Before I begin, let me say… Spoilers.
Okay, so I have seen The Force Awakens twice now. And I was pleasantly surprised with my enjoyment of the film. Between my feelings that I needed to apologise to the people I saw the prequels with (because they were at times painful to watch) and my annoyance at JJ Abrams overzealous use of lens flares in the star wars movies, I had my reservations about the latest Star Wars installment.
But all things considered I think it was a fine first outing for the revived franchise. I’m even okay with it seeming like a retelling of A New Hope with different characters and place names… As long as the next isn’t a retelling of Empire and/or the third of Jedi.
So here is my qualm: the big reveal that wasn’t.
When I was a kid, Star Wars was a staple in our home. The Empire struck back before I was born and the Jedi returned before I was a year old. So I never had the shock of finding out Vader was Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father. I also never had the surprise of finding out Leia and Luke were siblings. In my memory, they had always been that way. The Phantom Menace tried with the reveal that Padme was Queen Amidala, and although I liked that little surprise it wasn’t the same AHA! moment.
I feel like The Force Awakens had the potential for a great AHA moment. A moment that would have added another layer of dimension to an already emotional scene and if done right could have had theatre goers in shock. That moment would have created an instant classic one liner like “I am your Father”. For the Force Awakens that line could have been “The face of my son.”
It would have been so easy to take out the four times that we hear direct references to Kylo Ren’s relationship with Han and the Skywalkers.
The first being when Snoke asks Kylo Ren if he is capable of dealing with the Solo’s since they are his parents. He could have said something a little less obvious, it also would have played a little more realistic since how often do we hear on person reminding another who their parents are? With that little detail left out the audience would wonder “What is Ren’s history with Han and Leia? Did he train with Luke? Where does this bad blood come from? Why would they pose and issue for him?”
The second is when Ren is talking to the burned, melted and disfigured helmet that had belonged to Vader. Ren refers to Vader as “Grandfather”. Taking out that one word would have built the suspense that had been there since we all watched the truncated clip of that scene in the trailer. We would have continued wondering what drew Ren to this mask of a dying man? Why was Ren speaking to the helmet about his inner conflict between the Dark Side and the Light? Was he just a fanatic or was there something else?
The third was when Han told Leia that he had seen their son. If Han had played the pronoun game and said “I saw him” and Leia had responded with a knowing and sad nod, that would have (in my opinion) been so much cooler! It would have had the audience’s attention perked again. Not only does Ren know them but they know him and they are noticeably saddened by his fate. Now we start trying to piece together what we know. We start wondering, is he Luke’s son? Is he Han and Leia’s son? Is he even young enough for that? At this point we haven’t seen his face yet. For all we know he could be Lando Calrissian!
Lastly when Leia tells Han to bring their son home if he sees him, this could have been another great use of the pronoun game. “Bring him home”. Han knows she means their son. He also knows such a thing won’t be easy. We have seen that Han and Leia’s relationship is fractured. We know something tore them apart and this request for Han to do the near impossible has us just begging to know what is up with Kylo Ren and the Nerf Herder and the Princess.
So now let’s back up and remember whose story we have been following throughout the movie… We have our main protagonist Rey, and our secondary protagonist FN2187. Rey and Finn live in a galaxy were Jedi are a myth, where the Han Solo is a legend. Through their eyes we don’t see the history of the Solos. While we see him as young and somewhat wild, we don’t know Kylo Ren as someone’s child or someone’s family.
So here they are overlooking this walkway where Kylo Ren stands and they hear their new friend and semi-father figure yell “Ben!” The dark figure in his black cloak and voice altering helmet turns. Han asks him to remove his mask, and the words echo through the chasm for Rey and Finn to hear. “What to you think you’ll see if I do?” The deep voice asks. Han takes a breath, hiseyes sad and tired, and clear as day he says “The face of my son.” BOOM! There it is! now we see Rey and Finn react to this news, their faces frozen in confusion… Mouths open, eyes wide. And many of us in the audience mirror their faces and feelings, and some of us choke back hollering “I KNEW IT!” But before any of us can even begin to process this new information the camera is back on Ren and Han for what is one of the saddest moments in Star Wars. Ben tells his father of the turmoil raising inside of him, confesses to his father that he knows what he must do, and asks his father “Will you help me?” Han responds “Anything” and Rey and Finn watch as son cuts down father.
And now we all sit in stunned silence as we enter the denouement of the movie, still reeling from the reward of finally having our curiosity about Ren satisfied in the most heartbreaking manner.
And I think that would have made The Force Awakens a better movie watching experience.