Sunday, 20 December 2015

Star Wars VII The Force Awakens: Did Disney Just Condone Patricide?

Before the show, rumour has it that:
1) Ren and Rey are siblings
2) Rey fixed the Milenium Falcon
3) Finn is son of Lando Calrissian
4) Someone will die at the end of the movie

Build up before the movie:
JJ Abrams tried to deflate fan expectation. I felt nervous - what if it's another disappointment like Phantom Menace? 2015 has been such a tumultuous year for Malaysia, for me to some extent, that a really wonderful, hopeful movie would be such a nice way to close off the year. Lucas and Disney did not see eye to eye on what, we don't know. At the end of this analysis, it would be fair to say that Lucas may well be vindicated.

How it turned out - spoiler alert.

Ok, I won't go into the plot. I think it's out in wikipedia. Here, I'm just going to dive into how I felt about the movie from start to end, and especially what bugged me.

It's been a long time, 10 years ago since the last Star Wars movie was made. There is a lot of expectation. It's a wonderfully strange sensation to be watching the words springing up on the screen, this time without 20th Century Fox prelude theme that we have been so used to for the other SW movies.

From then on, the galactic confrontation seems reduced in enormity and gravity. From then on, at certain milestones in the movie, I began to find more and more disturbing things about the movie. Here they are:

1) If Finn has such conscience issue about wiping out entire village, how did he make it past quality control in the First Order? Captain Phasm ordered him to be reevaluated and reorganised. How did he go around finding Poe freely?

2) Kylo Ren could stop a blaster fire in the middle of the air, as if in suspended animation. It makes great visual and story telling. But just like Abram's love to stretch it a bit more, this one falls into that category of not being necessary, and not impressive. And Adam Driver - he's just not evil enough. And praying to Darth Vader - that's just odd. The New Republic would have battled many enemies, the latest the First Order - and the boy has little appreciation of what the dark side could wrought on the galaxy? Didn't his uncle tell him Darth Vader was redeemed in the end? Plot disorder.

3) It is not true, that Rey fixed the Falcon. Some junk dealer on Jakku did. It defies believe that the Falcon is introduced as a comic plot device - that old junk that won't get far. The fastest ship in the galaxy just lying there in the open, not under guard, not under lock and key, for any random scavenger to steal. And yeah, of course for Rey and Finn to steal.

4) How in the galaxy did Han Solo and Chewbacca find the Falcon dead in space? Did they have a tracker on? We're not talking about a Jakku village. We're talking about a big wide galaxy.

5) How did Ren turn to the dark side? Apparently, mom didn't send him to uncle Luke. Really? Seriously? After Lucas through the expanded universe tells us that Luke is building the next Jedi Order, and there's an Academy on Dantooine etc.? And when Ren turned to the dark side Luke just ran away and go into hiding? Yoda and Ben Kenobi went into hiding because the Jedi Order was wiped out and there was nowhere else in the galaxy they could strike the Empire from. Why would Luke go into hiding when there is still the Republic?

6) It is not like Luke to abandon Solo and Leia. He almost died to save them at Bespin City in Empire Strikes Back. His absence from galactic affairs resulted in the apparent destruction of the Republic and the death of Solo.

7) The Republic fleet was apparently wiped out in a single strike from Starkiller Base against Republic capital on Hosnian. Now, was the Starkiller Base really so well hidden? A construction that scarred the face of the planet that is not visible to any Republic surveillance?  Why is the Republic fleet all congregated here? If Starkiller Base is the HQ of the First Order, its defences are pretty crappy.

8) Rey discovered she could manipulate minds, and wield a lightsaber better than Kylo, just based on instinct. Apparently, you don't need training to be a Jedi anymore. She is obviously carved after the character of Jaina Solo, the most powerful Jedi of the Solo clan and one hell of a pilot and engineer.

