A little movie opened over the weekend, name of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Probably you’ve already seen it eight times. If you haven’t seen it at all, you shouldn’t read further than this paragraph. For you, a short review: J. J. Abrams and the Disney Corporation have remade the original Star Wars with enough panache to keep you amused, but, should things like plot, story, and originality be important to you, your brain may experience unpleasant sensations such as aching, bulging, and/or exploding. You have been warned.
I knew nothing about The Force Awakens going in. I realize the total lack of original ideas shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was disappointing. I had no idea this was just a remake of the first Star Wars, with bits thrown in from Empire and Jedi to make sure nothing anyone liked from the original trilogy wasn’t in some way repurposed. J. J. Abrams has proven himself to be a great imitator. He has no recognizable style of his own. He’s directed a Mission Impossible movie, two Star Trek movies, and now one Star Wars. His lone original film, Super 8, he made to resemble as much as possible Steven Spielberg’s ‘80s films. Who is J. J. Abrams the artist? There’s no way of knowing. If he has anything to say in the medium of film, he has yet to say it.
With The Force Awakens, he’s saying he really loves the original Star Wars trilogy, and wants you to remember it with him, so much so that he simply retells the same story. It begins with a classic Star Wars crawl, but one that doesn’t make much sense. The remnants of the Empire remain in a group called The First Order, which wishes to topple the Republic, and then also there’s the Resistance, which is actually just the Republic? I guess? Why does the power ruling the galaxy have within it a Resistance fighting the bad guys out to destroy the Republic? Wouldn’t that just be the Republic? I guess everyone wants to be the underdog. But so anyway, the First Order is in search of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, who has vanished. His sister, Leia, also wants to find him. Personal reasons, presumably. And how to find him? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but there’s a map hidden inside a cute droid lost on a desert planet…
Following the crawl, The Force Awakens is pretty fun and engaging for something like a third of its running time. Its true nature as a retread isn’t obvious yet, there’s some swell visuals, and the new characters are compelling, if not exactly deep or original. They are stormtrooper-with-a-heart, Finn (John Boyega), lonely desert orphan woman, Rey (Daisy Ridley), big-hearted fighter pilot, Poe (Oscar Isaac), adorable droid, BB-8 (genuinely neato physical prop), and Darth Vader wanna-be, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren, whom we meet massacring Max von Sydow’s desert village, sports a scary black mask, talks like an evil robot, and stops laser gun bolts mid-air with his command of the Force. Seems appropriately evil.
Rey is a scavenger. The most evocative shots in the movie are those of her amid the ruins of Star Destroyers, X-Wings, and, in my favorite single shot in the movie, sitting at the foot of a fallen AT-AT half buried in the sand. One disappointing element is how all of these vehicles (save the AT-AT) show up, alive and well. Abrams even opens the movie with a shot of a Star Destroyer. It’s a nice shot, but, aside from its blatant use as as call-back to the opening shot of Star Wars, it lessens the impact of seeing the dead ships in the desert. Are the events of the original trilogy supposed to be feel long ago, or current? The Force Awakens wants to have it all. When Finn mentions Skywalker to Rey, she says she thought he was a myth. Cute idea, but it’s only been thirty years, and apparently Star Destroyers and Storm Troopers are rife, so the “myth” conceit rings false.
Finn is introduced as a Storm Trooper not at all keen on killing folks. First chance he gets, he busts captured Resistance fighter Poe out of Ren’s clutches in a stolen TIE Fighter, only to crash back on Tatooi—er, Jakku, where lickety-split he comes upon Poe’s droid, BB-8, and Rey, in possession of it. They bond over being shot at by attacking First Order troops, and steal a crappy spaceship. Only hey wait! That ain’t no crappy spaceship! No. It is the Millenium Falcon, the coolest ship ever, so okay, I’m still totally with this movie.
They go on a flashy chase over desert mountains, TIE Fighters in pursuit, and finally make it off the planet, where they are immediately grabbed by a big-ass space-brick containing Han and Chewie.
Now, I’m the sort of person who at this point is thinking, why do Han and Chewie happen to be hauling squid monsters past this exact planet at the exact moment their lost spaceship is flying away from it? However, I’m also fascinated by Harrison Ford’s refusal to act, and Chewie’s all “MMWRRRRAGHH” and stuff, so okay, why not, and those squid monsters? Rathtars, they’re called. I like them. Big balls of teeth and tentacles. They eat up some bad guys rather conveniently, but entertainingly.
