STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Paul Mendoza

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I saw Star Wars when I was eleven years old. My friend, Mark, and I were rabid Star Trek fans. We even went to an early Star Trek convention in 1976 with our friend, Bobby. My poor dad took us and we were the only kids there! We would often play Star Trek at school. Bobby was Spock, Mark was bones and I was, of course, Captain Kirk. We loved it! But I don’t think any of us knew what to expect from this new film coming out that we had heard nothing about. It opened on May 25th, 1977 on 32 screens. It was considered low budget sci-fi schlock along the lines of the sort of films Roger Corman was making back then. In fact, after Star Wars was such a huge success Roger Corman started making low budget sci-fi schlock. Remember Battle Beyond The Stars (1980)?
Star Wars, with its ‘light saber’ duels, reminded me of those fantastic swashbucklers that I used to watch with my dad when I was growing up. Films like The Adventures Of Robin Hood and The Mark Of Zorro were thrilling and exciting! I would pretend to be have great sword fights in my back yard. I could imagine Errol Flynn as Hans Solo, Tyrone Power as Luke Skywalker, Basil Rathbone as Darth Vader and Olivia DeHaviland as Princess Leia. Those films, like Star Wars, were fairy tales, action and adventure, good guys and bad guys. In other words, the stories are timeless. A long time in a galaxy far, far away……

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens feels like a ‘Star wars’ movie. It made me feel like that eleven year old kid again. It was fun! It brought back that world and those characters I said goodbye to in 1983. It was like seeing your best friend again, thirty three years later and it didn’t disappoint.

JJ Abrams has breathtakingly brought back the Star Wars world and rekindled that magic that wasn’t there in the three prequels. He was also smart enough to bring back Lawrence Kasdan to work on the script. After all, Kasdan co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, so he knows this world and these characters well. Together they created a new story, one which mirrors the original in many ways and then fills it with new and fascinating characters. It is infused with the right amount of nostalgia. Abrams doesn’t shy away from throwing in call backs to the original films and they just absolutely thrill.

The hero of this film is a young girl named Rey. She’s a scavenger on a remote desert planet called Jakku whose been abandoned by her parents (sound familiar?) She has grown up, seemingly alone, and lives in the hope that her parents will one day return.

Finn, as we come to know him, is a young storm trooper. In the film’s exciting opening sequence, an army of storm troopers descend on a small village. During the battle, Finn watches one of his buddies die and comes apart, his white helmet smeared with his friend’s bright red blood. He seems to decide then and there that he no longer wishes to take part in this dark army’s dirty work.

Po Dameron is a Resistance pilot on a special mission that includes some very important info that he hides in his trusty companion, BB8, a very expressive orange and white droid. BB8 is like R2D2’s younger brother.

Kylo Ren is the new ‘big bad’. He has advanced skills using the Dark Side of The Force and while we see him do terrible things we also see that he is conflicted. The Light Side still tempts him. His lineage is complicated and he is pulled by both sides of his family, dark and light. But which side will he choose?

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Chewie and Han Solo are back! And better than ever! They have the camaraderie of lifelong friends and companions. They’re still smugglers, scoundrels and screw ups. Mostly attributed to Han, if you ask Chewie. Han becomes mentor to Rey and Finn and when he speaks to them about knowing Luke and telling them that everything they’ve heard about The Force and the Jedi is true it really gets you in the gut.

Princess Leia is now General Organa and the leader of The Resistance. Her reunion with Han is so emotional and touching not even the clueless C3P0 can ruin it though his entrance is hilariously awkward indeed.

But where is Luke Skywalker? It seems he has vanished and the whole galaxy is looking for him. The First Order, formerly known as The Empire, wants to find him to put an end to the Jedi for good. The Resistance wants to find him in order to save him from The First Order or perhaps so he can save them. Poor R2D2 has been comatose since his master’s disappearance.

All of these iconic figures collide in the search for Skywalker and the battle to control the galaxy. It’s a wonderful thrill ride that places character above special effects and the visuals are excellent. Seeing the Millennium Falcon again, still a pile of garbage but also the ship that made ‘the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!’ Hearing those familiar John Williams themes playing especially when Han and Leia are together really pulls at the heartstrings. While the plot is similar to that of the first Star Wars (now called Episode 4) right down to another bigger, badder Death Star, it doesn’t matter. It’s Star Wars! It’s everything we could have wanted and it leaves us wanting more.

