my girlfriend who stated that since Star Wars borrows from biblical themes that Finn would adhere to the ideal that the least of these would be first, and that hopefully this wouldn’t be the end of his story.
Kylo Ren – The Troubled Sith Apprentice
And then there’s Kylo Ren–Darth Vader’s replacement. Kylo Ren occupies an odd space in the pantheon of those who’ve come before him. When we meet Kylo he is still early in his training. His use of the force is more visually appealing than those before him, but he lacks the ruthlessness of his predecessors. Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren does a good job of finding a balance for his character. For some people his development is more emo than one would like, but like Rey’s use of the force, Kylo’s attitude finds a home within the film. One can only hope that he can make a full turn to the darkside and not spend the entire trilogy playing both sides of the fence.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a great Star Wars movie that finds a balance between old and new. Yes, the movie mirrors A New Hope, but it does so in order to properly introduce us to a new cast of characters while simultaneously reintroducing us to fan favorites. Are there character flaws with the new heroes and villains…yes, but the movie does a good job of making them work holistically. The question now becomes can they repeat success and exceed the bar set with The Empire Strikes back. With certain plot points revealed, repeats of the same plot twist like “I’m your father” won’t work a second time. And what is to become of Finn? I am most curious to see what will happen to his character. We already know Rey will train to become a Jedi. Kylo Ren will become stronger with the Dark Side of the force, but what about Finn? The answer to that question could determine the fate of the trilogy. Only time will tell…