Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars 7: Geezers and Abandonment Issues

I want everyone to know that I am breaking a (pinky) promise to my son by writing this...I told him I would do no writing on my laptop this weekend as my castigo for yelling very loudly at the bank folks on the phone after...well, never mind, it was their fault. Anyway, I said I wouldn't do any writing but it's 5:30 in the morning and everyone's asleep but me, who has been unable to sleep for 3+ hours now (since I got up with the baby), so...well, I'm breaking my promise.

Saw Star Wars VII this evening. Just walked in and purchased tickets. Star Wars isn't as big in Paraguay (though you'd never know it from the saturation of merchandise/PR/screenings). Plus, I went to the subtitled version (folks here prefer their films dubbed). But really, it's not as popular. I've met many Paraguayans (usually the non-billionaire, non-American educated, non-English speaking ones) who've never even seen a Star Wars movie. And I'm talking folks in their 20s and 30s.


It was a very good movie. Certainly the best Star Wars film I've seen in decades. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the movies (especially the original trilogy). Heck, I'd recommend it to wife has never been a big fan of the franchise, but she was downright stoked after seeing the film. She wants to go back and see it in, we're already trying to figure if we should catch another showing tomorrow (since it's so easy to get in), or wait till we get to Mexico, or both. It was the first film she can remember seeing that she wishes was longer than its actual running time, mainly because the pacing through the latter half/two-thirds is so frantic and action-packed it was hard for her to believe the character development (in terms of relationships/bonding) that took place between characters.

And she'd just like to see more of the same. As with me, we left the theater hoping the sequel isn't too long in the making.

So...that's the "review" sans spoilers. I'd like to offer a few more thoughts on what I saw, and though I'll try to avoid giving anything away, if you haven't yet seen the film you may not want to read even what follows (and the comments section might be a bad read, too, depending on what folks write).

First off, I'd like to say that going into the film I experienced a momentary (and very slight) trepidation at the knowledge that the main protagonists (and, presumably, the main protagonists for the future installments) would be characters I'd have a hard time relating to...namely, non-white, non-male characters. Yes, I realize how ridiculous this is...I live in a world where the cinema is absolutely dominated by white, male protagonists, especially in the action, sci-fi, and fantasy genres and I am one privileged sonofagun. It was a momentary weakness. I quickly realized that there were already six Star Wars films featuring blonde haired, blue eyed men in the title roles (Luke, Anakin, Young Obi-Wan) certainly wouldn't hurt to let someone else drive for a few films.

And guess what? The new characters are awesome, wonderfully fun and interesting to watch, and I can't wait to see more of them. I am sooooo glad the filmmakers chose this direction in made the film so much more interesting to watch. The bad guys are back to resembling Space Nazis, but now their ranks are made of both men and women. There's more diversity in terms of people of color mixed among the non-alien extras and cast, and no I didn't think it felt "forced" at all. Rather, it looked natural to have more non-white humans on display than the first two trilogies combined.

[and I don't think that's an exaggeration]

So, yay, progress. Except that it's sad that I even feel the need to note it. At least my daughter can grow up and watch a movie and not aspire to being a princess in a bikini or a midriff-baring politico. That's kind of nice.

Stylistically, there's a nice return to the original trilogy, and I'm not just talking aesthetic...although that's there, too: the galaxy is once more a shabby, run-down place (probably even more so than the original trilogy...things have not been totally smooth since the end of the rebellion). But, no, I'm talking about a return to a focus on cinematic storytelling...the first ten to fifteen minutes is wonderful for how little dialogue is there (stormtroopers barking orders notwithstanding). You're left to just take in the sights of this strange galaxy, these new characters, this interesting spectacle-story. It grabs your attention and engagement without any vomited exposition. You see the character of the characters through their actions, not their words.

And then, of course, there's the action and pacing. Once the movie starts to pick up steam, it's pretty go-go-go with just a couple pit stops along the way. But it's well done, with a lot of movement-motion...again, something the original trilogy had that was in short-supply for the prequel trilogy (you had nice little set-piece combats in static environments...but gone were the chases and the sweeping ship-to-ship dog fights and whatnots). It's a lot more dynamic than saber-fights.

