Let’s Talk About the Ending of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (SPOILERS)
WARNING: This post will contain spoilers.
(Seriously. If you don’t want to know that Luke murders and eats Chewbacca, turn back now.)
(Okay, so that one’s not true. But the rest of this conversation will contain actual spoilers.)
(I’M NOT JOKING AROUND THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK.)
Matt: At long last, there has been an awakening.
Hype and speculation about Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been ubiquitous, at least in our line of work, pretty much every day of every week of every month since Disney acquired George Lucas’ company and the rights to Star Wars back in 2012. Three years later, The Force Awakens is finally in theaters. And since it’s already made about $100 million in just one day of release, we’re guessing a lot of people have already seen it and are ready to discuss those spoilers that have been kept so well hidden for all these years. That’s what we’re here to discuss.
There are a few big points that are worth tossing around, but none bigger than this one: the identity of Kylo Ren (real name Ben Solo [or maybe Solo-Organa]) and his murder of his dad, Han Solo. Personally, I was of mixed emotions about this whole thing. Certainly, Han’s death evokes the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV - A New Hope; the older guide who brings the young heroes into this world of magic and adventure and then dies at the hands of the key villain. There’s also symmetry in the fact that Kylo Ren is Han’s son and Darth Vader, the guy who killed Obi-Wan, is his grandfather. And Star Wars loves that kind of symmetry, where events in one trilogy of movies reoccur with minor variations in another. On that level, it definitely works.
But I must admit I wasn’t particularly moved by Han’s death. The narrative motivations are all there, but the emotions were missing for me. We barely know any of the backstory between Han and Leia and Kylo Ren, and everything we do know is through brief snippets of dialogue. We’ve never seen any of these characters in the same room together. They set up Kylo Ren’s paternity early, but he never confronts Han until the scene where he sticks his lightsaber through his gut. It seemed to me like that moment would have meant a lot more if we could have spent some time with the two of them, seen their falling out or their battles. I wonder if they could have put off Han’s death to the end of Episode VIII (where it could have rhymed with Han getting frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back), if it would have had a much bigger impact.
On the bright side, at least Harrison Ford got the death he’s been begging for since before Return of the Jedi. But was it a death worthy of Han Solo, one of the greatest heroes in the history of science-fiction? What did you think? Were you satisfied? Or did you want Han to go out in a blaze of glory at the helm of the Millennium Falcon or something like that?
Mike: I mostly agree with that sentiment. I had a strong feeling, as most Star Wars fans did, that Han Solo would bite the big one in The Force Awakens, but I still expected to be affected emotionally by his death. Strangely, I was not. I actually thought seeing Leia and Han reunited for the first time satisfied more emotional beats than Han’s death. Maybe, like you said, it’s because we have a history with Han and Leia and zero history with Han and Ben/Kylo. Not only was the father/son relationship barely fleshed out (though I do have to give Abrams credit for not withholding this information as if it were some major third act twist), it felt oddly cold. Han repeatedly referred to Ben/Kylo as “my son” and only once called him by name. It all felt very formal, like if you’re filling out a tax form. Yes. I have a son.
Even during their fateful meeting, Han pleaded with him on a tactical level (“Once Snoke gets what he wants, he’ll destroy you”) and not on any emotional level. And maybe this was the point. Maybe Han was a crummy father. Maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to his son, “Cat’s in the Cradle” etc. That may be an emotional beat that is played out in future films, but it didn’t help the emotional impact of one of the most iconic movie characters of all time. Seeing Han Solo die should’ve sent shockwaves through the theater, but it instead it felt like, “Welp, there he goes.” It didn’t help that, minus the screams of shock immediately after he got impaled by his son’s lightsaber, it was oddly forgotten about. They got back to base, Leia gives Rey a hug, and everyone is partying and carrying on. Yes, you just destroyed the Starkiller Base and effectively defeated the First Order, but how about we pour one out for Han Solo, a figure so iconic in the Resistance, they talk about him with hushed tones in the first act (“The Han Solo?!”)
The other moment at the end of the film is the one people have been clamoring for since the very first trailer. Luke! Once R2-D2 woke up from his robot coma, he and BB-8 were finally able to piece together the map to Luke’s whereabouts. Rey set off to find him, and finally meets him at a secluded Jedi Temple. There stood Luke, looking pretty badass actually, with a long mane of hair, full beard and robot hand. Now what? We assume that Rey will ask Skywalker to come out of hiding to train her. She, with no training at all, was almost as powerful as Kylo Ren who had trained for years under Luke; if she could spend time with him, she could become one of the most powerful Jedis.
