1/27/2017

Late to the Party: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I didn't watch The Force Awakens until a few weeks ago. I think I'm now at a point where I have chewed on the movie long enough by stepping away from it but it was recent enough to where I still remember the movie.

Movie release: 2015
Interest in movie: I'm a single male in my 20's so naturally I like Star Wars. Kidding. The original trilogy was a pretty big deal for me when I was really young, and the prequels, to a much lesser extent, excited me as well. Even a very childish version of me who saw Attack of the Clones in theaters was like "are you kidding me?" They waited an awfully long time to make a movie that was not a spin-off, but a direct continuation of a movie released many years prior. When I heard they were shoving in as many original cast members as possible I avoided the movie like the plague thinking that it was a soulless cash-in. I also heard a lot of people say that VII was really entertaining while other people said it was trash. Some people said "it's so good, it's just like A New Hope!!!" and others said "it's so bad, it's just like A New Hope!" I didn't have much interest in watching it, but my mom wanted me to watch it because "it had all the characters and it's awesome" which scared me even more. But honestly, this is not going to be a post bashing or particularly praising The Force Awakens, or for time's sake "VII", because I feel fairly neutral on the whole thing.

I'm just going to split this into 3 things I really liked about VII and 3 things I didn't like about 7. This way it isn't just a directionless rant. Now it will be a segmented directionless rant.

Oh also, this is going to have major spoilers. I'm serious. Huge spoilers that will break the experience of the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet. If you have seen it, keep going. If you haven't seen it, honestly I recommend watching it. If you haven't seen Episode IV, V, and VI, you should watch those before VII.

STUFF I LIKED ABOUT THE FORCE AWAKENS:

1: Daisy Ridley and Jon Boyega's performances and welcome inclusion as new characters

 Star Wars is not only the biggest sci-fi franchise in existence, but it is also one of the biggest franchises in general. Star Wars is everywhere and everyone loves it basically. Cramming two new characters into a movie that is not supposed to be a spin-off was a risky move, and something I had very low expectations for. That's why when Rey and Finn come together and the plot actually starts developing naturally through these two strangers, it was actually refreshing and felt like a new movie. Beyond that, the actors gave life to these characters and made them feel like they weren't Luke Skywalker 2 and 3, because they aren't. Finn's whole "trying to be secretive but not doing a good job at it at all" thing throughout the movie rubbed me the wrong way, but overall his obliviousness to a lot of situations is a welcome character weakness and ends up being a strength into his growth as a character. Rey is a whole other field of awesome and I really wanted her to succeed. This could, again, just be because my expectations of Rey and Finn were incredibly low going in, but trying to keep an open mind throughout the movie, these actors in particular took me out of that mindset and strapped me in for the ride, which should be any actor's goal even in the face of hypothetically questionable direction.

2: It looks like fucking Star Wars, or at least what I wish Star Wars looked like

 In my opinion, sometimes Star Wars as a universe can look really bland. It works in Episode IV, V, and VI, especially for their time period, but in some scenes it does strictly look like "jungle land", "desert land", "space battle", do you get the idea? There are a lot of scenes in VII that look like a desktop wallpaper for Star Wars in motion, and that is honestly something that I felt was missing from I, II, and possibly even III and maybe even VI. I know, it's blasphemy to say that IV, V, and VI aren't perfect cinema. Crucify me. Strap me by my wrists and ignite me. Don't even get me started on the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren either. My god that is one good looking snowy forest in motion. When Han approaches Ren, there is this really cool scene where a purple light is shining from outside onto the father and son and it really shows off why people call Star Wars a space opera. It does what an opera would do with a 4-minute musical segment in about 5 seconds with one moving image. It was reminiscent of Episode IV, V, and VI, looking back, but not in a way where I felt it was a rip-off as much as it was actively impressing me and shots like those to this day are what I think about the most whenever someone brings up VII. Even the desert scenes in the beginning set up the junk-filled world that Rey lives in like they tried to do in The Phantom Menace. Except that was The Phantom Menace so I don't have to explain much more. Not one character came out and said "Yo, Rey lives in some effed up ess bro!" Not once. It was set up in a way that doesn't show "this is a bad place to live" but rather what that slummy of a place means for Rey's character, all done through visuals... and a bit of dialogue but that's not a bad thing, it's a movie. The movie looks pretty. They could have made it all boring earth tones and made it "gritty" but they didn't. They showed the old Star Wars universe with a fresh coat of paint, and that's one of my favorite things about VII in general.

