Slate sent two staffers who’ve never seen a Star Wars movie to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Note: Spoilers galore below, insofar as our intrepid viewers understood the movie correctly. For a more informed, less spoilery take, read Dana Stevens’ review of The Force Awakens.
Jessica Winter: So, Katy, we have somehow spent decades on Earth without immersing ourselves in the Star Wars universe—but that changed today, forever. How have you managed to elude the Force all this time?
Katy Waldman: It wasn’t easy! I would say I consumed a one-quarter portion (get it?) of the Star Wars mythos just through cultural osmosis. But it turns out a lot of the Facts I thought were Facts were incorrect. For instance, I’d assumed that Luke Skywalker and Princess (General?) Leia were an item, but it turns out they are siblings. Shocking. But what about you?
JW: Yes, there’s probably no such thing as a pure Star Wars newbie—the series is so all-pervasive that I got some of those nutrients simply by consuming other forms of culture. I attempted to become a Star Wars fan at age 6, when my older brother took me to The Return of the Jedi, which my friend Ishaan confirms is the one with the bears. But if I remember correctly, I got scared early on and we had to leave. By the time the second round of films kicked in, in 1999, I think my lack of Star Wars scholarship had hardened into a ideological stance—I resisted the idea that I was pop-culturally duty-bound to confirm my membership in this cult.
KW: Yes! That sounds so familiar. My accidental neglect recast itself as imperviousness to this big dumb galaxy that supplied 80 percent of the kids in my neighborhood with Halloween costumes every year. But I can now admit how wrong I was. I loved The Force Awakens! Star Wars is the culture’s best-kept secret! Did you feel like your novicehood was a problem today?
JW: I did not, and that is all to the movie’s credit. I got the sense that J.J. Abrams split the film’s attentions with perfect mathematical precision, embracing ignoramuses like us while performing plenty of fan service along the way. A few times in the theater where I saw it, the audience laughed or gasped for reasons unknown to me, but I didn’t feel left out—just curious. What did you love about it, Katy?
KW: Well, the two leads—Rey and Finn—are just so courageous and funny and game. And I liked that someone had come up with a metaphysics for the universe, with a Force and two sides, and I liked all the samurai mystical stuff and the cheesy fight scenes and the pilots who had each other’s backs. It just seemed like such a good-natured movie! Also, that little robot awakened all kinds of maternal instincts I didn’t realize I had.
JW: Yes, exactly. Despite ample darkness and destruction, this is a movie with a fundamentally can-do spirit, encapsulated in that irrepressible little rolling droid, who I worried about constantly. And Rey! Rey is everything. She is a desert orphan who can fix anything and fly everything and has a beautiful British accent and hates holding hands (poor well-intentioned Finn!) and despite being penniless and exhausted she somehow always looks like she is hitting the catwalk for the Nicholas K spring/summer 2015 ready-to-wear collection. I admired how Abrams found the time and space just to live with her for a little while, even in the midst of a jam-packed, fast-paced, ultra-blockbuster movie. Watching Rey sledding down the sand dunes, fixing her sad, rationed dinner—I would gladly watch the three-hour Jeanne Dielman version of that movie. In general I just loved looking at this movie, regardless of what was happening.
KW: The loaf of bread that bloomed in the pot of liquid. The sight of the spaceships kicking into higher gear and becoming streams of zooming light.
JW: And like you, Katy, I was intrigued by the metaphysics of the Force, but I still don’t really understand what the Force is. When Adam from Girls uses it, it’s like some kind of low-frequency sonic weapon that reads your mind and coerces you to do his bidding. But when Rey uses it, it’s almost like she’s meditating or really hitting the end zone on a mindfulness seminar. So when they use the Force on each other, it’s kind of like they’re having mind sex, although I also suspect they might be siblings—did you get that vibe, that possibly Rey is not just Leia’s spiritual successor but maybe her actual kid?
KW: YES. Yes, I did. I kept expecting Leia to reveal that she was Rey’s mother in that final scene when they embrace, though perhaps they are leaving that conversation for the sequel in which Adam from Girls is also revealed as R2-D2’s cousin. The Force flummoxed me as well! I couldn’t figure out whether only Jedis could use it—but then, how was Rey channeling it? I wondered whether you had to be born a Jedi, or it was a matter of training, or both ... Also, can you wield a lightsaber if you aren’t a Jedi? Is it like Thor’s hammer? Because Finn didn’t seem to have Force capability, yet he fought back against Solo Jr.
JW: Maybe Finn got some beginner-level lightsaber training at Imperial Stormtrooper school? That threw me, too.
