The Force Awakens – Screenplay Analysis

THE FORCE AWAKENS – LOGLINE: An orphaned scavenger and a cowardly defector become the unlikely guardians of the location of Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi alive and the last hope for the Republic to defeat the sinister First Order who have risen from the ashes of the Empire.

WRITERS: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams & Micheal Arndt.

SCRIPT BIO: The 7th instalment in the Star Wars Franchise.

THE FORCE AWAKENS – STORY

** SPOILERS **

POE, the best fighter pilot of the Resistance, has procured the location of Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi alive and the last hope the Republic has of defeating the New Order. Just as he’s about to express deliver it back to princess — sorry, ‘General’ Leia, he’s attacked by the awesome Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015Kylo is a young wannabe Darth Vader. He’s not as naturally bad-ass as Darth, but he certainly aspires to be. Poe safe-stores the location of Luke in his droid, and tells him to hide, then Poe is taken hostage.

Before Kylo can extract the location of the location of Luke Skywalker from Poe, a Storm Trooper soon to be known as Finn has a crises of conscious and deciding that storm trooper-ing isn’t all he thought it’d be cracked up to be, he defects, helping Poe to escape.

Meanwhile back on Jakku – the planet where Poe left his droid and the all-important thumb-drive that contains Skywalker’s whereabouts, Rey, a scavenger with the unique ability to do anything she puts her mind to, befriends Poe’s Droid – hence forth known as BB-8.

Finn and Poe crash-land back on Jakku, with Kylo hot on their heels. He wants Skywalker’s location and he wants it bad.

Rey and Finn stumble into each other and flee in the Millennium Falcon just before Kylo can nab them.

They are then stopped by the tractor beam of a quote-un-quote ‘massive freighter’. Rey and Finn are pretty sure it’s the First Order after them, but when the door blasts open, there stands Han Solo and Chewie.

They’re soon joined by two rival gangs that Han has diddled out of 50 grand a piece. These gangs seem set on killing Han and Chewie, then taking the Millennium Falcon, presumably as repayment for their lost investments in Han’s mis-adventures. In an attempt to save their get away vehicle, Rey accidentally opens the doors to a holding room where some dastardly part-gorilla-part-killer-octopus have been hitherto contained.

These creatures go on a  rampage conveniently killing everyone that stands in the way of our heroes getting back on track with the main canon of the story. Once Rey has again saved the day, she and Finn team up with Han and Chewie and get the hell out of there.

Kylo and General Hux inform the infamous Snoke – the 25 foot tall holographic uncle of Gollum that the location of Luke Skywalker will soon be in the hands of the Republic, if that happens all their dreams of ruling the universe like Kim Jong Ill ruled North Korea will be nothing more than that – dreams.

In Snoke’s infinite wisdom, he advises them to power up the ‘big gun’ – a death-star much larger than the Empire’s death-star that has a terrible carbon footprint using all the power from a nearby sun to run it.

Meanwhile, Han and Rey land the Millennium Falcon on the green planet of Takonda.

Here Han meets up with Maz, a myopic elderly lady with a penchant for Wookiees.
As they discuss plans, Rey ‘accidentally’ finds Luke Skywalker’s old light sabre, and this awakens in her the Force.

This awakening of the Force leads Kylo and his crew to Takonda, but not before they use the uber-death-star gun to blow up a couple of planets run by the Republic.

Amidst the ensuing battle Kylo kidnaps Rey. He knows she knows where the droid is and he knows he can get what he wants out of her head as he has full use of the force.

Finn, Han and Chewie fly to the Resistance base where they team up with Leia, Poe CP30 and an R2D2 who has taken way too much lithium.

Together they formulate how they’re going to get Rey back and blow up the uber-death-star before it has a chance to blow them up.

The question is will they succeed?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

Just a note before we continue, I prefer to deconstruct un-produced screenplays. I feel there is more to be learned from looking at a blue-print for a would-be film, than analysing a script from a film that everyone has already seen. Even more so, a film that is produced by some of the the most successful film makers in the world.

