Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
I enjoyed it a lot! It sounds like all my bigger-Star-Wars-fan friends did too, which is great. I’ll keep this spoiler-free and then let people who’ve seen it click the spoiler buttons for what I’m specifically talking about.
It alternates a bit between three different ways you could approach making a Star Wars sequel:
As you can probably tell from my phrasing, I like it best when it’s doing New Story stuff. A whole film of that would turn me full fanboy. As it is, the new stuff is still central enough that it kept me excited throughout.
Spoiler stuff follows
I really like Rey, and that counts for a lot – I don’t know how the screen time tallies up, but the plot certainly revolves around her more than anyone. It’s reasonable to call her the new Luke, but she’s different enough to count as new. She’s stoic where he was a complainer, isolated where he had adopted family, fiercer and funnier. And she’s a woman, which is immediately refreshing.
Finn, as a character concept, is new: a turncoat Stormtrooper. I like him too, and generally very much like the idea of humanising people who were previously seen as valueless and interchangeable cannon fodder. But the fiction can’t make good on that idea. The very first thing he does after going rogue is slaughter dozens of interchangeable Stormtroopers, then minutes later whoops about it with his new pal. Once he’s out, he talks and behaves exactly like a normal, rogueish, wise-cracking, functioning member of the free galaxy. There’s instantly no trace of the fascist culture he’s lived it for as long as he can remember, where people get serial numbers not names, and devote their lives to working on ways to destroy more than one planet at once.
As I say, I like him. But taking on a big concept like that is a bad idea if the genre of film you’re making clashes with the inevitable consequences of it: that he would be fucked up, that Stormtroopers are people, that it’s not cool or fun to kill them.
Poe is not a new or very interesting character – standard hotshot – but I wanted to mention him here because Oscar Isaac’s performance makes him so charming. His fast friendship with Finn is what ends up making that character feel real, and stresses the stakes: when they unexpectedly see each other again and hug, it feels like they’ve been through something truly affecting.
Kylo is great. Aesthetically, in costume, he’s very guilty of the ‘Mimic’ side of the film – we need a Vader, dress someone up as Vader. But once the mask first comes off, he becomes something much more interesting: someone doing all the awful shit Vader did while being a person.
His inner conflict is happening visibly – he hides his face but will show it when challenged. He bullies his underlings like Vader but then can’t control his rage, to the point that it’s almost embarrassing. We’re told that he has ‘light in him’ and we see it: we hear his doubts and how he contextualises them as ‘temptations’ in a way that lets him dismiss them. He wants to look invincible, but can’t quite ignore his injuries – punching himself in a disturbing way that could be masochism, penance, or self-surgery. And his encounter with Han genuinely felt like it could go either way, to me. Which made his betrayal much more affecting than just bad-guy-does-bad, or even major-character-dies. There’s a sense of losing Ben too.
It spends most of its time in Mimic mode, which baffles me. It’s fine, I’m just puzzled that anyone, even the most rabid fan of the originals, thought that to recapture them you’d need to literally copy and paste the exact same elements and rename them as if they’re new.
Spoiler stuff follows
Hero is a technically adept unwittingly force-sensitive loner on desert planet, villain is a masked man in black with a tannoy voice filter, who reports to an enigmatic seated overlord, and has a hierarchical rivalry with the stuffy and force-sceptical commander of the military wing, who he threatens but does not seem to entirely outrank, and the commander wants to use the big weapon but the mask guy wants to use the force, and the big weapon is a giant spherical object that can destroy planets – a strategy they have tried twice before, to expensive and memorable failure – and the rebels’ plan to defeat it is to have one set of people sneak in and disable its shields, and then another set to fly in and shoot its weak spot.
Again, this is the superficial stuff – even the strategic mechanics – so I don’t care that much. I like Rey and Kylo, who are new character-wise. Just bemused.
