Please DO NOT read this article if you haven’t seen the film yet. I spoil everything.
I feel there’s a central problem with THE FORCE AWAKENS which, to my knowledge, no article has yet brought up.
Here it goes: the movie features two stories that fundamentally compete with each other. While each story is fine on its own, the two of them should not be together in the same movie.
- Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron search for Luke Skywalker
- Han Solo, Leia and the Resistance attack the Starkiller Base, a weapon of the First Order, led by Kylo Ren, Snoke and General Hux.
In other words, the three new protagonists are in one story, and they’ve been gerry-rigged to another story that isn’t theirs. More importantly, the other story is driven by one person, Han Solo.
Everything that’s wrong with this movie stems from the choice to include Han Solo, the most beloved character of the Original Trilogy. As soon as you include Han and decide to kill him off, you have to earn that moment (which the filmmakers do). But that means you need Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2, and a whole bunch of other stuff to get Han emotionally to the moment where he steps out on that bridge. It’s a fantastic moment (really, it’s the best scene in the whole film), but it doesn’t belong in this movie.
Indeed, there’s already a movie where the moment does belong: RETURN OF THE JEDI. Harrison Ford felt in 1983 that Han should’ve died at the end of that film. I happen to agree. It would’ve been a great arc for the character, who began A NEW HOPE caring only about himself, to sacrifice himself in JEDI to save his friends.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the result is that J.J. Abrams must spend half of THE FORCE AWAKENS re-building the same emotional ground under Han Solo. That’s why Han is back to his factory default setting of “smuggler,” why he’s escaping again from people to whom he owes money, why he and Leia are separated then reunited, and why he quickly agrees to storm a planet and disable the shield so that fighters can attack the Death Star.
Han Solo is literally, moment by moment, reliving RETURN OF THE JEDI. Because in story terms, he should’ve died then.
Sadly, Han’s story really has nothing to do with any of the new characters (except Kylo Ren). Poe Dameron never talks to him. Rey gets a few scenes where he’s impressed with her, and he offers her a job (and a gun). Finn gets some banter and some advice not to lie to women. Han is a minor figure passing through their lives, nothing like the true mentor Obi-Wan was to Luke. Even Qui-Gon Jinn had more of a relationship to the main characters in THE PHANTOM MENACE before he was dispatched.
Han is a great character. He’s an iconic character. He deserves a fantastic death scene. He just shouldn’t be a part of this film.
As soon as you remove Han Solo, you remove an entire storyline that is irrelevant to our protagonists. In fact, you’re left with four characters and a far better, more interesting story:
- Rey, a young scavenger, waits on Jakku for her family to return. One day, she discovers a lightsaber that gives her visions. The lightsaber provides clues to finding its original owner, the man she believes to be her father, Luke Skywalker…
- Poe Dameron, a Resistance pilot, finds part of a map to Luke Skywalker’s last known location. Unable to communicate with the Resistance headquarters, he follows his most recent order, to find Skywalker and convince him to return…
- Finn, a novice stormtrooper, can’t bring himself to murder innocent civilians. He abandons his post and goes AWOL. As he tries to get off-planet, he meets Rey and Poe, the first people to treat him like a human being. They offer him passage to somewhere far, far away…
- Kylo Ren, a Sith Lord and Luke’s nephew, wants desperately to live up to Darth Vader. When Kylo receives news of his uncle, he ignores the orders of his master Snoke and goes in search of Luke, to defeat the Last Jedi and take the glory for himself…
What emerges is a story where four characters each have motivations and reasons to work together, or work against each other, on their quest to finding Luke Skywalker. I realize that many of you will not like this alternate story, and that’s fine. Personally, I’d rather watch this.
Ultimately, I just feel deeply sad about this movie. THE FORCE AWAKENS begins with the words “This will begin to make things right.” Many fans are interpreting those words to mean that J.J. Abrams is correcting the prequels. But the real film that Episode VII is fixing is Episode VI. Half of the runtime of this new movie is spent correcting one problem, the mere fact that Han Solo should have died then and didn’t.
Now we finally get Han’s death, and it’s a great, beautiful, sad moment, but it doesn’t belong here. Indeed, it completely derails the movie we all paid to watch, because it eats up much-needed time to explore our new characters and their stories.
I’m glad Harrison Ford finally got what he wanted, I’m happy Abrams made the movie he wanted to make, and I’m sure fans will deluge me with, “Well it helps pass the torch from the old generation to the new, and it sets up Rian Johnson to tell a stand-alone story,” but I’m sorry, I’m not interested in watching a $200 million-dollar “set-up” to an eventual good story.
You know what would really pass the torch from the old Star Wars to the new? If they wasted no time trying to “fix” the last story, and just told a new one.