Writer’s Perspective: Characters of Star Wars the Force Awakens

Star Wars: the Force Awakens has been out a while now, enough time that almost everyone who wants to see it, has seen it. So now seems a good time for a detailed discussion without spoiling the plot for too many people. However, you should be aware that this post will contain some spoilers for those who haven’t yet seen it, but want to.

The internet is currently awash with discussion of Star Wars: tFA. Those who loved it highlight the positive points, those who didn’t decry the negatives. As a writer, I wanted to do a short series analyzing certain elements of the movie. This first blog post will be a discussion on the main characters in the movie, while the following posts will be on plot and settings.

To begin with, my own take on the movie, as a long time Star Wars fan, was somewhere between the extremes. I loved the first half, had a lot of trouble with the second half. Now that you know where I stand, let’s start.

The Resistance

I list the two opposing groups as characters since, to some degree, they have some of the same properties.

The Resistance needs no introduction or much of a back story as it seem clear it has arisen from the original rebellion or, perhaps, the vestiges of a failed fledgling government that began in the wake of the event of Return of the Jedi. Indeed, no backstory is given. All we really know is that Leia Organa-Solo is still in charge and that C-3PO and R2-D2 remain involved. Luke has disappeared and, but this time in the movie, we’ve met Han, who’s run off and returned to his old life.

It would be nice to know what happened between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that has led to the apparent continuation of the status quo. From a fairy tale perspective we were led to believe that the empire was defeated when the second deathstar was destroyed and the emperor killed. While, in a real galaxy, it would be too much to expect the victory of a single battle could destroy a vast, interstellar empire, this was the expectation in the fairytale world of Star Wars.

So, are we staying fairytale or going real? It’s hard to tell from The Force Awakens.

The First Order

Unlike the Resistance, The First Order does need some back story. They’re clearly the stereotypical bad guys, very obviously embodying both The Sith from previous Star Wars incarnations, and The Third Reich from WWII. But where did they come from? How did they arise? Are they remnants of the old Empire? A splinter group? Something new?

We do know they are more inclusionary than the Empire, as they have weak-willed, self-serving female officers ready to sacrifice the vast weapon of their order to save themselves from a little short-term pain.

They also have the resources to build a planet-sized weapon, so they must be very well funded. Does this mean they control much of the galaxy? After all they have no conceptual difficulty with destroying vast resources in the form of numerous planets and their population, which could be better spend in other ways.

The simple existence of this new group, The First Order, in this universe demands an explanation. Unfortunately, none is given.

Han Solo

After The First Order, Han Solo is the next real indication we have that there’s some serious backstory hidden from us.

We meet Han in a highly convenient, coincidental way when his new smuggling ship happens to be in the path of the Millenium Falcon’s escape from Jakku. Very quickly we learn he’s not with Leia or Luke. This suggest to us that a great deal has changed from the end of Return of the Jedi, as the Han of that period would not have run out on his friends (regardless of how much he might have wanted to).

Eventually, we do learn that Han and Leia became and item and had a child, and that the pain of the subsequent events was enough to drive them apart, and also drive Han from the resistance.

I can accept this explanation as enough for this movie, although it does beg to be unpacked in future episodes.

Chewbacca

Chewbacca is right back where he started, as Han’s sidekick. Somehow he almost seems less of a character in this movie, and more of a pet. Although Han treats him with respect, as usual, Chewbacca has a minimal part and, quite surprisingly, has a fairly shallow response to Han’s death – perhaps he’s finally gotten tired of his partner?

The real difficulty for me, however, is the ending. Rey essentially inherits the Millenium Falcon and Chewie as co-pilot ?! Shouldn’t the ship be Chewie’s after almost 35 years of being co-pilot. After all, the Wookies are constantly being developed as a strong, intelligent race. So why do he and his ship seem so much like prizes for Rey?

Leia Organa-Solo

We meet Leia as if nothing, but everything, has changed. She seems like a realistic continuation of her previous character, older, and world-wiser: worn is the feeling I had. Her character in the movie fits well the previous character, with the one glaring issue that she seems only superficially effected by the murder of the man she once loved by their son. Given past relationships, at least a heartfelt hug between her and Chewbacca should have happened.

Luke Skywalker

Not much to say about Luke as he wasn’t in the movie. Although, perhaps his absence leads us to the greatest comment we can make. What happened to make Luke run away from his friends and cause? In the Extended Universe (no longer considered canon) Luke did leave several times and went through great trials, but that was with the development of a New Republic on going, and a mop-up of Empirial forces. Not with the Empire still strong and a new threat with The First Order.

Since Luke only appeared at the end, his absence wasn’t too disturbing. I will, however, be interested to see how the writers of future episodes deal with this.

Supreme Leader Snoke

Snoke is an enigma in the same way that the Emperor was in The Empire Strikes Back. In a story with many questions, I’m not entirely convinced Snoke should have been introduced so early in this series. It’s my opinion that writers/producers may have been better off with a few changes regarding the bad guys and the battles (I’ll discuss in my next post).

Regardless, Snoke seems force sensitive, or at least to have extensive knowledge of the force. But he doesn’t appear to be Sith. Once again, I will be very interested to see how his story plays out in future movies.

Poe Dameron

Now we’re on to the new good guys.

Poe Dameron seems to be the bigger-than-life, swashbuckling good-guy of the story. We meet him as the all purpose spy / best resistance pilot. He helps Finn escape The First Order… and then disappears. Only to reappear again later when he’s shooting up TIE fighters and attacking the StarKiller.