3: The old cast are vessel characters for a new plot

 One of my main fears going into this movie was surprisingly nullified because they actually brought old characters into the path of Rey and Finn in a way that didn't feel like too far-fetched of a coincidence. If you think about it too hard then yeah, what luck that they would stumble into such situations to link them to Luke Skywalker and the gang. Can we call them "the gang?" But in context of the movie, it is all about portrayal, and I didn't find it distracting for the most part. Since Rey has a connection with older characters in the movie and that is part of her story as well as Luke's, Han's, Leia's, etc. it feels like a natural progression more than a cash-in. If anything, it would be disappointing at this point if Star Wars Episode VII was a movie that had a setting unaffected by the fall of the Empire. All of the characters they bring back have a purpose. I found the C-3PO and R2D2 introductions kind of jarring, but maybe that's just me. Han, Chewie, Leia, and Luke were all implemented in a way that I didn't feel short-changed... I mean I didn't pay to see the movie but you know what I mean.

STUFF I WAS NOT SO CRAZY ABOUT IN REGARDS TO THE FORCE AWAKENS

1: The "It's a New Hope Part 2" Debacle (kind of)

 Let's get right into it then: The accusations that the plot of VII is a complete rehash of IV. Nobody is wrong here, in my opinion. These are all just opinions, who cares? You can think whatever makes you happy. I totally see where people are coming from with this accusation. I simultaneously agree and disagree, because that is the twisted way my brain works. And now for the elaboration. It's pretty obvious to anyone who has seen Episodes IV, V, and VI that some of the themes used in VII are eerily similar to what we have seen before. Say what you will about the prequels but at least they serve their functions as prequels without borrowing from the formulas set by the other movies. I however don't think it is as easy to pinpoint as "VII just rips off of A New Hope" though. I have a slightly different theory. For those of you unfamiliar with screenplay writing or story writing in general, which is a lot of people, even I myself am an amateur, it is a common rule of thumb that almost every story since the dawn of storytelling has three acts. I don't think this was intentional, but I feel like each act of VII is somehow a plug-and-chug version of a different movie in the original trilogy.

 Start with A New Hope; the main culprit in everyone's accusations of why the plot in this movie is soulless, which I already stated that I don't fully agree with. Rey's origin story is pretty similar to Luke's, and the way Finn approaches Earth is nearly identical to R2D2 and C3P0's appearance in IV. But to say the whole movie copies off of the original movie is kind of a stretch. In what part of A New Hope did someone kill their own dad, or start fully becoming one with the powers of the Force? What? That didn't happen? Ohhhhhh. At the end of A New Hope, Luke is down one friend and a couple family members but becomes a sick-ass fighter pilot to take on the Empire. That didn't happen at the end of VII, but I guess you could argue that there is a similar bridge like this into the second act of VII. So I don't see VII Plot = IV Plot rather than VII First Act = Overly Condensed Version of IV Plot. See?

 Next: Empire. Big family member reveal and all that, as well as the main Jedi character learning to wield the Force even though no one else knows how to do that anymore all happens in the 2nd act of VII. So this is me not really disagreeing as well. It would have taken maybe a couple weeks at most to make the story not so obviously safe and tried-true to the original trilogy plots, but they didn't do that because Disney. I'm assuming because Disney. Could be wrong. It's Disney. It even blows up a planet exactly like Alderaan. That scene looked cool and all, which I guess serves a very watered down metaphor for my feelings on the movie. "Yeah that was really cool, but from a writing standpoint, they already did all of this... all of it!"

