Guys!!!! Girls!!! Everyone else!! This is the movie we as Star Wars fans deserve!! If you haven’t made plans to see it please reconsider your entire life and go see it instead.
Okay, so serious spoilers in this post. Serious, the spoileriest of spoilers. Snape-kills-Dumbledore spoilers. If this post were in my refrigerator I’d be throwing it out with one hand pinching my nose because it’s so spoiled. Consider. Yourself. Warned.
First, a quick summary of the plot. Decades after the New Republic is established, the dregs of the Empire have formed into a new threat: the First Order. Luke has gone missing, in self-imposed exile after one of his new Jedi students went super-dark side and joined the Order. Enter protagonist one: Finn. Finn is a First Order Stormtrooper who wants the fuck out, and when his platoon takes a Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron prisoner, he sees his opportunity to escape. He frees Poe, steals a TIE fighter, and then the two of them crash-land and get separated on the planet Jakku. Meanwhile, a scrap collector named Rey finds and adopts Poe’s BB-8 droid, which is carrying a map to Luke’s location. Worried that Poe is dead, Finn heads off to find civilization and encounters Rey. They team up and steal a junker spaceship—which turns out to be the Millenium Falcon!
Shortly after making it into space, they run into none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, who’ve been looking for their missing
baby ship. Han’s back in the smuggling business, but he decides to help out Finn and Rey nonetheless. Han is reluctant to go back to the Resistance because he’s been on the outs with Leia since their son—who turns out to be Kylo Ren—went dark side and betrayed Luke, who was his teacher. Ren is the First Order’s premiere Sith enforcer and is obsessed with finishing what Darth Vader and the Empire started. He even has Vader’s burnt, nasty mask in his quarters like a creepy trophy.
The First Order has a nasty new weapon called the Starkiller, which is like the Death Star, but on roids. After they use it to blow up an entire star system, the Resistance fighters swing into action to take it out because Finn, as a former Stormtrooper, knows its weak points. In the meantime, Rey gets captured by Ren and has to use her newly-discovered Force sensitivity to escape Starkiller Base before the Resistance blows it all to hell. She meets up with Finn, Han, and Chewbacca and they move to escape but are confronted by Ren. Han tries to appeal to Kylo Ren, or, as he was once known, Ben, but Ren runs him through with his nasty lightsaber. Reeling from Han’s death and with the planet about to fall to pieces, Rey and Finn make a run for it, but are cornered again by Ren in the woods. Finn attempts to fight him and is gravely injured, and then Rey takes him on. She’s holding her own until the decomposition of the ground they’re standing on wrenches them apart, and they finally book it for the Falcon and GTFO. Back at the Resistance base, Finn recuperates while Rey treks off into the far reaches of space to find Luke and learn the Force from him.
This was both a great movie from a plot perspective and a great movie from a feminist perspective. I honestly thought the writing was strong, and although some parts of the movie lived up to my predictions, some were surprising. Like, the “Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s kid” thing was a really popular fan theory, since in the Extended Universe novels Han and Leia’s son Jacen also goes dark side. (I did think that calling him Ben added an extra level of emotional oomph to his betrayal, though.) On the flip side, I did not expect to see Starkiller Base—another feature in the EU novels—on the big screen. My only big complaint about them using it in this one is that it makes the final conflict of the movie mirror A New Hope‘s almost exactly—like, a giant space station with as-yet-unheard-of destructive capabilities that just happens to have one small weakness! How creative! Maybe they were going for a symmetry sort of thing with the first movie, but it’s still kind of repetitive.
And while Han’s death was certainly sad, I felt that it made sense in the turn of the plot without being too terribly predictable. I was sad that he didn’t get a ton of character development—he’s kind of regressed back to his original trilogy self, running from his problems. I just hope that since he was so strongly featured in this one, Leia will get some more screentime in the next one. (I think it goes without saying that Luke will, but I need more Leia time!) I also hope they go into Leia’s Force sensitivity a bit more thoroughly—thus far we’ve only seen her do the same thing we see her do in the original trilogy, e.g. sensing disturbances in the Force or things that have happened to her loved ones.
