JJ Abrams

Son of Solo

The line, coming in a dramatic moment in The Forces Awakens, is powerful in its brevity and delivery. Han Solo, helping to plant charges which he hopes will give the Resistance an advantage in destroying Starkiller Base, sees the film’s villain Kylo Ren standing alone on a bridge, a bridge which spans a seemingly bottomless chasm. At this point in the film we know that Kylo Ren and Han Solo are related, that Solo is Ren’s father. However, it is not until Solo advances towards the dark-shrouded man that we  suddenly and unexpectedly learn Kylo Ren’s given name. “Ben!!!!”, Solo shouts to get the villains attention, doing so and beginning a conversation which, we also know, ends just as suddenly and unexpectedly when Solo is killed by his tormented offspring.

There are any number of ways one could approach/discuss the events which unfold in this dramatic scene in The Force Awakens. And, I am sure I could provide some well-developed and, I’d like to believe, insightful thoughts on it. But my intentions in this brief conversation far less overarching, and I am much more interested in providing, for now, a small morsel of consideration regarding the moment Han Solo shouts the name Ben.

To begin, when I heard Solo pronounce Kylo Ren’s true name, I was, undoubtedly like many others, struck by the fact that Ben is also the pseudonym used by Obi-Wan Kenobi whilst he lived on Tatooine (Ben Kenobi). Assuredly, this is an indication that Han Solo and Leia Organa named their only child after the famed Jedi Master, perhaps as a way to honor the man who, from a certain point of view, brought the lovers together. Plus, if we backup and consider the countless ways The Force Awakens borrows from/echoes A New Hope, it seems appropriate that the film includes a character named Ben. And yet, that Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben has another equally important and symbolic meaning, one that resonates as loudly as Solo’s voice when the name leaves his mouth.

A Hebrew name originating in the Jewish Tanakh, Benjamin (the anglicized form of Binyamin) is often translated in two distinct ways: “Son of the south” or “Son of the right hand.” Thus, taken alone as a masculine noun, “Ben” quite literally means “Son” and/or “Son of” (Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira = Joshua [Jesus] son of Eleazar son of Sira). Ben is used in both given names and surnames of Hebraic origin, although philologists who study Hebrew will be quick to point out that “Ben” is used in a number of other ways as well.

While I would enjoy delving deeper into the nuanced meanings and usage of “Ben” and “Benjamin” in Biblical texts, my reason for noting its usage as a masculine Hebrew noun should be fairly obvious. On the one hand, Han Solo is not just yelling the name “Ben!!!” to get Kylo Ren’s attention, but he is also, quite literally, yelling “Son!!!” On the other hand, we can translate the name Ben Solo as the “Son of Solo.”

I cannot say with any authority that the writer(s)/director of The Force Awakens, when  choosing the given name for Kylo Ren, were aware that the name Ben could be translated as “Son” or “Son of.” While it is likely that the name was chosen to create superficial connection with Ben Kenobi, I am never-the-less left wondering whether Ben was also chosen because of it’s original Hebrew meaning. Still, intentional or not, the meaning in the name Ben is present, rippling outwards as it leaves Han Solo’s lips. With these complimentary meanings in mind – “Ben” = “Son” and “Ben Solo” = “Son of Solo” – the potential for new insights about The Force Awakens may emerge. And if they do, I hope you will share some of those insights with me.

The Force Awakens Without Lando

Admittedly, I was disappointed that Lando Calrissian, our favorite smooth-talking “galactic entrepreneur,” was left out of The Force Awakens. While arguments in defense of his absence have typically revolved around that fact that he was not an “original” character in the Original Trilogy, I have consistently felt that this argument is flawed. True, Lando was not in A New Hope and was only introduced at the outset of the Third Act in The Empire Strikes Back. But from his first appearance as Baron Administrator of Cloud City and onward, Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams) was elevated to “origial character” status, playing a critical role in the major events which unfold in the remainder of Original Trilogy.

