Star Wars

Return of the Return of the Star Wars (Star Wars: the Force Awakens)

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Here are some more of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015). I liked the not so subtle digs at the prequels. The first line of the film is, “this will begin to make things right”. The Star Killer Base blows up the Republic and thus the Senate (they’ll be none of that talky politics crap in our Star Wars). I believe I also heard some dialogue criticising the inferiority of a clone army in comparison to Stormtroopers. The humanising of the Stormtroopers again seems like a reaction against the prequels. Finn (John Boyega) shows us they’re human beings with feelings, not disposable duplicates, which raises the stakes of the war. Plus, other Stormtroopers have emotional reactions, showing us Finn is not just an anomaly.

Finn, I’d say, is the best of the new characters. His disreputable past, humour under pressure and strained bravery have their roots in Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) original character, but his youthful inexperience and Boyega’s performance distinguish him. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) roots are more evident, being a blatant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) clone, but with a greater sense of sadness about the loss of her family and less enthusiasm for adventure. Making her more of a reluctant hero makes her eventual bravery seem more heroic, and her stronger connection to her home makes her leaving more moving. Also, it’s good to see a woman in a traditionally male role and not appear at all out of place (why would she?). Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) struggle with the dark side seems far more genuine and nuanced compared to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) sudden conversations. I know we’re bound to see more of her in the future, but Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) did nothing except look cool. I think they were going for a Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) vibe but throwing her down the trash compactor kind of diminished that. If you want a character to look cool, don’t throw them in the garbage. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also does very little. The writers obviously decided to make the other characters think he was dead for half the movie, not for suspense, but because they could think of nothing to do with him. Max Von Sydow’s character is entirely superfluous. All the information he conveys could have been told visually. Han Solo is as fun as he’s always been and it’s sad to see him go, as his relationship with his son and split from Leia (Carrie Fisher) added new dimensions to the character that would have been nice to explore further. His death is unearned, being the culmination of a story we haven’t been given time or reason to care about. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll care because it’s Han Solo, not because of anything the film has done. I wish we’d seen less of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), possibly even nothing at all and just have him talked about to build an aura around him. I think it would have been far more interesting and darker to have Kylo Ren talking to Vader’s dead skull, which only seems to be in here so they can get that one shot in the trailer and probably on a bunch of merchandise.

The CGI used for Snoke is nothing new and looks out of place with the retro vibe the film’s going for. In fact, things start to really go wrong with the sudden introduction of Snoke and other CGI elements. We also have a pointless runaround on a freighter with CGI tentacles. It seems to be there so we can have some last bits of fun and humour with Han and Chewie (Peter Mayhew), but it serves no plot purpose apart from the bounty hunters inform the First Order of BB-8’s whereabouts, but they’re already able to track him, so this makes little sense. Maz Kanata (Lupita Kanata) is another out of place CGI creation that seems utterly pointless. The time spent with her really bogs the movie down. All the emotional issues and plot points brought up during these scenes could be worked out on the Falcon, perhaps while being pursued by Tie Fighters and Star Destroyers à la The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I don’t see any reason why Han couldn’t have picked up Luke’s lightsaber somewhere, and Finn couldn’t just ask Han to take him away from the war instead of propositioning other characters. Maz’s cantina-esque home seems to have been included just so another box can be ticked on the film’s list of essential Star Warsy stuff.

With the amount of subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original films, I’m beginning to think it was genuinely the filmmakers’ plan to subconsciously trick us into thinking The Force Awakens was a great Star Wars movie by using as many familiar aspects as possible. It’s got everything you like about Star Wars, how can it be bad? The logic makes sense, and I think after the disappointment of the prequels, they were right to go back to what we love about Star Wars. I just wish there could’ve been something really original and different to make it stand out from the past films, but they played it safe. A sensible marketing decision, not a very exciting artistic one.

