Monday, December 21, 2015

Thoughts on The Force Awakens

There's a new Star Wars movie out if you hadn't noticed. This started simply as me keeping a running stream of my thoughts on the new Star Wars movie "The Force Awakens" but then I started thinking it would be fun to share it with others who also want to discuss and talk about the latest chapter in Star Wars and its ramification on the saga. Everything below includes massive spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film you may want to steer clear from this post, This is something to read and enjoy following your own viewing(s). Something for us fans to geek out about. Dissecting the story and supposing what may come. This conversation will continue in my own draft but this is how I feel after having seen The Force Awakens twice.

Overall - Safe and very fun. What big budget blockbusters SHOULD feel like. Disney has done a good job in bringing back what we loved about the original Star Wars trilogy. It's big, it's bright and colorful with new characters to get excited about and old friends to give you chills. JJ balances brand new with familiar exceptionally well. Most could call this ANH carbon copy or ANH 2.0 and they wouldn't be wrong necessarily. I don't know that saying that equals something wrong for a new generation. Let's be honest, Disney has a whole new generation to get excited while simultaneously also giving old fans some good faith these movies WON'T be as bad as the prequels.

Light vs dark - Good vs evil. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The wrestle between fear and jealousy over patience and wisdom. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack. They are passive. This movie is wise to not explain the force but use its wrestling formula through a number of its characters; the best of which might be Kylo Ren, and Finn to a certain degree (more on that later).

JJ Abrams - JJ says in a recent EW interview, "George [Lucas] dropped you into a story and respected you to infer everything necessary to understand what you need to know.” There's a lot of questions left unanswered in The Force Awakens just like Star Wars did in '77. A movie that released in a period of stand alone films. It teased a saga (that was set in the middle of a galaxy... you get the point) but for all purposes it's a single film, difference with us is we know this is a trilogy. We are now in a period where franchises like Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien, Marvel Studio films, all build off one another.  Filmmakers believe that like Abram says, "the appeal is spreading the reveal across the series of films." Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the list goes on and on. JJ has done the same thing Lucas did in 1977. JJ Abrams dropped you into a story and respected you to infer everything necessary to understand what you need to know. JJ said "Everyone who has seen these movies thinks about ‘I am your father …’ and ‘There is another …But neither of those things were in [1977’s original] Star Wars. Star Wars didn’t say Luke was the son of Vader. Star Wars didn’t say Leia was the sister of Luke. You didn’t understand what these references were: the Empire, dark times, Clone Wars. There were these things that were discussed that don’t get explained." JJ has done the same thing with The Force Awakens yet people are piling on him saying it's a weak script. It has holes. Yes! It has holes, they are purposefully there. They are there to tease the next films in the trilogy. A trilogy that's established. A trilogy we've know about for years. A trilogy Disney wants to milk it for ALL it is worth. Why give it all up on the first date? Tease it.