This being the case, it’s especially important to remember (as if one could really forget) that Lando not only commanded the Rebel Starfighter squadrons during The Battle of Endor, but that he also flew the Millennium Falcon into the superstructure of the Second Death Star and (with the help of X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles) destroyed the battle station. So sure, Lando wasn’t an “original” Original Trilogy character, but his actions – culminating in his heroics in Return of the Jedi – absolutely established him as a character equal in importance and stature with R2-D2, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Han Solo. The iconic last scene in Return of the Jedi, which includes each of these heroes, as well as Lando, is visual proof of this obvious fact (see the featured image above). 

Further, the “not an original character” argument also falls short because Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb, both secondary characters introduced in Return of the Jedi, were in The Force Awakens. While it is pretty damn awesome that Ackbar and Nunb are in the film, it is none-the-less perplexing that Lando was left out while they were not. In fact, this is even more perplexing when one remembers (again, not that one could forget) that Nien Nunb was Lando’s co-pilot during The Battle of Endor. His co-pilot!!!

Lando and Nien
Lando and Nien Nunb in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Now, in stating, albeit briefly, why I think this particular argument for Lando’s absence is flawed, I also have to acknowledge that after watching The Force Awakens, I don’t really think Lando could have fit into the movie all that easily. It is certainly conceivable, for example, that he would be hanging out at Maz Kanata’s Castle on Takodana, but had he been there when Han, Finn, and Rey enter, his presence would have taken away from our introduction to Maz Kanata. And, had he been a member of the Resistance high command on D’Qar, his presence may have felt much more like a basic cameo, just one voice among many offering insight into the battle against the First Order.

These two possibilities are certainly not the only spots Lando could have appeared. However, I don’t really find it necessary to speculate on every moment Calrissian could have popped up in The Force Awakens. Instead, I’d much rather note that these and many other scenes could have accommodated Lando and his unique, out-going personality, but in doing so the scenes – and by extension the film – would have needed to be fundamentally altered to make his appearance meaningful. Certainly, writer/director J.J. Abrams might have been able to find a way to do this, perhaps installing General Calrissian into the Resistance and putting him center-stage to determine the attack plan against Starkiller Base. Yet, for whatever reason(s), Abrams chose not to include Lando, and again, while I’m disappointed by Lando’s absence, I think the movie Abrams made is a good one even without the “old smoothie.”

Besides, with Episode VII in the books, we must now look toward Episode VIII and IX for Calrissian to make another glorious onscreen appearance. And, even though the IMDB page for Episode VIII does not list Billy Dee Williams as part of the cast, I can certainly imagine a scenario in which Lando’s inclusion hidden until the last possible moment. In fact, I would be quite pleased to go into the film unsure if Calrissian was to appear, only to find out he IS in the movie.

Granted, there is the possibility that Lando will not be in Episode VIII (or even IX), and if this is the case my disappointment is gonna quickly morph into outright anger…and I have a feeling I won’t be the only Star Wars fan feeling that anger.


Check out my follow-up to this piece: Lando Loiters in a Marketplace

Fan Reactions to The Force Awakens

While I certainly love sharing my own views on Star Wars, and I could talk to no end about The Force Awakens, it’s also nice and refreshing to get some different perspectives and hear other voices.  I’ll definitely be offering my own thoughts and experiences of the film in more of my posts, but for now I wanted to mix things up. So, like I did during Ewok Week, I gathered a smattering of reactions to The Force Awakens from fans of the Star Wars franchise. Check out what they had to say and keep the conversation going in the comment section!!!


From Jenmarie (Check out her blog Anakin and His Angel)

Now that I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times I can tell you that I have fallen more in love with it after each viewing. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve noticed more ties to the other films, I’ve experienced different emotions during pivotal scenes, and I have grown to appreciate the characters even more than I did the first time. I went in knowing that this was going to be a continuation of an incredible story but that it would also be filled with new adventures being led by new faces. I have never really compared the films but have rather seen them all as one taking place at different times with unique stories all intertwining with each other. In my experience, this mindset has allowed me to appreciate each film within the Star Wars Saga for what it is to the very fullest which has resulted in my primary focus being on what I love most about these movies.

