Tag Archives: Star Wars Episode VII

Just So We’re Clear, Rey Is The Best

Rey, of The Force Awakens, is one of those characters I really like. Not just one those who I think’s really cool (Captain Marvel, Han Solo, Aragorn), but the ones who, for me, go beyond that (Iron Man, Nathan Drake): Rey’s one of those characters who I don’t just really like, but the sort I wanna be.

So what is it about Rey’s that captured my imagination (and everyone else’s)? What makes her so special?

Obviously, spoilers for Force Awakens follow.

The role Rey plays in the story is not new, by no means. She follows the hero’s journey; one we saw done with Luke Skywalker in ’77, Harry Potter, and of course Emmet in The Lego Movie. It’s the monomyth, a nobody is actually quite special and is essential for saving the day. Finn’s arc within Force Awakens has a few of the same mythic beats, but it’s Rey’s that most closely follows it. And it’s not just men who get to be the heroes, we had Katniss and The Hunger Games a couple years ago, also a story about a young woman that embarks on her own hero’s journey. What is it then that sets Rey apart?

First off, it’s the obvious one: it’s Star Wars. This is arguably the biggest film franchise in the world, so the scale Rey’s featured in is massive. There’s six movies of continuity already in play, an issue that new characters like Harry or Katniss didn’t have to deal with when their books came out. There was a lot riding on this movie and, by extension Rey herself, but it also gives her a huge platform. That’s an opportunity few stories get.

Now, this is also a franchise famous for seldom having more than one woman, and in this one Rey the protagonist (and also not the only female character with lines — it might just barely squeak by on the Bechdel test, and yes, Rey is the only new female lead, but at least there are a few more women who speak in this one). Also, Rey gets to be a Jedi. Or at least one in training. Or at least a Jedi-to-be. It’s the seventh installment and we have, for the first time, a named female character turning on a lightsaber. That’s a big fricking deal.

Putting the Star Wars branding aside, is Rey still all that different? In The Hunger Games series, Katniss had her go at the hero’s journey and the resistance narrative too. Except, she is. Rey’s adventure isn’t gendered. While Katniss’ intertwined with her gender (see: dresses, pregnancy, men-wanting-to-protect/control-her, etc), Rey very much has an everyman story. No, there’s nothing wrong with a feminine story — look at Agent Carter!but it’s such a great change to see that everyman a woman. Rey’s gender is never mentioned. Sure, Finn does keep grabbing her hand in the beginning, but it takes all of five minutes for her to get him to stop — and establish her own independence in the same beat. But that’s not all: Rey’s not underestimated because of her gender. She’s frequently described as “the scavenger” (not “that girl”) and summarily dismissed as such. She’s just Rey the scavenger. It’s refreshing to see this, and even better that it’s something as mainstream (and awesome) as Star Wars

There are a bunch of other reasons I like Rey: snarky, excitable (ie: her and Finn celebrating their escape from Jakku), courageous, and occasionally downright gleeful. She’s a wonderful, winning character and I couldn’t be happier to have her as the new Star Wars protagonist. Then, of course, we come back to the whole Star Wars-ness of it. Deep beneath the spaceships, Force, and lightsabers is the narrative about being more than you thought you were; it’s the wish fulfillment of getting to go on a great adventure. And for Rey — and, personally, one of the many reasons I love her — this also means a search for belonging.

tl;dr: Rey’s awesome, go watch The Force Awakens (again)

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An Actual New Hope

One of my earliest memories involves, unsurprisingly, Star Wars. I, and another kid, were talking about Empire and how Luke loses his hand and gets a robot one. I’m sure in there was talk of Darth Vader being Luke’s father and all that. Now, I couldn’t have been that old; based on where we were I doubt I was more than four. Which shows just how inborn my Star Wars nerd is, but also, wait, I was four and talking about Empire? The darkest of the original Star Wars movies? We’re talking losing limbs and finding out your dad is the villain.

And yet, here I am, twenty-odd years later and decidedly not emotionally scarred. There’s no denying that Empire is dark, darker than I realized as a kid. But, this is Star Wars. Even though it’s a bleak ending, it’s still one with hope. When faced with the fact that Vader and his father are one and the same, Luke chooses to sacrifice himself instead of turning surrendering to his father. Han’s only mostly dead and Lando and Chewie have teamed up to find him. And, of course, Luke gets his hand back.

There’s a romantic optimism to Star Wars amidst its background of a cosmic Good and Bad. It’s Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader, which is big, but it’s rife with hope. There’s no cynicism to Star Wars at its best: something can’t be ruined forever. No matter how far down they’re forced, good will be able to come of it. Luke’s father is Vader, but Vader can be redeemed. This isn’t something that would fly in the more recent slate of movies (besides the Marvel Cinematic Universe): whereas can the love between a father and a son be triumphant? Star Wars unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve, which by today’s standards seems a little old fashioned.

So maybe this is one of the big places the prequels went wrong. They seemed to teeter a little too far into the realm of tragedy (which, it being Anakin’s fall, it is) without that earnest hope that made The Original Trilogy so great. That galaxy far, far away is one to escape to, one where a backwater farmboy, fumbling smuggler, and planetless princess can save the galaxy. Maybe the prequels got so caught up in their tragedy they forgot about the escapist nature of these movies, where it’s okay for the underdog to be the hero plain and simple. Obi-Wan, for example, is a Jedi, respected albeit inexperienced and not a crazy old wizard. The closest we really got were Jar Jar and Anakin in The Phantom Menace, but neither had an arc worth investing in. As a kid (and an adult), I wanted to be Qui-Gon because he was cool, but that’s about it. But Luke got to be the nobody-turned-Jedi and Han was the selfish-jerk-turned-war-hero. There was a change there — an optimistic one — that the prequels lacked.

The Force Awakens comes a solid decade after the last Star Wars movie. It’s also directed by someone who grew up with the movies and knows, as an outsider, why he liked them so (and they stuck with him). And the movie delivers. Despite containing perhaps the most tragic moment in the entire film franchise (and one that actually works courtesy of deft writing and acting), it remains rife with hope. There’s the declaration that unconditional love beats out hate, even when it seems like hate has won.

There’s an unquenchable joy to The Force Awakens that gives the originals a solid run for their money. Like in the old ones, we want to be a part of this world because there’s adventure here, and even when the adventure goes tragic, there’s hope. Star Wars is fun again.

And also, Rey is the friggin’ best.

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Chewie, We’re Home

Every so often on this blog, I am liable to nerd the crap out. ‘cuz as a general rule, I like liking things. Also, I’m a huge nerd, and when what was basically the first thing I was a nerd about does something cool, I”m gonna be there. So let’s talk about The Force Awakens. Again. Though this time it’s less recapping and more analysis.

Based on the trailer, and also what was said at Celebration, it’s really sounding like Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is going to be the protagonist of The Force Awakens, which I’m obviously excited by. It also seems like they’re building her up along with John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron as the ‘new’ Luke, Leia, and Han (or Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan).

It’s cool, since one of the Holy Trilogy’s greatest strengths was its core characters. We knew Luke was our protagonist, and Han and Leia the deuteragonists. Luke had the biggest arc in each movie and was the most dynamic character while the other two had their own smaller ones and supported Luke’s along the way. There was a cohesion there that gave us a throughline through each film. So unlike Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme who hardly ever had key moments together, the new one seems ready to establish this trinity of characters from the outset. Furthermore, one of the Prequels’ bigger narrative issues was the lack of a true protagonist. The character who should have had the biggest arc in the latter two — Anakin — ended up not doing much for big chunks of the film (while Obi Wan discovers a nascent rebellion, Anakin… falls in love with Padmé. While Obi Wan goes after a Separatist commander, Anakin… sits around on Coruscant). It’s hard to support a protagonist who’s not doing much.

