I will only warn you once: Spoilers.
So The Force Awakens was released in the UK today and yup, it’s still pretty good but flawed (seriously, not one member of the crew realised that it would be a little weird for Leia to walk straight passed Chewie and hug Rey after Han dies?).
Something the film does right is its use of nature as a force unto itself.
In the original trilogy, a few notable scenes show nature as an intimidating force or threat. These scenes remain pretty iconic. Luke and the tauntaun succumbing to the harsh blizzard on Hoth. Han navigating through the Hoth asteroid field with approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one odds. The x-wing being swallowed whole by the Dagoba swamp. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these three examples are from The Empire Strikes Back, often regarded to be the best of the series.
In the Force Awakens, three great moments stand out.
What do deserts eat for dessert? A jacket Poetato. Ah, never mind.
After Finn and Poe crash on Jakku, the only thing Finn finds in the wreck of their stolen tie fighter is Poe’s jacket. As Finn looks for Poe in the ships, the ground below him gives way to the force above in a scene that clearly suggest the aforementioned scene on Dagobah. It’s a great introduction to a planet that, while seemingly devoid, spare the odd settlement, it is resolutely introduced as being dangerous. Finn had previously been on Jakku and witnessed the horrors of a misguided regime in the First Order, which he abandoned only to be confronted by nature. And then, with a great touch of humanity, Finn wanders in desperate need of water to find the scrap yard settlement where Rey works. The use of such a grounded danger is what Star Wars needs as the series progressively becomes known for its bombastic space battles and CGI laser sword fights.
Solar powered death! Going green was the first order for the First Order.
The third Death – sorry, Starkiller base, has come under much derision for being a re-tread of a re-tread. But one nice touch that elevates the sublime menace of such a grand weapon is its energy source. Starkiller base uses the nearby suns to charge its planets-destroying weapon. It’s not only nice to know from where such a weapon draws its power, but it is a good plot device and allows for some gorgeous imagery in the infamous third act – which, in the Star Wars Universe at least, should be dubbed the ‘old-guy death scene’. It’s just such a shame the base itself feels too familiar and possibly too powerful to not be absurd. It doesn’t help that the planets it destroys – it does kill stars too – are not introduced to us with any weight beyond ‘that’s where the good government people are’. It’s very clumsy and undermines just how dangerous the weapon is, with its very tangible source of power being a force of nature.
Kylo: ‘Seriously, look behind you.’ Rey: ‘I’m not falling for that.’ Kylo: ‘Apt choice of words.’
The final scene that stood out is the concluding duel between Kylo Ren and Rey. As Rey defeats her foe, the ground below them is conveniently torn apart. Again, this is reminiscent of the tie fighter and x-wing being literally swallowed by the ground. It’s also an image that should be familiar to anyone with an internet connect, as social media seems to flip every time a new sinkhole appears. Narratively, it’s the perfect move for JJ, leaving Kylo Ren alive to fight another day at the moment Rey gains the confidence she needs to continue her saga.
Hopefully the saga will continue to lean on nature as a living threat for memorable set piece. After all, the idea of the force is that everything is that nature is all interconnect, and focusing solely on the horrors of evil creatures can become a drag. Just keep it grounded and spare the absurd CGI moments of silly sci-fi films. I’m looking at you, Interstellar, with your daft waves.
Extra titbit on nature: Possibly my favourite touch of the entire movie is when Rey accidentally takes out what appears to be an already dead tree.