I’m doing this deconstruction of The Force Awakens, as the story guru Karel Segers suggested I do it.

Before I get into the deconstruction of the screenplay, I think it’s important to acknowledge a few things first.

The Force Awakens is quickly becoming the most successful film of all time. There is no doubt that this film is a HUGE success both financially and critically.

With that said there are a few bullet holes in this screenplay.

Let’s get into it…

CONCEPT

No brainer. This is a franchise that has proven its validity. The concept here isn’t so much about the story, or the idea of the Force, the concept here is about the Franchise.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-daisy-ridleyThe concept is, ‘let’s make another Star Wars film’ – it doesn’t matter how you execute that, you’re going to make money.

But that feels like a cheat.

The concept here is ‘Good and Evil fight for control of the Force of life.’ Esoteric when put like that, but we all know that the execution delivers. So with that in mind…

CONCEPT RATING 9/10

CONCEPT TIP: Aim to create a franchise with your story if possible. A lot of films don’t make money on the first instalment, but subsequent instalments – if even not half as good as the first – are more likely to make money.
FORM
Here is a great reason why I prefer to deconstruct un-produced screenplays. There is a different way of writing a spec’ to writing something you are producing and directing.

There’s a different standard.

In a spec’ screenplay you don’t direct the camera. If you’re producing and directing, you can direct the camera all you want.

In a spec’ you don’t underline or use CAPS in dialogue. If you’re producing and directing you can underline and use CAPS all you want.

In a spec’ you keep your descriptions lean for easy reading. If you’re producing and directing you can write descriptions as detailed as you want.

In a spec’ you don’t write what the characters are thinking, you show, but if you’re … you get it.

The screenplay for The Force Awakens directs the camera, uses underlines and CAPS in dialogue and also quite often has clunky descriptions filled with things that will never appear on the screen and therefore shouldn’t be in the script.

FORM RATING: 6/10

FORM TIP: Descriptions of characters. Be clear and concise. In The Force Awakens, character descriptions were almost non-existent. Again, it’s Star Wars, so they can do what they want. But for everyone else, get your character description across in two lines or less and convey their — Psychology – state of mind, Physiognomy – how they look, and Sociology – their standing in society.

STRUCTURE

I’m not going to do a full Hero’s Journey break down of The Force Awakens. I’m sure there’ll be many others out there who will do this.

Instead here I’ll focus on other elements of the story that were structure related that didn’t work.

2979968-star-wars-bb-8-force-awakensI think one of the major problems with this screenplay stems from the two main character’s flaws. And if we back up just a moment, right there is another problem with this screenplay – there are TWO main characters.

I know it’s Star Wars, and Star Wars is an ensemble film, (meaning multiple players of equal importance and screen time) but ensemble films are notoriously difficult for the audience to engage with for a myriad of factors.

Despite this film being a huge financial success, not one person I’ve spoken to about it feels they really engaged with the story. Not in the same way millions if not billions of people engaged with the original Star Wars.

Let’s go back to the flaws of our heroes, as structure ties into flaws.

The call to adventure should be a test of the Hero’s flaw.

Let’s look at Rey. What is her flaw? She’s deceiving herself into believing her family will come back and pick her up. She’s lying to herself that she hasn’t been abandoned.

When Rey bumps into the droid with Skywalker’s location in it, it forces her to break out of her myopic rut and leave the planet. I guess in that sense her call to adventure does test her flaw, but she seems only to happy to leave. Being attacked by stormtroopers is a strong motivator, but even still, what I felt was missing from Rey’s story was a strong refusal of the call.

It’s not until later on, page 65, when Rey in confronted with Luke’s light sabre that we get a strong refusal of ‘a call’ from her. She flat-out does not want to know what that strange hallucination/conscious-dream was all about.

When that happened in the film, it felt like her real call to adventure. If that were the case, it’s coming way to late and it changes her flaw also.