Characters -- Light Side

Rey - The Mary Sue - I'm hearing a lot of people scream about how Luke was failable (to be clear, Lucas relied on having characters to help Luke along at every step of the way; Ben with Tuskan Raiders, in the Cantina. R2 in trash heep) Lucas did a better job utilizing the unit of characters than JJ does in regards to the lead Luke/Rey. Rey wins in every scenario (possibly because she is the ONE true person to bring balance to the galaxy) - I love that we finally have a female Superman on screen. Why is anyone bitching about that? Not naming names, a certain online ego complains about Rey being like Superman. You kinda just immediately nullified your argument by mentioning Superman. People love him. Why can't there be a female equivalent? There's no female Superman; even the female comic and now TV version is named SuperGIRL. Tying into the disposition that women are judged. There's never been one (Mary Sue) and I can list countless white male Gary Stus in cinema. Hell I don't remember many complaining of how flawless Keanu Reeves was as JOHN WICK - About being perfect, it's naive to think Rey is untrained or a n00b. Her story is hidden. She's left on on a planet to fend for herself and gains survival skills. She knows mechanics because those parts bring her the most rations. She knows of Jedi stories or myths because it's real history in HER galaxy. There was a Galactic Civil War and by the wreckage battles happened near and on her planet. Her skills are amplified because she is force sensitive and perhaps the most powerful being in the universe. She is left with Unklar Plutt as a child, Unklar Plutt owns (for the time) the Millennium Falcon. It's not that hard to conceive Rey being left with Plutt knows her way around the hunk of junk. We can infer from her knowledge of wreckage she could possibly even have a flight simulator to explain why she can fly. Despite that first flight is rough even though she pulls off some dope maneuvers. Did people question why Luke blew up the Death Star on his first flight in an X-Wing? Didn't think so. Let's not forget Rey is essentially living meagerly on a deserted planet fending for food. People complaining she's perfect, how do you feel about starving children in Africa? Is their plight super easy? People just love to find reasons to hate. Luckily Taylor Swift all gave us a quick and memorable song to sing right now. Rey is an ultimate badass and I love her. I'm undecided if it matters to me if she's Luke's daughter. My guess is she is. Does she need to be, no. Kinda lame to think all the force in galaxy seems to circulate around the Skywalker family. The prophecy doesn't specifically cite the name Skywalker... it would be okay if Rey is from her own linage that doesn't include the Skywalkers. Am I gonna be mad, when it is revealed that she's a Skywalker? No, I'm probably gonna cheer along with every other fan in the theater. That said, I'd be okay if they took the risk and furthermore I think it would be smart risk.

Poe Dameron - underwritten character or maybe just edited down to feeling that way. Oscar Issac makes this character more than likable, he makes him a new favorite despite very little screen time or connective tissue. He's got swagger and charm. His choices are off. Why does he leave Jakku? How does he know that Finn would complete his mission on Jakku? Are we to infer that he somehow got in communication with the Resistance while on Jakku and they notified him of BB-8 being spotted off Jakku at Maz's bar? This is a beat in storytelling that probably was left on the cutting room floor. Wait there's no cutting room floor anymore. It is in an edit bay or wait this was shot ON FILM, regardless of the holes in his story line, he's a dope character that I want more of.

Finn (FN2187) - off the bat I want to say that I believe the force made FN2187 not shoot anyone on Jakku. That's why Kylo Ren recognized him, he was passive. He was making a good decision and Kylo is wrestling with the light and dark (something we can get into later when we move on to his character). From that point on Finn is like Han in ANH, in that he is mostly looking out for himself. Refine that statement to say he's afraid of what the First Order could do to him. He knows if captured he'll be killed. He also seems to be force sensitive. He's revealed to be a janitor for the First Order. He's battle trained but not tested. He tells Poe "blaster trained" yet he does a decent job wielding Luke's saber. He reminds me of Luke in ANH in that he has characters around him help out. BB-8 agreeing to help him by revealing the location of the Resistance base to Rey, Han shooting the Storm Trooper who almost kills Finn in the battle at Maz's planet, Rey distracts Kylo Ren enough to not fully kill Finn, still Finn is able to handle himself very capably under the circumstances. John Boyega is excellent as Finn. He brings the right amount of conflict to the character. His charm is on point as well. Rey and Finn's love affair is also a nice tease throughout. I want to see that blossom.

BB-8 - flame thumbs up for BB-8 -- this droid is the shit. He is an immediate equivalent to his predecessor droids. I wouldn't be shocked to hear he's people's favorite droid. As Poe Dameron says, he's a one of a kind BB-8 unit. Massive props to the designers of this ingenious droid who is not cgi. Exceptional work. This is where JJ seems to directly copy ANH, BB-8 like R2D2 has the plans necessary to move the story forward. Brings me to a big issue I had with the script and it's mechanics; Maz's Place -- why does Han go there in broad daylight when you know the stakes of BB-8 (most wanted droid in galaxy)? Does Han just not give a shit or is he that stupid? A bar that has all walks of life across the galaxy? Resistance and First Order are alerted immediately. It's an easy choice to move the story forward quickly but it's also feels sloppy. Han Solo was a General of the Rebellion, and he just strolls through some bar so everyone can see him? Lazy.