That being said, as a fan, I can tell you that The Force Awakens is very much a Star Wars film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you shouldn’t worry. It does a remarkable job of combining the familiarity we have with these movies with the new, and there’s some fresh and extraordinary new content that has made fans like myself go crazy! Like the haven’t-seen-it-in-a-week-withdrawals kind of crazy. Without going into too much detail, the new material consists of things that I’m sure many of us never knew we wanted or could exist in the Star Wars Universe. There are some insanely incredible scenes where the Force is used in a way where you just don’t want the scene to end no matter which side you’re on, light or dark. There are personalities within characters (and a particular droid) that we have yet to see until now and it’s fascinating to watch and  wonder what goes on inside their heads, what their pasts look like, and why they do what they do. There are also brand new themes that will tear you apart emotionally. Rey’s Theme is so powerful, it has honestly messed me up once or twice. The Force Awakens is full of memorable moments (both heart-felt and hilarious), exciting action, and tear-jerking scenes that will leave you sitting there in the rawest of forms. It sounds draining, but it’s a great thing to be so impacted by a new Star Wars movie! GO SEE IT!

From Jake

I thought that the movie was fantastic. It has been years since I was sitting in a movie theater, jaw dropped, waiting for the next scene to happen. I think that the plot and characters were well written, if very derivative (A droid is being hunted for the information it holds, but it crashes on a desert planet only to be discovered by the last remaining person able to use the force who then, through a series of misadventures, makes their way to an older Jedi to be trained, but, on the way destroys the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable space titanic of a weapon”). My biggest issue with the movie actually comes from the original actors. I think that it was great that they reprised their roles, and I went into the movie excited about it but when they appeared on screen it took me out of it for a second, it seemed a little “force”-ed to me (other than Anakin, I loved his cameo). I loved the movie as a whole, though, and am looking forward to the next installment.

From Andy (aka Andykin)

The Force Awakens, oh boy, I was an emotional wreck throughout the whole movie. Seeing all of our beloved characters come back from the original trilogy was like going home. I got those warm fuzzy feelings which lead to lots of joyous tears- the lady next to me for sure thought I was crazy! I was clapping, laughing and crying like a little kid. And of course, I had no shame in it.

FirstOrderTroopers
First Order Stormtroopers
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII:   The Force Awakens

Rey was an incredible character to be introduced to and she delivered; she is easily my favorite new character. I could not be more happy with her and the strength she represents as a female. The First Order is so badass, I LOVED the new modernized feel the Stormtrooper armor has. They got a sweet, sleek, upgrade but kept the integrity of the original design. The riot baton was so cool to see in action!

John Williams, god bless that man, (thank you Steven Spielberg for introducing Williams to Lucas all those years ago) he did it again. My favorite track is the The Scavenger, as it has so many beautiful elements to it and personifies Rey so well. Special effects/sound effects were amazziinnngggg, it’s an IMAX dream and still holds up so well in the standard version. My favorite still has to be the humming and sparking of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, you hear him before you see him coming, and I thought that was genius. You gotta tip your hat to the sound editing team for that and so many other things! (pew pew!) So, uh, I think it’s safe to say that I loved this movie and it’s the best time to be a Star Wars fan!

From Alicia (Check out her blog Not So Super Heroes)

Let me begin by saying, I love spoilers. Love them. I read the epilogue to The Deathly Hallows to prepare myself for the possibility that Harry might die. [Spoiler: He didn’t.] That being said, as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near, I found myself wanting to avoid the dreaded spoilers. And, since I’m not a good enough fan, I wasn’t able to see the film until almost two weeks after its release; the anticipation was killing me. But still I attempted, for the first time, to steer clear of blogs, Tumbles, and Tweets. I failed. Miserably. About a week and a half after the release, I learned the truth about my forever love, Han Solo. [Spoiler: He dies.]

Kylo-Ren-by-kyloxrens-tumblr-kylo-ren-39176197-500-220
Kylo Ren
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Crushed. Inconsolable. There were lots of aggrieved moans and groans. Han dies. I needed to know more. I immediately went to Wookiepedia and got the scoop. Damn that Kylo Ren. Damn him straight to hell. But—by the time I saw the film, I had moved into the acceptance stage of grief and watched the film knowing that my first and constant movie crush was going to die. As I walked out of the theatre, I left with a sense that it couldn’t have played out any other way. And, of course, not being a rube, I knew as soon as the film was announced and Harrison Ford signed on, that they’d kill him off. I just hoped they’d make his death worth something.

