Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

While I'd like to think at this point that most of my readers have seen the latest installment of Star Wars, it's still possible some of you may have not. So, non-spoiler comments before the jump, spoiler stuff afterwards!

Now, I saw The Force Awakens just before Christmas, on opening weekend, with my son, Tristan. We had originally been going to see it with the whole family the following Wednesday, but a few circumstances altered those plans: First of all, a pair of tickets became available through a friend for that Friday showing; secondly, we had just taken on an emergency foster placement of two girls, aged eight months and 20 months, so since we were likely to still have them on Wednesday, I figured I'd stay with them on Wednesday while everyone else went (which is what happened).

Short review: I really, really liked it. I can't say that I loved it... yet. I need to see it at least once or twice more to really decide how much I liked it. As I posted on Facebook, though, Star Wars is finally back! This movie felt more like a part of Star Wars than any of the prequels did. Maybe it was the humor, or less intrusive CGI and more practical effects, or seeing so many of the original cast back (Lando Calrissian was kind of conspicuous by his absence, with no mention of where he was or what might have happened to him).

It was great to see Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, Threepio, Artoo and the Millennium Falcon on the big screen again. Yes, time has had its toll on the original cast, but what can you expect? The first movie came out in 1977, which was, as they say, a long time ago. Actually, I thought they looked pretty good for their age!

Of the new characters, I think that Rey is my favorite, although Finn is a close second. Kylo Ren is a very interesting villain, and I think that all of them have more to be revealed or seen in subsequent installments.

One of the things I really liked about it is that the trailers didn't give anything away at all. There were no plot points spoiled in it at all, and the juxtaposition of scenes in the trailers were actually kind of misleading in some ways (like when you see the Falcon fly into the downed Star Destroyer, then you see Han tell Chewie, "Chewie... we're home."

If you were a fan of the original trilogy, you need to see this movie! I can't say whether or not you need to see it in 3D (I'm not a big fan of 3D, and since none of the original trilogy was in that format, I don't believe I need to see new installments in it), but I can tell you to go see it! It will have you smiling as you watch.

And now, after the jump... the spoilers!

There were a lot of rumors and theories going around before the movie came out about Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker, especially connecting them together. The most popular one was whether or not Luke had gone to the Dark Side, and had become Kylo Ren. This is dispelled in the opening crawl, when we learn that Luke has disappeared, and there is a search for him.

Things haven't been coming up roses for the New Republic since the end of Return of the Jedi. A new threat has come up, the First Order, which is really the Empire under a new name. Leia (now referred to as General Leia, except by Threepio) has been leading the Resistance against the New Order, and has sent her top pilot to get information about Luke's whereabouts. The New Order is also trying to find Luke as well.

We learn relatively quickly that Kylo Ren is actually Han and Leia's son, who had been getting trained as a Jedi by Luke, but he was conflicted and left his training to embrace the dark side. His birth name was Ben, interestingly enough (possibly Leia's idea?), and we of course have no idea where "Kylo Ren" came from. We'd seen in the original trilogy that Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, and based on the prequels (which I hate to refer to), "Darth" seems to be a title of sorts among the Sith. Perhaps "Kylo" is the same.

Kyle's training in the dark side of the Force has apparently been with the new big baddie, Supreme Leader Snoke, seen only via hologram in gigantic form (remember, our first sight of the Emperor was the same, including the giant size, so we can't assume Snoke is a giant, necessarily).

One of first of the new characters we really meet is Finn, who is a Stormtrooper. In the New Order, Stormtroopers are no longer clones, but are rather "recruited" as children or infants and trained at an early age. As such, they don't have names, but rather numbers. When the New Order attacks a village on the desert planet Jakka, Finn is there (although he doesn't have this name yet), and something about the attack snaps him out of his indoctrination, but we don't know what (my theory: it was the Force that awakened him, although not necessarily to be a Jedi, but rather to aid things... see further musings below). The New Order seeks a droid, BB8, which has information on the location of Luke Skywalker. Resistance top pilot Poe Dameron was trying to get BB8 to General Leia when he was captured, although he was able to effect BB8's escape.

Finn decides he wants out of the New Order, and helps Poe to escape by first freeing him from his cell, and then later helping him to steal a TIE Fighter to fly to the surface of the planet from the Star Destroyer they were on. In the resulting crash, it appears that Poe is killed, and Finn decides to continue on his own. He eventually runs into Rey, a young scavenger on Jakka.

