Disclaimer: I really liked The Force Awakens. I like the characters and their actors. I am a huge Star Wars fan. It has a very special place in my heart. That said, I would approach the story and development differently, into something more cohesive and frankly, a little heavier.
From time to time, I offer rewrites to things. I don’t do it maliciously, I don’t do it slag on the people who did the work, I just come at things from a different direction. And so it is with The Force Awakens.
Do we need to run through the characters? Not the OG ones, for sure, but let’s hit the new ones.
Rey – A plucky desert world tech-rat, Rey is our Force-wielding protagonist for this next trilogy. Daisy Ridley rocks the role, but the character is a list of skills, with a translucent veneer of internal conflict. Abandoned on a planet, she’s alone, but her loneliness is demonstrated as having happened to her, rather than felt, since she reinforces her ‘lonership’ time and again, until she doesn’t. We’ll face a lot of the rewrite towards her.
Finn – The Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel, the guy with feelings. John Boyega is great. He’s playing the hell out of what’s on the page, and he and Poe have a chemistry like they should be the reboot of Lethal Weapon (with the Riggs/Murtaugh roles reversed, of course) and then be in every TV show I watch.
Poe – The trilogy’s Han Solo, and holy shit can we make him dance all the time? Look at this:
His character is pretty much going to stay the same, because it works.
Kylo Ren – Herein lies the bulk of the problem. It’s not wholly clear that he’s either Light Side or Dark Side, and not really all that clear that he’s stuggling to be one or the other with any meaningful intent. Sure, he tells us he is, but when have you ever known me to be all-in for telling something so fundamental to a character? He’s going to get transformed by this rewrite.
For me, the two stand-out issues with the film are two issues common to many manuscripts: A lack of arc, and a lack of motivation due to backstory and arc.
A lack of arc is two-fold: The character arcs are under-expressed, as well as the story’s arc is relayed by the title crawl and the last 5 minutes of film. Plenty of room there to show us the universe post-ROTJ, and plenty of room take it in a new direction or subversion of the expected direction.
The lack of motivation due to backstory and arc is a character problem that can be expressed by the question, “Why is _____ (INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE) doing ____ (INSERT ACTION THE CHARACTER IS DOING)? Is it because plot-reasons?”
So let’s keep those issues in mind, and let me rewrite TFA.
The Force Awakens
The title crawl is one of danger and fear and the unknown, only a few years after the destruction of the second Death Star, and only a few years into the rise of numerous splinter groups: Empire, Rebellion, and otherwise looking to spread across the galaxy. We don’t name-check any ROTJ characters, and we don’t mention the Force (except in the title).
We sweep down through the starry space to a large swampy planet. We actually don’t just show the planet from space then cut to a soundstage, we follow the camera as it plunges through the planet’s atmosphere and moves at a pretty decent speed to about shoulder height. The audio comes back in on ragged breathing. Someone is running.
In blur, and then into focus, we see POE DAMERON running, looking back over his shoulder periodically, because he’s being chased.
Chased by whom, you ask? Stormtroopers. Classic Empire stormtroopers in fact, and they continue to be terrible shots. Great for shooting trees and swamp vines, not so hot at nailing a biped in motion. Poe runs back to his ship, a heavily modded X-Wing, where his droid BB-8 is squawking and chirping furiously. Poe yells at the droid that they’re not going to get shot, to prep the ship for takeoff. The nervous droid has the ship a few inches off the ground when Poe leaps on board.
It’s at this moment that the stormtroopers reach the ship and plaintively fire at it. Poe engages the ship’s cannon to mow a few down. He sets a course to leave atmosphere and tells BB-8 to ‘send a message to Command that four planets in this sector are Imperial, and that he’s moving on to the next.’ The droid complies as the ship heads back into space.
Cross-cut to even more Stormtroopers reaching where the ship was and seeing the dead troopers littering the ground. A few troopers sight the craft and watch it get tiny in the distance. The camera lingers on one trooper, sighing so intensely we can watch the armor rise and fall. He receives an order to get the bodies back to base and does so.
The camera slide-wipes just as a trooper’s white chest plate clears frame to reveal that a pair of hands is wiping off something white, or something that used to be white, under a few inches of sand.
We’re on the planet Jakku, and a gloved set of hands is picking armor out of sand dunes. A few dented helmets and chest plates sit in a stack on a tarp. The gloved hands are attached to a young girl, REY, and she’s somewhat desperate in her search for material. We don’t know what she’s looking for, and maybe she doesn’t know either, but she’s accumulating a lot of irregular bits like codpieces and Rebel Alliance gloves on the tarp. We watch her drag the tarp to a small speeder. We watch her try and get the speeder started, but it gives up with a cough and smoke. Also, as she tries to get moving, her tarp breaks and spills onto the ground. She curses (yes I want some kind of cursing in Star Wars, maybe she just says, “Nerf herder”) and cleans up the mess. Other speeders packed with junk and people skim past her and laugh. Rey is not well liked in these parts, and we feel it.
Cut back to Poe’s X-Wing and he’s cruising towards his next planet, Jakku. BB-8 relays some information, maybe a complaint that it’ll be hot, and Poe assures him that it’s just a big ball of sand and it won’t take long. He sets the course and that’s when a call comes in from Command.
A familiar voice, C-3P0, tells ‘Captain Dameron’ to proceed with all haste back to base, that there’s General Solo has called a meeting and he’s needed urgently. Poe banters a bit, complaining that if this is another meeting without a reason, he’s going to crash into a sun. C-3P0 assures him that it’s more important than that, and he should return immediately. Poe relents, but once the message from C-3P0 ends, plots the course to Jakku anyway. BB-8 protests, but Poe explains that it’s a quick search and won’t take long. Also, meetings aren’t his style.
Cut to an Imperial base on Jakku, stormtroopers in not-white (let’s put them in sand and beige and rock tones) watch ships enter the atmosphere via monitors and lock onto Poe’s ship as it nears landfall. An order is given to open fire.
Poe and BB-8 detect the assault just a moment too late and the ship is hit. Poe’s first thought is of the droid, then himself, and manages to put the ship down in some dunes before launching a distress beacon along with some chaff, making the ship’s damage appear worse than it is. He checks on his droid, then using the last of the ship’s power to get a read on where the shots came from, so he knows to expect trouble.
Wipe to Rey, who saw the ship go down and is willing to dump part of her scrap haul to squeeze a bit of power from her speeder. She sets off towards the crash.
Cut back to the trooper base, where a squad of troopers has just landed, the troopers from Poe’s previous escape scene in fact, are being dispatched to go round up any survivors. We see them setting off towards the downed ship as well.
Rey is the first to the scene, and she can’t believe her eyes.An actual X-Wing, in sort of working order. She checks the seat, finds it to still be warm, and quickly pulls out some tools to start dismantling the cockpit
Which is when Poe comes out from stage right, blaster drawn. They argue about the ship and the pilot, Poe says he’s the pilot and he realizes he’s not going to shoot “a kid.” Rey says she’s not a kid, and that if he’ll just part with some of the ship’s electronics, Rey can eat for a month. Poe hands over several of his rations – more food than Rey has seen in weeks she says – and explains that he was shot down. Rey is incredulous, that there haven’t been troopers on Jakku in years.
Which is when the troopers arrive.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week after DexCon.