I’m not completely against a Nostalgia Trip. I like that old characters are back, and I think some of them are used well – as welcome cameos, or lynchpins of the plot. The time it starts to hurt the film, for me, is when old characters are leading the action and very pointedly doing exactly what they were doing 30 years ago. It feels like putting on a show – “Look! This is what you want! Things are just like they were!” It’s fine to do that for a moment, then show why things have moved on. But it’s more than a moment, here – some of them are lead characters, and that’s where it starts to feel like wallowing in the past.
A while ago I would have said there was no point at all to doing stuff like that. But once the trailers came out, I realised some people respond to it on a completely different level to me. When I see Han Solo again, I think “Yes, I recognise that man. There he is, on that ship of his.” Apparently some people experience something a little stronger, and this part of TFA is obviously for them. If it worked for them, it was probably worth it.
Spoiler stuff follows
Obviously I’m talking about Han and Chewie here. Story-wise I really like Han’s arc: how the aftermath of saving the world and getting the girl has clashed with the personality that got him there. But for the long periods that he and Chewie are being action heroes, it has the feeling of a videogame tie-in: see the Iconic Characters do the Thing You Know Them For! Tag along, and press some switches at the right time to help them!
I’m glad that ended here, and with a moment that felt brave and galling: he’s finally forced to be vulnerable in the last way he wants to be, and is brutally punished for it.
Comments: if your comment mentions anything that happens in the film, please start it with [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] – that’s intentionally long so the spoilery bit won’t show up in the sidebar excerpts here. I’ll also turn on comment moderation for a while, to be safe, so your comment won’t pop up right away.
Daniel: FYI - if you use an RSS reader, the hidden spoiler parts are in fact *not* hidden. You may want to add a caption at the top to that effect for others!
(I was fine, I've seen the movie and also clicked through anyways)
Bean: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] On the subject of "videogame tie in", there were several action sequences that felt as though lifted from a fictional TFA game.
Namely, when those monsters were let loose in the freight halls. They fit perfectly in the halls, which all look the same. Close doors to section them off, let loose to kill AI, etc. Kind of like that boulder maze in the intro of Ocarina of Time?
Another part was Poe firing off the 4 cores in the starkiller, doing a lateral roll within the cylinder while picking each one off. It felt like a mission from several Star Fox entries, or even the final level of Shadows of the Empire (N64).
Not that these weren't entertaining, but my mind immediately went to "this is just a videogame, and is shot like a videogame, and blows up like a videogame".
Tom Francis: Daniel - damn, did you not at least get a message at the start of the post about that? I made a 'spoiler' section that warns you the spoiler sections are being shown - made it more prominent now. Tried to test in an RSS reader but they do work in my own.
David: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
I enjoyed it, too. It succeeded pretty well on its characters and their relationships, avoiding the longstanding "a bit wooden" complaint about Star Wars.
That said, it skimped on the details a bit more than I thought was right. Two main bits which I wondered about during the film rather than afterwards:
1. When the starkiller was fired, after the big Nazi speech, what planets were destroyed? The speech made it sound like they'd be attacking the Republic senate... but surely that'd be more explicit, and probably not in the same system as that dive bar the heroes went to ground in?
2. Why did R2D2 wake up right then? What triggered that? It was a bit deus-ex-machina-y, and a single line of dialogue about "he says Luke told him to wait until a Force user appeared who'd really need training" would have fixed it.
weckr: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
I can't help it but hate the movie. It would be easier if the first part wasn't so good, the craft is all there, but the moment they destroy five planets full of people, with base so much bigger than deathstar, which required whole galactic imperium to build, and they build this thing with just some cult. Nobody even blinks an eye over death of I don't know how many billions of people. And then the masturbation over the original material begins.
And that young Snape guy is terrible, terrible sith, beaten in lightsaber duel by absolutely untrained girl? Come on, pathetic. I mean star wars was always cheesy fairy tale, but second half of the movie dissapointed me so much with it's remakeness, and really bad villains. Sure we don't have to get a new Vader, but angsty Snape with huge alien Voldemort were so bad.
I haven't felt such nerdrage since Prometheus, and I let it flow through me.
Tom Francis: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] Haha, these are all fair points. I also forgot: SNOKE?! He's called SNOKE!?!
