Ok, here we go.
The New Republic is referenced a few times in this film, but doesn’t appear to be operating directly against the First Order (which is seeking to emulate the Empire). Instead, the New Republic uses a proxy that it supports – the Resistance, that carries out missions against the First Order. During the course of the film, the Republic’s key worlds and all (if not most) of its fleet are destroyed, which presents some interesting questions:
- Why was the New Republic’s fleet concentrated around a handful of systems?
- Why was the New Republic only operating via the Resistance?
In respect of the first point, it could be that the Republic feared a direct attack from the First Order on its most important worlds, so kept its fleet near those worlds. It’s mentioned in some of the novels that the Republic intentionally mothballed a large chunk of its military, out of fear of being seen to be similar to the Empire that it replaced. It may not have much of a fleet beyond that which is stationed at key locations. Its leadership may have also been worried about acts of military aggression against the First Order being seen as too Empire-like.
This would explain the Resistance. An organisation sponsored by the New Republic but not given any direct aid, and free to make its own operational choices could give the Republic deniability of interfering with First Order affairs. Given the Resistance could only send in a small group of X-Wings to destroy Starkiller Base, it seems that their resources are highly limited – and the loss of the New Republic’s leadership and fleet means new equipment is not forthcoming.
The First Order is an effort to restore Imperial ideals – only it would seem the First Order is even more aggressive than the government it seeks to emulate. The wanton destruction of several worlds easily rivals the death tolls the Empire visited upon its own populace, and like the Empire, the First Order is controlled by Dark Side Force users.
Their approach is pretty violent, even down to smaller, more intimate settings, such as the slaughter of captives on Jakku.
Beyond the sight of a Star Destroyer and Starkiller Base, the First Order’s resources are unknown.
We don’t really see anything new of note in terms of technology, beyond Starkiller Base (which is in itself another Death Star in all but name). What this base (named after the original name for Luke Skywalker in the early drafts of Star Wars) does demonstrate is the remarkable ability of factions in Star Wars to regulate and control vast amounts of energy. The facility (which was, according to the new novels, constructed within the planet it resides on, also demonstrating how good Star Wars construction technology is once again) absorbed two stars during the course of the film, storing that power before focusing it and projecting it. This is simply immense.
An apparent inconsistency has been pointed out that Starkiller Base uses stars as the power source for its weapon, and that after using one to destroy the New Republic’s key worlds, there wouldn’t be any left to use when they planned to destroy the Resistance! However, this is easily dealt with.
The first and most obvious answer is that the base was in a binary star system. Other possibilities include the base being capable of FTL travel, or it was able to reach distant stars via FTL (it did, after all, project its power in this fashion). Any answer would work, but the last two allow for the base to continue being a threat after it had used all the stars in one system (it is said in the novel that the base has FTL).
Another, small change is the appearance of TIE Fighters with rear gunners. This is quite a useful development from the First Order’s point of view!
We are introduced to a number of new faces in The Force Awakens, all of whom have a role to play in making the film what it is.
Poe Dameron is a crack pilot with the Resistance, and he is also trusted with important missions – given he was to retrieve highly vital information about Luke’s whereabouts. He does not easily crack under interrogation, even when subjected to Force-related torture (in fact, he even attempts to make light of his situation!). It would also be fair to describe him as loyal – he is prepared to risk much for the Resistance, including his own life.
Beyond this, we don’t get to learn too much about him.
General Hux is the very definition of a fanatic. His devotion to the First Order is as complete as Poe’s is to the Resistance. To offer up a clue as to just how firmly Hux believes in the goals and policies of the Order, it is he who suggests to Supreme Leader Snoke the idea of using Starkiller base to destroy the New Republic’s key worlds, and it is Hux who gives an impassioned speech as to the chaos of the New Republic and the control and security of the First Order. Whilst Kylo Ren is dangerous as a Dark Side Force user, Hux is a true believer, and that makes him more dangerous, for there can be no doubting that he will stop at nothing to achieve the First Order’s goals.
Hux is not afraid of Ren, which is interesting, given that Ren could in theory kill Hux with a thought. Hux is prepared to speak his mind to Snoke in contradiction of Ren, a potentially risky move, but it shows that his contribution to the First Order is highly valued.
Supreme Leader Snoke himself is something of a mystery. I’ve seen fan theories that suggest he may in fact be Darth Plagueius, but unless this is backed up by hard evidence it remains fan fiction. He is the man behind Kylo Ren’s corruption to the Dark Side, but the how, when and why of this remains shrouded. Snoke is the Emperor figure of this new trilogy, but so far, is calmer and more stable than the Palpatine of Return of the Jedi. It remains to be seen if he remains that way.
Finn is one of the three most important new characters in the film. A Stormtrooper to begin with, his (possibly) first direct experience of combat – and subsequent orders to slaughter unarmed prisoners – is enough to persuade Finn he wants nothing to do with the First Order and he helps Poe to escape – albeit largely out of self-preservation. It is his survival instinct that ultimately guides him to Rey and the Falcon, and from there, to Han, Chewie and the Resistance. His motives shift from survival to a desire to help those he begins to care about, as he’s prepared by the end to risk his life to save Rey, more than once. It would more than fair to say that Finn ultimately proves himself to be quite brave.
It would seem that Finn has some latent Force ability. He felt the destruction of the New Republic’s key systems, which might suggest he could be a Jedi in the future.
