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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

6 Important Deleted Scenes from "The Force Awakens"

It's no secret that the first cut of a film is almost always vastly different from the final cut that winds up in theaters. Sometimes certain scenes feel awkward or distract from the plot, or they're removed to keep the movie at a comfortable time length. For Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a huge film that needed to give the audience a lot of information and character development in only 2 hours and 16 minutes, quite a few scenes of varying significance ended up on the cutting room floor. Recent interviews with the filmmakers and the slew of The Force Awakens-related literature released December 18th have revealed some of the most important scenes that we didn't end up seeing. 
Leia and Korr Sella 

Those unfamiliar with the recent Shattered Empire comic series may have been a little confused about the New Republic's role in the galaxy and their relationship with the Resistance, despite the opening crawl that simply said that the Resistance was "supported" by the Republic. According to /Film, using the official novelization, there was originally a scene early in the movie in which Leia talks with Korr Sella (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), her envoy to the Galactic Senate. 
Basically, Leia's no fool and wants the Republic to take action against the insidious First Order. She would deliver the message herself, but she's certain that the First Order would assassinate her if she came out of hiding on D'Qar. In the final cut, you still see Sella on Hosnian Prime, the capital of the Republic, as the system is destroyed by the Starkiller, but this scene would provide exposition into who she is and why she's there. However, it would have lessened the emotional impact of Leia's introduction later in the film, as she and Han meet after many years apart.

The Skywalker Lightsaber

One of the first rumors was that the first scene in the film, after the opening crawl, would be Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber (lost by Luke on Bespin) tumbling through space. Presumably, this would be found by Lor San Tekka and given to Poe, and then BB-8. And yet, the first scene instead was of the Finalizer looming over Jakku and landing craft departing. The MacGuffin-like object in the film, given to Poe by San Tekka and held by BB-8, was instead a map to Luke Skywalker. The lightsaber was later found by Rey in Maz Kanata's basement, with no real explanation as to how it got there. According to /Film, this shot was actually filmed (or created digitally) but they ultimately decided not to use it. 
More Maz 

With her diminutive size, orange skin, odd goggles, and great wisdom, Maz Kanata had a formidable presence in the film. While encouraging Rey to face her destiny, Maz said that she herself was no Jedi, but still familiar with the Force. Apparently, in the original script, Maz would have shown this familiarity by using the Force to take out a squad of stormtroopers in the basement of her castle. It's unknown if this scene was actually filmed, but it would have solidified her role as the new Yoda. 
Furthermore, you might have wondered about the shot in the second teaser that showed Maz handing off the Skywalker lightsaber to Leia. Not only is it absent from the film, but Maz and Leia are shown to have no direct relationship whatsoever. In one of the first cuts of the film, Maz comes with Han, Chewie, and Finn back to D'Qar after her castle's destruction (instead of just handing the lightsaber to Finn and disappearing in the final cut), and shares this moment with Leia. But this scene was removed, probably because Maz doesn't have much to do at the Resistance base for the rest of the film. 
Snowspeeder Chase Sequence

Despite appearing in The Force Awakens' product line (including a Lego set), the First Order snowspeeder only had a very brief appearance in the movie, as you see it in the background while Rey and Finn run into the Main Oscillator on Starkiller Base. In the novelization, Rey and Finn recreate their Millennium Falcon dogfight, with Rey expertly piloting the snowspeeder while Finn shoots at their pursuers. This would have been an entertaining sequence, but not really necessary to the overall story. Let's hope it winds up in DVD and Blu-Ray release. 
Via /Film
Snoke Trash-Talks the Empire 

In the novelization, Snoke has a bit more dialogue in which he points out the true source of the Galactic Empire's downfall: sentiment. "Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at the crucial moment – had the father killed the son – the Empire would have prevailed. And there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today.” Snoke would presumably use this to encourage Kylo to not get sentimental about killing his own father. In the same quote, he says that he's "seen the Galactic Empire rise and fall", hinting at his true identity in the Star Wars universe. We can assume that this scene was filmed in some fashion, but again, one can understand why the filmmakers deemed it unnecessary. 
Kylo in the Falcon 

The whole Kylo-Ren-is-Han-and-Leia's-son subplot was a pretty big part of The Force Awakens. We saw Snoke compel Kylo to kill his father in order to complete his journey to the Dark Side, we saw Han and Leia discussing their son in detail, and of course, we saw Han and Kylo having a heart-to-heart that ended in bloodshed, tragedy, and classic Star Wars NOOOOOOOOOOOO's. But as it turns out, there was yet another scene involving Kylo and the Millennium Falcon.
Via /Film
When Han, Finn, and Chewie crash-land on Starkiller Base, Kylo senses his father's presence immediately. Later, we see him patrolling the Oscillator with his troops, before his fateful conversation with Han. In-between, there would have been a scene in which Kylo and his snowtroopers storm the Falcon. They find no one inside, of course, but Kylo apparently sits in the cockpit and has an emotional moment, remembering the ship from his childhood and/or considering all the father-son experiences on the Falcon that he had missed. Was it necessary? No, but depending on how well it was edited, it could have been a truly memorable Star Wars scene. 

