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Star Wars: The Force Awakening

Like coming back from a 35-year slumber, the world held its breath until a collective sigh came out on December 17, 2015 when The Force Awakens premiered worldwide. I had the great fortune to attend the Nuvali Solenad Theatre Launch which coincided with the release of Star Wars Episode 7, and it was a regal event backed with full catering and the presence of Santa Rosa’s mayor inaugurating the cinema and the movie.

However, that is a story for another time.

Here, we talk about The Force Awakens, the seventh film and the first one to be directed by JJ Abrams. I give JJ a huge hat off for his great work revitalizing the Star Trek franchise. The critics have spoken and for the most part, everyone is raving about this film.

In a nutshell, it’s a very good film. Entertaining at the very least, downright awesome at times, but also plagued by a host of little nitpicks that can annoy.

Long story short, watch this film. If you are a Star Wars fan, watch this film NOW.

This film captures back the “magic” that made Star Wars such a cultural phenomenon in the first place. Personally, I found this film far superior to the original trilogy, specifically to Episode 4: A New Hope, which it clearly draws parallels from.

I find it’s also better than the first film, The Phantom Menace, by leaps and bounds. I did not hate the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy as much as the standard Star Wars fan, but Episode 1 had a big problem in tone.

The Force Awakens succeeds on many levels and avoid a lot of the pitfalls that made the Phantom Menace awful, including the “made for kids” tone that Phantom Menace took in glorifying young Anakin and the not-so-thinly veiled pandering George Lucas did for his children, which gave rise to such hated figures as Jarjar Binks and the N Sync controversy.

Thankfully, The Force Awakens has none of that nonsense. It does, however, give rise to a very different, and also rather alarming, kind of pandering: that towards the teenage teeny bopper demographic. How so?

Darth Emo

Perhaps the biggest problem with Star Wars Episode 7 is the strange decision to write the main antagonist, Kylo Ren, as the poster boy for “Why Twilight Fans Should Not be Catered To By Old Established Franchises.”  Without going into too much detail and spoiling the movie, Kylo Ren is the galactic equivalent of a teenage emo boy with parental absentee issues, throwing force tantrums at a world that doesn’t go in his favor.

It isn’t too obvious at first, but by the time you hit halfway into the movie you’ll realize he’s just a big dweeb who is better cast as the lead in a teenybopper coming of age film or as the next Katniss Everdeen’s love interest.  From his geeky hairdo, his emo puppy dog tears, his daddy issues and his whining demeanor, he is such a far, far cry from the Darth Vader of almost four decades ago.

Let’s get real. One of the biggest reasons why Star Wars was such a huge success back in the late 70’s was because of Darth Vader. He is one of the most iconic villains of all time. If he were to talk to JJ Abrams today, he would say, “Your lack of faith in my character is disturbing.”  Because the ever-imposing presence of Darth Vader, his ominous visage was such a powerful figure on screen that it captivated millions the world over.

Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is a much weaker antagonist, and one that doesn’t really leave an impression. Or at least, not an intimidating one. He leaves the kind of impression where you want to hug him and tell him it’s all going to be okay, because that’s the kind of character he is.  I am not sure why this kind of character was written into the film, but if other movie reviews are to be believed it seems the world loves him and his emo behavior.

Hence, I christen him, “Darth Emo.”

I dub thee, Darth Emo. Digging that hair and the goth look, dude.
I dub thee, Darth Emo. Digging that hair and the goth look, dude.

The other strange thing about him is his apparent age. Perhaps because he’s so emo, but he looks so young. Like a teeny bopper. He looks young enough to be Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s grandchild. Which is amazing because in real life Adam Driver, the actor portraying Kylo Ren, is already in his early 30’s. They did a bang up job portraying a pre-pubescent, immature emo teenager, I’ll give them that.

I’m of half the mind to think that the reason he uses a cross guard light saber is because he actually is a vampire from Twilight, and his symbol is a cross because, well, he’s an shiny emo vampire.

