My father knows his children well. In 1997 when the Star Wars Special Edition was being released in theatres, he took his three kids to see A New Hope, with the promise that we would love them. I was 16, my little sister was 9. My father was right. We were hooked. But the movies weren’t enough. I needed more.
I started reading the novels of the Extended Universe, the EU. I read the campy wrongness of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I read about the powerful Nightsisters, the courtship of Princess Leia, the rise of Tarkin, the complex awesomeness of Mara Jade, and Luke’s Jedi Academy. I read about the new generation: Jacen and Jaina and Kyp Duron and Tenel Ka. I devoured the novels revolving around the Yuuzahn Vong. The internet happened and I discovered fanfic. One of my close friends in high school was my Star Wars BFF and we talked about the fic we were writing. My Star Wars BFF also chased me around her house when I accidently blurted out that Chewbacca had died in the latest book.
By the time I got to university, I didn’t have time to read Star Wars novels anymore. I only heard second hand about Jacen’s fall, about Ben Skywalker, about Mara’s murder.
And then Lucasfilms got sold.
30 years later. 30 years after ROTJ. In the EU, this was the point where the Galactic Republic finally defeated the Yuuzahn Vong. Han and Leia lost their youngest son. Luke had trained hundreds of Jedi apprentices. Jacen and Jaina transitioned to adulthood. I can’t imagine skipping the twenty-five to thirty books I had read beforehand and jumping directly into The Unifying Force novel. But here’s where we are, and from here the story picks up…
Part 2 – The Force Awakens, A Jacen Vs. Jaina Rematch
I haven’t read any of the new tie-in comics or novels yet. I’m fairly certain everything will pale in comparison to the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, which was emotionally damaging and heart-breakingly beautiful. All I have is the movie I have seen.
I love this movie, I really do. I couldn’t sleep for two hours after I’d seen it (the movie finished at 2am) because I couldn’t stop thinking about the universe that had lain out before me. Same but different. Like coming home two decades later and seeing it with grownup eyes.
The heart of this movie is unquestioningly Rey. Daisy Ridley carried the movie with the force of her acting. I can’t even explain how looking at Rey’s face on-screen made me feel… like I was about to vomit with excitement perhaps? That moment when she resists Kylo Ren’s mind-reading and mind-reads back at him… if anyone has watched the Avatar cartoon, they’ll understand why it reminded me of Aang and Ozai metaphysically battling for bending supremacy.
John Boyega’s Finn was a stroke of brilliance. That man is amazing. In the history of Star Wars, the evil grunts are always evil, always disposable. We know nothing of their exploits and feelings. But the reticent Stormtrooper, that’s a new angle. It humanizes individual enemies instead of painting them with broad strokes. Finn was the perfect foil to Rey. I know he has a smaller role in the next movie and that makes me sad.
There are no words for how adorable BB-8 is. I swear to god I will crochet one for myself and pet it every day. Its dejection when Finn says Poe is gone, its confusion at whether to believe Finn and tell Rey about the resistance base, its attempts to stay in one piece on the Falcon, how it tries to wake up R2. And at the end, BB and R2 and 3PO talking together like the cutest little droid family ever, oh my gosh.
From what I saw of Poe I liked. Hotshot pilots are always welcome, the younger the better. The instant bond between him and Finn was fantastic and their reunion at the base was perfect, as well as his reunion with BB.
I screamed “whaaaaaat” when Rey turned towards the garbage spaceship that was the Falcon. I laughed through Han’s typical tactic of trying to talk his way out of owing someone money (you’d think people would give an old war hero a break, damn). The strained reunion of Han and Leia broke my heart. Sorry to go all #Force4Ham right now but “have pity, they are working through the unimaginable.” And then the final tender caress when Han knows it’s over, Leia back at the command centre feeling his presence fade through the Force, the broken & defeated look on her face when Rey finally arrives, because only another Force user could truly feel her pain and offer compassion. Chewbacca with his head in his hands, deep in mourning.
(Aside Number 1: son of Han Solo my ass, let’s not play games, call him exactly what he is… the son of Leia Skywalker Organa)
I could have done without the heavy-handed Nazi flavour of the First Order but otherwise I loved the direction they were taken. Love the Flametroopers, loved Captain Phasma (wish there had been more of her), loved that Star Destroyers and Tie Fighters were still around. Snoke is the biggest mystery to me right now, I am salivating to see who he actually is and how he turned Ben Solo into Kylo Ren.
