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The Force Awakens: This Star Wars Is MINE

rey and bb8

***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS ALL UP IN THIS PIECE. ONLY READ THIS IF YOU’VE SEEN THE FORCE AWAKENS***

The very first time I saw Star Wars, I was about seven or eight, and I was watching a VHS copy of the film that my sister had recorded off of television. (Kids, that was totally a thing.) Just as Luke Skywalker was about to take out the Death Star, and he hears Obi-Wan say “Use the—” the tape cut out, having run out of space. I didn’t feel the need to watch the movie any more after that, so I spent the subsequent eleven years not knowing how Star Wars ended, despite having owned a C-3PO shirt in elementary school and even having a Yoda plushie at one point. I finally saw A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi when I was a sophomore in college.

It was 1998, the year before The Phantom Menace came out, and with anticipation over the Star Wars prequel building, enough people had reacted in shock and disbelief that I had escaped my childhood never having finished Star Wars that I decided it was time. A friend in my dorm had the entire trilogy, so a bunch of us gathered in my room and watched those three movies in one afternoon. I liked them. I liked them a lot. They appealed to my geeky sensibility.

But it wasn’t like when I first saw the “Trouble With Tribbles” episode of original series Star Trek, and I fell in love immediately with this show about zipping around the galaxy meeting new life forms and having adventures. There was nothing political about Star Trek (nothing overt anyway—the show’s subtle handling of social issues went over my little head, even as it subconsciously informed it). It was more hopeful. It was a show about curiosity and the best in humanity, and that resonated with eight-year-old me.

But as I didn’t watch the original Star Wars films at the time in my life when the nostalgia would be imprinted onto my DNA, I only just liked them. They didn’t blow me away. They didn’t change my life. They were just really good, really fun movies to me.

People seemed disappointed that my reaction wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic.

After that, I saw The Phantom Menace in the theaters and thought it was less than stellar, which made me wait to see Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith on home video. (And hey, look! DVDs are a thing now!) Throughout my journey as an adult geek, I’ve had to either feign intense excitement over Star Wars, or be honest and risk having to explain why the hell I wasn’t as excited as everyone else seemed to be. And God forbid I express a higher interest in Star Trek … (to truly love Star Trek is to be a geek even among geeks!)

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To be honest, I was feeling the negative effects of Star Wars overload before the film came out. Between the incessant product tie-ins (it seems like every product on the market has had some stupid Star Wars commercial in the past couple of months), the steady increase in Star Wars coverage in every news outlet, and even coming to work here at TMS every day and having every other conversation be about Star Wars was all a little much. I was like, Okay! I get it! A new Star Wars movie is coming out. RELAX.

But then a funny thing happened. I bought my tickets two days before it opened to see it on opening day, and the second I hit “Confirm Order,” I was hit with a wave of positive feeling (the Force?). Suddenly, I started getting excited. Call it a delayed reaction, but my love of J.J. Abrams films coupled with anticipation about a new, female lead in a behemoth franchise multiplied by BB8’s cuteness finally got to me.

I saw The Force Awakens, and everything changed.

1) I fell in love with Rey  

From the moment she said “I know how to run without you holding my hand,” I was firmly on-board the Rey train. But even before that, I was sucked in by her lonely life; the way she counted the days without her mysterious family; the way she struggled with her small pile of scavenged goods as she crossed paths with larger creatures with bigger hauls; the fact that she was doing this simply for food rations; the fact that she was a person kind enough to free BB8 from fellow scavengers that would sell it off, because she seems to respect even droids; the fact that she wouldn’t accept a huge price for BB8 even though she was hungry…

She is a character who, despite hardscrabble circumstances, manages to hold onto her integrity.

