We are now a bit one week over the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Episode VII) and after watching it twice (once in 2D and 3D), time to share my thoughts and comments on the movie.
Disclaimer: This is not a review with a scoring system. I am sticking to the core of the Star Wars Universe (Episodes I to VII) as I know little if anything from the Extended Universe, so contributions are welcome to feed in my analysis. Finally, I will spoil, a lot. If you read by here, you are warned.
Star Wars! Something I grew up with my BFF, Phil. He got introduced earlier than me. I got into Star Wars through “Pif Magazine” (that is a kind of French comic strip) in which they were showing pictures of the movie and toys from “A New Hope”. The second time I got introduced was during a sneak peak in visiting some relatives that had “The Empire Strikes Back” on air through the Canal+ channel (it was a French subscription channel that was showing movies two years after their theatrical release). That was the “mind-blowing” effect: imagine getting into Star Wars by being introduced to the Battle of Hoth, in which you see the AT-AT blasting the rebel defense line, one of the Rogues harnessing the AT-AT, Luke spacecraft crashing, escaping and blowing the AT-AT and finally seeing Han Solo, Princess Leia and 3PO escaping in front of Darth Vader. How come you don’t want to see what is happening next?
However, the first full-length movie I was introduced was “A New Hope”, it was great and stuck me with forever. I watched all the Star Wars as VHS tapes recorded from the TV and still own the Star Wars VHS tapes that came during the holidays seasons of 1993-1994, just before uncle Georges started to mix things up with the Special Edition. Then things got broke with the “prelogy” (Episode I to III) in which if was a painful experience. First, the idea of waiting to have the movie delayed 5 months to be localized in French (when crossing the border will let you see the German version of it two months after the US release but I am sorry German doublage is an awful thing for me to watch), then further topped with the spin-off “Star Wars the Clone Wars” and “Star Wars Rebels” that are aimed for children. I also kept away from spoilers websites as it partially ruined the Episodes II and III (I ended up basically stichting together all the spoilers and watch the final product).
So I watched it twice (this is my mandatory protocol for every Star Wars) before to make a final decision. So here is my take: This is a damn good Star Wars movie that I have seen for more than a decade. It is not as good as the Empire Strikes Back, it certainly a bit less good than Return of the Jedi and a bit better than A New Hope. It is not perfect but it is fairly promising. There are good stuff and bad stuff but yes I can ensure I will have the same joy of watching it after few years, where Episodes I-III faded away quickly as a Jedi mind trick.
So, let’s get to the meat and discuss the myths of Star Wars. The film starts as usual in the space and focus on one planet: Jakku. Again, this is typical from Star Wars: seeing the planet of the first action taking place. The planet is indeed quickly eclipsed by a Star Destroyer that hides it. By the lack of perspective, the ship appears huge, way more huge than any destroyer seen before. And we see four APC space ships flowing down to Jakku, loaded with storm troopers. That’s some brutal and exciting introduction to start it.
Jake feels a lot like Tatooine: dry, yellow and hot. We get introduced to Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac), an elite pilot of the Rebellion that get an important piece of information about Luke’s whereabout (that we will discuss a bit later) from Lor San Tekka (played by Max Von Sydow). The question that arise is how did he get hands on that piece of data?
Here comes the troopers, landing and starting a fight with the locals trying to protect Poe Dameron escape with BB8, the R2D2 of this new Trilogy. Of course, things does not work out. We also spot the future “Finn” aka FN-2187 (that is an interesting reference to the Cell 2187 in which Leia was imprisoned in Episode IV) to be (played by John Bodega) as it is the only storm trooper showing disdain as he sees a brother-in-arms falling in action (and covers his helmet with bloodstains) as well as a moral conscience objection when ordered to fire on the villagers, including women and children alike.
