Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - 5 likes, loves and mehs


Seriously. I'm going to talk about the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Still here? OK then. The first paragraph is a bit of waffle just to push any spoilers below the line.

So, some of my predictions were reasonably close to what actually was in the film. I was very nervous going to see it. Star Wars means a lot to me - I have had an emotional connection with it ever since seeing Return of the Jedi. So I wanted The Force Awakens to be good. I had high hopes but was overcome mainly with relief after seeing it for the first time. I've now seen it twice and it was just as good second time around, although it seemed to go faster when I knew what was coming. I plan to see it again at some point. I imagine there will be other people watching it a few times - this probably explains the record-breaking opening weekend take.

So, as a review, here are 5 things I loved about the film, 5 things I liked and 5 things that were a bit 'meh'.

Five things I loved

1) Rey.
She was a great character. Not a princess in need of rescuing. Clever, resourceful, outspoken, independent ("Stop taking my hand," she shouts at one point when Finn does the 'hero' thing and grabs her hand as they run away from bad guys.) Clearly she will be the pivotal lead in the next two planned films. Her "That's lucky" when Finn tells her how he escaped from tentacled alien monsters is probably the best line in the film. And she speaks Wookiee and astromech droid.

2) 'Human' stormtroopers. 
Finn is a stormtrooper affected by the carnage of his first battle and a comrade dying in his arms. After he turns against the First Order, other troopers take it personally as a betrayal. Which they would. The stormtroopers are actually characters here. Again, one of the best moments is when two of them are aware an angry Kylo Ren is smashing up a room and do an about face to patrol in another direction. Comedy, but also showing a bit more smarts than previously.

3) Han and Chewie.
The greatest on-screen partnership of all time? Probably not. But great to see them back in their element (trouble). I liked the idea they had been hunting for the stolen Millennium Falcon. The 'Chewie, we're home' line from the trailer worked well in the film. The pair's conversations - you only ever hear Solo's side, but you know Chewie is correcting his lies - are very funny. As with he original films, Han gets all the best lines.

4) BB-8.
I wasn't sure about BB-8 beforehand. I suspected he might be another Jar-Jar - just an annoying comedy character. Instead he captured the spirit of the original films, which also concentrate on the travails of the droids. His 'thumbs up' to Finn caused plenty of laughter in the screening we were in on the first night. Overall he worked really well as a small droid with big personality.

5) The nod-backs.
There were plenty of these - Finn finds the training remote in a store box on the Millennium Falcon while looking for a first aid kit. Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb get walk-on parts. For the first time a Bothan is shown on-screen. There's a bar full of various scoundrels and low-life with a band playing. It's not Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes, but it's reminiscent.

Five things I liked

1) The continuation of the story.
Most of this is told in minor details dropped into conversations. We get that Luke tried to refound the Jedi order. That Han and Leia's force-sensitive son Ben joined the order, but was corrupted by 'Lord Snowke' and became Kylo, leader of the Knights of Ren. As Kylo Ren he is now seeking to restore the work of his grandfather, Darth Vader. Han and Leia's relationship broke down at some point - possibly because of Ben's fall to the dark side. Luke, meanwhile, blamed himself and set off on a quest to find the first Jedi Temple. It is the search for Luke that provides the 'quest' for this story as he is needed to lead the fight against the First Order.

There isn't a huge amount of detail there. Who are the Knights of Ren? Where did Lord Snowke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order, come from? How did he corrupt Ben Solo? There are lots of unanswered questions, before we even get to the new characters. Although, you don't need the force to know that Rey is somehow also going to be related to the Skywalker family.

2) Battles.
There are several land and space battles, with a conspicuous lack of the CGI that made the prequels look like computer games at times. Obviously the usual tropes apply. Heroes are immune to blaster fire or explosions, while stormtroopers may as well have targets printed on their chests. What is noticeable is that we have a strormtrooper death scene involving blood - a real person has died - but Saving Private Ryan this is not. Anyway, the battle scenes add to the overall action content of the movie, which probably has fewer slow scenes than any of the first six episodes.

3) The humour.
Rey and Finn, Han and Chewie, Han and Rey ("Are you offering me a job?" "I'm thinking about it.") Han and Leia ("And don't say the Death Star") Han and Finn ("Sanitation!?!?") C-3PO popping up as an awkward, dorky interruption during a 'moment'. There are good lines aplenty and sparks between all the main characters. Even the tentacled monsters loose on a spaceship segment is played for laughs. I also liked the bodged escape in a TIE Fighter.

