A little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally hit theaters recently and it’s quickly become both a critical and box office smash. It’s a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the term and definitely lived up to the ridiculous hype we all had a hand in contributing to, but it’s by no means a perfect film. In many ways, The Force Awakens is the perfect set up movie, in that it lays the groundwork for what should be a very compelling and surprising Episode VIII and IX. As a standalone entry in this new trilogy however, The Force Awakens leaves a bit to be desired, which is understandable when J.J. Abrams and crew had to balance so many spinning plates: appeasing old fans, introducing new characters, staying true to the look and feel of Star Wars after the prequels tarnished it all so heavily…it’s a tough order for any filmmaker to fill. and though Abrams stumbles here and there, he did an admirable job of bringing Star Wars back. Now that we can look ahead to Episode VIII, we have a few notes for how that film can improve upon The Force Awakens.
Please note: this article contains **MASSIVE SPOILERS** for The Force Awakens, so if you haven’t watched it yet, maybe do that first before reading.
8. Make Captain Phasma Awesome
One of the most promising new characters introduced in The Force Awakens is Captain Phasma, the badass, chrome-domed stormtrooper commander played by Game of Thrones‘ Gwendoline Christie. Or at least, that was what the pre-release marketing buzz would have us think of her because in practice, Captain Phasma came across like as a wet noodle, accomplishing nothing of consequence and getting taken out in humiliating fashion by Finn, Han, and Chewie. When you hire someone as talented and physically imposing as Gwendoline Christie and dress her up in a supremely cool outfit, you expect results and The Force Awakens just doesn’t deliver in that regard. We already know that Phasma will be back for Episode VIII, so it’s imperative that the film actually does the character justice and makes her live up to what we were led to believe she was — namely, the new trilogy’s answer to Boba Fett.
7. Introduce New, Interesting Worlds
Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes us to a number of new worlds never before featured in the previous films. So why do they all feel so familiar? Jakku is just Tatooine with a Star Destroyer wreck thrown in, while Takodana and D’Qar are nearly identical and bear more than a passing resemblance to Yavin IV. Heck, even Hosnian Prime, which houses The First Order’s Starkiller Base, feels like a retooled Hoth with trees. Say what you will about the prequels, but their planet designs were pretty incredible, so it’s not unreasonable to demand that this new trilogy pull off the same feat. Creating fictional planets, especially interesting ones, is no doubt a difficult job, but it would be nice to see Episode VIII take us somewhere truly new instead of copying and pasting places we’ve already been in previous films.
6. No More Death Stars
We’re done with the whole planet-size space station of death thing. While The Force Awakens‘ Starkiller Base is a visual spectacle, it’s way too similar to the original trilogy’s Death Star to be very interesting on its own, to the point where it’s difficult to generate much excitement over yet another trench run takedown during the film’s finale. In Episode VIII, the First Order needs to come up with a new nefarious plot that isn’t simply echoing the sins of the Empire; they tried twice to make the Death Star work and failed, so why did the First Order think it would work for them? It would be interesting to see the First Order find a more insidious way to mess with the Resistance in the next film (maybe by infiltrating their ranks somehow?). Just no more superweapons…please!
5. Fill in Story Gaps
One of the very best scenes in The Force Awakens is Rey’s vision, as it offers a taste of what’s happened between the events of Return of the Jedi and the new film, while also hinting at Rey’s significance in the ongoing battle between the light and dark sides of the Force. Unfortunately, this scene is all too brief and its best part — the brief shots of Kylo Ren’s betrayal of Luke Skywalker — is not given enough focus. The film arguably missed a huge opportunity by not featuring a legitimate, full flashback sequence depicting Kylo Ren turning on Luke, but that doesn’t mean Episode VIII has to repeat the same mistake. As good as The Force Awakens is, the 30 year gap between it and the end of ROTJ is rife with storytelling opportunities and considering one of the new film’s biggest weaknesses is that it doesn’t give us enough details about the state of the galaxy, Episode VIII could remedy these issues by making more of an effort to fill in some of the major story gaps introduced with this new trilogy.
4. More Poe Dameron
In addition to Captain Phasma, the other new character who gets the short end of the stick (to a lesser extent of course) is Oscar Isaac’s hot-shot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. Poe is the first new character we get introduced to in The Force Awakens and he’s immediately likable and has a great rapport with John Boyega’s Finn. Unfortunately, his involvement drops off dramatically after the first act. Yes, he does lead Rogue Squadron (we don’t even know if that’s still their title, but we’re calling them that anyway) in the final battle against Starkiller Base, but he’s just not used as effectively as he is in the first third of the film. With the staggering number of story beats and characters The Force Awakens had to pack into its runtime, it’s understandable that the presence of certain characters had to be diminished in favor of others, but it’s a shame someone as charismatic as Poe had to be given the short shrift. Hopefully we see a lot more of him (and another Finn team-up!) in Episode VIII.
3. Give Leia More To Do
One of the most crowdpleasing elements of The Force Awakens was seeing most of the original trilogy’s cast return, but as it turned out, it was really just a Han Solo show (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Luke Skywalker made the briefest of appearances at the end, but that worked well considering the driving force of the film’s plot was the search for him. No, the one area where the latest Star Wars disappointed when it comes to the return of old characters was how it mishandled Carrie Fisher’s Leia.
It’s cool to see that Leia is still a strong leader (she’s now known as General Leia; don’t call her Princess!), but the film doesn’t give her much to do. She has little involvement with the most climactic events and even her interactions with Han are lacking. There’s almost none of the spark seen in the earlier films and definitely nothing that comes close to the emotional punch of “I love you” “I Know”, which is a letdown when we’ve been waiting 32 years to see these characters on screen together again. Whether Carrie Fisher or the scriptwriters are to blame for this issue, something more needs to be done with Leia in Episode VIII; after all, she’s one of sci-fi’s greatest female heroes and deserves to be more than just an afterthought.
2. Tone Down Rey’s Invincibility
Daisy Ridley’s Rey will no doubt go down as one of the best female heroes of the year and with good reason. Rey is confident and capable, and we can’t wait to see how her arc plays out in subsequent films. That being said (and bear with us here)…maybe The Force Awakens makes Rey too powerful? It’s a fair claim considering how thoroughly she defeats Kylo Ren in the film’s climactic final battle, with no training in the Force whatsoever. Compare that to Luke in Empire, where he took on Darth Vader and was almost killed — and that was with actual Jedi training under his belt. Rey is amazing as is, but if Episode VIII gives her a few flaws and weaknesses to overcome, she could be even better.
1. Do Something…Anything…To Make Snoke A Cool Villain
Much praise has been heaped on Adam Driver’s turn as the conflicted, overconfident villain Kylo Ren, who is a worthy successor to Darth Vader in pretty much every way. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Ren’s master, the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke is arguably the one element that really doesn’t work in this film, as his ridiculously gigantic character design (yes, we know he was a hologram the whole time, but it still doesn’t work) is not only distracting, but feels completely out of place in a Star Wars movie. The other problem is that we’re told next to nothing about Snoke — where did he come from? Is he a part of the Sith? How did he turn Kylo Ren to the dark side? We’re sure to see a lot more of Snoke in the next film, so hopefully director Rian Johnson and his team can turn him into this trilogy’s answer to Ian McDiarmid’s wonderfully evil Emperor Palpatine because right now, Snoke is kind of a drag and the one character in the film we would have been totally happy seeing get left on the cutting room floor.