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Old 12-19-2015   #1
Don Chipotle
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars

I love Star Wars.


I don't know why. When you really get down to it, Star Wars is an incredibly stupid universe especially when taking in the expanded universe into equation. It's a science fiction world that plays more like fantasy than sci-fi and because of this it loses much of its appeal when things get explained. It's a universe where there exists a strict morality of 'good' and 'evil' with no room inbetween. But I love it. I love the universe. Ever since I first saw A New Hope as a child, my parents there with me, I was hooked; when they told me that the next one was even better I was excited beyond belief.

It's easy to see why Star Wars became the pop culture icon it is. That first movie is a landmark; movies didn't look like that, didn't sound like that, movies weren't that in the seventies. It took a simple story, the common Hero's Journey, and made it into this...thing that captured the imagination of audiences both young and old. When Darth Vader first appeared on screen there was a sense of menace, just this brute in all black that dominated the screen. We meet Luke Skywalker, some nineteen year old kid who wants to leave his desert home, the only one he's ever known. We, through Luke, get to see the scope of the universe expand even though A New Hope takes place in very few different locations.

The world that A New Hope creates is nothing short of amazing. Even without any history the universe feels lived in. Everything feels old and worn, a contrast to the typical clean and shiny science fiction. In Mos Eisley there's a hint of what else lies in the galaxy, creatures and beings both fantastic and frightening. This sense of adventure carries throughout A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around the magic was wearing off and it seemed more like coming into the familiar again, with yet another Death Star, returning to Tatooine, another familial twist. But it served as a perfect coda for the series. Luke Skywalker became a Jedi Knight, Han Solo went from antihero to just hero. Leia went from confident heroine and political leader to...needing the man to hold her as she cried.

People like to shit on the prequels for ruining Star Wars and having just revisited them I have a better understanding of just what was wrong with them. They didn't feel like Star Wars.

Even the music sounded different.

Almost as soon as The Phantom Menace starts we're treated not to a dirty, gritty, dark universe but instead a boring and bright shiny one. The unique alien creatures instead aren't interesting or unique but instead racist caricatures that don't look as imaginative as they do computer generated. There's a larger conflict throughout all of the original trilogy; even though you're seeing the main bits of it there always seemed to be more going on elsewhere that you weren't seeing. There was a war going on and though the climax of Empire Strikes Back happens on Bespin you just know that somewhere out there there's something happening.

That's non existent in the prequels. There's nothing. There's no 'war' in Star Wars. Instead it's a trilogy that takes three movies to say the exact same thing: politics and politicians are corrupt. Think back to episode one and try to remember the plot. Hard, right? Think on A New Hope and try to remember the plot. Easy, right? The problem with the prequels, well one of them anyway, is that they're aimless and they manage to shrink the universe. Star Wars felt larger when it was smaller in scale. Things like C-3P0 being built by Anakin made everything feel tiny, that despite all these characters and creatures that everything happened to just a handful of people.

Episode 2, other than having a very misleading title, is really the only prequel movie that matters as it does what the prequels want to do in one fell swoop. In that movie alone one senator uses deception to rise to power, Anakin has internal conflict and is dealing with emotional attachments and is slipping further and further towards the dark side. It even leads up to a war. A war that, if you only watch the films, you'll never even see any part of. When episode three came around people believed it to be good just because 1 and 2 were so not what they wanted. But episode three is just flash and nothing else. The entire first half of the movie is irrelevant and every action piece is like dangling keys in front of a cat. A distraction.

What the prequels did was take away the mystery of the original trilogy by introducing answers to questions that didn't matter. Did it matter how Palpatine became The Emperor? No. Did it matter how Anakin became Vader? No. Did it matter what the Clone Wars were? No. These things were just part of a larger universe. It also raised the question of why people just forgot about Jedi and The Force when so many of them were clearly alive when the Jedi were around.

The prequels are not good movies and they're terrible Star Wars movies. What made Star Wars great wasn't lightsabers and Jedi, it was the world, the characters; lightsabers and Jedi were just one part of a larger whole.

Star Wars felt complete after Return of the Jedi. Sure there were stories that took place after it but even ignoring the prequels the series ended on a high note with the good guys winning. People liked to talk and say that more movies would be good, with some pointing to various novels as 'perfect' stories to adapt to film (shut the fuck up about Thrawn, everyone, holy shit) but I was content with the ending we got. It wrapped up nicely and though it was clear that the galaxy would continue...if I never got another story in it...that would be just fine.

(For the love of everything, don't read comments.)

And yet here we are with the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, the first in a new trilogy and the first in what is sure to be Disney's next money producing machine (Rogue One is out next year, and episode 8 already has a date set). I actually think that this is a bad thing because I don't want to see Star Wars become Marvel movies, where most of the Marvel movies are merely 'okay'. Star Wars is bigger than that. I stood outside for half an hour in single digit weather to see the first showing of the day of The Force Awakens in a crowd of people that were excited, that brought toy lightsabers, that were clapping when the titles came up. You don't get that with other movies and the magic will be lost if there's Star Wars every year for the next ten years.

But I digress.

Note that I'll be avoiding spoilers but if you'd rather not know anything at all then feel free to leave now. Otherwise, it's time to talk about the new movie.


The Force Awakens is a good movie. The Force Awakens is a Star Wars movie. The Force Awakens is a good Star Wars movie. And yet as I sit here reflecting on it, on the latest entry in the franchise I love...I can't say that I love The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens does a lot right. It nails the feel of Star Wars. Even thirty years after Return of the Jedi the universe looks and sounds like you'd expect. TIE Fighters howl when they fly. Droids beep and whirr with life. John Williams plays the maestro and underscores the film - mixing iconic leitmotifs into new pieces. Star Wars feels like Star Wars again.

The problem is that The Force Awakens doesn't even try to distinguish itself, intent to instead play it safe and to satisfy people who hate the prequels for reasons they can't articulate without saying "RUINED MUH CHILDHOOD!"

It makes sense why TFA would choose to play it so safe rather than to take a risk - because taking risks is what got us Phantom Menace, but TFA is TOO safe for its own good. So many of its story beats are the same beats you've seen before, only this time they're filmed better and on a much more grand scale because films have come a long way since 1977.

It feels like little has changed since last we were in the universe. The Galactic Empire is gone but now there's a new evil faction called The First Order that has Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and is led by someone calling themselves Supreme Leader who has an enforcer strong in the dark side of the Force. The Rebel Alliance has become the Republic again but there's now a Resistance that is the scrappy underdog with X-Wings and a hidden base. The adventure starts with a droid having a crucial piece of information that both factions want and said droid just happens to be on yet another desert planet and meets up with someone who has never left said desert planet.

The parallels don't stop there.

Leitmotifs in this bitch

While the plot isn't fantastic (by nature of being worn territory) what helps make the movie work is the new faces of Star Wars.

Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a scavenger living on the desert planet Jakku. John Boyega plays Finn, a First Order Stormtrooper that defects. Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron, a Resistance pilot. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, the aforementioned enforcer to the First Order's Supreme Leader.

As far as characters go Rey and Kylo Ren are the definite standouts. Rey is a fantastic addition to the series; she's a strong character and I don't mean in terms of physicality (though she's capable at that too). Kylo Ren may not have the same imposing figure as Darth Vader but he's an immediately more interesting character precisely because he isn't just Darth Vader 2.0. Poe never really has time to be anything other than 'a really good pilot' and Finn, though well acted, never really steps out of the shadow of Han Solo, who just might well be the star of the movie.

Rey is the best character and as such she has the best theme in the movie

Rey and Finn form the duo that carries us through the movie as they wind up involved in the film's central conflict and the two play off each other well in a way that's cute without being obviously romantic. These are two people that haven't really had anyone watching out for them and their bonding is natural and believable.

The fact that Rey is such a good new character makes it all the more upsetting that Finn and Poe AREN'T. Finn is the 'funny' one, but then so is Han Solo and considering that Finn and Han hang around each other so often in the movie you've got two characters that are in essence there filling the same role, only one is a character you care about because everyone loves Han Solo and the other is a character that becomes less interesting as soon as Han enters the picture.

