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Harry, Quint, Nordling, Papa Vinyard, And Monty Cristo Talk THE FORCE AWAKENS! Spoilers!

Nordling here.

In my review for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, I was reserved in my take on the movie - there is lots to enjoy, but also a few things to ponder and some misgivings about certain aspects of the story that JJ Abrams chose to tell.  Well, with this being STAR WARS and me being me, of course I've seen it again since, and as I suspected, my love for the film has increased exponentially.  I stand by my review, but it must be stated - when THE FORCE AWAKENS works, it's as pure a hit of STAR WARS that we've gotten since 1983.  It's better than the Prequels ever were, and audiences have really taken it to their hearts in a way we haven't seen STAR WARS do in a long time.  I'll likely be seeing it again, and I've already seen it three times.

We here at AICN feel blessed to be a part of this time, and so Harry, Quint, Papa Vinyard, Monty Cristo, and I got together to talk about our mutual love for STAR WARS - what we think certain plot threads mean, the destiny of charcters old and new, and what we expect to see in Rian Johnson's Episode VIII.  This was a fun discussion, and I think our joy comes through.  Massive spoilers follow, of course, so if you're THAT guy or gal who hasn't seen the movie, well, you know what you did.

Harry: Nordling, You’ve seen the film 3 times now?  What most is grabbing you about the movie that makes you want to go back, yet again?
Nordling: Han Solo.  Harrison Ford is Han Solo.  He's much more engaged than I've seen him in years.  He's having fun.  His banter with Chewie is truly wonderful.  And he puts the pain in his eyes in regards to his relationship with Kylo Ren.  We may not know much about what happened factually, but you can read it in his eyes that Han's heart broke when it happened.  It's one of his best performances of his career, and it might - just might - be his best performance as Han Solo.
Harry: Really, I’m gobsmacked in love with the new characters.
Nordling:  The new characters are great too. But it's Solo I'm finding myself drawn to more and more.
Harry:  Does that come from playing with a figurine and having constant mental childhood adventures, reconciling the end of the character?
Nordling: It's like a Beatles/Rolling Stones choice = you're either a Han guy or a Luke guy.  I'm a Luke guy, always have been.  But Ford Just brought it back so perfectly.
Harry:  I’m a Luke guy.
Papa Vinyard: I am surprised to see all the love for Poe Dameron out there. He’s absent for so much of the film that I didn’t feel like I got a good handle on his character. He comes off as too simple as a result, but I expect he’ll get more complex as they move forward.
Harry: Vin - I believe that’s about the intensity and amazing chemistry he has with Boyega through the Escape from the Star Destroyer stage.
Papa Vinyard:  I am a Luke convert.
Harry: It’s all about Luke.  Han Solo didn’t fucking meet Yoda.  Also Luke got the hotter kiss!
Papa Vinyard:  It’s really in the banter with Chewie where I really go, “Damn, it’s Han!!” The rest feels more mature, more lived-in than what I’m used to.
Nordling:  "Oh, YOU'RE cold?!"
Harry:  Agreed - the Han / Chewie stuff is great - as are the little Chewie moments, where... YOU ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND HIM!
Papa Vinyard:  That’s how I felt about BB-8. Even moreso than with R2, I felt like I understood every bleep and bloop. The wandering eye is obviously key.  The moment of him falling for Rey was maybe the first jolt of THIS IS NEW STAR WARS I got.
Harry:  Quint, what number of views are you at?
Quint:  I loved his roll back when Finn admits to not being part of the resistance.  Tonight was 4.  Nephews cackled at the reveal of the Falcon as the “garbage ship”.  Made me super proud.
Nordling: My jolt of "Holy crap I'm watching a new STAR WARS movie was the stuff between Finn and Poe on the Star Destroyer.
Harry:  The Finn and BB-8...  actually Finn and everybody.
Quint: What keeps me going back?  It’s the character interactions. Specifically Finn and Rey. That’s what makes me smile the most even on the fourth viewing.
Harry: Finn and EVERYBODY.  The movie is best when he’s on screen, he brings great energy out of everyone around him.
Nordling:  You can see how excited John Boyega is to just be there and a part of that cast.
Harry: Think of it as a CHARACTER, Nordling. That’s a Sanitation deppartment Stormtrooper that realized he was a Nazi, ran away, fell for a girl, embedded with an enemy of legends. I love it.
Monty Cristo: Finn and Rey are big ones for me. They both have no family legacy (they and we know of, at least) like Poe does.
Quint:  There’s also the audience reaction aspect. This weekend you’re still seeing it with The Force Awakens virgins. Hearing the gasps as the Falcon is revealed or any of the OT cast shows up is so awesome.
Nordling:  Everyone leans forward when Han is on that bridge. No one wants to breathe or blink.
Papa Vinyard:  I saw it opening night and then again last night, and the dropoff in enthusiasm was shocking. People talking, only scattered applause most concentrated at two moments: Han’s appearance and Rey calling over the lightsaber...
Harry:  Also - the fans are just tremendous - I love seeing the Cosplayers.
