This month on Cinesthesia, Carlos sits down with guest contributors Gerry Lopez and Ed Townsend for a geektastic conversation about the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. In general it was pretty civilized, although at some point threats were made and Captain Phasma invoked.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt
based on the Star Wars series of films by George Lucas
directed by J.J. Abrams
Carlos’ rating: 2.5 / 4 – Pretty Good
Ed’s rating: 3 / 4 – Good
Gerry’s rating: 3.5 / 4 – Damn Good
Carlos: Well, it’s finally here. After thirty-two years of waiting, we finally get a new Star Wars sequel that stands on its own as a worthy addition to George Lucas’ beloved fantasy trilogy that started with 1977’s Star Wars (now named A New Hope), continued with the amazing The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and ended with Return of the Jedi (1983). To start things off, my immediate reaction to The Force Awakens was that it completely obliterated my memory of the atrocious prequels that Lucas put out between 1999 and 2005 (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith), all of which don’t even exist as far as I’m concerned. While I have some issues with the film, writer/director J.J. Abrams for the most part captures the nostalgia of the original films while at the same time propelling the story forward with renewed energy.
Ed: I have to admit, going into this my nostalgia for the original trilogy was tainted with a new viewing of episodes IV, V, and VI. They seemed flat, devoid of emotion, and I found myself feeling unconnected to the main characters.
C: Were you a big fan of the trilogy as a kid?
E: I don’t know, perhaps my love of the originals revolved more around lightsabers and the samurai-esque Jedi mythos.
Gerry: I think I come at this from a different place. I have no reverence for the original trilogy, really. I grew up playing with the toys long before I ever saw any of the movies, and when I did I didn’t find them that exciting. I was more into everything surrounding the movies than I ever was into the actual movies. So I think it really says something that I really loved The Force Awakens as much as I did.
E: I think for me, I was hoping this new film would retain the feel of the originals from a production standpoint, but modernize it with character depth. And it nailed it. It kept the structure of A New Hope as an homage, taking what was established and but clearly stating “Mr. Lucas, we love you, but we’ve got it from here.”
G: I don’t love Lucas.
E: I don’t either, but the moviegoing public and even J.J. himself seem to like him.
C: He’s never been great, but he certainly captured something when he created this story – strong enough that it still reverberates to this day, as the production of these new sequels show. Like most people, I remember being blown away by the first film when I was a young boy, and even more so by The Empire Strikes Back and the now legendary father/son revelation.
G: First one I saw was The Empire Strikes Back in the theater. It was fine, I guess. I hardly remember that viewing so maybe it didn’t really make an impact. Then I watched A New Hope at some point on video, followed by Return of the Jedi at the movies. I remember when the special editions came out, I fell asleep during A New Hope.
E: The only one I watched in the theater was Return of the Jedi. Revisiting the originals before the release of The Force Awakens made me very skeptical. I was really bored. But I was glad to see good character development here, especially with Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who I don’t recall relating much to as a kid and hated even more as I watched the trilogy again.
C: Why is that?
E: He’s a childish character. Selfish for no reason, jealous and juvenile in the love triangle with Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher).
C: That’s interesting. He’s generally seen as the coolest character, given his rebellious attitude.
E: But rebellious for what reason other than the cookie-cutter leather-clad bad boy? His love for Leia was always veiled with schoolboy immaturity.
C: I always loved Han, but I agree that the character development here has a lot to do with the effectiveness of The Force Awakens. This is in some ways a remake of A New Hope, but it updates it in a way that feels modern and for a new generation.
G: I don’t know that this one sticks too much to the plot of A New Hope. There are similarities, sure, since the whole thing is working on the Hero’s Journey, but the differences are actually pretty stark and the character of Finn (John Boyega) in particular adds something completely new.
E: Finn was a refreshing addition for sure. Plus he finally answers a question that’s never addressed in the originals: Who really are the stormtroopers?