Return of the Star Wars (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015) is undoubtedly a Star Wars movie. What I mean by that is a real effort was clearly made to make it like the Star Wars you love and remember, i.e. the original trilogy. In terms of visuals, it was refreshing to see such heavy use of real sets, locations, animatronic creatures and a lack of CGI. However, this did make the two CGI creatures they did use stand out (why couldn’t they have gone the whole hog?). It also had a genuine sense of humour and adventure that the prequels sorely lacked. In terms of the plot, almost every element had an air of familiarity about it, and this is where the real problems lie. There were no risks, no subversions and no surprises. It was really good at being the Star Wars we know, but it brought nothing new apart from a more gender and racially diverse cast; which again was very refreshing. So, in the end, it sorely lacked what was so engrossing about the original trilogy, its excitement and originality.

Below this picture of the Star Wars are twenty-two very familiar things in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m sure there were a lot more, but this is enough to be getting along with.

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  1. Desert, snow and forest planets.
  2. A hero’s journey for a young outcast who lives on a desert planet and yearns for adventure.
  3. The information we want is in the little droid!
  4. Bad guy in a black mask with family issues, struggling between the pull of the light and the dark.
  5. Hero is led to adventure by little droid.
  6. Hero then meets an older mentor, who takes them away from the desert planet, teaches them about the force and talks of mythical past adventures.
  7. Stormtroopers burning people on a desert planet.
  8. Finn’s first view of the Niima Outpost mirrors Luke’s first view of Mos Eisley.
  9. The Millennium Falcon flees from TIE fighters by flying inside something large.
  10. Shooting TIE fighters from Millennium Falcon gunner bay.
  11. Interrogation and torture while strapped to a technological rack.
  12. A cantina scene with a diverse range of aliens, including an alien band.
  13. A diminutive, wrinkly alien encourages hero to learn the ways of the force.
  14. Evil mentor appears via giant hologram.
  15. C3PO comically interrupts tender moment between Han and Leia.
  16. Giant, planet-sized, super-weapon with a weak point that must be destroyed by an X-Wing assault and Han laying mines.
  17. Flying down trenches.
  18. Hero’s friend with less than perfect past, at one point, threatens to leave and abandon the cause but returns to rescue the hero and save the day.
  19. On enemy base, the hero witnesses their mentor being killed by the villain from a distance and screams.
  20. Body falling down deep chasm inside a large technological base.
  21. The hero, who doesn’t know everything about their family, learns the ways of the force and faces the villain (who – in all likelihood – is a family member), who asks them to join the dark side and be trained by them.
  22. The last of the Jedi must complete the hero’s training in part two.

The Light and the Dark (Star Wars: The Original Trilogy)

So, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015) is out today. I have my ticket for an 11 am showing and plan to post about it soon after, but until then, let’s talk original trilogy. So much has been said about these three films that I could easily start regurgitating oft-heard opinions, so I’m gonna stick to a single feature of each film I particularly like and one I particularly dislike. A light side and a dark side, if you will (see what I did there?).

Not Getting Any Action (Star Wars)   

What I dislike about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977) is Luke’s (Mark Hamil) lightsaber never sees any action, and before you all start shouting that the original trilogy isn’t all about dumb action and lightsaber duels like the prequels, hear me out. If you consider that the film was intended to function as a standalone piece – with the prospect of sequels in no way a certainty – then Luke’s lightsaber really should see some action. I mean, he’s given it, told its backstory, trained with it, and then he never uses it. It doesn’t make any sense. Some heroics on the Death Star featuring Luke whipping out his weapon to fend off some Stormtrooper fire, proving Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) right about its superiority over a blaster and silencing Han’s (Harrison Ford) mockery, seems like the obvious payoff to this lightsaber setup.

