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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

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Rian Johnson's going to write the first treatment for Episode 9 as.well.so whatever his vision for the trilogy, we'll be seeing at least some part of it through the whole thing, for better or worse.

As for the prequels, well I like to pretend they don't even exist. My level of contempt is probably bordering on unreasonably biased so I'll let y'all hash out the flaws and good of those films.

They did bring us Mace Windu, Qui Gon Jinn, Darth Maul, and General Grievous, and the far superior Clone Wars TV series so I'll give them that

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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2 hours ago, NBooth said:

And I don't think the prequels' ambitions fail in "every respect," but even if they did, they're failing at something remarkable: I find it difficult to think of another big-budget, s.f. epic that is properly tragic in its ambitions. And I mean that in a Classical sense--it's no accident that Oedipus is all over the Prequel Trilogy. Lucas, in the PT, actively works to do something different from the "Hero's Journey," instead of hashing the whole thing out again. That's something, in a world where every single blockbuster is based around the same cookie-cutter call-rejection-descent-whatever pattern.

But, more than that, the prequels not only attempt but succeed at showing audiences something they (the audiences) have never seen before. Again, what other franchises--outside of LotR (which ages much more poorly than the PT, partly because the Jackson movies were received so rapturously and it took longer for their not-inconsiderable flaws to sink in)--really attempt the sort of extravagance the prequels achieve?

I won't disagree with this. But if all this makes the prequels more rewarding to think about and dissect, it doesn't really make the experience of watching these leaden things any less unpleasant. If Star Wars is and always has been a kind of space-fantasy soap opera (which might be contested, but it's the opinion of the films' creator), then it's in delivering the pleasures of soap opera that the prequels utterly fail. Even granting that The Force Awakens is safe and derivative and slapdash, it does a much better job of channeling the visceral sense of excitement, drama, and wonder that is, for me, the essential core of Star Wars as an enterprise.

Also, I'd like to add that while the designs of The Force Awakens are highly derivative, the cinematography is generally a improvement on the flat, stilted, and weirdly-lit cinematography of the prequels. The Force Awakens does have its share of lovely, memorable images (the shot immediately after the opening crawl, Rey speeding past the Star Destroyer ruins, the lightsaber battle in the snowy woods). I wish the content of the images was more exciting (The Art of book consistently shows concept art that is more interesting than what we delivered), but there's still beauty here.

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1 minute ago, Justin Hanvey said:

They did bring us Mace Windu, Qui God Jinn, Darth Maul, and General Grievous, and the far superior Clone Wars TV series so I'll give them that

Oh, the Clone Wars TV show is better than the prequels *and* The Force Awakens.

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1 hour ago, NBooth said:

Which is fine. I didn't hate it. But if I have to choose between failed ambition and achieved mediocrity, I'll go with the former. Fortunately, I don't have to choose.

Very well put. (This applies to the whole post, but I don't like long quotes.)

4 hours ago, Ryan H. said:

And describing Abrams' film as better on the "surface" does him a disservice, I think, because it implies that things like performances are just window dressing.

For big-budget studio action/sci-fi/superhero films, things like performances usually are just window dressing, as are dialogue (as far as it can be separated from story structure) and cinematography (as far as it can be separated from visual design). It seems to me that TFA is similar to the Marvel films in that respect. A good actor can make certain scenes more convincing, but can never make or break the film.

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Ryan H. wrote:
: And describing Abrams' film as better on the "surface" does him a disservice, I think, because it implies that things like performances are just window dressing.

To the extent that performances are about execution rather than conceptualization, well, sure, why not? (I am well aware that actors can sometimes be involved in the conceptualization of individual scenes etc. -- there's an excellent passage in The Making of The Empire Strikes Back that transcribes the conversations in which Irvin Kershner and Harrison Ford workshopped the scene in which Han Solo is put into carbon-freeze -- but none of it would have mattered if the underlying narrative backbone hadn't been as compelling as it was.)

: For me, Adam Driver's performance as Kylo Ren alone elevates the film far above the prequels. Kylo Ren does for this film what the throne room material does for Jedi.

I'm not sure what to make of that comment, because I've been complaining about how illogical the throne room sequence in Return of the Jedi is for some time now. (Luke wants the Emperor dead. Vader wants the Emperor dead -- he said so at the end of Empire. And the Emperor just dared Luke to kill him. So... Vader *blocks* Luke's attempt to kill the Emperor? And then there's David Brin's point about how killing the enemy doesn't put you on the "dark side" of the Force, it's what a soldier like Luke just *does*. It's his *job*. Was the killing of Jabba, earlier within that same film, okay because Luke seemed to be having fun and didn't get all worried about it or something?)