Han & Chewie - great seeing them back in action. Chewie's bowcaster was fun to see highlighted. Love their entrance. Getting back the Falcon immediately followed by upping ANH with TWO smugglers confronting him about money. Hated the alien chase sequence. Boring sequence that I could see myself skipping through on Blu-Ray. Ford is good as Solo. Like we never missed a beat. He's given a better role in this film too. Sadly it is obvious he's gonna die pretty early on. Ford got his wish from RotJ. His death is a good sequence despite so predictable. Chewie earns great laughs, love the medical sequence "you must be so brave." Wonder if Peter Mayhew did all the work under the mask? Chewie movies swiftly and I'd bet that Mayhew only did some of the slower paced sequences. I'm being an ageist aren't I? Slap my hand please.

Leia - remains the ultimate badass. Her and Han split, we don't really know why, but she doesn't chase after him, she continues fighting the good fight playing a hand in transitioning from the Rebellion to the Resistance. I have a feeling Leia still is going to show us she's got some force sensitivity herself. Carrie Fischer struggles with the performance. There's a reason she's not in it much. Word behind the scenes is they had the hardest time getting what they wanted from her. A lot of her scenes had to be chopped down to simple moments because she wasn't meeting what producers wanted for the scenes. It's too bad. Leia rules but we may never see her full abilities on screen because of rationale that was just laid out. Imagine Leia showing Ben what the Force is all about like it was the hokey pokey? You're father may have not been able to reach you, but i'm your mother and I damn well better show you the power of the FORCE! You'd have to figure a way to make that passive yet assertive, but again I doubt we will ever see that on screen. Maybe a Kylo Ren and Leia showdown though, that's not IMPOSSIBLE.

Characters -- Dark Side

Kylo Ren - more like Crylo Ren. Kylo Ren is the character I feel the most 50/50 about in TFA. He's got incredible presence for 75% of the film. I am against him taking the mask off. It's done to humanize him for sure, but I'm not so sure we needed that just yet. No I want to refine that statement -- I understand Kylo-Ren removing the mask for his scene with HIS father. I'm against him removing it for Rey. I like his lightsaber fits and adore the thumping on his wound. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering, Kylo Ren needs the suffering emotions to run rampant in order to gain power. A thought had following my two screenings, Kylo Ren had to think killing his father would somehow allow his power to grow but it clearly didn't. His thumping the wound feels necessary for him to fight with any real power following the moment he thought he would achieve a new level. It takes us back to Luke in RotJ when the Emperor wants him to strike down his father completing his turn to the Dark Side. Kylo thought this moment was going to be more than it was. Snoke even backs this notion up by saying go get that fool, I've got to train him better than I thought I would. Afterall Kylo/Ben are Skywalker linage. I'm very intrigued by his back story. Ben Solo. Trained by Luke. What happened between them? What made Ben turn into Kylo? Jokingly is he mad at his dad for sending him off to Jedi training? More serious, was Ben gaining interest in his grandfather's legacy so Leia felt it best if they sent him to Luke to be trained? The latter makes more sense. Han and Leia disagreed on the decision? Han maybe resisted his son being trained as a Jedi? Kylo/Ben's back story is the one that frustrates me post viewing. I wanted to know more. I can infer that he hates his parents and Luke for some reason, but that reasoning is looming over me. Hopefully it is explained in flashback sequences in the next feature. I don't need prequels or a stand alone Ben/Kylo film to explain it. Hell a novelization would be fine.