On a major bright note, the movie contained so many women that some could be weak and some strong; they could have moments of doubt or pain without that standing for every woman’s doubt and pain. It only scraped a Bechdel-Wallace pass because most of the time they were talking to each other it was about Finn or Luke or Ren or whatever, but it was such a refreshing delight to see women as X-wing pilots and cantina owners and even First Order enforcers.
Rey is a character that, about a decade ago, I’d have thrown under a bus as a Mary Sue, and she does fit the criteria, but really, who the fuck cares? What are Luke—and, indeed, Anakin—but Sues, anyway? She’s really expressive, and not just pretty-expressive, like, she actually is allowed to emote in ways that aren’t necessarily attractive. Her skills are traditionally masculine and she’s amazing at them. She’s an excellent mechanic because of her scrap-collecting, she’s almost (only maybe by the skin of her teeth) better at flying the Falcon than Han is, and she’s a brawling fighter. When she picks up the lightsaber for the first time at the end of the movie she fights with it like it’s a broadsword rather than a fencing weapon. She’s not just Strong, though; she has serious moments of doubt and fear, she struggles to use the Force at first, and she spends most of the movie desperate to get back to Jakku because she naïvely and stubbornly believes that her missing family will eventually come back for her there.
Although her mysterious parentage gives us lots of room for speculation, I’m torn about pegging her as a Skywalker. Yes, she’s the protagonist, who grew up on a desert planet, who’s a great pilot, who’s really powerful in the Force, and who has a tragic parental backstory—all super Skywalker-y things. But I have a hard time imagining that Luke would abandon his kid if he knew he had one, and an even harder time reconciling the Luke Skywalker I’m familiar with (corn-fed hick, blushing farmboy, dedicated to the Jedi lifestyle) with one-night stands. At least if it does turn out that she’s Luke’s kid, it sets up a perfect opportunity for them to call back the whole “I am your father” thing. Alternatively, there’s also a theory going around that she’s Kylo Ren’s sister (also a potential draw from the EU novels).
Finn is also an interesting character, and I wish they had done something a little more meaty and nuanced with him as a person who’d been captured and conditioned from early childhood to serve the First Order. One of the especially interesting things about making him a Stormtrooper is that Star Wars fans are generally conditioned to not think about who is under the Stormtrooper mask. It was very strange at first to see the camera focus on a particular white helmet, and to see Finn desperate to be out of it. He was originally desperate to get as far from the First Order as he could, but he changed his mind when Rey was kidnapped because he wanted to save her. I was a little turned off by how immediately flirty he was with her, but, you know, Hollywood is all about the heterostraights. I was also surprised that he didn’t turn out to be able to use the Force too—I guess all the shots of him with a lightsaber in the trailers were a bait-and-switch so we wouldn’t expect Rey to be the Force-user.
I was pleased that not only were there women and characters of color (and women of color) in the background of every scene of the movie, but that, of all the new main characters introduced, only the new villain is a white dude. I’m also really amused that said white dude villain is almost comically whiny, like being pissed off and complaining was his main character trait. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more with Captain Phasma, and even though I knew that Lupita Nyong’o’s role was motion-captured going in, I was sad to not see her in person, because I’ve never actually seen a movie with her physically in it.
As a final note, the aesthetics of the movie were spot on to the Star Wars universe. It’s hard to believe that J.J. Abrams, the same man who turned Star Trek into an oversaturated lens flare orgy, was able to make a movie that just looked so Star Wars. From the sets to the costumes down to the cheesy scene-transition screen wipes, this felt like a Star Wars movie. And, whether it’s thanks to the benefit of hindsight or the improvement of the technology over the last decade, I felt like the CGI aspects were far more organically integrated into the movie than they were in the prequels.
All in all, I am so so psyched that this movie was as enjoyable as it turned out to be. When I saw Revenge of the Sith in theaters, I wept not only because I had to watch a bunch of awesome Jedi and innocent children get murdered, but because that particular distressing plot point was going to be the last time I ever saw a Star Wars movie in the theaters. This is such a huge redemption for the franchise and such an excellent step forward, and I cannot wait to see what they do with Episode VIII. In the meantime, though, you can find me over at AO3, reading every Poe/Finn fic in existence—all, like, forty of them.