00:30:01 – 00:45:00
The general consensus at the 15-Minute Force studio bullpen (my desk is only a stone’s throw away from those of Stan “The Man” Solo and Jack “King” Skywalker) is that rewatching The Force Awakens is getting us excited again for the third installment of this Modern Age Star Wars trilogy, which will also be directed by J. J. Abrams.
Abrams understands Star Wars fans in a way that George Lucas seemed unable to when he made the prequels. The true Star Wars fan wants spectacle and bombast and action above all else: Not explanations. The first 45 minutes of this movie moves at hyperspeed.
In a planned trilogy of movies, the first movie has to pull a lot of the same duties you would expect in the first act of traditional story structure. This means that this entire movie, in theory, is being used to set up the story of the entire trilogy, compiling all of the necessary components. This involves introducing most of our characters, establishing conflict and story goals (including, where possible, individual character goals so that we can connect with them more), literally building the framework upon which the rest of the story is expected to hang.
Plus, since these movies are presented to us years apart, the individual movie is expected to largely stand on its own. For a movie that’s, say, two-hours long, the first 30 minutes or so will serve as your first act. That tracks for The Force Awakens as well. I doubt many would disagree with me when I say that Rey is the protagonist of this movie, just as Luke Skywalker was for A New Hope. Some of the bigger picture stuff was set up before she appeared on-screen for the first time, with Poe Dameron, FN-2187, Kylo Ren, and BB-8, but this was all to hook us into the story. This is the same way Leia Organa being captured by Darth Vader and the droids escaping to the desert of Tatooine hooked us in the first movie. The actual story doesn’t begin until we meet Rey. To be more precise, it doesn’t begin until Rey saves BB-8 from the greedy clutches of Teedo and is sucked into the bigger-picture story.
This means that Act One still isn’t quite over as we begin Chapter Three of the Awakens Edition of the 15-Minute Force. Rey and Finn have finally met, and Finn has told his big lie that he’s a member of the Resistance, but they are both thrust into the middle of a conflict with the Stormtroopers, who are after BB-8. Rey just fought off a couple of goons sent after her by the evil junk dealer Unkar Plutt, then she attacked Finn when BB-8 pointed out that he was wearing Poe Dameron’s jacket. But, the action is unflagging. As Rey is simultaneously finding out that BB-8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker and that Finn is a Resistance fighter (big lie), they are pointed out to the Stormtroopers in the marketplace and have to make a run for it together.
I love a lot of things about this escape sequence. I love the way Finn tries to hold Rey’s hand as they are running together. But, I also love the way she brushes him off and doesn’t want him to hold her hand. I love the quick editing and the way the camera never seems to stop moving.
I even love the Stormtroopers in this sequence. I do think the Clonetroopers from the prequels seemed more formidable than the costumed extras in the original trilogy: I give the prequels that much credit, at least. However, these Stormtroopers seem even more impressive to me. I can’t even describe the reasons why I feel this way; not entirely. They just feel more like soldiers to me.
Our heroes are nearly taken out in a TIE fighter strafing run, which Finn, with his experienced Stormtrooper ears, could hear coming before they began firing. When Rey comes to Finn’s side, where he was apparently knocked out temporarily, the first words out of his mouth are concern for her. This seems to register on Rey’s face as well. She’s not used to anyone caring about her well-being. That’s apparent.
Rey, Finn and BB-8 begin running (okay, rolling in the droid’s case) across the spaceport. Finn says they’ll never outrun the First Order soldiers. Rey says that they might in a Quad-Jumper, indicating a neat-looking four-engine ship parked some distance ahead of them.
“What about that ship?” Finn asks, indicating a ship located off-camera that we don’t get to see yet.
“That one’s garbage!” Rey says.
But then the TIE fighters blow up the Quad-Jumper in a huge explosion, forcing Rey to come to a quick stop. “The garbage’ll do,” she says, adjusting her plan on the fly.
The garbage ship is, of course, the Millennium Falcon. We know that, even if our heroes don’t yet. When I saw this the first time in the theater, the first shot of our favorite old freighter excited the audience. It set up a myriad of story questions in my mind, of course. How did the Falcon end up on Jakku? Are Han Solo and Chewbacca dead? (I knew they weren’t.) Are Lando Calrissian and Nien Nunb dead? (I suspected they weren’t either, but, honestly, cared a little less.) That’s three questions: Does that qualify as a “myriad”?