But it seems to me that Kylo Ren just takes one of the big problems people had with Anakin Skywalker (i.e. that he was a petulant adolescent, rather than a great man brought low by the Dark Side) and pushes it to an intentionally comic degree. Maybe I'd feel different after a second viewing, but right now I'm ambivalent on Ren.

Buckeye Jones wrote:
: If Lucas wanted Episodes 1 through 3 to be some kind of stirring, Gibbon-esque epic, an analogue to some kind of DeMille-ian Grand Historical Film Event, why should he get credit for failing to realize that vision?  This isn't a grade school soccer league where you get a participation medal.  

True, but JJ Abrams also shouldn't get a medal for doing a soccer-themed dance when he ought to be out there playing the game.

NBooth wrote:
: Its design is less ambitious; rather than trying a new look for the trilogy, it's content to ape the design-work from the OT (the prequels gave us a whole raft of interesting stuff, from Coruscant itself to any of the Naboo starships to the termite-like dwellings on Geonosis. TFA gives us BB-8). 

Just quoting this so I can mention, once again, Max Landis's observation that The Force Awakens lacks the "edges" of the earlier films, e.g. all X-wings with no B-wings, A-wings, or Y-wings, etc. It apes the *basics* of the design-work from the original trilogy, but it lacks the diversity.

: [EDIT: One visual I did very much like in TFA was Rey sitting at the foot of the collapsed AT-AT. It's lovely.]

Definitely. I love ruins.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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12 minutes ago, Rushmore said:

For big-budget studio action/sci-fi/superhero films, things like performances usually are just window dressing, as are dialogue (as far as it can be separated from story structure) and cinematography (as far as it can be separated from visual design). It seems to me that TFA is similar to the Marvel films in that respect. A good actor can make certain scenes more convincing, but can never make or break the film.

This generalization is way too broad to prove useful here, methinks. Many blockbusters do treat performances as an afterthought (like the Transformers films for instance). Other films are much more keyed-in to the energy of the cast. While we wouldn't exactly call the films performance-driven, I doubt Star Wars would have been the phenomenon it became were it not for that special chemistry generated by the lead performers.

The Force Awakens thrives on its charismatic leads. Adam Driver is probably the film's MVP; he really brings it and elevates the entire film as a result.

Edited by Ryan H.

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14 minutes ago, Ryan H. said:

The Force Awakens thrives on its charismatic leads. Adam Driver is probably the film's MVP; he really brings it and elevates the entire film as a result.

The more I think about the movie, the more inclined I am to agree with this assessment. 

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18 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

I'm not sure what to make of that comment, because I've been complaining about how illogical the throne room sequence in Return of the Jedi is for some time now. (Luke wants the Emperor dead. Vader wants the Emperor dead -- he said so at the end of Empire. And the Emperor just dared Luke to kill him. So... Vader *blocks* Luke's attempt to kill the Emperor? And then there's David Brin's point about how killing the enemy doesn't put you on the "dark side" of the Force, it's what a soldier like Luke just *does*. It's his *job*. Was the killing of Jabba, earlier within that same film, okay because Luke seemed to be having fun and didn't get all worried about it or something?)

It makes very little sense on a narrative level, but the performances and direction elevate the scene and give it a dramatic force it wouldn't otherwise have.

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Ryan H said:

"The Force Awakens thrives on its charismatic leads. Adam Driver is probably the film's MVP; he really brings it and elevates the entire film as a result."

It makes very little sense on a narrative level, but the performances and direction elevate the scene and give it a dramatic force it wouldn't otherwise have."

-

Good thoughts with both.  That throne room scene certainly does have dramatic force and has become classic for a reason.  

Edited by Attica

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Ryan H. wrote:
: It makes very little sense on a narrative level, but the performances and direction elevate the scene and give it a dramatic force it wouldn't otherwise have.

Ah, okay.

I actually find myself curious as to how Episode VIII will turn out, given that it will apparently focus so much more on Luke Skywalker, and given that Mark Hamill's acting has never been esteemed all that highly. I mean, *everyone* gives lazy performances in Return of the Jedi (even Harrison Ford), but even in The Empire Strikes Back, there are moments that seem... vulnerable. By which I mean "vulnerable to criticism". (And that whole "I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!" line in his very first scene in A New Hope has *always* struck people as whiney. Well, maybe not *always*. But the audience certainly laughed when the film was re-released in 1997.)

