Monday, December 21, 2015

Angle the Deflectors

Major SPOILERS to follow. Do not read further if you don't want to know...

The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars premier my kids have seen as well as their first Star Wars movie on the big screen.  I've now seen all of them except The Empire Strikes Back in the theater. I had a chance to see it when the movies were digitally remastered and re-released in theaters. I blew it then though. A friend and I vowed that once all three were in theaters at the same time we'd go see them all in a single day. We were never able to coordinate the marathon and I missed my chance at seeing Empire on the big screen.

The only burning question I have after seeing The Force Awakens is: who is Rey?

I loved the scenes on Jakku. The movie starts out with a post-apocalyptic feel as Rey scavenges amongst the wreckage of a Star Destroyer and other spacecraft that crashed during the Battle of Jakku. Both Boone and I thought the character of Rey and many of the elements and scenes in the movie seemed to borrow from Nausicaa and the Valley of the Winds. But especially the scene where Rey is moving through the derelict Star Destroyer echoes the scene where Nausicaa explores the shell of the Ohm.

It was good to see Han and Chewbacca walk into the Millennium Falcon again after so long. Harrison Ford's line “We're home” is more than apt. But seeing Rey try to take Chewie's place and then ultimately Han's as pilot of the Falcon seemed right.

Again, with new characters, new organizations (The First Order and the Resistance) it was a little hard to see this as the Star Wars universe early on. The familiar crashed ships on Jakku helped. The fallen AT-AT that Rey makes home...BB-8 is most definitely a Star Wars droid...but just sticking Harrison Ford in a Han Solo costume does not a Star Wars movie make.

It took me a little while to swallow it all. It finally came. The scene where Han tells Finn “That's not how the Force works!” sealed it. The scene where the Death Gang confronts Han was classic Star Wars. But some of his lines were odd and out of place. Finn had a few lines that I loathed (“Droid, please!” comes to mind). “Mister Solo” had no place in the film. And Han acting like he had never seen Chewie's bowcaster was somewhat sophmoronic.

But Rey was flawless. Kylo Ren was the quintessential Star Wars villain. The helmet that was an obvious homage to Vader's along with the mechanical voice that was unnecessary but wonderfully menacing. I loved the voice. Ren was exquisite. Some of the best scenes in the movie were his or had him in them.

Ben ran away because Han and Leia wouldn't let him play tackle football

My favorite moments were both Rey's though. When Rey first uses the Force Voice to make the Stormtrooper release her the subtle change in her expression and the final tone she used to make the Voice work was cinema magic. And likewise, when she and Kylo Ren were locked together by lightsabers and he tells her that she needs someone to teach her...that moment when she finds calmness and harnesses the Force...incredibly well done!

While I wouldn't call it one of my favorite scenes, the Betrayal of Han Solo was by far the most well played scene in the movie. When Ben says: "I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?" it's ambiguous, but you get he feeling that he doesn't mean that he wants to escape the pain of the dark side, but that he wants to be free of the conflict of attachment. It's not hard to see what is going to happen even though the filmmakers begin to lead you toward his potential redemption. You want to believe the light side can triumph and so you read his face a certain way, but his words reveal an already lost son.

The whole scene was reminiscent of the "I am your father" scene in Empire except nobody lost a hand.  Darn.

The end of Rey's quest is also a great scene. The entire movie builds up to the last minute in way that you know exactly who you're going to see immediately before the credits roll to John Williams' lively space symphony.

I will sell no wine before it's time

But who is Rey? The kids and I believe that Rey is Luke's long lost daughter. I reserve a shred of skepticism because there is no hard evidence to this end, but I'm nearly 100% certain that she is not Han and Leia's daughter. I wasn't sure until the scene where Leia hugs Rey and then I was certain. Leia would have known her own daughter even though Vader did not know his.

But Rey has too many parallel experiences and talents with young Luke. The dark childhood on a desert planet, the talent for piloting and strength in the Force...shared with both. And Rey being called by Anakin and Luke's that not a clear foreshadowing moment? She has to be a direct descendant of Anakin and Luke.

Of course the missing link is the mother. We don't know that part of the story yet, but I am certain that it will involve a connection between Luke and Rey.

Rey is a fantastic Star Wars hero as well. Or heroine if you prefer. Daisy Ridley nails the character better than I could have imagined. Rey is firmly rooted in the Star Wars realm. Her wonder at meeting the mythical legends Han Solo and Chewbacca and finding out she had just piloted the famed Millennium Falcon seems all too real.

"It really IS Mark Hamill!"

My least favorite character in the movie was Finn though I wasn't terribly impressed with Poe Dameron either. I didn't hate Finn, but I felt like his burden to be the comedic relief gave him a slight Jar Jar effect and at times his presence was cumbersome. But at other times he really shined. The story needed Finn, but it needed him to be less silly. Han Solo and Chewbacca can handle the snark very well on their own. Finn as the reluctant hero was believable and endearing. I just wish he had been written a little truer to the universe.

I think what happened with this one that made it clunky was the instant addition of a ton of leading characters.  Episode IV came to us with three strong central characters: Luke, Han, and Leia (with Obi-Wan Chewie and the droids supporting) and one bad guy.  Empire added Lando, Yoda and some bounty hunters, and Jedi gave us the Emperor and a herd of teddy bears.  But it worked because we already knew the core characters before we were introduced to a host of other potential action figures.

Awakens seems to have entered a new storyline with the same amount of charactorial clutter as Jedi. I think we needed to be slowly introduced to this new Star Wars realm with a more gradual reveal.  There were just too many heroes.  And while the villains were fewer in number why the heck were we given full disclosure on Snoke's (worst Star Wars name ever) appearance?  While I hate three-movie teasers to see Gollum in full frontal, I really didn't understand the full inclusion of the shadowy puppet master who is pulling Kylo Ren's evil strings so early in the new saga.

In the end I loved the movie. There were times it didn't feel like a Star Wars movie, but seeing TIE Fighters and X-Wings ripping around and hearing Chewbacca's howl again made it impossible not to get drawn in and abide for a short time again in a galaxy far, far away.

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