On Star Wars Episode VII

Posted on January 1, 2016

I did not get “Star Wars: Episode VII” till I wrote this post

This blog post contains spoilers of Star Wars: Episode VII.

This blog post is written after only one seeing of the film. I intend to read the novelization, watch the movie a couple more times and update this post accordingly.


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Back in 2011, when I was reading the numerous rumors about work on Episode VII happening within Lucas Film I, much like many other nerds was not believing it. Lucas swore that the movies are going to end at VI, didn’t he? There was a plenty of “passive revenue” from selling licenses to other authors and accompanying works in the canon of Expanded Universe, wasn’t there?

Besides, I, as many other nerds, wasn’t particularly impressed with the editor’s work on Episodes I-III, after the second episode I was almost praying for Lucas Film to make another person, not Lucas, the editor of the third episode.

So even though the storm was gathering, the news of the end of October 2012 struck like a lightning out of a blue sky. My initial feeling was denial. I have immediately messaged a friend of mine, Michelle, who is a huge Star Wars geek as well, querying if she is to watch the movie once it’s out, she said something like “Why, of course!”. That sort of forced me to end rebuttal and to face the fact that I will watch this movie.

My prejudice was coming in waves: I was thinking how good can it be if done properly, how Expanded Universe can get incorporated into the new trilogy (oh how foolish I was to think it will be going to be a new trilogy). I was thinking about how terrible the movie will be if they will market the shit out of it. New movies clearly won’t have any reason to be created except for marketing and making money. They might turn out good or even amazing, but the sole consideration is profits, not high ideals. If profits go down, they will Firefly the franchise. Indeed, Lucas started writing the story of Episode VII to increase the price of Lucas Film, and what to say about what Disney does to franchises (can you tell X-Men movies from one another? Spider-Man? Really? I don’t believe you if you said “yes” to this). So my hope for new Star Wars movie to be an artwork, in purest sense of art, in the same way Episode IV was a piece of an art, was very childish and fragile.

But those were only feelings. Those came in waves, negating each other. Long before the movie was released.

Days before the premiere I didn’t feel the same hype I felt days before Episode III, or even Episode II. I didn’t want to go and I knew I had to. I was very-very confused and anxious.

Yesterday, on new year’s eve, a chaotic decision has been made to go and watch it finally. Here is how I have approached watching it:

I have cleared my mind and promised myself three things:

  1. I will be ruthless to marketing bullshit
  2. I will not let nostalgia have me
  3. I will do my best to watch this movie as “a movie”, not as “Star Wars”.

Maybe it was wiser to just to give in to the Marketing Side of the Force and enjoy the show, but I conditioned myself akin to a Bene Gesserit sister.

After the movie was over I asked myself “How it was? Did I like it?” and to my despair, I couldn’t answer this question. Big picture, I was smiling and pretty happy with the movie. It did not suck. It was a good movie. It is good by itself. Whenever anyone says that it is a poor, bottom-shelf Sci-Fi, they should get a fucking pill of anti-hypocricine. They are asking me to pretend that there was no Star Wars Universe in the first place and try to perceive the movie as a separate movie and telling me that it’s low quality. Well, let’s think about it.

The movie has obviously a vast mythology underneath and telling us how heroes of the Past, warriors of the old days are giving place to those who will fight everlasting battle against Evil today and in the future. Guiding them where they can. On a side note: that is something yet unseen in the Star Wars movies, at least not like this, not through continuous interaction between new characters and the characters of the Past, not on the canvas of one movie. Observe:

The movie has stellar, flawless spaceship fights, has a touch of medieval nobleness with all the shining swords; maybe even appeals to the story of the round table? (Remember, in our thought-experiment other Star Wars movies don’t exist! So, holy shit, this fresh lightsaber idea is awesome!). This movie asks questions regarding morality, belief that people change, facing reality over being drowned in hopes and sorrow of those never coming true. The only flaw of this movie, really, is that it has too many characters. It’s a little bit hard to follow (especially given that all of them supposedly have a rich back-story, none of which are revealed to us in its full extent).

So… Sorry, haters, this is a good piece of Sci-Fi, especially if you look at it aside from the rest of the movies. If you doubt that, show it to a kid or someone who haven’t seen Star Wars yet and ask them to review it briefly. If they are at least a little bit into that sort of fiction, they will like it very much.

Now we know that it is a good movie overall, let’s think if it’s a good Star Wars movie?

Let me recall the movie as best as I can and comment on it, keeping in mind that it is the new beginning for Star Wars, the new hope.

