Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Review

Episode VII The Force Awakens

I want to do this as a spoiler free review first, then go into more detail starting at a point that I will designate. For those who still haven't seen it, first of all, get to your closest theater and get on that. Secondly, read only the first bit of this post. I will do my best to do a clean review, then get into the nitty-gritty nerd zone afterward. Read on for my reaction to Episode VII!

So The Force Awakens sold out in days. Maybe even hours. I can't remember exactly. But by the time the rest of us got around to looking for tickets on opening night, most of them had gone. Fortunately for me, I go to school in a town where movies rarely sell out--even, apparently, Star Wars. I was able to get a ticket for a 10:30PM showing, complete with a tour of prop replicas from the whole series. R2 was there, C3PO, the Ewoks, even a life-sized Chewy suit. It was really an amazing night, even before the movie started.

By the time it did, I was hyperventilating. We didn't have to sit through previews or anything, so I had absolutely no time to prepare myself with the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." to flash onto the screen. The next moment, the theme started, and I got tears in my eyes. This is what our parents felt like when A New Hope came out in the 70s. They were able to go see this incredible movie with their friends and have a great time. Now, it is our turn to continue that legacy.

Overall, I loved the movie. There are a few plot points which I will discuss in the spoiler section that caught my attention, but I think I have some thoughts on what those specific scenes or lines could mean. The main characters Rey and Fin succeed both as fictional people and as actors--John Boyega and Daisy Ridley did a great job becoming their characters in a way that the prequels lacked (at least in my opinion). Rey has some spunk, Fin has some issues, but they make a great pair and work so well as leads. Rebel pilot Poe Dameron, antagonist Kylo Ren, and adorable droid BB8 round out the new character cast. Though I loved Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Poe, I thought Adam Driver was an interesting choice... don't get me wrong, he played a great villain. I just don't know that, given his story revealed throughout the movie, that he was the best person. But that is beside the point. Everyone did a fantastic job with acting, which makes and movie that much better.

And of course, the old friends who come back are always welcome. Han Solo, General Leia, Chewy, the droids, and even a cameo of Admiral Ackbar all made appearances. [Joke: I guess you could say, the Ack is back. Snorts.] I shed so many tears for the returning cast members--not necessarily sad tears, just emotional ones. It is so good to see them continue their stories.

As for the movie itself, I would say that it is worth anyone's time. Not only did the biggest Star Wars fan I know love the movie, but my friend who had never seen any of the other movies at all (a flaw that I have tried to amend repeatedly to no avail) actually loved it and would like to see it again. That is the power of Star Wars: it sucks you in and makes you love everything about the galaxy. It makes you believe in its characters. As he always does, JJ Abrams helped the franchise so much by delivering an excellent directing job. None of the awkward Padme/Anakin scenes here. Every line came at the right time in the right way, and every line meant something. Seeing the movie multiple times will reveal so much, and I highly suggest it. Even just for fun's sake.

Though one friend complained about the quality of the soundtrack, I completely disagree. I thought Our Lord and Savior John Williams did a flawless job weaving the old themes with the new. Obviously, he has to work to mix the two, and I think it came off very well. Plus, in watching it the second time and paying more attention to the music, I found two things. Firstly, the new themes really do reflect the characters they represent, and the battle scenes pricked just enough emotional skin to be noticeable. Perfect. Secondly, I could tell the difference between the playing in the old movies and the playing in this movie. Understandably, the orchestra for the original trilogy did not know the eventual success of the Star Wars series, so they played the music like any other score. But as a musician and a Horn player myself, there were moments when I could hear a player or a section come alive inside the music. They know the importance of their work and how critical their performance is. They were able to give emotional weight even through the background music. I know all too well what it is to get carried away in a piece of music, and how that excitement comes through the instrument. When I can feel the emotion of the horn player's solo sitting in a theater, I know the music was done well. Bravo to everyone involved, and mad props to the orchestral brass section. You play those sixteenth notes like there's no tomorrow. Rock on.

In conclusion, I think everything about this movie has great aspects. There are some issues, but those will presumably get worked out in the ensuing movies. People might complain that it ends on a cliffhanger, but I say, who cares? If the previous generation of Star Wars fans had to end on cliffhangers, then so should we. Everything looked and sounded and felt so real. Now more than ever, I believe this story could be true. In the vastness of our universe, who's to say it isn't? Go see the movie and let yourself believe. It will be worth everything you spend to get there. I promise.