I'm hoping Kylo's terrible performance in saber fights (even the friggin Stormtrooper gets a hit in) is somehow fleshed out in his backstory - maybe he went nuts before he got any real training, and his saber is almost like a vanity thing he never really earned. I can imagine Luke's school of teaching would probably leave the fun stuff for later.
Aaron: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] I thought it was fun [and funny] in a way that Star Wars hasn't been for some time--in fact, I imagine that the sheer amount of humor may even turn some people off. From Poe's quippy, "Who talks first?" bit at the beginning, it was clear that the movie was going to play with the material in a way that was distinctly lacking from the prequels.
I'm definitely in that group that feels a nameless stirring when Han Solo gets his ship back, so the nostalgia trip resonated for me. I didn't feel it to be overdone, but again, I'm the target audience for said trip.
I do think it is the first Star Wars movie that actually feels TOO fast-paced at times. Case in point: David's issue with how little attention was paid to the planets that were destroyed. I was kind of a spoiler fiend in the lead-up to the movie, and apparently a number of scenes were shot that took place earlier, showing clearly that those planets are the seat of the New Republic Senate; the woman who looms largest in frame during the planets' reaction to the incoming death ray was to be Leia's right hand. I'm sure that senate politics were a scary proposition to tackle in a post-prequel film, which may explain why they were cut. But overall I'd actually like to see an expanded cut of the film that fleshes a few of the beats out a bit more [my group also caught David's point about R2 waking up because the plot told him to].
I'll be seeing it again.
Arctem: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
At the end of the film it is mentioned that Kylo Ren needs to complete his training with Snoke. I think it's pretty clear he is NOT very powerful - or at least not very well trained. A lot of his scenes seem to show him trying to appear more powerful than he is. Even the helmet is him covering up his very unthreatening appearance! I suspect this is building up to Kylo returning to the light in the next movie while a good character (probably Rey) falls to the dark side and ends up as the final villain.
verendus: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
I liked it, generally. My problems were pretty much the same ones you had: a lot of it was just sort of emulating ep. IV, in a slapdash kind of way (what were those planets that were destroyed, and why doesn't anyone get sad about them?)
I really liked Finn and Kylo, because they're characters we don't see much of. Finn's main motivation is to run away as far as possible. Kylo's this arrogant, punk-ass kid, and the arrogance is actually WHY he's a bad guy, rather than something that makes him cool and edgy - he has temper tantrums and waves his lightsaber around flashily and even the guys on his side are tired of him. His "let's just capture Rey and read her mind plan" turned out to make things worse for everyone. That sort of self-destructiveness being presented as something bad, rather than something good, makes the story seem much more human.
I also really loved the duel at the end. Everyone kept getting nicked and scratched but kept on fighting. Compare to the fights from every other movie, where the first hit landed is also the last. Made everything feel much more real and dangerous to actually see them getting hurt during the fight.
Jabberwok: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
I thought some of the scenes with Han were well done, but he needed more time to talk and less doing action things, and less screen time total, as they should have been developing the characters that we've never met before. I agree that the part where confronts Kylo is interesting, but frankly I think it's so far outside his regular MO, that they should have played up his hesitance more.
I thought Kylo was an interesting character, but an incredibly poor villain. If they were going to make him just as they did, they needed a stronger, more present villain, beyond the holographic Voldemort/Palpatine hybrid.
What bothers me is that the ways in which they copied the originals are the very superficial ways you already mentioned, without copying the bits that made them good movies to begin with.
For instance, A New Hope was filled with witty banter and quips by people who didn't get along at all but were forced by circumstances to cooperate, which is how they gradually get to be friends. By contrast, the new characters all like each other instantly, and never have any meaningful tension, even when Finn comes clean about being a stormtrooper. Rey shows no sign of caring, everyone trusts him immediately, and the whole issue quietly disappears. Except for a couple dudes calling him a traitor, though I don't know how they recognize him.