4) The ending.
I predict the jury will be out on this, but I liked the ending. It sets up the next film well and we end with Rey appealing for help with an expression of hope and wonder and fear on her face. Did I mention that I love Rey?

5) The different stormtroopers.
We get different uniforms in the stormtrooper squads, there are flametroopers, snowtroopers, and so on. We even see some different hardware with one stormtrooper using a hand to hand electric hammer thing for close combat.

And five things that left me a bit meh

1) Chewie gets left out again.
So this is really Cathy's comment, but after Chewie and Rey return with an injured Finn and no Han to the Resistance base, Leia hugs Rey and ignores Chewie. Come on. Chewie has been Han's sidekick for 40 years at this point. Surely she should have consoled him first, not some girl she's never met before. I have tried to persaude Cathy (and myself) that this would happen offscreen as Chewie is a private Wookiee and wouldn't want to grieve publicly. But we're not buying it. It's the whole 'Why doesn't Chewie get a medal?' from the end of Star Wars all over again.

2) Captain Phasma
Billed heavily before the film as a key character, she gets a couple of scenes and is then left unused. She is even disposed of off-screen. Hopefully she will be back in Episode VIII with a grudge against Finn. I felt this was a missed opportunity.

3) Kylo Ren's mask.
It was initially hinted at that he wore this to hide some disfigurement. But he doesn't. It just seems to be for effect. And it was a bit crap really.

4) The Supreme Leader / Lord Snowke
Who is this guy? Why is he so badly disfigured? Is he human? Who really cares. At this point, the trope of having a fearsome leader you have to go and cower in front of has been overdone, not least in the Star Wars universe. But the Supreme Leader really reminded me of Thanos in the Marvel Comics films. He sits there being all scary like, but doesn't seem to actually do anything himself.

5) Han's death.
I honestly always felt Han Solo would die in a blaze of glory. Yes, the scene is emotional, even though you know he is doomed as soon as he steps on the bridge. It does feel there is a possibility that Ben will relent and renounce the dark side. But you know it's not going to happen. I heard one comment that this scene is unsatisfying because it feels like Han is suckered in, but I think that's unfair on him really. Ben is caught on the cusp of fully succumbing to the Dark Side and Han is there with him. One note, though, Chewie wings Ben with a bowcaster bolt while Ben is on the bridge. Now, given that previously the bowcaster was blowing stormtrooper up, surely that was a much smaller hit than it should have been. Ben should have at least lost a leg.

6) And a bonus one...
As mentioned throughout this long post, there are lots of unanswered questions. How did Maz get Luke's lightsaber?  (What happened to her by the way? She just seems to disappear.) What's the deal with the map and the missing piece - what kind of cartography is that? Why does Rey go to find Luke at the end and not Leia?

There are also lots of the usual plot holes. Veteran movie critic Roger Ebert has pointed out that given the size of Starkiller Base the way the main characters seem to cross paths so easily, it may as well have been a submarine. I've already mentioned how stormtroopers are easily picked off while heroes can dodge through strafing TIE Fighter attacks. But this is Star Wars. It's always been like that. It's one of the reasons I love it so much. Because it isn't real; it's make-believe. We can suspend the scepticism and suspicion that cloud our days and just enjoy ourselves.

And then, maybe, the force will be with us.

1 comment:

  1. I was disappointed that it was just a supersized death star - that's three times in 7 films. Although I thought it was good tongue in cheek humour when discussing the plan to destroy it.

    I wasn't too surprised that they sent Rey not Leia - Rey is clearly 'force' ful and needs training, Leia so far has never used the force and is leading the rebellion. Plus kind of sidelines the main character for the next film.

    I also thought Kylo's mask made sense because he was celarly desperately trying to emulate Grandpa - so copied mask, voice - it was a homage.

    I thought Han's way out was OK - a blaze of glory was somehow too obvious and given his history of unlikely escapes somehow he'd just keep escaping.

    It'll be interesting to see what other plot lines they develop in 8 - Rey being trained is obvious, revelation of family. What will Poe Dameron & Finn do? What will Snoke do next now that stupid planet weapon number 3 has been destroyed.