Which leads into the next, and perhaps biggest question: Who is Rey? The Force Awakens answers the question of Kylo Ren’s parentage, but we’re left wondering exactly where Rey came from. In her Force-induced flashback/dream, we see a young Rey left on Jakku, handed off to Unkar Plutt. Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter, who had her sent to the desert planet before he went into seclusion, almost the same way Luke was sent to live with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru? If she is (and given the line they used in the trailer, “The force is strong in my family. My father has it, I have it, my sister has it, you have that power too,” it certainly would seem they’re hinting at that), this would need Star Wars: Episode VIII to answer the question of who her mother is, and when exactly did Luke get married and have children? And, maybe most importantly: Is there another?
We’re left at the end of The Force Awakens not really knowing who Rey and Finn are, and a big part of the future of the franchise will be explaining that lineage and how it all comes together.
Matt: Yeah, it seems pretty likely that Rey has some kind of familial connection to the Skywalker clan. I will say, though, that while I think this reveal is kind of inevitable, I’m also sort of dreading it. I loved the Kylo Ren character and his backstory, but if all the characters are children of previous characters, that’s going to make the Star Wars universe seem really small. What’s next? Finn turns out to be Lando’s nephew? Poe Dameron is actually Chewie’s son who shaved all his fur to pass for human?
I’m also not sure I want to find out Rey is a Skywalker because it would basically mean all our favorite heroes from this franchise are deadbeat parents. Luke (and TBD Female Lifemate) ditched their kid, and forced her to live alone in the desert as a scavenger? And meanwhile Han and Leia lost their kid to the Dark Side and basically went “Shrug emoji, I’m gonna go smuggle some more, you keep being a general”? It works with Kylo Ren, but if everyone in this new group of characters has the same backstory, that’s going to bum me out.
Speaking of things that bum me out and Luke Skywalker, I was disappointed by how little we saw of Mark Hamill in this movie. Sure, the whole movie is about him and his disappearance, but the “hunt” for Skywalker gets almost completely forgotten in the third act while the heroes make their desperate raid on the Death Star — whoops, sorry, Starkiller Base. Honestly, I was really worried they were going to leave Luke’s whereabouts as the cliffhanger for Episode VIII (which certainly would have made sense, given how little Hamill was in all the Force Awakens trailers). Thankfully, R2D2 magically and inexplicably wakes from his robo-coma at the perfect time and provides the crucial information everyone’s been looking for the entire movie. (Talk about a deus ex machina!) Rey is finally able to track down Luke and present him with a lightsaber.
It’s a great visual, but it did feel kind of anticlimactic to me. You spend the whole movie looking for this guy and then he doesn’t even get to say a single line? Sure, this is all setup for Episode VIII and its full impact and meaning won’t be known for several years. But as the payoff to just this movie, it was underwhelming.
I’ve got one more big question for you, Mike. How the hell did Rey get so good at the Force without any training? At least Luke had Obi-Wan to give him a little lightsaber training on the Millennium Falcon, and even after he spent some time with him, he still had to go spend weeks with Yoda on Dagobah before he could even lift a crate with his mind. Rey doesn’t even know the Force exists before she meets Han Solo (who is definitely unqualified to train her) and then suddenly she’s using the Jedi Mind Trick and then holding her own in a lightsaber battle with Kylo Ren, who’s been trained by Luke Skywalker. What gives? Did this bother you as much as it bothered me?
Mike: I see what you’re saying, but it didn’t bother me as much. Yes, it seems weird that she knows that the Jedi Mind Trick is a thing without having any other real knowledge of the Force, but she was trapped and being tortured, and she had just used her powers to see into someone else’s mind. It’s not a huge stretch to think she would, in a desperate state, attempt to get into someone else’s mind and convince them to do something.
She certainly seems advanced for a someone with zero training, but in my mind, that just opened up some questions I assume they’ll answer in Episode VIII. She’s extremely powerful and, from what we’ve seen at this point, far more so than Luke was at this point. Does this mean she’s the child of two Jedis? Is there another female Jedi we didn’t know about? Where is she know? Did Kylo Ren kill Luke’s wife?
I think the more likely explanation is that J.J. Abrams wanted to have his female heroine kick some ass in this movie and didn’t want to have to wait until Star Wars: Episode VIII for that payoff. And, frankly, seeing Rey snatch that lightsaber out of the snow (another not-so-subtle Skywalker reference) was a pretty badass moment. Whether it worked in the context of what we know about her character is another matter.
Unfortunately we won’t get the answer to any of those questions about Rey’s life before Jakku until Episode VIII, which by my count, is still over 500 days away. That certainly leaves us plenty of more time to continue speculating.