Open Thread: Star Wars

Open Thread: Star Wars December 19, 2015

I saw The Force Awakens last night, and I have thoughts, so here’s an open thread to discuss the movie. Warning: spoilers ahead!

As Lore Sjoberg once said, the best Star Wars will always be the one that reverts you to the wide-eyed 8-year-old you were when you saw it for the first time. By that standard, this movie delivers the goods. It doesn’t just hit all the nostalgia buttons, it plays them like a symphony: the scavenged, used-future technology, the desert and ice planets, the colorful Babel of aliens and droids, the rip-roaring space battles, the enemy bases riddled with bottomless shafts. There’s a weight and a heft to it that the prequels never had. The best compliment I can give J.J. Abrams is that he understands, maybe better than George Lucas ever did, what makes Star Wars iconic.

I left the theater feeling immensely entertained, but on the ride home, it slowly sank in how similar this movie was to the original trilogy – almost beat-for-beat, just with new names and faces. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! The prequels tried to tell a different kind of story and look how that turned out.

Besides, if you’re going to tell this story over again, the least you can do is let some people who aren’t white guys have their turn in the spotlight. And they couldn’t have done better with the casting. Daisy Ridley as Rey strikes the perfect balance: outwardly tough and self-reliant, masking an inner loneliness and the unhealed wounds of her abandonment. (I’m really glad that they deliberately avoided making her a damsel in distress.) And John Boyega as Finn, the turncoat stormtrooper with a crisis of conscience, that felt fresh and new. It’s a welcome touch of moral complexity in a universe where “good” and “evil” are literally tangible characteristics of people’s souls.

A couple of random thoughts and questions:

• On military strategy: If I were the Empire (or the First Order or whatever), I’d definitely just invest my resources into building extremely large fleets of conventional warships, rather than one superweapon with a conveniently placed weak spot. You can wreak just as much havoc on your enemies without the risk that all your plans will be brought crashing down by four or five X-wings. They never seem to learn this lesson.

• Although, to be fair, there’s a lack of genre-savviness on both sides. For example, why didn’t the Resistance just evacuate their planetary base when they realized the First Order’s weapon was aimed at them, rather than sit there looking helplessly at the screen while it charged up?

• On that note, it was very appropriate that they made Leia a general, but I wish they’d given her more to do. She spent too much of the movie fretting over events from afar.

• Did Luke go into hiding solely because he was in despair at his own failure, or was the rest of the galaxy mad at him? I mean, this is now two generations of Skywalkers who’ve become tyrannical despots. At some point, you have to ask if maybe this family should stop procreating for the good of everyone.

• Who is Rey? I say she’s Luke’s daughter; Elizabeth thinks she’s Han and Leia’s.

• Unfortunately, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren didn’t do anything for me. It was clever the way they built up expectations that he’d look like something horrible under the mask, and I see what they were going for by giving him a pretty face instead. But once he was unmasked, I just wasn’t sold on him as the villain anymore. To me, he felt more like a teenager rebelling against his parents than like a man whose soul has turned irredeemably to the path of evil.

• On the other hand, I was impressed that they had the guts to kill Han Solo. It was a great way to raise the stakes for the next movie, overturning the expectation that none of the title characters will die. And it was an appropriate way of passing on the torch to the next generation of characters.

• Can everyone fight with lightsabers in the Star Wars universe? I’d think that swinging one around without any formal training is a great way to cut your own head off. Yet both Rey and Finn, apparently never having seen such a weapon before, were able to use it to fight a dark Jedi master to a standstill and even beat him.

What are your thoughts? Fan theories? Wild speculation? Loved it or hated it?

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