It’s when Han flies them to a pleasant garden planet that the movie began to lose me. Because what’s on the garden planet but—a remake of the cantina scene. There’s not even an attempt to mask it. It’s just the same thing again. Worse yet is that in the basement of the cantina is Luke’s lightsaber. No expanation given, not even a lame one. The weird alien lady who runs the bar, Maz Kanata (Lupito Nyong’o), just has it, and hey presto, it’s calling to Rey.
A big battle sequence later and I began to question what was passing for a plot. The plot is just, find Luke? And do what with him? Kill him, if you’re the bad guys, but for Leia? Han? Talk about old times? Pretty thin thread to hang your movie on. But then no sooner did I think that than the movie forgets finding Luke altogether. Suddenly there’s a new Death Star—but, you know, BIGGER—and it’s powering up, and let’s get the Reb—er, the Resistance together.
Poor Carrie Fisher. All she does is stand around a battle map and give orders. Just like in the old movies. She also has a scene meeting Han again. To call this scene “stiff” would be to insult sheets of plywood. They have a son, these two: Kylo Ren. Onetime trainee of Luke in the ways of the Force, now eager to be like granddad. I liked Ren at the start of the movie. When he takes off his mask—a mere fashion choice, unlike Vader’s—I liked him less. Although then again, Adam Driver does a nice job with the character. He plays a petulant teenager with depth, more depth than anyone else plays anything in here. But he’s a petulant teenager, not a very threatening antagonist. Plus he’s there to mirror his grandfather’s petulant teenager from Lucas’s dreaded prequels. Abrams truly leaves no Star Wars stone unturned. I’m surprised we didn’t get at least one Gungan flopping around somewhere in the background.
All of these characters, all of these scenes, they’re all taken from the earlier movies. Some are literally remade. Some are flipped around in the same way Abrams flipped them in his loathesome Star Trek Into Darkness. Take iconic moments from an earlier, beloved movie, and redo them with different characters, thus stripping them of emotional resonance. So Han, father of Ren, meets Ren on a catwalk over a vast abyss, and tries to talk him down. But Ren, just short of crying, “NOOOOO!”, whacks dad with his lightsaber, and Han plummets to his death. It’s less an homage to Empire than a poke in its eye.
Han can’t die this way. It’s a terrible choice, played terribly. Nothing emotional has been created between this father and his son. Not for a second do they feel related. Han has to die in these new movies, but he has to sacrifice himself for a greater good. That’s his character arc. It couldn’t be more obvious. To just dispense with him? Just kick him out of the way, because, hey, that’ll be a shocker? It’s insulting to the character. Even worse, no one is allowed to react. Leia looks sad. Chewie goes on a brief shooting rampage, and that’s it. Not even a funeral. Nothing. Next thing we know, Chewie and Rey are flying the Falcon, and Han is nothing but a myth.
More than anything, the death of Han shows Abrams’s total disconnect from the emotional lives of his characters. Visually, he’s learned to be a skillful imitator, but in movie after movie, he proves to have no grasp on how characters drive stories and how we in the audience relate to them.
The lightsaber fights in the snow are a visual highlight. Finn fighting Ren even feels emotionally right, and of course Ren, with his command of the Force, can kick the ass of a mere Storm Trooper. What continues looking great but doesn’t make any sense at all is Rey fighting Ren. She’s imbued with the Force? Her blood aswim with Midi-chlorians? A Jedi to be? Great. Has to be. But Abrams wants it all. He wants to imitate Star Wars, but he wants to have his big fight scene too. Luke can barely beat a ‘bot his first try with a lightsaber. Even after training with Yoda, he still can’t defeat Vader. But Rey, having fifteen minutes earlier first noticed the Force, is a master duellist the second she touches a lightsaber. I know I’m not supposed to think when I watch a movie like this, but there’s such a thing as logic and character truth, and Abrams throws them out the window.
Midway through the snowy fight sequence we cut back to the battle for the new Death Star. Was I still supposed to be interested in that? The scene where the Resistance studies a hologram of it in search of weak spots might be the worst in the movie, so tired is it, so knowingly a retread of not one but two prior Star Wars movies. The characters try to deliver their trite lines with gusto, but it’s painful to watch.
