Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SPOILERS....MAJOR SPOILERS)

I'm going to discuss one of my favorite film subjects in this post; Star Wars. If you have not seen the latest installment "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", then you may want to step away from this one. In fact, I insist. If you haven't seen this movie and plan too.....beat it. Scram. Get lost. I will be discussing what I thought of the film and what the future may hold for the next film and there is no surprise left after you read what I have written below. 

You have been warned!


First off, I really enjoyed it. As it's own film, I'd say a 7 or 7.5 out of 10. It's hard to get a 10 with me. That's Godfather, 2001, The Dark Knight, and Jaws territory. As a Star Wars film, I think it's a 9. Maybe the third best film of the seven as far as I'm concerned, with the top two being Empire and the original. 

From here I'm going to discuss some of the criticism it's been getting today (12/19) on the 'net and what I think may be in store for future films, as well as digging into the characters and plot on a surface level. I honestly believe that most fans of Star Wars are going to love it and the ones that are disappointed or ragging on it hard are people that don't really care much about the franchise or are just trolling everyone's good feeling about The Force Awakens. 

I'm going to get this one out of the way first; Han dying was inevitable. He probably should have gone in Empire, but he's an iconic character for the series and would have been a huge let bummer in a film (ESB) that was already full of darkness. In this one, he comes face to face with his and Leia's son (Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren) who has taken a dark path. I don't think Han really wanted to confront his son but he needed to do the right thing for Leia. One of the complaints I have with the movie is it was a bit hard to get too worked up about Ren (again, Han's son) killing him. There wasn't any emotional development leading into it at all. It almost feels like there is a movie missing in regards to this plot line. Anyhow, the emotional impact from Han dying came from his stature in the franchise and not so much as it happening at the hands of his son. It felt wrong seeing him die, but again, it was probably the right thing to do for the story. I also was puzzled at the lack of emotional impact it had on the other characters. There was just so much story to tell, it got lost in the shuffle and overall, the movie suffered a little for it.

Rey, the heroine, is an excellent character and likely the offspring of Luke Skywalker (or at least someone else that was very strong with the Force). I really thought it would be Han/Leia as her parents and she would be the sister of Kylo Ren (Ben Solo). I think in the books Luke had a son named Ben, so perhaps it got reversed for the film so Abrams could say he wasn't sticking with "cannon" in the expanded universe. She had also been to that island in the middle of an ocean (where she finds Luke at the film's conclusion) before and Ren suggested it when he was mind probing her. That sort of leads me towards the relation to Luke also, as well as R2D2 "waking up" when she came to the planet with the Resistance. People are already bitching about her quick use of the force and the saber fight. Easily explained in my opinion (and I realize my opinion may be wrong). She is stronger in the force than Ren or at least his equal....and he is REALLY strong. She got a jolt when she touched the light saber that belonged to Anakin and Luke. It was full of memory, pain, and foresight for her, but we would eventually find out it was her destiny to pick it up.  She was able to utilize his (Kylo Ren's) skills and gain an understanding of the force because Ren tried to get in her head. Ren had no idea what he was doing and opened himself up to creating a foe that was his equal or maybe even superior to him. He awoke the force in her and that was a crucial mistake. I think it will be seen as such in the next film. General Hux even said so to Snokes near the end of the film. Snokes almost seemed calm at the failure, as if he had anticipated the possibility. The movies title is related to Rey in my opinion. The Force Awakens is about her, just as A New Hope was Luke. There is always talk of "balance" in the Force and with Luke missing and Leia not taking up the Jedi mantle, the darkness emerged without a counter element. She may well be the "Chosen One" that was spoken of in the prequel trilogy and was presumed to be Anakin. 

The Fin character is very easy to like as a hero, but just as with the Han/Ren situation, his moving from being a storm trooper in the First Order to being a part of the Resistance was very hurried. There was little turmoil. His turn was fast. Again, it felt like we missed out on a few scenes that moved him towards his conversion. We were sort of dropped into the Star Wars universe 30 years after the Empire went down, so we are missing quite a bit of information. This is one of the areas of the film that I feel was a bit weak, but it's not very hard to fill in for yourself. 

I think Snokes is Darth Plaguis that Palpatine said he killed in Revenge of the Sith. If he learned to cheat death, perhaps he transcended his apparent murder or it's quite possible that Palpatine was lying about killing him to impress and seduce Anakin. I like the mystery that surrounds the character. Like the Emperor in previous films, he is pulling the strings from the darkness. Perhaps he is the ageless Sith lord (my friend Tanner brought this up to me), as he has transcended death. His patience has no limit as he is just moving chess pieces and manipulating different followers into doing his will. 