I wasn’t disappointed. Star Wars has always been about fathers and sons. The Force Awakens carries that motif throughout. We see Han struggle with his belief that he is not enough to redeem his son, to bring him back from the Dark Side. Han never once shows that steadfast optimism that Luke embodies so clearly in Return of the Jedi. And as Han walks out on the bridge and calls him son by name, he does so knowing how it will end. Han was never enough for young Ben. But finally, in his last act, Han gives Ben everything he has, possibly for the first time.

From Jared

It’s hard for me to sort through all my feelings about The Force Awakens. To start, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood growing up, and through the podcasting and online community I’ve been fortunate enough to become a part of, it’s helped my life become much better.

Over the last year and a half or so I’ve become more and more a part of the fandom, and a large part of that was following The Force Awakens news as it broke, and the advance spoilers that were released through various reports. The build up to The Force Awakens has led me to some of the most meaningful friendships in my life.

Finn
Finn
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Which brings us to the film! To be able to share it with every member of my family, and to discuss it with friends from around the world, it makes the whole experience that much more incredible! I immediately fell for all our main heroes. Finn was my favorite by a VERY small margin, with Rey a close second. The earnest quality and sweetness of their bond, the seeds of romantic potential on both sides (Finn more than Rey) had me like a teenager with all them feels! I’m pulling for both of them in the future saga films. At half an hour into the movie, I was sold, they’re my new heroes.

I loved Adam Driver’s performance as well. He really nailed the quiet rage and, the more violently expressive kind as well! But his performance was exceptional. Overall, this film was a great way to share in something I love with my family and my new Star Wars family together, and to have fun doing so!

I am completely ready for the future of the Star Wars franchise!

From Mark (Excerpt taken from a piece Mark wrote entitled Star Wars and Good Stories.)

“What makes The Force Awakens so refreshing is its clear attempt to move the series back to a place where it can tell stories about people at their most people-y. Stories about a group of individuals; their hopes, dreams, fears, pains. Stories about lives lived. You and I can’t connect emotionally to intricately woven plots about trade negotiations and senatorial upheaval any more easily than we could emotionally connect to a newspaper. But a story about a boy, lonely, eager to do something special with his life, who finds friends and adventure, who feels the crushing disappointment over his father’s identity on top of the grief he’s always felt for his absence… these experiences we can get. These are things any one of us might actually live through.

Good stories are about people. When a story isn’t about people (or at least people-like things), for better or worse we have a hard time figuring out why we should care. Good stories, as those which connect us to other people across time, culture, distance, or even reality (when we’re talking works of imagination), also connect us to our deeper selves. We love the tale because we see ourselves in it. This connection rings so deeply to who we are as humans, it pulls taut the line between us and the first storytellers, passing words around a campfire about gods, humans, and the nature of the seen and unseen world. In this way, we are also connected to the divine, inasmuch as the desire to create comes from Createdness itself.

rey
Rey
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

This connectedness to Being through story and myth is also an answer to one of the more prominent critiques of the new film. Some feel that Episode VII lacks originality. While I agree that the plot follows the same structure as the first movie, A New Hope, I’m just as quick to say that this isn’t cause for critique. Rather, it’s what works about The Force Awakens. The new film is resetting the myth, not reinventing it. This is what we do with good stories. We develop them, not scrap them. Han Solo takes the place of Obi Wan. Rey is our new Luke. The story isn’t unoriginal for these facts because originality doesn’t always come from inventing new themes; in most cases, it comes from using myths we already know to develop new strands of the tale through old character growth and new character perspective.”

(Check out the rest of Mark’s thoughts HERE.)