The actual destruction of the Death Star is no better. It’s rote. An afterthought. A fulfillment of contractural obligations. And then the movie’s over. But wait. It’s not over, because wasn’t there something about Luke?
If the lazy, unoriginal string of coincidences hasn’t driven you mad by this point in the movie, it has to piss you off now. R2D2, said to have shut down since Luke vanished, powers up. Why now? Why not when BB-8 shows up with the missing chunk of map? Because there is laziness, and then there is laziness, and then there is Abrams. That’s why.
Off we go to find Luke, and they can’t even give him a nice mountain cave to be drinking warm tea in? He spends his days standing on a craggy cliff? Rey holds out his lightsaber. Cut to the funniest bit in the movie, a world-spinning-around-our-heroes shot straight out of a Michael Bay movie, meant to invoke EPIC SERIOUS MEANING, YOU GUYS. In case you didn’t know this moment was important.
Mark Hamill looks groovy with his cowl and his beard. Let’s hope he’s given a good movie to star in the next time out.
Speaking of which, among the many disappointments of The Force Awakens is how little thought is given to a larger story. All we have is more Storm Troopers and a CGI Supreme Leader ported in from a Harry Potter deleted scene. And Ren, who will surely become more and more Vader-like as this new trilogy progresses. It’s a criminally lazy movie, its story, characters, and visuals all borrowed, and its writers, Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan don’t even bother setting up a through-line for the sequels. It’s just Star Wars again. Bad guys beaten but not dead. New kid primed to be a Jedi. I can already see what goes down in part 3: the Empire builds a Death Star soooo big, nobody will blow it up!
Boyega and Ridley both give credible performances, but their characters are merely sketched. Abrams pulls one of his inevitable switcheroos by having Rey, exactly unlike Luke, not want to leave home, but what does that give us? Her psychology is that she’s scared and wants to stay put, but all of her actions suggest the opposite. Luke makes sense. The desire to leave home, to experience the world, to do something important. Everyone relates. He’s an archetype. Rey isn’t anything but a scriptwriter’s creation. She might grow into a character in the coming movies, but she’s nothing yet.
Finn isn’t much better. He’s basically a scaredy-cat Han Solo, out for his own survival. But only for about half a scene. Then he’s back to being heroic, only not really because he’s just a regular guy. Sort of. It’s another twist on an archetype that kills the archetype.
Nerding out on the look and feel of the Star Wars world carried me through about a third of The Force Awakens. After that, the coincidences, the laziness, the lack of any original ideas, all combined to bore and, by the end, annoy me. I’d say I liked The Force Awakens better when it was called Return of The Jedi, but if we’re being honest, that remake sucked too. Star Wars, the first one, was goofy and fun. Can’t we just leave it alone and make a new movie in the same universe?
There is certainly enough to criticize about the movie, and I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. But I think the film deserves a defense, so I’m gonna try to change your mind about a few points.
First, Han’s character arc? He goes from down and almost out to trying to save the galaxy again. That’s his arc. The only difference is, this time, he fails. But his failure is spectacular, and it totally works in this movie. Because his failure is what fully turns his son to the dark side. Up to this point, we had seen Ren struggling between the darkness and the light. And right before he kills Han, he is still struggling. He isn’t lying when he tells Han he needs help. And Han gives him the help, by making it so easy for Ren to kill him. Ren’s not coming back from the dark side now–at least, not any time soon. For me, this worked.
I think the new main characters are all very well-portrayed and interesting. At the end, it seems that Ridley is meeting her father for the first time she can remember, and is handing him his lightsaber, but he’s not taking it, leaving us to think that it might stay in her hands, and she will become his apprentice.
And yeah, it might seem silly that she could beat Ren in a fight. Earlier in the movie, we got to see that Ridley is skilled with hand-to-hand combat weapons. Presumably she’s had to learn how to defend herself on that planet. Also, Ren doesn’t seem to be that great with a lightsaber. Fin even manages to stand up against him for a bit, which is frankly absurd. Why doesn’t Ren just drop the lightsaber and use the force? He’s much better with the force, obviously. That bugged me. But that Ridley was able to beat him? I’m fine with that.
And that Ridley thought Luke and the Jedi were a myth. Again, she’s been pretty much alone on that planet. She only knows about Luke and the Jedi because of stories she’s overheard.