And to those who are skeptical about her abilities and think that they came “too easy,” I want to remind you that it’s because of this hardscrabble existence that she’s been forced to be good at so many  things. She scavenges equipment, which means that she has probably had to figure out how to get machinery up and running to fetch a price for them so she can eat. Nothing motivates learning like impending starvation. She’s had to learn how to fight and carries a staff wherever she goes, because she is a lone female in a seemingly male-dominated trade, and has to protect not only herself, but the goods she intends to sell. It’s likely that, in the course of her scavenging career, she’s had to learn to drive and/or fly any number of vehicles to transport them, or goods, to be bought or sold. So, it didn’t seem to come “out of nowhere” that she’d be a decent pilot. She’s no Poe, but she’s good. Not to mention the fact that if this is going where we all think this is going, and she’s in some way related to Luke Skywalker (like his daughter, perhaps?), mechanical aptitude runs in the family. Anakin and Luke both had a knack for machines—it makes sense that this knack would get passed down.

As for the Force, I love how subtly her increasing ease with it evolved over the course of the film. After meeting Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon, she expresses a fangirlish glee when he says that he knew Luke Skywalker. What’s more, when they talk about the Force, she is such a Mulder—she WANTS TO BELIEVE. So, clearly the Force is something that’s already been on her mind and in her head. This is not new information for her, merely a confirmation.

When Kylo Ren first tries to get into her head to find the location of the map to Luke, Rey looks afraid, and she obviously doesn’t want Kylo Ren to have this information. In a brilliant, wordless moment, we see that Rey’s strength in the Force happens pretty much by accident. At first, she doesn’t seem to realize she’s doing it, and it’s the look on Kylo Ren’s face that leads her and us to believe that he’s having trouble doing what he wants to do. Later, when she tries using the Force on the stormtrooper guarding her, she fails at first. But she tries again and manages it (and her remembering to ask him to drop his gun was particularly charming). And as for her final fight with Kylo Ren, she “wins” but she doesn’t kill him. She has just enough faith and power in the Force to simply fend him off while he was injured, and it was the resistance destroying the First Order’s weapon that causes the rift that allows her to get away.

I suppose what you think of how “easily” Kylo Ren was dispatched depends on what you believe about the Force. To me, the light side is always stronger than the dark side—so much so that, even someone who uses the light side of the Force without training, but with faith, can overcome a Sith apprentice with more training whose faith is shaky.

In any case, Rey is a competent, talented young woman of immense faith and integrity. But this doesn’t mean she’s without flaws—her insistence on doing things for herself and that she knows what to do released those rathtars and nearly got Finn eaten. Her insistence on the Millennium Falcon being “garbage” and going for the newer ship that was farther away nearly got her and Finn killed in the beginning of the movie, and they were saved simply by not running fast enough. She’s headstrong, and sometimes overly-confident. Like a lot of male characters are.

A lot of people are calling her the “Luke Skywalker” of this movie, Finn the “Han Solo,” and Poe the “Leia.” But it’s clear to me that Rey—whom Han wanted as an apprentice by his side on the Millennium Falcon, who can fly, who has mechanical aptitude—is also the “Han Solo.” Rey is the Luke and Han, Finn is the Leia (complete with rebellion against the government he’d sworn to serve), and Poe … Poe is just some dude. A really awesome, fun dude. But still—some dude.

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2) Hell, I fell in love with ALL the new characters!

I am absolutely fascinated by Finn’s journey. This is the first time in the Star Wars films that we’re seeing anything from a stormtrooper’s perspective, and I love both his powerful conscience, and his complete lack of knowledge about the world around him. Hell, even his feelings for Rey seem less motivated by her as a person (though she’s pretty damn incredible, and also beautiful), and more to do with Whoa! So this is what a girl can be when she’s not in stormtrooper armor blindly following orders! His attachment to her seemed like that of a child who encounters something new for the first time. They just want it and don’t know why.

What a lot of people see as his ineptitude and weakness as a character, I see as a huge demonstration of humanity. We watch him watch a fellow stormtrooper die right in front of him his first time out in battle. Perhaps had the events on the ground gone more favorably, the outcome would’ve been different for Finn, but watching that death and having that blood on his helmet (which was a brilliant way to “mark” the stormtrooper we would be following) hit him hard. I love that he spent much of the film wrestling with even being a part of rebellion efforts. He’s afraid, and rightfully so. Watching Rey, a female character, demonstrate assured heroism (even when it was sometimes unwarranted), had a wonderful counterpoint in Finn, a male character, never being sure of anything. He wants to run. He wants to hide. He wants to love someone and not kill.