There's a weird pace to the movie as well. It starts off with an action scene which is all well and good because then it gives time to settle down and introduce us to our new characters but then practically every scene is capped off with action scenes of varying quality. More often than not the action scenes feel unnecessary and only there for plot convenience rather than plot coherence. There was rarely any time to come back down from the latest action set piece before more things were blowing up and being shot at.

Even with all the action sequences the movie does the best thing possible and makes the lightsaber important again. Unlike the prequels where fucking everyone has a lightsaber and it's boring, in TFA the lightsaber is used sparingly and appropriately so when it ignites you know shit is going down.



To say I was disappointed with The Force Awakens would be accurate. But I was disappointed because I expected something more. I expected something different. And maybe that's on me. There's a lot in the movie to make people happy - fanservice in another word - and that's probably enough for them to rate it highly. I certainly had a smile on my face multiple times throughout just because it felt so fucking good to finally be back in a galaxy far, far away. I didn't even know how much I missed it.

Episode 8 is in the perfect spot to really make this new trilogy something incredible and I really hope Rian Johnson does something new with the universe of Star Wars. Because if there's one thing I don't want it's a rehash of what worked already, and The Force Awakens is largely that.

I told myself that The Force Awakens needed three things in it or else they fucked up:

-A Wilhelm scream
-"I've got a bad feeling about this"
-A circle wipe to the end credits


I'm happy to report that they didn't fuck up.
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Old 12-28-2015   #2
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I've never viewed Star Wars as a science-fiction work. It's pure wonderful fantasy storytelling.... in space! Like Flash Gordon or Masters of the Universe. I've learned not to try and argue this though. Not that it really matters to begin with because if you were filing Sci-fi and Fantasy books or movies away they are going to go on the same shelves together. They are symbiotic.

I feel almost the same as you do about the movie, except I do indeed love the movie even if it treads familiar ground too much. My perspective on that right now is that the filmmakers, as you said, were playing it safe. But they were playing it safe as a matter gaining trust with fans both old and new. As promising as I thought TFA looked, I still strongly felt like they were gonna fuck it up in a whole different way than the prequels did. Treading those familiar grounds, in a new but still exciting way, helped ease me in. Before I knew it I was having a great time watching a NEW Star Wars movie. I agree with you though that if they continue to tread familiar grounds so much with the next one THEN it's probably going to be a serious problem. It's great that other filmmakers are getting to write and direct Star Wars again but if for some reason they're all gonna do what's already been done in the other movies then that'll be epically disappointing.
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Old 01-02-2016   #3
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Saw it earlier this week. First this, then a DBZ movie, then Mean Lady starts talking to me again, all I needed was a new FF and I would have literally been transformed into a child again.

I will NOT be avoiding spoilers in this post, as my thoughts are kinda disorganized and don't want to have to put additional effort into dodging key plot points. Probably shouldn't be reading too much into this thread if you haven't seen it, anyway.

Star Wars was, to me if not to culture in general, the first major "Science Fantasy" that others, like Final Fantasy, have since emulated. It's a blending of two different genres in a pretty seamless way. That's part of why I respected the hell out of it when I rewatched it high as fuck a couple years ago.

But yeah, I was disappointed as well. My main complaint is the pacing. The universe felt unexplored and rushed. "But they only had X amount of time before people lost interest!" Problem with this retort I've been hearing often is that 4 did this perfectly. We saw just enough of the world to let our imaginations get sucked in and go wild. Like, moisture farms, that speaks chapters about the world of Tatooine - water is a precious resource, and requires some form of technology to even survive on the planet, etc. And the Mos Eisley bar, or whatever you call it, had my jaw on the floor with how many clashing races and cultures there were in just this small space.

7 didn't have this at all. They somehow managed to make the SW universe feel lifeless and empty. Case in point: When the Sun Crusher (that's what it's called, right?) fires its shit to destroy the guys supporting the Resistance, I didn't feel a goddamn thing. They never managed to establish the supporters (I forget what they're called) as... anything, really. They get 5 seconds of screen time, then they're all gone, forever. I'd have felt more emotion if they blew up some random asteroids in space. Like, who the fuck is gonna care about that? All it needed was 5 - 10 minutes of showing what they were about, and suddenly you've got a decent threat.