I think all the copying from the original Star Wars trilogy was done affectionately and to good effect. It never seemed inappropriate to me. And while all the coincidences were beyond absurd, you could criticize the original Star Wars for the same thing. You could criticize the original for some stiff acting, as well. So I’m not holding these things against the movie, even though they are certainly worth criticizing.
I’ll throw in one criticism you didn’t make: What the hell was up with C3PO insulting Leia for acting like a “princess”? Is it because it’s a Disney property now, they have to make some cheeky reference to princesses? That bugged me, and seemed inappropriate on multiple levels.
But overall, I’d say the film did a good job of what it set out to do: revitalize the franchise with a strong connection to past characters, but plenty of room to develop new ones.
Oh yeah, and I think you’re going to far when you say that none of this is original. Fin is totally original. You weren’t captivated by the whole way they introduced his character? The original trilogy didn’t have anything like that. And the chemistry between Fin and Poe was fantastic, to boot.
Maybe the overall vibe I was left with led to my being more critical in this piece than is warranted, and yet… I can’t say I’m feeling kinder the more I think about it.
I did like Finn’s intro, for the most part. As I said, I was totally with this movie up until the cantina scene, despite some minor irritations. After that, the annoyances just built up and up.
So sure, Finn is original in that he’s a storm trooper turned nice. But what’s unoriginal is his overall place in the story, as the reluctant Han Solo type. That’s what feels so shaky. He “just wants to run away,” but wait, he loves Rey, and hey, Luke Skywalker, you guys! I mean he just never feels developed. That’s not even right. He’s never just given a simple character trait to build on.
Han Solo was a swaggering smuggler out for himself. Bam. You’re done. We know this characer. Same with Luke–a kid who wants to run away and join the fight against evil! This is why it’s easy to get to know them on a deeper level, because on a basic level, who they are is so very clear. Neither Rey nor Finn are clear like this. They’re both vague at the start, and vague at the end. What does either one want? By the end of the movie, I still don’t know. They’re both just sorta “torn” at every turn.
As far as copying the first movie, I’m not saying it’s done without affection. As I said, Abrams loves Star Wars, and that’s what he’s telling us. But it’s not done with originality. It just plays the same story beats over again, but with different characters, in ways that tend to erase the emotional power behind the same events in the earlier movies.
So I’m not saying this is a cynical retread, in the way a lot of blockbusters are. But I am saying it’s lazy and easy and missing the kind of emotional core that even a movie as completely goofy as the original Star Wars is all about.
As for the myth, sure, it’s easy to say Rey has only heard stories, so to her that’s what it all is. But what I’m getting at is the bigger picture, which is to say, if in your movie you want to present these old events as a maybe just a story the old people tell, having all the spaceships and bad guys and General Leia in charge of the Republic going strong undercuts that reality. It reduces the myth idea to literally just that one line Rey has. Nobody else thinks it’s a myth. Nothing else in the movie supports it. It’s just a concept the writers threw in but do nothing with.
With Han, I’m talking about his arc in all the movies. If you’re going to kill him, how can you not make his death mean something? I didn’t notice any struggle on Ren’s part between light and dark, not until he meets Han on the catwalk and says he’s struggling. I don’t think Han was “making it easy” for him to turn dark. It plays as such a feeble moment. I don’t see any kind of change in Han during the course of this movie. The moment he hears there’s a map to Luke, he’s interested, and that’s that. Suddenly Ren is all over the place, and they meet… and once again, we’re back to everything being this inexplicable coincidence of everyone just suddenly being in the same spot.
BUT. As you say, the film certainly did what it set out to do. The franchise is revitalized. It is making all the money in the galaxy. It is making many people happy. So there’s that.
Given what it’s set up, I can imagine the next movie being better. It feels like there’s nothing else to steal from the first three movies, so perhaps Rian Johnson will give these new characters some depth and pull off a nice, dark part 2.
It is the same story for a new generation. I think that is the point of the storytelling. For me it was successful at recreating the magic that drew me in as a child. I consider it a great success.
Judging by the response to this movie, I’d say you’re very much in the majority on this one. And actually, despite all my carping, in terms of creating a new Star Wars for a new generation, for kids with literally zero connection to the original trilogy, this will do just fine. It’s certainly more accessibly entertaining than Lucas’s prequels.