Supreme Leader Snoke - biggest complaint in the film is Snoke. First is his size. I don't care that he's doing exactly what the Emperor did, Sith Lords train their apprentices in deceptive ways. I don't care we have no clue who he is or how he fits in. Did he help the First Order rise to power during the Galactic Civil War? Did he rear his ugly face following Darth Sidious/the Emperor's death? Probably. Was Sidious just an apprentice to Snoke like Maul to Sidious or Dooku to Sidious or Vader to Sidious? Could be. He is Supreme Leader Snoke just like there's higher ranks in the Jedi Order. I'm okay not knowing that yet, but I hate his size. Second his look, he looks like a goddamn Orc, in the SW galaxy he kind of reminds me of the aliens in AotC that make the clones. He's old, fine, but I wish his look was a bit more exceptional, different, new. That scene where Kylo-Ren and Hux are in front of him complaining is one of my favorites. Ren shows his weakness. Ren shows he's not as powerful as he thinks. It shows the First Order has work to do.

Captain Phasma - same as Poe but less so. Design is radical. Chrome! I'm sure there's more from her in the future. Looks cool but seems like a major push over. Her exchange with Finn is hilarious, I'm in CHARGE, but ultimately she leads troops for the First Order? She gave up so easily. Leia in contrast allowed for her home planet to be blown up NOT to reveal the true location of a rebel base, Phasma has a blaster in her face and she drops the shields without much of a push or a shove. Weird. Underwritten or just not enough time to build her up more here, still she's a pushover for looking so badass.

First Order and General Hux - Went heavy on the Nazis influence; fist pump and all. Very reminiscent of the WWI Memorial Speech Hitler gives in "Triumph of the Will" where he reminds the 150,000 troops the supremacy of the Nazi power. How'd the First Order rise to power? One would assume Snoke is behind their rise in power in the galaxy. Let's be real honest here, the prequels explained a lot of the political reasoning the Empire rose to power, and in abbreviation it sucked, I don't really need the First Order's history in a 2+ hour adventure movie for kids, save that stuff for novelization and extended stuff. I swear if a majority of the stuff people are complaining about being missing was in TFA it would be 4+ hours. Reminder fanboys or adults, this is a four quadrant movie for kids. No, it's for kids. You were a kid and grew up with it and now have an essay of streaming thought going about the film, questions you have, and things you like/dislike, love/hate. Hahaha. Star Wars is so much fun to theorize about. I can't fathom why people are mad about having new questions. General Hux is pretty extreme. I like his sterile and sinister attitude. He's an extreme Reaganite or Tea Partier. Interested how vicious he continues to be. I mean this guy is stoked to watch five planets blown up. That's a huge amount of people. Unfortunately for him the fact that the Star Killer blowing up FIVE planets doesn't hold an ounce of weight to Leia's home planet being blown up in ANH. This is where JJ and comapny could have sought to break apart from the Death Star redo. We get it, it's a planet that can blow shit up. Let's conceive something new. Like Jack says in The Nightmare Before Christmas "try again, don't give up!"

Star Killer - Death Star Part 3 - Bigger Stronger Faster. Boring. Base and core level stuff looks great. Planet that's basically the next version of the Death Star is dumb. One area I really wish they would have not just 2.0'd a ANH, I mean we saw this same stuff in RotJ too. Innovate. This is where something new would be outweigh balancing what we are already familiar with JJ.

Looking Forward - TFA has laid out some nifty groundwork. You could even say it's a little bit of the entire original trilogy and this is just the FIRST movie of three. There's plenty of stuff to be genuinely excited about seeing unfold in this new Star Wars trilogy. (It is super nice to type that sentence and actually be excited again about Star Wars. Dark times were the Prequels and they left me so very wounded.) JJ is a master at birthing characters for others to foster and I believe he's done exactly that with all the new additions. Thank you JJ Abrams and Disney, thank you for restoring my faith in Star Wars. Now keep it up!

You can also hear my full thoughts on"The Force Awakens" on the Top 5 Film podcast.

How did you feel about The Force Awakens? What major questions do you have? Do they undercut your ultimate enjoyment of the film? Strike back in the comments.