The reason I use this cross guard light saber... is cuz I dig crosses. You know, cuz I'm emo.
The reason I use this cross guard light saber… is cuz I dig crosses. You know, cuz I’m emo.

With this shift to a more complex, but emotional and practically huggable villain, I can’t really help but think that movie producers are targeting the teenage girl demographic, which has proven to be very lucrative with the success of The Hunger Games, Insurgent, Twilight, and all their ilk. I don’t really understand it, but for what it’s worth, it didn’t destroy the movie and isn’t as bad as I’m making it sound. The rest of the film still stands on its own regardless of how you feel about this development.

A New Hope, a New Heroine

On the other hand, the film sees another huge reversal of fortunes with Rey, the lead protagonist of the movie and the real star. She is the Luke Skywalker of Episode 7, and it is she for whom The Force Awakens. You can tell from the movie picture that this is her film. She’s even bigger than Harrison Ford! I mean, wow. How many actors in Hollywood can say they upstaged Harrison Ford? Not many.

Now, I am going to say this at the risk of alienating and infuriating the Star Wars faithful, but I’ll go out and say it: Luke Skywalker was one of the weakest links of the original trilogy. Luke at the start of episode 4 was a belligerent but not-quite-headstrong youth who still obediently followed his uncle’s wishes despite wanting nothing else but adventure beyond his rustic existence.

But deeper than that is the portrayal of Mark Hamill, who is deified like a god in some circles on the internet.  To be honest, Mark’s wooden delivery of his lines and ever-present teenage vibe just make him a weak lead, especially whenever Han Solo is on screen. Harrison Ford upstaged Mark Hamill every step of the way, and this was only reinforced when I went through my Star Wars marathon days before in preparation for today’s screening.

It was a good call to write most of episode 5 and 6 with Luke and Han being on separate paths and not onscreen at the same time, because that would have really shut down Luke’s character. But in Episode 4, A New Hope, we still see the two on screen for most of the movie, and it really made Luke much, much weaker.

Now, enter Rey. Rey is a scavenger from a remote planet who just happens to come across the film’s token astro droid, BB8, and in a redux of Episode 5’s R2D2 being given a secret message to deliver to the Rebels, BB8 must similarly make his way to the Resistance in order to save the universe.

But Rey is nothing like young Skywalker. Although she looks on Luke as some sort of legendary mythical hero, the truth is, she’s a hundred-times the hero that Luke ever was.  She is like, perfection personified. She is a walking goddess on Jakku.

Let the men play with their shiny swords. All I need is my staff to kick arse.

She’s strong, independent, beautiful, can handle herself in a brawl, refuses her earthly desires and needs to protect the weak, she can parkor climb like Lara Croft, can wield light sabers and kill enemies with impunity without any training whatsoever, can Jedi Mind Trick without training, can pilot ships without any training (starting to see a pattern here?), can repair mechanical gizmos with the best of them, really. You name it, she can do it. Oh, and did I mention she has a British accent? The Force is strong in this one.

She’s got a few secrets behind her, which I am sure we will get into in the next movie, but as a Goddess Amongst Us Mortals she actually falls into Mary Sue territory. Fortunately this doesn’t really distract from the movie too much. And you know why? It’s because of one thing: Han Solo.

We’re Home Chewy!

Everyone is going to remember that line from the trailers, and just when the little nitpicks were starting to disturb me, Harrison Ford, 38 years older but still as awesome as that day in ’77, blazes onto the screen. His career has reached many heights and has taken him many places since that day, but it’s no joke to say that this is his home in Hollywood.

I was whining about several stretches to the plot for the sake of plot and plot armor, little inconsistencies like a Tie Fighter being tougher and more strong-armored than an X-Wing in one scene where it suited the plot, yet being destroyed in one shot just in the next scene.

It’s not like the original trilogy didn’t have tons of plot armor applied to Luke, Leia and their merry men, but it’s 2015 and this sort of stuff just doesn’t fly that well anymore with today’s movie goers. But you know what? All of that noise in my head that was whining about this and that just disappeared the moment Han Solo stepped on screen.

