(This may or may not contain spoilers for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — this is a speculative post, so we don’t really know if anything contained within will happen, but it could happen. So if you’re the sort of person who is averse to spoilers, you should probably steer clear.
Look, OK, we understand that you’re probably a fan of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” You’re allowed to have your own taste in movies — what you like is what you like.
But for us, whenever we watch it again we can’t help but see more and more cracks. The thing is a great big mess that feels oddly patched together, giving off a vibe very similar to the one that we got from another recent movie: “Justice League.” Scenes don’t make sense next to each other, character development is basically nonexistent, and the whole thing just reeks of “what can we jam in here to remind viewers of ‘Star Wars’ movies that people already like?”
So it’s tough to watch, and we have watched this thing way too many times. But while we’ve long been tempted to adopt a nihilistic view of “The Force Awakens,” the possibility that “The Last Jedi” could somehow recontextualize it enough to make it watchable has always nagged at us in the back of our minds. So as we approach the moment of truth, we feel like it’s a great time to fully hash that out. Yes, it’s way too late for this to be considered an advice column since “The Last Jedi” has been in the can for a while now, but it’ll be nice to go ahead and have this out before we see the movie in a few days. There’s only so much it can do, of course — you can’t really retcon all the disjointing plotting and awkward edits that “The Force Awakens” sported.
Still, it’s worth a shot. So without further ado, here’s our list of items that, should they occur in “The Last Jedi,” would go a long way toward retroactively improving the fatally flawed “The Force Awakens.”
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Explain what the deal is with Rey’s Force capabilities
When “The Force Awakens” was first released, it kicked off some arguments among audiences about Rey’s Force abilities. Many questioned how Rey (Daisy Ridley) could suddenly be great at the Force, as well as a physical kicker of butts, and others responded by seeing that as a sexist take. Luke (Mark Hamill), after all, was able to do quite a bit just by being Force-sensitive, without any training — like take down the entire Death Star.
On the other hand, Luke was already a good pilot before all that stuff happened, and he was using the Force in a very casual way, as a sort of intuition. Had Rey been put in a similar situation — say, having to face Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in starfighter combat using the Force as a sort of subconscious intuition to bolster her abilities — that would have been one thing because, like Luke, being a pilot is Rey’s main thing. But using a lightsaber and the Force was not, since she’d never done either before.
So it’s not wrong to say that Rey jumped way up the learning curve by flexing serious Force muscles right out of the gate — given that she really had no point of reference for what the Force even was! — and “The Last Jedi” needs to spend some time showing us what’s up with her. She’s more powerful than Luke and more talented than Kylo Ren, it seems, so lets figure out why that is — and what her seemingly immense power means in the greater scheme of what the Force is.
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We see two ways that this can be handled — or they could even be combined into one.
The first would be to have a reveal that Rey was previously a student at Luke’s Jedi academy before it was destroyed by Kylo Ren and his followers. Rey could be the only surviving student who didn’t fall to the dark side, or she may even have turned alongside Ren and then been captured by Luke. In either situation, Luke wipes her memories and dumps her on Jakku, far away from Force teachings and the possibility of being a force for evil like Kylo Ren has become. This part bears some further discussion, so we have an entire other post talking about it at length that you can read here.
The other idea would have it demonstrate that in order to beat Kylo Ren, Rey drew on the power of the dark side of the Force. This would be in line with the philosophy of the original trilogy, in which the theme of the story is basically that power corrupts — and that without proper training and an understanding of how to wield his power, Luke ruan the risk of being overcome by it. Yoda’s concern was that Luke would give in to his anger and uses it, essentially, as a shortcut to the power he needs to save his friends. When his emotions control him and not the other way around, Luke is vulnerable to the same thinking as Vader — that the ends justify the means, and that cruelty is okay if you think you’re still trying to do good. So pivotal was the discussion of anger and hatred to “Star Wars” that it becomes the finale of “Return of the Jedi,” when Luke throws away his lightsaber and basically resolves to die, rather than kill Vader in anger.
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The big lightsaber fight in “The Force Awakens” sees Rey going up against Kylo Ren after only recently starting to become aware of her connection to the Force. She wins the battle after watching Ren nearly kill Finn and after watching him execute Han Solo. It’s fair to say that anger is fueling her in the fight. Losing yourself to anger was the entire threat to Luke in “The Empire Strikes Back,” but “The Force Awakens” basically forgets about that. So “The Last Jedi” could help explain Rey’s sudden power by bringing back this particular long-established idea about the Force.
Give Luke Skywalker a much better reason for disappearing
Probably the biggest issue with “The Force Awakens” is that, in trying to wipe the slate clean to introduce and pass the “Star Wars” torch to new characters, it does a rush job of pushing Luke and Han out of the way. When Ben Solo, also known as Kylo Ren, fell to the Dark Side while under Luke’s tutelage, he apparently bailed on everyone and went in search of the first Jedi temple — we say “apparently” because Han just offhandedly says he “thinks” that’s why Luke ran away and nobody else talks about that again. Shortly thereafter, Han took off on his wife, the Republic he’d helped found and the Resistance one assumes he would have helped lead, in order to go be a middling thief, smuggler and con artist.
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Neither of those events feels especially in character for Han or Luke, two heroic characters we saw grow and change over the course of three films. Han’s arc in the original trilogy turned him from the guy who only looks out for himself into a devoted friend, willing to die for his pals. Luke’s sense of duty and friendship was so strong, he basically marched into the Death Star II fully intending to distract the Emperor and Darth Vader long enough that his friends in the Rebel Alliance could blow the space station up — it was a suicide mission. It really doesn’t feel in keeping with Luke’s willingness to die to redeem his father or save his friends that he’d up and leave when things were at their darkest. “The Last Jedi” doesn’t just need to explain why Luke left with some Jedi mumbo-jumbo, it has to provide Luke a reason so compelling that it upends three movies of character development.