Rey is the embodiment of what a strong lead character should be in this day and age – one not defined by her gender. The fact that she is a woman is pretty much incidental – she is a true equal to the other characters, which makes a refreshing change. Before I continue, I must address the charges that she is something of a Mary Sue (a character who can do no wrong, a projection of the writer’s desired self-image into the film or book). Rey does not come through unscathed in this film – she still has no idea of who her family is, nor where they are. She is kidnapped by Kylo Ren and, though she was able to escape her cell, she was still totally dependent upon outside help to escape the planet. When she and Finn confront Ren at the end of the film, she is initially rendered unconscious!
There’s still a great deal we don’t know about Rey. Her strength in the Force is quite clear, and she had a powerful connection to Luke’s lightsaber, but we won’t know more about what that all means until Episode VIII.
Kylo Ren has to be one of the most fascinating villains to appear in the Star Wars saga. To me personally, I would describe him as infinitely more complex than Anakin Skywalker ever was, with a desperation to prove himself and a powerful fear of failure. His motivation to become a disciple of the Dark Side is based on his desire to emulate Darth Vader, but his wish to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps is (according to the novel) based on a lie. Ren doesn’t truly understand what was driving Vader, nor why Vader turned back from the Dark Side.
Ren’s fears are based on the intriguing idea that he could ‘fall’ to the Light Side. His connection to his family is the source of much uncertainty for him – his link to the Dark Side is not, in his view, complete.
Ren – or to give him his real name, Ben Solo (yes, he is the son of Han and Leia) is prone to temper tantrums, maybe fueled by his anxiety about his legacy and perhaps because he is far from the finished article as a formidable Dark Side Force user. It is difficult to imagine Vader, Palpatine or Dooku indulging in slashing apart control consoles, but this underscores Ren’s worries.
To cut away any lingering doubt, Ren, when face-to-face with his father, makes the decision to kill him (in what was, in my view, inevitable from the moment Han stepped onto that bridge), but the act of the son killing the father – and the father, in his dying moments, reaching out to his boy one final time – is emotionally draining for Ren. The novel establishes that, far from strengthening his resolve, the act actually weakens it – he is left shaken by what he does.
There have been suggestions that his fight with Finn and Rey was all wrong – that Finn should never have been able to stand up to Ren – but this ignores the facts. Ren was injured (he had been shot by Chewbacca just after he killed Han), he was emotional, for the reasons already mentioned, and Finn had been through some form of melee combat training (this was clear from Finn’s earlier fight with a Stormtrooper). Despite this, Ren was still able to defeat Finn, albeit not without sustaining further injury.
So, by the time he fought Rey, he was nursing two wounds, and we don’t actually know the extent of his melee combat experience. Rey may not have had any experience either, but she was naturally gifted in the Force and unhurt.
Han Solo is without a doubt one of the most iconic characters of all time, not just in Star Wars but in popular culture. If The Force Awakens is to be the final chapter in the character’s legacy, it would be fair to say it is a powerful one.
Given that his son turns to the Dark Side, betraying him and his mother (not to mention Luke and the New Jedi Order), Han (and his loyal friend Chewie) return to the life they once led – as smugglers and rogues, a life that serves as escapism for Han. Fate (or the Force?!) sends Finn and Rey in his direction, which in turn steers Han toward the Resistance, and Leia. Even as an older man, Han is not afraid of a fight (taking on First Order Stormtroopers without hesitating), and he helps Finn to rescue Rey, whilst also confronting his son, determined that his love will set Ren on the right path, despite great personal risk.
Even in his dying moments, after that act of ultimate betrayal, Han reaches out to his boy, to his son, loving his son to the very last. That strength of conviction and emotion should serve as testimony to who Han was.
On a personal note, it was a deeply saddening moment to lose Han Solo. My wife was so stunned, and so upset, she was actually in tears – but then, she saw the original Star Wars when it first came out, and Han immediately leaped out to her as a lovable rogue, a rough-around-the-edges yet loyal and witty character, and he will be missed.
General Leia (yes, General), is war-weary. After the Empire was toppled, you’d think that would be by and large the end of the struggle, but with a resurgent First Order rising up in a bid to be the Empire Mark II, and a New Republic that is sitting back and doing nothing, it has fallen upon Leia to once again serve as a leader, hoping to inspire the Resistance to hold the line. She and Han still love each other, and they want their son back, but neither is certain this can be done – not that it will stop them trying.
Leia retains some Force abilities of her own – those abilities tell her, despite the distance between them, of Han’s fate, in quite a touching, if sad, moment. Beyond this, there isn’t a great deal more we learn about Leia. She remains a powerful figure in the Resistance, and I would imagine we’ll see more of her in Episode VIII.
Luke Skywalker is only in the film at the very end, and yet his character is vital to much of what happens in the movie! Everyone is looking for him – both the First Order and the Resistance – for whoever finds him first will be able to gain the advantage over the other (well, assuming he cooperates!).
The First Order are trying to find Luke in order to prevent him from ever being a threat to them – he appears to be the one thing they are afraid of. Luke has made it very difficult to be found, presumably out of guilt over his failure to train Kylo Ren properly, and the subsequent destruction of his new Jedi Order. Will he take up his lightsaber once more? We shall have to wait and see!
Final Thoughts: The journey to The Force Awakens was an exciting one, and the film itself was an amazing one. It’s not flawless (nothing is), but it was what I’d hoped for. It has restored Star Wars to the sort of storytelling that defined the Original Trilogy, and sets up the next installment nicely. A new journey begins now – the journey toward Episode VIII. May it be as exciting as this one was!