Spoilers ahead! Turn back if you haven’t seen the movie!
It has taken almost 24 hours for The Force Awakens to sink in. Having absorbed and processed it, I can now say that I don’t think we would have gotten this movie had the prequels not been so…half-baked, so not quite right.
And that is not a condemnation. I felt betrayed by the prequels and I know other people did as well. No matter what, that feeling of betrayal sticks to Star Wars now, like a ghost. The makers of The Force Awakens chose to use those built-in emotions rather than ignoring or denying them: by doing so, I believe they crafted a heartbreakingly beautiful story. It’s painful, but oh, is it beautiful.
It’s like Kylo…Ben…is the prequel trilogy: obsessed with the wrong Skywalker. He’s convinced, as George Lucas was, that Anakin was the hero of the story and that belief has led him into the most vile of betrayals.
Before the bridge scene, I watched Han and thought, “He’s trying too hard.” At the time, I thought I was referring to JJ Abrams. Now I realize it was Han–and no wonder. When your hopes and dreams have been crushed so cruelly, of course you’d try too hard. He’s trying to go back into his old life–to be once again the Han Solo from Episode 4. But he’s grown too much since then, grown in joy and grief, to disappear into the selfish rascal. Truly, that scene on the bridge has to be one of the most painful things I have ever watched…but also one of the best bits of storytelling that I’ve ever seen.
I’ve never seen Kylo Ren be anything other than Kylo Ren, monster and murderer…and yet…on that bridge, I saw Ben Solo. I saw him in the spaces between the words; I saw him, reflected in the pain and love on Han’s face. I saw him and oh, how I wanted him to return…this person I’ve never met. I saw the good man’s son.
And then the light fades, the last rays of that sun extinguished and I saw the good man’s son commit evil…saw him become evil…and yet…
And yet, in the most vile of betrayals, I saw the purest love. In the blackest darkness, I saw the brightest light. A sad smile, a gentle touch. You can’t erase good, even if you kill it. Han dies forgiving his son, not blaming his wife or his friend for what has gone wrong. He forgives. His body might fall, but his spirit rises above. Good and love and loyalty…they are eternal, a Phoenix flame that is reborn again and again.
The same eyes in different people, as it were.
It is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen…The Force Awakens is truly a story told almost completely in the subtext. The spoken words are but the echoes of the true drama; the frenzied action but the quiet murmur of the true struggle. I actually kept losing track of the physical action, I was caught up in the storm of emotions. Besides the bridge scene, three other moments stand out to me as the best distillation of the story.
A man with the birthright summons a lightsaber, but it won’t come to him. It sits quietly in the snow, in condemnation and mourning. You have been judged and found wanting. Good was your birthright and you turned away from it. You are not worthy to carry the weapon of Luke Skywalker. That legacy will pass to another.
BB-8 bumps a still R2-D2 and at first you think it’s a friendly hello. Then, he keeps insistently nudging him and you realize it’s something so much more bittersweet. It’s not “Hello”, it’s “Please wake up. Please wake up, my hero.”
Rey holds out the lightsaber to Luke as a musical score builds to an understated climax. That last moment is a question–a question and a challenge. A double-edged question at that. “Are you who I believe you to be? Will you be my teacher? Am I worthy of your legacy?”
In a meta-contextual way, it’s a challenge to Star Wars itself…by Star Wars.
Who is Luke Skywalker? What is Star Wars? Who are any of us?
Begin again. Chose again. Believe again.