I think this is pretty much spot on. As always, it’s good to have a critical yet entertaining voice cut through the sentimentalist crap which breeds conformity to the rule of nostalgia (is this bolstered by the holiday season? Are films released at this time of year subject to less rigorous critique?).
My only real point of difference with your take is on the idea of the character of Ren (not the character itself, I agree that he, like all the characters in this movie, is poorly constructed. Moreover, the lack of emotional build up between father and son is something I noticed too and your development of that point into the ‘insult’ to Solo’s character arc is most insightful).
However, I’ve found that most people, even those who loved the film, when pressed into a criticism, have opted for a similar view of this character to yours. Essentially, it is a view that deems Ren not as menacing or powerful as a sith should be. They don’t like his emotional fragility, his temper tantrums and his impotency. In short, they don’t like how he is not Darth Vader.
Isn’t the specificity of a view point like ours(?) – a critical one which doesn’t so much as separate emotional content/meaning from the critical gaze as it does fuse them together, the former presupposing the latter – that we are trying to break somewhat from what has come before? Isn’t there a space of originality in this idea of the petulant teenage sith that could’ve been opened up? Picture a new Star Wars trilogy which begins from the point of view of the sith rather than the jedi. In order to sufficiently tell such a story, which would entail building the missing emotional relation between father and son (how did they do it so easily with Luke and Vader?), Finn and Rey would perhaps have to, at least in this movie, become minor background characters akin to Poe. Perhaps our only glimpses of them would come from Solo’s perspective. A new culture of the sith could be developed and explored, simultaneously showing how redemption is always a possibility in a more rigorous fashion than was done with Vader. Yes, this would amount to a flipping of the Anakin character arc, but it would be interesting!
This is all speculative, of course. In a film of this scale market logic dominates. But it makes me think: perhaps in order for Star Wars to again have some novelty it has break with its form rather than, or at least as much as, its content.
One can only hope there is some real focus on developing Ren in the next movie, beyond his just turning extra evil.
You’re right, there is some conflict between not wanting another Darth Vader and complaining that Ren is not bad-ass enough. But something about his being so very petulant grated. Part of it is because though he’s not pure Vader evil, he’s still taken from an earlier film: he’s Anakin from the prequels all over again.
The more I think about his killing Han, the more of a waste I find it. If that’s the end of the movie, there has to be some lead up. Why don’t we see Ren conflicted about Han much earlier on? And Han conflicted about Ren? Why isn’t this movie, at least as one plot thread, ABOUT their conflict? Their confrontation is just so out of the blue. It’s their first real moment relating to each other AT ALL, and bam, he kills Han. I know they wanted to let Harrison off the hook with these movies and focus on Luke in the next one, but come on–they needed to begin Han’s conflict with his son in this movie, and have him killed at the end of part 2, to give it some kind of power.
“Finn” has two “n”s? They should have explained that in the movie!
But seriously, I think Finn’s character was drawn well enough. He was motivated by his conscience and a sense of justice. That was more or less consistent. Him losing faith in himself or whatever it was that led him to run away, that was pretty much out of nowhere. So, yeah, there’s some lack of consistency there.
As for Kylo Ren, his struggle between light and dark was clearly stated earlier in the film–at least once, if not twice, before his encounter with Han. It wasn’t developed through action, though. It was just telegraphed.
We could discuss different ways of understanding what happened between Ren and Han on the catwalk. At the moment, I prefer the following analysis: Han, we are told, was a disappointing father for Ren, and we can suppose this helped him be seduced by the dark side. When Han tries to turn him back to the light, part of Ren really wants to go with him. And when he holds out his light saber, I think he really wants Han to take it. But then he tests Han. He doesn’t let Han take it. And once Han’s hand is on it, Han doesn’t want to let go. When Han struggles to take the light saber out of Ren’s hand, Ren sees what disappointed him about his father: That he did not trust him. Ren kills Han, because Han tried to force Ren to do what he wanted. As soon as Han put up a fight–as soon as he stopped appealing to Ren’s better side–he made it easy for Ren to kill him.
I agree that, to some extent, character gives way to plot in The Force Awakens, but I think there was still a solid enough emotional core to the movie. The emotional journeys of the new characters were mostly believable–at least as much so as in the original Star Wars. That’s the thing: I think this movie works in many of the ways the original did, and suffers from many of the same failings. Did anyone ever find Luke a compelling character in the first film? He was just a whiny kid from a desert planet who miraculously turns out to be the best fighter pilot in the resistance.
