We have almost caught up with Lucasfilm’s output! Up until now, I’ve been discussing films that have been in my life for a decade or more, so my thoughts and opinions have been pretty well solidified. This month, we are entering new territory. This month, I’ll be sharing with you my thoughts on what it is about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens that brings me back for repeated viewings. I would like to invoke right now my right to change my outlook on this film once the New Trilogy has concluded, but I have a feeling that my views on it will not be changing considerably unless we find out that Han Solo (SPOILERS) did not REALLY die at the end of The Force Awakens. However, I doubt that will happen, so I think we are safe. What DO I return to this film for? You know the drill, read on to find out!
It is impossible to discuss my feelings on The Force Awakens without first discussing my emotions leading up to its release. This was the first new live-action Star Wars film in over 10 years, and the first to be created with little to no input from George Lucas. There was SO much discussion going on at the time, it was difficult to temper my expectations, but I managed to do just that, and I have written and spoken about it at-length, so I will not rehash that here. Suffice it to say that in the lead-up to December, 2015, I was excited, but guardedly optimistic. I hoped for a worthy continuation of the events of The Return of the Jedi, but in no way expected to have the same experience I had as a kid seeing the Star Wars films for the first time. To say I enjoyed the film would be an understatement, I had so much fun with this film’s release that I lived off of the excitement for a year until Rogue One was released. However, if I’m honest (and I try to always be that), I don’t return to this film as often as I expected I would. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the film, I do. I just don’t find as much magic in it as I do the original trilogy. Most of that is due to the fact that I saw the other films as a kid, so there’s a nostalgia attached that is impossible to recreate. With all of that being said, I DO return to this film fairly often, I’ve watched it at least once every four months or so since it was released on home video. The things that I’m thinking about that lead me to watch it again are easy to enumerate, so I shall do just that. The first thing that I think of that makes me smile and want to watch the film are the new (and old) vehicles that are shown in the film. The second thing that comes to mind is Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey, John Boyega playing Finn, and Oscar Isaac bringing Poe Dameron to life, along with the debut of everyone’s favorite galactic basketball, BB-8. The final element that makes me revisit The Force Awakens probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me: Harrison Ford’s final performance as Han Solo, with two moments in particular resonating with me for different reasons. More on that later.
Finding out that the vehicles in the film are what initially draw me to it surprised me. I’ve mentioned before, and talked often on Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff about the fact that, while I like vehicles and machinery, it is usually the characters in a story (or toy line) that grab my attention. While I AM drawn to the characters in this film (as we will discuss next), it really is the spaceships and speeders in The Force Awakens that come to mind when I think of the film. In this way, it DOES make me feel like a kid again, and that on its own is worth multiple viewings. Rey’s Speeder is of particular fascination to me. Early on, people referred to it as a “floating VHS box” and I could not agree more. That may be a part of why I am so enamored of it, but that isn’t the only reason. It is a unique design, very reminiscent of Luke’s speeder from A New Hope, especially in color and shape, but it has enough of its own charm to make it a worthy addition to my toy shelf, both in my home and in my mind. The color of the vehicle is VERY close to Luke’s speeder, and the weathered panels and chips missing from both the paint and the metal serve to remind us of the harsh living conditions that Rey endures. The perch seat in the back makes it feel like a more dangerous version of the hot rod that Luke drove, leaving Rey more exposed, making her feel more vulnerable. It FEELS like something out of Star Wars, and for that reason alone, I just can’t get enough of any sequence that gives us a glimpse of this vehicle. We also got new versions of TIE Fighters and X-Wings in this film, mostly just a new coat of paint for each, but there are subtle updates as well. I particularly like the red panels on the new dark grey and black TIE Fighters. The new versions of the Star Destroyers are also interesting, and we get to see even more variations in The Last Jedi, so I very much enjoy getting to savor the shots we have of them in this film. The real vehicular star of the show, though, is a ship that feels like an old friend. The Millennium Falcon has rightly been referred to as a character in the films, and it shows up just like Han, grizzled and showing its age. At least until it takes flight. As expected, the Falcon is still the fastest ship in the galaxy, and with Rey at the helm, it does things we forgot it could do! I DO miss the round radar dish that Lando knocked off in Return of the Jedi, but the rectangular dish that it currently sports just adds to its constantly evolving appearance. Seeing Han back at the controls midway through the film brings so much joy to my nerd heart that I can barely stand it, and seeing it be passed on to a new pilot at the end is both bittersweet and entirely appropriate. The Millennium Falcon is more legend than ship, and that legend SHOULD live on past the pilot who made it famous. All of this vehicle affection still surprises me, but it cannot be denied that, when it comes to The Force Awakens, I came for the cars.
