First appeared on Blogcritics.
*Warning – This article contains spoilers. Do not read if you do not want to ruin your film going experience.
In my mind the Star Wars films have always been about a family and what happens to it when evil causes one of its members to stray. Having seen the first six films many times over, I have bought into the notion of the family at the center of the tale – the Skywalkers – and have wondered how the redemption of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader would work its way into the new trilogy.
I went to see the film by myself first in order to ascertain whether or not my kids could handle it. I also, to be honest, wanted a personal experience with this movie because it has been an ongoing relationship since I stood on line as a teenager to see the first film in 1977.
I was happy to see old friends back in the picture, and it was really amazing that Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had such an integral part in the film. Also returning were Princess (Now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), C-P30 (Anthony Daniels), and the beloved R2-D2 (Kenny Baker).
There were, however, very disturbing elements in the film. There is the slaughter of villagers, torture scenes, the destruction of planets with millions of people on them, and the death of fan-favorite Han Solo (this really shook me upon first viewing). I wondered how my kids would handle this, how they would feel about losing Han and finding a much older Luke in the very last moments of the film.
With Star Wars films always being about family, it seems apropos that my family loves them, gets the family connection, and takes them seriously. My kids even liked the much maligned prequels, with Revenge of the Sith especially making a deep impression on them.
So when I told them I wasn’t sure if they could handle the violence and loss of a character they liked, the response was pretty swift and adamant. “Dad, if we could handle what happened to Anakin in Episode III, we can handle anything.”
We have watched all the films together in order of their release, not in the now supposedly correct way of I (The Phantom Menance) through VI (Return of the Jedi). They have seen in a short time what I had to wait for years to unfold, and there is definitely a feeling of knowing and loving the characters. They were also excited to see what happened to these people after all this time.
After watching the film with them and seeing how much they enjoyed and appreciated it, we have gone on to discuss it a number of times since the viewing. Usually, I take them to see a movie and it is talked about on the way home and then the subject is dropped. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has really had a powerful impact on them, and they are also speculating about what is to come in Episode VIII.
While they both liked seeing the familiar faces, the kids both loved Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) who play the new leads in the film. They are tougher critics than I when it comes to actors, and they both felt these two young stars captured something special in their roles.
One of the things my daughter really appreciated was that Rey became a strong, important character in the story. While in the past Carrie Fisher’s Leia and (to a lesser extent) Natalie Portman’s Padme showed signs of some fight in them, Rey is portrayed as up to the challenge as much as any man, and to see her wielding a lightsaber as well as her male opponent, let’s just say that scored big points with my little girl.
My son predictably loved BB-8 (the new cute droid with endless toy possibilities) though he said, “R2-D2 is still my favorite.” He also keeps saying that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is just not scary enough as the villain. When I asked why, he thought about it and then said, “He shouldn’t have taken off the mask. Darth Vader didn’t take it off until the very end.”
Of course, there is less mystery about Ren as we learn that he is the wayward son of Han and Leia, one who had been training under his Uncle Luke to be a Jedi, but then turned by the evil Snoke (Andy Serkis) to not only embrace the dark side of the force but to establish the First Order (whose members resemble Nazis) and also slaughter all of Luke’s Jedi students, causing Luke to flee and live in seclusion. Yes, my kids realized that what Kylo does is like when Anakin kills all the Jedi padawans in Episode III, and they believe that Kylo is now as bad as his grandfather.
The moment when Ben/Kylo faces his father Han really bothered them. They questioned why Han didn’t just shoot him. My response was, “That is his son. He loves him.”
The kids both couldn’t understand why Kylo Ren rams his lightsaber through his father’s body. Hey, I had trouble with it as well. He almost gives his father the weapon after Han says that he and Leia miss him and want him to come home. The kids get that Ben/Kylo is conflicted (he confesses he is being torn apart), but killing his father just made them hate him more.
The payback is when Rey and Kylo have the big battle scene. Here she establishes herself as more than an equal with Kylo, who sensing her raw power condescendingly tells her that he can train her. Once she connects to The Force, Rey kicks Kylo’s First Order ass and would have finished him off had not the disintegrating planet parted the ground and separated them with a deep chasm.
Besides that scene the kids’ favorite moment was at the end of the film, when Rey travels to another planet and goes to an island to return Luke’s lightsaber to him (Luke is disappointingly only in the last two minutes of the film). John Williams’s music swells and the camera sweeps around as Luke stands looking like the Ghost of Jedi Past staring at Rey, who holds out the lightsaber to him. The film ends there and my kids did not like that at all, but I felt it was a perfect way to leave us wanting more and eager to see the next episode of this iconic film series.
My kids have debated who Rey really is (since her origins are a mystery). My son thinks she is Kylo’s sister, but that doesn’t seem right since Han and Leia don’t know her. My daughter believes that Rey is Luke’s daughter, which would seem to be the case since she was drawn to his lightsaber. She says with a devilish grin, “Wouldn’t that set up a chance for Luke to say ‘Rey, you are my daughter’ just like Darth Vader told him that he was his son?
Well, I think she’s probably on to something there. For now we have bonded over Star Wars once again, and now both kids are bigger fans than ever. Director J.J. Abrams chose the right mix of familiar and new faces, and a storyline that brought the two together in a compelling and meaningful way. Girls will identify with Rey and boys with Finn, and every kid will want to bring BB-8 home to be a companion.
In our house the family that watches Star Wars films together stays together, and as we wait for the next installment (which will be here in December 2017) we have the six films (seven as soon the Episode VII Blu-ray comes out) and various toys and games to help keep us patient. For now I am going to go play with my play with my son and his Millenium Falcon. May the Force be with you all!
Photo credits: starwars.com