G: Yeah, with the prequels I think everyone just assumes all troopers are clones, but that was never really established and wouldn’t make any sense. There would have to be regular recruits.
E: Maybe that’s why they were such bad shots!
G: Seeing the journey of someone who is trying to break away from the Empire or whatever you want to call it makes you realize that all those troopers are people. It’s not black and white anymore.
C: This absolutely goes further in terms of creating a more believable atmosphere. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn are both flesh and blood characters that I definitely relate to and want to see further explored in the next couple of films. I particularly like the fact that Rey is an independent young woman who’s smart and kicks some serious ass. I am curious to see her evolution.
E: He and Rey seem to be dual heroes here. Is there a twist here to the Hero’s Journey? Could Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) be the anti-hero?
E: Two heroes and an anti-hero.
G: We still don’t know why he turned to the dark side.
C: Or what Luke’s involvement was, if any.
C: And I think that’s all fine, we don’t need all the answers in one film.
E: Yeah, just enough to kick us into the next two movies.
C: One of the things we talked about briefly prior to this session was how this film brings much-needed humor to the fantasy.
E: Those were woven in brilliantly, even into tense scenes.
G: The humor was perfect. I love that whole exchange between Finn and Poe during the escape: –”You need a pilot.”/– “…I need a pilot.”
E: Haha, great moment!
G: And it all just gives Finn real depth. He’s not really doing anything at that point because he’s a hero, but because he needs to get the fuck out of there. The hero stuff will come later. It’s more realistic that way.
E: And how excited Rey and Finn get when they escape with the Millenium Falcon. Just a couple of kids gushing.
C: And all the reactions everytime Kylo would lose his shit and throw a tantrum, which also shows his humanity in a way.
E: Kylo is extremely powerful, but unhinged and immature. You connect immensely. There could be hope for him yet.
C: He may be evil and strong, but he’s still just a kid trying to live up to grandpa Darth Vader.
G: I read something online about how the dark side is supposed to be about tantrums and anger. A cool and calm Sith Lord doesn’t make much sense. They’re supposed to be passionate.
E: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) were calm, though. Vader as well.
G: Yet it’s a contradiction to what they say the dark side is. All they ever talk about is giving in to anger. Feel the rage. Then they do none of that. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) did, but it just came out whiny because, well, he sucked.
E: True. I guess J.J. develops stuff better than Lucas.
G: He totally does.
E: I think the lightsaber battles, my main draw to the series, were excellent. Not flashy, but brutal and with a lot at stake. Passionate.
C: So in terms of character, we all agree that Rey, Finn and Kylo were nice additions. What about Han and Leia? I felt their relationship was shortchanged, specially in terms of the backstory with their son Ben (Kylo) and how that leads to Han’s death. While I understand they will probably cover that in further installments, I think it would’ve been better to do it now, then leave Han’s death for the next movie. To me it would’ve had more impact.
E: I thought their romance was brilliantly portrayed. Better than in the originals.
G: I think it left questions about specifics, but the broad strokes you get. And really, in terms of the story being told, that’s all that matters.
E: I liked that they had a lot of screen time.
C: I completely disagree, I felt they had very little screen time.
E: Their dialogue was extensive!
G: Not at all, it was minimal. But it was the right amount.
E: It left you with questions. They just want their son back and they both deal with it in different ways.
G: The one scene I thought could have been different was the confrontation with the creatures on Han’s ship. That seemed out of place.
E: Felt like Indiana Jones.
G: It wasn’t horrible, but it felt weird.
C: Damn, I thought that was a lot of fun.
E: It was fun but different from the rest. They had a boulder chasing them!
C: It did seem to me that the script could’ve been tightened more. Some of it feels lazy. For instance, it felt odd to me that Poe (Oscar Isaac) would’ve just disappeared after he and Finn crashed on Jakku, only to conveniently state later that he’d woken up and hadn’t found anyone; R2-D2 at the end, coming online just as the map to Luke’s whereabouts needed completion; Rey just manning the Millennium Falcon fairly easily. And why must she be so good at everything? I don’t know, stuff that can be better written or explained.
