Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Went out with the family Sunday afternoon to finally partake in the cinematic juggernaut that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

And it...was...

AWESOME!!!

OK, OK, we already knew that. Reviews to date of this return of Star Wars to the big screen have been nearly universally positive. 

So what did I think? Here are some random thoughts.  Yes, there will be spoilers. So if you don't want things spoiled, seal them tightly in Tupperware and put 'em in the fridge. 

Oh, and also don't go past the image below.  



















The film opens in classic fashion with musical fanfare and the Star Wars logo, followed by the famous text crawl bringing us up to speed. Luke Skywalker is missing and it's imperative he be found as a new force of evil, the First Order, has arisen to endanger the Republic and the galaxy.  

One of our point-of-view characters is a redeemed Stormtrooper who gets the name of Finn (John Boyega). He has a strong sense of what's right which leads him to reject orders to commit genocide and ultimately escape being a Stormtrooper. As the movie bounces from one crazy adventure to another, Finn is desperate to escape the horrors of what he has seen and what he knows is coming. But ultimately he comes through for the good guys with his desire to do what's right and his devoted loyalty to Rey. And speaking of which...

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is our new Luke Skywalker, a young woman on a desert planet, left behind by her parents, barely getting by with her skills at recovering and restoring old tech. A droid (too cute for words BB-8) with vital information (the location of Luke Skywalker) falls into her possession which sweeps her up in an adventure that will lead her to confront her true destiny, a powerful link to the Force. But don't dismiss Rey as "Luke Skywalker...but as a girl". Rey is far less naive than Luke when we first met him. She has a hard edge from her rough and lonely life, a fierceness developed through a tough life of survival on a harsh and unforgiving planet. Rey is not without her insecurities. After her first contact with a light saber, her first instinct is to run away from it and the life it can bring her.  Still, she is quick to tap into her innate Jedi skills to free herself from the bad guys and in battle with Kylo Ren. And that brings us to...

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a practitioner of the Dark Side of the Force, adorned in black and a face covering helmet. Yes, Kylo Ren is literally a Darth Vader wannabe but he's not quite there yet. He's not the fearsome icon that Vader was in the days of the Empire. In this time of the new power in the galaxy, the First Order, Kylo Ren struggles to obtain the full level of power he knows can be his. But first he needs to kill his father. Han Solo. Yes....

That Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who along with Chewbacca meet up with Finn and Rey after the two escaped the desert planet of Jakku with the derelict Millennium Falcon which has been through several "owners" since Solo lost it years before. Solo has a lot of lines on his face and white hair on his head but he's still a rogue who gets by on charm, fast talking and a well aimed blaster. New and old begin to mix as Solo reclaims the Falcon once more with the very valuable skills of Rey as a co-pilot after Chewbacca is injured. The crew wind up on the planet Takodana, where a wizend thousand year old woman named Maz Kanata (think of an orange Yoda by way of Edna Mode from The Incredibles) can help deliver BB-8 to the Resistance.  However Takodana is attacked by the First Order. During a heated battle, Kylo Ren captures Rey even as the Resistance drives off the Order's attack. Han is rather reluctantly reunited with Princess Leia...

Or rather, as she is now known, General Organa (Carrie Fisher). Organa who has the wearied look of a woman who can't believe she's having to fight another war gets more disheartening news from Han: he saw their son with the First Order. Like Luke believed of his father, Leia believes there is still good in their son. But still there are evil doings being done. The First Order has a planet sized weapon that eats up the energy of an entire sun and spits it back out as a destructive force. It's surrounded by protective energy shields that must be breached in order to incapacitate the giant weapon before it can destroy more planets. No, it's not another Death Star. This is different. It's bigger than the Death Star. 

