The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Yet Another "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Think Piece


I loved it. Bye, now.

Okay, I suppose the three of you that still follow this blog would like to read more of my thoughts on the new "Star Wars" movie. I'm not sure what I can say that hasn't already been said by others, so I'll do my best to be consistent.

When I mention franchises that broke my heart, "Star Wars" is at the top of my list. "A New Hope" is a very good movie. "The Empire Strikes Back" is a very great movie. "The Return of the Jedi" is a pretty bad movie, but it has elements in it that I love. Now, I'm not old enough to have seen these in theaters during their original runs, I juuuust missed being born early enough to do so. But I had "A New Hope" on VHS (the first release of it on VHS) at home, and I repeatedly rented "The Empire Strikes Back". My local video rental store (look them up, they totally existed once upon a time) didn't have "The Return of the Jedi" so it eluded me for several years, until I caught it on TV one day. You see, you young whipper snappers, we didn't have the internet in those days, and VHS tapes cost upwards of $50 to buy, so seeing movies that our local video stores didn't carry came down to luck. Anyway, I watched "Return of the Jedi" only to be disappointed by it, largely. I didn't like Ewoks then, and I don't like Ewoks now.

Then came the Special Editions, and changes aside, it was an awesome feeling to experience these movies on the big screen. Then, the franchise broke my heart. George Lucas released his three prequels and all but destroyed something I truly loved. "Star Wars" was dead to me. For a longer explanation of why the prequels failed as movies, I will refer you to Mr. Plinkett's Star Wars Prequel Reviews at Red Letter Media... which also double as the most extensive and informative film studies class you can take for free and from the comfort of your own home.

When Disney bought "Star Wars", I predicted that it would be the best thing that could happen to the franchise, but mostly because I had hoped that the unaltered original movies would be released on Blu-ray; so far we have yet to see any real sign of that. When Episode VII was announced, I rolled my eyes. I didn't care. Keep in mind, the franchise was dead to me. I did watch "Star Wars Rebels", but was lukewarm to it (which, honestly, was carryover of my disappointment in the prequels; I have since re-watched it and would give it a much higher score than I did earlier in the year... and I can call myself a fan of the show, now). The fact that J.J. Abrams, a director I loathe, was attached to it didn't help.

The first trailer came out for "The Force Awakens" and I was unmoved. But, as the release date approached, I'm not sure what was going on, but the marketing was doing its job. The right things were being said, the right images were being released. Despite myself, I was beginning to get excited. It also helps that Kieron Gillen's "Darth Vader" comic book was excellent, as was Greg Weisman's "Kanan" comic. Darth Vader's return to form in "The Siege of Lothal" did a lot to remind me why I loved that character after the prequels destroyed him... even something as innocuous as a Death Battle between him and Dr. Doom (which Vader lost) helped.

Finally, the movie came out, and I was there on opening day.

SPOILERS!

I loved it. I didn't know I was going to love it, I wasn't prepared to love it. At best I thought I'd walk out of there saying "That was fun, I liked it." But, no, I loved it. I already cannot wait for Episode VIII.

This movie looked and felt like a "Star Wars" movie. A good "Star Wars" movie. It wasn't filmed entirely in front of a green screen. They went out and shot at actual locations, built actual sets, and used beautiful practical effects. Yes, there was CGI, but it was well utilized. I'm not against CGI, just use it smartly. Don't do what George Lucas did in the prequels. That was embarrassing.

The lightsaber duel at the end was better than any lightsaber duel from the prequels. Where George Lucas gave us these overly-choreographed dances that lacked any kind of authenticity to them (along with people shouting things like "From my point of view the Jedi are evil!") I've seen fights in GI Joe cartoons that felt more real than that, and one of those fights had a man in a gold snake costume use a live snake as a javelin so he could impale a guy. When Kylo Ren battled Finn and Rey, this felt like a real fight. There was no wire work, no back flips, no unnecessary moves; I thought these people were actually trying to kill each other. It was more down to Earth than any fight in the prequels, and there was a lot more grace to it at the same time.

This movie was all about passing the torch to a new generation of characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren, and the rest. And it was successful at this. Each of the major new characters was automatically endearing and intriguing. We found ourselves asking the right questions thanks to a great script, and the actors were natural and charismatic in their roles. Oh... charismatic, natural acting in a "Star Wars" movie, how I have missed this.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is great. Her performance is terrific, and as the Luke Skywalker for a new generation, she gets the job done. At this point, I firmly believe she is Luke's daughter. It's not just that she is a natural at the Force as Luke and Anakin were before her, it's not that their lightsaber called to her; it's also the vision that Kylo Ren saw in her head of a vast ocean and a green island... which, living in the desert, Rey would have never even thought existed. And, hey, where did Luke turn out to be? Why was she dropped off in Jakku? Good question, but one that I am confident will be answered next time.

