#3 – Slow Down Occasionally
If there’s one big thing I could change about the movie, it would be toning back the action a bit to give the characters some time to breathe. Getting the audience to understand your characters’ motivations is one of the most important things to do when telling any story, but in The Force Awakens we end up guessing at motivation after the fact a lot.
Let’s look at how the film is structured for a moment. From the moment Finn first gets to Rey’s town, it’s basically back-to-back action sequences until a very brief pause at Maz Kanata’s, then back-t0-back action sequences again until everyone stops to plan for the final attack on Starkiller Base.
That’s nearly half of the entire film, and while action scenes can be great for revealing character, not all the action scenes in the movie do that. Sometimes to understand motivation, we need the characters to have time and space to talk to one another.
There are two scenes that could go away immediately.
First, the scene where Rey chases Finn on Jakku. She does this because BB-8 tells her Finn is wearing Poe’s jacket. But instead of charging at him like a madwoman, what if she just called out to him. And instead of running, what if he stood and tried to talk is way out of his predicament.
What you’d probably start with is something just like what happens when Rey catches up to him in the real movie – Finn explaining that he escaped with Poe, lying about being Resistance. And because we have a little more time to play with before they all get chased by Stormtroopers and TIE fighters, Rey might suggest that Finn take BB-8. Finn can ask for her help as a local to find safe passage off planet, because – we’ll learn – Jakku is in First Order-controlled space, giving us a better picture of the situation we’re dealing with in the galaxy at large. This also allows Rey to voice for the first time that, while she’ll help Finn, she can’t leave the planet because she’s waiting for her family to return, meaning when she brings it up again later Finn can ask her for more details.
Second, the scene where Han is ambushed by gangs he owes money to does almost nothing to move the plot or develop characters. It gives us some idea of how Han’s life has gone to hell since Return of the Jedi, but that’s pretty apparent already since he’s in a rundown freighter hauling dangerous exotic creatures. Instead of an action scene we don’t need, what if Finn and Rey actually got to talk a little more while they worked on the Falcon? Or what if Han got to talk to both of them more? They’d basically have to talk about where to go, at which point you’d expect Rey to say again that she needs to go back to Jakku, and we might get an interesting conversation about why she feels she needs to, or what Finn’s plan is – could it really be just to run? Why is he so terrified of the First Order? (Hint: maybe it’s because he knows about a certain superlaser no one else does yet.)
But the principle, in general, isn’t that our characters need to stop doing things, just that sometimes it’s more valuable to see what they plan for instead of being railroaded into another action scene. Rey spends the entire movie (up until the final scene where she looks for Luke) reacting to circumstances placed upon her. We could have potentially seen a lot more of her character if she’d had a moment to try to plan, even if her plans didn’t work out.