The promised second part.
So, now let’s get to the characters. As mentioned, these are where Star Wars stands or falls, so let’s see what we have to work with here. As in the last post, here there be spoilers.
To begin with, our villains are at least…interesting. General Hux is a more bombastic version of Grand Moff Tarkin, while Snoak fills in very nicely as the Emperor. Captain Phasma is slightly disappointing, and one hopes, if she is seen again, that she is more effective.
Kylo Ren, however–Kylo Ren is very interesting, as far as villains go. While it’s obvious that he’s a Darth Vader wannabe, he is presented as such rather than as some kind of replacement, and his emotional state is presented as being detrimental to him. Also, killing his father, Han Solo, does not actually resolve his emotional turmoil. He’s also more than a bit of a show-off and a braggart. In other words, a perfect villain for the current age–he’s every would-be alpha person out there. We also have the question of how Snoak got him to turn on his fellow apprentices and Luke.
Our Heroes, unsurprisingly, are far more interesting.
Chewbacca is still loyal to Han after all these years, albeit slightly snarkier. BB-8, in the meantime, fulfills the droid companion role wonderfully, being just enough like R2-D2 to fulfill his purpose, but not enough to cause someone to yell “retread.” R2-D2 and C-3PO mostly serve as reminders of how much time has passed and how devastating previous events were to everyone.
Han and Leia’s relationship is very interesting, and is one of the controversial parts of the film in some circles. It’s fairly obvious that Ren’s defection to the Dark Side destroyed their marriage, albeit with a healthy dose of lack of communication. What’s interesting is that neither blames the other for any of what happened, and when Han tries to take responsibility for Ren’s defection Leia immediately puts it on Snoak. You get the impression that they really do care about each other, which makes Han’s death scene even worse.
Han by himself, however, is worth watching. While it’s pretty obvious that he’s taking over Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role from A New Hope, he does it in his own way, going over his initial disbelief into what happened over the course of the original trilogy.
Luke is basically a nonentity in this movie, functioning primarily as a McGuffin.
Now we’re at the main cast, which we’ll go over by order of appearance.
Po is just a joy to watch, and I would have liked to see more of him. While he is very much the Ace Pilot, with a combination of exuberance and steely determination, he also has a surprising grasp of human nature, as seen in his first conversation with Finn, and can gain and keep loyalty easily, as see with BB-8 and Finn, while giving it in return.
Finn is also fun to watch, and actually undergoes a character arc over the course of the movie. While the initial incident in the village seems a little off–why would this cause someone conditioned to kill to freak and run?–the revelation that he was a sanitation engineer makes it make more sense. His initial determination to run comports quite well with the decisions of a certain Corellian after he defected from the Empire, as well as his tendency to run his mouth and his tendency to come up with interesting plans. Also, the running gag of him grabbing Rey’s hand when they need to get out of the way immediately is hilarious, and foreshadows that he is not, in fact, a self-centered jerk. Speaking of Rey, it’s interesting that she provides the reason for his undergoing the same transformation Han went through in Episode IV, although not surprising–aside from Po, she’s the first human contact outside of the First Order he’s ever had. Also, his shift is a little abrupt, but when by the end of the movie he takes out a lightsaber he has no clue how to use (although he’s a dab hand with a blaster) and prepares to take on Kylo Ren, he’s come a long way, and it’s awesome.
Now for Rey. Rey is controversial in certain circles, for reasons both good and lousy, but she is definitely an interesting character, and also undergoes a significant arc. To start off, she’s a scavenging loner stuck on a backwater planet, determined to wait for her family and take care of herself, which she is eminently capable of doing. That having been said, much like Finn, she won’t leave someone in the lurch if they need help, as seen with BB-8, and is somewhat more enthusiastic about the mission than Finn is. However, we also see her looking for a father figure and finding one in Han, as well as trying to run when confronted with force visions. The scene where Kylo Ren is interrogating her is fantastic, and her escape from the base, albeit interrupted by the arrival of Finn, Han, and Chewbacca, is hilarious and cool. When she grabs the lightsaber after Finn drops it due to getting slashed down, it also shows just how far she’s come. These last sentences, by the way, also bring up one of the good reasons for her to be slightly controversial–namely, her omnicompetence. She can fly ships, gunsling, do stuff with the Force, wield a lightsaber and beat Kylo Ren, and fix literally anything, which have brought up accusations that she is a Mary Sue.
This is an understandable charge, but a mostly wrongheaded one. She can fly a ship, but there are some…teething issues; the pistol shooting can be chalked up to the Force; she doesn’t really do anything new with the Force; Kylo Ren had taken a bowcaster shot to the gut and a lightsaber to the shoulder, and also has no clue how to wield a lightsaber; and the fixing everything can be chalked up to her time on Jakku, where new stuff is unavailable and parts are scarce. She’s slightly more omnicompetent than Luke, but not by that much.
In other words, The Force Awakens gives us a passel-load of actually enjoyable characters, and the one’s we don’t enjoy are the one’s we’re clearly not supposed to enjoy. None of them actively make the movie worse, even if they don’t add that much.
Anyway, it turns out there’s going to be a third part to this post.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness