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Seen last Thursday evening at the Cottage Road cinema with the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Zeitgeist Zero. As more or less everyone has said, it is great, basically because it is much the same as the original three films, except that the characters now have new names and faces. There's just the right mix of big plot business, epic battles and explosions, cute robots, soaring music, snarky humour and the personal journeys of the main characters - with the emotional emphasis very much on the latter. And everything else I say about this film is bound to be spoilerific.

Let's start with characters. On the Light Side, the main new characters are Rey and Finn, who are essentially Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, except that one is female and the other is black. I wouldn't actually want to over-emphasise the extent of the change that represents for Star Wars. Leia and Lando Calrissian both did some extremely kick-ass things in their time, and were essential to the stories they appeared in. But they were not the main character and second lead. Rey and Finn clearly are - and they are both great, too. Nicely three-dimensional, with plenty of guts but also plenty of scope for learning and growing, across this film and its sequels. I am very glad for the kids who were my age when the original films came out that they will have these characters to grow up with, and especially glad that that includes my own niece and nephew. They may be too young now, but so was I when Star Wars came out. Like me, they will be just ready by the time the third of these sequels happens.

On the Dark Side, our main new boy is Kylo Ren, who (as many have already said) is basically young Snape - troubled, resentful, extremely petulant, but ultimately redeemable. I wasn't sure about this at first, rather preferring the clipped, efficient ruthlessness of his co-apprentice in evil, General Hux, to Kylo Ren's emotional volatility. Also, at one point he captures Rey and carries her off into his space-ship, and I'm afraid I judged his unconscious-young-lady-carrying skills against Christopher Lee's, and found him wanting:

Prince carrying Diana larger but cropped.jpg

I can't put up an equivalent image of Kylo Ren carrying Rey, because this film isn't out on DVD yet, so there aren't exhaustive screen-caps of it all over the internet, but I can tell you that compared with Lee's Dracula his back was not straight enough, his stride not purposeful enough, and his general demeanour more that of someone carrying some shopping than a captured trophy. In short, he wasn't striking me as a worthy successor to Darth Vader. But I did warm to him towards the end, as he had his face-to-face confrontations with Han Solo, Finn and then Rey, and got in some good psychotic taunting of his enemies. Obviously he's going to be redeemed in the third film - that is clearly where the entire story-line is leading. But I'm hopeful that now he has killed - oh, you know who, right? or you wouldn't have clicked on the spoiler-cut - has some proper enemies to face, and has gone off to complete his training with Snoke, he will rise to the role of a really serious villain, on a level to make Darth Vader proud.

As far as the other characters go, it was good to see all three of the original heroes back in their roles, even if briefly for Luke and rather tragically for Han. I look forward to discovering more about Poe Dameron in future films, fell hook, line and sinker for BB-8, and was charmed to see Admiral Ackbar still playing a key role in the activities of the Resistance.

Then there is plot. Star Wars films have always worked on a bread-crumb basis here, especially regarding the backgrounds and identities of characters. So I'm happy to accept that that approach is very much in place for the new movies. Finding out exactly 'who' Rey, Finn, Snoke and perhaps even Poe Dameron 'are', and what experiences they (plus Luke and Kylo Ren, obviously) have been through before this story begins, is most of the point of watching the sequels. So I am not going to get too exercised about it all right now. That said, it seems to me that while the internet is awash with theories about Rey and Snoke, I don't seem to have seen very much about Finn, despite the fact that he seemed to be able to use Luke's lightsaber against Kylo Ren without any apparent difficulty. I'm pretty sure only Force users are supposed to be able to do that - which is perhaps also why he was the only one from amongst his group of fellow-conscripts whose storm-trooper training didn't 'stick'.

I'd also like to understand more about how the politics of the Star Wars Universe has got to where it is in this film after the end of Return of the Jedi. The wrecked Imperial ships and war-machinery scattered about the galaxy would suggest a complete and total routing of their forces after the Battle of Endor; but how then have the First Order got back into a position where they can build an entire new Death Star (or Starkiller or whatever) without the Republic stopping them, and how come everything else about them is also still so similar to the old Empire - storm-troopers, TIE fighters, Star Destroyers, etc.? It wouldn't have been at all hard to explain this - it only needed a couple of sentences somewhere about them having retreated to the fringes of the Galaxy, regathered their forces and mounted an increasingly-successful fightback to cover it all. Indeed, I could have done with a few comments about how scary and worrying the rise of the First Order has been, especially from some of the older characters - stuff about how they thought they had dealt with all this, and now they are afraid that the senate will fall again, and how did it come to this after everything they did etc. But (unless I have forgotten some details since Thursday), there just seemed to be a general acceptance of the situation, with the result that some potential for emotional weight was lost - not to mention the political background I was after.