Rey should be a good character, and she might still be in the future, but she just seemed like a senseless bitch in this movie. I get what they're trying to do with her, but I feel like they're going about it entirely in the wrong way. For example, her force powers awakening didn't make a gooddamn bit of sense. First she knows nothing about the force other than that it's some mystic power that supposedly exists, and suddenly she's using Jedi mind tricks without any training whatsoever. There was no transition at all, she just needed a plot device to get her out of her captivity (which I didn't care about either, as soon as she ran off for no fucking reason I wanted her to die to Kylo Ren or something, she deserved it).

Yeah it felt like Star Wars again aesthetically, but I didn't have much of a problem with the prequels' feel anyway. The Star Wars feel, to me, was in its rich world, and the depth to its storytelling, which was absent here. In fact, if anything, they tried way too hard to make it feel like Star Wars again, basically taking the plot of 4 word for word and replacing most of the names, which is just another point against it.

As for what it did right, there's honestly slim pickings there. I think Kylo Ren was set up magnificently, and a brilliantly designed character who flies into a destructive rampage because of his fear of failure, something he tastes enough to hate by the end of the movie, and I felt like his rage grew stronger with each failure. Him killing Han was a brilliant move as well, because now every Han Solo fan wants him to die an agonizing death.

I'm cautiously optimistic about Episode 8, because I feel like a lot of its problems came from its director. I like Abrams, but he's not a good fit for this series, at all.
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Old 01-03-2016   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvl View Post


7 didn't have this at all. They somehow managed to make the SW universe feel lifeless and empty. Case in point: When the Sun Crusher (that's what it's called, right?) fires its shit to destroy the guys supporting the Resistance, I didn't feel a goddamn thing. They never managed to establish the supporters (I forget what they're called) as... anything, really. They get 5 seconds of screen time, then they're all gone, forever. I'd have felt more emotion if they blew up some random asteroids in space. Like, who the fuck is gonna care about that? All it needed was 5 - 10 minutes of showing what they were about, and suddenly you've got a decent threat.
It was called Starkiller Base because it was a wink and nod to the original name of Luke Skywalker (and also the noncanon secret Vader apprentice from The Force Unleashed). Not sure what you mean by supporters, if you mean the Republic that's...they're kind of the main government now and they didn't directly endorse the Resistance; the Resistance was Leia's idea to deal with the First Order because the Republic, having come back from the whole Empire thing, didn't see the First Order as a legitimate threat because what are a bunch of Empire fanboys going to do?

Then they blew up a Republic system as a show of force which had the opposite intention. The First Order wanted to show the Republic that they're serious and lethal to the whole new government but all it did was make the Resistance stop fucking around and actually do something and then they lost their planet weapon base. It was less you were supposed to care about the planets blowing up (because those planets were nameless and people assumed it was Coruscant which WOULD'VE been AMAZING but it was some nothing planet that just looked like Coruscant) and more "Oh okay so the First Order has artillery, they're legit".

Quote:
Rey should be a good character, and she might still be in the future, but she just seemed like a senseless bitch in this movie. I get what they're trying to do with her, but I feel like they're going about it entirely in the wrong way. For example, her force powers awakening didn't make a gooddamn bit of sense. First she knows nothing about the force other than that it's some mystic power that supposedly exists, and suddenly she's using Jedi mind tricks without any training whatsoever. There was no transition at all, she just needed a plot device to get her out of her captivity (which I didn't care about either, as soon as she ran off for no fucking reason I wanted her to die to Kylo Ren or something, she deserved it).
I was fine with Rey's use of the Force in the movie since she wasn't shown to be this awesome Obi Wan master. She's grown up hearing these myths and legends about the Force and the Jedi and Han confirmed it as all true. When she resisted Kylo she called him out on his conflict; she's always been shown to be confident to a fault and self sufficient. When she resists Kylo and understands that she's got the midichlorians in her blood she takes a shot in the dark. The thing with the Force is that even the ones that are newly brought to the training can do basic shit without much in the way of formal training. Kids are given lightsabers and are shot at. Mind Trick isn't an advanced technique and Rey was just taking a shot in the dark that wound up working. She was applying the stories she'd heard to reality and it worked.