Here comes the main villain, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver). Same appearance than Darth Vader (dark clothing, mask but no breathing machine). The interesting aspect of Kylo Ren is the contrasting behavior to Darth Vader: where Darth Vader use to remain cold and secretive about his emotions and favored the termination of people by strangulation, Kylo Ren shows his immaturity by showing a rebellious, impulsive and aggressive behavior like a blazing fire. This is also symbolized by his lightsaber. The “old” lightsabers had this “cold” feeling as a neon tube would feel like, whereas the “new” lightsaber (aka the cruciform one) is almost like a “fire” burning, unstable and unpredictable. Not even talking about his ability to freeze “laser blasts” with the Force (Vader just repelled them as you can see it when facing Han Solo in Bespin in Episode V) or using a “brute-force attack” to get confession from prisoners (even Vader failed to have Leia or Solo talk much about the information he needed to extract).
This is a recurring theme that will accompany Ren during the whole movie. Where Darth Vader would just call the highest-ranking officer that let the mission fail, strangulates him and consider his death as an apology, Ren is more acting through a beserking rage by smashing everything around (like a hair metal band smashing their instruments because they simply lack the talent to appreciate them), some would call his behavior like a child throwing a tantrum. The latter allusion is maybe more in par with the storyline as Ren indeed is not yet mature, at least in terms of training.
Following this sequence, we are introduced to Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). In my own opinion Rey is the strongest character of the new trilogy, the same than Luke from the original one.
Again what is interesting is that all promising Jedi are orphaned during their young age on a desert planet. Look at Anakin (Tatooine), Luke (Tatooine) and Rey (Jakku). We nether knew their father (with the exception of Luke). We can speculate an hereditary transmission of the Force through the paternal lineage although mothers carrying the Force within (like Leia) can transmit to their offspring.
Until now, all the Jedi that were described had a filiation pattern with the exception of Anakin (unknown father) and Rey (unknown parents). However, I suspect that Leia maybe indeed Rey’s mother (see how the bounding takes place. These are also women and maybe more incline to show their empathy and feelings than men. Little boys are grown to be like men and introvert their feelings to look strong).
As a biologist standpoint, it blows away the early concept of midchlorians (that sounded more to me like mitochondria), as mitochondria are only transmitted from the ovum (thus the material side). If the Force was a gene or a set of genes, we could speculate that is likely a dominant gene or geneset as an heterozygous carrier will be enough to show traits.
Again, if we stick to genetics, we have a “nature vs. nurture” and have to face genetics vs. environment. I don’t think these contradicts but rather superpose to each other, with genetics being the foundation and the environment topping into it. This is especially the case for autism spectrum disorders, in which we have a network of genes involved but that does not mean you will develop the condition. You have a baseline risk, with its odd to display the condition increased by the environment. But the environment alone is very unlikely to trigger the trait. It can only act as a pressure factor to favor or eliminate one genetic trait.
Again, we know that younglings Jedi were selected from a pool of potentials and then decided by the Jedi Council if it was worth the investment in their training or not (see Episode I).
All the Jedi or wanna-be Jedi came from a desert planet and have indeed faced harsh and child labor. You can see it with Anakin (Watto’s slave), Luke (it is the only human worker for uncle Lars and aunt Beru) or Rey (Unbar Plutt, the junk dealer paying in food rations). We see Rey scraping through the wreck of fallen Star Destroyers, X-Wings and AT-ATs (that by itself would worth a lot of storytelling because I don’t buy on the galaxy was completely liberated after Endor’s battle. The Palpatine/Vader chain of command was dead but the commanding army was mostly untouched and still functional and raises the question of a power vacuum following the death of Palpatine, Vader and the appearance of Snokes).
It seems that characters that underwent a harsh childhood end up being the most gifted. Anakin is said to have extraordinary skills with robots, as well as Luke (remember the reaction of the scared and wounded 3PO at the beginning of A New Hope? The friendship between R2 and Luke?) and also as it appears between BB8 and Rey (it takes a high dose of compassion to refuse to trade the droid for 60 rations, when Rey barely survives on half-ration each day). It seems the Force grow strong to those who faced the harshness of life. In the opposite, Leia and Kylo surely grew in a more nurturing environment and maybe have been less incline to develop their Force without a supervision.