Which scene(s) do you wish ended up in the movie? Tell me in the comments, and may the Force be with you all. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top 10 "The Force Awakens" Quotes

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a great movie with some truly great lines of dialogue between the characters. I'm counting down the top 10 quotes, based on not just their content, but their significance to the characters and the future installments in the franchise.


10. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

How could we not include this classic Star Wars line, spoken in every film in the series? In The Force Awakens, Han Solo says this in his freighter as he hears the shrieks of the Rathtars, giant tentacle-y monsters that Rey accidentally released. 

Fun fact: this line was also spoken in the series finale of Lost, which was created by JJ Abrams.

9. "I know how to run without you holding my hand."

This quote encapsulates one of the best aspects of Rey's character. As she and Finn are running from stormtroopers through the Jakku trading post, Finn represents the typical male character and grabs her hand, which Rey rejects. She doesn't need the help or comfort of a man to escape from danger; as we see repeatedly throughout the film, she's actually more physically capable than Finn, and saves his life on multiple occasions. 
8. "Rey, may the Force be with you."

This is the last spoken line of dialogue in the film, as Leia bids farewell to Rey before her trip to meet Luke. It doesn't provide any background into Rey's parentage (Leia doesn't address her as "niece" nor "daughter") but it's another classic line from the franchise that needed to be said at some point. 
Though "may the Force be with you" is regularly exchanged among Rebellion/Resistance soldiers and officers, regardless of their Force sensitivity, we know that Leia means this quite literally; the Force will be with Rey, and it always has been. 

7. "BEN!"

It's the environment in which this line is said that makes it so dramatic and shocking to the audience. As Kylo Ren marches down a catwalk over a chasm on Starkiller Base, Han comes out from hiding and addresses his son by his never-before-said birth name. Kylo turns around for an intimate conversation with his father, but the audience stays silent in tension-induced awe...and even some fear that they know exactly how this scene will end. 
6. "Forgive me. I feel it again, the pull to the Light...Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I'll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started." 

This line reveals the most intriguing aspect of Kylo Ren, during a heart-to-heart with his grandaddy Darth Vader (or rather, his damaged helmet). As the son of two great heroes, Kylo is seduced by the Light side, not the Dark, and he relies on the spirit (perhaps the literal spirit) of Vader to inspire the darkness within him. 
A viral Tumblr post by blogger Letícia Piroutek suggests that Kylo Ren has basically gone to the Dark Side on an undercover mission to destroy Snoke. If this theory is true, it would mean that when Kylo says "I will finish what you started", he's referring to Vader's betrayal and murder of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. He needs to dedicate himself to the Dark Side, not just to gain Snoke's trust, but so that he and Rey (representing the Light Side) can eventually unite to destroy Snoke together. 

5. "You know, as much as we fought, I always hated it when you left."

While The Force Awakens is appropriately focused on the new characters, rather than the old, it takes good time to explore how Han and Leia's dysfunctional relationship...has pretty much stayed the same after 30 years. As Han prepares to leave for Starkiller Base, Leia utters this line as a less-cheesy alternative to "I love you" (and the mandatory corresponding "I know"). It's bittersweet when you consider that this is the last time the two will ever see each other. 
4. "Rey, these are your first steps."

This line is said by Obi-Wan Kenobi (part Alec Guinness, part Ewan McGregor) during Rey's intriguing vision in Maz Kanata's castle, after touching the Skywalker family lightsaber. Its meaning is fairly obvious: despite the horror this vision has caused her, this is only the beginning of Rey's path to become a Jedi. 
3. "I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?"

The beauty of this line is that at first glance, it seems like exactly the kind of angsty, melodramatic thing that Anakin Skywalker would have said in the Prequels, through the woodenness of Hayden Christensen. Instead, it's said by Kylo to his father Han, as he appears to come close to giving in to the Light Side. Han replies "Yes, anything," but unbeknownst to him, when Kylo says "I know what I have to do", he's not referring to leaving the Dark Side, but rather, killing Han.
That same Tumblr theory gives different context to this line, suggesting that Kylo is "torn apart" because he knows that he needs to kill someone close to him in order to fulfill his journey to the Dark Side, but he obviously doesn't want to. And Han's reply is with recognition that he's willing to sacrifice himself. 

2. "We'll see each other again. I believe that." 

Rey says this to Finn's unconscious body before she leaves to see Luke. It confirms that Finn has survived his wound at the hands of Kylo, and when Rey kisses Finn on his forehead after saying this, it reassures the audience that their relationship is 100% platonic. This is a promise that no matter what happens with Luke, no matter where Rey's Jedi training takes her, the two friends will meet again. 
1. "Chewie, we're home."

