We recently took a break from our usual back-and-forths about video games to chat about the new Star Wars movie: what we liked, what didn’t make sense, what we think will happen next. Join us, if you will. Warning: this one’s full of spoilers. Don’t read it unless you’ve already seen the movie (or don’t care!).
Evan, Luke, Patrick and I “recorded” this conversation in a chatroom on Friday afternoon. A couple of hours before we started, Luke weighed in from Australia. It was Saturday for him and he wasn’t sure he could make it....
Stephen Totilo: We’ll be “recording” at 4:30pm ET, a little less than two hours from now.
Luke Plunkett: Ah. I’m being dragged around landscaping places this morning, so if I can’t make that, I’ll let you know.
Stephen: As long as you show up right when this is about to end, LUKE.
Patrick Klepek: Zing!
Luke: Ha ha. For whatever reason, that was my favorite part. The Obi-Wan getup, his old-Luke hair smashed all my nostalgic fan service buttons into dust.
Patrick: Our theater flipped out.
Luke: Weirdly, the only really big reaction from ours was when Chewie’s bowcaster knocks that dude about 15ft backwards from a side-on shot.
Stephen: We did big claps/cheers for the text scroll, big claps/cheers for the Millennium Falcon, big clap for Han/Chewie, golf clap for Leia/C3PO, medium clap for Ackbar, no clap for that alien dude who blew up Death Star II with Lando. And my wife and I gave each other a knowing nudge when we saw Miles from Lost.
Patrick: Yessss. Me too.
Stephen: Think about all the Force Ghosts that guy can see, Patrick.
Patrick: Two Lost characters, actually! The pilot, aka the guy in everything Abrams does. He’s every-so-briefly at the command table before they head out to do the Starkiller attack.
Luke: Me and my wife high-fived Nien Nunb, because that’s what we called our kid when he was little. Ackbar was the best surprise of the whole movie. Ok, i gotta go.
We resumed talking—without Luke—a couple of hours later.
Stephen: So, Episode VII. I left the theater mostly feeling good about the movie, though something felt off. And then it struck me. I’m not sure this checked off the Star Wars boxes of cool vehicles and planets-whose-names-I-can-remember (what was the name of that forest planet again?). I’m not sure it has a self-contained sequence that’s as good as the Hoth battle, the Death Star trench or, dare I say it, even the pod race in Phantom Menace (ok, it probably does). But... it turns out the prequels did have planets whose names I could remember. They did have cool vehicles. And yet they missed the thing this movie had in abundance, likable characters interacting with each other in fun ways. So I’m not sure if it’s a classic I’ll want to re-watch but it does feel like the start of a trilogy I’ll care to follow. Thoughts?
Evan Narcisse: For me, the performances made this movie. Harrison Ford—who feels like he’s been sleepwalking through the latter part of his career—felt energized in a way that was revelatory. I loved John Boyega a lot. He felt charming and relatable. All the actors were able to make their connections to each other feel sincere—like with Finn and Poe’s fast friendship—despite the fact that those initial meetings were quick and harried.
Stephen: Han was gargling too much when he first showed up, though! His first scenes were rough.
Evan: My only complaint was that The Force Awakens had a lot of Star Wars signifiers and that felt like Abrams and company might’ve been laying it on a little too thick.
Patrick: I had a blast. This movie had such a tightrope to walk. It’s basically a soft reboot of the franchise—can you imagine having to recast Luke Skywalker and Han Solo?—and brings a bunch of new characters into the mix. The most promising thing you can say about the return of Star Wars is that I’m more excited to see what happens next to Finn and Rey than I am for Luke and Leia.
Evan: Yeah, I left this movie dying to see the next one.
Stephen: Are Rey and Finn going to be a couple, Patrick?
Patrick: I’m pretty sure Rey friendzoned Finn while he was unconscious at the end!
Stephen: The hug!
Patrick: There was a line of dialogue where she thanks him as a “friend,” if I recall correctly. My guess is they play that tension through the next few movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans ship them the whole way through.
Evan: Well, they’re probably not brother and sister, anyway.
Stephen: In a galaxy where brothers smooch with sisters, though, maybe a hug is a sign of true love. Note that Han and Leia hugged in this movie, did not kiss.
