[review] Star Wars day pt.2: Episode VII review

Before i start, i must apologize. I falsely assumed that this post was already made official last year, but it still sat there in WordPress’s Draft section. With a new Star Wars movie on it’s way to the theatre screens, and the fact that i saw Episode VII four more times since i wrote this post the first time, i thought perhaps it is a good time to get “nostalgic” and talk about the start of the “new” Star Wars movies.

read pt.1 here

After a meal, shopping for fabrics and a long walk we finally reached the second highlight of the day: a 3D Imax showing of Star Wars episode VII: The Force Awakens.
I managed to get very neat seats[1] and although more members of the audience than we anticipated had been attending in appropriately themed attire, the rest of the screening was dead silent[2] (except for a short applause when Chewie and Han entered the Falcon).
I also learned that i’m not wired for 3D. A nasty headache took hold of my skull and stayed with me for the rest of the day. Also, foreground objects that were only partially visible in the lower corners of the picture seemed like either my neighbor or my Wife were sticking a finger into my field of view. Of course it enhanced many scenes but the 2D screenings we attended days later did not make the movie less exciting.

Star Wars episode VII: The Force Awakens had more to do than just to entertain its audience. As the roman numeral in the title already suggests, there is quite a legacy tied to the movie, a lot of stepping stones that need to be looked at/considered in the proceedings and a lot of stepping stones that have to be laid down. The original builder had sold his property along with the plans and now a new company hired some very talented handymen and women to continue construction while taking out some stones to replace them with newer, different ones. And they even threw away the plans to make the this new part of the way truly their own.
And they managed to do something amazing with the few stones they laid down to fortify their new path. Episode VII is clearly a modern retelling of Star Wars, or as a younger audience knows it, Episode IV: A New Hope. I heard/read a lot of complaints about this, i don’t see the negative side of it. Why not steal from the best? The story is timeless and it has been updated for a contemporary audience: a woman breaking out of her settled life and a former (child) soldier realizing that his side might not be the best one, both are nudged by an elder man they considered a myth towards reaching out and discover their potential. Opposing them is the angry young man with the weight of legacy on his shoulders who uses (the) force to take what he wants and learns that he isn’t the meanest bully in the schoolyard when facing opposition. In Star Wars tradition their paths are intertwined, each of them following his destiny on a vast stage.

And how beautiful that stage is. Of course much of it has been created in a computer, but there are enough practical stages and effects that have been recorded analogue to take away the sterile feeling of the prequels. And while there are enough updates to established designs they manage to look and sound like evolutionary updates. The Milennium Falcon to me sounds like it has to out in a bit more effort to life up to its reputation.
And that also applies to the characters. Rey and Finn are the protagonists mainstream cinema was asked for but failed to deliver while Kylo Ren is the protagonist we used to get placed on the dark side of the narrative. All three could have been handled a tad better, but this movie had so much to do already and the Mouse is planning to make them until the sun goes out, so there is room for improvement.

What i find myself among are the people who are criticizing the lack of details being pointed out like the New Republic being annihilated by the First Order which when realized, gives the movie an The Empire Strikes Back vibe. Even though Starkiller Base is destroyed, the First Order remains the dominant force in the galaxy while the Resistance has to work with the scraps they were granted by the New Republic.
But then, the Emperor dissolving the senate was a footnote being mentioned by Admiral Tarkin in episode IV as well although it meant what little of an actual government was left is now gone.
A thing that bothered me personally was Domnhall Gleeson’s performance as General Hux. I get what was planned with the character, but every time he tries to chew the scenery but his jaw won’t open wide enough. Han Solo’s sudden fondness for Chewbacca’s Bowcaster seemed off as well as Maz Kanata’s establishment. But my Wife pointed out that she did not see it as the cantina on Mos Eisley, but rather a neutral ground which therefore did not need a darker atmosphere.
Captain Phasma’s theoretical presence as well as Constable Zuvio’s end on the cutting floor are bothersome, but would like mentioned above, there was already so much to do that some things just had to go.

Han Solo’s death is a beat that the story needed to close the circle and set Rey, Finn and Ben up to step out of the shadow of that mythical figure (but enter the shadow of Luke Skywalker). The means of his demise, being killed by his son, is an interesting twist. Vader killed his teacher, friend and brother in arms, here it is the next generation ridding itself of legacy. There are so many theories about Kylo Ren being a secret agent of the Resistance, Han Solo appearing in other forms due to Harrison Ford’s contract etc. but in the context of the this movie alone, it is a large step towards following his Grandfather’s path next to the kids he probably killed in the dismantling of Luke’s new Jedi order.
A minor nitpick of mine is Kylo taking if his helmet before interrogating Rey. Him striving to fill his ancestor’s boots but taking of the helmet when he has to be at his most intimidating feels off. It would have made the confrontation with Han more impactful and i’m sure that Adam Driver could have been able to communicate the terror and anger of being beaten at his own game by Rey in the full suit.
Staying with Rey, i wonder how Daisy Ridley will “work” in future episodes. In some scenes certain camera angles and expressions she looks much younger than she actually was at the time if shooting the movie and it was a great vehicle to show that at the centre of the character is the kid waiting for her family to take her home.

When the screening was over my Wife told me that i have an underwhelmed look on my face. And while i enjoyed what i saw and truly felt like the enthusiasm i invested in the time leading to this screening, i also had to admit that this movie “wasn’t mine” like episodes IV to VI are, but an introduction to Star Wars for a new generation.
Frankly, with that realization i enjoyed the times i saw it afterwards even more because a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A new generation has to save the galaxy, all i have to do is take care of them not killing me to achieve their goal.

[1] this was the first time that i complemented the weird colour choice for free and reserved seats of the ticket booking platform the theatre chain we watched the movie at uses. i still can’t believe that nobody else thought about getting those seats because at the time i ordered the screening has been almost sold out.
[2] i don’t attend as many screenings as i’d like anymore because over the last couple of years it became common practice to start talking about completely unrelated things during the proceedings and paying almost 20 bucks to hear one’s neighbor talk about his prostate exam isn’t worth the price of admission. i dug the kids during our screening of the BFG recently who also talked but at least had the decency to say sorry or realizing themselves that they were perhaps a tad to loud. in that case i didn’t mind because them talking about the movie made it many times more enjoyable.



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