Monty Cristo:  Poe’s parents were Rebellion pilots, which I know wasn’t in the movie but was in the comic lead-in.
Quint:  Like I mentioned earlier my 8 year old nephew flat out cackled at the reveal of the Falcon as the “Garbage ship.” When the Simon Pegg dude runs out and screams “That’s mine!” he looked at me and whispered “No it’s not!”
Papa Vinyard:  When Han went on the bridge, the woman next to me went, “That’s his papa!"  “That’s mine!” and “trash compactor?” are the only prequel-level goofy moments for me.  I don’t know why Ford makes that face when he says “Trash compactor.” It’s way too big, when the rest of the performance is so cool.
Harry:  I see Han as a big overgrown kid, devil may care - putting her in a Trash Compactor could be a Han thing to do with a Captain.
Monty Cristo:  If anything, what I see some people complaining about (derivative plot elements, sudden expertise among leads) is a plus for me not as a general practice, but as something that takes us back to the core of what Star Wars is.  Star Wars is derivative, and does repeat stuff, and that goes back to some of Lucas’ original touchstones like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.
Quint:  We should talk a little about Rey.
Monty Cristo:  Yes, we should.
Quint:  Something I caught on the third viewing was that she knew Luke’s location.
Nordling:  She felt it in the Force.
Papa Vinyard:  She does look around a bit.  But I’m pretty sure the island she lands on is the right island.
Quint:  No, when Kylo is interrogating her.
Nordling: That's right.  An island surrounded by ocean.
Quint:  He says what he’s seeing. He sees an island surrounded by water.  Yeah.
Monty Cristo:  Her mind knows where it is subconsciously, even if she doesn’t necessarily remember it consciously.  Or overtly show that she has that memory.
Papa Vinyard:  So… is she his daughter or not?!
Nordling:  I think she likely will be, but I'm hoping not.  It retracts the universe more.
Papa Vinyard:  His saber contained the memory of leaving her on Jakku, unless it unlocked that for her at that moment for some reason.
Quint:  She’s either Luke’s kid, sent away after Kylo was born or she’s Kenobi’s grandkid.
Monty Cristo:  It does not bother me at all if she’s Luke’s kid.
Nordling:  She has a British accent - she's so Kenobi's kid.  Heh.
Monty Cristo:  Yes, accents are all genetic, which is why my Cantonese accent is so thick. Ha-ha.
Papa Vinyard:  Why would the saber be that drawn to Kenobi’s seed instead of a Skywalker? Then she might as well just be some nobody.
Harry:  I think we’ll get a Ewan, Rogue Jedi movie where he knocks up some Mandalorian gal,
Quint:  It would be a bold move to show a non-Skywalker so powerful with the force. I’d like that more, actually, but I think she’s a Skywalker.
Papa Vinyard: Agreed, Quint.
Nordling:  I agree, Quint.  The whole movie is about a search for family.
Quint:  I think the saber calls out to her because she’s strong with the light side of the force.   Maybe a blood tie, too, but I would buy it as just her being the new new hope.
Monty Cristo:  Going back to my thing about how part of what I like best about TFA is that it owns the derivative themes and notes seen in the existing six films.  It’s part of what makes the Star Wars saga films a saga.  I love that the Anthology films can live in this universe and jump off the saga train.
Papa Vinyard:  Lupita’s character makes that big statement about it being Anakin’s, then Luke’s, “and now it’s drawn to you!”  
Harry:  Well, I like that she’s older than Yoda.
Nordling:  I hope we see Maz again.
Papa Vinyard:  No doubt we will.  She drops the big breadcrumb about how she got the saber
Harry:  Young Han, in his prime at Maz’s!
Nordling:  Yoda, in his prime at Maz's!
Harry:  Wookiee love at Maz's!
Quint:  Speaking of Ewan, did you guys see the guy who voiced Obi-Wan in Clone Wars tweet about Ewan recording the Obi-Wan line you hear when Rey touches the saber?
Nordling:  What does he say?  I keep listening for it.
Quint:  Something like “Rey, these are your first steps."  Last thing you hear at the end of the vision.
Papa Vinyard:  It was clear as day, maybe a little too strong both times I saw it.
Monty Cristo:  There is an Obi-Wan and Anakin comic series coming from the writer of the Lando miniseries, and McGregor is too damn good to throw out the idea of doing a Middle-Aged Obi-Wan movie in the Anthology films.
Quint:  I suspect if they ever bring Ahsoka Tano into the movies we could get her in the spin-offs and not the main story.
Papa Vinyard:  If she is (Obi-Wan's) kid, then we’ll likely see how it *ahem* happened.
Quint:  I don’t think the timing works out for Rey to be Obi-Wan’s kid.  She’d have to be over 30 years old since this takes place 30 years after Jedi.  Grandkid, maybe.
Papa Vinyard:  That seems like a bunch of steps. That’s a half century of Kenobi lineage to catch up with.
Nordling:  Daisy Ridley is so great.
Papa Vinyard:  The interrogation scene with Kylo is her moment.