You may not have heard this line over the cheers and whoops from the audience as Han and Chewie enter the Millennium Falcon, and appear on the big screen for the first time in 32 years. The sight of these old-but-mostly-unchanged characters is truly heartwarming. Star Wars is home. 
Honorable Mentions

"I could show you the ways of the Force."- Kylo Ren, to Rey.
"Thank you."- Kylo, to Han.
"Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force."- Lor San Tekka, to Poe Dameron.
"The Light – it's always been there. It'll guide you."- Maz Kanata, to Rey.
"The droid we seek is aboard the Millennium Falcon, in the hands of your father: Han Solo."- Snoke, to Kylo.
"I can fly anything."- Poe Dameron, to Finn. 

Which quote is your favorite? Tell me in the comments, and may the Force be with you all. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Review and Discussion

After more than 3 years of anticipation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally arrived in theaters worldwide. It's the biggest movie of the year, and possibly the biggest movie of all time, so I'm appropriately giving it a lengthy synopsis and discussion. Since I'm about to go over the movie's entire plot in great detail, I'm issuing a *SPOILER ALERT*. You have been warned! 

The film begins with the classic opening crawl, reading as follows:
Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed. 
With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. 
Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts…
The first scene is of a Star Destroyer (the Finalizer) looming over Jakku, and landing craft depart. In a village, BB-8 notices their approach, and informs Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), his master. Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) gives Poe a flashdrive-like device containing the map, and urges him to leave at once. The First Order lands, and stormtroopers rush out of the craft, exchanging fire with the armed villagers. Trooper FN-2187, later known as Finn (John Boyega), watches as his friend dies, leaving bloody streaks on his helmet. 
Poe enters his X-Wing, but it's damaged by stormtroopers. He gives BB-8 the map and tells him to run and wait for him. As the villagers are defeated, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) arrives in his personal shuttle, and confronts San Tekka. The elder refuses to reveal the map's location, and Kylo decapitates him. Poe shoots at him, but Kylo freezes the laser mid-air using the Force. Poe is captured, and Kylo orders the destruction of the village and all of its inhabitants. The innocents are executed, but Finn cannot bring himself to kill them. 
The First Order return to the Finalizer. Finn removes his helmet in a state of shock, and he's reprimanded by his commanding officer, the chrome-clad Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Poe is tortured, and Kylo Ren uses the Force to painfully probe his mind and retrieve the necessary information. He informs General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) that they're looking for a BB unit. 
In need of a pilot to escape the First Order, Finn frees Poe. They pilot a TIE fighter and manage to destroy the Finalizer's laser turrets, thanks to Poe's flying and Finn's gunning. Finn wants to get as far away as possible, but Poe needs to return to Jakku. Hux orders the use of the ventral cannons, and Poe and Finn crash on the planet below. 
Meanwhile, scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) searches through an ancient Star Destroyer for spare parts. Finding little of value, she rides her pod-like speeder to the nearest trading post, where she sells them for rations from junkboss Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg). She returns to her home, built in a lopsided AT-AT, and eats alone. Suddenly, she hears a commotion, and runs over to see BB-8 caught by fellow scavenger Teedo. Rey frees him and points him in the direction of the trading post, but BB-8 convinces her to let him stay the night. She reluctantly agrees.
The next day, the two go to the trading post to sell more parts. Rey tells him that she's been waiting for her family since they left her on Jakku as a child. She's offered an unsatisfactory amount of rations for her spare parts, and Plutt makes another deal: 60 rations for BB-8. Rey is tempted, but refuses. Plutt sends his henchmen to grab the droid. 

Finn wakes up. He searches for Poe and manages to grab his jacket, before the damaged fighter sinks into the ground and explodes. Assuming that Poe is dead, Finn trudges along the desert until he finds the trading post. Dehydrated, he drinks some water from a dirty trough, and notices Rey and BB-8 being assaulted by Plutt's thugs.
Finn runs over to help, but Rey successfully defends herself and knocks out the thugs with her staff. BB-8 sees Finn wearing his master's jacket, and alerts Rey. She chases Finn and easily defeats him. He tells them that he's a Resistance agent who rescued Poe, before his unfortunate demise. They're chased by stormtroopers and TIE fighters, and seek a quick escape on the nearest piece of junk: the Millennium Falcon. 
Rey takes the pilot's seat, while Finn takes the gunner's position. They both demonstrate impressive skills as they evade TIEs over the sandy dunes and around the crashed Star Destroyer, before entering the belly of the beast and destroying the fighters. They take off into space, but the ship malfunctions. While Rey fixes a deadly gas leak, they're pulled into a freighter.
Finn assumes that they've been captured by the First Order, and they hide in the crawlspace under the ship's floor. The door to the Falcon opens, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) enter. 
Han finds Rey and Finn, and explains that the Falcon ended up in Plutt's hands through a series of thefts. Rey and Finn tell him that BB-8 has a map to find Luke Skywalker, and they're on a mission to take him to the Resistance base. A Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub appear, seeking revenge on Solo for various swindles. Rey and Finn hide in the crawlspace once again, and she accidentally releases the freighter's cargo: tentacle-y monsters known as Rathtars. 