To that, The Force Awakens, thus far is making an effort to pay tribute to the Holy Trilogy. Besides character archetypes and dynamic, they seem geared to do this through visuals too. Sometimes this means replicating shots — the Falcon’s dodge in the derelict ship’s engine is straight out of Jedi, and the droid BB-8 looking around the corner is a dead ringer for Leia’s introduction in A New Hope. Then you’ve got the with grand epic shots and a world that reeks of an unknown history (crashed Star Destroyer!). There’s even stuff similar to the Prequels; the shot of the Stormtroopers turning round is not at all unlike the end of Attack of the Clones. There’s a rich visual history woven into the look of the new film that makes it feel Star Wars.

There’s new to it too, though. The snap-zoom as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters is a very Abram’s Star Trek shot (which in turn is arguably influenced by the visual work of Firefly). They’re also taking full advantage of how far special effects have come in the past few decades and giving us starfighters flying through atmosphere, which is what we’ve all always wanted but didn’t really know until we saw it happen.

Look, I’m excited for this movie. Star Wars has been a part of my life literally as long as I can remember (no lie, one of my earliest memories is me discussing the ending of Empire with another kid in the first house I lived in — so I’d have to have been four at the oldest). It’s hard for hype not build when we see a new movie coming out by a team that’s proving themselves more and more capable with each teaser. They’re taking something old and making it new (more diversity, taking advantage of technology) while remaining true to itself (visual style, character archetypes), making a new Star Wars that feels fresh.

On a more personal note, there’s this mix of wonder and craft that satisfies both the kid who saw The Phantom Menace for his eighth birthday and the twenty-three-year-old who spends his weekends ranting about superheroes, feminism, and video games.

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35mm

Two things were announced yesterday: Ben Affleck will be the new Batman and Dan Mindel will be the Director of Photographer for Star Wars VII. This one is about the second one.

The announcement of Dan Mindel was accompanied with the information that the movie would be shot on 35mm. That is: film. Alright: history lesson. Attack of the Clones was known for being one of the first films shot entirely on digital. It was different, and coupled with its groundbreaking use of CGI, a harbinger of what digital filmmaking and effects could be. It was a big deal, and rightly so.

Then Revenge of the Sith came out a couple years later and time enough passed for the prequels to settle in. And, well, they aren’t so bad, but they aren’t that great. Least nowhere near the quality of the Holy Trilogy (that is, the originals). There was this distinct feeling of style or substance. Where the originals placed a strong emphasis on characters and their story at the heart of an epic conflict, well, the prequels were more caught up in the flash of the conflict. Much of the blame for this has fallen squarely on George Lucas’ shoulders and his love affair with CGI and green screen.

A month ago, Kathleen Kennedy, producer of Episode VII, said that they were taking their cues from the originals. That they want to capture the feel of the originals, find what made them work, they want to go after real locations (think Luke actually crawling through the snow in Norway instead of Anakin miming his way through a digital droid factory). Not only that, but story and characters are key for them. They want to make this work, they want to do right; to the point where they don’t want to film on digital.

Now, I think digital’s great. It’s a cool format, it’s allowed a cheap way for people without studios/money/training (read: me) try our hands at filmmaking. There’s nothing wrong with digital. Guillermo del Toro, a self-professed huge fan of using film, used digital for Pacific Rim on account of it simply working better for what he was aiming to achieve. There’s a time and place for digital and film, but we’re at the point where the two are almost indistinguishable. Unless you’re a super film nerd, in which case I apologize for making such a sweeping and obviously inaccurate statement.

Anyway.

All that said, what’s the big deal about J.J. Abrams and Mindel deciding to film with film instead of going digital? After all it was Star Wars itself that pioneered digital filmmaking, isn’t it? What’s the big deal?