But what is interesting is to see Rey extreme potential coming in very fast. She senses the importance of the droid (as she refuses the offer of 60 food portions from Plutt), the incredible ability to fight back Plutt henchmen (even impressing Finn by the way), get into the Falcon Millennium ace-piloting within 10 minutes (flying through the Destroyer wreck was such an amazing moment and pilot skills that I am pretty sure that she could not have learned with her land speeder on Jakku), solving the Hyper-drive compressor in a couple of minutes, ace in the hole with a blaster with an accuracy after a couple of shots to put into shame a seasoned storm trooper, reverse “brute-force attack” on Kylo Ren during the interrogation session, using the Jedi mind trick on Daniel Craig and holding on a lightsaber duel with Kylo on Starkiller base.
What it took for Anakin and Luke almost over three episodes to master with a master Jedi (Obi-Wan and Yoda respectively), Rey was able to showcase it without proper training in a whole episode. I am wondering what Luke will teach her as the Force is strong with her. It is also a powerful feminist message for all the “bro” out clamoring as “men’s right activism” or macho-ing on Gamersgate discussion boards: girls are more than “be pretty and shut up” and indeed have amazing talents and potential if you give them the opportunity to show it, certainly they can kick some butts out and hurts some “bro pride” but this is where we should embrace them instead of shunning them. This is also underlined by the relative gender-equal and diverse cast (never seen such a mixed genders in command centers and ethnic diversity in any Star Wars as this one) that is a reflection of our current society changing.
The other aspect I also liked is the sincere friendship occurring between Finn and Rey (bounding after escaping the TIE fighters attack on Jakku) and Finn and Poe (that was a very good starting duo when they stole the TIE fighter). It is also interesting to see how the bromance between Finn and Poe will go. I am pretty sure the jerks that cried wolf on Finn (because of his ethnicity) will become even more enraged if this bromance turn into LGBTQ-friendly direction. This is a PSA to these jerks: guys, the society evolved. What was common and standard in society (WASP and racial segregation) one hundred years ago is no more. Time to move on.
So this is the good part of it. Now let’s talk about the part part of it.
Firstly, one of the big mistake done by JJ was unmasking Kylo Ren. That was a no-no unless you want to break the scary from your villain. Darth Vader villain aura works well because nobody knew who was behind it until we knew he was Luke’s father and we only saw the face of David Prose at the end of Return of The Jedi. In the other hand, this effect works very well if you want to make fun of the villain, like “Spacebars” Lord Dark Helmet (played by Rick Moranis, also known as Louis from Ghostbusters). By unmasking him, JJ basically did what happens if you take out a souffle out of the oven too early: it falls flat. Even the death of Han Solo by his own hands cannot bring back and even worse brings the idea that Adam was starring in “Girls” TV series. It is kind of the same if Patrick Dempsey was playing Kylo Ren, remove his mask and suddenly you are exclaiming “McDreamy!”.
Second thing that bothered me was Snokes. Snakes appears to be the man behind the curtain. Yet, he failed to convince me. In the other hand, Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid) was way more convincing and manipulative. Palpatine is an example of the dirty politics cliche: playing two sides of the arena, using manipulation and coercion like a chessboard game, showing a public face built on integrity to better hide the dirty games played under the table. If you have to carve out some nuggets from the prelogy, you have to carve out the nuggets with Palpatine. Who is the one pushing the merchants to put a blocus on Naboo and send troops on the ground? It was him. Who was the one directing Padme Amidala (played by Natalie Portman) to ask the Chancellor to step down and takes his place? It was him. Who was the one seeding the battle of clones by requesting full powers to quell the rebellion from the Merchant? It was him. Who was the one gaining the trust from Anakin and brought him to the dark side? it was him. What made Palpatine one of the most formidable villain of Science-Fiction is yet to be shown in Snokes, that for me looks more like a Voldemoor or one alien of the Prometheus than a real villain.