9)  The map to find Luke - B88 had a part of it. R2D2 was on low power mode as he scoured the galactic internet to find the rest of the map. The two droids put it together in the end. There was no reconfiguration of the map. It was there for people to see in plain sight. Yet remember what some characters say? "We only have this piece - it does not correlate to any known maps that we know". It may be an insignificant plot progression piece, but it shows that having been in post-production for such a long time, they failed to say something at least sensible about this, is disappointing. Especially to the techies, cryptographers etcs who are surely amongst the legions of SW fans.

10) And finally - and this is my ultimate peeve - it may well be called literary licence/business calculation, and there's probably good reason to finally kill off Solo, but there is a sea of difference between who Quigon Jin and Ben Kenobi were to the movie audience before they were killed off in the first movie of each trilogy. Solo is clearly of a different class. He provided the humour that has endeared SW fans for decades. He never did accepted the odds and always came out winning. And this very dark episode of Star Wars introduced something which has never been introduced for real in the SW universe before - Patricide, and especially one which is completely outside the conflict between Jedi/Sith. I find this very disturbing and disappointing. There could have been so many ways for heroes of the past trilogy to go out. The whole Episode 7 could have taken place after all their demise, and you can bring them to live by holocron records etc. Luke and Leia could have appeared as Jedi spirits. If Disney's idea is to kill off our beloved heroes one by one in each episode counting to 9, I think it will be a brutal blow to fan psyche. Rotten Tomatoes rated Episode 7 on a scale of 95% on a review by 200+ reviewers. The numbers will come down once people have digested and realised the travesty done to the original characters. I cannot believe JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy did this to us. It is as if they never learnt how the Next Generation was panned when Rick Berman, Ronald Moore and Brannan Braga killed off James T Kirk. The worst part - he didn't even get a proper burial -  fell into the chasm of Starkiller Base until it imploded into a sun. And it is also to Disney's discredit that Leia and Solo were reduced to the role of a dysfunctional family, not especially when the expanded universe have planted so much hope on what this power couple could do to the galaxy. Why the hell did Solo go back to what he does best when by ROTJ, he already turned into a respectable general? He was reduced to captain a scarvenger ship, and disrespected by other smuggling/pirate groups who told him there's no one else he could swindle in the galaxy. A hero of his stature did not deserve this movie characterisation.

I came out of the movie feeling disappointed and troubled. Never had that feeling before even in Episodes 1-3, because in a way, we expected that the ending will be a sad one - it was always just a question of waiting for Lucas to convincingly enthrall us that Anakin turned to the dark side in the most conflicted way possible. Of course Lucas failed to do that. You train a Jedi for almost 2 decades, and he end up believing in some hyperbole of being able to bring back to life the dead. It was bad then. But this is worse. It makes me not interested in continuing to watch Star Wars Rebels. What's the point? Solo is going to die an unheroic death in the future, and our heroes displayed a collective act of failure in leadership. All of them, including Luke.


To be fair, here are a few (not many) good things:
1) The visuals are alright even though JJ Abrams almost spoilt it with his signature over-the-top action with ridiculous flying of the Falcon. I especially liked the choreograph when Finn was shooting stormtroopers on the ground while Poe was decimating targets both on the ground and in the air in the background over Takodana.
2) B88 is an interesting droid concept
3) The new X-wing is sleeker, looks more menacing
4) Chewbacca gets a more powerful crossbow blaster
5) Finally, there is no single exhaust port that allows a ship and single proton torpedo to blow up the damned battle station, and no huffing and puffing about unrealistic risk assessment - just evacuate!

But that's hardly enough to stem my disappointment. I'm going to sleep over this and hope I feel better tomorrow.

By the way, back to the speculations:

1) Ren and Rey are siblings - status unknown
2) Rey fixed the Milenium Falcon - not true - wish it could have been to do justice to our favourite freighter
3) Finn is son of Lando Calrissian - status unknown
4) Someone will die at the end of the movie - true, which is tragic, and an abuse of literary licence by Disney - maybe I'll start boycotting Disney films too

I said in my facebook that if JJ Abrams screwed up, Lucas may well be redeemed. How true. Well, at least for me.

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