Hey, Chewers! Drew, and WilliamB of Movie Curiosities, and I joined in on this discussion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and its many spoilers. Enjoy!
DD: So, the weekend has come to a close and The Force Awakens has become the box office behemoth we all knew it would be. And I know the question that has been plaguing us all since we walked out of the theater: how DID C-3PO get that red arm?
TN: Poor numbnuts fell straight into a box of red arms. When they pulled him out, presto change-o. He was lucky not to come out with TWO red arms.
WB: That’s sort of like asking how Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber somehow turned back up. A whole lot of stuff happened in the thirty years preceding, and the movie never bothered to explain any of it because of all the tie-ins, midquels, etc.
DD: If they don’t explain the journey of Luke’s lightsaber in Episode VIII, you can consider me miffed.
WB: Dude, Luke didn’t even show up until the last five seconds. Episode VIII had better be all about him, especially now that one-third of the original trinity won’t have any screen time anymore.
DD: Agreed. Episode VIII better be a Luke love-fest.
TN: Hamill is ready. I don’t know if you’ve seen recent pictures of him, but he’s in great shape for VIII.
DD: Oh yeah, Han Solo died. Am I dead inside, or did that not hit as hard as it should have?
WB: No, you’re right. Solo’s death didn’t land quite as well as it should have. I think a lot of that has to do with how the death scene was staged. I know Solo probably wouldn’t have fired any shots at his son, but a character like Solo should have gone down swinging. And let’s not forget that Ford has been quite vocal in his belief that Han should have died in ROTJ. Solo getting killed off in this movie was probably a crucial reason why he agreed to come back at all. And I think it shows in his performance.
DD: I feel like that’s because we didn’t really feel the stakes between him and his son. I would have rather gotten a big backstory dump that gave more emotion to Han and Ben’s relationship rather than that Madballs sequence with the gangs on the freighter.
TN: I think the way Han’s death was handled was intentionally brutal. No “happily ever after”. This was a character that fans wanted eulogized and sent down a river on a burning boat. Instead, he kinda fell down the Gandalf hole. Speaking of Lord of the Rings, the way Han’s death was handled was very unlike the LOTR movies, in which there are solid periods of mourning for every great hero. It would have been emotionally satisfying (and tearjerking) to have some more closure, but so much in this movie is done in the interest of brevity.
WB: There was a lot more mourning for Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, as well. Though he at least had the advantage of coming back as a ghostly voice-over. Speaking of which, did anyone else hear Kenobi’s voice when Rey touched the lightsaber?
DD: No, but I’m seeing the movie again and keeping an ear out for that.
TN: Nah, I was so impressed with how that sequence unfolded visually that I missed the VO.
DD: Is everyone here in agreement that Kylo Ren/Ben is the best of the new characters?
TN: I think Kylo’s conflict has the highest emotional stakes, and that’s what makes him so interesting. But I think all of them have great potential.
WB: Kylo Ren is a serviceable addition to the franchise, and I’m interested in the notion of a villain who has to grow over the course of the series. As opposed to someone like Vader, who was the pinnacle of badass out of the gate. But the best of the new characters? No way. I’d either go with BB-8 or Rey. Poe Dameron has a ton of potential as well.
DD: Rey and Finn get by more on their performances than their written characters. Anyone care to weigh in on the criticism that Rey is a Mary Sue?
WB: I think she’s too vulnerable to be a Mary Sue. I get where the argument is coming from, though. She is a ridiculously overpowered character.
TN: I think Rey fits the Mary Sue profile. There are strong arguments to be made for her being so skillful and resourceful, and there are strong arguments against it.
DD: She’s just too inherently good at too many things. I never once felt she was in danger or potentially making a bad decision.
TN: The only time I felt she was properly at risk was when Kylo froze her put his saber to her neck. Then, she’s pseudo-damseled.
WB: And also the very start of the Millennium Falcon chase. She was kinda shaky there for a while.
TN: I love that they beat the shit out of the Falcon in this flick. When it’s bouncing and skidding on that snowy hill and scraping against sand dunes on Jakku — absolutely loved it.
DD: Back to Rey, I really dug what Ridley did with the character and I’m not writing her off completely. I just hope the story lets her be a fuck-up like Luke was in Empire.
WB: Speaking of Rey, I’m looking forward to her big cliffhanger in the next movie. The big “I am your father” moment at the end of the film, to parallel Empire? You know it’s coming.