I love Poe so much, and I’d say his swagger, banter and piloting skills would make him the Han Solo if Rey weren’t as much Han’s heir apparent as she seems to be Luke’s. What stuck out to me most about him is that he has so much trust in Finn from the outset. He’s basically like, If you’re down with escaping the First Order, you’re cool in my book. Also, I’m really pulling for that Finn/Poe canon ship. Actually, I’m pulling for a Rey-Finn-Poe triad situation, but I won’t hold my breath. Polyamory doesn’t seem to be Disney’s bag.

I was head over heels in love with Maz Kanata. And while it sucks that we didn’t get to see Lupita N’yongo’s face, we certainly saw and heard an amazing performance from her. I desperately wanted her to be my alien grandma. And BB-8—oh BB-8—I love how you go down stairs and propel yourself around on cables. And that “thumbs up” to Finn KILLED ME.

Lastly, Kylo Ren is an intriguing villain precisely because he’s not quite good at it yet. I love that every lead in this film is learning on some level, and even Kylo has to learn how to be more evil. And in this instance, I think that the acting has as much to do with the success of this character as the writing. When Kylo and Han are on that bridge, you know what’s going to happen, and yet when I saw those Precious Moments-style tears in Adam Driver’s eyes, they lulled me into a false sense of security for the briefest of moments, and I thought Well, maybe he won’t kill him after all. He did, of course, but I loved the fact that there was a moment where I genuinely wasn’t sure if he would.

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3) This story tackled issues in the Star Wars universe the other films did not. 

What’s it like for a stormtrooper? What does it feel like to be the inhabitant of a planet that is being blown up? This film showed us those things. In a couple of harrowing shots, we got to be on the ground as planets were being destroyed, and I realized that up until now, this whole “destroying planets” thing was an abstract concept. We saw spheres exploding in dark space. Boo-hoo, I guess? But watching the flames coming toward us while we’re on the ground with other civilians gives us a whole new perspective on what the stakes are in this fight.

And seeing how much like a colt on wobbly legs Finn is once he leaves the First Order gives greater weight to the lives of stormtroopers and shines a light on just how much they are being brainwashed, exploited, and taken advantage of.

4) Women and people of color everywhere!

I knew going in that the leads were going to be a woman and a man of color. But then there’s Oscar Isaac, who’s Guatemalan. Obviously, Lupita N’yongo. A majority of the main cast of this film (not counting the original trio) are women or people of color (or both!). Not only that, but every time I started to have the thought Oh, there probably won’t be any women or people of color in this scene…I’d have to stop and go, Oh wait, there’s one. And there are some more. It seemed everywhere I looked in this movie, there were women or people of color, and I especially loved that several of the stormtrooper voices were female.

This Star Wars is basically the sci-fi/fantasy movie I wish I had when I was 10—the one with girls and brown people in it.

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When I saw Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time, I was thrilled. Because despite loving the original series, I finally felt like I had a Star Trek that was MINE. New characters and new stories that weren’t entirely attached to history.  The Star Wars prequels were completely tied to the original films, so no matter what I felt about them (the first one was trash, the second one was OK, the third one was actually pretty good), I could never fall in love them because they were too beholden to history for me.

The Force Awakens made appropriate nods to history, but it very firmly and completely carries the story into the future. After leaving the theater, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept turning the characters and the stories and the possibilities over in my head. I felt the way I imagine a lot of people felt seeing the original Star Wars in the theaters as children. For me, it wasn’t the visual effects, or even the world-building that blew me away. It was the characters and the ideas. The Force Awakens made me, someone who’d always liked Star Wars, LOVE Star Wars, and I look forward to following these characters into the future.

This Star Wars is MINE.

(images via Disney/Lucasfilm)

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