Miraculously, the Falcon manages to fly again. Rey seems to have some trouble adjusting to her flight controls in the beginning, while Finn tries to figure out the weaponry from the gun turret. Rey adjusts quickly, showing off some fancy flying skills as she maneuvers through the massive ship graveyard. BB-8, providing some momentary comic relief of his own, rolls around the inside of the ship like a BB in a barrel until the astromech droid extends magnetic cables to brace himself.
Finn begins to have some success with the gun turret as well. These two make a good team. The cannon ends up stuck in the forward position after one TIE fighter hit, so that Finn can’t move it from the turret. Rey tells him to get ready, because she has an idea. Rey maneuvers them through the tight interior confines of a downed Super Star Destroyer, which is cool in ways that Lando’s flight inside the Death Star II somehow wasn’t. When she makes a hard right turn out of the Destroyer, Rey cuts ship’s power and flips the ship so that Finn now has a clear shot on the last remaining TIE fighter.
Finn blows up the TIE and let’s out an excited “Whoo!” which I will allow, under the circumstances.
With that, the Falcon is able to roar off into space above Jakku.
Here, I would argue, is where Act One of this movie transitions into the first half of Act Two. In terms of structure, it is identical to A New Hope. This wasn’t an accident.
But, our chapter isn’t over yet. We have a little ways before reaching the 45-minute mark.
We get a brief quiet scene in which Finn and Rey are able to officially introduce themselves to each other. Still on an adrenaline high from defeating the First Order, theirs is a mutual admiration society at the moment. As these two characters are looking at each other, the viewer senses, at the very least, a growing camaraderie between the two, characters not accustomed to this connection with other people. There’s also more than a hint of a possible love connection.
The moment is broken when something malfunctions and begins spewing steam.
Which cues our cut to:
The First Order Star Destroyer above Jakku again. Some First Order officer I don’t know—it’s not General Hux or Herr Starr—is tasked with delivering bad news to Kylo Ren. Ren seems to have the same reputation for being unapproachable that Darth Vader used to.
The officer tells him that the droid escaped from Jakku aboard a stolen Corellian YT model freighter.
Kylo Ren says, incredulously, “The droid . . . stole a freighter?”
The officer tells Ren that they believe FN-2187 may have helped in the escape. This causes Kylo Ren to ignite his noisy steampunk lightsaber and begin to destroy the console in front of him in what can only be described as a temper tantrum. Vader would have just Force-choked the messenger.
“Anything else?” Ren asks, barely controlling himself for a moment.
“The two were accompanied by a girl,” the First Order officer says, and then is suddenly, violently pulled towards Ren’s extended black glove through use of the Force. Hey, maybe we’re going to see some Force-choking after all.
“What girl?” Kylo Ren asks. Which ends the scene.
Kylo Ren’s violent reaction to news about a “girl” made me believe that there was some big secret about Rey that we weren’t privy to yet. Ren wasn’t surprised about FN-2187’s involvement, I don’t think, even if he had a temper tantrum over it. He knew something was up with the Stormtrooper from the very beginning. I suppose his overreaction after hearing about the “girl” could just have been a response to news that genuinely surprised him. It still felt more like Rey backstory stuff to me. Still does.
We’re back on the Falcon again, where our heroes are making repairs. It’s the motivator, of course. It’s always a bad motivator. Rey asks for a Harris wrench. Finn is clueless, just as I am. I mean, if she had asked for a hydrospanner, I may have been able to help her. Alluvial dampeners are my specialty.
Rey needs to know where the Resistance Base is located so she can take them there. BB-8 has told her that the location is on a “need to know” basis, so she asks Finn. Of course, since he has been lying, he doesn’t know where the base is either. Rather than telling Rey the truth, he confesses to BB-8, who he manages to win over as a co-conspirator. BB-8 tells Rey that the base is in the Ileenium System. Finn gives the droid a thumbs-up gesture, which BB-8 returns with something that’s either a welding torch or a cigarette lighter.
Rey says she’ll drop the two of them off somewhere but she’s got to get back to Jakku. Finn wants to know why everyone’s always trying to get back to Jakku (the same question occurred to me, honestly), but before they can even discuss it, they are caught in some vessel’s tractor beam and are convinced they have been captured by the First Order.
Finn asks if Rey can make the ship begin spewing poison gas again, then they grab gas masks and hide in a familiar hiding spot, under the deck grating.
It turns out that their captors aren’t the First Order after all. The Millennium Falcon is boarded by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca.
“Chewie,” Han says, “We’re home.”