I expect it to only get worse, though. Have you seen who’s writing and directing the next two films?
You’ve created a nice scenario for what’s going on between Han and Ren. I could create one too. What bothers me is that Abrams didn’t bother to. He does what seems to be his thing: repurposing inconic moments from old films for his. That scene is a combo of Obi Wan’s death and Luke’s almost death, and it doesn’t come close to the power of either one. It’s forced good people like yourself to do the work for him! An outrage, I say.
I was not forced to retroactively make sense of that scene. The scene worked for me. Way more than kenobi’s death in the original, in fact.
Well. Jason, I like your read on the Ren / Solo scene but there is NOTHING in the direction of the scene that conveys that. It’s just a shot of their hands on the saber and then their faces. One might suggest that Abrams is letting the audience draw their own conclusions, but if so, it’s the first time he’s done that in any of his films and he’s chosen an odd moment to start.
The reason that Kenobi lets Vader kill him is the reason we all are drawn so strongly to the concept of the Jedi — and why the Jedi have been so pathetic in all the rest of the films save Empire; it’s because Kenobi DOESN’T CARE about his life or himself. He is, like one who is one with the universe, bigger than his corporeal being. He continues beyond his death as we all continue beyond our deaths — the piece that Vader missed and which drew him to to the dark side. It isn’t about living forever or protecting our loved ones; it’s about the one-ness.
That is the lesson that Kenobi teaches Luke in that moment. To let go. It is a brilliant piece of myth-making, completely unexpected in the moment, and yet one that feels so very right as it happens.
Exactly unlike Han’s death, which just seems like an attempt at surprise and a contractual obligation. You can make sense of it, but someone as smart as you can make sense of anything. In this film: there’s little sense delivered from it.
We see the tension in their faces grow. It is evident that Han is trying to take the light saber away from Ren, and Ren is not letting go. Han is fighting with him, and then Ren kills him. This is very clearly shown.
And, sorry, but regarding Kenobi’s death: What on earth are you talking about? Obi Wan Kenobi decides to let himself get killed in the middle of a fight, rather than try to help Luke and Leia escape, because he figures it’s a good opportunity to teach a lesson about not giving a shit? And you think that was clearly spelled out for us in the original Star Wars? You don’t think you’re drawing this absurd conclusions yourself?
Yes. You’ve got it exactly right. See my post going up shortly, which you’ve inspired me to write.
Oh, and I appreciate the compliment about me being so smart, but even I cannot make sense of Looper. :)
Also, you are acting as if Abrams was the only writer on this movie. Kasdan played a non-trivial role, didn’t he? So some departure from standard Abrams fare should be expected.
No one can make sense of Looper. It’s hard to tell who did what writing-wise in Hollywood. Kasdan may have been significantly involved, or he may have been brought in to assuage fears that these films would be like the prequels — which they’re not so far. I didn’t see a ton of Kasdan in this script. Again, hopefully my post will explain my thinking more clearly, or at least give you more to push back against.
Kenobi’s death always seemed absurd to me. Retroactively, I figured, maybe he wanted Luke to see how cold-hearted Vader really was? But really, he needs to let himself get killed for that? Isn’t the fact that they blew up a friggin’ planet enough? The other retroactive possibility I considered was to take Kenobi at his word, that he would be more powerful dead than alive. So he wanted to die in order to defeat Vader! But as it turns out, being dead doesn’t seem to have many perks. He gets to whisper suggestively to Luke at key moments, but he could have done that as a living, breathing, fighting Jedi (with the right communications technology). And if being dead really were a benefit, why didn’t he just kill himself a long time ago? No, sorry. Kenobi’s death is absurd. Han’s death makes perfect sense: It had to happen. And Han’s over-confidence, thinking he could just swagger his way into his son’s heart, and then force a light saber out of his hand: it all makes sense, and you could see why a petulant young Jedi, obsessed with power and caught between the light and the dark side, would seize the opportunity to kill his dad once and for all. Ren *thanked* Han as he was dying. That wasn’t in any of the previous movies. That was original, and adds a new twist to Ren’s evil.
Now that I think of it, the Han/Ren light saber struggle nicely mirrors the final shot of the film. Luke doesn’t try to take the light saber from Rey, even though she wants to give it to him. I find that compelling.