The creatures create a diversion, and Chewie gets a minor wound as the heroes escape. One of the gang leaders reports Solo's involvement to the First Order. Rey shows off her mechanical knowledge as she helps Han get the ship to hyperspace in one piece. BB-8 reveals his map, but it's incomplete. Han recalls that Luke disappeared after his apprentice, Kylo Ren, turned to the Dark Side and he felt responsible. It's rumored that Luke went to find the first Jedi temple. Rey is amazed when Han confirms the myths of the Jedi and the Dark Side. 
They arrive on Takodana to ask Han's old acquaintance, Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), for help with bringing BB-8 back to the Resistance. Rey is awed by the lush environment, after living on a desert for most of her life. Han gives her a blaster for protection and begrudgingly offers her a job as a co-pilot on the Falcon, but Rey refuses; her family must still be coming for her, and she's already been gone too long. They enter Maz's watering hole, full of exotic and dangerous droids, aliens, bounty hunters, and other thugs. Spies alert both the Resistance and the First Order of Solo's arrival.
At Starkiller Base, an icy planet converted into the First Order's superweapon, Hux and Kylo Ren confer with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) via hologram. He commands them to continue their search for the map, and instructs Kylo to overcome the call to the Light Side of the Force by killing his father: Han Solo. Kylo later privately speaks to the charred helmet of Darth Vader and asks for guidance. "Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I'll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started." 
Han wants Maz to send BB-8 to the Resistance, but she suggests that he face his former lover in order to unite and save the galaxy from the Dark Side. She identifies Finn as someone who wants to run, and he insists that there's no hope to stop the First Order. "We all need to run." Maz points him in the direction of two thugs who will give him a ride off-world in exchange for work. Rey begs him to stay, but he confesses to being a stormtrooper and refuses.
Rey is then drawn to a vault downstairs, where she finds Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. She touches it, and experiences a vision including a hooded Luke touching R2-D2, the Knights of Ren standing in a thunderstorm with dead bodies littering the ground, her own childhood abandonment on Jakku, Kylo Ren chasing her in a snowy forest, and Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice (a mix of Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor) whispering "Rey, these are your first steps". Maz tells Rey that the lightsaber is her destiny, but Rey is disturbed and runs off into the jungle.
On Starkiller Base, Hux addresses the First Order's army before a demonstration of the superweapon. A laser emits from the center of the planet, which expands into five separate beams as it obliterates the Hosnian system, the capital of the Republic. The inhabitants of Maz's castle watch with horror. 
Rey is followed into the jungle by BB-8 and refuses to return, until the First Order arrives and attacks the castle. She runs back as the castle collapses, and uses her blaster to take out several stormtroopers. Kylo Ren lands and follows her into the jungle, where he defeats her with ease. He captures her after briefly probing her mind and discovering that she's seen the map. 
In the remnants of the castle, Han and Chewie blast stormtroopers. Maz gives Finn the lightsaber, and he accepts it with disbelief. He uses it against his former companions until he's defeated by a trooper wielding an electric staff. Han saves him, but they're surrounded by stormtroopers. Poe Dameron arrives with a squadron of X-Wings, turning the tide in their favor. Finn helplessly watches as Rey is taken by Kylo. 
A Resistance craft lands, and out steps C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher). She and Han have a somewhat awkward reunion, and the Resistance retreats to their base on D'Qar as the First Order returns to Starkiller Base. On D'Qar, Poe explains that he survived the TIE crash and thanks Finn for taking care of BB-8. C-3PO reveals that R2-D2 has been asleep since Luke's disappearance. 
With help from Finn, the Resistance devises a plan to destroy the Starkiller before it destroys D'Qar, by sucking the sun's energy to power the laser. Finn prepares to go with Han and Chewie to rescue Rey. Han and Leia embrace before he leaves, and woefully contemplate their son's turn to the Dark Side, thanks to Snoke. Leia believes that there's still hope for him, and urges Han to bring him back. 
Meanwhile, Rey is held by Kylo Ren, and he takes off his helmet before performing another Force probe. But to his surprise, Rey reverses the probe and spits the truth in Kylo's face: "You're afraid you'll never be as strong as Darth Vader." Kylo leaves to discuss this turn of events with Snoke, who orders him to bring him Rey. After a few tries, Rey manages to Jedi mind trick a stormtrooper (reportedly played by Daniel Craig) into freeing her. 

Han Solo avoids the Starkiller's defenses by coming out of hyperspace close to the planet's surface. He brings the Falcon to a rough landing on the snowy terrain, and he, Finn, and Chewie enter the base. They capture Captain Phasma, and she reluctantly lowers the planet's shields. Han suggests that they leave her in a trash compactor. Poe and the X-Wing squadrons arrive on the planet. Their first bombing run is successful, but a swarm of TIE fighters appears, resulting in heavy casualties for the Resistance. 
After regrouping with Rey, Han and Chewie split up to place explosives. Having sensed Han's presence, Kylo Ren patrols the area. Han addresses him by his birth name, Ben, and approaches him on a walkway over a pit. Kylo removes his helmet, and Han insists that Snoke is only using him, and he can still leave the Dark Side. Kylo appears to give in to the Light side, and offers Han his lightsaber...but when the sun is finally drained, signaling the readiness of the Starkiller, Kylo tightens his grip and stabs his father through the heart. Kylo says "Thank you", and Han Solo touches the face off his son, before falling into the pit as Chewie, Rey, and Finn watch with anguish. Back on the Resistance base, Leia is stricken with grief as she senses the death of her longtime love. 