Nordling:  She totally makes James Bond drop his gun. Hah!
Harry:  I love her getting out on Maz’s planet - taking in the air, the humidity, the temperature... she places you there.
Quint:  Yeah, it’s a great quiet Rey moment. You really feel her isolated backstory when she sees the lush green planet.
Nordling:  Someone pointed out to me today that she's so good at tech because she's been around junk all her life. She knows how to make things work. She's very much like Anakin in that respect.
Papa Vinyard:  And Luke also.  They’re resourceful in their own corners, before being exposed to the vastness of the galaxy.  That’s something I found endearing about Finn…he’s not really good at anything.
Harry:  I like her MONKEY SEE MONKEY DO learning method with the Force.
Quint:  Yeah. The only reason they’d keep her backstory a mystery is if there was a reveal coming. I’d buy that JJ and Company just wanted to give her a humble origin if it wasn’t for the shot of the ship leaving her in the lightsaber vision. There was an emphasis on it.
Nordling:  The audience really responds to Rey.
Harry:  Rian knows - let’s get him!
Papa Vinyard:  Holy shit, am I ready for his movie.
Nordling:  Me too.  So much.
Quint:  Plus I think she was trained at a young age. If she’s not Luke’s kid I think she was definitely a student before Kylo slaughtered everybody.
Papa Vinyard:  That would be awesome. “What girl?!” “It’s okay, I feel it too.”
Nordling:  What's the age difference between her and Kylo?
Harry:  I’ve heard the Rain scene is from the raid on the Jedi Academy.
Quint:  That’s why I buy her ability to do basic stuff with the force.  I think she learned some at a very young age, the same way a child can learn a second language and it just kind of becomes second nature.
Papa Vinyard:  I wonder who the guy with the hat is who gets run through. Obviously not Luke, but also not a youngling.
Nordling:  A Jedi trainee of some kind.
Quint:  Looks kind of like that that Constable toy that was released but not in the movie.  Not saying it’s the same person, but the shape of the hat was the same.
Nordling:  Yep. It's also the shape of the hat that one of the Inquisitors wears in STAR WARS REBELS.  Probably coincidence.
Quint:  Speaking of, I love that the Knights of Ren are out there waiting to take part.  We get one dude, their leader, in this movie, but now there’s a whole squad of them to come in now that Luke is back in action.
Nordling:  I guess at some point we'll have to conjecture what exactly happened to seduce Ben. And who Snoke is.
Quint:  Leia says she felt Vader in him, but was able to control it when he was with her.
Papa Vinyard:  My guess: Solo wasn’t much of a father, and their decision to send him away drives him to loneliness and anger.
Quint:  So it sounds like he’s always been torn between the dark and light side.
Nordling:  Yeah, Papa. Does this all come down to Leia and Han being self-involved, bad parents?
Quint:  The impression I got was it was losing Ben that split up the family.  I think Kylo Ren was troubled just like Anakin was. Pulled in two directions at once from the very beginning.
Papa Vinyard:  Well, being Darth Vader’s biological grandson doesn’t help.  I’m fascinated with the idea that Vader turning good and killing the Emperor hasn’t trashed his legacy of being the most evil and murderous bastard in the galaxy.  Kylo takes nothing from that ultimate conclusion, just the early work.  It’s the father figure thing that Snoke preyed on.
Quint:  I don’t think Kylo knows (about Vader's redemption). And here’s another theory.  I think the pull towards the light that Kylo is feeling is actually coming from the helmet.  The very thing he holds as a totem to the dark is what’s trying to pull him away from it.
Nordling:  That's a great theory. Anakin is redeemed. He's one with the Force. Whatever Kylo is feeling, it's not Anakin.
Papa Vinyard:  Oh god, please no Hayden force ghost cameo. Pleeeease.
Quint:  I don’t think he knows that Vader turned at the end. I’d bet anything that Snoke convinced him that Vader went down a dark side hero, no matter what his uncle or parents told him.
Nordling:  I agree. It would have been an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK moment for him.  "Kylo, Luke murdered your grandfather."
Quint:  We’ll get an inverse of that scene, is my guess.  Vader turned away from the darkness. Search your feelings, you know this to be true.
Harry:  Nord, there are no coincidences in STAR WARS.
Quint:  I also think Han saved his son with that moment of kindness at the end.  I think that little bit of compassion he shows, the gentle touch, will stick with Kylo.
Papa Vinyard:  I don’t think there’s any chance of redemption for Kylo.
Quint:  It might be what pushes him back over later
Papa Vinyard:  There’s hope for him until the moment he kills Han. Then, just from a storytelling perspective, it becomes near impossible for him to redeem himself.
Nordling:  Kylo never really kills anyone in the film except Han and Max Von Sydow's character. He orders others to do it.
Harry:  And he totally killed some consoles!
Papa Vinyard:  Oh, killed the shit outta em.  "Anything else?"
Nordling:  I love how he's like a little child.
Quint:  Vader murders Obi-Wan and in the prequels slaughtered a room full of kids. If he can be redeemed, so can Kylo.
