Which performances, either from the new actors or those returning, stood out to you — positively or negatively?
Tyler: For better or worse, I thought the performances met the needs of their roles. Ridley delivered as the franchise’s new hero. Isaac is clearly having a blast as Poe Dameron and it shines through his performance. Boyega does a fine job as well. I also thought Harrison Ford gave a great swan song performance as Han Solo that’s up there with his performance in Empire. Fisher was fine as General Organa, but it felt more like Carrie Fisher in the role than Leia herself.
The only performance that I’m conflicted about is Driver as Kylo Ren. There were times, particularly when the mask was off, that I couldn’t tell if some of his choices were from his character’s internal conflict or if it was just a wooden performance. Driver is a good actor and I like him on Girls as well as earlier this year in While We’re Young, but I’ll need to see the film again to make a full decision on his performance.
Tim: Ford brought it as Solo, especially because you knew he had been wanting to do a final film for the character as far back as Jedi, so you had to believe he was ready to truly have a farewell performance. It was nice to see him slide back into the role like it was nothing (along with having much better material to work with than in The Indiana Jones Movie That Shall Not Be Named) and he basically carried the film this time around.
I get why people weren’t a big fan of Driver’s performance (especially once he took the mask off), but he’s not supposed to be menacing. He’s supposed to be a petulant man-child who thinks he’s a Dark Jedi Master but is a puppet for a bigger cause. I’m happy they actually went that way, too. Conflicted villains are much more appealing to me. Although Vader’s slow realization of his light-side upbringing over the course of the trilogy turned out to be a major part of the original films. I’m intrigued to see what direction they go with Kylo, though.
What did you think of Han Solo’s death, both as a piece of story and the way Abrams executed the scene?
Tyler: Given what we know about Ford’s feelings on being a part of the series as it went on and that the scene was very reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificing himself on the first Death Star, I wasn’t surprised that Kylo Ren killed him. If anything, I was happy that they didn’t convert Kylo, as one of the biggest mistakes of the prequels was killing Darth Maul in the first film. I think the series will incorporate the stakes of a main character’s death by killing off veterans to avoid killing off new characters. I thought it was fitting for the series and well-acted, providing the intended emotional weight.
Jeremy: I had a feeling going in that Solo wasn’t going to make it through to the end. It was also fitting with his son needing something to break free from the light side, similar to Luke needing to kill either the Emperor or Vader in Return of the Jedi. Ford’s performance as Solo left me wondering if he’ll get an Oscar nomination since the Academy regularly rewards older actors with Best Supporting Actor nominations.
Tim: It shocked me that they actually did it (although it was completely telegraphed), but if you were going to Obi-Wan someone, you might as well have done it with the guy who wanted his character dead in the first place. It was good that it was a noble death, but it did rob us of a truly heart-warming Leia/Han reunion, outside of a single warm embrace. Of course, this is Star Wars, so Han will be there in flashbacks or something like a flashback. But at the same time, it’s killing off one of the most iconic characters of all time. It’s still sad, but added a layer to Kylo/Ben that should bode well in the future installments.
One quality of The Force Awakens unique from other entries in the saga is the number of unanswered questions. The series is no stranger to cliffhangers — i.e. the end of Empire — but none of the films have ever ended missing information like how Rey is able to use the Force so well when she seemingly never had any training. What did you think about this new quality for the franchise? Which of these questions stood out to you the most?
Tyler: The unanswered questions definitely took me off guard. Say what you will about the prequels, but all of them were complete movies like the original trilogy. I mentioned my questions about Finn’s motivations, but also found myself wondering about the state of the Republic’s political structure. Where does the Resistance fit in? What about the First Order? Where do they get their resources? I definitely see the irony since the prequels spent too much time answering such questions, but I would have liked a happy medium.
The only other major question I have is Rey’s strong Force connection, along with her ability to harness it to convince a Stormtrooper to let her go or grab a lightsaber from the snow. Neither questions bothered me during the film and I have faith the sequels are going to answer these in due time.
Jeremy: Because I know that we’ll have three films to answer the “Who is Rey?” question, I was all right with not knowing the answer right away. It was a nice set-up for what will inevitably be Rey training with Luke in Episode VIII, and both(?) of them working to take down Kylo Ren and the First Order.
I thought the Resistance was a guerilla group inside of First Order territory that is being funded by the Republic (Hux makes a reference to this, I think), working to finally topple the remaining elements of the Empire that formed the First Order. I was wondering why Leia was in charge of this resistance, but she does make a reference to Ben Solo’s transformation into Kylo Ren for leading her and Han back to the only things they did well. Smuggling for him, and leading rebellions for her.
Tim: This is the best part about the film being over. Now that Abrams has written his love song to the original trilogy, it’s time for this to build a story that has a chance to firmly entrench itself as its own beast. I think you’ll see the references decrease, but now that all the major characters are involved, filling in the backstories of the last 30 years becomes the most paramount pieces of material the other two films can dive into. It’s an interesting dichotomy, but at the same time, if they want this to be Empire, they’ll have to really make this film feel different than the first.
It’s pretty easy to see that Rey has been a huge fan of Luke Skywalker basically her entire life. The AT-AT she lives in, with the helmet and the homemade doll, all offer a foundation of her wanting to believe in the Force. So when the hints unfold throughout, with the map to Luke’s whereabouts and Solo confirming the Force exists, they all lead to her finally realizing she is Force-attuned when Kylo tries to get into her head. This is where I get to call “Mary Sue” BS on Max Landis, blue-checked Twitter nerd “expert.” The realization that Rey can do stuff with the Force makes her IMMEDIATELY compelling, considering she has been hoping she could do it basically as long as she could remember. Self-realization, especially from a FEMALE LEAD, is one of the most important character traits in the history of film.
The “controversy” over Rey being this idealized “Mary Sue” is being blown up because Rey did this of her own volition instead of being taught by someone, as Luke had with Obi-Wan in A New Hope or Anakin had in Qui-Gon for The Phantom Menace. It’s because she wasn’t being led by the hand to what many believed was her destiny. Rey being able to figure it out on her own should be celebrated, not ridiculed. If anything, it makes her backstory the most intriguing to be explored in the other two movies.