Alright, real talk. Here are my theories on the two main mysteries of the film: Rey's parentage, and Ren's rage. I'll start with Rey, since she is a badass. I love her more than any female we've seen yet. The film sets us up to believe she is Luke's daughter, and I still want to believe that. But is it too obvious? Likely. She was abandoned by a family she has never known (probably for her own safety), she can pilot any ship she climbs into (like Luke) and seems to know her way around machinery (like Anakin), she was pulled to Luke's saber at Maz's, untrained she is stronger than Kylo Wren, and her pull toward Luke's saber in the final scene is stronger than Ren's, even after he claimed the saber belonged to him. The person who has more claim to Luke's saber than his nephew would be his daughter. And though Rey seems to see no pull to the dark, she does have anger which ties her to Anakin, even pre-Vader. She just handles it and uses it to her advantage. Personally, I like to attribute that to the female touch, even though it's probably more than that.

As far as Kylo Ren... I have a bigger theory for his actions. It was never stated explicitly that Luke was the "chosen one" alluded to in the prequels who would bring balance to the force. It was only assumed, since he (sort of) killed Vader and thus ended the reign of the Sith. But according to Episode VII, the dark side of the force is far from gone. Supreme Leader Snoke, seemingly an old remnant of the Sith, is still training the art of the dark and has "seduced" Kylo Ren to his side. But, hold on with me here, what if Ren is putting on a show in order to get to the only root of evil that's left in the galaxy? What if he has to convince himself that he is evil so that he can convince Snoke that he is evil? What if he kills his father in order to prove his loyalty, and being "torn apart" was him genuinely saying that he wasn't sure if he could do it just for a ruse? Here's why I think this. The whole purpose behind Ren character is to be as strong as Darth Vader, to continue his mission. Why the heck would an evil character want to be like Darth Vader, who was merely an angry teen who got convinced that the dark side was better? Darth Vader was not strong, he was weak. Nothing tied him to the purely evil ways of the Sith, not really. And in the end, he renounced his darkness and returned as a ghost of the light. If Luke informed Ren of all of this, as one would hope he would do as a precaution and a warning, then why would Ren idolize his ultimately good grandfather in order to become a better master of the darkness? It makes absolutely no sense.

Until you put him in the role of spy. He wants to get to Snoke, and the only way to do that is from the inside. He has earned Snoke's trust, especially now that he killed his father. But he genuinely tried to prolong the death of his father by pleading with Snoke that he did not need to blow up the Resistance base. Why would Ren let Rey win the mind game in the chair, and why would he say the most puzzling line, "Don't be afraid, I feel it, too?" In the normal context, this line makes no sense. But if Luke told Ren that he had a daughter who could bring down the last remaining evil of the galaxy--the true chosen one--then he would have sent Ren in charge of getting her and bringing her to him. The map was with R2, who would be asleep until BB8 delivered the map to him and Rey knew she had the force. Once she was ready to be trained, he gave her the map to guide her way.

Which brings me back to the parentage part. When Ren reads Rey's mind in the chair, he says that she is lonely and waiting for a family to save her. Then he sees her imagine an ocean with an island when she is so lonely that she can't sleep. An island strikingly similar in description to Luke's hideout. When she thinks of family, the force leads her to Luke. She just didn't know it until she sees it from the window of the Falcon. Then this would explain the line, "Don't be afraid, I feel it too." Both Ren and Rey are drawn to Luke as a mentor. And, to top it all off, during the final fight scene, Ren seemingly provokes Rey by saying, "You need a teacher to show you the ways of the force", supposedly echoing Snoke's earlier urges for Ren to bring her to him. But what if Ren saw her power, even untrained, and knew that her teacher needed to be Luke? By avoiding killing her for the entire movie, Ren let Rey discover her powers all on her own so that she would be confident with them. Then, prepared thus, he let her win the fight and sent her off with the map and the saber to find Luke and be trained. It all fits. There are so many more clues--almost too many to mention. But the whole movie starts to make sense when seen from that angle. Ren is willing to kill anyone, including his own father, to keep up his role--anyone except Rey.

I don't know what any of this would mean. I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone but myself. But I do know that the movie made a lot more sense to me once I saw it that way instead of the way the plot wants you to believe. It might be a long shot, but I want to believe that the murderer Kylo Ren can return home to his mother as Ben once the balance has truly been restored. He will be a hero rather than a fugitive. Knowing my luck, that whole scenario is probably way too optimistic and hopeful. But a girl can dream, right?

Until May 2017, we just won't know what happens. I like the idea of theorizing, but I also want to forgive Ren for the death of the best character in the series. Somehow, I can't be so pessimistic to believe a man, even one like Ren, could kill his own father. That is more than seduction to the dark side, that is proving a point to secure his access to Snoke in the flesh. He succeeded in gaining access to the Supreme Leader in person. And that, my friends, seems like an exciting sequel.

Get pumped. Only 17 more months to go!


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