G: Stuff like that happens all over the series. Luke flew an X-wing and destroyed the first Death Star days after leaving Tatooine. And the rebels just took him at his word. “Yeah sure, fly this space plane your first time off planet on this critical mission, kid. Why not?”
E: Well, Force users typically are advanced in many skills.
G: I wonder if there was some amazing, grizzled old pilot who was asked to sit out the mission so Luke could go instead. And now nobody will ever know how awesome that guy was.
E: Best backup pilot in the galaxy.
C: To me, the best scene in The Force Awakens was when Rey fended off Kylo’s attempts at getting into her mind, discovering at that moment that she, in fact, is a Jedi. I thought the acting and directon there was superb.
G: Yeah, that was great. Throughout the film, a lot of information is passed on between characters and to the audience without words.
C: I also loved the ending with Luke and Rey at the mountain. Excellent cliffhanger.
G: Luke seems to do this sigh with just his eyes, like saying “Fuck, I guess I can’t avoid this shit anymore.” He knows what he has to do, but the cost is going to be high.
E: Like a telenovela stare. It was acceptably cheesy.
C: Really? Didn’t feel cheesy at all to me.
G: Yeah, I didn’t find it cheesy either.
E: It was long and drawn out, with the chopper cam circling them. Needed whimsy.
G: Disagree. I think whimsy would have killed it.
C: Yeah, you’re wrong, Ed. Get out of this chat now.
E: No one is wrong.
C: Captain Phasma will have to kill you.
E: She’s the new Boba Fett: Cool-looking and underutilized. At least in this film – let’s see what happens in the next installments.
C: Cool-looking and underutilized, just like us.
G: Except for the cool-looking part.
E: I really liked the whole setup to the movie. Luke Skywalker has vanished – that’s a fantastic way to start. For thirty-two years we’ve wanted to know what happened with him.
G: I like that they play directly with the idea of myth. That the original characters, after all these years, are like myths for these kids. They aren’t even sure they were real. It’s meta without being meta.
E: The scene where Han explains that to Rey and Finn, with the hologram map of the stars. “It’s true… All of it.” Loved how that was shot, very dreamlike.
C: I know you disagree with me, but even though I felt this was a good movie in general, it still didn’t capture the feeling I got from the first trilogy. Perhaps because I’m older and I’m not seeing it through kid’s eyes, but the original magic wasn’t there. J.J. does a fine job recreating it, but it felt rather safe, not taking any real chances. So I place it #3 after The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope. And the only reason I place it before Return of the Jedi is because of the fucking Ewoks. Because let’s face it, fuck dancing Ewoks.
E: I think the chances that were taken were the large open questions. Finn, Rey, Kylo…
C: Maybe. But tone-wise, not so much. The film doesn’t really break any new ground within the franchise.
E: I like this one the best so far, and then Return of the Jedi, since it’s the first film to put into action the path and trials of the Jedi. Luke shows character for the first time in giving himself up to Vader, understanding the Force. The true ways of the Jedi were finally explored, split between light and dark.
G: As much as I dislike Lucas’ ability to tell a story, his ideas were originally sound. Mainly because he was working off Joseph Campbell’s myth stuff. When he created this thing, it was with the idea that it would be a myth for our time. But myths have to evolve. They have to change in order to maintain relevance. That’s probably impossible for a film to do once it’s been completed, which explains Lucas’ constant revisions. For me, The Force Awakens accomplishes that. It evolves the myth. It stays true to the original intent, so I think it’s the best one so far.
C: So would you choose the light or dark side of the Force?
E: I choose neither.
C: That’s the right answer.
G: There is no Force.
C: Of course there is. If you believe it, there is.
G: Then I’m Batman.
E: The myth is strong with this one.
Gerry Lopez, Ed Townsend and Carlos I. Cuevas