 I don't think I need to explain the parallels between VI and the third act of VII. That's just a big Death Star. Yeah, it's a planet, not the Death Star... but come the fuck on. It's a Death Star with a bigger dick. The dad death parallel isn't even subtle. He just kills him. The build-up doesn't even- oh- oh wait! This gets it's own damn section!

2: That one scene with Han Solo. You know the one.

 One of my main fears about watching the movie was that they were going to butcher Han Solo, and to my surprise they didn't. If anything showing that even in old age and after aiding in the galaxy's salvation, he is still hunted down for being a crooked scumbag is refreshing and kind of funny in its own right. This is what Han was all about in the old movies and it serves as an evolved version of that. They even show more of a heart in Han with his scenes where he interacts directly with Leia and Ren. This further exemplifies his short but sweet relationship with Rey. Then an edge-lord fucking kills him. This could have been a poignant, brilliant scene, but it is done in the stupidest way. If Ren would have sneezed or something it would have at least been campy, but this is just stupid. For the record, I'm not pissed that Ren killed Han. Like I said above, it's all about portrayal. Execution and context are the two main things that make this shit work, and they threw both out the window. There is no reason to really love or hate Ren up to this point. He's an edgy teenager at his darkest moments and a whiny bitch at his softest, yet he is supposed to be the main villain. It's kind of a joke, in my opinion. This whole build-up scene where Han seems to be getting through to Ren is so almost good that it hurts me. He just blank-faced kills him. Then Han pulls a Darth Maul into the pit of nothingness below. Here's why this is really stupid, or rather stupidly portrayed, and its so simple that it's going to blow your mind... BLOW YOUR MIND... maybe not... here it is:

 Why? Why would he do this? Nothing in the movie shows that Han is a great or terrible father to Ren. If anything the dialogue shows that Ren was just being an edgy bitch, as per his general character design, and how much that really has to do with Han was never shown. On the other hand, and this is people's argument against my point, it is supposed to show how dark and shit Ren is. Bullshit. A) Han was obviously no threat to Ren, so killing him was pointless as hell. If he was really the badass supervillain that Ren fans see him as, he would have seen Han's usefulness as leverage for the other original cast members or possibly even other scum bags across the galaxy. This could have brought a much more potent motive to kick off VIII without just using "a disturbance in the force" to bring Luke out of hiding. B) Even if it wasn't pointless, Ren spares at least one life when he could easily kill them just in the beginning half of the fucking movie. But yeah sure, he's just super edgy and doesn't give a fuck if his dad dies and that's what makes him "cool". I fucking hate Kylo Ren. Which leads to my next point!!!

3: God Characters

 There are multiple characters that I consider to be "gods" for the wrong reasons and it ruins any semblance of a point that VII is trying to go for, if they were actually trying to go for anything other than a 2 billion dollar paycheck. These three characters in particular that I am going to be talking about are Kylo Ren (of course), Luke Skywalker (you saw that coming), and Rey Whatsherface (simultaneously my favorite and least favorite character in the movie).

 I already pretty much stated why I hate Kylo Ren and why I think his inclusion in the movie is arguably lazier than C3PO's, but there is another personal pet peeve I have with Kylo Ren. He is the new Darth Vader simply for the sake of being the new Darth Vader, and the movie doesn't even try to cover it up. His origin story is thrown out on full display and it shows him as the badass pretty early into the movie, except he's not the badass in my opinion but whatever. So they expect us to believe that as a teenager, which we can assume from the context of the movie that he was a teenager, this son of a rogue thief was trained in the way of the Jedi by the god of Jedi and then decided "fuck you mom and dad, you just don't understand me! I'm going to go listen to AFI in space and build a space colony and a giant laser in the core of a fucking planet and kill everyone." That just happened? He just commands a bunch of people now because he's edgy. You could argue here that those people all belong to Snoke, but even then it wouldn't make any sense for Snoke to just be like "oh hey, yeah we can use you to kill people but ALSO you can command all my shit even though you have proven multiple times that you are too stupid and emotionally unstable to handle this position." Darth Vader had this relationship with Sidious/Palpatine but there was build-up there. In fact, despite your feelings on the prequels, all six movies before VII had an important hand in the legacy of Darth Vader so when he commands a space fleet, I can see that happening. Anakin is driven with purpose and is stubborn as shit in every single movie. Kylo Ren is like Shadow the Hedgehog mixed with Robbie Rotten. Does that sound like the worst thing ever? That's why I hate Kylo Ren.

