As stupid as it sounds, I'm genuinely anxious about this movie. There's so much I want from it, but a lot more that I don't want, and I've had at least one sleepless night worrying about it. Most of my concern has to do with a potential shift in focus, from a range of loveable and diverse heroes to a white male villain and his justification for genocide, patricide, fascism and torture.
At the time The Force Awakens came out, I was impressed that the franchise could commit to exploring the banality of evil. In stark contrast to Darth Vader as implacable and intimidating, Kylo Ren was whiny, petulant and ... well, try-hard. The guy prays to his grandfather's helmet on an altar made from the ashes of his victims for God's sake!
Fast-forward two years later, and we have some baffling comments made by the director and actor: that the Rebels attacking the Death Star was a terrorist act, that Han and Leia were neglectful parents, that Kylo is relatable because he embodies "adolescent anger" (even though he's thirty years old) and that Kylo and Rey are the "two halves of the protagonist" (a comment Rian Johnson hastily backtracked on when someone pointed out that Finn was the male lead).
I always knew a redemption arc was on the table for Kylo, but these comments don't convey: "Kylo realizes he's done terrible things and is on the wrong side," so much as: "he's had a really hard go of it; why won't you see things from his point of view?"
To everyone but the usual fan-girls (who I swear would stan for Satan if he turned up in leather pants) Kylo gave up his right to that question three minutes into his introduction when he murdered an unarmed old man, ordered the massacre of innocent civilians including children, and tortured a man trying to prevent all the above from happening.
There's a limit to how far you can take a character before audiences don't want him saved, just stopped.
There's another big question mark on the horizon, and that's the identity of Rey's parents. The misdirection has certainly done its work since I was fairly confident at the end of The Force Awakens that Luke would turn out to be Rey's father, but now am leaning towards her probably being (as she said herself): "no one."
Even now I keep flip-flopping: it's hard to believe that Mark Hamill would be making so many glib jokes about the two of them being father/daughter if this was a huge spoiler, and perhaps the big parentage reveal that's such a staple of Star Wars was ticked in the previous film with Kylo Ren's identity. Maz Kanata's comment in The Force Awakens that: "they're not coming back, but there's someone who still might" suggest that Rey's family and Luke Skywalker are two separate things entirely, and there's a certain power in the fact that Rey is special just because, without linking her in any way to the Skywalker family.
But on the other hand, it seems weird that they would make such a mystery of her parents if the answer is simply: "two people you've never seen or heard of before." And there are so many visual Watsonian clues that point to a Skywalker connection, from her Leia-esque hair-buns to her Luke-like training outfit, to the fact that Daisy Ridley is the splitting image of Kiera Knightley, who looked just like Natalie Portman, who played Rey's (potential) grandmother.
And why would you stint on the opportunity to not only explore Luke's role as a father, but build on the fantastic dichotomy between Kylo and Rey by making them the two grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, one on the Light Side and one on the Dark? I also find it hard to believe that Disney would decide the Skywalker name would end with a mass-murdering fascist (who's technically more a Solo or Organa than a Skywalker anyway).
But whatever the answer turns out to be, I know one thing for certain: Luke and Kylo know Rey from her early childhood. There's no doubt she was part of Luke's school before it was attacked by the Knights of Ren, leading to her escape and abandonment on Jakku by people unknown.
It's all there in the subtext: that she picks up on using the Force so quickly (because her memories are resurfacing), that Kylo reacts so strongly to mention of "a girl" helping BB-8, and her vision (or memory) of the Knights of Ren attacking the school. I also found it interesting that Rey tells BB-8 that "my family" will return, as opposed to "my parents". The choice in words suggest there were a number of people on board that ship which she only vaguely recalls – like say, a bunch of Jedi students being pursued by Knights who drop her on Jakku in order to lead the chase away from her.
There's an even greater hint in Alan Dean Foster's novelization, in which Kylo says: "so it is you," after Rey calls Luke's lightsabre to her hand. This line was obviously cut from the film, but as it was based on one of the early scripts, I'm willing to accept it as part of an underlying plan. We'll see how the pieces fit soon enough...
Luke's trailer line: "this isn't going to go the way you think," seems to be a statement about the film itself, which means that since most people seem to think Rey is a Skywalker, Kylo will get redeemed, either Luke or Leia will die, and someone will get their arm lopped off, none of those things will happen. Of course, that's assuming that Disney believes that audiences believe those things. Is it all just a double bluff? This is the reason for that sleepless night.
Vulptex > Porg
More than anything I'm looking forward to Finn and Rey's reunion. I hope it's as emotional as the one between Eleven and Mike at the end of Stranger Things, and that no one forgets their rapport was the emotional centre of the first movie. I'm also looking forward to Rey meeting Poe and Rose for the first time (assuming she does) and that this reunion doesn't take too long to happen.
Also, let's hope they weren't saving the big Luke/Leia reunion for the last movie, because if it doesn't happen here, it never will.
Rose is going to be a treat to watch, especially given Kelly Marie Tran's overwhelming joy at being part of this franchise. I assume you've already seen the red carpet footage of Daisy giving Kelly a hug as she cries?
What if Finn ends up being to Rey what a certain demographic thinks Rey will be to Kylo? Someone who draws her back to the Light after she teeters on the brink of falling to the Dark Side? I'd love to see this, though hopefully it won't come at the expense of his own storyline.
On the subject of Finn, it's obvious that Captain Phasma will be his nemesis in this film, but I'm pre-emptively disappointed that they've apparently forgotten about the interesting Finn/Kylo dynamic in The Force Awakens. Remember when Kylo sensed Finn's indecision about shooting the civilians on Jakku? And knew instantly that Finn was the Stormtrooper who had rescued Poe because of it? And then called him "traitor" because he knew Finn had embraced the Light in a way Kylo had rejected after struggling with the temptation for the entire film? Cause that was some great stuff right there.
I hope the film also keeps up the tradition of having lots of female characters in minor roles, even if they're just existing in the background of a shot. The Force Awakens was great at this (Rogue One, not so much) and I'm hopeful about the return of Jessika Pava and Kaydel Connix, as well as new arrivals Rose Tico and Amilyn Holdo. Oh, and those strange alien nuns on Ahch-To. If any more ladies manage to sneak their way in, I'll be delighted.