Star Wars The Force Awakens: So Awesome That It Doesn’t Suck


I have a love-huh relationship with the new Star Wars. A love-huh relationship is different than a love-hate relationship, because I don’t hate it. I love it. But it has a lot of flaws that make me go “huh” as I reflect on why I like it in spite of itself.

One reason I like it: it doesn’t suck. Sure, it relies on hitting my nostalgia buttons. It has character relationships that are totally unearned in the narrative of the story (Rey-Finn, Finn-Po). Deus-ex-machinas dripping all over the script, overrused even when considering the Force is supposed to be guiding everything and bringing everything together. At one point Finn tells Han, “We’ll use the Force!”  Han replies, “That’s not how the Force works!” Except it is.

Ok, I’ve engaged in nerd-fu with my friends on Facebook, so I’m not going to belabor the points I thought in the movie that need work. You can judge for yourself. I will also not spend too much time calling out the awesomeness of the movie, from the visuals, the dialogue that DOES NOT SUCK, the acting of the new cast that IS AWESOME (Rey is very convincing, and she more than does not suck. She kicks ass, both as an actress and a character). Kyro Ren is a believable bad guy, and I like the actor’s delivery.

There are two things I want to focus on that the movie has me thinking about. It’s not Han (I was always #teamluke as a kid anyway). It’s the Jedi.

1. The Jedi

Have I mentioned Rey was awesome? I really really like that we’re going to get a female Jedi lead. I’m also expecting that both Finn (who responded to the Force and is the only way I can buy his moral awakening with such vigor given his background) and Po (they call out his miraculous piloting skills multiple times–he’s too good not to be a Force user) will all three be Jedis.

I really hope Rey is Luke’s daughter and not the twin of Kylo Ren. I will be really upset if they make it another twin story. Too cheesy, and I would have to call bullshit on Leia and Han not telling her.

Kylo Ren is not a sith (at least as far as I can tell). He’s a fallen Jedi pupil. Luke’s training was not complete, and he was too old to begin the training. (Yoda made the same point about Anakin and look what happened to him). Ben Kenobi said he thought he could train Anakin just as well as Yoda, but he was wrong. Now Luke, whose training was incomplete, trained the new Ben (Kylo Ren) who was seduced by the Dark Side. (I mean really, should we just expect all force users to become dark siders at this point?)

I also really dig Ren’s twist on what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. We always think of the Dark Side as seductive; he states: “I will not be seduced by the Light.” Love the nuance.

The visual queue for me that Ren is largely untrained and undisciplined is his light saber (and his temper tantrums). His light saber blade is rough, jagged, and fiery. It is unfocused, and juxtaposes nicely with the purity and wholeness of the blue saber (Anakin’s/Luke’s). This explains why Rey, an untrained but powerful force user, can go toe to toe with him.

This symbolic comparison of light sabers leads me into my next point…

2. The force, civilization, and the galaxy

Having seen the movie twice, I’m feeling the urge to re-watch the prequels (which I loathed). The Force Awakens is a offering to Star Wars fans, especially those of us who grew up in the 80s, but I think it honors the prequels as well. It builds upon the six movies as a holistic package, at least as far as I can tell.

The Force Awakens is both hopeful (a return to faith) and depressing. It shows us that there were no “happily ever afters” from Return of the Jedi. The universe is still crumbling. Civilization still shredded from the aftermath of the Empire. Rebuilding has not taken root. Luke is in exile. His student has fallen (and kills his own dad!). And Leia never became a Jedi. (Huh. Maybe we should call this episode Star Wars: Broken Promises).

But look at the larger context. The Galactic Republic shown in the prequels dominates the galaxy. Civilization is flourishing, with pockets of decadence (I think we’re supposed to believe it’s decadent, but we never really see that). It is corrupt and bureaucratic, which makes it vulnerable to Palpatine.