I think I can also safely say that I won't mind at all if there is never another Star Wars film which climaxes in the destruction of a gigantic spheroid death-machine masquerading as a celestial body. Don't get me wrong - the special effects were great, and the nostalgia-kick substantial. But it was all rather rushed through, as though the producers knew full well they only needed to tick off a few basic boxes for us to 'get' what was going on and be suitably impressed; and even the characters seemed to respond rather as though they were going through the motions. Also, I know the science of the Star Wars Universe has always been pretty hand-wavey (just like Doctor Who of course!), and I generally endorse that situation, because it is much more important to get the emotions and characters right, and Star Wars does. But this business about the Starkiller Base being able to suck up the energy of a sun and then fire it at nearby planets, right? Wouldn't just the draining of the sun in itself cause terrifying gravitational disturbances on all the surrounding planets, including D'Qar, where the Resistance base is located and from where they seem to be able to see the entire thing happening in real time (i.e. not from any considerable light-distance away)? If even I am asking that sort of question, it's possible a little more thought could have gone into the technobabble there - but for me at least it certainly isn't a make-or-break thing.

In short, then, jolly good. I'm certainly looking forward to the next one, and may well go back for another big-screen viewing of this before it finishes its cinema-run.

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Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
danieldwilliam
Dec. 22nd, 2015 09:23 pm (UTC)

I enjoyed it.


I wonder at the politics and strategic decision making that causes the Empire / First Order faction to keep circling back to the Death Star option.

strange_complex
Dec. 23rd, 2015 11:25 pm (UTC)
There is a lot to wonder about re the politics, I think, for those of us that way inclined. What I keep wondering in particular about the Empire / First Order is what the ideology is that binds them together. The design aesthetic for them draws on a combination of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia / China, but all of those regimes were / have been held together by more than simply some bad guys obtaining power by force. They all offered ordinary people something they thought they wanted. So what is the equivalent for the Empire / First Order? Is it merely the intoxicating promise of the powers vested in the Dark Side? Are there specific grievances they're promising to address, or particular people (or species) within the Galaxy whom they are promising to exterminate? Or maybe you've already nailed it - they are just drawn together by a shared passion for the construction of spherical death-machines?

Also, I'd love to know more about the role of the Senate / Republic in the rise of the First Order. Have they been to any extent to blame for it - like, did they break promises, make unpopular decisions, prove incompetent or similar, and thus drive certain elements within the Galaxy into the arms of the First Order, facilitating their resurgence?

I'm sure kids in the cinema would pretty quickly get bored and start loudly demanding to be allowed to go to the toilet if any of that was actually covered in any depth. But it is the beauty of these stories that they provoke these questions, and leave us the space to imagine the answers. :-)
softfruit
Dec. 23rd, 2015 10:43 am (UTC)
Draining the sun
I was troubled by the sun-draining physics a bit, accepting it on the grounds that a) storytelling and b) if Earth was going in yay direction and you sucked the sun out of the sky over the course of a few hours we would stop falling towards it but not be moving away very fast - we'd get further away but not by a lot - and "they're about to evaporate us" is a more pressing matter than "but what sign will Mars rise in for tomorrow's horoscope"

I was more worried that the Not A Death Star Honest seems a bit small to contain an entire star's worth of plasma-y gloop. Ten times the size of a small moon is not big enough, even if the layer that contains the plasma and super-insulates things so the Not A Death Star Honest has a human liveable temperature is a brilliantly thin super insulator.

By the by, the recruitment days at the First Order Job Centre must have been fun. "So it's a job as a stormtrooper, that's good I have been engineered to do that. On a big round ship you say? Is... is it another death star? Because those, I mean, there was the one Darth Vader had made that exploded on day two, and the one the Emperor made that went bang before it was even complete. I'm not disloyal at all, it's just, I'm not sure a round spaceship is my kind of workplace, is all. Can't I check speeders for droids somewhere sunny?"

