When I first fell in love with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, at a morning screening with my husband on Christmas Eve 2015, I wasn’t ready to blog about it. The reason is obvious: everybody else was writing about it. For a while it seemed as if anyone with even a glancing interest in pop or geek culture had something to say about it. Many called it a return to glorious form for the Star Wars franchise; others called it a mediocre rehash of the first film. Many praised the movie for putting a female lead character front and center, while others dismissed the character as a “Mary Sue.” With all the back-and-forthing, I wasn’t sure I could find anything to say that wasn’t already being said.
Well, now the hype has died down, and my husband and I just rewatched the movie on Blu-Ray so it’s fresh in my memory once again. I’m ready to put in my two cents, even if it’s been said before. Just what do I love about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens?
1. Rey. Big shocker, right?
A subset of Star Wars fans have been suggesting that this heroine could, and even should, venture into the Dark Side in subsequent movies, as if a villainess is somehow more welcome and believable than a magnificent light-saber-wielding female Jedi on the side of the Light. (After all, we’ve already seen so many of the latter. *sarcasm*) If the franchise really wants to lose me forever, this is what will happen with Rey. But I’m assured it’s at least highly unlikely, because the first trait we see her exhibit is one that Anakin Skywalker, the series’ template for Fallen Hero, never really displays in the prequels: kindness. I’ve read that our hearts are measured by how we treat those who can do nothing for us, and Rey’s first noteworthy act is to save the lost droid BB-8 from a vicious trader who wants to sell him for parts. She has no reason to think she’ll profit from this rescue, but she does it because it’s the right thing to do. She may try to dissuade him from following her, but droids in the Star Wars universe are often shrewd judges of character, and BB-8 knows he has found a good-hearted and loyal protector in Rey. Even with all the awesome things she does later in the film, this sign of a big heart impresses me most.
2. Maz Katana.
Since their beginning, the Star Wars films have featured some weird and wonderful nonhumans, from droids to Wookiees to Hutts. But how many of them, until this film, have been female? Luke Skywalker’s Tauntaun? The Twi’lek dancer devoured by Jabba the Hutt’s pet monster? They’re so short-lived they really shouldn’t count. All the rest have been male. But now we have the small, wizened, crafty but wise Maz Katana. Though her screen time is brief, Maz fills the mentor role that female characters in sci-fi and fantasy get to play all too rarely, dispensing sound advice to Rey, Finn, and even Han Solo. Yet despite her size, she comes across as someone who could totally kick the butt of anyone who crossed her. One of my favorite things about her is that she could have been written as male. She just happens to be female. Beautiful.
Many of the same critics who dubbed Rey a “Mary Sue” also decried Finn for being a “weakling” who gets knocked out at the climax — as if that were all he does. But how weak is he, really, when he chooses to abandon the only life he’s ever known in order to do the right thing, when he has no idea how that choice will turn out? How weak is he, when he knows darn well he’s not powerful enough to defeat Kylo Ren, but he chooses to challenge him anyway? True, he’s tempted to flee to safety at certain points (as well he might be, when he knows better than anyone what the villainous First Order is capable of), but the more frightened he is, the braver he shows himself to be when he stands with his friends. He could run away. But he doesn’t. That’s awesome. (Also, it’s through him we learn there are people under those Stormtrooper helmets. To me that makes them a lot more interesting than a troop of soulless clones could ever be.)
4. Diversity in tertiary characters.
Who we see in the background matters, and in this movie we see plenty of male and female, white and non-white, human and nonhuman, among the Resistance, the First Order, and barkeep Maz’s clientele. We didn’t see anything quite like this in the original trilogy or the prequels. I’m calling it progress.
5. The return of Han Solo.
I’m not sure what more I can say on this point, other than Harrison Ford still has it. He may look older and more weather-beaten, but his tough, roguish voice has hardly changed at all.
6. Leia’s title upgrade.
“Princess” is a title a woman is given rather than one she earns, a title linked to gender, and a title somewhat at odds with our concepts of badassery. But “General” — now that’s a badass word, one that speaks of achievement, one that a man or a woman could earn. Thankfully, we don’t just hear Leia being called “General”; we also see her acting as one, exercising authority with grit and wisdom. Considering all the problematic depictions of women in charge that persistently pop up in all genres of fiction, it’s a pleasure to see a female leader portrayed as competent, respected, and good-natured, even if she would have benefited from just a bit more screen time. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in the sequels.
With The Force Awakens, Star Wars has returned in strength. Now I just have to cross my fingers in hope that they can keep it up.