Patrick: The prequels lacked believable characters, partially because of the stilted acting, partially because it was mostly a set of movies about political maneuvering. But one of the lingering questions from the original trilogy was the motivations of folks like the stormtroopers. They’re not clones, they’re people. It was fascinating to have one of the new characters help explain why you might sign up for an offshoot of the Empire. Or NOT sign up, as the case may be, given that Finn was kidnapped. (I would also like to point out that one of my favorite lines was where Finn gets his name.)
Evan: Well, the guy who signs up is actually Kylo Ren. And his character was extremely well-rendered to me. Son of war heroes, mentored by the Jedi savior figure yet so hypnotized by his grandfather’s evil persona that he decides he’s gotta get a piece of that Dark Side.
Stephen: Yeah, I really like this idea of these two good characters who we love (Han and Leia) having a child who is a bad, bad guy. It’s not easily palatable, which is sometimes the sign of good storytelling. But speaking of family... Kylo and Rey, brother and sister? Cousins? Who do you guys think Rey’s parents are? They hinted a lot that she’s the daughter of Han and Leia, but could also be Luke’s kid.
Evan: I think it was intentionally unclear who Rey’s parents were. I think she might be Luke’s kid, too.
Patrick: Luke’s my bet.
Evan: And that look he gives her at the end would have even more weight.
Stephen: OK, then I’m going Han/Leia just to make this more interesting.
Patrick: Also, while I mostly kept myself in check during the movie, I flipped my SHIT when Luke showed up at the end.
Stephen: Interesting, Patrick. I didn’t love that scene.
Patrick: Aw, I loved it! I’m glad Luke wasn’t in the movie. Han was the perfect way to toss the baton.
Stephen: The “baton” handoff was almost literally between Rey and Luke, though! But yeah.
Patrick: Though I wonder if we’re supposed to expect one death per original trilogy character in each sequel?
Evan: Oh, I absolutely loved it. You can just tell Luke’s been hiding because he fucked up his friends’ kid.
Stephen: I did really like Han, the old skeptic, being Obi-Wan to Rey’s Luke. Good stuff there. And Chewie during Han’s death was Chewie’s best moment ever. So well done.
Patrick: Han’s death was spoiled for me a little while ago—someone spammed by Twitter account—but it still had a big impact. It’s basically the flip of Darth Vader—Kylo Ren decides to make up for Vader’s “fault.”
Evan: My money was on Chewie dying, because Han was especially tender toward him in the build-up to that pivotal scene. See, Patrick, I thought that Kylo would turn back to the Light Side as a flip of how Anakin was unable to fight the pull of Sith allure.
Patrick: He still might, but it took Vader three movies. I would hope they don’t track the original trilogy storyline that closely.
Evan: That would be the worst.
Patrick: You forgive The Force Awakens for being A New Hope 2.0, but I’m hoping they take some big risks in the sequel. I mean, The Force Awakens is painfully aware it’s going over some known territory. There’s that scene where they’re preparing to invade the Starkiller base and Han says something like “Oh, there’s always a way to blow up these things. Cute, but maybe too cute.
Stephen: I wanted to add that the Han death is nicely foreshadowed in a couple of ways. First, in the freighter, when he is cornered by the two factions (which also seems like a semi-homage to the bridge scene in Temple of Doom), he tells Chewie he can talk his way out of anything. Then, on the bridge with his son, he can’t. Also, because he’s this movie’s Obi Wan, he plays Kenobi-in-the-Death-Star as Finn and Rey do the Luke-watching-Ben-die-from-afar bit. Well-structured.
Patrick: Good point.
Stephen: But some things in the movie felt like they’re dying for a director’s cut. They break into the Starkiller base wayyyy too easily, for example. And, can we talk about the elephant in the room?
Evan: No Gungans?
Stephen: Captain Phasma. How in the world is Captain Phasma such a loser?
Evan: Oh, man.
Stephen: Brienne of Tarth takes no shit, but Captain Phasma has a gun to her head and lowers shields instead of taking one for the team?
Patrick: A wasted opportunity, for sure. I’m surprised she wasn’t the one with the anti-lightsaber baton and fighting Finn. That would have been awesome.
Evan: She’s like a sop to the Boba-Fett-actually-was-a-loser crowd. The nu Darth Maul.