From Michael

When I walked out of our first showing of the film on December 17th I…I didn’t like it.  I felt horrible owning those feelings but I didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, I thought it was fun and funny and exciting but it didn’t feel like Star Wars. George Lucas’ absence was obvious. Whether you love Lucas, hate him, or are indifferent to him, you can’t deny that Star Wars is his story.  It’s his world, his characters, his myth.  So to have a story set in that world, with those characters, but lacking his influence and his vision in the writing and/or directing felt jarring. It felt wrong.

Mike
Mike stands in line for The Force Awakens
Photo Credit – Me

Walking into the second viewing (1:10 Friday afternoon) I knew what to expect and was ready to appreciate the film for what it was.  By the third viewing (7:50 Friday night) I found myself really enjoying it.  The fourth viewing (9:50 Saturday morning) saw fatigue begin to set in but, after a needed break, the fun was back for the fifth viewing (8:10 Sunday night) and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.  As I’ve spent (more than a little) time with this film over the last few weeks I learned something for certain I’d believed would be true.

Star Wars is George Lucas’ story.  Nothing, in my mind, can be as good as what was created by the original myth-maker.  He thought all of this up and has guided it directly (the original six films) and indirectly (the EU, the Clone Wars TV series, etc.) for over thirty years.  Those are the Star Wars stories I grew up with, the ones I fell in love with, and they will always be the bedrock of all things Star Wars (at least in my mind).  After all, we’d have none of this if Lucas didn’t share his vision with us.  In addition to being the myth-maker, few filmmakers can rival Lucas’ intelligence.  I love Star Wars (meaning ALL six films) and I’d argue what he did in his films mythically, theologically, literarily, and creatively, was unprecedented and remains unduplicated.  Glance at the works of Joseph Campbell.  Google “Star Wars and Ring Theory.”  Read any number of books published explaining Star Wars through various faith traditions (from Christianity to Buddhism to Taoism).  While the new film does a brilliant job referencing Star Wars itself, Lucas did a brilliant job of incorporating the tapestry of human thought, mythology, and theology to give us a story at once both new as well as ancient and familiar.

My initial problem with The Force Awakens was I was hoping it would (or could) be as good as what Lucas created.  I was hoping it would feel like it fit perfectly after Return Of The JediBut even seeking that comparison makes no sense.  Star Wars has moved into a new era.  There was Star Wars.  And now we have Star Wars: the Disney Era.  Those are two very different animals.  Looking at The Force Awakens in this light, I can say I love the film.  I do!  Obviously, I’ve seen it nine times.  It is, easily, the best entry into the Disney Canon (which is how I choose to see this new era) thus far.  I’ve loved J.J. Abrams since Alias and he made a film worthy of the Star Wars name.  He gets Star Wars, even if he can’t replicate what Lucas can do.  The Force Awakens was made with love, by people who clearly love Star Wars.  And the end result is something worth seeing (again and again).

What struck me with The Force Awakens was, no matter how exciting it was to see Han and Chewie piloting the Millennium Falcon again, all my absolute favorite moments centered around the new characters.  And I think that’s how it should be.  In the Disney Canon, Star Wars isn’t the story of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie anymore.  It can’t be.  They are Lucas’ characters and their story was Lucas’ to shepherd.  The story now belongs to Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren. And I can’t wait to see where their story goes!!!  They are captivating, layered characters who have worthily claimed their place in my Star Wars-loving heart.  Yes, the classic characters will always remain on the periphery of the story, as will Lucas’ influence and presence. But they are not the stars of the story any more.

We are now living in the age of Star Wars: the Disney Era and the story will be shaped by the Disney Canon. The myth is moving in a new direction, and if The Force Awakens is any indication, it’s in good hands.  I’ve let go of any illusions that the Disney Era can be as brilliant, connected, and intelligent as Star Wars was with Lucas at the helm.  But that’s okay.  I’ll always have the original six films, the EU, and The Clone Wars.  And as long as we have talented filmmakers who truly love Star Wars, like J.J. Abrams to guide the story, I’ll keep excitedly buying tickets (and spending a day waiting so I could be first in line) to explore the next chapter in a galaxy I love, a galaxy far, far away.