The third was the Starkiller Base (a nice reference to the early name of Luke Skywalker that was originally named Luke Starkiller, confirmed claim by Mark Hamill Q&A tweet). Yes, it was impressive piece of technology but in the same time it was a ridiculous concept to have been brought on the table. If the Galactic Empire had to learn a lesson from Episodes IV and VI, is that Death Stars are completely useless piece of junk. Yes they can blow an entire planet or system (as the Starkiller) when it works. But by the time it would be functional, it get blown. Not only one, but twice. Even the version 2.0 was showing the same design flaw that made it easy to blow. There are even some economists that speculate that the lost of the second Death Star was the reason that put the Empire to fall, as it was such a huge financial loss putting the Empire in default and into a failed empire. Empire and states fall because they reached over the critical mass that drive an overdrive expenditure compared to revenues. You can look at how World Wars (I and II) broke the empires that were in fragile economic situation and resulted in dismantlement of these empires that have no choice but to trim the excesses to keep the vital part of the empire surviving (UK, France, Germany, Japan, former USSR).
Finally, the Starkiller base was something that completely blew over the laws of physics and biology, enough for Neil Degrasse Tyson to slay our unicorns dream. Where did the Empire (or the First Order) found the resources to build up this Starkiller Base? It would have required a unimaginable amount of resources, manpower and money to achieve it. Even if a planet was turned into a Starkiller base it would remains ridiculously costly. Secondly, how can this planet may harbor an ecosystem made of trees or rocks if it was man-made in such a small period of time. This is where I guess they have turned a planet into a Starkiller base. Finally, how can a planet absorb such energy from a star and be able to propel it to another system without being self-destructed by the colossal amount of energy. We are again falling in the conundrum of the Death Star planet, capable to produce enough energy to create a laser beam capable to explode Alderaan. It did not only blew one planet but blew a whole system. What could have been more realistic and maybe possible is kind a catching and concentrating method for solar flares and using these flares as a powerful EMP to knockdown a whole planet communication system (as most system rely heavily on electronics to feed their communications and troops).
Finally, the biggest cliffhanger is the reinitialization of R2D2 at the end of the movie, seeing again this old couple fighting and bickering over is just revive the spirit of the old Star Wars. Now they found Luke system, located in a planet that looked very similar to Earth from the outside (as Rey and Chewie flew over) and in a set of very small islands that are likely somewhere between Scotland and Ireland. I looked hard at the stellar system depicted at the end and still wondering: is Luke Skywalker (that is said have been looking for the first Jedi temple) retired on Earth? That would be some interesting outcome to watch. Another thing is what the heck Luke has been doing all this time as an hermit? Dirty jokes are of course open for debates :p.
A lot of questions have been brought and still remain unanswered, we have two episodes that will answer to them hopefully. What I really liked is that feeling of seeing the original trilogy, the darkness and seriousness of Episode V being translated in this one as well although JJ have been playing a bit too safe on this episode.
This is what Star Wars should look like and this is where uncle Georges had it wrong and I am sure he knew he had it wrong because he has been working very hard to hide “Star Wars Holiday Special” that have preceded the nightmare we have been experienced with Episode I and II. Between Jar-Jar abomination (I am sure if you trim the Jar-Jar and all the Gungan and Naboo fat from Episode I, it suddenly becomes more viewable), the sequences “cul-cul la praline” of Anakin and Padme in Episode II and the dead sequences, we may have something to salvage and more interesting to watch (By the way, glad that Disney let you buy the Blu-Ray by trilogies separated. In my local Best Buy, I had my hands on the last Blu-Ray of Episodes IV-V-VI, where there were plenty of Episodes I-II-III screaming to be picked up as well)
I am waiting now to see the next episode and maybe dig into the Extended Universe to find some answers to some questions that have been raised.
What about you? Liked it? Disliked it? Comments and feedback are welcome. “May the Force be with You”