Now, I suppose I should address the accusation that she's a Mary Sue. I've seen that one all over the internet for several days now. Okay. Bull & Shit. A Mary Sue is a poorly written author-insert character. Who's author insert is she? Abrams'? Kasdan's? No. Yes, she is naturally in tune with the Force, but so was her father (who blew up the Death Star the first time he really used it) and her grandfather (who accidentally blew up the Trade Federation's control ship). I know I shouldn't use the next words I'm about to use, but I'm going to say it anyway. Had Rey been Ray and a male, you wouldn't be hearing the words "Mary Sue" or any variant at all. And you will never convince me otherwise. I know it and, deep inside, you know it. So, if you're whining and crying that Rey is a Mary Sue, throw yourself into an incinerator.



What I would also like to comment on is that Rey has become a terrific role model for little girls the world over. Walk into a Disney Store now, you'll see them buying, or asking their parents to buy them, Rey merchandise. They're seeing they don't need to be princesses. They can be badasses. Disney tapped into something that most of us knew was already there, and it's a wonderful thing. Marvel, maybe you should have made that Black Widow movie, hmm? DC, maybe you should have gotten a Wonder Woman movie out long ago.

John Boyega as Finn was a great character as well as a great bait and switch. Look at the trailers and the marketing, who's wielding the lightsaber in all of those? It's not Rey. But Finn was a very endearing character in his own right, someone taken as a baby, raised and conditioned to kill that still had a conscience. I thought the friendship that developed between him and Rey was lovely, as I doubt either of them had made any significant connections with any other sapient being prior to meeting each other. I also really enjoyed watching someone who wasn't adept at using the Force, lacked the potential, attempting it.

Our third major character is Kylo Ren. What a great new villain. This is what the Anakin Skywalker of the prequels should have been. Unlike Hayden Christenson, Adam Driver can act, and he does it so damn well. You see a messed up young man, and you see a murderous warlord. As the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, he's Darth Vader's grandson that was seduced by the dark side. Han tries to reach him, and is killed for it. Personally, unlike Vader, I think there's no coming back for Kylo Ren; at least I don't think there should be. Vader may have been redeemed, but I don't think we should see that story beat repeated. Kylo Ren looked great, sounded great, and his chaotic lightsaber matched him perfectly. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Rounding out the last of the major new characters is Poe Dameron played by Oscar Issac. We don't see too much of him in this movie, but I expect we'll see more of him next time. He's obviously being set up as the new Han Solo, so I can understand why he wasn't in the movie much...

... when we had Harrison Ford here as the actual Han Solo. I can't describe how happy I was to see Han again after over thirty years. Ford's return as an older Han was everything his return as Indiana Jones in 2008 should have been. Ford is like an old fashioned movie star, you seldom see that kind of charisma anymore. Now, Ford's complicated history with Han Solo has been well documented. At first, I was surprised that he was returning to the role. It couldn't have been for the money, he doesn't need it. Then, it quickly hit me why. Lawrence Kasdan was announced as the screen writer, and I knew. They were going to do what they wanted to do in "Return of the Jedi" before being overruled by George Lucas. I wouldn't be surprised if it was written into Ford's contract. So, when Han approached his son on the cat walk, I knew it was coming. The hairs on my body stood up, and... it was still a punch in the gut. This character that I grew up with, a character so firmly ingrained in not just American pop culture, but the world's pop culture, dead... at the hands of his own psychotic son. It was right. It was perfect.

I will admit, I firmly believe, to this day, that "Return of the Jedi" would have been a better movie if Han had bit the dust there. Watch it again, Harrison Ford is phoning it in, and Han Solo is given so little to do in the movie. But, in the big picture, now that this movie exists, I'm glad Han survived. It took thirty-two years to redeem that misstep, but we're finally here

And, I'm not ashamed to admit, I kinda teared up a little when Han and Leia saw each other again. Chemistry! In a "Star Wars" movie! How I've missed it!

The humor in the movie was perfect, it was genuinely funny. It never felt juvenile. It came out of who the characters were, and how they played off each other. Not pointless slap stick. No one stepping in a pile of alien feces. I laughed at the right places.

It wasn't perfect, there were short comings. I felt there were a few too many retreads of the first movie. After this, I hope planet killing super weapons are a plot point that will be put behind us. Thankfully, that was just backdrop, something for the rest of the cast to do while the real plot unfolded before us with Rey, Finn, Han, Chewbacca, and Kylo Ren. It was a short coming without being even close to a crippling flaw. Also, the villains outside of Kylo Ren, like General Hux and Captain Phasma, got the short end of the stick, but I'm sure we'll see more of them over the next two movies, so I can't complain too much.