 Luke is not as bad of a god character because we actively witnessed him become a Jedi god in the original trilogy. However him being seen as a myth in a time period that wasn't really that long after the fall of the Empire seemed kind of stupid to me. Even his own sister acts like he's some legend that she sends an entire squadron to blindly seek out for years. Then at the end, finding him is the big climax of the movie that is supposed to lead to VIII, because we don't know what's going to happen. How is Luke going to react? That's cool and all but they just say like "we probably need Luke's help". There is no concrete reason why Luke is required to snuff out Lord Goth. Maybe in VIII there will be, but I doubt it.

 Then there is Rey, who I love, but also hate for this reason. This also kind of falls on Finn too actually. Not that long ago, these two characters didn't know what a lightsaber was, no exaggeration. Rey picks it up and Luke (again, having power that makes no sense within the context given by Episodes I-VI) sends a huge vision to whoever just so happens to pick up his lightsaber that he hid in a box in some bar that they just happened to go to. Oh good. How convenient. Rey leaves it behind anyways. Also keep in mind that nobody up to this point has used a lightsaber except for Kylo Ren and no one has used the force in front of these characters except for Kylo Ren. Finn admits openly that he didn't even know that the lightsaber was a weapon and starts using it against enemies instantly. Not a big deal, but then later he fights the guy who is supposed to be the most powerful Sith guy in the galaxy at the time and holds his own. A DAY AGO, HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT A LIGHTSABER FUCKING WAS! Why is this stupid? Other than the obvious? It took Luke Skywalker, Jedi god himself, a whole fucking movie to figure out how to use that thing. It was implied in the prequels that it took years to even be allowed to carry one of those things when the Jedi Council was intact. This guy is trained to be a Stormtrooper. You know, the guys who can't even aim a fucking gun and wear cardboard armor and have paper skin that makes them die to one laser shot or hard enough blow to the helmet. He's on Jedi level now too. Keep that in mind, and then look at Rey. She touched a lightsaber once and can now do Jedi mind tricks, use the Force telekinesis stuff, and she fights Kylo Ren too. This was a great fight scene and probably my favorite scene in the whole movie, really, but why would she be able to do this or know how to do half of the things she did. The force just courses through her so now she just knows how to do everything. They didn't that shit this bad in the Digimon anime, but when Digimon does it, it's lazy writing. When Star Wars does it, it's just the Force. In the words of Han Solo "That's not how the Force works!"... my second favorite scene in the whole movie.

OVERALL

 The Force Awakens is a functioning movie with enough heart, actor enthusiasm, and welcoming setting to be entertaining. Saying I like it more than I and II is not saying much but I'm saying it. I don't know how I feel about it in regards to III. Obviously it doesn't touch the original trilogy, I honestly think that, but that doesn't make it a horribly lazy movie. I think it was a welcome continuation and with how overly hyped the movie was, there was no way that it wasn't going to be a major disappointment to everyone because it was a continuation of a trilogy of movies that redefined sci-fi and possibly film in general.

 I don't fully know how I feel about this movie still because I don't think about it every single day. But any CALM and THOUGHT OUT and RELEVANT arguments for or against anything I said in this blog would be appreciated and personally interesting. That's how you write a run-on sentence.

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