Let’s get some flashbacks of what Finn’s stormtrooper life was actually like
There’s two moments with Finn (John Boyega) in “The Force Awakens” that feel bizarrely out of context, and that’s the pair of moments in which members of the First Order call him a traitor like he’s supposed to feel guilty about it. Nevermind that the First Order is not given any sort of ideology, period, that might explain why anyone follows it to begin with — Finn’s story as we know it is that he was taken from his family as a baby and forced into service essentially as a slave soldier.
We don’t know if he had any friends, we don’t know what his feelings in general about the First Order were. His motivation for defecting, as presented in the film, was basically just that he wanted to save himself, rather than having any sort of “these guys are evil and need to be stopped” ideals. So we need to know more about Finn’s previous life, and provide any sort of reason why it would bother him when First Order people scream “Traitor!” at him.
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Flesh out the First Order
Speaking of which — as it currently stands, the First Order is a less-interesting version of the original Galactic Empire. It’s true the original “Star Wars” trilogy didn’t do too terribly much to give the Empire a backstory — it was mostly just a fascist organization that wanted more and more power and control in the galaxy. But they were space fascists, at the very least, and George Lucas doubled back in the prequel trilogy to give a look at how they ended up that way: They embraced fascism as a response to a powerful, dangerous enemy and years of disastrous warfare. Once the Empire was in power, it was mostly concerned with staying in power, and that’s what the original trilogy ends up being about.
The First Order, on the other hand, isn’t even really in control of anything. It’s an evil military force running around killing people for no discernible reason that has yet been presented. It’s not fighting against an insurgent enemy, it’s fighting to gain something, apparently. To get people to follow you and to risk their lives, you need to have a pretty clear ideology for them to get behind. There’s a moment in “The Force Awakens” that almost hints at one, when General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) gives a speech about the “lying” Republic, before wiping it out using the Starkiller Base. And Kylo Ren calls Rey’s Resistance buddies thieves and murderers. So there’s a hint that the First Order at least potentially believing not only that they’re the good guys, but that they are fighting something they perceive as “bad” in the galaxy. What is it? We have no idea — but if “The Last Jedi” were to tell us, it would go a long way to making the First Order seem like something other than just a bunch of generic bad guys.
Dive deep into Kylo Ren’s psyche
Along the same lines as fleshing out the First Order, we could really stand to spend some time with Kylo Ren and figure out what he’s all about. “The Force Awakens” suggests he’s a Vader fanboy, taken with the Dark Side but struggling with the pull of the Light Side and, apparently, caring about his family. But we have no idea what his motivations are. He’s somewhat obsessive about finding Luke Skywalker but we don’t know why. We don’t know why Ren has thrown in with Supreme Leader Snoke, or believes in him so wholeheartedly. We don’t know what Ren wants to accomplish or why power is important to him.
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Lucas created an entire prequel trilogy to explain the motivations of Darth Vader. He embraced fascism more or less in order to force peace on the galaxy. Vader saw the Dark Side and being evil as a means toward an ultimate good — protecting the galaxy and the people in it from themselves. It’s telling that Palpatine ultimately gets Vader to fall by offering him a means to save his loved ones from death. But so far, we have no idea what Kylo Ren actually wants. He’s just evil for the sake of evil right now, it seems, and that doesn’t make him particularly interesting.
Explain what happened to Poe Dameron after the crash on Jakku
There’s a weird moment in one of the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the home video release of “The Force Awakens” in which the actor who plays Poe, Oscar Isaac, says that Poe was supposed to die when he and Finn crashed on Jakku. But then Isaac describes director JJ Abrams telling him excitedly during production that they’d found some way to adjust the story to keep him alive — but whatever they did wasn’t actually in the movie because Poe simply shows up later and provides no explanation. It’s just a weird inexplicable plot hole right now that bears some explanation.
Explain why Han and Leia named their kid after a guy Leia had never met and Han knew for maybe a day
Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben Solo, after the alias Obi-Wan used in hiding (“old Ben Kenobi”). Now, Ben would be a perfectly apt name for Luke’s kid, because Obi-Wan was probably the single most important person in Luke’s life from the moment he was born. Obi-Wan did, after all, live on Tatooine for decades to make sure Luke stayed safe, and then started him off on his hero’s journey and helped keep him on the path even after he died.
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Any attachment Han (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) might have for Obi-Wan is purely by proxy, though, and generally people don’t name their kids after people that the people they care about cared about but whom they themselve do not have any particular affection for. If I ever have kids I’m definitely not gonna name them after whatever mentor figures my sisters might have — I’d pick a name that has some meaning to me or the mother. There’s surely some kind of explanation to be had for this, even if there wasn’t one when the name was chosen.
Explain R2-D2’s a droid coma (and have it mean something)
My favorite moment in “The Force Awakens” (I’m using “favorite” sarcastically there) is when R2, who has apparently sat dormant in the Resistance base for years, randomly wakes up at the exact right moment to help find Luke. There’s any number of things we can infer about what happened there, but we shouldn’t have to make guesses. There needs to be some kind of substantial explanation for what happened there.
Make a joke about tentacle monsters but not actually have one
We’ve gotten two new movies in the Disney era of “Star Wars” and each one featured completely superfluous tentacle monsters that could have been cut without altering the overall plot much, if at all. So I need some kind of self-referential joke about this and a fourth wall-breaking joke about how they won’t do that anymore.