This contains at least two pretty big spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen it yet, then for the love of crikey go and do so.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was first announced, most of us had a few major questions. Among the biggest were how some of the old characters might factor into the new storyline. Of course, everyone had their theories. And with how dedicated some fans were to proving them, there are probably people who have seen the film multiple times and still believe that Luke Skywalker is somehow Kylo Ren. These people are beyond our help, so let’s go ahead and forget about them for the time being.
Luke may not have been the film’s villain, but the two did share a history together. We discover that Luke was trying to train a new Jedi Order, and one of his disciples was none other than Ben Solo. I couldn’t tell you why Han and Leia named their son after the horribly lazy alias of Luke’s former trainer, but it would appear as if that’s precisely what happened. Unfortunately, the boy grew to admire his long-deceased grandfather just a bit too much. He modeled himself after Vader, and Luke went into hiding out of guilt for his belief that he had doomed the galaxy and caused a disturbance in the Solo household.
This led to an interesting plot involving R2-D2. After Luke went into hiding, Artoo essentially went into a coma. After going into low power mode, he became the robot equivalent of a dog who spends all day sitting at the door and awaiting the return of his human. But as soon as Rey arrives at the Resistance base near the end of the film, he suddenly wakes up and completes BB-8’s map to Luke. We finish with a meeting between Luke and Rey, and we get to thank the gods that Mark Hamill looks a little bit less like Mark Hamill in this film.
The thing that confused most viewers is that R2 really had no reason to wake up. It seems as if, after BB-8 approached him much earlier, he spent most of The Force Awakens quietly stewing, only to wake up when it was convenient to the plot. Some fans (myself included) hypothesized that perhaps droids could actually sense the Force. It would explain BB-8’s attachment to Rey, as well as R2’s sudden awakening when she enters the base. But as screenwriter Michael Arndt and director J.J. Abrams explain to Entertainment Weekly, it isn’t quite so complicated.
They begin by telling us why R2-D2 had the map in the first place, although they fail to explain why he’s missing a piece of it.
Arndt: “We had the idea about R2 plugging into the information base of the Death Star, and that’s how he was able to get the full map and find where the Jedi temples are.”
Abrams: “But the idea was that in that scene where R2 plugged in, he downloaded the archives of the Empire, which was referenced by Kylo Ren.
Abrams then continues to explain the scene between BB-8 and R2-D2. Not only do we get a translation of BB-8’s “dialogue” (which is a bit funny to hear), but we also get an acknowledgement from Abrams that the scene seems a bit convenient.
“BB-8 comes up and says something to him, which is basically, ‘I’ve got this piece of a map, do you happen to have the rest?’” The idea was R2, who has been all over the galaxy, is still in his coma, but he hears this. And it triggers something that would ultimately wake him up.
While it may seem, you know, completely lucky and an easy way out, at that point in the movie, when you’ve lost a person, desperately, and somebody you hopefully care about is unconscious, you want someone to return.”
His explanation is worded a bit awkwardly, but that’s because he’s desperately trying to avoid saying what we already know—it takes R2 so long to wake up because it’s convenient to the plot. That’s why it seems “completely lucky and an easy way out.” Because that’s what it is.
The second big moment in Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place earlier in the film than the scene with BB-8 and R2. And if you’ve seen it, then you already know what I’m talking about.
Kylo Ren kills Han Solo.
It wasn’t a scene that necessarily surprised you. Due to Harrison Ford’s age, it makes sense that they would use him to boost ticket sales while still ensuring that they wouldn’t have to worry about losing a key actor halfway through their next shoot. (Sorry if that sounds cynical, but pragmatism often does.) But even if you saw it coming, that scene likely gripped you to your core. And while I personally would have liked the film better if Kylo Ren never took his helmet off, the only Star Wars villain with more teen angst than Anakin Skywalker made a lasting impression when he decided to kill off everyone’s favorite character.
And based on Abrams’ explanation for the scene, it would appear as if this is exactly what he was going for.
“Star Wars had the greatest villain in cinema history. So, how you bring a new villain into that world is a very tricky thing. We knew we needed to do something fucking bold. The only reason why Kylo Ren has any hope of being a worthy successor is because we lose one of the most beloved characters.”
Of course, the scene tried its best to surprise us. Even though we hadn’t seen the lightsaber battle from the trailers, they tried to convince us that Ben Solo might be called to the light. Leia still sensed good in him, and she had hoped that Han would bring him home. But now, he’s committed the most heinous act imaginable and he’s on the path to complete his training.
This, too, was part of Abrams’ plan for the villain.
“Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain. And not a villain who was the finished, ready-made villain, but someone who was in process.”
He certainly got the “unfinished” bit right. And while there are probably theories that Han Solo isn’t really dead (I intend to post a similar theory rather soon), this is still one of the few powerful moments that Kylo Ren was able to give us after removing his helmet. Some may hate Abrams for taking Solo away from us, but it was a strong decision in the end.