And I have to say, the Millennium Falcon was sorely missed from Episodes I-III. It is practically a character least as much so as R2 and C3P0 were. Having the Falcon in the movie (I don't think that's a's in all the trailers) makes up a LOT of ground. It communicates so much about the state of this fantasy doesn't matter whether it "makes sense" regarding its FTL travel or space-worthyness. The Millennium Falcon, in all its shabby glory, is a big (and needed) piece of the franchise. It's like the Enterprise for Star just don't get the same experience without it.

Likewise the Geezers. I have probably downgraded Harrison Ford over the years in a way that's unfair. He's like Madonna...not the greatest range, but she gets everything she can out of it. Ford brings as much nuance (if not more) to "Old Han Solo" as he ever did to Indiana Jones. It makes you realize that before he was ever a galactic hero, Han Solo was kind of a hotshot loser. And now you see where that road leads: sad sack loser. Still with the heart of gold, still with the quick wit (and quicker trigger finger), but this guy never really was Jedi material...nor was he ever really in the same league as a princess. Ford (and his character) are a highlight of the film.

The other highlight character (for me) was Kylo Ren, the villain. I haven't written my blog post on the Ant-Man film yet, in which I wanted to discuss how the villain really makes (or breaks) any kind of "heroic cinema." Kylo is great, truly disturbed, and fascinating to watch...powerful, yet flawed. His image is an echo of Darth Vader as originally imagined (if you read The Secret History of Star Wars, before the mask became a permanent fixture), and his character is what I always imagined Anakin was supposed to be (before the prequels gave us...well, what we got). He is the young, power-hungry Mordred...twisted and tragic. And his get-up is as visually cool as Darth Maul.

Looks like all my KOTOR characters.
But while those are the only two characters I want to specifically mention (in this post), all of the principles are great (well-written, well-acted) and, as I said, I am excited to see how their stories develop over the course of these new films. I will certainly be shelling out the ducats to see Episode VIII, whenever it gets released. However, right now I have a question to ask:

What is up with J.J. Abrams and the abandonment issues?

Seriously, how unhappily neglected was he as a child? There is this constant theme of orphaned, abandoned, unloved, and disappointed children that runs through his shows. You saw it with most of the main characters in the Lost television show, you see it in the reimagined Star Trek film (where both Kirk and Spock lose their parents), and now you see it with Fin, Rey, and Kylo. What's up with that, man? My wife said the movie brought up a lot of "maternal instincts" in, I just got the idea I ought to do a better job of taking care of my kids.

And speaking of son really wants to see the film, and both my spouse and I really want him to see it, but there are definitely some pretty intense, nightmare-inducing scenes in the movie, not to mention some pretty scary themes (killing and abandonment stuff). Right now, we've decided to recount the story to him verbally to see how he handles it, and then we'll consider taking him...but maybe not. A guy I know is taking his six-year old to see the movie in a few days, and I want to know how she handles it. That might decide me.

Anyway, that's all I want to say about the film at this time...except that again I can't help but think Cascade Failure is a great jumping off point for a Star Wars game (really works with the rundown future concept). Okay, maybe now I can get some sleep.

May the Force be with you.

[sorry...couldn't help myself]
: )


  1. I uh. Is the race and gender of the main character of any movie really something you think about/notice? To the point where the main reason you're okay with it is because the six extant films are all pretty lily-white? Cus that's kinda how your opening paragraph comes across, here.

    Myself I thought Ford's performance was terrible (though your analysis of the character himself is spot-on). To me he was the low point of the film -- him, and JJ Abrams' active, virulent contempt for the laws of physics once again on display.

    My biggest takeaway from the movie is that it's a reboot disguised as a sequel. And it's an extremely well-made reboot. Making Star Trek into Star Wars was uncool, but making Star Wars into even more Star Wars? Hell yes.

    1. @ Jack:

      I'm sure my point wasn't articulated well enough regarding the race/sex thing. It WAS noticeably different, to the point that my wife commented there was a lot of "girl power" in the movie compared to earlier ones (she pretty much despises Padme as ornamental throughout E3 for example). For me, BEFORE I entered the movie, I had a momentary "check my privilege" instant, where I wondered "Am I going to enjoy watching these two characters (Fin and Rey) take the roles of the main protagonists for the new film series? I'm just admitting to some ingrained insecurities here...subconscious bias on my part.

      Then I told myself that was stupid considering we've had almost 40 of Star Wars heroes that look like myself. That's me telling my subconscious bias to shut up. And after I actually WATCHED the film, I see that it was a stupid thought on my part...because it's a great movie with great characters and I want to watch MORE of Fin's and Rey's honestly doesn't matter (to me) what they look like, they're very cool characters. The other diversity observation was more a side note (comparing the film to the earlier ones).

      The movie happily stole a ton from both SW and Empire, but it was well done..."good pastiche" as opposed to "bad pastiche" (like the 4th Indiana Jones film that seemed to simply want to cash in on what made the first three popular). Felt like more of an homage than a rip-off.

      Physics don't bother me terribly in the space opera genre.
      ; )

    2. Padme was ornamental. She was the Queen of naboo. That's fifty percent ornament, fifty percent diplomat. It's only after we see her going all raygun sally that she is action hero, and then in the third film she becomes senator Amidala turning her back into an ornament and baby factory for the most petulant child-man it has ever been our displeasure to hate.

    3. There's paying homage and then there's remaking. If the entire plot of the movie hadn't been lifted virtually word-for-word from ANH I'd be hailing the homages and callbacks. As it is, though, it's a remake. Not that it's not a damn good one. ;)

      I don't care about physics in space opera except when they transition to the absurd. Planet-killing supergun? Sure, why not. Planet-killing supergun made out of a planet that eats suns? Crosses the line into farce, if only because you'll only get to fire the weapon once. =P

      There was a lot of "girl power" in the original trilogy as well -- Leia was a badass from start to finish, and the other female character, Mon Mothma, was a Big Deal in the Rebellion. So Rey's competence and self-assurance is entirely in keeping with that history, Skywalker or no.

    4. @ Jack:

      Re "Girl Power"

      Not in terms of screen time. Or plot development.

      RE Remake vs. Homage

      Yeah, I can see how the combo film might seem like a reboot, but there are enough new elements (there's no equivalent of Fin in the original trilogy, for example) and twists to make it "masterfully done," IMO.

  2. I agree that Han Solo/Ford was a highlight of the movie... and Chewbacca, stangely enough, appealed to me more than ever.
    The renegade storm trooper is still a bit of a blank to me... kind of like an ordinary guy who suddenly found himself in a Star Wars movie. I liked him for NOT being another 'big damn hero'... just a hero.
    Didn't the original have a bit of orphan/abandonment issues as well? Luke's parents dead, Leia's entire homeworld destroyed right in front of her... and of course Disney also has that reputation of killing off characters' parents.

    1. @ Knob:

      Yeah, I don't know. The characters in the original films didn't have any parental angst, and having your family TAKEN from you (Luke's uncle/aunt, Leia's home world, Anakin's mother) is different from being left behind/neglected. One breeds a desire for vengeance/justice and the other breeds resentment.

      Even Fin might feel this due to his stormtrooper "family" gunning for him as a traitor...though I think he probably feels more resentment to his parent for not doing enough to keep him from being stolen. This is because (having been taken so young) he has no fond, loving memories...or ANY memories...of his parents. He just knows they failed to protect him.

    2. On the upside...Chewie gets the falcon.

    3. Of course, apparently the only person is the entire (film) universe of Star Wars with a normal, happy marriage is Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa).

    4. @ Anthony:

      What about Owen and Beru? Sure, it was cut short by gunfire, but it appeared to be stable while it lasted.

  3. I like the new characters, but Han Solo & Chewie stole the show thanks to great writing and good acting. Ford's limitations as an actor appeared only at the film's climax, where he failed to sell the emotional attachment that presumably overrode his character's otherwise sound strategic sensibilities.)

    As in Lost, the story really starts in the middle. Sure, I look forward to the sequels to find out what happens next, but I'm even more interested to learn more what happened between RotJ and #7.

    Of course, I hope that original trilogy characters that had limited or nonexistent roles here get opportunities as meaty as those enjoyed by Ford and the Chewbacca collective. (Mayhew is credited as Chewie, and I'm sure that it is he in the suit sometimes, but there are also scenes where the wookiee is clearly not moving like a septuagenarian human with two artificial knees. I credit Mayhew with Chewie's adorable body language, but the other part of the equation is the character's voice, and Mayhew isn't responsible for that, either.)

    I am officially tired of 1) novices picking up blasters for the first time and shooting more accurately than stormtroopers; and 2) the same novices picking up light sabers and holding their own against presumed experts.

    I want to like Fin. As a confirmed antimonarchist, I'm ready to root for anyone not related by blood to the original characters. However, until we learn more about stormtrooper production and training, I find it hard to buy the Fin character. Presumably, they're still clones, so there are other Fins out there. That should be fun.

    Since Fin was a stormtrooper, how is it that he can shoot with some accuracy?

    If Fin was trained all his life to be an obedient killer, why do we see so few vestiges of that training? Why is it relatively easy for him to flip the switch and turn into a standup guy? If the writers were to study some real-life analogs (e.g., child soldiers), they would learn that the path to recovery is rarely a short straight line.

    1. It's made explicit through dialogue that the First Order stormtroopers aren't clones -- they're taken from their families and conditioned from birth. Though I agree with you that Finn's facility with overcoming his training stretches credulity.

      Another point is that the "stormtroopers can't shoot" thing isn't part of the in-universe fantasy. Stormtroopers are terrifying death machines, that's supposed to be their entire deal. The only reason they miss so often is the heroes' plot armor.

      I don't get why people liked Ford's performance so much. To me he really seemed to be phoning it in the entire time, and awkwardly at that.

    2. @ Brian:

      My understanding is that the stormtroopers having been clones since before the events of Episode the time of the Rebellion, the Empire is drafting normal folks into their ranks.

      What Jack says is correct: the script from the original film states that stormtroopers are accurate marksmen and highly trained: Fin should be GOOD with a blaster (hence, his complaining that he can't get his hands on one through half of the film). Protagonists have plot immunity to being snuffed by faceless mooks.

      RE Novice lightsaber users:

      Remember that Kylo was fighting while badly wounded from Chewie's bowcaster (which the script takes pains to show as one buff weapon throughout the film). This is an old trope...the person who has no business with the master duelist being able to hold their own because of some wound or other disadvantage that holds back the master. See a good example of this in the Chris Lambert film, The Hunted.

    3. I remember being puzzled by the statement about Finn getting taken from his family. It would be interesting to learn why the Empire abandoned cloning in favor of conscripting infants.

      If the franchise wants to convince us that stormtroopers are not clowns but terrifying death machines, then they need to show more footage of stormtroopers shooting straight. I would appreciate it if an anonymous stormtrooper would wound or kill a major character at some point. At this point, there is zero suspense when our heroes are in a firefight with stormtroopers.

      I bought the wound to Kylo as an explanation for leveling the playing field in the light saber duel with a Force-powered novice, but he should have made short work of the other novice, who (as far as we know) has no Force powers.

    4. @ Bryan:

      Pretty sure Fin is also a force sensitive (note the scene in the Falcon when he and Rey are in the same "zone, " completing each other's sentences, etc)... he just has more baggage he needs to clear from his mind. But I think it's his connection with living things that helped him break the stormtrooper indoctrination.

    5. Yeah, there was a line in the trailer, Rey's voice talking about "letting the Force in", that didn't make it into the movie, so I came into the movie expecting Finn to be revealed as a Force Sensitive and was extremely surprised when they didn't establish that he was. Especially seeing as how he was so not-crappy with the lightsaber, a weapon that is supposed to be -really hard- to wield.

      Another thing to keep in mind vis-a-vis Ren is that he's not a Sith Lord (or whatever the Dark Jedi equivalent would be). I mean he's clearly no slouch, as established in the opening scene, but he's also not "fully trained," as it were. Emperor Gollum makes this clear at the end of the movie.

      Finally, there's the establishing scene with Finn and the tonfa-wielding Stormtrooper. It's pretty heavily implied that the First Order got wise about the whole lightsaber thing, since that Stormtrooper was good to go with a melee weapon, and Finn, as a Stormtrooper, would have probably gotten the same kind of training.

    6. JB & Jack, you guys are clearly more Force Sensitive than I am. Maybe the Force is with Finn because he's the son of Lando and Leia. In the establishing scene, I couldn't figure out why the Empire would bother to train stormtroopers to fence--aren't Jedis and light sabers vanishingly rare? Wouldn't that be like training World War II GIs in saber fighting? I also wondered why the stormtrooper didn't at least shoot at Finn once with his blaster before leveling the playing field by fencing him.

    7. Fin can use a lightsaber. He may actually be a knight of ren or a knight of the old republic.

  4. I tend to whack the parents of characters in my stories because I don't particularly like my parents and I feel more comfortable with characters who stand on their own merits rather than feeling beholden to anyone. Killing off the parents of characters achieves that.

    Perhaps Abrams just doesn't like his parents.

    1. : )

      I will have to read some of your fiction some time.