Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: The Force Awakens Review

I have determined that, in order to adequately review a movie, you need to see it twice.

The first time is to surprise you. If you've managed to keep away from spoilers (like I did) it allows you to push out all your presuppositions and see the actual story.

This is a hard step. We've had three years to wonder what happens in this movie, which means a lot of theories are floating around our heads. We might have to deal with some shock, disappointment, and maybe even anger.

I spent 20 hours in a movie theater on Thursday watching every single Star Wars movie that exists at this moment. If I had done a review of the movie after that Star Wars Marathon, it would have been so agitated and all over the place. My emotions had been completely drained, and I was going on fumes. I felt like crying as I left the theater - not because the experience was bad (it was awesome - I'll tell you about it next week) or because the movie was bad (see below) but because I was so tired and all the feels were hitting me at the same time and I couldn't defend myself from them.

That's why you see a movie for the second time. I decompressed by talking to both my father and my older brother on the phone after I got home last night about the movie. Then I got seven hours of sleep. Then I had a light teaching day and saw The Force Awakens for a second time in the afternoon.

The second time allowed me to confirm the awesome things that I had noticed in the first viewing, but because, at the time, all this new stuff was hitting me at once, I couldn't process it. And it made me realize that, regardless of how I ended the movie last night (slightly pissed off; see below), I really, really enjoyed this movie.

I feel much more comfortable presenting this article to you than the one I cobbled together last night. But before we get to it, this has spoilers! Why would you even click on this link if you haven't seen the movie yet?! Go! Do it now!


Overall

One word can describe this movie: fun! The first half of the movie is just pure enjoyment. From the witty banter of Finn and Poe (more of this in future movies, please) to BB-8's flame threat to Finn when he confesses to the droid that he's not from the Resistance to Han and Chewie's old-married-couple arguments, there's just a lot of fun to be had.

It was a great movie to unite the diehard Star Wars lovers and the normal folk, too. Thursday's showing, for me, was a private screening for the fans who are nuts. (Yup - I'm declaring myself a nut.) But Friday's showing was a much healthier mix of regular moviegoers who like (but don't love) Star Wars and the Star Wars aficionados. You didn't have to say, "Have you seen the first six movies in the last month? Only then will you know what's going on." You just have to say, "Have you heard of 'Star Wars'? Then you should go see this movie."

All Star Wars movies have their flaws. But if the story, characters, and feeling of the movie can make you forget those flaws (or even accept them) then you'll appreciate the movie as a good time. And The Force Awakens clearly had great characters and conveyed the feeling of fun.

Rey

I have never strove to be someone I've seen in a movie. I've appreciated characters, had crushes on characters, or selected one particular strength of a character that I could relate to, but never have I seen or envisioned myself in any character before. Not even in Star Wars - Padme and Leia weren't the kind of characters I could ever be.

However, if I could create a heroine and put myself in her shoes, she would pretty much be Rey: awesome fighting skills, untapped potential, cool outfit, and a mysterious backstory. The more I watched her, the more I wanted to be her.

Going back to that mysterious backstory for a moment: we find out very quickly that Han and Leia are Kylo Ren's parents (they named him Ben!). However, the parentage of Rey is kept shrouded. Han and Rey relate to each other immediately because of their connection with machines and the Millenium Falcon. Leia and Rey share a few moments at the end. However, when Rey touches Luke's lightsaber, she suddenly receives a vision which contains the demise of the new Jedi order Luke had tried to create.

After two viewings, I am hoping that Rey ends up being Luke's daughter. Han and Leia's interactions never reveal that this is their long-lost daughter. The way that they talk about Ren with each other and don't mention Rey at all makes me think this can't be their child. They should be rejoicing with each other over the arrival of their daughter! (Jedi mind trick? That would be cruel of Luke to do so.)

Luke could have had a daughter he never actually met. Her mother could have dropped her off on Jakku and Han, Leia, (and maybe even Luke) wouldn't have to know her whereabouts. Heck - her parents could be completely unrelated to the Skywalkers, though that scenario is the least likely, seeing that Rey is the central figure to this new trilogy.

Maz Kanata knows, though. Before Rey sees the lightsaber for the first time, Maz asks Han, "Who's the girl?" The film cuts away to Rey and Finn before we can hear Han's explanation, but it's pretty clear that he knows and does explain it to Maz, because the next time we see Maz she's exclaiming to Rey how the lightsaber was meant for her.

Maybe that's just me going back to my first feeling - that I wish I was Rey. Then Luke Skywalker would be my dad! (Sorry, Real Dad.)

Kylo Ren

He knows something about Rey from the getgo (he chokes that guard immediately when he mentions "a girl") and realizes her untapped potential in the Force. He even offers to train her, even though his training is far from complete. Think about it - she beat him twice in this film: one in mind, and once in body.

It is interesting listening to him (or watching him, when he removes his helmet). He can be so eerily calm, yet break out in fits of rage. (This guy has anger issues.) I loved when he took off his helmet to reveal just a normal person underneath.

Then there's his relationship with Han. I loved his throwaway line with Rey about how she might feel like Han was "the father you never had." The confrontation between Han and Ren on the bridge is so tragic. Ren asks Han to help him, and Han says he'll do anything, and so Ren kills him! He wasn't asking for a way out of the dark side - he was asking for help staying in. When Han put his hand on Ren's face before he fell, that hit me in the feels.

Chewbacca

I think Chewie had more to do in this film than he did in any of the others, and I loved that. He used his bowcaster, he planted and set off bombs, he rescues Rey and Finn from Starkiller Base, he helps Rey find Luke, and he has great lines that only Han and Rey understand.

But what got me most was when he was greatly affected by something. The first one was when he got shot. His exclamation of pain was so awful to hear! It's like when someone you love gets injured, and that first scream shakes you to your core. Luckily, he was okay.

The second time he showed great emotion, however, was the saddest. He watched his "master," the person he was indebted to for life, the man he'd hung out with almost nonstop for probably 40-50 years, die in such a brutal way. Yes, Rey and Finn reacted appropriately, too, but hearing Chewbacca, and seeing him not hesitate to shoot Ren (whom he'd probably known since he was born and with whom he likely had established a friendship before he turned bad) could not have been more awful.

Battles

We didn't see any space battles, unless you include Finn and Poe's TIE fighter escape. Everything was close to the ground. This wasn't a bad thing, but noticeable since we've never had any air battles like that before.

Those dogfights, however, were loads of fun.  I liked each X-Wing pilot we saw, and enjoyed hearing their banter with each other, even in the face of death. (Were there only X-Wings? I don't recall seeing any Y-, B-, or A-Wings in the movie.) The different camera angles were great, too. I loved the first-person POV shot during the Starkiller Base battle.

How great of a pilot is Poe Dameron? Well, in one continuous shot, I believe I saw him take down eight TIEs and also blast a few stormtroopers along the way. I'm impressed, and I want more! (Can we have a novel tie-in series with these pilots? I can imagine them seeking advice from an older Wedge Antilles.)

The lightsaber fights were like nothing we've seen in any Star Wars movie. While the prequels were expertly choreographed like a dance, and the originals were filled with mind games and tension between blows, the lightsaber fight in this sequel was all about aggression and releasing energy. It was pretty much as if two people picked up swords and started whaling on each other - and that's not a bad thing! If anything, it makes the fight more brutal and realistic, and also makes it easier for us fans to mimic.

(It also makes the final lightsaber skirmish between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi more realistic as well. Instead of rolling our eyes because it's not as good as the prequel fights, we can point to the Rey-Ren fight and see how the two are very similar.)

And did we see any body parts being lopped off? No - instead, we see much more realistic injuries. Finn gets a giant slice down the back, and Ren gets the end of a lightsaber to his face and neck. We don't need dismemberment every single time.

And hey - that crossguard came in handy for Ren, at the expense of Finn. So much discussion and complaining about it, but it did do its job.

Random
  • The "garbage" ship is the Millenium Falcon. If she's Luke's daughter, Rey is just repeating her father's initial reaction to the same ship: "a piece of junk!"
  • Director J.J. Abrams did a great job on so many aspects of this movie. I really appreciated how he made sure we saw Ren get into Poe's mind very quickly and get the information needed that no other person could get out of him. But later, we see him struggle - and fail - to get any information out of Rey, providing us with more proof as to how strong with the Force she is.
  • Still can't figure out how Rey knows how to fly so well. All that scavenging, maybe?
  • Goodbye Coruscant. I really liked you, ever since the Thrawn Trilogy introduced you.
  • Everybody has the same two favorite new pieces of music as I do: "Rey's Theme" and the "March of the Resistance."
  • How about when Ren stopped Poe's blue blaster bolt and held it in midair? He may have been weakened at the end of the movie, but at the beginning we saw how powerful he could be. That was a great effect. (Side note: whenever Ren holds someone in place, I think of bloodbending from the world of Avatar - the Nickelodeon shows, not the movie. End side note.)
  • Did Rey's doll in that busted AT-AT look like an X-Wing pilot to anyone else?
  • Finn totally grabs the lightsaber training ball Luke used in A New Hope when he was on the Falcon.
  • I loved BB-8. No marketing ploy this time - and I could understand all of his head movements really well and he was important to the movie. I also loved his relationship with Poe. (Tie-in story, please!) Now I really want to buy a Sphero BB-8.
  • I still can't believe I just saw a Star Wars movie that said "EPISODE VII" in yellow letters.
  • Max von Sydow's Lor San Tekka character is interesting. What is his relationship to Han, Luke and Leia? He wasn't in the original trilogy, but seems to know them very well. As a matter of fact, he says about Leia when she's called the General, "To me, she's royalty." 
  • Loved that opening shot of the Star Destroyer as a silhouette. So different. This is not prequel Star Wars or original Star Wars. This is sequel Star Wars, and it's going to be great.
Luke Skywalker

My biggest fear - the one I didn't want to tell anyone - was that Luke wasn't going to be played very well in this movie. No offense to Mark Hamill, but I was worried. I didn't have doubts about Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher, but I did have doubts about the man that portrayed my favorite character of all time, but 30 years ago. 

Initially, I was pissed that I only got 60 seconds of Luke in this movie. Just ask my father and brother about me shouting into the phone. I know that it was set up that way from the very beginning, and that his role is going to be far greater in the next movie (or two?), but still. I wanted more!

However, when he turned around and took off his hood (dramatically, I might add), I just looked at his eyes. And I didn't see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker. I saw Luke Skywalker. A very sad, older man who is letting his failures take hold as he puts himself in exile. He sees Rey and realizes that everything changes from this point forward. 

Luke gets a lot of long-shot moments in the four films he's in, and for good reason. (I know, because I noticed them all on Thursday.) Hamill can do a lot with his face and his eyes, and Abrams made sure to have a long-shot moment on Luke at the end, too. 

Yes, I was disappointed in the brevity of his appearance. But the fact that I got to see Luke at all made me thrilled. 

Yes This Is Long, But One Last Thing

After The Phantom Menace was released, I honestly didn't have much interest in seeing Attack of the Clones. It was the one prequel I didn't see on Opening Day...I think I ended up seeing a Sunday matinee with my mother and brothers. My interest had waned, but probably not just because I was in high school. 

This time around, I am already thinking about May of 2017. (My father said that it's 523 days away.) I'm thinking an eight-movie marathon is not in the cards, but if they were to show Episodes VII and VIII back-to-back I would be game. I am glad it's only 1 1/2 years away instead of the normal three. But I am irritated that it's 1 1/2 years away instead of, say, tomorrow! 

This movie made me want more Star Wars. And that was after seeing Star Wars films back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back! 



I hope that you enjoyed the film. I know there were faults, but what Star Wars movie doesn't have faults? If you can remember the fun and not the faults, then you've got a good Star Wars movie on your hands. 



My last Star Wars Saturday article (for the time being, until my Disneyland trip in January) will be next week, as I tell all about my Marathon experience! Go see The Force Awakens again in the meantime, okay? 


I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 
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