Papa Vinyard:  That’s a last-minute redemption, he ain’t having margaritas with Luke and Leia by the beach  Kylo will likely get that redemption, but no happy ending for that guy.  Also, he’d be a boring villain if he was drinking the kool aid as hard as General Hux, for example.
Harry:  Bet Han called him Princess as a baby.
Quint:  I’d bet you $20 we see redemption for Kylo by the time Episode 9 rolls out.  The whole series is about redemption through family ties.
Harry:  I want Rey to die, Boyega to go into hiding with their child, and I want Luke Skywalker to live for 12,000 years.
Nordling:  Who is Snoke? Is he someone we've met before? Is he Darth Plagueis?
Papa Vinyard:  I hope Snoke’s really that big, and that that hologram is exactly to scale.
Harry:  But - that’s a hologram, he could be 3 feet tall.  That’s just following the Leni Riefenstahl blocking to create oppression and leadership applied to sci fi.
Quint:  I hope Snoke is three inches tall.
Papa Vinyard: Haha!
Nordling:  That would be hilarious.
Papa Vinyard:  I just love the idea of a Sith villain who’s like titan-sized compared to his adversaries, we haven’t really seen that before
Quint:  Nothing says he’s a Sith.  He could be, but Kylo for sure isn’t and he’s been trained by him.  Kylo is definitely not disciplined in the force. He rages, he doesn’t know how to build a real deal saber.  It’s sloppy. I love that it’s sloppy. Such a great contrast to the sleek glow of Anakin’s saber.
Harry:  Kylo’s saber would make a glowy slab out of you SEAMAN!  I love he has saber envy.
Papa Vinyard:  Reminded me of the swirls in J.J.’s transporter shots in TREK, when he puts it right next to Rey’s face, and you can make out the details in the light itself.  Like a hi-res look at something we’d seen a million times.  Man, his anger-smacking his wound during the final fight is beautiful and so uncool.
Quint:  Vince, I agree. Love that. Gives so much character to that final fight.
Nordling:  The more I see the movie, the more confident that these quesitons will be satisfatorially answered.
Quint:  One of the things I love about the movie is Poe is probably the only person great at what he does.
Papa Vinyard:  Except investigating his own crash site!
Harry:  God I wanna play hologram chess with Chewie!
Nordling:  Poe is as much a Rebellion fanboy as Kylo is a Vader fanboy.
Papa Vinyard:  I still have no idea why they don’t find each other when the tie fighter goes down.
Nordling:  Well, Finn didn't exactly look.  He thought Poe went down in the crash.
Monty Cristo:  I’m spending too much time reading and not typing!
Nordling:  I've had a joke I've been carrying around for days now - I love that Starkiller Base essentially shoots JJ Abrams lens flares that can literally destroy planets! He's weaponized lens flares.
Papa Vinyard:  I wonder why (Kylo) wants a blue saber though?
Quint:  He views it as his birthright.
Harry:  He talks to Vader’s melty helmet - pay attention Vince, he’s a FUCKING LOON!
Papa Vinyard:  Haha!  He’s a few celebrity daughters short of a GIRLS cast.
Monty Cristo:  Here’s the thing: rather than assume Kylo Ren had “bad parents” in Han and Leia, think of him as being teased and treated poorly because Darth Vader was his grandfather.  And rather than run from that legacy, he embraces it because he’s so massively bullied.
Nordling:  Monty, that's possible. Luke may have not trained him properly because he was kin.
Harry:  I know his parents, they were bad.
Quint:  I think it’s reasonable to assume that Luke was at fault in some way for his turn. It would explain his isolation.  Whether he went too tough or too light on him, either could have been what happened.
Papa Vinyard:  I agree, it’s likely more Luke’s fault than Han’s in the end.
Monty Cristo:  There’s a fascinating book about Columbine that provides a perspective of the parents of the killers, the mentors around them.  All demonized for “causing” their “turn to evil”.  People aren’t droids, they aren’t “programmed”, they’re pushed too far in one direction by a multitude of forces.  To blame the parents of the Columbine kids is a very simple, open-and-shut blame game.  Same series of assumptions all over fandom that some combination of Han and Leia and Luke are “guilty” of single-handedly, or as a group, pushing him.
Harry:  And doesn’t Adam Driver’s skin GLOW in this movie... what is his skin product?
Nordling:  Luke had Clint Eastwood eyes. So frigging awesome.
Harry:  Luke in Rian’s hands will be the best thing ever.
Papa Vinyard:  Second time, I thought he looked a little bit mad when he first sees Rey. I’m hoping for a mentally shabby Luke next go.
Harry:  Luke owns the legacy - and he passed it on. Vader died a hero of the revolution.
Monty Cristo:  Maybe people who knew who he was (the scion of Vader’s dark legacy of genocide) were the ones who pushed, and Snoke was the pull.
Quint:  Whether true or not, Luke saw some shit and blamed himself for it enough to drop the whole “bringing back the Jedis” idea.