Chewie shoots Kylo, wounding him, and then detonates the explosives, creating an opening for Poe and his squadrons. Poe flies into the Starkiller and shoots torpedoes, starting a chain reaction that destroys both the superweapon and the planet. Hux reports to Snoke, who orders him to evacuate and bring him Kylo to finish his training. 
Rey and Finn run into the forest, and they're confronted by the wounded Kylo. He knocks out Rey with a Force push, and Finn ignites his lightsaber to face him. The two duel, but Finn's lightsaber skill has hardly improved, and he is severely injured. Kylo prepares to take the lightsaber that rightfully belongs to him, as the grandson of its original owner. Instead, the blade flies to the hand of Rey. 
Ready to face her destiny, Rey duels Kylo in the forest. The planet falls apart around them, and soon they're in a lightsaber lock, with Rey's back facing a newly-formed gorge. Kylo suggests that he could teach Rey the ways of the Force, and she is reminded of her newfound power. She uses the Force to fight back and give him a nasty slice to the face. They're soon separated by the crumbling terrain, and Rey tearfully kneels over Finn's unconscious body, before being rescued by Chewie in the Falcon. Along with Poe and his remaining squadron, they fly away from Starkiller Base as it explodes violently. 
Back on D'Qar, the Resistance celebrates and Rey hugs Leia. R2-D2 suddenly awakens, much to 3PO's delight, and completes BB-8's map. Rey promises a not-yet-awoken Finn that they'll meet again, and Leia says "May the Force be with you", before Rey, Chewie, and R2 depart on the Falcon to meet Luke.
They arrive on a watery planet with rocky islands. Chewie and R2 stay behind while Rey ascends a long set of stone steps, until she finally arrives at the top of a mountain where a hooded figure stands. It's Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), looking disheveled and bearing an artificial-looking robotic hand. Wordlessly, Rey holds out the lightsaber for him to take, with a pleading look in her eyes. And the credits roll. 

No, this movie was not flawless. Despite having a handy opening crawl to provide some much-needed background knowledge, there were still some pretty big gaps. I mean, Return of the Jedi ended with the Empire defeated and the galaxy looking pretty A-okay, you kinda have to take more time to explain why everything's just as dismal as in A New Hope
For the record, the story (according to the official Star Wars databank) is supposed to be that following the second Death Star's destruction, the New Republic was formed, and they made a new Senate and a peace treaty with the Empire. But Leia was no fool, and she knew that Imperial forces were still seeking power, so she founded the Resistance with the help of some old Rebel friends (including Admiral "It's a trap!" Ackbar) and the indirect support of the Republic. 

But still, it did a great job of reconstructing the magic of the Original Trilogy. Between the characters, the environments, and just the general look of the film, it felt like truly authentic Star Wars. It succeeds as both a long-awaited sequel to a classic and beloved film trilogy, while promising even more in the future.
Now let's discuss each new and returning character, as well as other aspects of the film:

Rey

From the moment she was cast, we knew that this movie would turn Daisy Ridley into a star no matter what, but it doesn't hurt that she was pretty great as the female lead. Rey wasn't the stereotypical butt-kicking girl that other action movies flaunt; yeah, she was intelligent and could handle herself without the help of any man, but she was also quite flawed with her naive(?) determination to stay on Jakku and wait for her parents. You could argue that she was a classic "damsel in distress", but she freed herself completely independent of Han, Finn, and Chewie. She might not be at the level of Mad Max's Furiosa, but she's definitely one of the best action heroines of 2015. 
One of the big unanswered questions of the movie is: Who are Rey's parents? It was heavily rumored that they would be Han and Leia, and several scenes supported that. She seemed to know the Falcon backwards and forwards when she entered it for the first time, and later, when she served as Han's co-pilot, their dynamic of finishing each other's sentences could be interpreted as a father-daughter relationship. 
But when Han and Leia discussed their son, don't you think they would also mention their daughter? "Oh and speaking of lost children, I guess we should drop by Jakku and pick up our daughter sometime." Rey's briefly-established relationship with Leia was certainly a close one, but that doesn't mean that Leia is her mother. 

There's a lot of evidence that Rey is actually the child of Luke. Her character's backstory (living on a desert planet, longing to leave it behind) is very similar to Luke's. And when Kylo tries to probe her mind, he sees Luke's watery planet, suggesting that Rey has been there before. The final shot of the film – Rey's hand outstretched towards Luke, offering his father's lightsaber – would have a lot more meaning if she was his daughter, instead of just his niece. 
I suppose it's possible that her parents are complete nobodies in the Star Wars universe, but c'mon, there's gotta be someone else in the new Skywalker generation. We can only assume that she'll continue her Jedi training in Episode VIII with Luke as her teacher. 

