Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Force Awakens

This post contains spoilers. Do not continue reading if you have not seen the movie yet.

First Impressions

Star Wars is beautiful, and The Force Awakens is no exception. Beautiful, yes, that is the word I would use to describe the movie if I could choose just one.

I felt so relived when I walked out of the theatre, that after so long of waiting I had finally seen the movie and had the burden of waiting lifted away. I was never exactly worried that I wouldn't like the movie: I just hoped that it would deliver the types of things I wanted to see. And I suppose it did.

The only other Star Wars movie that I saw in theaters specifically when it was first released was Revenge of the Sith, and honestly I don't remember all the details of that viewing (maybe because it was late at night after spending the day at Universal Studios). That was also back when I just liked Star Wars, before I declared/realized that I really liked it; maybe that's what made the difference. When seeing The Force Awakens, I was in awe of the opening title sequence: it was so beautiful. I watched in 3D, so the words had such depth and the stars such vibrancy.

And then we saw the starships strung in the sky and moved to the desert of Jakku and the beauty continued. The cinematography on this movie was lovely, as was the imagery, and it all worked in such harmony with the 3D. I love to look upon Star Wars movies, so to have this imagery complete was very meaningful to the whole experience. And I loved that there was another gorgeous sunset (or was it sunrise? I'm not sure) shot in here.

Rey & Kylo Ren

From when I first saw her, I loved Rey. I loved her outfit and the fact that she saw on a desert planet. I just knew she would be great. And I also predicted that she was Luke's daughter; I figured she could instead be Leia's daughter, but that just didn't seem right--she just seemed like Luke's daughter from the pictures. And though the movie didn't specifically confirm my suspicions, I'm correct, right? It seemed like they were dancing around that confirmation, but just saving it for Episode VIII so that there will be more similarity to pacing in the other trilogies (Luke finds out who his father is in the second episode out of a trilogy). So, yes, Rey was just as great as I suspected she'd be. I love the beginning scenes with her, as she's scavenging the ships, sliding down the sand dune, trading the goods, and making that wonderful bread (which is just as cool and iconic as the blue milk). I think that once I've watched this movie many times, it will be these scenes that I enjoy watching over most, just like the beginning scenes of A New Hope with Luke on Tatooine are my favorite of the movie.

And then there is Kylo Ren. I wasn't sure what to think of him, either from the early images I saw of him or from his first scenes in the movie. He was the new bad guy and the only bad guy I cared about was Darth Vader (I remember making fun of how quickly Darth Maul dies back when Episode I first came out). And he does have this wannabe attitude to him. But then there was that scene with Rey where he takes off his mask (something Vader would never do, even if he didn't need it to keep alive) and his character suddenly clicked into place. He is a wannabe. Just the way that he is so tall and yet kind of skinny, it's like he should be imposing because he's tall and yet his profile is too thin to really be completely frightening. He's trying to be bad, and he wants to be that dark figure that Darth Vader was--but he's not there yet. And that's a really interesting place for a character to be.

While reading through the magazine pictured above, I was staring at the costumes and realized that Kylo Ren and Rey's costumes are like opposite mirror images of each other. Pants and a tunic, with a sort of over-garment that's in two pieces falling over the shoulders over onto each leg. The shape of his cloak over his shoulders is like the shape of the cloak she sometimes wears. And even the shape of the eyes on his helmet echoes the shape of her goggles when she wraps her head in fabric to keep out the dust. Fantastic. And it fits well: if they are cousins (with their parents being twins), then it fits in well. Twins in fiction tend to have that duality where one is good and one is evil; so here we have that trait taken to the next generation, with one child of one twin being good and the child of the other twin being evil. It's very nice. (I know, I keep assuming Rey is Luke's daughter even though we don't have confirmation of that--but I feel like it might as well be fact.)

Their battle together towards the end of movie was so nicely done. It was so simple (which harkens back to the best of the original trilogy) and yet felt so new in the way that they fought. It wasn't the straightforward sword fight of Ben and Darth from Episode IV; characters weren't throwing things at each other like in Episodes V, II, and III; no one was flying and jumping around like in Episode I. It looked unique, and the snowy backdrop was perfect. I keep replaying the imagery of this fight in my head, even though I can't remember specific moves or anything like that anymore. This is probably my second or third favorite lightsaber battle from all the movies (I don't think anything can top Luke and Vader in Episode VI--the thematics of that alone are . . . everything that is Star Wars).

I spent so much time thinking about who Rey was and how she came to be alone on Jakku that I didn't think about Kylo Ren's identity at all. I just figured he was some bad guy who rose up and that was that. I don't know why I thought it wouldn't be anything more. If anything, I thought that Poe might have been Han and Leia's son, despite the different last name. So it was a surprise to find out his parentage--though this fact did fit in and didn't feel incongruent. The scene with Han Solo was good. I mean, we all love Han Solo, but he had his day, so I don't think there is anything wrong with him dying out of the story. And the way it played out was . . . good. If his son really had given in and agreed to try and "be a good boy again," it would have felt way too soon and would have made his character pathetic. So I like that he keeps falling in this dark entanglement: it makes more sense within the story and with what we do know about his character. You don't fashion yourself evil without being willing to perform an act like that, though he did have noticeable difficulty with the task. It's a little ironic: Anakin turned evil because he was afraid to lose people he loved (his mother and then his wife) but his grandson turns evil because he is somehow upset at his father and kind of wants to prove he doesn't need him. Either way, the more of this you do, the more isolated you become.