Kylo Ren, the figure head villain, is the son of Han and Leia and is actually just a bully. He takes no responsibility for his actions, as he feels like it's part of his birthright. He's a spoiled brat that can't control his emotions and he has no discipline. He is trying to be Darth Vader and the use of a mask he doesn't need really makes that obvious. His tantrums when things don't go his way seems to indicate there can be real depth in developing this character in future films. Rey took Ren's want to be a power like Darth Vader and threw it in his face when he was trying to probe her mind. I also believe she mimed his skills, even as unrefined as they are, and was able to use those to defeat him and escape. Again, a lot of internet naysayers are complaining that she couldn't have picked up how to use the Force or the light saber so quickly, but I disagree. She simply allowed the force to do its will through her, so she didn't just suddenly know how to fight, she let the force do its thing and she also pulled knowledge from Ren. She submitted to the Force and didn't try to control it. Luke did the same thing in A New Hope with the saber training on the Falcon and as he shut down his scope when he blew up the Death Star. The Force used him as its tool and the same thing happened with Rey against Ren. Also, the complaining about him taking his mask off is so weak. That's an obvious attempt to clue you in on who he is. He doesn't need the mask. It's his "put on". It's him imitating his grandfather and what he thought he was. All of his actions are an imitation, but he doesn't have the mental toughness or stability to harness his power. The power he has is actually using him as its tool. Think of Snokes as the puppet master. Again, he's reckless and has no discipline. It makes him an interesting character. 

Luke will obviously be prominent in Episode 8 and that's part of the outright charm of his only being revealed at the end. Anticipation! I am already anxious to see where this thing goes. I'm OK with this being a rehash of A New Hope. I've read a lot of complaining about how much is taken from the original film in its' plot. I think it's intentional though. It's the Star Wars universe. Every movie series takes place in its own time and place doesn't it? Terminator. Jurassic Park. Avengers. Batman. Hunger Games. Harry Potter. All examples of a movie "universe" that goes to the well again and again and mines its own past for plot lines and character situations. There is cannon to hold on to and the circumstances are of that "universe". It only makes sense that it would borrow what made it successful to begin with. It's a reward for the fans. Maybe a bit TOO much stealing from ANH and Empire? Sure, but it was still effective as a film. Make no mistake, this was for the fans. Newcomers can get on board, but this was a movie made by a fan (JJ Abrams) and he did right by it. I believe he made the movie he wanted to see. Abrams is a master at giving an audience what they want, but still retaining mystery and anticipation. He did it with Star Trek and did it with LOST. There was also enough humor to give you a sense that this should be fun to watch, but never silly or dumbed down (like the prequels and Jedi). Abrams walked a tight rope and successfully navigated it.

To close, I loved....LOVED the way it was shot. It felt "real". The use of real people in those storm trooper suits made a huge difference. The lack of CGI and the use of real sets meant everything to how I saw the movie. Again, it felt "real" if there was substance to what I was seeing. The prequels had pretty shots, but it was so clean and almost too polished. Some of the background in the prequels looked like a cartoon. This film, was dirty. It was lived in. It felt right. It felt like Star Wars.

Oh, and lest I forget....the new droid, BB-8 was pretty awesome. It wasn't used as just eye candy or a prop, it was a prominent part of the film, much like R2-D2 and C-3PO in previous films. A very cool character that helped to drive the plot and never got in the way of what was happening. 

OK, so there is that. My spoiler filled response to my first viewing. I'm smitten with it and am anxious to see it again. Any shortcomings it has (and it has a few) are easily masked by all it did right. I'll reiterate that I feel like there is a movie missing. 30 years just don't guy by without a story to be told. That was truly the biggest weakness of the film, but it's not very consequential in the grand scheme, as we can expect the franchise to move forward from here and start to carve out its own story. By Episode 9 I expect we will have very little reference to the past films in any sort of "tip of the cap" or nostalgic way. This film gave you the nostalgia and I think it put the franchise back on the right path. In my's the real deal. Star Wars is back and episode 7 came out swinging. We got the film we needed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is satisfying on quite a few levels. Bring on Episode 8 and some Luke Skywalker action! 

I'm interested in responses from Star Wars fans if you are so inclined, so feel free to comment.