The main problem with Rey is the lack of clarity of her flaw. I’m still not 100% sure what her flaw is. What’s the best way to describe someone who lies to themselves about something?

She’s in denial.

But at the start of the film she’s in denial about something that someone else (her family) has done to her – namely – abandon her. That’s an external event that hasn’t manifested itself in any way other than causing her to deny that that’s really the case.

When she confronts Luke’s light sabre, she refuses to believe that she has the Force within her. This is internal, and feels more like a real flaw.

Either way, for me, the way it stands, it’s muddy.

Finn’s flaw is that he’s a coward. He’s constantly running away from everything. This is a much clearer flaw to grasp. But with that said, it’s an inconsistent flaw, as it takes a hell of a lot of guts to defect from the New Order. So while his flaw is clearer, it’s not consistent.

STRUCTURE RATING: 6/10

STRUTURE TIP: Having a clearly defined and consistent flaw for your Hero will help you to create a clearer structure.

CHARACTERS

As there are a dozen characters in The Force Awakens, I’ll keep this general, rather than going into each character individually.

Again, this is a problem with deconstructing a produced screenplay. We know what the characters look like, how they talk, who the actors are. What I’m interested in is how they appeared on the page.

So, going off only the screenplay…

Rey is a strong leader, capable of everything, Finn is a follower, cowardly in his ways.

vanity-fair-star-wars-01It feels like there is a definite disparity here which is a great start. But the problem with these two characters is that they don’t feel real.

Rey is a strong leader – but she’s too strong. There’s nothing she can’t do. There’s nothing she is challenged by.

Finn is the conflicted coward that wants to run from everything. But again these traits feel super imposed by a writer rather than feeling like they stem from within him naturally.

Take Han from the original Star Wars. He wanted to run from everything, but it wasn’t because he was a coward, it’s because he was selfish. That character flaw played out naturally in everything he did. It also led to the conflict between him and Leia.

All the characters in The Force Awakens felt like stereotypes, none of them felt real.

Okay, maybe BB-8 felt real.

CHARACTER RATING 6/10

CHARACTER TIP: Create characters that have in-built conflict. This was a problem for The Force Awakens – all the characters got along really well. Rey, Han, Chewie, Finn, 88-B, Poe, Maz, they were all best friends.

Imagine the original Star Wars without the conflict between Han and Leia.

DIALOGUE

Wow, this was one of the main detractors for The Force Awakens. Dialogue was always on the nose. And humour was so often mis-used and mis-timed.

Very little differentiation between any of the way the characters speak.

DIALOGUE RATING 4/10

DIALOGUE TIP: Do a just-dialogue pass of your screenplay. Do an edit focusing ONLY on the way your characters speak. It will bolster your script no end.

VOICE

star-wars-the-force-awakens-hi-res-hd-trailer-stills-movie-32This section is redundant for a film like this. But while I’m here I may as well comment that The Force Awakens screenplay was lacking in the voice department. The writing was perfectly functional, but there was little zap or zing that pulled you along.

VOICE RATING 6/10

VOICE TIP: Have you gone to safe? Screen writers will often over-edit their screenplays, removing those elements and quirks that help their script stand out from the masses. Beware not to over trim your screenplays or they’ll read too dry.

PRODUCTION

High concept, sci-fi with multiple locations on multiple planets with a cast of hundreds with loads of high level VFX required. We’re looking at 100 mill plus.

Actually production budget was 200 million.

But with a franchise like this it’s a safe bet.

SUMMARY

The Force Awakens was a fun ride. More so the end film that the script. It has its bullet holes. Mis-timed humour, a main character that can do anything she tries. The entire story felt too easy. Never once did I think, ‘hey, you know what, they might not make it.’ But for all that it was an enjoyable film that is quickly becoming the most financially successful film of all time. So no matter how many problems it has, you can only knock it so much.

OVERALL RATING 6.5/10

-Samuel Bartlett

(published first at http://deconstructthescript.blogspot.com.au)

One Comment

  1. James C January 7, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    Great deconstruction. Well reasoned!

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