Monty Cristo:  Luke is the only person who witnessed Vader’s turn back to the light first-hand.
Harry:  Vader was the fist of the Emperor - GOD I WANT MORE OF THAT IN REBELS in the Anthology flick.
Nordling:  Han and Leia could have sent Ben away because they thought Luke could bring him back. Instead, Luke failed, and Kylo Ren was born.
Monty Cristo:  What if the alluded-to political stagnation of the Republic extends to how many people, once the Empire fell and the new Republic took power, actually believed Luke’s version of events?  What if the “winners” writing history just glossed over the “rantings” of a “religious zealot” like Luke?  Hence the whole “it’s true, all of it”?
Harry:  Ben Solo... such a great name.
Nordling:  Ben Organa-Solo! Heh.
Papa Vinyard:  I love that Obi-Wan’s fake name gets passed along
Nordling:  Monty, which is why the Republic didn't take the First Order seriously, and why Leia had to form a Resistance to fight them.
Papa Vinyard:  Would make sense. Poe’s eyes go bug out when Kylo freezes that laser blast.
Monty Cristo:  Nord, exactly.
Harry:  It’s a complete metaphor for Trump, obviously.
Quint:  I love that Han was famous for different reasons to the new kids. To Finn he was a Rebellion hero, to Rey he was the awesome smuggler.
Papa Vinyard:  Rey doesn’t even think Luke’s a real person.
Harry:  That is why Han rules!
Monty Cristo:  It’s been 30 years, and a new generation of leaders who have never known even stories of contemporaneous Jedi run the place.
Harry:Even in Luke’s time it was a legend.
Monty Cristo:  Exactly, Harry.
Papa Vinyard:  Han saying "It's true, all of it" is such a perfect culmination of his journey from blowing it off til that moment.  Han, who’d been from one end of the galaxy to the other, didn’t believe it. But now he does.
Harry:   Watching a man in Black swallow your Blaster fire in the palm of his hands and mind fuck you - will leave an impression.
Quint:  I’ll be forever depressed that we don’t see the trio back together, but this was a hell of a send off for the character... the exact thing Ford has wanted since 1983.
Monty Cristo:  I think it is not a stretch to think that Force Awakens being drenched in derivative themes and elements being used is, believe it or not, a part of the macro-story being told.
Papa Vinyard:  The shot of Chewie, Leia, and Han was good enough for me.
Monty Cristo:  This new Republic made many of the mistakes of the Old Republic and the Empire.  History, doomed to repeat mistakes, and so on.  Yes, the good guys can “win”, but “winning” is not as simple as the bad guys losing their grip on power.
Nordling:  We may still see Han and Luke together. Perhaps Luke communes with him in the Force. But probably not.
Quint:  Hope not. Don’t want everybody who dies to get magical ghost powers. I like that Lucas has limited that. Still have no idea why Anakin was a force ghost, but fuck it. I’ll give him a pass.
Monty Cristo:  What Rey represents is the legacy of Classic Star Wars carrying the torch forward and doing things differently. Our new Big Three aren’t analogues for the original Big Three.
Harry:  Love that the StarKiller Base Super Planet becomes a star!
Quint:  Yes!  And that Han Solo’s final resting place is at the heart of a star.
Papa Vinyard:  it truly was…a star war...
Harry:  I love that the energy feeding is exactly like that Vampire Black Hole sucking a star dry that Hubble found.
Quint:  I hope they reference that later. Even if it’s slight. You can look up and see Han if you’re on the right planet in the right system.
Nordling:  Quint, that would be wonderful - Kylo sees Han in the night sky - a constant reminder.
Monty Cristo:  I guarantee something like that ends up in the books and comics.
Papa Vinyard:  That moment where the sun’s light gets all used up right when Kylo almost drops his saber…oh man, that’s some slick screenwriting.
Harry:  KASDAN!
Nordling:   You can feel Kasdan in every character interaction.
Harry:  Yup and you feel JJ in reveals and tech.
Papa Vinyard:  The Han/Leia stuff killed me both times.
Quint:  He said something really great on the red carpet at the premiere.  He said the heart of Star Wars was in it being goofy.  There’s a big difference between goofy and silly, he said.  Goofy is Han shooting the communicator and saying “That was a boring conversation anyway.”  His favorite Star Wars moment of all time.
Papa Vinyard:  Like how some of Finn’s reactions are so contemporary, but somehow it works in context.
Nordling:  My friend pointed out to me why some of his favorite stuff was on Han's freighter - "We've never actually seen Han smuggle before." And I love that scene! I imagine Han isn't a particularly great smuggler but he talks his way into making some money.
Papa Vinyard:  Did we need another silly-accented junkyard boss though? That character comes the closest to annoying me, and I kinda liked Watto.  I definitely wanted more Iko and Yahian.
Monty Cristo:  Another new Canon thing, speaking of the comics, Jedi Temples, and so on... in the Shattered Empire comics miniseries (set after ROTJ), Luke and Shana Bey (Poe’s mom) steal the last two saplings that came off the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.  Luke takes one with him, and he gives the other to her, which she plants on the planet where she and her husband and little boy (Poe) settle down. It has a kind of, I dunno, “Force Glow” to it.
