Now that we have all seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (some of you have seen it like four times I heard) we can begin to turn our attention to the next chapter in the saga, the as-yet unnamed Star Wars Episode VIII, written and directed by Rian Johnson. The Force Awakens brought us back to the classical Star Wars universe we love, but it also left some weird loose ends, made some bizarre mistakes and took a couple of wrong turns that can be easily remedied in the next film. This is my list of demands, things the next film must give us. And this list doesn't include the obvious stuff, like "More Poe and Finn together!" or "An answer about Rey's heritage!"
Give us some Han Solo closure. The death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens was, frankly, weird. It didn't hit the way it should have. Maybe it's because we've known for 30 years that Harrison Ford wanted to kill off the character or because the construction of the scene, aping the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi, telegraphed what would happen way ahead of time... or maybe it's because the movie doesn't give us a chance to mourn. Han's death is followed immediately by huge explosions, a vicious duel in the woods, more X-Wing dogfighting, a remake of both the A New Hope trench run and Jedi's 'inside the Death Star' scene and then the massive implosion of Starkiller Base. The small moment of mourning we get is weird - Leia walks past Chewbacca to hold Rey, a character she has never met and to whom she has no connection at all. Even Darth Vader got some quiet reflection upon his demise, as did Obi-Wan Kenobi. Han Solo deserves at least this much. I would love a scene in Episode VIII where Leia, Finn and Poe visit the sun created by the meltdown of Starkiller Base and lay a monument on a nearby planet.
Give us a Rey with weaknesses. I don't want to get into the debate about whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue, as that's far too politically charged, but I will say that I felt Rey was overpowered by the end of The Force Awakens. In her final battle Kylo Ren felt like the underdog, taking hits and getting knocked down again and again by a Rey who had proven herself to be hyper-competent the rest of the film. Compare that to The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke's entire storyline is about telling us he's not ready to confront Vader and, when he does confront the Sith Lord, he gets the stuffing knocked out of him. Luke struggles while Rey very easily succeeds, and one of those is better drama than the other. There was a moment in the duel, when Ren was on the ground and badly wounded, that I thought we would see Rey tempted by the Dark Side - after all, it's the easy path, and she was very angry at that moment - but it never happened. By the time she goes to Luke Skywalker she's a better Jedi - and person! - than Luke was at the end of Empire. It almost seems like maybe she should be teaching him. Hopefully Rian Johnson can give Rey some sort of flaw that she must overcome in the next film, something that makes us feel like she's in either physical or moral danger.
Give us a galaxy with some galactic distances. Do all the events in The Force Awakens take place on planets right next to each other? You'd think so, considering the fact that characters can jump into ships and be across the entire galaxy in moments. There's a scene where Kylo Ren is watching the Starkiller Base death beam go in front of his Star Destroyer and still manages to arrive at Maz Kenada's planet before the beam strikes its target! And by the way, everybody on that planet can see the destruction of a distant star system in real time, despite the speed of light not working that way. Even Lucasfilm's Pablo Hidalgo sort of threw up his hands at this one:
Yeah, Star Wars was always fantasy, but it was a fantasy based on frontier concepts. You need a little distance between planets in order to give a sense that any of these worlds are backwaters. If you can get to Jakku or Tatooine exactly as quickly as you can get to any other planet, what's the point of even noting their distance? I love that the trip to the rubble of Alderaan takes a little while in A New Hope - it gives all the characters a couple of minutes of screen time to relax and chill and interact. I want a galaxy where the fact that Tatooine is way off in the galactic corner means something.
Give us a promise of no more Death Stars. I want this in the text of the film. I want General Hux to say, "In retrospect it was wasteful, stupid and, if we're being honest, lazy and unimaginative to just build a bigger Death Star. In the future we will endeavour to meet our goals using more creativity and without being so quick to retread things that have already been retread." I need this said out loud because I am terrified that Colin Trevorrow will show up in Episode IX and brings us five Death Stars. No more Death Stars.
Give us new mythology, worlds and characters. The planets in The Force Awakens have new names, but they're largely retreads of worlds we've already seen. The magic of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is that they kept introducing us to new environments and new characters, and so the first two films give us constant blasts of imagination and creativity. One of the complaints about Jedi on initial release was that not only did we return to Tatooine, we had another Death Star. Real Star Wars is a parade of cool new things, not endless repeats of what came before. I want Episode VIII to give us this, to give us weird and cool new worlds (how about a planet that's a diamond? A world with acid seas? A complex space station built of interconnected asteroids?) and strange new characters to inhabit them. And I mean new - not just a remix of Yoda, like Maz Kanata. And give us some depth to the mythology; while the now-deceased EU explored a lot of Jedi and Sith lore, The Force Awakens has pretty much given us basic Light Side/Dark Side stuff yet again. We're ready to go deeper.
Give us a cool Captain Phasma scene. I've already written about the wasting of Phasma, but it's not too late to fix this. Her arc moving forward seems clear - have her hunting down Finn, a renegade from the First Order trying to reclaim her honor. Just give her at least one scene where she does something cooler than 'immediately lower the shields as requested.'
Give us space battles. Almost every single aerial action scene in The Force Awakens takes place not just in-atmosphere but at very low altitudes. One of the charms of Star Wars has always been battles that rage against the backdrop of a starfield, and I want more of that in Episode VIII. The Force Awakens has one very short space battle - when Finn and Poe steal the TIE Fighter - and literally one shot of space battle in the assault on Starkiller Base. This is called Star Wars, not In Atmosphere Wars, guys.
Give us some deeper meaning for that lightsaber. The secondary MacGuffin of The Force Awakens was Luke and Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, the one lost on Bespin. The saber seems to have value to the characters, but it is devoid of thematic value for the audience beyond being yet another callback to the OT. It's important to remember what that saber meant in the first two films: it was the passing of the torch from Anakin to his son in the first movie, and it was the severing of Anakin from his past in the second. When Darth Vader cut off Luke's hand at that saber went tumbling into the clouds of Bespin there was a lot of thematic weight there - Vader was getting rid of the last vestige of Anakin Skywalker, while Luke was having his place in the Skywalker legacy truncated and was forced to step out of his father's shadow and become his own man. In Return of the Jedi Luke shows up with his own saber, which represented setting out on his own path. Losing the saber was valuable for Luke, and it truly means a lot, thematically, in the Original Trilogy. Hopefully it can come to mean as much in this Sequel Trilogy; the seeds have been sown for it to have resonance, with Ren wanting the saber and believing he has a hereditary claim to it. The big question for Episode VIII must be "What does the Skywalker heritage mean?" and one way to answer that is to explore the meaning of the saber - is it the saber of a man who turned to the Dark Side or the saber of his son who resisted him? Don't let this thematically-weighted object just become cheap fanwank, Johnson!