Stephen: Earlier, off-camera, she inspects Finn’s un-fired blaster and then still lets him hang with the other stormtroopers even though Kylo Ren already caught him not shooting—and Phasma had the forensics to prove it? There has got to be a removed scene that shows that Phasma is Jar-Jar’s son in disguise or something. She caused more damage to the First Order than anyone else in the movie!
Stephen: Am I missing anything with her? Was she a badass at all in this movie?
Patrick: I mean, her armor looked cool. Pretty cool armor, I’d say.
Evan: Tough talk and nothing else.
Stephen: That is true. Dazzling everyone into not noticing her incompetence. Am I the only one who initially thought Snoke was a giant?
Patrick: Nope. I was very confused. Also, it’s the one CGI character that bothered the hell out of me. There was no reason for that character to be CGI. I know that [the actor portraying him] Andy Serkis is a motion capture artist, but it took me out of the story.
Evan: I was like, “How the hell they gonna fight a freakin’ giant?” One expectation I had going in was that Finn would be the new Jedi. The idea that a guy who was a stormtrooper having massive Force potential was really seductive. It felt like they were parceling out parts of the various archetypes to the characters. “Rey, you live on the backwater planet. Poe, you’re the ace pilot. Finn, you get to hold Luke’s lightsaber for a bit.” It kept me guessing, which I liked. “Who’s the new Han? Is it Poe? Finn?” That kind of thing.
Patrick: All of them are. They basically sliced up the DNA of the characters and doled them out. It’s great.
Stephen: Oh, I assume Finn and Rey are both going to be Jedi. That bit on the Falcon where they’re both amazed at what they just did. That’s signaling to me that they both had the Force.
Patrick: I’m still surprised Leia never went down that path, nor did the movie touch on that. Unless I missed it? Using the Force, I mean.
Evan: I don’t think that was meant to be interpreted. BUT. That scene where she reacted to Han’s death without having seen it, it was kinda like she just ‘knows’. A bit of a callback to “I love you/I know”, as well as an allusion to Force sensitivity.
Patrick: Yeah, there’s that moment in The Empire Strikes Back where she guides them back to Luke.
Stephen: OK, what DID you guys think of the standard geek stuff like planets and vehicles and aliens? They did good with BB8. That Starkiller planet was neat. And I liked that orange lady Maz.
Evan: I loved that most of the space battles happened in low orbit. Gave ‘em a lot more urgency.
Patrick: There really wasn’t a big space battle, was there? I was OK with that. Like Evan, I think being on the ground made them more impactful. I thought it was odd that no one really reacted when all those planets blew the fuck up.
Evan: The getaway fight in the beginning was farther out, Patrick. And yeah, there was no “million voices” type of reaction, which was sorely needed. The new planets didn’t have the same sense of weight as in the original trilogy. Jakku didn’t feel important the same way Tatooine did.
Patrick: BB8 was spectacular. He (she? it?) was always doing something in the fringes of the screen. During the sequence where Finn and Rey are running from the bombing run on Jakku, BB8 keeps looking forward, then looking back. Looking forward, then looking back. I was dying! And that’s to say nothing of the part where he gives a “thumbs up” with a god damn lighter.
Evan: Even the planet they find Luke on felt like it was a temporary destination, despite being an important Jedi site.
Patrick: Yeah, they didn’t really establish any memorable locales. I couldn’t tell you much about any of the places they visited. But, again, the characters were so strong, it didn’t bother me.
Stephen: There were some good aliens on Jakku and in Maz’s bar. I liked the big pig-thing that was drinking from the water trough.
Patrick: Some of that felt a little forced.
Evan: Cantina 2015, Patrick.
Patrick: Pretty much! The Hamilton guy did the music, I think.
Stephen: I was surprised we didn’t get any cool new spaceships. Kylo Ren’s shuttle was a big nothing.
Evan: Man... I watched that movie thing and kept thinking of how much fodder there is for new video games. Like using Poe as the central character for a new X-Wing game.
Patrick: My ability to perceive these details was hampered by the fact that I had close seats at an IMAX 3D showing, basically the worst way to see the movie. Do not see this movie in the front row in IMAX 3D, you will hate yourself. You’re right, though, Evan! If rumors are true about the Visceral game being an open world-y thing, I’d be super into that. And I wouldn’t mind another Rogue Squadron-style game!