It’s symbolic. The prequels leave a poor taste in many fans’ mouth, not solely for being less-than-amazing movies, but for being bad Star Wars movies. They lost that feel of adventure and lived-in science fiction that made the Holy Trilogy so great. They were flawed and are usually excluded from Star Wars marathons (or at least from mine). Abrams and crew want to distance themselves from them and instead hew closer to the ones we know and love. They’re making the sequels, a continuation of A New Hope, Empire, and Jedi, not a follow up to the prequels. Thus far the actions by Abrams and the others have been to reassure us.

Some of the original cast will be back, there will be a focus on story and characters, they’re going to aiming for practical locations, heck, they’re filming on 35mm film. They’re telling us that, in the inverse of 2009’s Star Trek, this won’t be the Star Wars we saw ten years ago; this is gonna be our fathers’ Star Wars. They’re working for our trust.

Now I just hope they use miniatures. Those are the best.

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Why Abrams Is The Man For Star Wars

A little more than a week ago it was officially announced that JJ Abrams would be directing the new Star Wars. Some people met this news with a measure of caution.

Myself? I think Abrams is the person to direct it.

Look at Mission: Impossible III. Abrams made his directorial debut with the sequel to this established series. He kept strongly to the themes and style of the original TV show (so I’m told). Not only was it considered the best Mission: Impossible film until Ghost Protocol came along, but it elevated the series from being simple action movies to intelligent, developed thrillers. JJ Abrams entered into a franchise, captured the themes, and made it better.

But let’s move on to his next film, shall we? 2009’s Star Trek made Star Trek cool. Really cool, lens flare cool. Sure, it felt different thematically from the TV series, but it kept the characters’ personalities and dynamics. It’s not just the old names applied to new people: they’re the same! More than that, he crafted a well made adventure that, like Mission: Impossible III, took an established franchise, made it his own, and made it good. We didn’t get a half-baked sorta-Trek, we got a movie that took the idea of a cool and wonderful future and made it work. It was a sheer wide-eyed adventure of a farmboy saving the world, like the original Star Wars.

His most recent film is Super 8. If you wanted an 80’s adventure film in the spirit of E.T. or The Goonies, you loved this movie. You might be sensing a bit of a trend here: Abrams captured the spirit of movies from that decade but also infused it with a feeling of something new. He wasn’t just rehashing old stories, he told a new one. Furthermore, in Super 8 he balanced adventure and fun with some very quiet, very poignant scenes. As the world around them swirls in a mess and the film reaches its end, characters share these quiet beautiful moments. In the midst of action and visuals, Abrams still captures the emotion. Like in, y’know, Empire Strikes Back.

And through it all, Abrams has this feeling of mythology. He helped lay the groundwork for Lost, he gave us the enigmatic Rabbit’s Foot in Mission: Impossible III and the alien in Super 8. Unlike George Lucas and the prequels, Abrams doesn’t feel the need to explain away every detail. He gives his work a feeling of mystery and myth. Again, this is something the Holy Trilogy was built on (the Force is a mystical energy field, not some, well, whatever midichlorians do).

But the script must count too, yes? Doesn’t matter how good your director is if your script sucks. The writer for Episode VII is Michael Arndt. He’s the guy that did Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that balanced comedy with a lot of heart. A lot. He also did this little film called Toy Story 3 which you’ll probably recall as a sequel that effortlessly slipped into the established continuity and trumped all prior. What do we know from these two films? This man can give a screenplay heart without it feeling shoehorned in and capture the voices of characters who aren’t his own. Furthermore, the script is being supervised by Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote Empire Strikes Back).

As it stands now, Star Wars Episode VII is shaping up to be the Star Wars movie we’ve wanted for a very long time. Did we need a new Star Wars? Not really, but now that we are getting one, and now that we know who’s behind it… We have the perfect storm for a new Star Wars. Yeah, I know, it’s at least two years away… but c’mon man, I’m excited.

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