KW: Can I ask another genealogy question? I thought Darth Vader was Luke’s father (hence the famous line I’m sure even you didn’t manage to avoid). So how is it that Han Solo’s son is referring to Darth Vader as grandfather? Are all of these characters one big family? Did they all spring fully formed from the Supreme Leader’s skull?
JW: So I knew going in that Luke was Leia’s brother and Darth Vader’s son, but I didn't know before watching the movie whether Luke and Leia shared the same father. Presumably they do! So Leia got together with Han Solo and made Adam from Girls.
KW: Did you find Adam from Girls convincing as a Big Bad?
JW: Oh my goodness, yes. I thought he was tremendous. The scene on the vertigo-inducing skywalk (!) between Big Bad and Han Solo is a masterpiece of technique and pacing—I knew exactly what was going to happen the second the scene started, and that knowledge only amped up the dread and terror and pathos as it unfolded. But what really clinches it is Adam Driver’s performance. When he says, with tears in his eyes, that he is being torn apart and needs his father’s help —that will stay with me for a long time. What did you think?
KW: This whole movie was so good at accessing emotions I wanted to keep safely tucked away from Star Wars. I almost started crying when Big Bad said he needed help from his dad—but at that moment, I thought he was looking for the strength to kill himself. So Han Solo’s death surprised me—it was terrible! And I’m worried it means that Driver won’t have any of that riveting adolescent vulnerability in the sequel. I was just not prepared for Girls and the Evil Empire to collide, in general. Did the presence of the old guard (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford) do anything for you?
JW: I thought the mingling of the old and new generations worked seamlessly, especially because it blended so readily with the movie’s obsession with inheritance. There’s a lot of fodder for the nature-vs.-nurture debate in the film; at one point Han Solo says that Driver “has too much Vader in him,” and of course, the riveting vulnerable adolescent soon proves him gruesomely right. There’s almost a sensuality to the family talk—Driver says, “I shall not be seduced,” meaning that he will not join his parents on the side of good. I found the family romance to be palpable and potent and very emotionally rich—not what I was expecting from a Star Wars movie.
KW: I love the observation about the sensual family talk, especially because the ostensibly romantic relationship (between Rey and Finn) is so chaste. My sense, like yours, is that bloodlines are at the heart of the series—that something as ambitious as Star Wars will want to encompass generations as well as galaxies. On that note, I was surprised by how little education there was in this movie. Everyone seemed to already have skills or to flawlessly intuit the ones they didn’t realize they had. I kept waiting for the Jedi training montage.
JW: Agree. Here’s a helpful note I wrote to myself whilst Rey was somehow reanimating the Millennium Falcon, which had been moldering in the sand for years, with her own bare hands: “How does she know how to do all this shit?”
KW: YEP. Also, the audience cracked up when she called the Millennium Falcon “garbage,” and I was confused.
JW: The biggest laugh line in my crowd had something to do with a “garbage compactor.” Lots of garbage jokes in this movie! So Katy, a couple of Star Wars fans I know have referred to the movie’s “big twist.” But to us, it’s all twists. What do you think the big twist was? That Llewyn Davis comes back from the dead? That Han Solo and General/Princess Leia have a son? That the son is capable of patricide and also he is Adam from Girls?
KW: The last, definitely. Or maybe it’s Han Solo’s return as well as his subsequent death? Or maybe—it’s Luke return at the end! Was that Luke at the end? And what happened to his hand?
JW: Yes, that was Luke. I have no idea what happened to his hand, but more importantly, I have no idea how he feeds himself up there on top of that mountain. What does he eat and drink? Does he rappel down once a week to visit his local bodega? Does he summon takeout via the Force?
KW: That’s not how the Force works, Jessica!
JW: But if Luke is in good health and has a food delivery situation worked out, he will presumably play a big role in the next film?
KW: I assume so! Maybe he will provide the training montages I so sorely desired.
JW: And maybe he can explain whether the Force is a hereditary thing or a meritocracy open to all. Are you inspired to go check out the other films? I’m definitely going to watch the first three over Christmas to try to fill in some of these blanks, but I still don’t think I’ll have the stamina for the next, much maligned trilogy.
KW: Oh, absolutely. I want to see Harrison Ford when he is young and dashing like Llewyn Davis, and the spirit of fun that pervaded this movie was so irresistible, I need another fix! I’ll skip Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, though—I’ve been warned away by the biggest Star Wars fans I know. I think it’s fair to say that the Force is with us both?
JW: I have been seduced. Until next time!