It was a very safe movie, and I think that was a smart move. Considering how almost universally loathed the prequels were, "The Force Awakens" had to remind us why we fell in love with a galaxy far, far away to begin with; all while acting as a launching point for the new direction. I suspect that now that this is out of the way, we're going to really cut loose. If history repeats itself, Episode VIII will be even better than this. And Episode VIII is being directed by Rian Johnson. Know who he is? He directed a few "Breaking Bad" episodes, specifically "Ozymandias" aka the most traumatic hour in the history of television, so we've already got a director that's better than Abrams, just as Irvin Kershner was better than George Lucas.

I already saw the movie twice, I can't wait to own the Blu-ray, and overall, I give it an A-.

Rey is going to lose a body part in the next movie, isn't she?

9 comments:

  1. Agreed on all points. The movie was a deliberate "gain the audiences trust back" move, the old cast returning, the callbacks to the original movies, the structure being based on A New Hope, everything is done to make this as safe as possible. And it works because the ending with Han dying is them saying "this is not going to be the original trilogy and it's not going to be safe anymore" and it works so well. Ren murdered his father, there's no redemption arc for him here, he should show up in the next movie as a greater threat and a more disciplined Sith.

    This film seemed to avoid the pointless drama and went for actual emotional drama. Han and Leia talking about their son and how it hit them so hard they both fled back to their own comfort zones, Han's catwalk scene with Ren, all so effective. The movie avoided putting the usual forced drama like Rey getting mad at Finn for lying to her, or any romantic subplots/love triangle bullshit. Clichés other movies would've put in they avoided, and I hope that trend continues.

    I could rant about the stupid "Rey's a Mary Sue" bullshit, but I'm just sick of it all. After seeing someone dismiss her flaws as "that just makes her more of a Sue" and saying that "she's JJ's wish fulfilment character because he wished for a badass female Jedi" I've given up trying to reason with folks who refuse to see anything other than what the want to and who will twist everything to fit their own narrow viewpoint. It's just pointless.

    Also BB-8 was adorable, great new droid and it's still fantastic to think that it's a real practical effect they made rather than a CGI one.

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  2. I honestly couldn't tell which effects were CGI and which weren't. See, George Lucas? It's called "subtlety." I mean, if I had to guess I'm pretty sure they used some CGI on those captured aliens that Han was hauling, but even then they still look like they could have been latex and rubber models hooked up to hydraulics.

    Speaking of subtle, I love how there are things the viewer is left to infer, which we haven't done since the original trilogy. Such as there was likely a significant battle in either the Galactic Civil War or the new conflict that was waged on Dakku, which is why there's so much wreckage all over the place. Whereas, in the prequels, we'd probably be treated to a few minutes of dialog talking about "the great battle of such and such, which is why we have all this space junk to salvage scrap from."

    So I also love how there was no dialogue when Rey met Luke at the end. The expressions in their eyes were saying everything that needed to be said, without words. See, George? Not every scene has to be bogged down with dialogue. Sometimes silence says more.

    As far as your opinions on the characters, there's not a lot I disagree with. Though I'm still not sure how I feel about Ren having his grandfather's old mask. I thought the scene was very well done, but a part of me wondered if sometimes when he's in there chatting with it he's got the Star Wars equivalent of the Cure playing in the background. But he's still leagues above Hayden Christensen. Yeah, I really hope there's no redemption for him. And I hope he doesn't succumb to the same pitfall Vader succumbed to in Episode VI (and I'm not talking about his redemption, just how he went from being a fantastic villain in Empire to a toady in Jedi).

    I will definitely be seeing this in the theater again

    -Rob

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  3. I figured Disney buying Star Wars would be the best thing to happen to the franchise. Though you won't believe the arguments I had with people over the whole "erasing the previous EU for a new one." One guy even blocked me for trying to explain why it was necessary and another guy is stubbornly holding onto it like his childhood was literally ruined. (Then again, guy is a GamerGate asshole so I wouldn't take him seriously). Though ironically, the Star Wars group he's apart of? He's literally the only one who dislikes it. Everyone outnumbered the guy.

    But going to the movie specifically, I loved it myself. Yes, elements of A New Hope were inserted but it feels a bit appropriate in a way. Just a way to ease back people into Star Wars again (I attest to this because in my middle school years, it wasn't cool to like Star Wars thanks to the prequels; literally I was the only kid in every one of my classes who likes Star Wars).

    What makes it work for me are the new characters. Seeing the old characters were nice (Ford was definitely among the highlights and the bets lines, "That's not how the force works!") but given this is a new generation of characters to follow up, they have to given a chance to shine and boy do they ever.

    Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren I really like the best. Poe I did like but I felt he was underused in comparison to them but that's what the next couple of films are for. But the aforementioned three I really like and their first scenes (along with Poe's and BB-8's) are the way I see it, great first scenes that demonstrate who these characters are and why they're engaging from the getgo like Finn with the dead stormtrooper or Rey's scenes in Jakku where she's making a living. It's done in almost in no dialogue and it's an effective to get behind this character. And she has become one of my all time favorite characters (her and Finn but yeah).

    Plus given the third act, it seemed like Rey was a character Abrams got from my mental wishlist when the Disney buyout happened.

    Oh, and Max Landis is talking out of his ass with the Mary Sue comments. If James Bond were a woman (and I love James Bond as much as Rey FYI), the Mary Sue complaints would be there and as a guy, he's hailed as a badass hero. Plus, let the kids have Rey. Not just girls but boys and given something I retweeted, girls are loving this character already.

    And the complaints for Kylo Ren in a way bother me as much only because they seemed to miss the point like he's supposed to be this blind follower. He's far off the deep end, he's a follower of a cult the way I see it. Westboro Baptist Church, GamerGate, take your pick for an analogy.

    But he has potential as much as the others. So I look forward to a potentially even more threatening version of the guy.

    Though I can tell you this, there are some problems I have like Captain Phasma being shortchanged (again, there's the other films though) and I can't wrap my head around how Poe survived (maybe I missed something but I just went, "Huh?"). Overall, I like it as much as The Empire Strikes Back. Probably a tie.

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    1. Poe ejected same as Finn, they just landed in different places because the TIE was moving so fast. Finn didn't see a body but assumed he was still inside the TIE.

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  4. Yes. YES. ALL. OF. THIS. Words can't describe how happy I am to see this franchise actually recovering and getting the re-hauling/redemption it was long overdue, and how happy I am that you feel the same way. It really shows that it's better when taken out of George Lucas' hands. He may have dreamed the franchise to life, but he's not the genius behind it's success and everyone the world over ought to know it by now. It's so reassuring to know that we have people who actually give a damn about the product's quality running the show nowadays.

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  5. I Facebook messaged you recently, and you told me I should comment on your Star Wars review. So I thought I would just post my own review of the film that I put on my Facebook wall and get your opinion: "So...Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I don't think a movie like this needs a big introduction. It's freaking Star Wars. I actually went into this with pretty reserved expectations. I figured if it was good, then great. If it was bad, then it would just be another bad Star Wars movie. We've had plenty of those over the last decade and a half. I'll just come right out and say that yes, I did like this better than the prequels. Just about everything the prequels got wrong, this movie got right for me, from the use of practical effects and sets to having good performances and character exchanges. I'm not going to give a plot synopsis. The marketing has done a pretty good job at not spoiling any of the story's details, and so I won't spoil them either. Instead, I'll talk about the characters. I thought John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were really good as Finn and Rey respectively. They both brought a lot of life and personality to their characters. Boyega, a self-professed Star Wars fan, clearly loved being here, and Ridley showed a lot of emotion in her role, sometimes without even saying anything. Oscar Isaac was great as Poe Dameron, for the small time he was onscreen. I actually wish he was in the movie more. BB-8 is a cute little droid that plays an important role in the story. It was great to see Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all reprise their roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker respectively. Harrison Ford really stepped up for this movie. Now let's talk about our main antagonist of the piece, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. I figured people were going to be split on his character, and so far, I've been proven right. The naysayers are considering him something of a spoiled brat, but I think that was what Driver was going for. He's playing an angry and confused child who desperately wants to be someone else. I thought his erratic and unhinged nature made him seem more dangerous. If he had been calm and collected like Darth Vader, then people would have considered him a rip-off of Darth Vader, and this movie is already paying enough tribute to the original trilogy as it is. While I'm on that subject, the director of the film, J. J. Abrams, is clearly a big fan of the original trilogy, as The Force Awakens hits a lot of the same story beats as those other films, especially A New Hope. I was perfectly fine with this, as this movie is trying to make up for the sins of the past while introducing Star Wars to a new generation of fans. I figured the studio would play it safe and stick to what worked before. There's only one plot point that I really wish hadn't been repeated, but with the new characters, everything else feels like it's coming from a fresh perspective. The movie also makes a lot of winks and nods to the original trilogy, which can be distracting depending on how well you know your Star Wars lore. Even though I was taken out of the movie a few times, I still really enjoyed it and am curious as to what's going to happen in the next film, which is due in two years. It feels good to be looking forward to something Star Wars related again. I'll close out by saying this: If you go in expecting to have a life-changing experience, then you're probably going to be disappointed, but if you go in expecting to just have a good time at the movies, then you'll have a good time at the movies. I certainly did and am looking forward to seeing this again."

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    1. Sorry, I just copied and pasted it from my Facebook wall.

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  6. I went to the film with my parents today, and it was as good as everyone's been saying. I told them that if you liked it, then it had to be.

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