TN: The criticism of Episode VII is placing huge strain and expectation upon Episode VIII. We all know how that goes.
WB: Given how many story threads were left hanging in Episode VII, that damage was self-inflicted.
TN: They’ve created challenges for future installments, and I guarantee you they’re monitoring fan reactions closely.
DD: I know I focused on this a lot in my review, but were you guys as numb to a fourth Death Star run as I was? I applaud the visuals at play, but I was very uninvolved in that sequence.
WB: Honestly, I was just relieved that this weak spot was so well-covered. I focused more on the team aspect, how it took fighters for cover, ground troops to lay the charges, more fighters for bombing runs, and so on.
TN: Initially, I was very numb to it. But when it was revealed to be a planet itself, I thought that was an interesting metaphor. Then, when it was revealed to be sucking the light and (therefore) life out of the galaxy, I liked that metaphor, too. Heavyhanded, yes, but still thoughtful. Oh, and it had the best explosion of any of the Death Stars.
WB: That Starkiller explosion was fucking incredible. But a huge part of the Death Star problem was in the very first movie. When you’ve got one superweapon the size of a moon that can destroy whole planets, what the fuck do you do for an encore? There’s only so much bigger you can go for the next superweapon.
TN: As DJ Khaled would say: “Another one.”
WB: It might be fun to see the next couple of movies think outside the box and try another tactic. Like biochemical warfare, for instance. By Episode IX, the galactic civil war would have been raging for decades and both sides would be on their last legs. Desperate measures would definitely be the order of the day.
TN: Sure, but Episodes VIII and IX need to focus on emotional stakes for these characters.
DD: I hope this is the last superweapon of the series. Much like ROTJ, the lightsaber fight going on was much more thrilling and emotionally charged than the spaceship battle.
WB: Precisely because it took place on a space station that could’ve gone kablooey at any moment, you mean?
DD: That, and because I could watch Adam Driver punch himself in the ribs forever.
TN: That was such a human thing. A visceral, adrenaline thing.
WB: Can we move on to Finn? He’s such a wonderful character, beautifully played by John Boyega.
TN: Boyega’s great, and I like Finn quite a bit, but he’s got a huge chunk of character development missing from the first act. His decision to defect happens off-screen and that’s a bad move.
WB: Definitely. All that remorse about the terrors of war might have hit harder with a bit more time for development. But here’s the thing: Pretty much anything useful that he contributes to the Resistance in this movie has a shelf life. It’s hard to imagine that he’d be able to give a lot of inside info on the First Order after this, and he can only stay scared of the bad guys for so long. So I’m curious about where he could go and what he could do in the next two films. Especially since he doesn’t seem to be Force-sensitive… yet.
TN: Again, he’s got such potential, but that’s a can to kick down the road a bit.
WB: True. I think the best thing anyone can say about this movie is that it encourages so much excitement and speculation about what could happen next. That’s beautiful, no?
TN: The fandom hype machine is churning — full steam ahead, cap’n. That is beautiful and dangerous.
DD: Boyega is a delight to watch. Again, these performers elevate these somewhat thin characters. It feels like Finn has already made that arc by the end of the flick. He seems to be Force sensitive (Force aware? I dunno) due to Kylo recognizing him (and Finn’s sudden realization of what right and wrong is), so I want him to be on Luke’s radar next go-around.
WB: Yes, Luke will absolutely need more padawans. No way he can rebuild the Jedi with just the one apprentice. Then again, who’s to say Luke ever wanted to rebuild the Jedi?
DD: Guys, we’re avoiding the biggest spoiler of them all: Nien Nunb and Greg Grunberg (who was born with a Star Wars-y name are in this) are in this and survive. I want a spinoff with the two of them.
WB: I fully expect Greg Grunberg to be the Wedge Antilles of this trilogy — the unsung hero of every major dogfight.
TN: Okay, here’s something I’ve been thinking about, and I want to run it past you guys. I imagine Disney’s major goals for Episode VII were as follows:
- Win back fans by reintroducing OT characters and aesthetic
- wash nerd mouths of prequel bitterness
- introduce new generation of characters
- send off old favorites
- make a good first Star Wars experience for new fans
Considering that nigh-impossible list of goals, I imagine “make a good sequel to Return of the Jedi” was pretty low on that list… as it should’ve been.
