Monday 4 January 2016

Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens (sixth-pass / SPOILERS)

World of Blackout Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2D) Poster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (sixth-pass / 2D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. J.J.Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews:
• First-pass (spoiler-free)
• Second-pass (spoiler-free)
• Third-pass (thematic-spoilers)
• Fourth-pass (plot-spoilers)
• Fifth-pass (plot-spoilers)

So, here we are again: new year, same cinema, same me. I may as well begin 2016 in the way that I intend to continue it - watching Star Wars. And I'm certainly going to take advantage of my local showing The Force Awakens for the next few weeks, that's for sure. This review contains whacking great spoilers, as is becoming the norm, and while I'm fairly sure that the vast majority of you who want to see the new movie have already done so, I'm still going to use this paragraph to a) warn you of the spoilers which follow the bump, and b) act as a buffer so that any previews of the blog which are pulled through RSS feeds and the like will cut out before getting to the points in question. And this time there's no mucking about, it really does get Grade A Spoilerific from the word go.

But before we say the word go, can I just add as a resident of the UK how annoyed I'm getting by the pre-movie advert for Clash of the Clans, starring Christoph Waltz and James Corden. I mean, it's not awful in and of itself (other than the fact that it features Waltz tearing up his dignity on-camera and features James Corden being James Corden), it's more that I'm getting sick of watching an elongated promo for a game which has no thematic relevance to Star Wars and that I have no interest in playing (let alone playing to the point of buying in-app purchases, which is what the ad is really for). And because the ad runs after the FACT warning but before the BBFC card, I know it's part of the print which is distributed to cinemas. The trailers beforehand have been changing since December the 16th, but this hasn't. In terms of repetitive irritability, the ad is the Force Awakens equivalent of the Anna And The King and Titan A.E trailers back before The Phantom Menace. Neither product initially interested me, but they did so even less after sitting through the promo-reels so many times (trailers didn't change quite as rapidly back in '99).

Anyway, you don't want to hear about that. You came here for spoilers.
Whacking great spoilers.

It's been known for some time now that Mr Harrison Ford would have been quite happy had his Star Wars character, Han Solo, been killed in the climactic scenes of Return of the Jedi. Although the story varies in its telling, the general consensus is that Ford felt that Solo would be given more dramatic weight by dying heroically than conveniently surviving another battle, and the character-arc would be more rounded out as a result, from cynic to martyr over the course of the trilogy. Solo's death on (or above) Endor would also put the Rebellion's victory into some personal context for the survivors, showing that battles are won as much by sacrifice as heroics and luck. Alas, it wasn't to be. Everyone's favourite cocky Correllian went on to have three kids with Leia Organa in the Legends-EU, whereas it's been recently revealed that he had at least one with her in the Story Group continuity, too. And everyone lived relatively happily ever after (alas, children falling to the dark side of the Force occurs in both story-threads - what are you going to do, stop them wearing black?).

The planned (or sketched) premature-demise of General Solo was due to occur in the third-act of the third film, of course, whereas the Star Wars saga (both before and afterwards) has significant previous in relation to dispatching noble warriors in the first installment. Obi-Wan Kenobi died (effectively) in A New Hope, duelling Darth Vader on the Death Star while his young protégé rescued the princess and saw her safely to the rebel base on Yavin. And Obi-Wan's own tutor, Gui-Gon Jinn, died thirty two years earlier on Naboo at the hands of a Sith, in The Phantom Menace.

In both of these cases, the death of the elder - Kenobi's sacrifice as a mentor, Jinn's defeat as a warrior - fits Joseph Campbell's monomyth archetype of The Wizard: the teacher or mentor who trains the hero to a certain point, then is removed from the equation, leaving the student to progress further and learn under their own auspices, more properly earning the prize at the end of their journey. Qui-Gon's death was the push that Obi-Wan needed to defeat the Black Knight (Maul) and become a teacher to young Anakin, and Obi-Wan's martyrdom to the Black Knight (Vader) bought Luke the time he needed to escape and go on to become the hero of the Rebellion.

Which brings us back to The Force Awakens. To be perfectly honest with you, prior to the indication that he was only going to show up at the end of the film, I'd have put money on Luke Skywalker being the one to buy the moisture-farm this time around. From the initial casting announcement, logic dictated that a Seasoned-Jedi With A Beard was going to spend the film introducing a young protagonist to the ways of the Force, then meet his significantly-weighted end in a move which would assist or develop them in their quest. But not this time. It's difficult to be a mentor when you're standing at the top of Craggy Island looking like A Drunk Who's Lost A Bet. No, in The Force Awakens, the elbow-patched-tweed-jacket of knowledge is worn by none other than Han Solo.

Well, kinda.

Han shows up when the central character is in need and on the run from the bad guys. Well, more properly he intercepts and detains his old ship which is being piloted by her. And as much as Han wears the wise old curmudgeon hat and points Rey towards the Resistance, who are desperately in need of the shiny Macguffin she's custodian of, he doesn't actually 'teach' Rey too much. Her knowledge of hyperspace-mechanics appears to be largely self-taught and intuitive, indeed it's a point in the script that they often arrive at the same conclusion about such matters simultaneously. And Han doesn't teach Rey in the ways of the Force. He confirms it exists, certainly, but remember this is a confirmation from someone Rey's met only minutes earlier, and who she didn't believe existed any more.
Rey's combat-skills were learned in the wastes of Jakku as a scavenger, and the journey as a fledgling Jedi is guided by her own instincts, and later by Kylo Ren as she reverse-engineers the mind-tricks he subjects her to and proves to be far more adept at them. Han told Rey there was a kettle on-board; he didn't show her how to make a cup of tea. In terms of ongoing tutelage on her own path, there's little more that Han can show Rey.

And yet at the fateful moment when Solo totally mis-reads the situation in asking Ben to tidy his room and ends up as a Sith-Kebab*1 courtesy of the Black Knight (Ren), it's the onlooking and helpless Rey who gets the "Nooo!" moment, and it's Rey who's psychologically primed by the event in her subsequent melee with that same assassin. Han Solo fits the Hero's Mentor stereotype in terms of the overall path being walked, and his death makes absolute dramatic sense, just not narrative sense...

As detailed above, Rey gains little momentum from Han's passing other than a little extra determination in the face-off with Kylo Ren. But in that duel, Finn's prone body nearby gives Rey the impetus she needs to take on Ren, and its her adversary's mention of 'the Force' which really wins the battle for her (or avoids her outright losing, at any rate).

But then, maybe Han's not Rey's mentor in the eyes of the story after all? He's certainly been more of a guiding-force to Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo over the years, hence the latter's hesitation on the Starkiller gantry. Knowing as little as we do about Snoke's apprentice (and knowing that Ren's final decision was seen as a test, either way), what if Kylo Ren killed his former mentor and became the Hero and the Black Knight at the same time, as part of some larger-plan? Although for all the weight of his actions, Ren doesn't seem to have gained any aggression or fighting-prowess by stepping closer to the dark-side, and his Force-sensitivity remains below Rey's. So in terms of this film, Solo's death doesn't seem to have benefitted or hindered Kylo Ren's journey.

Then again, who really has the most right to be upset as Solo topples into the reactor-core below? It's obviously Chewbacca, Han's sidekick for unknown years, who watches the friend he's literally dedicated his life to go spinning off into the abyss. Sure, he lets off a single shot and catches Kylo Ren off-guard when he could have sent a salvo of blasts to finish the job, but the young Luke Skywalker also fired willy-nilly in Vader's direction when Ben disappeared and didn't even land a single hit. What if Chewie's the archetypal Hero in all of this? But that'd be silly, wouldn't it? He's already been shot in the arm during the film because he took his eye off the ball dealing with the pirates he knows. Having the Wookiee go off on a revenge-mission against Solo Jr. is only going to end in tears, not least because he's already given up the captain's chair to Rey by the final scenes. No, this ain't Chewie's journey.

Rey is the farmgirl-hero in The Force Awakens, and Han is the mentor.
The mentor who apparently died for nothing?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Solo Sr.'s death at the hands of his dark-sider offspring wasn't emotionally affecting, and I'm not saying it's meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

But Han didn't need to die now, and he didn't need to die there.
The decision to leave him at Episode VII seems like pandering to a 30+yr old request and filling a gap in the already homage-heavy screenplay.


So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, Star Wars?

Failing that, Guardians of the Galaxy or the recent two Star Trek movies

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.
I have issues with parts of it (as you know, dear reader), but it achieves its mandate, yes

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
The cast can be A Mixed Bag, but Abrams does well with them.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There only bloody is.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It's Star Wars.

But since I've been taking the scenic route for this particular movie? Star Wars: The Force Awakens features a brief appearance from Pip Torrens, who starred in 2014's Salting The Battlefield along with Felicity Jones, who appeared in the 2007 TV series Meadowlands, which also starred Ralph Brown, who had a role in 2013's Jack the Giant Slayer, as did Warwick Davis, who popped up in Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, alongside Jason Isaacs, who was in 2001's Black Hawk Down, as was Ewan McGregor, the star of 1999's Rogue Trader, a film which also featured Pip Torrens, who starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens...

Yes, yes, I did one more of those. I may not do another one, though.
For the amount of time/research these take, not one of you - not one - has told me how fantastic they are ;)

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, don't write in telling me that Kylo Ren isn't actually a Sith, I know that already ;)
It's just that Sith-Kebab has a better ring to it than Dark-Side Cocktail Sausage.
But only just, mind.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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