I still smile every time I think of Kylo flipping out when he hears bad news, demolishing an entire control panel wall with his lightsaber upon hearing bad news. He’s like a petulant teenager in a very unique position of power, a marked contrast from Vader’s terrifying silence. It was shocking to see how much of a youth Kylo still is, I do believe the woobiefication has already commenced. It was interesting to hear a different interpretation of the dark side, that one could be “seduced” by the light side, that Vader had actually fallen from his dark destiny as opposed to turning towards the light.
If anything, the ending was my least favourite part of the movie. It was too subdued, not celebratory enough, but I understood why it was done the way it was. I am so excited for Luke’s return, for more Jedi and Force mythos, for Jedi Temple exposition, and an extended training sequence between Luke and Rey.
(Aside Number 2: why do I suspect that it was Snoke leaving Rey on Jakku?)
I also look forward to hearing why Ben Solo went to the dark side. In the EU, Han and Leia’s children didn’t have the luxury of their parents’ attention, and were instead cared for by nannies and the galaxy’s deadliest bodyguards. But they didn’t bear any ill will towards Han or Leia because of their upbringing, and when they were pre-teens they happily went to Luke’s Jedi Academy. Danger and the dark side were always there, but those kids loved their parents more than anything. The Solo family was the bedrock of the EU. That’s clearly not the path taken here, and it will be interesting to see why it was not to be.
Part 3 – The Light and the Dark; The Force Awakens Soundtrack
The music of Star Wars is one of my great loves. John Williams is a fantastic movie soundtrack composer and to me, Star Wars is his best work. His soundtrack for The Force Awakens is good, but only good. To be quite frank, he hasn’t made a great Star Wars soundtrack since The Phantom Menace. Across the Stars was a great track but I didn’t even like anything from Revenge of The Sith.
But I digress. This soundtrack has one shining track of brilliance, and that is Rey’s Theme. It manages to be quiet and poignant while signifying something epic and transformative underneath. There are hidden depths lurking beneath those lilting bells and violins, a promise of a difficult but magnificent future. In her track, we hear promise and hope. This isn’t just a fantastic track, it’s magical and perfect.
The other standout track is Han and Leia, due to its generous callback leitmotif, but this time we hear a tentativeness, we hear the estrangement, the regret and lost years (Hamilton: “They are working through the unimaaaaginable”). I can feel my heart being squeezed to shatter, thinking about what they must have endured, apart, after their son became an agent of evil. And yet, they remain strong to their particular causes. They’re strong people. But it makes you wonder if family was ever something they could really do together. I’m reminded of how I used to write Bones fanfiction about how Brennan and Booth were terrible for each other, that any relationship they embarked on would be doomed to failure.
I particularly like Snoke’s track too, due to its blinding creepiness. I’m reminded of the scene between Palpatine and Anakin in ROTS, during the opera when the senator tells the young Jedi about Darth Plagueis. Ominous chanting, impending doom. But this track… this track. It feels… small. It was recorded in a small room, with two few voices…
This brings me to my main criticism and it’s not a criticism I thought I would endorse. John Williams has always recorded his Star Wars soundtracks using the London Symphony Orchestra. This time, he recorded in Los Angeles at the behest of J.J. Abrahams. You can sadly hear the difference. Play the opening theme from The Force Awakens then play the opening theme from The Phantom Menace and it becomes very clear. There’s a certain grandiose reverberation that has been lost in this most recent soundtrack. I sorely hope they allow J.Will to conduct with LSO again for episode 8.
Part 4 – Final Thoughts, a Legacy Unfolds
When I first heard that Disney had optioned more Star Wars movies, I was cranky as hell. Once you’re a certain age and your favourite movies issue closure, you don’t really want things to change. But Disney has a marketing department that is vast and unrelenting, like the Empire itself. Star Wars wasn’t even my One True Love growing up, that coveted spot will always belong to the X-Files. When the last X-Files movie came out, I didn’t even think about seeing it. I had my closure already, I was content to let that can of worms lie dormant. It was a movie marketed nowhere near as aggressively as Star Wars.
Disney’s ceaseless promotion of the Star Wars brand was quite effective in stirring up my enthusiasm. Clearly, they know what they’re doing, inciting excitement in adults and children alike. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching new Star Wars movies into my older years but knowing me I probably will. I hope I will. I’m not confident in the direction the brand will go and I would have been fine with no more movies, but here we are. And it’s all still magical.