I’m far from the only one to note that Poe’s character is vastly underdeveloped. So much so that, in the latter part of the movie he’s not even remotely interesting. This is quite a big problem for what seems to be one of three new main characters.

As I understand it, however, Poe was never supposed to make it passed the crash sequence on Jakku. Originally, his character was supposed to die in the crash. Apparently, J.J. Abrams liked this character enough to Deus ex Machina him back to life for the finale of the movie (according to an interview with the actor).

My own opinion is that this character could be quite interesting if they tone him down a bit (make him more real – his piloting skills are way over the top) and give him some kind of interesting back story.

Finn (FN-2187)

I really like the character of Finn. He feels like a fish out of water, someone who’s been awakened to the real world for the first time and doesn’t know how to react. It seem believable to me that his selfishness was driven by fear of The First Order and he only found some semblance of courage when all hope seemed lost.

While we ended with him apparently dead, or comatose, the writers clearly have some plan for him, possibly his own awakening.

On a side note, although the Jedi have decendent into the stuff of myth in the last ten years (because Luke was training until the point where he was betrayed, by our next character), apparently everyone in the galaxy can use a lightsabre now. While Finn’s attempts were clumsy and, ultimately, futile, it does suggest all that’s needed is training. Again, we’ll see what comes of this.

Kylo Ren (Ben Solo)

One of the main bad guys in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is in a similar position to Darth Vader in A New Hope. Namely, he has to compete for favour with the likes of a standard general.

When we meet Kylo Ren, he appears to be the strongest dark force user we’ve encountered in the movies. He doesn’t just force choke, he force traps his enemy’s entire body. He doesn’t just deflect laser bolts, he can hold them stationary in mid-air with barely any concentration. And yet, he’s essentially a troubled teenager at heart. He’s conflicted between the light and dark, at least partly because his mentor – Luke Skywalker – was good friends with his parents, the heroes of the Rebellion, Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo.

He struggles with his internal conflict, attempting find focus in the melted helmet of Darth Vader that he’s somehow acquired. In the end, he succeeds in finding the focus long enough to kill his father in an inverse parallel to the original series, while getting shot by Chewbacca. Apparently, though immensely powerful, his physical pain and unchanneled rage allow him to be bettered by a completely untrained force adept who wasn’t even aware the force existed until the events of this movie, which brings us to…

Rey

It’s interesting that Rey’s name means ‘king’ in Spanish (although in English it also brings to mind ‘ray’ of light). This gives us some indication of the importance of the character to the plot. Contrast this with the name Luke, which means ‘light’, as in ‘the light side of the force’. This difference immediately portents different paths for the two characters who otherwise seem similar.

Rey is the feel-good hero type character. She comes from difficult circumstances but still manages to be a good person and do what’s right. However, since this movie wasn’t aimed at kids, but teens at the youngest, we have to accept that in this day and age, the character development feels lazy and formulaic.

Like Luke, Rey has grown up on a desert planet without her parents. Unlike Luke, she had to fend for her own, scrounging parts from crashed ship to trade for food to stay alive (although trading for water might have been more realistic). By luck she meets the droid BB-8, who she has no affiliation or prior knowledge of, as it is captured by another scavenger. Not only does she risk her life to ‘rescue’ it, then she frees it. When if follows her, she refuses to turn it in for enough food portions to last her almost half a year (at her current useage)…

Think about this character for a moment and tell me if anything I’ve just described seems remotely plausible. Especially in the Star Wars universe.

  1. She’s grown up looking after herself all her life, scrounging for scraps and food, living for herself. As far as she knows, she was also left by her parents, alone, on a desert planet. She should be a bitter, hateful, selfish character as there’s nothing in her life that would encourage altruism.
  2. We have a lot of evidence that droids are treated as property, not individuals, in Star Wars. This notion was set through all the first six movies. So, (a) the scavenger should have attacked her for taking it’s catch, (b) she would not have let the droid, her potential cash cow, go free.
  3. The only reason such a character would turn down the immense reward would be that she doesn’t trust the motives of the trader and she’s certain she can get more for it elsewhere.

Continuing…

We’re shown that Rey is gifted with machines, but she’s been planetside her entire life. Despite this, not only does she instantly learn to pilot the Millenium Falcon, but does so amazingly well.

She’s also shown to be an exceptional fighter, holding her own against several assailants in the desert camp. This was necessary, of course, to give her some background that could suggest she might be able to hold her own with a lightsabre.

But, as a writer, why would you want her to? Rey is the hero character, at the beginning of her journey, coming up against a big bad. She should not win. Her victory has little emotional impact at this stage because she is untrained and barely even has as history with this guy. His greater strength at this stage means her win feels like, and was, luck. It also means the audience will rightly ask ‘where does this character go from here?’

This is very reason the writers had to add Snoke into this episode instead of waiting for the next, otherwise the audience is given no incentive to see the next movie as the hero has already triumphed.

So, in brief, the character of Rey is: unreasonably kind, an exceptional mechanic, an amazing fighter, and a powerful force user who has already won her first serious lightsabre duel without even being trained. She also gets Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon.

Essentially, Rey is the Star Wars fan fiction character you’d write when you were twelve, before you learned to write believable characters. You know, the ones with flaws.

Concluding Comments

Many of the issues I’ve listed could be considered to be purposeful mysteries in what has always been intended to be a multipart series. However, there seem to be some major character devlopement flaws. Characters who are too whiny and immature, despite their vast Jedi training. Characters who are vastly underdeveloped, or vastly over-powered.

So, in terms of characters, I see Star Wars: the Force Awakens as one of those opening episodes where you just know the poor writers developing the future stories are in for many long nights trying to figure out explanations for all the crazy in this movie.

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