This post contains major, huge, mind-blowing spoilers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Stop reading now if you don’t want your movie experience ruined.
Still here? We’ll give you one last chance to avert your eyes.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has landed, and by the looks of early box-office tallies, everyone is going to see it. There will no doubt be several talking points guaranteed to engage fans and critics for the next 18 months until the release of Episode VIII. The five most surprising moments from the blockbuster Star Wars sequel are detailed below (in reverse order), so you can be well-equipped to discuss at your holiday party.
5. Snoke shows himself
We knew actor Andy Serkis was going to be in The Force Awakens in a motion-captured role of Supreme Leader Snoke, the Dark Sider pulling the First Order’s strings. But director J.J. Abrams refused to release images of the character, saving his introduction for the film’s release. He is indeed the big bad, appearing only as a giant hologram while giving orders to his protégé Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).
Andy Serkis (Getty Images for Disney)
One of the lesser visual effects in an otherwise eye-popping movie, the aged, heavily scarred Snoke looks like a cross between Harry Potter villain Voldemort and an extra orc from Lord of the Rings with a dash of the Wizard of Oz. We learn that he has Force powers and has corrupted Kylo Ren into becoming a tool for the First Order; that he plays Hux and Ren against each other; and that he’s definitely not, as some had hoped, an incarnation of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a fan-favorite villain from Timothy Zahn’s 1990s Star Wars novels, who rises to power after the fall of the Galactic Empire. At one point Snoke wants to get his mitts on Rey, to twist her like he did Ren.
Grand Admiral Thrawn
By the film’s end, after Rey defeats Ren and escapes, Snoke vows to complete Kylo Ren’s training to make him an even more formidable adversary to Luke Skywalker and the Resistance.
4. Luke Skywalker, lost and found
For months now, the “Where’s Luke?” outcry has gotten louder. Mark Hamill, who fronted the original Star Wars trilogy, was missing in action, and it became apparent the obfuscation was a key part of Lucasfilm’s marketing plan. Luke wasn’t in the trailers, he wasn’t on the posters, and Hamill wasn’t at the press junket. Leaked photos of the actor in costume were scrubbed from the Internet (with limited success). All we knew was that he was going to be in the movie and was going to be sporting a Jedi-appropriate beard.
Rumors filled the vacuum: Luke had been disfigured in battle and would look radically different. Luke was dead and would only be seen as a Jedi ghost. Luke had turned to the Dark Side. Luke was really Kylo Ren. Now we know the truth.
The opening scroll sets the stage for one of The Force Awakens’s key plot points, the search for Luke Skywalker.
Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence the sinister First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed. With the support of the Republic, General Leia Organa leads a brave Resistance. She is desperate to find her brother, Luke, and gain his help in restoring justice to the galaxy…
Luke is in hiding after his effort to teach a new generation of Jedi knights goes horribly awry. Shaken by his failure and perhaps fearful of causing more harm to the Resistance, Luke distances himself from his loved ones. “Luke felt responsible. He just walked away from everything,” says Han Solo.
Aside from Leia (Carrie Fisher), who is devastated by the loss of her brother, R2-D2 virtually shuts down after his master disappears. Han Solo thinks Luke might have gone searching for the first Jedi Temple, predating the one corrupted by Palpatine on Coruscant.
Using the space map pieced together at the end of The Force Awakens, Rey, accompanied by Chewie and Artoo, fly the Falcon to a remote planet with mountainous islands in the middle of an ocean. The budding young Jedi (armed with Anakin’s lightsaber) climbs a whole lot of stairs before finally reaching the cloaked Luke at the pinnacle. In the waning moments of the film, as the camera dips and zips around the mountain, she comes face to face with Luke Skywalker, who doesn’t utter a single word before the credits start to roll.
Yes, Luke Skywalker doesn’t have any dialogue and his total screen time amounts to about two minutes. But he has been found — and introduced to a promising new acolyte.
3. Rey feels the Force
While posters, trailers and TV spots have Force-fed us images of Finn (John Boyega) wielding the blue-beamed lightsaber that originally belonged to Anakin Skywalker, we learn there’s another person who really has a connection with the weapon: Rey (last name still unknown).
Although slightly spoiled by a Duracell commercial and then the premature release of a new Hasbro action figure, the notion that Rey has Force powers and saber skills greater than Kylo Ren — or even young Luke from the original trilogy — is a welcome surprise.
Rey-inspired Jedi uses the Force in Duracell commercial
Aside from her preternatural abilities as a mechanic and pilot — rivaling that of even Han Solo when it comes to flying and servicing the Millennium Falcon — we really discover her Jedi-like skills when Rey is attracted to a mysterious chest in the inner sanctum of Maz Kanata’s castle/cantina. Inside the box is said saber. And when she touches it, she is overwhelmed with visions: a familiar mechanized breathing; a glimpse of what appears to be the inside of the first Death Star; a warrior getting pierced by a red lightsaber; the shadowy Knights of Ren in a field strewn with bodies; the robotic hand of a hooded figure touching a blue-tinged R2 unit; her as a child screaming as she’s left behind on Jakku.