The biggest unknown coming into The Force Awakens was the cast. In the case of Daisy Ridley, she was literally an unknown, with no major credits to speak of, she was plucked from an audition and cast as the central figure of Rey. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who says she didn’t deliver, because she embodies everything great about a Star Wars hero: She’s positive, funny, good with a weapon, and she wants to do the right thing. Her interactions with BB-8 are very reminiscent of Luke and R2-D2 from A New Hope, which is by design. She is obviously a surrogate for Luke, but Daisy’s performance transcends the archetype of her character. Rey is a real person, one with wants and needs that sometimes come into conflict with the needs of her situation. Seeing her wrestle with that is a joy to watch, and I learn things about humanity from the character, and about acting from Daisy Ridley each time I watch. John Boyega was a bit more of a known commodity to certain audiences as the time, but his casting could not have been more perfect. Finn is conflicted yet valiant. He’s funny without trying. He tries to be selfish, but keeps getting blocked from his selfish tendencies every step of the way. Boyega’s performance is so genuine that you believe every single decision he makes, but at the same time, you constantly hope that he will change his mind, and you cheer when he does. That is no easy feat, but Boyega is more than up to the task. Star Wars has been noted for having shallow characters in the past, but Ridley and Boyega give us fully formed people, and the writers have given them some choice material to work with. Oscar Isaac, on the other hand, gets a bit of short shrift in this film. Poe Dameron doesn’t do much, but that doesn’t keep him from becoming one of my favorite characters more and more each time I watch. Oscar Isaac’s movie-star charisma and impeccable comic timing are on full display here. He makes the most of the few scenes he appears in, and holds his own against Adam Driver, who is a fine actor in his own right, but Kylo Ren is not one of the things that brings me back. Poe Dameron is. I admit to having a man crush on both the character and the actor. He’s the closest thing we have to a Han Solo among the new cast, and Isaac brings the charm and swagger in a way few actors can. Rounding out the new cast that brings me back to the film is one that doesn’t even speak basic: BB-8. We knew from the first promotional materials that this little guy was going to steal our hearts, but I’ll admit to having some reservations about this guy at the start. I was afraid he would serve as more of a distraction for younger audience members, much the same way Jar Jar Binks did in The Phantom Menace. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, not only do I never tire of his antics, I seem to be more and more charmed by him the more time I spend with him. Couple that with the fact that he MIGHT actually flip the bird to Finn at one point (If the Poe Dameron comic is to be believed), and BB-8 might break into my top 10 favorite characters in the entire series. You never know how it is going to go when you introduce a new cast, but Star Wars: The Next Generation seems to be in good hands. Or, at least, it is in the hands of actors and characters that I am ready to spend even more time with in the future. It’s hard to ask for more than that from a film series.
Anyone who knows me even a little knows that Han Solo is my man. I love this character, and I want to be him when I grow up. Yes, yes, I know I’m now older than Harrison Ford was when he first played him, but keep your facts to yourself. The part of The Force Awakens that I was most excited about going in was getting to see my favorite film character of all time back onscreen. I find that Ford imbues the character with just as much energy as he did the first time around, it is just channeled into a world-weary character who really has seen it all by now. I was understandably upset when he was killed by his son at the end of the film, and that is a move that, while I understand, I still don’t like, but it doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film. Rather, Ford’s return as Han Solo is one of the things that helps me enjoy the film the most. Each time I sit down to watch The Force Awakens, I eagerly await that line we all heard in the trailer, “Chewie, we’re home,” and I immediately feel like a kid again, for just a few minutes. That is a gift that is impossible to place a value on. There are 2 moments in the film that stick with me, both involving Han Solo. The first is a moment that reminds me that this is the same character we saw in the original trilogy who doubted the Force and worried about a reward along with the price on his head. When the crew enters Maz Canata’s establishment, and Maz yells his name across the bar, Ford’s uttering of “Hey Maz!” as if it’s just another day and he’s dropping by for nothing more than a drink is vintage Han. Act as if nothing is wrong, and ignore any grumbling. It’s a wonderful line reading, and one that is only possible because Ford knows this character better than anyone, and it sounds like it could have been lifted directly from A New Hope. The other moment comes later in the film, and serves as a reminder of the history of this man that we have NOT seen, of the years that cause his hair to turn grey and his voice to turn gruff. When Han is on Starkiller Base and he sees Kylo Ren from across the bridge, he calls for him. However, he doesn’t call him by his preferred name of “Kylo.” No, this is a father calling to his son. This is a father calling to a son that has exasperated him beyond measure, that has caused him sleepless nights and possibly even the dissolution of a marriage. When Han calls to him, he simply says “Ben!?” in a manner that sounds exactly like the way my father used to call to me or my brother when he had tired of our shenanigans. It’s a simple, one-word line, and it’s a simply interpretation of the line, but in that moment, Han Solo ceases to be the scoundrel of The Empire Strikes Back and becomes the concerned and exhausted father of The Force Awakens. This one line, this one word brings the character full-circle for me, and I will put this film on and sit through two hours just to get to this moment and feel every ounce of emotion that this one word produces. This is a representation of the magic of Star Wars to me. It takes a galaxy far, far away, and speaks to us about the lives we are leading today, in this galaxy. The older I get, the more I appreciate these elements, and I will forever go back to The Force Awakens to be reminded of the years AND the mileage that brought my favorite character to this moment, when he faces his final destiny at the hand of his son. His death is Shakespearean, but the moment leading up to it, when a father demands the attention of his son, crystallizes his life and his relationship with his son perfectly. This is why I come back to all Star Wars films, and The Force Awakens in particular.
Wow, things got heavy there for a minute, huh? I hope you’ll forgive my brief detour into serious thought, but I also hope it resonated to you in the same way it resonates with me. In closing, The Force Awakens is more than a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga to me. It is a wonderfully imaginative film full of creatively designed vehicles, wonderfully written characters performed by top-notch actors and “droid craftspeople,” with a wholly appropriate and satisfying return of the greatest character in the history of everything, Mr. Han Solo. These are the reasons I return to The Force Awakens, and writing this blog has made me want to watch it yet again! So I think I’ll do that. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll be back again next month to discuss the first anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! See you then!
Until next time,
May the Force of Others Be With Us All.
Margot and Archie say hi.
Jeff can be heard weekly on Assembly of Geeks (www.assemblyofgeeks.com) and on his own podcast network, MarvinDog Media (www.MarvinDogMedia.com) where he hosts The Pilot Episode, Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff, and Bantha Banter: A Star Wars Chat Show. He is also co-host of Comics With Kenobi with fellow CWK blogger Matt Moore, on CoffeeWithKenobi.com, which you have already found if you’re reading this blog. You can contact Jeff at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Coffee With Kenobi, its hosts, respective writers, or its affiliates.