Finn

The idea of a stormtrooper who wants to quit his job sounds like something made up in a brainstorming session. But once again, Finn wasn't the stereotypical hero; he didn't free Poe because it was "the right thing to do", he freed him because he just needed a pilot to escape the Star Destroyer. (Though the movie didn't really explain how Finn was psychologically capable of quitting the job he had been raised for since birth.)
It was also nice to see that when Finn took the lightsaber, it wasn't like he immediately knew exactly how to use it. The way he clashed with the stormtrooper was completely realistic, and he appropriately lost both that duel and the one with Kylo. 
And fans were correct that Finn has no Force sensitivity; the promotional campaign highlighted his use of the lightsaber just to throw everyone off the truth that Rey's the real Jedi. But Finn did have a strong connection to the blade, so will he just train with a lightsaber anyway, or give up on his dreams and just use blasters for now on? Rey seemed sure that she would meet him again, no matter what happened with Luke, so we can assume that he'll return in future installments. 

Kylo Ren/Ben Solo 

Many people predicted Kylo to be the son of Han and Leia, but it surprised me that this was explicitly revealed pretty early in the film. His name, Ben, is obviously a reference to Ben Kenobi, but it probably also took inspiration from the Expanded Universe character Ben Skywalker, the son of Luke and Mara Jade. However, his position on the Dark Side of the Force makes him most similar to Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus, Han and Leia's son in the EU. 
And yes, Kylo was intentionally very similar to Vader, in the way that he had been corrupted by a higher power (Snoke) into joining the Dark Side. He was also just as hotheaded as Vader, but instead of just Force-choking officers to death, Kylo just cut the nearest machinery to ribbons while his subordinates awkwardly (and hilariously) stood by.
He didn't disappoint on the power scale. Force-induced torture is a somewhat familiar concept, but freezing a laser bolt mid-air? That's gotta take some serious skill. You could argue that his duel with Rey and Finn should have been more one-sided, but he was wounded and noticeably bleeding. And he lost against Rey because her connection to the Force is of near equal to his own (which would make sense if they both have a Skywalker parent). He might actually like that facial scratch Rey gave him, since it'll make a scar much like Anakin's in Revenge of the Sith
It would have been nice to see a better look at Kylo's journey to the Dark Side at the hands of Snoke, the same way we saw Palpatine subtly manipulating Anakin throughout the Prequel Trilogy. But the fascinating thing about Kylo was that, being the son of two great heroes, we saw him admit to being seduced by the Light side, not the Dark. Somehow, he countered this by using his own grandfather's helmet to inspire the darkness within him. I guess he kinda ignored the part about Vader turning good in the end. (Or maybe he just never heard about it, since Luke and the Emperor were the only other ones there.) 
We've known for months that Kylo is not a Sith, and rather a member of the Knights of Ren. Snoke confirmed that he was the leader of the group ("Even you, master of the Knights of Ren, have never faced such a test"). By the end of the film, Snoke seemed intent on finishing Kylo's training, so it looks like he'll soon graduate to full-blown Sith Lord. 

Clearly, Kylo will get a Vader-esque shot at redemption eventually, but his patricide has definitely sent him further on the path to the Dark Side. We can assume that he escaped the destruction of Starkiller Base, and he and Hux and Snoke will plot their next move in Episode VIII

BB-8

Somehow, all of the hints of BB-8's cuteness and humor still didn't prepare us for his amazing cuteness and humor. The beeps he made, the way he rolled around, and the various gadgets hidden inside his spherical body (including firing cables and an R2-like zapper) were all adorable. And because most of his scenes were filmed with a real, working robot, nothing about him looked fake. 
Poe 

So...I think we can all forgive The Force Awakens' promotional campaign for reducing the attention on Poe in the final months before the film's release, because though he's a great character, he's not an incredibly important one. He's in the first few scenes, then he disappears for a while, then he comes back and flies around with his X-Wing squad and shoots TIE fighters and all that. I mean, I guess he has plot significance as the guy who deals the final blow to Starkiller Base, but you couldn't consider him as big a character as Rey or Finn. 
His extreme piloting skills originally led some to believe that he's another Skywalker kid, but though it's never mentioned in the movie, the Star Wars: Shattered Empire comic revealed that his parents are Rebel Alliance fighters Shara Bey and Kes Dameron. 

Han Solo    

After 30 years, Han may not be as cynical about the ways of the Force, but he's just as sarcastic. His arc in The Force Awakens is a sad one: he meets some young hooligans, reluctantly reunites with his former lover, promises to bring their wayward son back home...and ends up getting stabbed through the heart by him. 
His role in the movie had some similarities with Ben Kenobi's in A New Hope, but Kenobi's death was a sacrifice to let the other heroes escape, and he would grow on to mentor Luke as a Force ghost, while Solo's death was the result of trying to reach out to a long-lost son. And he probably won't be returning as a Force ghost, not just because Han isn't a Jedi, but because Harrison Ford may have only returned for this film with the promise that he would finally be free of the role that has apparently plagued his life. 

