Watching the initial public reaction – from fans as well as professional critics – to The Force Awakens was fascinating to me. I was more fascinated with how my opinion of the film has evolved from first viewing.
Something just seemed missing for me from an otherwise entertaining and well-crafted film. I admit, I am an unconditional Star Wars fan. If it’s in the canon, I’ll accept it. My “first-draft” reaction to TFA could be summed up like this: The characters were likable, the actors did a strong job of acting, but the story felt gap-filled and lazy. Too much a copy of ANH.
In the 13 months since then, my thoughts on Episode 7 can be summed up like this: It should have been Episode 8.
Allow me to explain.
The easiest way to break this down is to lay out what we saw in TFA and what we didn’t see. I contend that what we didn’t see would make for a compelling and action-packed episode to kick off a new trilogy. One that resonates better, frankly, than TFA did for its place in the sequel trilogy.
Let’s break down TFA into sections of what we didn’t see, and I feel these points of what wasn’t seen, when strung together, make for a very compelling film.
• Kylo Ren’s rise in the Force and fall to the dark side
• The parallel evolutions of the First Order as well as the Resistance, as born from the New Republic
• Han and Leia’s estrangement and the various paths they took
• Luke training Jedi, and those trainees being wiped out by Kylo Ren, then Luke’s decision to go into exile
• Finn’s stormtrooper training, leading up to his decision to defect
WHAT WE SAW: Kylo Ren’s rise in the Force and fall to the dark side
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: When TFA starts, Ren is already a fully grown individual, steeped in the dark side, carrying out the First Order’s bidding. How did he get to where he is when TFA starts? Even without his parentage, the origin of this black-cloaked menace is significant for how the ST plays out.
But, given his parentage, and time training with Luke, Ren’s story is captivating on-screen. In my head, I see some of Rey’s vision unfolding in this sequence.
WHAT WE SAW: The parallel evolutions of the First Order as well as the Resistance, as born from the New Republic
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: Various books have referenced that after Return of the Jedi, a Galactic Concordance was signed, signaling peace between the Empire and the New Republic. At some point a splinter cell of the old Empire broke off, evolved, and grew in power and numbers. What was the turning point? What role did Snoke play (never mind Snoke’s origin). Likewise, how did the New Republic atrophy to the point where a Resistance movement was necessary? This last point is covered in the Leia novel “Bloodline,” though it could also translate effectively to the big screen.
WHAT WE SAW: Han and Leia’s estrangement and the various paths they took
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: Maddeningly hinted at, but not directly addressed in “Bloodline,” was how the Han-Leia relationship blossomed, then dissolved. Granted, to fully tell this story would require a lot more “in-universe” time than Star Wars films usually take up. I think I remember Pablo saying Revenge of the Sith took place over 9 days, as an example. But as invested as we are in these two characters and this relationship, plus the added element of Kylo Ren’s birth and growth, would also keep us transfixed.
WHAT WE SAW: Luke training Jedi, and those trainees being wiped out by Kylo Ren, then Luke’s decision to go into exile
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: For my money, no part of TFA “left blank” is more significant than this. Luke is obviously the central figure in the saga (along with Vader) and his story is what made fans of my generation so hooked to this franchise. We’ve all played out in our heads over the past 30-plus years, what became of Luke after that celebration bonfire in the Ewok Village.
Jump ahead a bit in time. Luke is that seasoned, polished Jedi Master we’ve all imagined. We can see him in the role of mentor. What parts of Yoda and Obi-Wan does he integrate into his style? What parts does he reject? Does he relax any of the old Jedi regulations? Does he pay particular attention to Kylo, being his nephew? Does Kylo pay particular respect (or disrespect) to Luke because of that familial relationship? How does it play out? What’s Ren’s first act of disobedience? How does Luke react? This drama can sustain itself very easily on the screen.
WHAT WE SAW: Finn’s stormtrooper training, leading up to his decision to defect
WHAT WE DIDN’T SEE: This bit can easily be integrated into a couple of the aforementioned spots. The creation of the First Order could be paralleled by the recruitment and training of Finn. He’s the hero I had the most trouble attaching myself to, because he rushes into the Jakku village, and 2 minutes later, decides to peace-out the First Order. Surely seeds of that eventual defection had to be planted within him before that raid. TFA falls short in this area for Finn as a character. George Lucas explained Luke’s appeal by saying that a storyteller had to help the audience “invest in his struggle.” We just aren’t afforded time in TFA to see Finn’s struggle. Could he be a more complete character if we saw more of his backstory?
A much more skilled editor than I could put together the aforementioned sequences and put together a terrific version of Episode 7. Then make Episode 7 Episode 8, then Episode 9 resolves all of these issues.
How I invalidate all of this: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were all too old to accurately portray their respective characters in this kind of action.
How I would have validated my invalidation: In 1999, 2002 and 2005 we would have gotten Episode 7, 8 and 9. Ford, Hamill and Fisher could have given more dynamic performances given their ages. Then, starting in 2015, we start the prequel trilogy with a new cast, new directors, etc.
Feel free to agree or disagree as you will.