Opening Crawl

I was very happy to hear the Main Title music and see the classic opening crawl. It sets the context up. The viewer now know that First Order inherited the shards of mighty Empire and their primary goal is to destroy the last (at least somewhat formally) trained Jedi. New Republic also participates in this race to find Luke to use him in the struggle against pretty strong armies of united (?) forces of the fallen Empire.

Opening Crawl also is pretty vague about affiliation between the Resistance and the New Republic. It says that the latter supports the former. Alright, so far so good, I’m buying it.

Now something that is extremely unclear to me: the existence of an “old ally” who has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. The clue is a map. A map, which, how we will get to know at the end of the movie, complements part of the map that is in memory of R2D2. The map that leads to the Jedi Temple planet (I don’t think it has a name in the movie). This I don’t buy. How did the old man get this map (also, is it just me or is he cast to resemble Sir Alec Guinness? I bet he’d be happy about that)? I believe that Luke went to the Jedi Temple planet with R2 on board, when Ben (Kylo) killed the students there, Luke must have repelled him and sent all the survivors (if any) to hideouts and sent all the droids (including R2D2) out of the system with instructions to erase the data about the system from their memories and power down.

But then who and how restored the part of the map? Also, how in the Galaxy did the First Order obtain information about Poe’s mission? I’m afraid, those questions shall be remained unanswered in films, at least. I’m really curious about the restoration aspect because it doesn’t really make much sense to me. Maybe the system was re-charted, but then how was the trajectory of Luke’s ship restored? Given that it’s the most important storyline, as far as the opening crawl is concerned, there could have been more detail and logic to it, I think.

Attack on the Jakku Village

Remember those mindless drones called Stormtroopers? They are trained to do just one thing well: shoot with a blaster and miss. Now the beginning of TFA shows us a different sort of Stormtroopers. They are equipped with a custom equipment, suitable for “scorched earth” kind of misssion, they have a clear chain of command, firing teams. Then they show us that one of them is force-sensitive and, well, has feelings. That’s weird because Stormtroopers were always but mobs, but tokens, but I’m buying it and I’m happy for diversity in the main character origins (no pun intended). Force-sensitive part feels a lot weird though. Why didn’t Kylo Ren killed him when he sensed the Force disturbance around him? And physiologically, are these stormtroopers clones? Are they selected? Are they taken away from their parents being babies and then zombified? From what I gather from Phasma’s phrase said on the spaceship after attack on Jakku, they should be if not clones then something very similar to it. But then why did midi-chlorians chose him? It is another weird inconsistent storyline, from which we can only conclude that the new Stormtroopers weren’t, in fact, clones, they were trained separately or in small squads and that Kylo Ren wanted to teach FN-2187 the ways of the Force, exploiting his fear. Again, explanations exist, maybe those are even presented in the auxiliary literature (I will check it), but it’s very difficult to relax and enjoy the movie while continuously faced with that sort of puzzles.

The character of Poe is more or less all we want to see from Lawful Good version of Han Solo, I’ve got no problems with that.

The Scavenger

No problems, really, J.J. Abrams knows how to recreate Tatooine. I love Ray character, having some problems with how the authors of the movie portray her as a know-it-all Hermione Granger out of the blue, but that will go later on. Beautiful and majestic ruins of an orbital battle with people salvaging wrecks for food makes for an amazing contrast and brings up the topics of military budget planning of countries and social inequality.

I Can Fly Anything

The scene of escape from the star destroyer is reasonable. Really, there are no problems with it. I’m not sure how well does the dialogue between Phasma and Kylo Ren play with the fact that FN-2187 was escorting an important prisoner, but given that he was a well-recognized Stormtrooper amongst his peers and a well-respected one (see Before the Awakening booklet for a reference), it is likely that he social-engineered his way to the prisoner pilot.

The fact that he is a skilled and talented trooper also explains the fact that, not minding his low self-esteem, he managed to pick shooting on-board weapons of a TIE fighter fast enough.

Poe giving a name to Finn is also cute.

Rey Meets BB-8

Cute robots are cute, am I right? Rey fell for BB-8’s cuteness and didn’t want a perfectly functional droid to be scrapped. She didn’t try to take it for herself, instead she suggests it how to approach accomplishing its mission of getting to Mos Eisley, ughm, no… “What’s the name” village.

Also, I really loved an alien of the species we see first in the Mos Eisely Cantina appearing out of the sand and looking at passing BB-8.

Follow Me (the Hunger) // Fight on Jakku, Finn Meets Rey

Rey decides to guide the robot to the village, why not, she needs to get there herself anyway. She refuses a lot of food in favour of keeping the droid alive, that’s fine as well, remember, BB-8 is a really-really cute robot! After Finn meets Rey (the meeting was epic, by the way, loved everything about the scene, from “Water! Water!”, to zapping BB-8. They make a run from Stormtroopers deployed on Jakku to find a ship and escape the mess.

Falcon

There was no surprise that the ship which is referenced as “garbage” or some such was the Millennium Falcon. When we see a parked Millenium Falcon we aren’t surprised, even though JJ tried his best to surprise us with this scene.

I didn’t quite get the idea behind the poisonous gas filling the interior of the Falcon, but from what I gathered, Rey fixed it with a roll of yellow duct-tape. Some things are the same. I bet on-board computer is programmed in an ancient dialect of Perl.

Then they get tractor-beamed to some ship, Finn, out of fear assumes that it’s First Order who got them, but we, again, understand that on meta-level, it’s a perfect time for Captain Solo to reunite with his ship again.

The story is predictable but slick. Bought.

Chewie, We’re Home

Nerds had to tear up here, right? But because it all was so railed and unavoidable from the standpoint of storyline (and maybe because of my anti-nostalgic shield which was up), I didn’t feel much of anything here. I was happy to see Han Solo and Chewbacca, I can’t deny that.

Now here’s the know-it-all portrayal of Rey that I have a large problem with. THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SHOW THAT SOMEONE POSSESSES DEEP KNOWLEDGE ABOUT A SUBJECT! However, the authors of the movie decided to hammer the image of Rey being a know-it-all by forcing her saying the same phrases Han Solo says at the very same time. Amazing! For a high-school comedy film. This scene was a pretty sad display of “We gave only this much fucks about the dialogues in the movie”.

This scene transitions into “The Ranthars!” scene which, aside from weird-as-fuck and out-of-place British accent and some Japanese mafia guys (was I the only one who thinks that a scene like this would me more appropriate in Pam’s story line in Archer series?) is okay.

What I’m not buying is that Ranthar who captured Finn changing the hunting / defensive strategy all of the sudden, dragging ex-Stormtrooper across an unfamiliar ship to get killed with a door. But hey, Finn is Force-sensitive, maybe he used the Force there or something. You know how it goes, if we have Magic in our Universe, we can use it to account for scrapy stories and scenes.

Maz’s Counsel

So let’s now talk about New Yoda: Maz Kanata. She is Force-sensitive, she covers smugglers, being, as it seems, a non-violent dissident alright. She’s surrounded with both Empire spies and New Republic spies. Who does background checks when you run such a watering hole? Okay, it sounds reasonable.

As the party enters the Castle we get to the all-so-familiar Stat Wars cantina. I don’t remember this scene well because I was looking at the screen and my mind was playing the beginning of New Hope. It should be noted, however, that I deeply appreciate the fact that JJ and crew re-used a ton of McQuire’s work that didn’t get to be implemented in the original trilogy.

The Starkiller

Yay, death star! Bigger, scarier, drawing energy from a star, warping energy on higher-than-light speed through the Galaxy, destroying entire systems. People think that it’s an overstretch, but I don’t give a fuck about their opinion. It’s bad-ass.

The problem I have with the scene of blowing up entire star system as portrayed was, well, that it felt a tad too casual. It’s impossible to portray an event like this better, I guess, as nobody knew what was coming their way, but then hey, we could, as film authors make the mechanics of Starkiller a little bit different. Say, a small fleet of destroyer-class ships has to warp into the system, install a beacon of a sort, through which the warped mass of energy would be channeled, refocused and split across the planets. Then we could have portrayed a scene of a skirmish of slow-to-react New Republic fleet, realization of the role of the refocusing sub-system, panic on the planets of the New Republic system, vain attempts to escape (or maybe some of them not-so-vain ?!). This thing here is important as fuck. We know that it will get destroyed by the end of the movie (but what if not, lol? PLOT TWIST. Nah, this is a no-plot-twist area), however narratively it is the most devastating, terrible thing happened in the entire movie, a huge win for the First Order, a huge blow to credibility of the New Republic.

Also, I find it odd that while the Resistance knew about the Starkiller, even had it’s principle schematics (they weren’t delivered by neither Finn, nor someone else, I believe that they had those the entire time), they didn’t reveal the danger of this station. I’m not sure if I understood the movie correctly on this point, but I do think that Finn provided but the very generic yet essential information, such as, well, the location of the Starkiller and on-site navigation.

Errata: according to the storyline, it seems that Resistance engineers reverse-engineered the Starkiller design from Finn’s words, who was, like Roger Wilco, a space janitor (kudos for that, JJ). Then they guessed that there should be a containment field oscillator and Finn pointed out where it is. Uh, these troopers (ok, prodigal ones) know and overhear a lot of stuff, don’t they? Opsec, First Order! Opsec!

But let’s go back to the Stormtroopers appearing at Maz’s castle and what happens next.

Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle (Party Splits Up)

So the party goes to Maz for a clean ship, get spotted by both First Order and Resistance spies (which makes me wonder if that was that good of an idea in the first place). Kylo appears there to fetch the droid he’s looking for himself.

In the meantime Rey see Force-induced visions (hello, Dark Side Passage) and flees those. She says that she needs to go home, then Maz advices her not to do so, after that she snaps out and literally runs onwards, and onwards, and onwards, till she got caught by Kylo Ren.

Ok. I mean. I’d buy it. It’s what a person who is overwhelmed with all the craziness that’s going on would do. That shatter feminist propaganda opinion (which is bullshit anyway. We always had girl-power tone to the movies. Leia, Padme, Rey). This doesn’t show Rey as an uber-human super-rational woman who can singlehandedly save the Universe. She’s strong, she’s quick, she is independent, but she fucks up big time just as anybody else.

The Abduction

Kylo Ren has problems with self-esteem. He overestimates his power to break other Force-user’s mental shields, he underestimates his general abilities, always seeking for a consolation talking to the mask of his grandfather, he overestimates his strategic and tactical abilities (or else the abduction would have been a stellar success!).

With not enough practice of high-profile operations involving Force-users he screws up and lets Rey slip with her newly-discovered abilities.

Han and Leia

They meet after a long time not seeing each other due to Han’s “business trips” and General Organa’s occupation with Resistance organization. And they look at each other. Actually, I find this scene pretty good. I’m not sure we wanted to see C3PO there but hey, with complete and utter lack of Jar-Jar Binks and other ewoks, and C3PO being canonically annoying, we can excuse the ruined moment.

Here Finn leaks the information he has about the new station and Resistance engineers reverse the station from it. Not impressed, but ok. (See above).

Snoke

Classical Star Wars cliffhanger. Who the fuck is it? We can only guess.

On the Inside / Torn Apart / Ending

Regarding events that led to the final part of the movie. It was pretty damn sad. It was all pretty good though. It also explained the limitations of Starkiller’s power, which was the right thing to do. Without it, I would question Republic’s decision not to participate in the arms race against the First Order.

But then, again, the map. I don’t get it. Why didn’t R2 show it to BB-8 immediately when they talked? Who and how did convince R2 to do that finally? We don’t know.

How the hell did the old man who looked like Sir Alec Guinness get his hands on the map of the system with navigation data?

If the destination of this navigation data was the same Jedi Temple planet where Luke was training new generation of Jedis and where Ben (Kylo Ren’s real name) was training then why can’t Kylo Ren navigate by memory / from logs of some of his old astrodroids? Sudden amnesia?

Conclusion

All things considered, this movie is a good movie. Any Star Wars nerd should watch it. It is not art, but neither are 99% of Hollywood movies.

To me, after a day of thinking about it, and analysing my first seeing of it, it falls somewhere between a great fan-fic and a long-long-long trailer for better movies to come. It is a trailer in a sense that it doesn’t tell a whole lot of story and the story it tells, is pretty rough around the corners. The iconic sides of Star Wars are very reasonably and carefully maintained:

I’m looking forward to watching the movie again, solving the storyline conundrums and then waiting patiently for Episode VIII.

Considering merchandise and auxiliary works: I used to hate the fact that they threw away Expanded Universe. I don’t think that it’s that bad after all. Remember, for every great Star Wars novel which was a part of EU we had a couple of not-so-good ones! Besides, consider this - if you are as hardcore Star Wars fan as me, remember the thrill of purchasing a new book, especially as a kid, remember the thrill of writing your own stories that go hand in hand with the stories you have read which have the blessing of Lucas Films and playing them with Star Wars d20 or another table top role playing system (if that is your cup of tea). Much like technical debt in programming, writing a single-sharded story with shared timeline while having different quality of material yields the effect of adding a new story getting incrementally harder. Thus, a reset helps authors and Disney be more free in their expansion of the Universe, it increases the value of my collection of classical Expanded Universe books because all of those are so out of print by now, it’s not even funny, it also allows the next generation of nerds to have something Star Wars-related to collect, read and discuss while waiting for the next episode.

A Star Wars nerd must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hrr. What he was doing. Hrr. To movies going just for fun. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Star Wars nerd craves not these things.