Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 26 December 2015

The Force Awakens

Like many of my generation, the Star Wars franchise has been a force in my life for as long as I can remember.  The original films are among the first I remember seeing; the toys, the first I recall playing with.  As a child, I slept between Millennium Falcon sheets and fantasised about being in that galaxy with Luke's powers and lightsaber, but the ell-travelled coolness of Han Solo.  Over the years, I've dropped my share of Star Wars references in everything from casual conversations to political speeches.  I was even inspired to create my own galaxy and cast of heroes - a tale that I've yet to share broadly.

When I went to see The Force Awakens on the twenty-fourth with my father, brother and son, it was more than an afternoon at the movies; it was nostalgia, escapism, and as is very much the case with the saga itself, a family experience.

I didn't go into the movie expecting to be wowed.  Star Wars isn't meant to be Inception, nor should it be the Matrix, or Avatar.  It's a galaxy with its own codes and rules that one visits, like a favourite travel destination; the familiarity of that world is a large part of its charm.  One visits with the expectation of exploring different facets of the familiar through the years, and that the space itself will change - at least a little - with time.  I didn't love it; if anything, I was quickly reminded that the Star Wars magic has never been in its plots points or dialogue.  Having said that, I was happily surprised by much that I wasn't expecting would offer unexpected twists.

To this I owe a debt of gratitude to JJ Abrams and the folk at Disney who worked so hard to create a culture of respective silence around the film - so effective were their efforts that Apps were developed to help protect people from what they didn't want to know.

Part of the real treat, the raw experience for me was sitting with my father, brother and son, between the wistful nostalgia of a grandfather who remembers seeing Episode IV in theatres with his eldest and the unashamed excitement, fear and ultimately hope of his grandson experiencing Star Wars on the big screen for the very first time.

Despite what you might have read, The Force Awakens isn't a rehash of A New Hope. It hits a few of the same beats, but does so with intention and, as was the case with Spectre, isn't afraid to be self-aware of that fact.  The most important function of the movie was to make fans feel comfortable that they were returning to that place they loved through Episodes IV, V and VI; mission accomplished. Bad Robot and co didn't stop there, though - nor did the brilliant Mouse House marketing team that reeled us all in.  Several things that were teased in the trailer were intentional red herrings, implying arcs that didn't exist, but making the turns the story did take register all the more.

Overall, I felt the emotional weight I was supposed to at the expected times; only one returning character was a disappointment, and the hoped-for threat posed by another character will hopefully materialize over the coming films.

Beyond this there were plenty of surprises of the whimsical dewback variety - they don't really serve any essential plot-point, but they help add texture to the Star Wars universe.  Some of these characters and movments worked, some were less effective, though even some of the lesser-effective whimsical moments were meant to be followed to the last beat for their efficacy to materialize.

The story was what it needed to be - it got our characters in place to hit the ground running for the next two episodes, giving just the right character beats and moments necessary to give them the complexity they need if we're to care about them.

Everything we see in The Force Awakens is majestic - carefully framed, physically present and lit for impact.  There are no toss-away gestures; everything reveals something, about the universe itself if not specifically for the story at hand.  And the chase sequences are pitch-perfect, exactly what I wanted them to be.  And, the BIG lightsaber battle gave us something we've not previously seen in the previous instalments - consequence.  You kinda know who's supposed to win, but that win is earned.  It was perfect.

A bit on the characters.  I think Harrison Ford gets the best compliment he could want - he earned his billing.  This rendition of Han was absolutely true to the character that first made Ford famous, and I think his performance here makes it clear why Disney feels a backstory film is a good idea.

Chewie actually got some more room here than he's been previously afforded, giving us more insight into his quirky, bear-teddy self that ever before.

Leia mailed it in a bit and was easily the weakest performance in the film.

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have rightly gotten great reviews for their performances, which are prefect and appropriate for their roles.  both offered surprises, almost inverting the expectations we should have for Rey and Ren.  I walked out of the theatre wanting to see where their characters go from here, which is a good thing.  John Boyega - I seriously want to know this guy in real life.  He's so enthusiastic.  If someone else had played Finn - say, a 20 year-old Mark Hamill - I would probably have hoped he got killed off.  Boyega makes Finn work to the point where he becomes the true underdog hero, the one we more realistically would hope to be under similar circumstances. His performance and his arc make it clear that his actions have real consequences.  More of this, please!

Poe Dameron is the closest thing to a Star Wars Deadpool, with the quick wit and almost meta sense of the game going on.  That Poe can be equally Han Solo smart-ass and Luke Skywalker all-in noble hero while still giving a bit of a wink to the audience is credit to an incredible performance by Oscar Isaac.  BB8 was the happy puppy you expected him to be.  Captain Phasma... yeah, I hope that character gets some ass-kicking to do in the next one.  She really needs to step up.  

Domhall Gleeson's has faced some criticism for his critical scene; where others see scenery-chewing, I see a very relevant, relatable and chilling anger boiling to the surface.  It totally worked for me and hints uncomfortably at too many real-world allegories, both historical and present day.

My favourite new inclusion, though - Maz Kanata.  

Having worked really, really hard to avoid spoilers, I had know idea what to expect from her character going in.  I knew she was a pirate, and she clearly had some inside-baseball info based on her lines in the trailer.  She was the unexpected highlight for me and I can't wait to get more from her down the road.

Kanata's quirky personality, the hints at her backstory and Lupita Nyong'o's brilliant performance - I fell in love with this character almost instantly.  She has just the right hints of Yoda, but also feels like your Scotch-drinking grandma or Leonard Nimoy buying milk in his pjs.  And she's a believer.

Even better - Maz Kanata almost single-handedly undoes the gobbledy-gook about midicholorians that took the magic out of the Force at the same time as making it a genetically exclusive club.  So far as we know and see, Kanata is not a Force-user; she doesn't have the precious midichlorian count to make the team.  Nonetheless, the Force is something real and magic to her, something she clearly understands at a deep level.  If her only gift is long life, then her grasp of the magic that surrounds us and penetrates us and bind the galaxy together is something we can all aspire to.

Star Wars needed that; as much as good can always trump evil, even those with humble beginning can change the course of history.

There you have it - my first impressions.  I will probably go to see it again in theatres, which says a bit more.  

Not everything is sunshine and roses, but I'm glad to have been back in that long-ago galaxy and look forward to seeing what else is revealed in our next adventure there.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Not me

Here is our best guess at who you are:
1. You are male. - yes
2. You are currently in your mid twenties. - decidedly not
3. You have a temporary job while you're still trying to figure out the rest of your life. - Not sure this applies... maybe?
4. You have blonde hair, blue eyes, and a gorgeous smile (Have you ever tried professional modeling?). - bit of a stretch this...
5. People often flatter your appearance. You secretly wish they told you how smart you are. - kinda the opposite.
So, how did we do? How many of these did we get right? Tell us in the comments!

Not very, alas.  Try again.