And just like that, I was taken back to 1980 (I watched this in the 80’s, was too young to see it in ’77), and the me back in the 80’s didn’t care about plot holes or inconsistencies. The me now watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens just wants to have a good time watching the good guys fight the bad guys across the galaxy.

And that we had. Harrison Ford’s screen presence is still as great as it ever was, and his touching reunion with Carrie Fisher as the aged General of the Resistance also tugged at my heartstrings.

And I really needed it, because there were other annoyances in the movie.

Do they teach Ebonics in Storm Trooper High School?

Another trend in today’s modern movie scene is the politically-correct inclusion of black people in pivotal roles. Sometimes I don’t really understand this movement, not being American, but I guess there’s enough racial tension in the United States that Hollywood has to be “politically correct” and do it.

I just find it distracting in this movie. Here, one of the main protagonists is Finn, a storm trooper who was kidnapped as an infant to be indoctrinated into the ways of Storm Troopery. By his own admission, he has lived no life other than to be a storm trooper. He was bred and raised in the New Order, being indoctrinated into nothing but what is needed of a storm trooper (which unfortunately in Star Wars canon mainly translates to dying to characters with plot armor).

Fortunately for Finn, he decides to give up this life after a traumatic first battle and runs away. When he takes off his white helmet to reveal his black face, for the first time ever we are treated to a Storm Trooper who is unique! Bravo.

What I do not bravo is his sudden behavior displaying typical American panache, complete with the ghetto hip-hop behavior while flying a tie fighter, it just jars me out of the Star Wars movie experience. I am sorry, I do not want to sound racist, but we didn’t have any of this juvenile chest thumping back in the old Star Wars, and all of a sudden we have it here, and it is unbelievable to think that this kind of upbringing happened in Storm Trooper Academy.

So, bro, why is this storm trooper acting like a ghetto rapper from the Bronx? I don’t get it bro. Not at all, bro.

Fortunately, Harrison Ford comes in and glosses over it all, but it was still quite distracting at first. I don’t understand why it was here at all. Samuel Jackson did fine and suppressed his “normal acting style” when he took on the role of a Jedi Master, why are we seeing a storm trooper who was raised in the Empire/New Order act this way? It makes no sense. Bro.

They Don’t Make Lightsabers like they Used To

I just had a few more little hiccups with this movie — aside from the excessive amount of film grain that really distracted me for a change, I also had issues with the light sabers in this movie not really killing people as much as expected. Not to mention that weird cross guard Kylo Ren uses. And then there’s death star problem… I’ll leave that to your imagination. But why does it always have to be? Or not to be? And then there’s….

Coming Back Full Circle — and Loving It

Well, I can go on and on nitpicking every little detail. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed this movie. A lot of that has to do with being a Harrison Ford fanboy — and he without a doubt has the best line in the entire movie. “The Force doesn’t work that way!”  Yes, indeed. It works in mysterious ways.

But while it sounds like I may be overly critical of the film, there were a lot of great suprises and wow moments in this film. There were a lot of other cool things about this story, like Anakin’s original lightsaber being found and getting passed on to Rei. The entrustment of a secret mission to an astro droid.  And a lot more that I am sure you will see.

All of these are homages obviously to the first trilogy, but are not aping them but really are bonus treats for the old fans who get it. But even a new fan who has never seen a previous Star Wars movie would enjoy this without getting that little extra.
All the little niggles aside, and some of the big ones, this was a fine effort by JJ Abrams and his crew. I, and the rest of the world, are eagerly awaiting Episode 8 in the next two or three years. It can’t come soon enough, because d’oh that cliffhanger!

 

I hope you enjoy the movie more than I did, watch it with the world and be a part of one of the biggest movie franchises in history with Episode 7.  I was able to watch at Ayala Malls Solenad Cinemas, at Cinema 3 — the All-Recliner Seats cinema. I highly suggest watching here, it’s like movie watching royalty. Log on to www.sureseats.com for promos and schedules.

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