Leia Organa

Leia was never a conventional princess, ever since "Somebody has to save our skins!" in A New Hope, so it was fitting that she finally got to shed her title of Princess and become General of the Resistance.
The main disappointment with her character is that everyone was pretty much expecting for her to be a Jedi. In Return of the Jedi, Luke suggested that Leia could learn the ways of the Force in time, but it appears that her capabilities are still limited to sensing when her loved ones are in danger; in Empire Strikes Back, she used her powers to find Luke hanging off of Cloud City, and in The Force Awakens, we see her sorrow as she senses Han's death. 

Luke

If you're disappointed that the film's most talked-about character, almost entirely missing from any promotional material, only showed up in the last scene of the film with 0 lines of dialogue, I wouldn't blame you. Luke may have lived in seclusion for a long time, but hopefully he'll accept Rey's offering of the lightsaber and teach his daughter/niece the ways of the Force. Will that involve a reunion with Leia and the rest? Only time will tell. 
(Also, I don't think anyone wants to know how much Mark Hamill got paid for just turning around and pulling off his hood.)

Chewbacca

Poor, poor Chewie. He'll never be as beloved as Han, but his return was just as welcome as any of the Original Trilogy characters, and he provided some of the funniest moments of the film with just a few growls. With his inseparable friend now dead, hard times are ahead for the Walking Carpet, but at least he's still got C-3PO to translate for him, and friends new and old back on the Resistance base.
Maz Kanata

Did she appear in many scenes? No. Did she disappoint? No. Maz Kanata was great as a tiny, wise, and funny alien who helped our heroes on their journey. I only wish that she had taken time to explain how that lightsaber, last seen falling into oblivion on Cloud City, ended up in her vault. She said something like "that's a story for another time", but clearly the writers just couldn't think of a quick and easy way for it to make sense. 
Though Maz's animation was of high quality, she did look a little artificial when seen next to all the other bizarre creatures in her watering hole. But creds to Nyong'o for learning the motion-capture art (which must have been hard, especially since she's a fairly unexperienced actress despite her Oscar win) and providing the character with a truly great, unique voice. Maz most likely survived the destruction of her castle, and she's basically the new Yoda, so one can only assume that she'll return in future movies to continue to advise the Resistance with her eccentric charm. 

C-3PO and R2-D2

3PO's role in the movie was perfectly sized. His first scene was hilarious, as he interrupted Han and Leia's dramatic reunion. He later provided some much-needed exposition into R2's comatose state, and it was super cute when the astromech woke up and their longtime dysfunctional friendship was renewed. Those who like him would be pleased with his reappearance as the same overly-polite, clueless droid that they grew to love. Those who find him annoying would be relieved to see that he doesn't have many scenes.  
R2, on the other hand, deserved to do more. BB-8 stole his job as the cute droid with the vital information, and even when R2 woke up, he looked old and clunky sitting next to his spherical successor. But the information he provided was equally as important in the search for Luke. Now that his master has returned, R2 will hopefully come back to the forefront of the action. 

General Hux

There's not much to be said. His character wasn't much more than the average Imperial/First Order officer, except that his authority was equal to that of Kylo Ren. This sparked a rivalry between Hux and Kylo, so he must have been a little displeased with the order to save him from the destruction of the Starkiller. At least Hux can rub it in his now-unhelmeted face in the future. (Though for Hux's sake, let's hope he doesn't piss off the dark warrior too much, or not even Snoke will stop Kylo from cutting off Hux's neatly-trimmed head). 
Captain Phasma

(Beware: rant alert!) 
Between the cape, the shininess, and the near-perfect casting (Christie plays armored knight Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones), there was tons of anticipation for Captain Phasma. Throughout the promotional campaign, she was treated like one of the film's primary villains, and Christie was treated like part of the main cast. As a woman defined by her voice and movement, rather than her physical appearance, Phasma became something of a feminist icon for geeky girls everywhere. So it was a bit of a letdown when she barely had a role in the movie. 
Yes, JJ said beforehand that she doesn't appear in many scenes, but he also said that she's his favorite character. I mean, I can list her scenes in the movie off the top of my head: at the Jakku village, she asks Kylo what to do with the remaining villagers, then she has a short scene where she rebukes Finn for chickening out, then she has a few lines with General Hux as Finn escapes, then she's visible in the background while Hux addresses the First Order, and then she gets captured by Finn, Han, and Chewie. That's all. 