Quint:  I wouldn’t read much into that for future films.  That feels like texture to me, not a hint at what’s to come.
Nordling:  The comics may be canon, but they're going to always be mostly ignored.  (But the comics really are great.)
Monty Cristo:  The new comics are mostly set during the OT, but the “Journey to the Force Awakens” one is after ROTJ, and the Story Group were involved in the plotting.  The old EU stuff was not canon and never intended to be canon, but I would not assume that about the new stuff.
Quint:  Predictions on Episode VIII?
Monty Cristo:  I think we get a good notion that “The Force Awakens” means more than just the emergence of one person’s Force sensitivity and powers.
Nordling:  Quint, I think the Mystery Box will lift somewhat.  We'll be kept in the dark on key plot points, but we'll know more about what happens.
Quint:  See, I didn’t have the same “mystery box” problems you did with the movie.  To me all the open questions made it feel like there was 30 years of history that happened and we’re only getting it in bits and pieces.
Papa Vinyard:  I didn’t even notice all the breadcrumbs the first time around, I was so busy trying to figure out just who Rey was.
Monty Cristo:  John Gholson put this really well in a podcast I did with him the day we saw it the first time, this wasn’t a “hey hey there’s something in the mystery box and it’s a big twiiiiist”, the overall catching-up after 30 years is a big part of the progression of the plot.
Nordling:  It's just that we've carried these characters with us for 30 years. The idea that stuff happened without us is annoying! How dare they.  Heh.  I think the filmmakers want to subvert the idea that we've had about what these movies would be about. And I can respect that. I can't help but fill the gaps in my mind, and while I want the filmmakers to tell their own story - storytelling isn't a democracy between writer and fan - there are still things I want to see. It's just my nature with STAR WARS. I want more. I'll always want more.
Monty Cristo:  Kylo Ren literally doesn’t exist until we see him on-screen, so I don’t think not-revealing the beginning of his story is somehow a thing they should have done in marketing.  I absolutely did not want to know he was Han and Leia’s kid from a trailer, and it’s revealed really early on.  Secrecy yes, mystery box, not really if you ask me.  I don’t see willing subversion, there’s no way they could have hoped to address the insanely huge diaspora of expectations if they’d gone that route.  So they didn’t. They just said “we aren’t lifting the curtain early”.
Quint:  I wouldn’t sacrifice the break-neck pace of the movie for anything, but I do wish I would have known more about the New Republic and just how crucial they were at keeping the First Order at bay.
Monty Cristo:  Yeah, I didn’t want a Phantom Menace Trade Sanctions level of exposition about that, but Rey may have been the perfect audience surrogate to be unaware of the current political climate.
Quint:  I get the impression that the bad guys win big in this movie even though it’s hidden in a good guy victory.
Nordling:  Oh, the Republic is gone. The First Order won.
Quint:  They wiped out the armada, the protection of the galactic government. The entire resistance is pretty much what we saw attacking the Starkiller Base.
Nordling:  All that's left of them is Leia's ragtag Resistance.
Quint:  At the end of the movie we get the feeling that Luke’s coming back, but the odds have never been more stacked against the good guys. 
Nordling:  The First Order will probably move back to Coruscant.  There's no central leadership, and the galaxy will want a strong hand to guide them. The First Order just became the Second Empire.
Monty Cristo:  The First Order, one assumes, has more of a fleet at some (or many) other muster points.  People have complained about the Republic not setting their capitol on Coruscant, but they could have chosen not to for many reasons. Maybe Coruscant is a giant pile of ruins now. Maybe they didn’t want to be symbolically tied to it.  The First Order Space Nazis are ready to bring order through...order.
Quint:  It would have been nice if Abrams had visually distinguished it as it’s own new planet a bit more. Everybody I know assumes it was Coruscant that was blown up.
Nordling:  They say the system in the movie. There's a lot of information that is quickly delivered.
Monty Cristo:  Yeah, I thought I got that it wasn’t Coruscant, but it sure looked like what I know Coruscant looks like.
Quint:  It’s a power vacuum now and The First Order has the numbers and infrastructure to step in immediately, whether people want them to or not.
Monty Cristo:  Yeah, that information vomit was a bit much for me, but I did get that the first time through.  Even though they say the name of the system, the similarity in look is what made me doubt that I absorbed it properly.
Nordling:  I want in Episode VIII, more than anything, is to see Luke duel again.
Monty Cristo:  Luke + Rey versus...The Knights of Ren?
Harry:  A mere fleshwound...
Monty Cristo:  Possibly. Or Kylo and Snoke, or even a new villain we haven't met yet.
Quint:  Also, I can all but guarantee that Rian will branch off in his own direction.  VIII won’t be the pseudo-remake of Empire like VII was of IV
Monty Cristo:  I love how violently MRAs and anti-feminists otherwise have reacted to her, immediately impugning her as “unrealistic” (dudes, she can push things with her mind powers, come on) or “pandering”.