Daisy Ridley is fantastic as Rey. When she smiles she has a ‘Keira Knightly’ sweetness but she proves over and over again throughout the film that she strong and a warrior. She is bad ass. Oscar Isaac is dashing as Po Dameron. I suspect we’ll see more of him in the next two films. His relationship with Finn mirrors that of Han and Luke in the first film.
John Boyega as Finn is energetic as he finds his courage through his friendship with Po and Rey.

Adam Driver is excellent as Kylo Ren. He is not just the bad guy. He is multi layered and complicated and just when you start to sympathize with him and his struggles with his inner demons he does something that makes you want to see him pay the ultimate price for his deeds.

Carrie Fisher isn’t given much to do but just seeing her with Harrison Ford brings a tear. This great love story seemed to end on such a happy note at the end of Return Of The Jedi (aka Episode 6) has gone through some rough patches over the years but the love is still there. I also expect to see more of her in the next films.

Harrison Ford is just awesome! He IS Han Solo. And he always will be. His performance is the heart of the movie and perhaps the capper of his career. He also looks like he is enjoying himself.

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The film ends perfectly. The last few minutes are highly dramatic, beautifully shot and quietly powerful. It definitely wets your appetite for the next film. I have high expectations that Star Wars VIII can be as good as The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V). Meanwhile, I’ll be watching The Force Awakens several times, looking for clues and dreaming up theories of what’s to come.

Now. If you haven’t seen the film yet (Really?) Then stop reading now.

Spoiler Alert!

I will now go further in depth and discuss some specifics and throw out some theories. You’ve been warned!!!

First off, Kylo Ren is a great new villain. He has advanced mastery of The Force – stopping Po Dameron’s laser blast in mid air was awesome! Never seen that before! Then pulling out info about Po’s mission Vulcan Mind Meld style only different – Dark side of The Force style – like a Magician making something rise with his fingers! When he tries the same thing with Rey it doesn’t quite go the way he expects when Rey starts pulling info from out of Kylo’s mind. That’s the first time we realize along with Kylo that Rey is strong with The Force as well. How did either of them become so powerful? Kylo is still given to fits of anger and frustration when things don’t go his way and is demonstrated very comically early in the film. He is still extremely conflicted about his allegiance to The First Order and tempted by The Light. By the end of the film that conflict seems to be resolved. More on that later.

Who is Rey? Some say Kylo Ren’s little sister from Han and Leia 9they don’t seem to acknowledge having a daughter), some say she’s Luke’s daughter 9when could that have happened and with who?). But she has an English accent and Ewan McGregor’s voice is heard in her ‘vision’ scene so could she be a descendent of Obi Wan Kenobi? Her ability to channel The Force so quickly and use it so well, especially in her light saber duel with Kylo may indicate that. Still, how could this be? It will take some explaining to make that believable. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know. Oh, she’s probably Kylo’s sister! Keep it simple!

How did Maz Kenata come to have Luke’s light saber? This is the one he lost, along with his hand in Cloud City in Empire. Did Lando Calrissian find it (and his hand?) and barter it with Maz? And what happened to Maz after the attack on her compound? I assume she’s still alive to show up in the next film and explain all this.

OK, so they built another Death Star! A bigger Death Star! And it was also blown up by the Resistance right as it was about to fire! I’m fine with this as long as we don’t see a yet BIGGER DEATH STAR in the third film!

Back to Kylo Ren – The scene on that bridge was powerful. It was beautifully shot and staged. Han calling out “Ben!” and walking across the bridge to meet his son halfway in a gallant attempt to reach him, reach the light in him and bring him back to his mother. Chewie watching from the next level up, Finn and Rey watching from high above and a passel of Storm Troopers watching from everywhere. All eyes were on this father and son reunion. It almost looked like it was going to work – Kylo looked genuinely conflicted. When he says “I’m being torn apart” I couldn’t help but think about James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.

But then the dark clouds covered the sun and all the light faded leaving only dark and red, and try though he might, Han could not wrestle the light saber from his son’s hand. Kylo makes his decision to purge the light and runs his father through with the light saber. He is pure evil now. As Han said to Leia earlier in the film, “There’s too much Vader in him.” I loved how Han caressed his son’s face right before he fell off the bridge and into oblivion. (In real life, Harrison Ford does have a son named Ben.) Some expect to see him redeemed by the end just as we saw with his grandfather, Darth Vader, but I don’t think it can go that way. I think he needs to die alright but I don’t think he’ll be redeemed. He should die a villain, it’s only a question of who gets to have the honor, Rey, Finn, Luke or Leia herself. That would be powerful.

I fully expect to see Luke kick some major ass in the next film! And we should get to see him be ‘Yoda’ teaching Rey the finer points of using The Force though she already is stronger than Kylo Ren.

Ok, folks, until 2017!