The Familiar & New Characters

Like Han Solo, Leia's role fit in and made sense. She's still working with rebels against evil, same as always. And Chewbacca's still piloting and smuggling. I do kind of wish we had been able to see Luke sooner than in the last scene of the movie . . . but the next episode will come out eventually and I know the story will be cohesive once the whole trilogy is put together (after all, Yoda is such an iconic character and he wasn't in the first movie at all). There may have been just a tad too much mystery around his disappearance--but again, I think it'll all work out in the end. And his entrance is very good and memorable, on that island on top of all of those stairs and wearing that gray druid's/hermit's/Jedi's cloak. The imagery of that island reminds me of certain episodes of The Clone Wars, the ones that had to do with the more abstract facets of the Force. I can't wait to see his conversations with Rey ("Rey, I am your father").

I didn't even mention the other new characters. I like that Poe gives a little more focus to the pilots who are doing a lot of the resistance's work (as they did much of the rebellion's work). And Finn, of course, lets us see more of what the stormtroopers go through, though he turns sides so quickly that there isn't much focus on how a person feels about changing sides (he seemed so quick to fire on his former comrades when he was escaping, which I thought should have been a little more difficult for him--unless he knew these were units that had been in combat for a long time and were therefore fully aligned with the First Order, perhaps unlike some of the people he had been stationed with). Still, I liked his character and the way he interacts with Rey: the way that they're often impressed with each other provides a nice contrast to the love-bickering of Han and Leia.

The Trilogies

And now to the last bit. What is so nice about Star Wars is the trilogy format (although we do have those two stand-alone movies coming out later--but I think that's okay because it's still different from if the movies were released as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). This allows each trio of movies to tell its own story in its own way that still makes sense with the group as a whole, sort of like how one season of a TV show may focus on a certain plot all its own. The original trilogy is a stripped-down, visual, well-played-out, cinematic story. The prequel trilogy takes that story as inspiration and widens the scope to fill in more details and provide history and backstories and an emotional jolt to really give you an idea of what was lost by Darth Vader when he chose to follow an evil path. The two trilogies are very different in how they approach storytelling and yet they reflect and enhance each other.

And so with this new trilogy, we're in a unique place. Chronologically, we're taking off after the original trilogy--but in created order (if these were books, I'd say published order), we're returning after the prequel trilogy. So this new movie borrows from both (I know everyone's trying to act like the prequel trilogy doesn't exist anymore, but just try and think about characters without thinking about the prequel trilogy and you'll see that it just doesn't work) trilogies while also bringing in a new flair. It's bringing in three things together at once, which is actually quite a lot to work with. But I think it worked. This movie has the simplicity of the OT, the awareness of multiple characters and stories and personal mythologies of the PT, and the sleekness of current times. It's fresh and repetitive at the same time--and I say repetitive in a good way because Star Wars is the best at giving reason to repetition (how many times does a character get their hand cut off in the movies, for instance?).


I wondered if the movie was a little battle heavy: instead of having two or three action scenes, they seemed to be sprinkled all over the movie. But then I compared to the other six movies and found that A New Hope is really the only one that has much space in between battles/action scenes. And I did think that there was a tad too much emphasis on "Rey is a female character but she's still strong:" really, haven't we been allowing women to be in movies for long enough that we can just let them be characters without having to praise their presence? (And anyway, I don't see what the big deal is: the OT had Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher; the PT had Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman; and the new trilogy [I guess it's the NT?] has John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Daisy Ridley. What's the difference?) There may also have been just a touch too much sense of nostalgia: I know we're all nostalgic, but we don't want to veer to close to meta-fiction (one of the things that the PT did do was continue a story without acting like a sequel, so I do want the same from this new trilogy). Overall, though, my complaints were small, which is big (I'm one of the people who defends the PT, but it would be easy to make a list of complaints for it--though I also don't think the OT is as flawless as some people seem to think [maybe because I do rewatch it a lot], except for Return of the Jedi, which is the best and can never be surpassed).

The End

Whew. Okay, I think I'm done for now. I liked this movie. I thought it was good and well put together. I kind of get the sense that it won't end up being my favorite out of this new trilogy, though (which is perfectly okay: it doesn't need to be)--I feel like it didn't set the bar so high that I won't enjoy something else more. But I did like what this movie, for itself, had to offer. And for all of the pieces to be complete even before they come together matters.

Now can I please go watch the movie again and then make a Rey costume and get BB-8 and then forget what I'm doing and put my Darth Vader cloak on top of it all and waltz around the house with my lightsaber?

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