I recently rewatched Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and I was struck once again by what a pleasure it is to watch this movie. I knew I wanted to write about it, so while I didn’t keep notes, my mind was constantly churning, trying to figure out exactly why I feel like this movie works so well.
It’s the dialogue. So many movies that are otherwise fine break down because the dialogue is shoddily crafted. But in The Force Awakens, the dialogue does work, sounding good, but also conveying a lot of nuanced information in tight lines. The primary writer on this movie was Lawrence Kasdan, who before this movie had penned the scripts for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, my personal favorite Star Wars movie.
Anyways, I want to take a quick look at one of the moments that jumped out at me as just being particularly good. From the second act of the movie, just after landing on Takodana, Han steps off the Millennium Falcon.
Han hands Rey a blaster pistol as she stands at looks at the castle.
HAN You might need this.
REY I think I can handle myself.
HAN I know you do. That’s why I’m giving it to you. Take it.
HAN (CONT’D) You know how to use one of these?
REY Yeah, you pull the trigger.
HAN There’s a little bit more to it than that. You got a lot to learn. You got a name?
HAN Rey. I’ve been thinkin’ about bringing on some more crew, Rey. A second mate. Someone to help out. Someone who can keep up with Chewie and me, appreciates the Falcon.
REY Are you offering me a job?
HAN I wouldn’t be nice to you. It doesn’t pay much.
REY You’re offering me a job.
HAN I’m thinking about it.
There’s something enduringly natural about this scene. It’s not something that is necessary to advance the plot, and the action that begins the scene is certainly not a vital one. Han hands Rey a blaster. That’s it.
But we learn a ton about the characters and about their relationship. Han wants to be kind but feels the need to portray himself as aloof. Rey wants to appear experienced, worldly, but can’t get past her excitement at being offered her first real opportunity. And, there’s a paternal element in the scene, one that will cause conflict with the main villain later in the movie. It’s only 117 words, and a few seconds of screen time, but man, it just says so much. I could go on forever about this short section. But I won’t—count yourselves lucky.
I’ve heard some people are less enthusiastic about this movie than I am. I’ve frequently heard the criticism that the movie is ‘just a remake of Episode IV,’ which I think is a profoundly unfair claim.
I want to turn a critical eye to this movie, because I think some criticisms leveled at the movie are valid, and others are less supported.
I’ll start with the lesser one: This movie doesn’t feel like it was meant to stand on its own. It is somehow incomplete, lacking, and it feels like an ad for the next movie more than a movie in-and-of-itself. And, to be fair, there’s a ton of validity to this statement.
Part of the issue lies in the fact that the premise of the movie is that the characters are going out to find Luke Skywalker, yet most of the action of the movie has surprisingly little to do with this mission. The Resistance and the First Order spend a lot of time fighting each other, and the climax of the story occurs when Rey outduels the First Order baddy, Kylo Ren, as the First Order’s base explodes.
The resolution to the question at the beginning of the movie, “will they find Luke Skywalker?”, happens after the climax, in the falling action.
It seems to me that what is happening here is that there are two stories being told at the same time, partially overlapping.
There’s the story of the destruction of Starkiller Base, which begins at the start of the movie and runs through that base’s destruction. And there’s the story of Rey becoming a Jedi, which starts about 15 minutes into the movie and runs through the end. These stories don’t clash, but only one of them is resolved.
Rey’s story ends on a cliffhanger. Not even a particularly good cliffhanger—all of the tension could be resolved by Luke saying just a few lines:
“I will train you” or,
“I won’t train you” or,
“Hey, long-lost daughter. Long time no see.”
I jest with the last suggestion, but I think it does hold bearing on why this was left unresolved. How Luke responds to Rey is dependent on whether or not he has any kind of relationship with her.
To recap: Rey is an orphan abandoned on Jakku by her family, who throughout this adventure has longed to return to that planet just in case her family comes back for her.
There’s been a ton of speculation as to who she is: possibly Kylo’s sister, the daughter of Han and Leia, or perhaps she is one of Luke’s offspring. Maybe even related to Obi-Wan.
And this causes problems; I think the filmmakers have no idea who she is. At some point in the process, it seems they decided that it would be really cool to have some sort of reveal down the line, but they decided to punt that reveal back into the next movie, and consequently also pushed the decision about who she would be related to onto the team creating the next movie.
In order to not completely screw the second team over, they left out a ton of potential seeds about who she might be. Han seems to know who she is when talking to Maz Kanata, but the scene cuts before he begins speaking. Obi-Wan talks to her during her Force vision, which also features the Knights of Ren and, apparently, Luke himself. The plus side is that the next filmmaker will have a lot of freedom to choose the story seed that works for them. The huge minus is that, once again, the moment that viewers are denied at the end of the movie could potentially resolve all of the conflicts.
The first words Luke utters could both bring this stage of Rey’s arc to an end, and if he knows her, would also solve that problem. Ending on a huge, inscrutable stare is a huge disservice to the audience.
I don’t want to beat this point to death, but having Luke say something, anything, would resolve that widespread, uncomfortable feeling of incompleteness.