TN: The Force Awakens exists in many contexts, but here are the big two. In canon, it’s a sequel to ROTJ to uses the Death Star again (bad idea). So this story, in the context of the narrative canon, will not age well. But as a theatrical experience, it’s leagues away from (and ahead of) the last new live action Star Wars film released in cinemas.
WB: More than that, ROTJ was designed to be the definitive end of one story. Far smarter to craft a film that was the beginning of a totally different story.
DD: Travis — I agree, especially since it took such a safe route by riffing so hard on A New Hope that it has very little story-wise that will last over the coming years.
WB: I think that this movie’s legacy will depend on how well it sets up whatever the next two movies pay off. I can understand how this movie only teased at Supreme Leader Snoke, but we’ll only get so far without a more thorough understanding of who he is and how he came to be so powerful.
TN: The next flick is gonna be exposition central, and Luke is gonna be the explainotron 5000.
WB: Hopefully, Luke will be something like Yoda 2.0. Yoda had a ton of exposition as well, but he made it work because he bothered to demonstrate what he was talking about.
DD: WilliamB nails it. Exposition can be dumped in good ways if you have a character that is interesting telling it/showing it. I’m putting a lot of faith in the next movie, not only to explain some things but also because I can’t believe Disney would hire Rian Johnson to play things safe like Abrams did.
WB: The guy who made Brick and Looper? Fuck no, he’s not playing it safe.
TN: Johnson is so promising, especially when you consider that he currently has sole writing credit (aside from Lucas’ credit for characters).
WB: The thought also occurs to me that Episode VIII could have some very interesting parallel development tracks. Snoke said that he was going to start Ren’s final training just as Rey went to Luke for her training.
TN: Yes! I think it would be interesting if we saw Jedi that excelled in different areas, like if one of them became very talented with mental manipulation, and the other became exceptionally talented with the physical stuff.
DD: Disney knows they need to keep this OT love going, and fans are going to be expecting the darkness and intensity of Empire.
WB: Which means (getting back to Travis’ point about retiring old characters) that we’re probably gonna see some original fan favorites getting axed.
TN: Well, Chewie’s easy to keep around. And BB-8 is way cooler than expected, so I’m ready to kiss threepio and his red arm goodbye.
DD: I hate to say this, but can Leia die next?
WB: You know, Leia would make for a fantastic martyr.
TN: I think she, as someone who has witnessed her entire home planet vanish at the hands of fascists, would have some very interesting places to go in the next episode.
Drew mentioned darkness and intensity — some things this flick did pretty damn well.
WB: But always this side of kid-friendly, which is a huge accomplishment.
TN: I think the tone of the film was pretty fucking close to perfect. Control of tone is a big thing for me, and I felt it was always under control here. Having Larry Kasdan work on your movie is a big help in that department.
DD: I’ll agree with that. The tone was on point.
WB: No argument here. That’s a huge part of how this movie did such a great job washing out the bad taste of the prequels. That and the emphasis of making this feel like a real lived-in universe and not a CGI demo reel.
TN: Oh, boy does this movie look good, and I don’t just mean the effects. The cinematography, sets, lighting, costumes…
DD: Nearly every visual aspect of the movie is flawless.
WB: That wide shot of Han and Ren on the bridge with the sunlight streaming in? Holy shit.
TN: And those close-ups on Adam Driver during that scene and in the saber fight. Goddamn. It’s so many elements working together in complete harmony. I said to Drew the other day that the film is a visual masterwork. It’s insane. Looks more like Spielberg or Ridley Scott film than Lucas.
DD: TFA and Mad Max: Fury Road are two examples of the kinds of visual masterpieces that blockbuster cinema should be about.
TN: There hasn’t been a Marvel movie yet that looks that good. Guardians comes close.
DD: Not close enough.
I think we can all agree, despite some differences of opinion, that if nothing else, The Force Awakens has reinvigorated our interest in this universe.
WB: Which is impressive enough, if you think about it.
DD: I may have some glaring issues with the movie, but I want Episode VIII now.
TN: Absolutely. To bring things home — I think given the herculean task of resetting this franchise and sending it in a direction that is interesting and fun, The Force Awakens does that. That’s almost a miracle. The methods by which it accomplishes this are tried and true, but that also means it’s more imitation than innovation.
DD: As long as Snoke isn’t revealed to be Jar Jar Binks, I’m in.