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars: Phasma

As I headed into my first viewing of The Force Awakens, I was under the impression that Captain Phasma would be one of the primary villains in the film, on par with Kylo Ren and General Hux. Well, she is certainly villainous, strutting around with a Vader-esque swag in one of the coolest looking outfits created for a character in the Star Wars universe. Plus, on those  occasions where we hear her speak, she is incredibly intimidating, her voice projecting calm, collected authority.

Phasma VF
Captain Phasma stands in the wreckage of Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana…except, we don’t see her participate in this battle in the movie.
Photo Credit – Vanity Fair

And yet, Phasma barely shows up in the film. Given how much the chrome armored Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, appeared in promotions for the The Force Awakens I was pretty shocked by how little she factored into the movie. But this doesn’t mean I’m specifically disappointed with Phasma as a character. Really, I thought she was fascinating, someone who  even  in her brief appearances really captivated me and left me wanting more. Ultimately, my disappointment stems from the fact that Phasma was entirely underused, not once seen leading soldiers into battle or firing her blaster. And while she does give a few orders in the film, they are insignificant in relation to the overall plot of the movie. In fact, her biggest role comes in her last appearance where she is captured by Finn, Han, and Chewbacca and they force her to lower the shields that surround Starkiller Base. But here, in her final act, I felt she was entirely misused, neutered of any  authority as she is man-handled by the three at gun point. As THE leader of the stormtroopers in the First Order, it made no sense at all that Phasma would be so willing to let these three individuals order her around. Wouldn’t she rather  die than betray the First Order? Apparently not…

Going forward into Episode VIII, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Captain Phasma doesn’t play a larger role. It would be silly for writer/director Rian Johnson not to utilize Phasma in a more direct way, particularly now that Starkiller Base is gone and, presumably, First Order and Resistance forces will be fighting a dirty and gritty war. Besides, with many fans expressing disappointment over how little she appears in The Force Awakens, it would make practical sense just to give us more of her.

But while I am hoping we get more Phasma in Episode VIII (and even IX), I had another thought: Captain Phasma would be a GREAT character for a stand-alone Star Wars film.

Boba with Carbonite Han
Boba Fett walks alongside Han Solo (who is frozen in carbonite). Notice that Fett’s cape is draped over the left shoulder.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Now, I am under no illusion this will actually happen but I’m still gonna dream about it because I believe Phasma is precisely the type of Star Wars character we all tend to love  – a mysterious and intimidating figure shrouded in unique armor. Along these lines, I would actually liken her in a lot of ways to Boba Fett and even wonder if Phasma was created with everyone’s favorite bounty hunter in mind (she even drapes her cape over the same shoulder that Boba Fett drapes his). Plus, like Boba Fett, Captain Phasma need not say/do much of anything for us to know she is someone you do not cross. Honestly, while I do think she was underutilized in the movie, I give J.J. Abrams a lot of credit for creating a character who, with very little screen time, radiates an incredible amount of badass.

But whereas we were given a young Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones, along with Jango Fett (who Boba looks like as an adult since he is a clone of Jango), I would go so far as to suggest that in a Phasma film, the chrome helmet needn’t come off. In fact, the only exception to this would be if the helmet were to be knocked off in the heat of battle. Otherwise, we already know what Gwendoline Christie looks like, and we can simply us our imagination to conjur up images of her intimidating expression. If there were a scene with a young Phasma, I would even suggest that the child keep her training helmet on. In short, a Phasma film, set prior to the events of The Force Awakens, would be an excellent way to establish the duty and devotion she has to the First Order, duty and devotion so entrenched she is always wearing her gear.

Does this mean she wears her gear to bed or when showers? Of course not, that would be silly. But we wouldn’t need, nor should we want, to see Phasma in the confines of her quarters. Seeing Phasma in her downtime would take away from the badassery that surrounds her. Besides, I can’t imagine Phasma being the type of figure who decides to take a nice, hot bubble bath after a long day of work.  No, what I want to see is a character so duty-bound, so devoted, so loyal to the First Order that nothing else matters. For Captain Phasma, there is ONLY the First Order.

Leave a comment and let me know what you thought about Captain Phasma’s role in The Force Awakens.