Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away


The last time I watched Star Wars in a cinema (discounting the 3D version of The Phantom Menace) was 2005, when Revenge of the Sith was released. That was a decade ago, but Star Wars has been in my life for much longer. I remember spending many weekends watching Episodes 4, 5 and 6 in LaserDisc form in the campus library when I was a child and watching Episodes 1 and 2 countless times at home on TV (definitely less of 1, though, which includes a certain long-eared character I cannot tolerate). I remember dressing up as Leia for Halloween in kindergarten and walking down the assembly hall during my high school graduation to the Star Wars theme. I have never been the kind of fan who can rattle off the names of all the droids in the galaxy, but Star Wars - which has been a huge part of essentially my whole life and shaped me in so many ways - has all of my love and affection (as you can probably tell from the url of this blog).

So, I watched The Force Awakens today and felt all the feels and shall express them as intelligibly as I can via this blog post right now. The backdrop of the storyline is this: Luke has gone into retreat after one of his padawans turned to the dark side, submitting to the "First Order" helmed by the evil supreme leader Snoke. The "Resistance," hoping to right the galaxy (and led by none other than Leia herself), aims to destroy the order and find Luke before the stormtroopers can get their hands on the map that leads to him. As usual, this key information is stored in a droid, which in this case is the unbelievably adorable BB-8.

So, Star Wars is still Star Wars - we have our trusty droids, lightspeed-capable ships and, of course, the familiar black-and-white stormtroopers. One minute in, however, I realized that this is the first time I have ever seen storm troopers portrayed so believably - not just clunky, dumb and dull but actually terroristic, savage and humane. When we see blood smeared across FN-2187's helmet, we are reminded that the stormtroopers are human: they bleed. And for the first time, we also get an indication of their backstories, how they were seized from their homes to serve the order. Finn thinks that his decision to flee is an act of cowardice, but it is one of strength.

Speaking of strength, I LOVE Rey. I love her like I love Leia. Both are such smart, independent and capable women. The first thing Rey says is a shout, a command, and that already sets the tone for her character. She can scavenge, fly the actual Millennium Falcon, fix it as well, and clearly needs no hand-holding. But there is more to her than just skill - there is also the force. And it is very strong with her, which of course sets up questions that (I hope) will be resolved in Episodes 8 and 9.

Despite all that is new about The Force Awakens, however, a lot is the same: the classic cinematic transitions between scenes, the familiar shots of X-wing fighters as they zip through the galaxy and, of course, major father-son issues. What distinguishes the rift between Han and Kylo Ren (or Ben) and the one between Vader and Luke is that the latter involves a son hoping to help his father, while it is the son that has turned to the dark side in the former. And while we do not truly witness Vader's internal struggle until he eventually decides to bring down Darth Sidious, we see Kylo Ren's dilemma from the start. Even though he entreats the Dark Side, hoping to remain in its iron grasp, whether or not he truly belongs there (probably not) remains to be seen.

The Force Awakens made me so happy on a myriad occasions. I lost it when I saw the Millennium Falcon (the piece of "garbage," as Rey calls it - of course). I also lost it when Han and Chewie showed up for the first time, when Leia, R2D2 and C3PO turned up, when Han made that golden reference to the trash compacter, when Luke turned around on the cliff at the end.

But naturally, there were also times during the movie when my heart broke. When the First Order tested out their new weapon - that was basically Alderaan x 5. And, of course, when Han died...
I saw it coming when I saw the bridge, but the fact that it happened is heart-wrenching nonetheless. In my eyes, Han has always been invincible. He has survived Jabba and all the smugglers on his tail. He has evolved so much, going from a major force-skeptic to one who says in this movie, "all of it's true." So, watching him being brought down by the dark side of the force was depressing, to say the least. Yet I understand that it wouldn't have been ideal to keep Han on board for the rest of the series, which should focus instead on the new generation. So, Han's death - although devastating to witness - didn't ruin the film for me.

In the days leading up to the premiere of The Force Awakens, we become aware of just how many people in the world (well, galaxy) love Star Wars: film buffs, Jimmy Fallon, kids clutching books about the series, and more. Star Wars has attained the status of legend. There is a 'correct' order in which one 'must' watch the films, everybody knows the sound of Darth Vader's signature breathing, and news that someone has not watched the series is usually followed by an astonished (or outraged) gasp. The seemingly worldwide worship of Star Wars has inevitably led to its immense commercialization in ways that often only succeed in looking cheap. But the films' vast fanbase has also paid tribute to it in wonderfully creative and deserving means, and The Force Awakens is an outstanding example. I cannot wait for Episodes 8 and 9.

May the force be with you!