Nordling:  Abrams was a NEW HOPE guy. I imagine Rian is an EMPIRE kind of guy.  But that's just a guess.
Harry: This film has echoes of EMPIRE and NEW HOPE to me.
Eric Vespe:  Harry, it absolutely does.  Visually Han and Kylo’s confrontation is supposed to make you think of Vader/Luke in EMPIRE.
Nordling:  Rey made so many people happy. So many fans. She's intrinsically STAR WARS to me now.
Monty Cristo:  Harry, I’d argue it has more of Jedi in it than people have given it credit for too.  Not as much as ANH or EMPIRE, but definitely some.
Papa Vinyard:  The “It’s too late” from Kylo...
Nordling:  The freighter scene felt like the sail barge scene in JEDI a little.
Harry:  I think they said, "Let’s combine the best elements of Star Wars and Empire - create robust characters to get wide eyed in this verse, invent a cool droid, give a different kind of problem child of the prequels, but do it right."
Monty Cristo:  Rey is the bridge between the old and the new to me, and she leads us forward into a next movie that is explicitly not following the patterns of before the way this one did.
Quint:  Really curious to see if we’re going to get Force Ghosts in the next one.  Yoda’s an easy bet, but could we get Ewan doing MoCap for Alec Guinness?  Or will we get some kind of explanation that the light side has diminished and Luke can no longer commune with them anymore?
Nordling:  This was a hell of a foundation. Rian has a gift here. He can go anywhere he wants storywise.
Monty Cristo:  This one recalibrated the series to the look, feel, and spirit of the OT as fuel to go forward in a new direction.
Harry:  I love when Chewie loses it!
Papa Vinyard:  As long as it’s dark!
Monty Cristo:  Where there is Dark there must be Light.
Nordling:  I feel like the Force is activelly manipulating events.  The awakening.  Rey awakening to her powers isn't an accident. This is supposed to happen.
Monty Cristo:  An “awakening”...of a new font of power within the Force?  Has the time since the fall of Palpatine and Vader allowed the light side of the Force itself to I dunno, repopulate itself?
Quint:  I have a feeling we’re going to start off VIII knowing just how fucked the good guys are. Right out of the gate, we’re going to see just how stacked the deck is against them.
Nordling: First shot in space - all the new Destroyers move into an inhabited world and take over.
Monty Cristo:  The big recalibration I’m most thrilled with is, yes the First Order will have a major advantage over the Resistance, but there’s overall a lot less of an impossibly huge warship force out there
Papa Vinyard:  Finn’s definitely gonna be gunning for Poe, right?  They make it pretty clear that he can’t fly worth a damn on his own.
Quint: He’s gonna be Poe’s Dak? Heh.
Harry:  I love when Finn turns that on.
Monty Cristo:  The First Order re-conquering along the game plan of the Empire when it took down the Old Republic.
Harry:  Finn Awakens, Rey Awakens, Luke Awakens and R2 even Awakens - and Poe mentions Awakening at night - and Snoke and Ren geek about feeling someone awaken.
Quint:  The chess pieces are moving.  You think it was Luke that activated R2?  I think so. I think he felt Han die, either directly or through Leia.
Papa Vinyard:  That was what I felt.
Harry:  Yup.
Quint:  And decided it was time to be found.
Nordling:  Yeah but Luke certainly didn't look happy to see Rey.  What if Luke doesn't take that lightsaber?
Papa Vinyard:  I got a decided LAST MAN ON EARTH looniness coming off of him like Muad’dib or something, he crawled into the unknown and isn’t the same.
Harry:  I feel Luke left this key to his location out there.
Monty Cristo:  Was it possibly Rey’s presence that triggered R2?  Because he came back on when she arrived, not before. When Finn got there, Rey was captured.
Quint:  Maybe. That was the first time Rey was at the Resistance base, wasn’t it?
Papa Vinyard: Yeah.  Good point.
Nordling:  Yeah it was.
Harry:  Luke figured Evil would find it and he’d get it over with. That he has a student, with the blade that reminds him of the most painful moment of his life.
Quint:  That would be something else to back up that Rey has some Skywalker blood in her.
Monty Cristo:  Again re: the Force “awakening”...Kylo Ren didn’t finish his training with Luke or Snokiekins.  Yet he’s arguably more powerful than Vader in terms of being able to reach into minds and read them?!
Nordling:  Luke looked like a lion on that mountaintop.  His dreamy hair.
Harry:  Nordling stop with the C.S. Lewis.  We get it, Luke is your Fabio.
Nordling: Hehehe!
Harry:  giggle
Quint:  Mark Hamill looked so goddamn good in that sequence. He gives the best performance as Luke in the history of Star Wars and doesn’t say one word.
Papa Vinyard:  I <3 JEDI Luke.
Monty Cristo:  I wonder if the “awakening” is this outsized, exponential “boost” in the Force across the galaxy.  That’d go with the theory that Luke “reached out” across many systems worth of space to flip a switch inside R2.
