After all, it's just a ride….

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Spoiler Discussion

awakens1Well, what else is there to talk about in this final stumble to Christmas? There sure as hell ain’t much else showing at the multiplexes due to this intergalactic behemoth dominating screens, in both 2D, 3D and IMAX wide wallet gouging domination. The vast majority of on-line discourse has naturally been focused on the biggest movie event of the decade predictably shattering every possible box-office record imaginable, and it hasn’t even opened in the world’s 2nd biggest market yet where I predict it will obliterate at least another $500 million from that evolving landscape, maybe even a cool $1billion – after all there is a lot more screens and disposable income in the hemisphere than there was in 2009. I’ve seen The Force Awakens again for the more technical review now that the initial excitement has subsided, and it has been a lot of fun catching up with the various movie podcasts and discussion boards getting all giddy with excitement and expressing some of their objections and frustrations in a well humoured and good natured manner – there’s a lot of love out their for this picture with the naysayers few and far between. So in that spirit from the start we shall be going full, 100%, third-act and every plot revelation SPOILER in the most nerdy, geeky and embarrassing way possible, I really don’t care as its fucking Christmas and I wanted to get at least one more post up before we break-up for mince pies, alcohol poisoning and random acts of domestic violence;

As I alluded to in my review just the opening sentence of the opening crawl seems to have been enough to provoke tears and plunge viewers back into this beloved universe – ‘Luke Skywalker has disappeared.’ immediately raised hackles as we finally had central plot machinations confirmed, not to mention the thankful lack of tax disputes, vaguely racist caricatures or senate machinations which biliously pre-bloated the prequels. The second time around it’s just easier to relax into the movie and appreciate the achievements a little more, while the faults and frustrations are a little more diminished, just a little less jarring and disappointing. That said I still cannot believe the whole Snope creation managed to disintegrate any sort of QC threshold – for a start that has to be the most pathetic, stupidest name for an evil character for even a kids comic book movie that I have ever heard, ‘Oh no, Snope is after us’, or ‘My god, this was Snope’s evil masterplan all along’ isn’t quite as menacing as Lord Vader, Sauron or even Voldermort now is it? I was always the sort of kid who cheered the stormtroopers and booed the Ewoks, so the whole visage of the Hitler youth impresario’s marching around angular designed Starships evokes some of the better memories of the design choices of the original testament. Abrams directing style is quite erratic, I did notice this on the first viewing but actively started pushing away from being in ‘appraisal’ mode and just enjoy the film for what is was on a first digestion, he likes to throw his camera around within scenes to whip and pan from character to character as dialogue is barked or purred, even racking focus within the frame which is quite an old-fashioned technique of coverage. This alongside the editing is how you build a sense of energy and momentum which explains the films breathless pace, an apt directorial choice for the material which as perhaps the worlds finest franchise emulator he seemed born to (re)make.

The main mystery of the film, and the most frustrating unanswered questions revolve around Rey, her patronage and ancestry which that oddly ameliorated flashback sequence has ignited. I’m sure you’ve heard that both Yoda (Frank Oz) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor and an engineered Alec Guinness line reading from A New Hope) are heard in the husky voiceover to the sequence, in what I thought was actually the most ambitious and risky facet of the entire movie. I could be wrong but I’m relatively sure this is the first flashback sequence in any Star Wars film, a franchise whose narrative designs are usually built around exposition and dialogue which fills in the gaps as the plot hyper-speeds from one planet to another. The speculation and chatter has predicted that she is Luke’s daughter which would explain her powerful Force abilities, although many have groaned at this device being too obvious which seems strange for a series which is narratively built around patronage, heredity destiny and brooding birth-rights.

lightsabreI however, and I’m bravely nailing my colours to the mast for 2017 here, I assert that she is Kylo Ren’s sister, ergo Leia and Hans daughter, a similarly obvious conclusion for which the evidence is more overwhelming. First of all the flashback clearly shows her as being involved with the Knights of Ren, and she was obviously hidden away on Jakku to cloak her from their malignant influence just as Luke was on Tattooine between III and IV. Evidently this would also explain the latent force powers, and it is strikingly apparent that a) Kylo has known about her when he intentionally captures her alive and subsequently interrogates her, and he had tellingly gone mental earlier in the movie when a unfortunate lackey advised him that the BB8 unit was in the possession of a young woman, b) Han acts weirdly around Rey, there is some connection between them and he even offers her a job after about ten minutes of screen time and c) Leia immediately goes to Rey to comfort her after Han dies, not Chewie who is just standing their quivering – who was Han’s oldest and closest mate exactly? Poor old Chewie, always the bridesmaid, never the hairy bride. Quite amusingly this reasserts the entire Skywalker clan as the most abusive family in cinema history, repeatedly abandoning their kin to dangerous wastelands and betraying their children as they inflict patricide, matricide, torture and maim each other with ruthless abandon, with just a smudge of child genocide in the prequels via a PG sanitised bloodbath which would make Genghis Khan blush with embarrassment.

Official Blade Runner commentary there my learned friends – oh boy. Anyway, some of the more sober reactions have articulated something I couldn’t quite put my finger on after the initial view despite how colourful and fast paced the film is, despite the swashbuckling intergalactic adventure The Force Awakens is actually quite melancholy and muted on a narrative level, when you consider the holistic situation our heroes are in. Han and Leia’s enduring romance has failed in the worst way possible, with their son falling to the dark side, splitting them asunder and threatening the entire galaxy with a new tyrannical darkness – an argument for interstellar contraception if ever there was one. Luke, distraught at his failure in training his nephew has cowardly withdrawn from the galaxy, abandoning his friends and consigning the guy who saved his life during the Death Star run to die. Like I said no-one gives poor Chewie a hug when his best friend is killed and he doesn’t even get a chance to mourn before he’s on taxi duties in the penultimate scene of the film. The usually chirpy R2-D2 has withdrawn into a depressed, narcotic fugue and slaying one of cinemas most enduring heroes is surely a downer, even if you can sense it parsecs away if you know anything about Ford’s antipathy toward the character, his apparent glee on the press circuit at finally being rid of the albatross around his neck, and the clear foreshadowing embedded in the picture. I’ll admit it, the cinema got a little dusty when it became apparent he was going to go, a little part of your childhood speared by the conventions of modern cinema psychosis, slain by Star Wars most complex and fragmented villain.

kyloThis struck me as a particularly 21st century invention, an incongruous stab at psychic realism which doesn’t necessarily sit comfortably within a Star Wars universe of heroic archetypes and mythic adventure – you didn’t see Aragorn on the Freudian couch because his father abandoned him in the wilds of Angmar. No doubt Kylo Ren will appeal to disenfranchised youths worldwide who might empathise with a ethically stricken anti-hero, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s on a finally redeemed and dies sacrificing to save his sister arc for Episode IX, just to complete the circle and everything. I wasn’t sure Han’s death scene quite reached immortal status or will be a player in the ‘greatest scenes in movies’ lists in the years and decades to come, it is quite well written, acted and Han’s little moment to graze his sons face was a gentle little touch, but the second time around it plays much better, and might be one of the defining moments of the entire series. It also seems a shame that we will never have another scene in the franchise with Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie engaging and bantering on screen at the same time, that seems like a real shame, but I guess the story is all and if that’s where the story goes then so be it. Despite your frantic prayers Han ain’t coming back by the way, being speared through the heart by your sith son, falling into a cavernous trench to the molten core of a planet which is subsequently is obliterated in a supernova which can be seen from the Tannhauser gates (opps, wrong multiverse) salt mines of kessel is a pretty spectacular way to go, although I guess we might, we just might get a flashback in Episode VIII.

Some random observations and nuggets; Young CGI yoda clone Maz Kanata was terrible, there are rumours her role was changed at the last minute as Lupita Nyong’o just couldn’t master the motion capture techniques for a solid performance, a claim which Abrams has vehemently denied. Just like the Snopes thing why didn’t they just stick some prosthetics on some highly accomplished actors, maybe augment them with a little CGI finesse and still retain this practical effects grounding and density that the rest of the film was so committed to maintaining? As soon as these images appear on screen they throw you out of the picture, they are not remotely convincing and still look like computer game cut scenes, which seems odd since Cameron seemed to surpass these challenges six years ago. How did she get Luke’s lightsaber which was last seen tumbling down to the mists of the gas giant Bespin forty years ago? This better be explained. Apparently the chess board creatures that Finn accidently activates on the Falcon seem to be concluding their combat from 1977, as the small little yellow thing twats the bigger guy thus achieving his revenge in 2015 – so how’s that for nerdy observations eh? In the same scene it’s amusing to consider that Han utters ‘The Jedi, the force, it’s true….all of it’ seen in the trailer occurs at almost exactly the same location that in 1977 he was asserting ‘ancient ideas and hokey religions ain’t no substitute for a good blaster at your side kid’. If you had forgotten as I did that the acrobatic guys from the Raid movies were cast in this then they were among the pirates in the walking Sarlacc action sequence, another wasted opportunity it seems. Apparently Daniel Craig is the Stormtrooper (with the call sign JB-007 on the call sheets, because…) who suffers the force manipulation from Rey which seems like an amusing cameo, I like incidents like this as it makes it sound like a lot of fun was had on set for such a high-stakes media product.

leiaThe Force Awakens clearly feels and was designed to be the first part of a trilogy, a film which intentionally teases unanswered questions and queries as opposed to A New Hope which mostly wrapped itself up with a big triumphant cheer, although Lucas was canny enough to leave Vader alive just in case his small little weird film somehow found a modest audience among the SF fans of the era. Alongside the flashbacks it is quite cleverly knowing, it knows that the baton is passing from one generation to the next (quite literally in the final scene), and the wonder and glee with which Finn and Rey set their star-besotted eyes on Han (‘You…you’re the Han Solo?), Chewie and Luke has its overflows into the real world, and our rediscovery of this iconic characters again. Maybe I’m getting old but in the era of declining cinema attendance – and more on that phenomenon in my imminent annual year round-up Menagerie fans – of Netflix, streaming and the proliferation of other consumption models it is quite heartening to see people so enthralled of the cinema experience, of an eye-wateringly vast screen, a roaring sound system and a shared, communal event. Apparently in the US crowds were going berserk and cheering the appearance of characters and cooing with appreciation at some of the story-beats. This news made me grin, being British one doesn’t tend to endorse such public displays of affection, they are after all quite vulgar and one could be in danger of spoiling one’s hipflash of Earl Grey, but I can forgive them this disruption this time around considering the intensity of the hype and high-pressure attention. Boyega’s gentlemanly handling of the whole situation has been nothing short of brilliant, from his dragging the A list cast to some Peckham watering holes (apparently) during production and his brilliant reaction to the pathetic racism, while Daisy Ridley is gonna be a huge, huge star, although this whole ‘Mary Sue‘ meme is patronising and ridiculous. Second time around this is a better film for me, that lightsabre fight is absolutely breath-taking with the moment where she force pulls the weapon, fires it up as the camera pushes in and the score whelms up….well, it’s among the high points of the whole series. Wow. Roll on the Blu-Ray release and the first Episode VIII teaser trailer in what, the summer of next year? It starts shooting in earnest next month so calibrate your excitement meters accordingly;


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