When I was 7 years old, I had my first crush. A blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with questionable parentage and an unusual affinity for bulls-eyeing womp rats managed to make me blush and go starry-eyed (pun intended). Luke Skywalker was the love of my 7-year-old life, and I never managed to develop everyone else’s infatuation with the bad boy scoundrels like Han Solo. I thought he was mean and didn’t like how he talked to people. He did have the coolest ship, though…
****SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT****SERIOUSLY DON’T DO IT TO YOURSELF****
…Which was why, sitting in a dark theatre amongst a bunch of strangers, I was hopping up and down and squealing in my seat like a 7-year-old as Rey took the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and handled it — dare I say it? — better than Han Solo did in the original films. I will fight anyone who tries to argue that any of Han’s admittedly creative maneuvers could top the upside-down flip inside a planet’s atmosphere, lining up the perfect shot for her bumbling, inexperienced gunner with a disabled cannon.
For a lifelong female sci-fi nerd to finally have the kind of role model even little boys would think was cool and not just sexy in a metal bikini was earth-shattering (yep, pun intended there, too. Get used to it). Princess Leia, bada** that she was, never took the cockpit, at least not in memorable combat situations. All of the female pilots in the original trilogy, most notably those on the famous Death Star tunnel run in A New Hope, were cut out during the editing process. This time ‘round, JJ Abrams remembered and gave us a female Resistance pilot. He gave us Rey, a girl skillfully piloting the iconic ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (not 14, sheesh) and healed a hurt I had not fully realized existed. Representation matters, and Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens did so with flying colors, without being overtly preachy or political.
In a sly middle finger to the idiot bigots complaining about a major character being black, Finn (John Boyega) throws out the line, “This is what we [the Resistance] look like. Some of us. Some of us look different.” Within the context of the film, it’s ironic humour, considering it’s clear that he will end up joining the Resistance eventually. After several years of hype for the film, this line gleefully calls out people questioning the presence of a black face in a major role for a historically white film franchise.
Poe Dameron, the hot-shot yet down-to-earth “best pilot in the Resistance” (until Rey came along, that is) was played by the half-Guatemalan, half-Cuban Oscar Isaac, giving Latinx viewers a refreshingly real character to relate to who wasn’t a vomit-inducing Rico Suave caricature.
Maz, the 1,000+ year-old bar owner/sage eyes of wisdom (who also somehow had Anakin/Luke’s original lightsaber), was played by none other than prominent intersectional feminist voice, Lupita Nyong’o.
Alternative Universe, Alternative Politics
JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan created a Star Wars universe in which women were accepted as leaders without question (I see you, Captain Phasma. I SEE YOU) and nonwhite characters exist alongside the various alien species as humans, with no direct mention of their ethnic backgrounds — because it doesn’t matter in this universe. The film isn’t overtly preachy with its politics, because leadership and skill are characters’ principle attributes, not their race or gender.
Here and there, a sly jab at the various bigoted a**holes criticizing casting can be found: the black main character stating, “This is what we look like,” Rey’s scornful “We HAVE a pilot!” in response to Finn’s panicked assumption that the demonstrably capable woman in front of him couldn’t pilot, the several-times fulfilled Bechdel test. Politics did not take a central role in the film, but they were clear to those who were looking and subtle enough for many of those bigoted a**holes to overlook.
Prequels? What Prequels?
Perhaps the most genius move by Abrams and Kasdan was the dedication to preserving those famously recurring motifs while managing to keep the film fresh. The orphan dreamer on a desert planet who loves flying and meets a droid carrying information from a high-ranking resistance fighter captured by the primary antagonist was instantaneously familiar, as was the escape from said desert planet in the Millenium Falcon, hiding in the ship’s smuggling compartments after being captured, the person dressed as a Stormtrooper rescuing the resistance fighter from a detention cell, and the X-Wing tunnel run to hit a small target on a planet-sized space station capable of destroying planets.