Papa Vinyard:  He’s clearly been through some shit now.
Quint :  That’s another great thing they did with Kylo. He’s not really trained, but he has unique force abilities.   I love that.
Nordling:  How nuts did your audiences go when Rey grabs that lightsaber from the air?
Papa Vinyard:  Big applause, both times
Quint:  First few times went crazy. Especially at the premiere. This last one was pretty quiet.  Second screening (first Alamo one) a girl started sobbing loudly at Han’s death.  It’s amazing how this franchise can still cut right to the emotional heart of the audience.
Nordling:  You could hear a pin drop when Han steps on that bridge.
Monty Cristo:  To sort-of crystalize my overall thinking: I think the retreading and “remaking” of tons of OT elements, the fan service, all of that was 100% necessary in broad strokes to “reset” where and what Star Wars is...but I’m thrilled that my expectation is that going forward, all bets are off.
Nordling:  It invited fans and non-fans alike back into the franchise.  It reminded us all why we love STAR WARS so much.
Papa Vinyard:  I agree with Monty.  They needed to do it like this  Anything else would’ve been rejected by a big portion of the adult fanbase, and winning them back over was clearly a big priority.
Quint:  Yeah, in a weird way, no matter what you think of the prequels you have to realize they fractured Star Wars fandom. This movie stitches it back together.
Papa Vinyard:  Specifically A NEW HOPE, which I think doesn’t get enough credit for getting you invested in the world, its rules, and its characters.
Monty Cristo:  The critic down the row from me at the Austin critic’s screening was openly weeping at Han’s death, and only mostly composed himself by the credits. Made me feel dead inside.  I did cry, but this guy lost it like he was at his father’s funeral.
Papa Vinyard:  If I hadn’t heard the rumor persist for over a year, it would’ve hit me way harder.  I was more like, “Well, he’s not getting off that bridge”.  Kylo’s struggle makes the scene for me.
Nordling:  Yeah, I figured it was going to happen. I got more emotional in the Rey/Kylo fight.
Harry:  Think of it like this. YODA tells Obi-Wan that long had he watched this one... meaning Luke... Luke could have been watching over Rey. We know originally Max Von Sydow was to be Rey’s trainer - so I like to think Wedge. Wedge survived the original trilogy. Kylo would’ve known him. That key gets placed in BB-8 and suddenly BB-8 is on a path to REY, and FINN... Guaranteeing they get together with POE and HAN. What is that key? BTW - I like giving master Jedi crazy cosmic abilities.
Quint:  But I didn’t care, Vin. JJ visually telegraphs what’s going to happen, prepares us. It’s not about the shock of the murder, but the emotional weight of it. Adam Driver in particular rocks that moment. You get Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in that moment. You understand him. You hate him. You feel sorry for him.
Nordling:  Adam Driver's work is tremendous here.
Papa Vinyard:  I prefer him in-mask, just because he’s so emotive under there.  The voice is so perfectly not-Vadery and chilling.
Nordling:  His voice wants to be Vadery so baaaad.
Harry:  He’s totally got Vader Envy.  I love it.
Papa Vinyard:  Wife kept wondering why he always has perfect hair when he’d take off the mask.
Quint:  It might just be me, but I wish they hadn’t unmasked him before the Han/Bridge moment.  I like his work in the scene with Rey, but it would have had much more impact if the first time we see his face is when Han demands to look upon the face of his son.
Papa Vinyard:  It might’ve tipped the moment, and it was too important.  If one person went, “Hey it’s the guy from GIRLS!” they blew it.
Harry:  Son of Princess Leia has learned some product tips, I guarantee.
Monty Cristo:  I’ve got to run, but have a final thought to throw in: I love that this enormously huge communal experience is going to bring individuals, friends, families, strangers together out at the movies in crowds and numbers we haven’t seen since the original movies, in an age when we didn’t have a thousand distractions and options and competing things for our attention. If there’s a single thing about the movies that has been saddest to me over the last two decades, it’s this terrible fading away of going out to the movies as a common thing that brings people together and sticks as an important personal history landmark.  People will remember their first, second, 12th time seeing this and with whom.  Parents, grandparents, distant relations, long-not-seen friends, childhood pals they haven’t seen in some cases for decades.
Nordling:  I'm going again tomorrow.
Harry: I'm taking my wife in the morning.
Nordling:  The highs are incredibly high in THE FORCE AWAKENS. High enough to overcome pretty much anything.
Quint:  I’m giving it a break for a little bit, but already my nephews both said they want to see it again, something they haven’t said about any movie I’ve taken them to so far.
Harry:  I’ve got multiple folks that want to go with me, I’m going every time.  I’ve got a new addiction!
This was a ton of fun.  Thanks to Harry, Quint, Papa Vinyard, and Monty Cristo for participating.  And a big thank you to Lucasfilm, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, the cast and crew of THE FORCE AWAKENS, and Rian Johnson.  There has been an awakening in the cinema, and this time, we all can feel it.  STAR WARS is back.
Nordling, out.
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