The main economic system on Jakka is scavenging, with scavengers bringing technology recovered from crashed Empire ships and vehicles and trading them in for basic rations. By this time, Rey has met up with BB8, and he's with her on her next exchange of scavenging for food. The dealer offers her an amazing trade for the droid, but she refuses.

Finn, Rey and BB8 are shortly under attack, and plan to steal a ship to escape in. The first ship they intend to use gets destroyed, and they're stuck using an old Correlian freighter that's been sitting, more or less abandoned, for a long time, and considered junk. This, of course, is the Millennium Falcon. With Rey piloting and Finn manning the guns, they escape the New Order, but then their ship is captured...

And if you haven't seen the movie, I'm not going to detail any more of the plot for you, other than to say that Han's line, "Chewie, we're home," refers to them boarding the Falcon for the first time in a long time. Han and Chewie, after Ben turned to the dark side, left the resistance and went back into smuggling, losing the Falcon along the way somehow. They're the ones who bring Rey, Finn and BB8 to the Resistance, where we learn that Poe wasn't killed after all.

Things progress rapidly from there. The New Order (which patterns itself after the Empire, as you might imagine) has a new super weapon, this one built around a planet that uses the power of that planet's sun to create a destructive beam of force that can destroy multiple planets in a short period of time. Naturally, our heroes have to stop this.

One of the criticisms about this movie has been how many "beats" of the plot are taken from the original Star Wars, and to a large extent, those are correct... but I don't see it as a bad thing. It's not like the plot directly parallels A New Hope, but rather hearkens to it. This is one of the ways it feels like the original trilogy. There are loads of surprises, and lots of questions to be answered in the next two installments, such as:

Who is Rey, really? She's not given a last name, and all we really know about her is that she was left on Jakka by her family, whom she expected to return for her. The Force is very strong with her, so the most common theory is that she is Luke's daughter. And this very well could be the case! Consider this: Luke was kept safe from Vader by Obi-Wan Kenobi by hiding him on a desert planet (although considering that same planet was Vader's boyhood home, perhaps a better location could've been considered? It worked out, but still...). Since Luke is apparently the last of the Jedi (we don't know of any other Jedi trainees other than Kylo Ren, which is odd in and of itself), he's distanced himself away from everyone, much like Yoda did on Dagobah (although Luke picked a nicer place to hide out at). I'm assuming that he had some kind of long-range plan in mind, and this is what we're seeing happen here. Did Luke reach out with the Force to see that Poe's mission was going awry, and woke up Finn to help things out? Did he deliberately set things up so that this would happen over Jakka, so that Rey (his possible daughter) would come home to the Resistance, and eventually him?

Although Rey considers Luke, Chewie, Leia, and the Force to be myths, she seems to be awfully aware of how to use the Force... she even does the Jedi Mind Trick on her second try, and becomes pretty proficient with a lightsaber in a very short time. If Rey is Luke's daughter, perhaps she had started her training, but then Luke saw that she was going to be in danger (due to Ben Solo's turning t the dark side) and needed her safe somewhere, so he used the Force to cloud her memories, but not enough to cause any permanent damage, and she still retained some use of her skills when needed.

Of course, she could turn out to be someone else entirely... perhaps a distant relative of one of the original Jedi (maybe Obi-Wan himself... one recent fan theory is that she's Obi-Wan's granddaughter, given that we know nothing of what Obi-Wan was up to during the years between him turning the infant Luke over to Owen and Beru Lars and later rescuing Luke from the Sandpeople).

Does Finn have any connection to the original trilogy characters? A theory had been going around that he was Lando's son, but this seems unlikely under the circumstances (unless Lando separated himself from the Rebellion after the Empire was defeated, settled down somewhere and started a family, then had his son taken from him, possibly being killed in the process. This might work, if the New Order was aware of Lando's role in the destruction of the second Death Star). It could well be he has no connection at all.

I was kind of halfway disappointed to find that Poe hasn't turned out to be the son of one of the Rebellion's ace pilots, such as Biggs or even Wedge Antilles. It would've been a nice touch.

I'd imagine that some questions may never be answered completely in this trilogy, such as why Threepio has one red arm (he said it was a replacement part provided by the sacrifice of another droid, but I don't remember any Threepio units that were red, only gold and silver).

Overall, though, it was a hell of a lot of fun, and a movie I want to see again soon!

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