There are legitimate concerns with Rey's arc, such as it is, but I didn't mind the Mind Trick scene. The Force is not some static thing that works the same way for everyone. Little Anakin was having precognition and reflexes at age nine and Luke was able to guide photon torpedoes into a tiny opening while having all of five minutes training. If you want to talk about Rey being able to do crazy shit with the Falcon within seconds of taking the helm, then we'll talk about some shit.


The problem with Rey is that if she winds up being Skywalker Child then they have fucked up. Stop making Star Wars all about the same people fuck. That's shrinking the universe.



Quote:
As for what it did right, there's honestly slim pickings there. I think Kylo Ren was set up magnificently, and a brilliantly designed character who flies into a destructive rampage because of his fear of failure, something he tastes enough to hate by the end of the movie, and I felt like his rage grew stronger with each failure. Him killing Han was a brilliant move as well, because now every Han Solo fan wants him to die an agonizing death.
Fun fact: I've been called an idiot and an asshole (and worse!) for defending Kylo Ren's character from people that don't understand characters. They all wanted him to just be total badass master and imposing nothing like pretty much all Sith villains in the movies and then started whining because their villain had flaws and weaknesses and conflict. Kylo was without a doubt the best realized character in the entire movie because he has this thing called an arc.

Quote:
I'm cautiously optimistic about Episode 8, because I feel like a lot of its problems came from its director. I like Abrams, but he's not a good fit for this series, at all.

Abrams has made one good movie and it doesn't involve spaceships. Abrams' thing is that he's not super good at the visual storytelling inherent to movies of this size. His big movies go for spectacle over substance which is probably fine but has the side effect of making his big sci fi movies feel dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience rather than the niche market that put them on the map. Which is just Hollywood in general.

I've come to terms with The Force Awakens as being like...the fourth best one by default. Even though I doubt I'll be rushing to buy it on home release which is crazy because I own ALL THE MOVIES EVEN THE PREQUELS.


It exists as a movie just to set up more movies. It doesn't really satisfy its own thin plot because they knew going in that some other people would be able to do that for them down the line. So you've got a movie where the characters have to move to a jumping off point with a plot that doesn't really have the ability to move them there in an interesting or fulfilling way. There's no real resolution because there's no real conflict. The driving conflict of the movie is 'Bad Guys Want the Map' and by the end of it all there's very little to do with the map and suddenly there's another Death Star that has to be blown up, and its own main plot is resolved in about three minutes at the end of the movie; which makes for a good place to expand upon in the future - all the characters at the end of TFA are in different places with room for further growth, but it makes for a totally unsatisfying standalone movie.

With a spinoff later this year and episode 8 already set for May 2017, Disney is keen on making Star Wars their next Marvel Cinematic Universe which is kind of not what I wanted for Star Wars. Star Wars was an event. In 1977 when it spread to this cultural phenomenon, in 1999 when people were camping for The Phantom Menace, and in the two, three years building up to the release of this one. Star Wars has been this big thing to get excited over, and with one a year for the next five years...it's risking growing stale. I mean, look at how many comic book movies are being made and are scheduled through to fucking 2020. This year alone we've got Deadpool, X-Men Apocalypse, Captain America 3, Doctor Strange, Batman vs Superman, Suicide Squad. And there's one word to generally define the MCU movies and that's make-work. Most of them aren't great and there's a familiarity that runs through all of them that makes them look like paint-by-numbers experiences with different colored costumes doing the same things.

The potential bad spot of the new Star Wars trilogy is that episode 9 is being handled by Colin Trevorrow who wrote an indie movie based on an internet meme, and then did to Jurassic Park what TFA did to Star Wars. Rian Johnson, director of episode 8, at least has original ideas to his movies and scripts even if they don't always hit (Looper).

So maybe, just maybe, episode 8 will be an Empire Strikes Back situation where we have the one truly great one in the trilogy propped up by the others.


Or maybe this whole thing will wind up making people look fondly on the prequels. Shit, I was close to calling Attack of the Clones a good movie on my recent rewatches so fuck.
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