Now I think on the physics a tiny bit more, prompted by your post... that thing about how light takes four minutes or whatever to reach us from the sun - "by the time we see they have nearly drained it, they will have already completed the job" would be good physics nerding, but a bit much for a lot of younger viewers.

None of the above detracts from that I liked it the most since at least Jedi and probably Empire.
strange_complex
Dec. 23rd, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Draining the sun
Maybe, on reflection, all this draining of suns business explains why there seem to be so many planets in the Galaxy which are either entirely deserts or entirely snowscapes. Basically, it's catastrophic climate change, caused by not just the First Order but multiple generations before them going round messing with the stars. This latest one - they think it's all hi-tech and the greatest thing since sliced Ewoks and everything, but actually it's basic old-school energy tech in the Star Wars Universe, initially designed to get power sources into the desired locations. The only difference with the latest model is that it's being used as a weapon of war instead - like the relationship between nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons. And, just like nuclear power stations, sometimes it can all go horribly, horribly wrong...
changeofthemoon
Dec. 24th, 2015 05:35 am (UTC)
I really hope to learn more about the First Order and for some reason Max Von Sydow's character who they just kind of threw in there with no backstory in the next movie.

I was really pleasantly surprised with the exception of the awkward ending and the CG character with the glasses whose name I am blanking on.
strange_complex
Dec. 25th, 2015 03:04 pm (UTC)
A friend pointed me towards this post on the First Order and the Resistance, which explains a lot more about what's going on with both of them. It's pretty much what I'd already guessed, and is apparently all covered in various spin-off books. But it would have been nice to mention a bit of it in the film!
changeofthemoon
Dec. 25th, 2015 03:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I didn't realize any of the books were canon!
newandrewhickey
Jan. 3rd, 2016 12:42 am (UTC)
They decanonified all the old books, but the new books that have been coming out this year are canon again.
venta
Dec. 24th, 2015 11:18 pm (UTC)
I haven't read this post, because I haven't seen the film. My comments is completely unrelated, and just to say that I saw this post earlier and thought of you (if you can tolerate the thought of My Little Pony modifications!)

Also, equally unrelatedly, happy Christmas. I assume you are keeping some amount of Christmas tomorrow, even though you did lots of it last weekend :)
strange_complex
Dec. 25th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm very happy with MLP modifications - indeed I've done a few myself in my time. I've seen the one you link to, as I know Adam through mutual friends in the Lib Dems, but it is particularly splendid!

And happy Christmas to you too! I had a party last night, then went to a friend's bustling Christmas breakfast this morning, and am now lying prone on the sofa, watching a recording of yesterday's Sleigh Ride programme on BBC 4 (2 hours of reindeers trudging through the snow in Finland) while comtemplating eventually getting off the sofa and peeling some sprouts.

Oh, by the way, an old chum turned up unexpectedly at my Christmas Eve part last night whom I haven't seen since Whitby-going back in the day, which led to me dragging out my old Whitby photo album (from 1999 / 2000 / 2001) so we could reminisce over old pics of us dressed up in our Gothic best, and she recognised some photos of you I had in there, and was surprised and amused to see you wearing a skirt in one of them! She is Kate Rowley from Glasgow, and was brought as a plus-one by Mavis / Stephen of LARPing fame. Indeed, it was his Christmas breakfast I went to this morning, so I have seen them both twice in about 12 hours now!
venta
Dec. 25th, 2015 10:41 pm (UTC)

Ah, I checked Adam's LJ friend list but found you not on it; I didn't know you knew him!


I bumped into Kate at the last couple of Whitbys, which was lovely. She did say that she's in London for work sometimes so I'm hoping to catch up with her one of these fine wet nights. (I had no idea Mavis even had another name!)


Me wearing a skirt at WGW was never that unusual... Just the rest of the time! When I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I took advantage of my new colleagues not knowing I Didn't Do Skirts and began doing them occasionally. I still get annoyed with lack of pockets, but I am definitely more commonly spotted enskirted these days!


Your Christmas sounds pretty convivial. Mine's been quietly at home with family, which is pleasant, though sad that none of my growing-up era friends are around in these parts any more. Still, I have a copy of Thing Explainer to keep me entertained :)

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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