The movie theater audience was excited to see the Falcon for the first time. But, they (including me) actually cheered when Han and Chewie made their first appearance. Han may as well have been speaking for the audience. This movie felt like coming home after being away for a long, long time. Perhaps since Empire. For all the things I actually liked about them, the prequels never quite captured this feeling.
Han and Chewie easily, and literally, uncover our heroes’ hiding place, which they’ve used themselves in the past. Finn and Rey are the stand-ins for all of the fans out there as they are geeking out over Han Solo.
Han doesn’t seem to believe that Rey, this young girl, is the pilot. Just as Rey is surprised that the ship is the Millennium Falcon. We get a kind of provenance on the ship, explaining why it was on Jakku. It was stolen from Han by someone named Ducain, then stolen from Ducain by the Irving Boys, from whom Unkar Plutt stole it before it was stolen by Rey. Han steals it back for good.
Finn refers to Han as the Rebellion General. Rey, who thinks she’s contradicting him, says, no, he’s the smuggler, and the Falcon is the ship that made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs. 12 parsecs, Han corrects her. I like the way Abrams is doubling-down on Lucas’s gaffe.
Han seems to gain some respect for Rey as the two bond over some observation about a compressor being up on an ignition line. You know, mutual gearhead talk.
Rey tells Han they need his help getting BB-8 to the Resistance Base. Finn reveals the secret about the map to Luke Skywalker, as he has to apparently everyone he’s met since meeting Poe Dameron.
Their conversation is interrupted by a sudden loud metallic THUNK. Han makes a comment about a Rathtar getting loose. This concerns Finn, who apparently knows what Rathtars are. We don’t. Not yet.
Our group leaves the Falcon and are in the giant freighter’s hangar. Han confirms that he’s hauling Rathtars to Finn. But, the THUNK wasn’t from a Rathtar, but from another ship landing on the freighter.
“Oh, great,” says Han in a typical calm tone, “It’s the Guavian Death Gang . . . They must’ve tracked us from Nantoon.”
Rey doesn’t know what a Rathtar is, and asks. Finn asks her if she’s ever heard of the Trillia Massacre. When she says she hasn’t, he says, “Good.” This doesn’t tell us what they are either, but it adds layer of menace to the name, as well as letting the savvy viewer know that, by the laws of Chekhov’s Gun, the Rathtars are going to figure into our plot, and probably sooner rather than later.
Turns out that Han is taking three Rathtars to someone called King Prana. Three Rathtars, I said. Even more menacing than one. The dramatic Rule of Three (which is more comprehensible than the Sith Rule of Two).
We’re following the usual Star Warsian rules of out-of-the-frying-pan-into-an-even-bigger-frying-pan, because Han’s new cargo vessel is being boarded by something called the Guavian Death Gang. I doubt they’re handing out religious tracts.
Han is certain that he can talk his way out of whatever trouble this may be. Chewie growls his doubts. Han stows Rey and Finn away on the lower decks, close to at least one Rathtar, while he, Chewie and BB-8 go to meet with the gang. Only during this viewing did I question the motivation for bringing the astromech along.
The helmets on the Guavian Death Gang enforcers remind me of something from a comic book. I’m thinking Rob Liefeld, for some reason, but I’m not sure if it was a hero or a villain with the similar giant capital-O on the faceplate. I couldn’t find anything on-line, so I’m probably not performing within my acceptable operating parameters again.
Han’s returned to his old smuggling ways again, it seems. He apparently borrowed money from both the Guavian Death Gang and something called Kanjiklub in order to get the Rathtars for King Prana. Now, both gangs want their money back. To put Han in an even bigger frying pan, Kanjiklub also shows up on the cargo ship. Not to bring matters of race into it, but the Kanjiklubbers all seem to be Asian and look like Mongols.
And this is where we’ll leave off with Chapter Three. The action still hasn’t slowed down for more than a heartbeat or two. We have no idea what’s going on with Poe Dameron, but our protagonist Rey and her sidekick Finn have been united with OG Star Wars heroes Han and Chewie. No doubt Han is going to help them to get BB-8 to the Resistance, because that’s what he does. In the meantime, however, they have to deal with a problem a bit heavier than Mynocks inside a giant Space Slug.
We know that the Rathtars will be involved. We can’t get our characters to stop talking about them. I wonder if there are any Rathtar Keepers in this movie?
Until next time . . . I’m Not the One Who Chased You Down with a Stick! Doesn’t Anyone Have Blasters Around Here? . . . And May the 15-Minute Force Be with You.