The original series establishes Darth Vader early on as an imposing figure who kills Luke's master, and it takes Luke three whole movies of experience and training to finally defeat him. Rey kicks the crap out of Kylo the very first time she picks up a light saber, and even Finn is able to fight him for a bit. If being crappy at what he does is part of Kylo's character in the movie, then that's fine, but structurally it is a terrible choice to present him as the main antagonist. IMO, a powerful almost invincible villain is about half of the Star Wars formula.
Basically, this ended up being an action movie with some good ideas in it, but not enough character development and too much time spent on shallow throwbacks. All that screen time should have instead gone to the main new characters, to give them enough writing to actually sell their relationships to each other. And Kylo's master should have been an active participant in the action and story, perhaps a masked, Vader-esque figure, driving Kylo along in person, and finishing the fights he couldn't handle. I also would've liked to cut out about half of the long, silent stares in the movie, and given a couple lines to Mark Hamill at the end.
Jabberwok: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
"I suspect this is building up to Kylo returning to the light in the next movie while a good character (probably Rey) falls to the dark side and ends up as the final villain."
I will be very surprised if they go that route. I'm pretty sure his getting slightly mangled in the fight and the comment about completing his training is for the sake of bringing him back later as a badder bad guy.
"...the first hit landed is also the last."
I dunno, that sounds pretty dangerous to me.
Iceman: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] I don't think it's weird that Kylo was defeated by Finn & Rey. Remember, minutes earlier he had been shot in the chest by Chewie's crossbow, something strong enough that it took out Stormtrooper's by hitting the ground in front of them. He's obviously affected by it, because that's why he beats his side during the fight. Along with that, Finn likely received training for fighting lightsaber weilders (just like the Stormtrooper he had fought earlier), so it isn't surprising he can hold his own for a bit.
What did strike me as really odd was that Kylo didn't use the force while he was fighting. I mean, he knocked Rey away at the beginning of the fight, but the moment someone shows a lightsaber, he seems to be incapable of using the force against them. I seem to remember that you can't use the force on another force user, but that doesn't seem to be the case,
Salinity: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens] I was extremely underwhelmed by the film, and that's sad because I didn't have exceedingly high expectations going in. Honestly, why would any of the resistance (why are they called that again?) trust Finn, knowing that he was trained FROM BIRTH to fight them. When they send literally 2-dozen x-wings to surgically strike starkiller base, why does ackbar freak out when half of the 'fleet' die? They make a thing out of how Han has never seen Chewie fire his crossbow in ~60 years apparently. Finn can instantly name a breed of space monster being smuggled, but doesn't recognise a wookie. 5 planets exploding leaves literally no impact on anyone, including Rey, who's force sensitive enough to have hallucinations by touching a lightsabre. The starkiller weapon fires 'hyperlightspeed'plasma beams which stretched my suspension of disbelief past it's limit but hey. R2D2 magically activating for literally no reason was pathetic. The obvious plot twist that BB8 was R2 in disguise was apparently expecting waaaaay too much.
Given the time gap story-wise, the writing throughout seemed lazy as hell.
Bret: [This comment contains spoilers for The Force Awakens]
Well, the resistance trusts Finn because he saved their top ace from being tortured and killed. Things like that tend to win you some points. And Poe trusted Finn because it was trust Finn or die, and he was not in a dying mood that day.
They sent all the X-Wings they had, which was not many X-Wings. The Resistance is basically paid like JC Denton.
Han's seen the Bowcaster fire, but he's never used it, and most of the time it was firing previously he had other things to pay attention to.
Don't remember this bit too well, so no comment.
Yes. The planets exploding without comment was weird and dumb. On the other hand, how it fired death lasers was fine.
R2 clearly activated because he found out Han was dead and he'd had a grudge against him for over a decade leading to a vow of silence. (BB8 acted nothing like R2, so that plot twist would be really stupid.)
Most of those are minor enough they didn't impact my enjoyment at all, and what was there was mostly good, so, yes. The Force Awakens is fun, and I'm sorry you didn't like it. Takes all kinds to make a world, I suppose.
Turbanator: Oh, of course! Silly me, thinking R2's lack of speech was because he's a robot or something.