So on the Death Star Starkiller Base, Rey is being interrogated by Kylo Ren which is not going too well. For Ren. It seems Rey can resist Ren's use of the Dark Side to probe her thoughts for info on the location of Luke Skywalker. When Kylo Ren leaves to sort this out with his mentor, a ugly 30 foot tall hologram named Snoke (think the Emperor...but bigger. And uglier.), Rey does some Jedi mind voodoo to get a Stormtrooper to let her go. Rey meets up with Finn, Han and Chewbacca who have come to rescue Rey and do their part to help blow this Death Star Starkiller Base out of the sky.  But before than can happen, Han Solo and Kylo Ren face off. Han appeals to his son (who he calls "Ben") to resist the Dark Side of the Force and come home. Kylo Ren confesses he is in a struggle between the Dark and the Light and there's one thing Han must do to help him. Unfortunately, that one thing Han must do is die, a red burning light saber thrust through his heart.  

Han Solo dies. 

Sorry. 

Anyway...

Rey and Finn confront Kylo Ren. Ren Jedi's Rey into a tree which ticks off Finn. Using Luke Skywalker's light saber, Finn lays into Ren but Ren is too much for Finn. But it's Rey's turn again. She may not have Kylo Ren's training but the Force is freakin' strong in this one and she beats the crap out of Ren. Only the Death Star Starkiller Base breaking apart keeps Rey from finishing the job. Rey and Finn get back to the Falcon where Chewbacca awaits to fly them to safety.  

The map to find Luke Skywalker gets put together so Ren flies off to Ireland a distant planet that looks like Ireland where she finds a figure in a hood cloak. It is Luke Skywalker, older now. Rey extends his light saber to him and...

Credit sequence! Movie's over?!

First of all, as I mentioned in Saturday's post, Star Wars fans wanted this saga to move forward and move forward it does in The Force Awakens. New characters are established to move things forward. Rey and Finn are two strong new characters with unique motivations and there are others such as Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, the wise Maz Kanata and the new droid BB-8. And we have new bad guys to replace the Empire, the First Order. 

But homage must be paid to the original trilogy. Sometimes that homage is a bit too literal; come on, Starkiller Base IS a freakin' Death Star, OK? (Note of trivia: in original drafts for the first Star Wars, Luke's last name was going to be Starkiller, not Skywalker.)  Still, give the fans what they want after three prequels that did not do that. And at the top of things fan wanted to see was Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon once more. 

But the past must give way to the future. And if anyone thought that Han Solo was going walk away alive and well from his encounter with Kylo Ren, well, really, you should've seen that coming. Well, I did but it was still a shock to see Han struck down. 

Parallels to A New Hope run all through The Force Awakens. Some of these parallels are subtle but fun to pick up on. For example...

  • In the first Star Wars, Luke picks a droid that immediately blows up so he has to go with his second choice, R2D2. 
  • In The Force Awakens, Rey dismisses one ship as a piece of junk and heads for a better one. Only to have that ship blown up, forcing Rey to pick her 2nd choice, the Millennium Falcon.

Others are more overt. Rey's life on a desert planet, her technical skills, her connection to the Force, her resistance to the destiny told to her by a small odd looking alien with a strange speaking pattern... You get the drill. 

But if the parallels to A New Hope run deep, the overall tone of The Force Awakens is more akin to The Empire Strikes Back. Like Empire, The Force Awakens is a darker film that ends with the bad guys in control (despite the loss of the Death Star Starkiller Base) and our heroes in a bit of disarray with many questions still unanswered.  

Who are Rey's parents? Why did they leave her on Jakku? Why does she have such a strong connection to the Force? Is Luke Skywalker her father? 

Is Kylo Ren beyond redemption? He killed his father, something Luke Skywalker refused to do. In the end, even Darth Vader could not sacrifice his own flesh and blood. Yet this is what Kylo Ren has done. 

Why does C-3P0 have a red arm? 

All right, that last one, I'm not worried about too much.  

So if Star Wars: The Force Awakens may have been too reverent to the original Star Wars, it was what fans wanted. And in that reverence, it has laid the foundation for this saga must do, move forward. 

That's all I've got. I'll be back tomorrow with another post. Until then, remember to be good to one another. And may the force be with you. 

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