The lightsaber stuck in the snow during the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey was an elegantly executed call-back to Luke’s capture on Hoth by the wampa at the beginning of Empire, and the image of someone falling into an abyss after a lightsaber fight was a heart-wrenchingly nostalgic one.
Furthermore, Abrams and Kasdan thematically linked the original films with the newest in the continued cycle of contentious father-son relationships hinging on joining opposing sides of the Force. Kylo Ren being Leia and Han’s son, rather than Luke’s, creates enough distance from Darth Vader to avoid being cheesily epic, while still preserving the connection to the First Family of Force-users. This balance gives the new series a sense of freshness while managing to maintain its weight and its cred with lifelong fans.
World War II and The First Order
In further links to the original trilogy, the First Order, like the Empire, strongly mirrors the Third Reich in appearance and ideology. The costumes for officers of the First Order are clearly modeled after Nazi uniforms — at one point General Hux is shown wearing jodhpurs and tall black boots, for crying out loud. General Hux himself could not more obviously be a caricature of Hitler himself, particularly in the scene where the battle station is first shown to be operational. Standing before several battalions of Stormtroopers and officers, giving a speech about the glory of the First Order in front of huge red flags with increasingly impassioned fervor before committing genocide was a connection that had to be intentional, especially when the battalions salute with one hand in the air. The stark black and white color scheme of the scene recalls the black and white film reels of Nazi rallies, and even the composition of the shots themselves are remarkably similar to those of Nazi documentarian Leni Riefenstahl. The pseudo-fascist tendencies take a turn for the dystopian when Captain Phasma mentions that Finn had shown “no prior signs of nonconformity,” giving us the implication that conformity is not only expected, but instilled.
JJ Abrams – The Ultimate Fanboy
Several Easter eggs for hardcore fans could be found throughout the film, and were highly appreciated by this one. The new Death Star was called the Starkiller base – a clever nod to the original surname of the Skywalker clan before producers convinced George Lucas that the name was too violent for a kid-friendly hero. When Rey and Finn first board the Millennium Falcon, Finn rifles through junk on the ship, tossing aside none other than the Force-training ball Obi-Wan used to tutor Luke after their escape from Tatooine. He also manages to briefly switch on the game R2-D2 and Chewbacca played during that training session. This attention to detail is clear pandering, but smartly done and as such is adored by the fans devoted enough to recognize them.
Continuity Through Timelines
In yet another genius move by Abrams and the writing/design teams, several details establish continuity along the timeline of the Star Wars universe. After realizing that they are up against Jedi with lightsabers, the First Order develops weapon extensions for Stormtroopers that can stand a chance. Kylo Ren, in his devotion to his grandfather, has a ship modeled similarly to Darth Vader’s lander in Return of the Jedi in addition to his classic red lightsaber. The interior of the Starkiller base even bears remarkable resemblance to that of the original Death Star.
We are what we wear, and the costumes visually defined character’s roles where dialogue may not have. Rey’s costume is eerily similar to Jedi robes before she is even revealed to be a Force-user, and she’s still smoking hot in a comfortable and functional wardrobe – a rare combination in female sci-fi and fantasy costuming. I don’t have to expound upon the parallels between Darth Vader’s and Kylo Ren’s costumes, especially considering the latter quite literally wants to be the former.
As a lifelong fan born too late to see the original trilogy in theatres and too disappointed with the prequels to feel anything when they were in theatres, to see Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens on the big screen was the long-awaited, never-expected joy 7-year-old me would have cried to know could exist (and yes, I cried in the theatre. Both times. In less than 24 hours). For heathens non-fans, the film will still be an action-packed space adventure that the whole family (including the parents) can enjoy. For fans, however, the sweeping score, beautiful cinematography, epic fights, and just-the-right-amount of camp will leave you feeling, perhaps, the way audiences did as they left that fateful screening in 1977. The magic of Star Wars is alive and well again. Go see it, and may the Force be with you.