Like most of the planet, I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Like most of those who watched it, I enjoyed it.
This may come as a surprise to regular readers, actually, who may have noticed my well-documented, overall distaste for the Star Wars milieu. I have lambasted against the films and the fanbase in ways that, I hope, are justified by the experiences that I share in these missives. In each article I have written regarding my life as part of the Star Wars Generation, I would hope that my impartiality comes across. I don’t dislike the Star Wars films to dislike the Star Wars films, I do so because, when analyzed critically, I don’t think they come off as terribly good.
But, then again, I don’t dislike the Star Wars movies anymore, do I?
Force Awakens was a breath of fresh air. It was the developed universe that we have come to know but with something that had been lacking in the prior six films: character.
The humanity of this film struck me. These are amazing performers delivering amazing performances that can move a viewer to the core. This is contradictory to the Original Trilogy, in which a new, young cast delivered material as though they were frantic. Emotions involved taking a hearty bite of the scenery and gnawing on it until the audience was good and certain that an emotion had just happened (the ‘Big No,’ anyone?) or simply delivering lines in such a way that clearly indicated this fantastic actor was remembering lines.
We certainly thought that we had character, specifically in the form of Han Solo, whose cool demeanor and rough exterior was only able to be shattered by the beauty of a young princess and the determination of a dreaming farm boy. He wasn’t the one who had a destiny or wanted a destiny, but he followed a destiny, nonetheless, and helped to save the Galaxy from the Empire.
But Han, as is clear to me know, was more representative of arrested development. The character never developed, despite everything he had undergone, he remained the roguish scoundrel with his loyal sidekick. Han never experienced an internal journey and, yet, has often been noted as the most ‘real’ character in the original trilogy.
And, generally, it’s hard to find anyone who is willing to argue the merits of the characters in the Prequels.
Force Awakens, however, made the audience care about each person on the screen. The intricacies of every inspired deliverance build upon one another as each of the primary characters undergoes a journey that is both relatable and exciting. The journey of the audience is as important as the journey of the heroes and villains. By the roll of the credits, the weight and the power of all the established tropes of Star Wars finally feels real; finally feels prioritized.
This is primarily due to the skill with which J.J. Abrams can tell a story. He knows how to connect with an audience and engage them with the characters and the drama that is occurring on the screen. He’s adept at making living and believable worlds populated by relatable individuals, rather than shallow archetypes.
Each of the new characters won me over, even BB-8; essentially a special effect I was fully prepared to despise. When the new characters interacted with the original trilogy characters, the old guard’s flaws suddenly became acutely present. Those folks we’ve all grown up with and watched time and again suddenly transformed into real people with real flaws that define how their lives have progressed.
And this is the part where I deliver SPOILERS.
Please, if you have not seen the film, do not read beyond this point. I’ll give you some ellipses just to be certain.
Han Solo, as a character, more than any other, shows the cracks in the armor. Certainly, many of us have loved Han for years and years, but in re-watching the original films, I became glaringly aware of the creep factor that existed in the relationship between Han and Leia. It certainly wasn’t as much as the ‘courtship’ between Anakin and Padmé, but it was significantly more skeevy than I had recalled.
When Force Awakens introduces Han, it is almost as though he is a breath of fresh air from the original films, but it rapidly becomes clear that Han’s presence is to provide a clear indication that this is a different kind of story. Han and Chewie have continued their juvenile antics from before their appearance in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, and, in all likelihood, those same antics they were hoping to get back to before growing a conscience in New Hope, getting waylaid by the events of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and deciding to get some payback in Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
The level of arrested development in the character of Han Solo becomes readily apparent when he is drawn back into the galactic-shifting events of Awakens. Certainly he offers some small manner of sage advice; an individual with the level of experience that he has would have to have such knowledge. Obviously, he would never follow such counsel, himself, were it given to him.
As it becomes clear to the viewer that this will be the end of Han, it also becomes clear to Han, himself. In many ways, he is as torn as Kylo. Leia has asked him to bring their son home, something the smuggler, scoundrel, and hero would do anything to accomplish. On the other hand, Kylo has gone so far in the direction of the Dark Side that, even if redemption is possible, isn’t punishment a necessity?
In many ways, the Force Awakens features a story about a scoundrel who exemplifies arrested development facing his own lack of maturity, despite his age, and sacrificing himself so that those who can actually save the Galaxy will not think twice about doing what needs to be done towards the villain.
Han knows that he can no longer be of help to the Resistance, other than as a martyr.
He makes a choice and, in that moment, just before the end, the character of Han Solo has more development than occurred in three films written by George Lucas.
Lucas built an amazing universe, one that still captures the imagination of millions of fans, but perhaps he did not have the skill to truly bring it to life. Representative of this is Han Solo’s passing. With the death of the most developed, resonate character of the prior films, J. J. Abrams manages to distance himself from the staid, worn storytelling of the past and unveil that the new Star Wars movies will be about moving forward upon the foundation of the past rather than try to do so with it.
My theory as to why Han, as a character, made the choice to move to his death is detailed on the latest Doc Palindrome Podcast. However, the reasoning, from a creative point of view, I feel, is very likely what I detailed above. Ultimately, the theories about this event; and many, many others in The Force Awakens; are nearly limitless. Regardless of whatever fan theories may have existed for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, they were, generally, relegated to being expressed by professional writers with access to publishing, those industrious enough to produce a fanzine, or being argued about around a kitchen table as dice were being rolled.
With the modern access to information and people and media, anyone, anywhere, can present their theory to the public for ingestion, enjoyment, and argument. Rather than simply consuming the Star Wars films, we have the opportunity to be a part of them, together, which is where The Force Awakens veers, wildly, from anything prior.
It is an excellent film that everyone wants to talk about.
Long-time fans, young fans, ‘Warsies,’ new viewers, skeptics, haters, the apathetic, and every imaginable component fan of pop culture now has a striking point upon which we can engage one another. Everyone got something very different from each viewing. Never before has a film managed to receive the level of embrace from viewers than The Force Awakens, and that is a big deal.
And you deserve it.
You deserve to enjoy it. You deserve to engage with it.
You must have done something right!