“That lightsaber was Luke’s and his father’s before him, and now it calls to you,” says Maz Kanata. Channeling her inner Yoda, Maz then explains to Rey the meaning of the Force and how to harness it. “It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. The light. It’s always been there. It will guide you.”
While Rey initially refuses to take the saber, she taps into the Force after getting captured by Ren and held on Starkiller Base. She manages to counter his attempts to read her mind, flipping the script and reading his. She uses a Jedi mind trick to get a Stormtrooper to release her from her bindings. Finally, in the climactic battle on Starkiller Base, after Finn is disarmed while dueling Ren, she out-Forces the Dark Side dude and calls the saber to her. Then she follows Maz’s instructions and ultimately administers a beatdown.
By the film’s end, she appears ready to accept her destiny.
2. Kylo Ren, under the mask
The first meeting we witness between Snoke and Ren comes in a chamber on Starkiller Base, when Snoke drops a bombshell. “The droid we seek is aboard the Millennium Falcon, in the hands of your father, Han Solo,” says Snoke. “He means nothing to me,” Ren boasts. “Even you, master of the Knights of Ren, have never faced such a test,” Snoke replies. “By the grace of your training I will not be seduced,” says Ren. “We shall see,” says Snoke. “We shall see.”
Although unveiled fairly early in the film (about 45 minutes in), the revelation that Kylo Ren is really Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia and failed apprentice of Luke, packs a wallop. From the earliest moments of production, most prognosticators had figured Rey to be the progeny of Han and Leia (we know she is strong in the Force, and her story has many parallels with Luke’s, so she may yet have some Skywalker DNA in her, but her parentage will presumably be addressed in a future film). When it came to Ren, however, there was no such talk. The biggest clue we had was J.J. Abrams description of him as a Darth Vader fanboy.
So why do we learn so soon about Ren’s provenance? Because in many ways, Kylo Ren’s identity drives the plot. First, we understand him better as a character — both his conflict and motivations. His obsession with his grandfather makes more sense; instead of simply having some weird Sith fetish, he can be seen as an emo young man emancipated from his family and seeking inspiration — however misguided — in his iconic grandfather. Knowing his true identity also informs the strained relationship between his parents, his father’s retreat to his aimless old pursuits, and his Uncle Luke’s decision to cease training Jedis and go into hiding. His surrogate father, Snoke, meanwhile, fears that his apprentice might be drawn back to the Light Side and uses that to further twist Ren’s feelings. Finally, Leia and Han, distraught over the loss of their son, hold out hope that he may still be swayed — which has tragic consequences.
1. The death of Han Solo
Let’s set the scene. A small Resistance squad, led by Han Solo, infiltrates Starkiller Base to disable the shields so the fighters can get in — a sequence similar in setup to the climactic Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. But the confrontation between Han and Kylo Ren actually reminds us of another Star Wars movie. The two come together on a catwalk spanning a chasm, an homage to Luke and Vader’s final showdown in Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. But this time, our sympathies are reversed: We’re rooting for the father, Han Solo, to win back his wayward son, Kylo Ren (whom he only addresses by his given name, Ben).
Han: “Take off that mask — you don’t need it.”
Ren: “What do you think you’ll see if I do?”
Han: “The face of my son.”
Ren: “Your son is gone. He was weak and foolish, like his father, so I destroyed him.”
Han: “That’s what Snoke wants you to believe… He’s just using you for your power. When he’s gotten everything he wants out of you, he’ll crush you. Toss you aside. You know it’s true… Leave here with me. Come home. We miss you.”
The younger man appears consumed by inner turmoil. And he seems to waver.
Ren: “I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?
Han: "Yes, anything.”
Ren/Ben hands his lightsaber to his father. But doesn’t quite let go. And then, in The Force Awakens’s most jaw-dropping, gut-punching moment, Ren/Ben ignites his saber, impales his father, and utters, “Thank you.
Han Solo — charming rogue, stalwart of the Rebellion/Resistance, a Star Wars icon, and one of the most beloved cinematic characters — puts his hand on his son’s cheek and then is gone. Our final glimpse comes as he unceremoniously plummets into the abyss.
After famously petitioning George Lucas to let Han Solo die during the original trilogy and repeatedly grousing about the character being "dumb as a stump,” Ford is finally done with Solo. As much as we refused to believe the rumors about Han’s fate, we should have seen it coming. Ford seemed so carefree and effusive during the promotional rounds for The Force Awakens. He was easily the most featured of the returning threesome in the trailers and posters. And he repeatedly said how happy he was with Abrams’s version of Solo: “He’s got a strong emotional arc [this time],” Ford told Yahoo Movies.
So Ford finally got his (death) wish, while the rest of us got verklempt.
Got a tissue?
Watch ‘The Force Awakens’ cast reactions to the movie: