Monday, December 21, 2015

My Force Awakens thoughts - in my own voice

You need to read everything related to Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a spoiler awareness anyway, but I'll make it official: SPOILER WARNING. Anything and everything about the movie will be spoiled in this post.

There are such a mind-boggling number of things a person could discuss related to Star Wars: The Force Awakens that it leaves me daunted to even consider doing it here. However, leaving none of my thoughts on the movie on my blog also didn't sit well with me, and seems irresponsible to you, my loyal readers. (One of whom actually asked me if I'd be writing something about it.)

Fortunately, I've got a good compromise.

I recorded a podcast on Saturday night, the latest ReelGood podcast, all about it. We had been off since August until two weeks ago, in part because one of the guys was out of the country for two months, and then due to some scheduling conflicts once he returned. But we're back in full force, pun totally not intended. Two weeks ago we started up again with In the Heart of the Sea, and this time, we sunk our teeth into the seventh Star Wars movie, perhaps unsurprisingly at twice our normal length.

You can listen to it here.

However, on the off chance you don't want to or don't have time to listen to an hour-long podcast in the heart of Christmas season, I'll included a few little "featurettes" below on the movie. They don't come close to addressing my full thoughts, but they do give you two stand-alone blog post ideas that seeing the movie inspired me to think of.

My private pain

Given that I saw this movie at least 36 hours before most people I know, you can imagine how difficult it was to live with the knowledge that was burdening me: that the lovable rogue known as Han Solo, one of the most iconic characters in film history, is no more.

I wanted to tell someone. I had to tell someone. But I told no one. I lived with this pain privately.

And indeed it was pain. The death of Han Solo really ruined the end of the movie for me, not to mention parts of the next few days. Which is no comment on the way the movie ends, or the events of those days in my life. It's just a comment on how difficult it was to feel optimistic about anything when one of cinema's great characters has just gotten impaled by a lightsaber and fallen down one of Star Wars' trademark bottomless pits. At the hands of his own son, no less.

The first thing I could compare it to (SPOILER COMING ABOUT A REALLY OLD STAR TREK MOVIE) was the death of James T. Kirk. Kirk of course dies in Star Trek Generations, a movie that, my God, is now 21 years old. And though that was tragic, at least Kirk died saving the universe, pretty much literally. He fell heroically to his death, but not his instant death, allowing him a few dying words before the lights go out. Sad but satisfying.

Han Solo? He gets a touching final gesture, the soft caress of his son's cheek, but other than that, his death is pretty much immediate. It was heroic in its own right, I suppose, as it involved trying to save the soul of his son. I guess not everyone can die saving the universe.

It felt so funny walking around with this knowledge imprisoned in my breast, knowledge I couldn't share with almost anybody. It wasn't that I wanted to spoil the movie for other people, only that I wanted to seek some kind of personal counseling while talking it over with them. Being killed by your own son is crazy hardcore, even if that was a possibility that was underlying both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. If these new movies are going to be about the redemption of Kylo Ren -- and Adam Driver's conflicted performance certainly suggests they will be -- then having killed your father makes that a lot harder. To quote Seinfeld, that's a pretty big matzah ball.

I couldn't keep it in, but somehow I did. But now you all know, and that does make it a little bit better. We'll get through this ... together.

Stormtroopers are people too

My favorite new character was Finn, played by John Boyega. Having not been a huge fan of Attack the Block, I was surprised by just how much I liked him here. He was everything I wanted from a Star Wars character.

Though it did make me ponder the nature of the stormtrooper.

I think we don't yet know everything we are eventually going to know about the back story of this reformed stormtrooper, which might explain why he's actually pretty good with a lightsaber and why he has the heightened sense of empathy that seems to be entirely lacking from other stormtroopers. But if we are to take it on face value, that he is "just" a stromtrooper, it does make us reconsider everything we think we know about stormtroopers.

Even though stormtroopers are not actual clones, we've kind of always thought of them that way, haven't we? Even when we've heard their voices and they do sound like "regular guys," we haven't seen a single stormtrooper with his helmet off -- the only unhelmeted stormtroopers we've ever seen were Han and Luke posing as stormtroopers. They must have thought, wisely, that it would be too humanizing of these villainous pawns, many of whom are killed or otherwise disposed of in thoughtless fashion, if we saw what they really looked like. Saw just how much they are "regular guys."

But they certainly have a clone mentality. They do what they're told and they don't ask questions. They never doubt the morality of their orders and they never hesitate when asked to carry them out. In short, they are deserving of no mercy.

Until Finn, that is.

Finn -- whose "name" is some alphanumeric code beginning with FN -- first has an awakening about the evil nature of The First Order when he mourns the death of a fellow stormtrooper. Yeah, he's horrified about the killing of civilians on Jakku, but his actual moment of crisis relates to the death of a fellow stormtrooper on the battlfield. In that moment, and for the rest of the film, the guy is overloaded with empathy. And eventually, he also has a surplus of bravery and moral fortitude.

What I want to know is: Is any stormtrooper capable of this? Could any of these "drones" break rank and decide to rebel against the nefarious ways of their masters? And if so, why doesn't it happen more often? WHAT HAPPENED WITH FINN ON JAKKU?

The Star Wars movies have never shied away from coincidence in the telling of their stories, so I won't be all that surprised when it turns out that Finn is a "special" stormtrooper. Though so far, the idea that he might be Lando Calrissian's son seems a little far-fetched, and also possibly racist -- the only two black guys in the Star Wars universe don't need to be related to each other.

But wait ... there is another black guy in the Star Wars universe. Could he be ... Mace Windu's son? Or grandson? Or great great grandson?

Episode VIII comes out in May of 2017.

As for this one ... I'm seeing it again on Wednesday. That's as good a single-sentence summation of my thoughts on The Force Awakens as you're likely to get.

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