What I like about Star Wars is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia is set up as the damsel in distress whose heart will be won upon her rescue by the brave hero. This doesn’t happen, but I’m not gonna complain about the lack of payoff because, in this case, Luke not getting any action is a good thing. Luke’s fantasising about rescuing the Princess is presented like your standard fairytale adventure, with the hero believing he will win the Princess as a reward upon her rescue. It’s made immediately clear upon her rescue that Leia has no interest in falling into the arms of her rescuer, in fact, she’s sure she could’ve done a far better job if the roles were reversed. Showing Luke’s beliefs were wrong draws attention to the sexist ‘women as reward’ trope, acknowledging the belief that women are just objects to be won is pure fantasy. In the end, no one wins Leia, and the heroes’ rewards are the friendships they’ve formed and their personal growth.  Oh, and shiny, shiny medals. Look at them shine!

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The Wrong and the Right Kind of Force (The Empire Strikes Back)

What I dislike about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980) is Han and Leia’s relationship. I can hear the boos from fandom again, but again, hear me out. Why does Leia fall for Han? All he does his pester her about his belief that she has feelings for him, when she seems adamant she doesn’t, and jibe her with misogynistic remarks. And somehow this courtship technique works? What? Did he force her into submission with his sexism? What kind of message is that? No matter how many times a girl says no, just keep pestering them and acting like a jerk, and eventually they’ll give in, because every girl, deep down, loves a bad boy. I’m not adverse to the idea of them having a relationship, just the way it’s presented. Han does nothing to deserve Leia; he doesn’t change his ways and he’s too arrogant even to tell her he loves her when he may never see her again.

Princess Leia: “I love you.”

Han Solo: “I know.”

There’s a suggestion in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983), when this famous exchange is reversed, that Han loves Leia for her ruthlessness and ingenuity as a fighter. These are attributes she has in common with Han and ones that Empire would have done better to draw attention to, to make their relationship more believable and morally credible.

What I Like about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is its energy. There is no sitting down to work out emotional issues, it’s all worked out during the action, which makes it really exciting. We also have an exuberant Yoda (Frank Oz). The Yoda in Empire is fun. He laughs, cracks jokes, is surrounded by nature, full of energy, and is enjoying life! The stiff, humourless Yoda of the prequels, who spends his time sitting in a big metal tower with a bunch of other stiff, humourless characters, makes the light side look a lot less appealing.

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Strangle that Slug, Sister (Return of the Jedi)

No, I’m not gonna hate on the Ewoks. Yes, perhaps their defeat of the Empire is slightly ridiculous, but it has symbolism, drawing attention to the series’ theme of technology vs. nature; as the equally ridiculous destruction of the Death Star in the first film did, which is not criticised nearly as much. Plus, they’re damn cute! No, what I dislike about Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is Leia’s reveal as Luke’s sister, which is far more ridiculous than teddy bears beating up space Nazis. This revelation was clearly just included in an attempt to rival the ‘I am your father’ twist from Empire, and it fails miserably. Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) revelation came out of nowhere, but still had credibility, a big emotional punch, and consequences (the bad guy’s the good guy’s dad? Oh no! How can he keep fighting him now?). Leia being Luke’s sister was clearly never the intention of the filmmakers while making the previous films – Luke’s attraction to Leia being a main story point of the first film – and doesn’t really change the character dynamics (the heroine is the hero’s sister! Well, I guess he’ll carry on caring for her just like he did before. Just with less kissing). Furthermore, when Leia is told she’s Luke’s sister, she doesn’t react to the fact that this also means Darth Vader is her father. What’s all that about? Lazy writing, that’s what that’s all about.

What I like about Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is, well, it was a lot harder to think of something, to be honest, and what I eventually thought of is still connected to something I dislike. I dislike Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit. Leia has gone from a strong female character, who would not be the reward for any man, and who would always stand up for herself with her actions and her words, to being dressed up like a prostitute for an obese space slug and seemingly shocked into silence by the trauma. The one thing I do like about this is Leia gets to strangle her male oppressor with the very chains he imprisoned her with. It’s something at least. I’m hoping in the Force Awakens, Han will get some similar treatment.

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