Movie Analysis: “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” — Plot

Another in our bi-weekly series in which we analyze movies currently in release. Why? To quote the writing mantra I coined over 5 years ago: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. You will note which one comes first. Here are my reflections from that post about the importance of watching movies:

To be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.
But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Let me add this: It’s important to see movies as they get released so that you stay on top of the business. Decisions get made in Hollywood in large part depending upon how movies perform, so watching movies as they come out puts you in the same head space as reps, producers, execs, and buyers.

This week’s movie: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt, based on characters by George Lucas.

Our schedule for discussion this week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

For those of you who have not seen the movie, do not click MORE as we will be trafficking in major spoilers. If you have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I invite you to join me in breaking down and analyzing the movie.

Much has been made how SW:VII apes the plot of SW:IV, and there’s just no way around it: They are extremely similar. From the loner Jedi-in-waiting stuck on a desert planet intersecting with a droid, then thrust into an interstellar battle leading to the eventual destruction of gigantic destruction spaceship, down to the Protagonist learning the ways of The Force, it’s all pretty much there.

Well, Rey doesn’t end up destroying the Star Killer, that’s left up to Poe Dameron. At that point in SW:VII, the plot similarities shift to the ending of SW:V wherein the Protagonist takes on Darth Vader a la Rey locked in mortal combat with Kylo Ren.

Granted Hollywood operates on the principle of ‘similar but different,’ but isn’t this carrying that motif a bit too far?

From the perspective of pure originality, one can make that argument. However the very idea of ‘pure originality,’ if it ever did exist, has been lost to current economic necessities. We are awash in an era of nostalgia. That alone provided the filmmakers here the impetus to redo rather than start fresh. Also they had to deal with an audience spanning several generations, each with their own knowledge, extensive to limited to none, so it makes sense logically to renew and refresh old storylines.

In other words, this movie is mostly about making people feel good and providing a narrative foundation for the rest of the Star Wars movies. And in that respect, it works.

The plot is a standard Hero’s Journey and apart from seeing old friends like Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, the story rises or falls based on one character: Rey. And to me, she is a big win. I’ve seen the movie twice and both times, I was completely on board her journey. The combination of her backstory and a brilliant bit of casting translates into a winning Protagonist figure.

In fact, I’d say two characters — Rey and Kylo Ren — are what make the movie, far outshining the plot which is pretty standard fare with few surprises.

Also a nod to BB-8, a plucky droid, but frankly playing the part of R2-D2.

Anything in the plot grab your attention? I look forward to reading your reactions in comments.

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