When the Dark Side takes over civilization through Palpatine, civilization crumbles. It tries to solidify as a fascist order (the Empire), but the more tightly the grip systems, the “more systems slip through [their] fingers.” Ultimately, it fails.

But the galaxy is already wounded. Civilization seems effectively gone, and so far all we see is a galaxy where everything is ‘frontier’. (Finn talks about escaping to the Outer Rim. The Outer Rimm houses systems like Tattooine, which in the originals we understand is outside the Empire on the fringes of civilization). Here, we’ve seen Jakku, which is much like Tattooine… it looks like an Outer Rim world, but by implication we’re to believe this is in the battleground between the new Republic and the First Order. (It’s not clear to me the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance; does the new Republic not have its own army, and if the Resistance is “resisting” the First Order, that implies the First Order is still the sovereign power, which it’s shown that it’s not when they kill the Republic… dammit. Yet another sloppy piece of world building in the movie that I will choose to overlook).

So to make the long rambling short: the desolation and despair we see throughout the world in Force Awakens is a manifestation of the price that embracing evil has on civilization, and the effect are long-term, outlasting the one who made it so (the Emperor, in this case).

The the Force Awakens is also a new-New Hope. Han and Leia still have tenderness towards each other. Rey finds her (father?)? Through sheer will and faith alone, Rey goes toe to toe with a (semi)trained dark Jedi. And Rey offers Luke his light saber to ask him to come back because the galaxy needs him.

And even a storm trooper refuses to surrender his inner humanity and rises as a hero.

The Light cannot be overcome, no matter how long the stretch of the shadows of the Dark.

Video Games vs. Traditional Story Mediums

I was talking to a friend this week about the upcoming Star Wars movies, and the news that Disney was taking a hack-saw to the Expanded Universe content in order to wipe the slate clean (or nearly) and start rebuilding the universe based on only the six movies. We started talking about the different Star Wars stories we’d enjoyed, and I brought up that one of the best Star Wars stories I’d experienced was in the old original xbox game: Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic. The pivotal moment when you find out that you are the missing Sith Lord, with your memory having been wiped by the Jedi Order, was not only an emotionally surprising reveal, but it added a twist to the ethical considerations. For the latter half of the game, you had the choice to rebel against the Jedi who would presume to take your memories and violate your self to remake you in their image, or to redeem yourself and embrace the light side of the force, taking the opportunity they gave to divorce yourself from the corrupting dark side of the force.

That game really highlighted, for me, that the story telling potential in a video game is just as great, if not more so, than traditional mediums, such as books, theater and movies. Video games actively involve the viewer, and are just as much a multimedia experience (dialogue, film, sound effects, musical composition, and visual art) as any major motion picture.

Of course, that’s all old news. We’re roughly ten years beyond Knights of the Old Republic now, and the presentation and complexity of story telling in the video gaming industry has only gotten better (the crown jewel at this time, in my opinion, being Bioshock: Infinite).

But what hit me this time was this: in talking to her, I realized the likelihood of her ever being able to experience that Star Wars story was slim to none. In fact, the likelihood that I will ever go back and try to play that again is also slim to none.

And I guess this is what makes me a little sad about outstanding video game stories: they have a shorter shelf life than books. The Xbox-One is not backwards compatible to the x360. There will be a time when I can’t (or have to make efforts on new computers to find emulators) go back and play Infinite again. Technology moves forward, graphics become dated. Fifty years from now, I suspect many games won’t have been maintained in order to be able to run (and the enthusiasts hunting for them will be tech geeks capable of tweaking systems to play old stuff.) And, with graphics advances, games start to feel dated even more quickly than movies. Why play old stuff when there’s better new content out there… but I can still go back and watch the original Star Wars movies and have a great time.

Granted, video games have a plus side: we’ll get even more immersive, engaging experiences as technology progresses. I just get a little sad that the stories told in that medium have a shorter shelf life than those in books and movies.