Stephen: So what do you guys want to know? I want to learn more about how Kylo Ren went all wrong. And I’d like to understand what in the world the Republic actually is.
Evan: Ditto on the Republic.
Patrick: If the prequels had too much politics, The Force Awakens had too little.
Stephen: I guess there’s a comic coming out that explains C3PO’s red arm?
Patrick: I liked just being dumped into the world, but I wouldn’t mind a little more context about why there’s a “resistance” when the Empire was presumably defeated.
Stephen: Yeah, I’m guessing a book or comic will fill it in.
Patrick: Though I guess the analog for The First Order is something like ISIS—The Republic doesn’t take this fringe group seriously, then it starts causing havoc.
Stephen: I think the Nazi analogy works well enough.
Patrick: The Force Awakens seems much more concerned with conveying the intent of the villains.
Stephen: They are Nazis with nukes.
Patrick: Like, actually giving them context and motivations. I’m into that. I never really bought the transition from Anakin to Vader, so I’m hoping they can learn from that and make Kylo Ren a little more reasonable.
Stephen: I also want to know where Lando is! The man blew up the frigging Death Star. His co-pilot is in the Resistance. The lightsaber that was lost in his old floating city is in a wooden box. His former best friend went back to smuggling. Where’d Lando go??
Evan: I definitely want to know more about Rey’s past and how the hell Kylo gets Vader’s helmet. Like, someone just had that lying around?
Patrick: Or just kicked it into a bush on Endor. I suspect Kylo has a bunch of Vader artifacts. And I’m glad they had Kylo frequently taking off his mask. There was no reason to keep the suspense up on that.
Stephen: Like all of us of a certain age, he probably has that Vader-shaped action figure case.
Evan: So, here’s one big concern I had after walking out of the movie: how fresh is all this going to feel four, five years out? This is the first new Star Wars in a long time. But will the wonder of it all sustain if we get one a year like Disney wants?
Stephen: Yeah, Evan, this was fun, but I could see them hitting burn-out.
Patrick: It’s 18 months for the continuation from this story, which feels juuuuust long enough that I’m slightly sad it’s not next Christmas. I’m down for more Star Wars, though. Bring it on. To have Star Wars burnout sounds more enjoyable than no Star Wars at all!
Evan: I think it’ll largely depend on the strength of the new characters and plots, of course. But the next few films need to have a whole lot less homage in their recipes.
Patrick: Rian Johnson, who’s directing the next one and scripting the next two, is such a strong talent. I think he’ll knock it out of the park. But anyway, I don’t know that you could have asked for much more from The Force Awakens. It had so much to burden, and it would have been very easy to mess it up. I think JJ Abrams accomplished his difficult task admirably.
Evan: Mostly, I want more new stuff. They’ve introduced some killer new ideas and characters in the Marvel Star Wars comics. I want some of that energy—and the actual characters—to show up.
Stephen: Alright guys. You going to see it again? I really do think this movie was released with a director’s cut in mind, so I’m going to hold off for a while.
Patrick: My viewing was so hampered by the cruddy 3D and my seat that I’ll definitely be there in a week or two, maybe over Christmas. Plus, I suspect they’re gonna convince everyone to head back to the theaters for a chance to see that Rogue One trailer.
Stephen: Oh, and I need to wedge this in: In both the Star Trek reboot and this Star Wars movie, JJ Abrams has a character sort of blindly fly/crash to a planet and then just happen to land right near the place and people (Spock/Rey) that he needs to meet. That’s weird. (Speaking of Wedge... where was Wedge???)
Evan: JJ’s universes have a plan, Stephen.
Stephen: Yeah, Oceanic 815 crashed in a certain spot, too. Gentlemen, it’s been fun.
Patrick: Dun dun dunnn. It’s been fun, and it’s been real. All of it. GET IT?
Stephen: FIN. GET IT?
15 minutes later...
Stephen: P.S. This may be too soon, but as someone on our Facebook page said, “Han should have shot first.”
Patrick: Oh man. Oh maaaaaan. That’s a good joke. A+ joke.
Stephen: Wonder if in Episode VII: Special Edition, maybe he will!
What did you think of the movie? Chime in below.