A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Far be it for me to tell anyone how to make a movie, much less a Star Wars movie that's the biggest box office hit of all time, but here's the thing—I love Star Wars. It's the first movie I remember seeing as a child and I've seen The Force Awakens five times already. It's the proper Star Wars follow up I've waited over three decades to watch. But there a few things along the way I wish would've been edited out, and a few characters I think would've been made strong for it. So, consider this an impertinence of love. Consider it... my The Force Awakens Edit.
Yes, this is something completely different for my usual, occasional editor's desk column. But that's part of the fun of having an occasional column. If all you want to do is read about Apple, please skip this feature and move on to the next. There's plenty to enjoy! Otherwise strap yourself in for some good, old-fashion "What if?" flights of fancy.
No Poe Dameron
As much as I love the actor and the performance, Poe Dameron isn't necessary to the story of The Force Awakens. We're told about how great a pilot he is twice before we're ever shown. We're told again, even when we are finally shown. That's a good indicator something's being forced rather than fit. So, what would happen if we removed him?
BB-8 would need to belong to someone else. Lor San Tekka, the old man Dameron was meeting at the beginning of The Force Awakens, is the best fit. That way, BB-8 can still see the First Order coming.
Tekka also needs someone else to talk to at the beginning. We can have it be a contingent of Republic agents. That way he can still provide exposition, but we can also meet—and form a connection with—some of the people who we're about to see die at the hands of the Storm Troopers.
They can talk about "the map" and how it needs to get to the general, right up until BB-8 bursts in.
Not having Poe Dameron helps us fix another problem. We can skip the awkwardness of his getting into and out of his X-Wing, and Kylo Ren killing Lor San Tekka—who has actual information he needs—while keeping Dameron alive—who may or may not have anything useful. We can just keep Tekka alive.
We can still have Ren's spectacular anger management issues bring him to the point of killing Tekka, but one of the Republic agents could see what's happening and open fire.
Then Ren Force-catches the bolt, pulls the soldier towards him, and cuts him down. We can see that play out over Tekka's face. "You're so right."
Because of the obvious history between Tekka an Ren, it makes the later interrogation scene more powerful as well. Ren can get angry and use the line "you know I can take what I want" for Tekka here instead of Rey later.
Tekka can say, "the force can't do that, not even the Dark Side". Ren can reply, "Mine can." Then we see Kylo Ren start to Force-board the old man, and we know the rules have changed.
No Poe Dameron also means we need someone else to fly to the rescue on Takodana. That's easy. We see ships come in low over the lake. Fin says, "the Republic!" Han looks up—
—And we smash cut to Leia. And she means business.
If we really want to make it dramatic, we can pull back and see the Millennium Falcon for the first time, with her at the throttle. Then we can pull back more and see the X-Wings fan out behind her. (Nien Nunb could be her co-pilot.) Even if she's on a different ship, it still gives her a much more powerful, more active, re-introduction.
Then, if Poe Dameron is going to play an important role in the next sequel, we can set him up with a cameo and the X-Wing squadron leader here and at the end. He can be the one with all the best moves. That way, next time, we don't need to be told what a great pilot he is. We'll have already been shown.
No General Hux
Hux is no Grand Moff Tarkin. He's young, gets threatened by Kylo Ren, pouts about him to their boss, gives a terrible speech, then frets around until he's ultimately told to go fetch. So what if we remove him as well?
Captain Phasma could replace him. She's a far more interesting character and one given far too little screen. This way she gets Hux's scenes and creates a different and potentially much better dynamic with Ren.
What if we also do more—ditch the Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub as well, and have Phasma board Solo's freighter at the beginning?
Rey and Fin basically just fly away from Jakku free and clear. There's no indication they went to lightspeed, and yet no chase from the First Order. Which is weird. So, instead, let's have the First Order chase them. That makes the repairs Rey has to do even more stressful, and the tractor beam and boarding a dire threat.
Han and Chewie can appear in the same way, but because we have the First Order in pursuit, we don't need to waste time with the Guavian Death Gang or the Kanjiklub. We have Phasma and the First Order Storm Troopers board the ship.
The rathtars set piece was goofy but, if we absolutely have to have monsters here, let them slaughter the Storm Troopers until Phasma kills at least one of them. And while she's distracted, the Falcon can jump to light speed. It creates a more stressful, plausible escape and cements Phasma as a badass.
We can keep that going by having Phasma, not some unknown—as far the movie is concerned—Storm Trooper, fight Finn on Takodana. Han and Chewie can blast down a wall to get Finn away, and Phasma can be even further enraged.
Lastly, we can get rid of the silly "trash compactor" scene at the end that does nothing but damage Phasma's character. If they need to threaten and flush someone, they can use an unknown for that.
No spoiling Kylo Ren
"Supreme Leader Snoke" isn't the best big bad name in the Star Wars lexicon, nor is it the best character design or animation in the film. Worse, by telling and showing us who he is, it eliminates mystery and tension. So, what if we keep his identity and appearance a secret?
That way, all we see is a massive humanoid figure in robes, everything else lost in shadow. Is it the Emperor risen from the dead? Is it Luke finally turned to the dark side like his father before him? Hell, is it Leia? Someone entirely new?
We don't know. All we know is that Kylo Ren call him "master".
Likewise, what if we don't know Kylo Ren is Han and Leia's child, at least not so early. Once again, it destroys mystery and tension and weakens the story. Instead, Ren's master can simply say the map they seek is in the hands of Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon, and let Ren's reaction can be all we see.
When Ren talks to the molten mask of Vader, he can leave out the word "grandfather" without losing any of the power of the moment. And when Ren interrogates Rey, he can leave the helmet on. He can stay a monster, a monster that visibly flinches when Rey tells him he's afraid he's "not as strong as Darth Vader".
When Han talks to Leia, he can say Han saw their "child", and maybe we think it's Ren or maybe we think it's Rey. Not knowing, though, makes it more interesting. Not knowing means, when Han steps onto that bridge and yells "Ben", it hits us like a fully operational Death Star.
And since we don't know who Ren's master is, when Rey finally gets to the First Jedi Temple, when she sees the figure in robes standing at the edge of the cliff, it can look like the same robes Ren's master wore earlier. He told Ren to bring Rey to him, maybe everything is happening according to his designs?
Then Luke can turn, she can extend the Lightsaber towards him, and we still wouldn't know. Had he become Obi-Wan? Palpatine? Something new in between?
All we know is that Rey is handing him Anakin's Lightsaber...
And we have sixteen months to wait for what's next.