Pretty much every known image of Phasma shows her holding an impressive gun that matches her chrome armor, but she never got to use it in the film. We had heard that she's not always at the forefront of the action, but she should have had at least one action sequence. It didn't have to be a hand-to-hand brawl with Chewbacca, it could have just been firing her blaster during the Jakku village attack. 
Her final scene in particular seemed like an insult to the character we thought we'd see. She's grabbed by Chewbacca and pretty much does what Han tells her, giving the generic "You won't get away with this!" line. She didn't need to grab her blaster and shoot them all to death, but it would have been nice if she had sounded some alarm as a final act of defiance before getting thrown in that trash compactor (which we never even saw, by the way). This scene made her seem like not just a bad villain, but a bad soldier. 
To be clear, this isn't Christie's fault. She succeeded in instantaneously conveying both Phasma's femininity and her authority from the first syllable she spoke. And if she had been on-screen longer, we probably would have seen that the way she walked and moved were also performed with great care and talent. Either the character was just underwritten, or some of her scenes were cut. Fortunately, producer Kathleen Kennedy confirmed that Phasma will return (I guess she gets out of the trash compactor just fine), hopefully with a bigger part to play. 

Supreme Leader Snoke

Um...okay. From Serkis' interviews, we knew that Snoke was a tall, scarred, alien character, and JJ told us that he's the "most powerful figure on the Dark Side of the Force", leading most to believe that he was Darth Plagueis, the Sith Lord of myth who achieved the ability to create and preserve life by influencing midi-chlorians. 
When we first see Snoke, he's old, scarred, and his species is unclear (not appearing to be Plagueis' species, Muun)...and he's a literal giant, sitting atop a throne as he talks with Kylo and Snoke. But then we see that it's actually a hologram, meaning that Snoke could actually be that tall (which would be terrifying and ridiculous and awesome all at once), or he could be tiny (which would only be ridiculous and everyone would make Ant-Man jokes), or he could be the normal humanoid height (which would probably be best).

Regardless, this just seems like a waste of Serkis' talent. I understand that if you need a motion-captured character, he's the first guy you call (he pioneered the art by portraying Gollum, Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes movies, and many others) but at least make good use of his skill and have him crawling around or jumping or growling or something. If he's just going to be sitting on a chair and maybe leaning his head forward a few times, you might as well just use old-fashioned CGI and have Serkis record the lines in a booth.
Serkis was just playing the projection of the character, not necessarily his actual appearance, and it stands to reason that holograms can be manipulated, so another possibility is that Snoke looks completely different in person. He could even be someone familiar, like The Emperor/Darth Sidious. One thing's for sure: he'll return as the big bad in charge in Episode VIII

The Music

Have you ever heard of up-and-coming conductor John Williams? You might know him as the composer for little-known movies like Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, E.T., Harry Potter, and both Star Wars trilogies. Anyway, he returns to orchestrate The Force Awakens, and no surprise, it's perfect. Williams creates a new, vibrant soundtrack with just enough of the classic themes interjected to bring you back to 1977. This film's Best Picture chances are debatable, but one thing's for sure, Williams will be getting his 50th Oscar nomination for Best Score. Not too bad for an 83-year-old guy. 
Incidentally, the final piece of original music on the soundtrack, as Rey walks up the stone steps to meet Luke, is titled "The Jedi Steps" (my personal favorite, probably just because how the rises and falls in the music are perfect alongside Luke's dramatic reveal). The movie itself has a motif of steps in relation to Rey's Jedi destiny, but this title would confirm that Luke has indeed found the first Jedi temple. Could there be a more fitting place to train his daughter in the ways of the Force? 

Diversity

One truly great thing that JJ Abrams has brought to the Star Wars universe is diversity, of both race and gender. And I'm not just talking about having a girl and a black guy as the two leads. Yes, it was great to have the main character be female, and to get the first major female Jedi in a Star Wars movie, but there was so much more diversity than that. 
During the first scenes of the film, the camera focuses on a female villager holding a gun and looking like she's ready to use it. Some of the First Order officers were female, and one of the regular stormtroopers (not just Phasma) had a distinctly female voice. The Resistance had a number of female members besides Leia, from Chewbacca's medic Dr. Kalonia (Harriet Walter, the late Christopher Lee's niece) to Lieutenant Connix (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher's daughter). Additionally, X-Wing pilot Jessika Pava is played by Singaporean actress Jessica Henwick, and Admiral Statura is played by Lost star Ken Leung. 

Unanswered Questions

Here are some of the questions left hanging after the credits roll. Some of these will probably be answered in future films, while others may not. 
  • How is Lor San Tekka connected to the Resistance? Is he supposed to be a familiar character?
  • How did he get the map to Luke?
  • Who are Rey's parents?
  • How did Maz get the lightsaber?
  • Who are the other Knights of Ren? 
  • What is their relationship to the First Order? 
  • Kylo is their master, but is Snoke also in charge? 
  • Do they share Kylo's obsession with Darth Vader?
  • Does Kylo want to resurrect Vader?
  • What is Snoke's true agenda?
  • How is C-3PO still relevant and functional 60 years after being built from spare parts by a 10-year-old boy?
  • Does the Resistance have any other BB units? 
  • What has Luke been doing for all these years?
  • Will he accept the lightsaber, or let Rey keep it as her own blade? 
What did you think of the movie? Do you think you know the answer(s) to any of these questions? Tell me in the comments, and may the Force be with you all.