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Thursday 7 January 2016

There Has Been An Awakening

So. I saw Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.

This blog is about aforementioned movie. It will involve spoilers. By this time I am not sure very many people care but in the spirit of the community that has been SO GOOD at keeping the movie's secrets for the joy of those slower to see it, I feel the need to state this plainly.

Right? Right. So.

It's no secret that I think the prequels are dire. It's not that they aren't watchable - even Episode 2 has that cool 2-minute sequence where you see the Clone Troopers actually get stuck in - but by god, they are actually terrible films. OBJECTIVELY terrible from a cinematic point of view, let alone from a "liking star wars" perspective.

So imagine my joy when I sat down to watch TFA and found it to be a million miles away from the fumbling dirge that was the previous offerings. In fact - as I remarked to the group of folks I'd been to the cinema with, it was almost as if this latest work was a deliberate, measured attempt to put right what the prequels had done wrong.

I've given that some thought, and as I am often wont to do, hammered that thought into words; so here's a list of things the prequels did wrong, that TFA did right - as if Abrams himself made a list and set out to fix it.
  • Characters. Who's the main character of the prequels? Anakin? Obi-Wan? Who should we be rooting for, or following? Ultimately, a lack of a solid lead means the movies are something that happens to us, rather than something we watch and engage with. Too many characters, most of them handled really poorly. TFA provides solid characters with memorable and clever dialogue, that resonate with us almost immediately, and leave us wanting more. They are believable, they are relatable, and they each have their moments.
  • Relationships. In the prequels, we had to basically be told how people felt about each other - actually showing it in the film was apparently too much. Anakin and Obi-Wan's friendship, for example - there's precisely zero warmth or camaraderie between them, despite exposition insisting that there's friendship there. On the flipside - Rey and Finn develop a mutual respect and admiration for each other, Finn and Poe are instantly super-bros, how each character reacts to the next is something that evolves and is genuinely felt through the script and the actions of the character alike.
  • Plot. The schemes of the dark side are interesting and in-depth but honestly, they felt like they were hanging around the prequels to tie together a bunch of other scenes. Ep2 in particular feels like an exercise in mashing together unrelated footage with a thin veneer of plot. TFA, however, follows a very similar plot arc to Ep4 - which means it has a plot arc. Each scene flows into the next in natural progression, and the overall story, when viewed as a whole, is contigious and fulfilling.
  • Pointlessness. So much of the screen time of the prequels is occupied with, frankly, faff. Spam. Visual nothingness. Shit that is happening for no reason other than it happening - Jar-Jar Binks, the gungan/droid and space battles during the end of Ep1, the entirety of the middle of Ep2, all of it could be cut from the whole and not detract. In comparison, even clocking in at 2h15m, TFA is lean. It conveys the plot, without a bunch of nonsense distractions happening to fill the time between General Greivous and Order 66. The stylistic touches are applied effectively, quality over quantity.
  • Antagonists. The prequels had a serious case of monster of the week (anyone who has watched Buffy and Doctor Who understands what I mean). A different bad guy with next to zero development in each movie. Who else was crying out for more of Darth Maul, or General Greivous, or for Count Dooku to even have a point? In TFA we are given FOUR antagonists - each of them different, each of them developed, each of them with their own interests and character. Kylo Ren's pure rage, General Hux' fanaticism, Captain Phasma's cold militarism and Supreme Leader Snoke's dark and brooding malevolence - what foes we face. In Kylo Ren we have something new and interesting, too; a force still growing, a character in development that gives us the perfect reason to hate him and want him to fall.
  • Cinematography. I'm not even going to talk about the prequels. In terms of TFA? It's just beautiful. It's shot so well, with such artistry, with so many calls back to the original series that you can't help but absorb almost subconsciously. Everyone has a favourite shot. Who goes to a sci fi action movie and comes away with admiration for the set-up of a single shot? (My personal favourite was Han and Kylo Ren facing each other on the bridge, the long shot with the diagonal shaft of light coming down from Rey and Finn's doorway.)
There's more, probably...but that's my initial thoughts. I am very happy to discuss the film with just about anyone, really. It's been a wonderful couple of trips to the cinema at the very least, and I really can't wait to see it again.

Only two years until the sequel.

I can wait that long.


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