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15 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

 (And that whole "I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!" line in his very first scene in A New Hope has *always* struck people as whiney. Well, maybe not *always*. But the audience certainly laughed when the film was re-released in 1997.)

FWIW, Hamill claimed on Twitter recently that the whiney tone was intentional to show growth over the film. I'd link to it if I could, but he wrote on 12/28:  "Consciously made it extra whiney to show immaturity & allow growth later in film.  Admittedly cringe-worthy for sure!".

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For clarification, he didn't write it to me. ;)  But he's a great follow on Twitter; seems like a guy with whom I'd like to have a beer.  His other recent bon mot, when asked if he will have a bigger role in VIII:  "Who knows?  Maybe in the next one my part will be twice as big."

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18 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

I also found myself thinking today about how George Lucas spoke quite openly about the political inspirations for Star Wars: the Nixon administration (the original inspiration for the Emperor, before he became a supernatural villain), the Vietnam War (which inspired the Ewoks), the rise of right-wing politicians (Nute Gunray in the prequels was named after Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan) and ultimately the invasion of Iraq (Anakin's Bush-like ultimatum to Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith). I have a very hard time believing that Disney would allow any of the directors it hires to start talking openly about that sort of subtext. (Although, who knows, maybe there's something in the making-of books that I haven't heard about yet.)

Late reply, but: based on what Ryan's said about the backstory they came up with for the new trilogy, it's safe to say that the filmmakers do have political inspirations (though I'm not sure how the timeline works out re: development and the rise of ISIS itself). The funny thing is, actually, that the political subtext seems strikingly counter to the one Lucas would have espoused (or so it seems to me): the Resistance sounds to me like the anti-Communist insurgents of the Afghan War, immortalized in The Living Daylights. Of course, it's a little shocking to watch TLD now and realize that these heroic anti-Communist warriors will later develop into the Taliban.... 

Whether the directors will talk openly about this sort of inspiration is another question, of course.

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1 hour ago, Buckeye Jones said:

FWIW, Hamill claimed on Twitter recently that the whiney tone was intentional to show growth over the film. I'd link to it if I could, but he wrote on 12/28:  "Consciously made it extra whiney to show immaturity & allow growth later in film.  Admittedly cringe-worthy for sure!".

 

Sure.  Luke was a bit of a grown child who couldn't fully grow up because he was bound to the "farm.  He needed the adventure.  It is obviously part of the plot, but it is still cringe worthy and could have been handled better.  FWIW, one of my facebook friends recently commented that "Anakin's behaviour in the prequels helped to explain why Luke was such a bitch."

i just don't know how far an older Luke could take a new film.  I mean we have no reason to get behind this older Luke except for Star Wars nostalgia which probably isn't enough.  That final scene in the Force Awakens fully rested on nostalgia and I'm much more interested in Rey's story than in Luke's.  If he takes the place of a wise sage or mentor that may be fine.  If he's gone to some path or understanding that is new and fresh that might be even better, but I'm just not interested in seeing him in a lead role.  I'd like to see Chewbacca and Rey develop a companionship and the other characters interact around that.  That would make for interesting dynamics with both Luke and Ren, especially considering Chewbacca's relationship to both of them (having probably been involved in their history together) as well as the mystery of Rey's past (being probably somehow connected to the Skywalkers.)  Developing relationships in these regards could be touching, spiritual, meaningful, or even tragic, while still leaving lots of room to explore various ideas and to give us some cool spaceship scenes etc.  For instance.  What ship does Luke have on that planet?  His old X-Wing?  We're already possibly set up for them to get into some sort of adventure together.

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NBooth wrote:
: Late reply, but: based on what Ryan's said about the backstory they came up with for the new trilogy, it's safe to say that the filmmakers do have political inspirations . . .

They might, sure. But {1} as you note, it's an open question whether they'd actually *talk* openly about any of that (has JJ Abrams ever addressed the accusations of "trutherism" against Star Trek into Darkness, which was co-written by an avowed "truther"?); {2} I think Ryan also noted that the filmmakers ended up leaving most of that backstory out of the film, and certainly in my exchanges with people online I've found that many people don't even understand what the political situation in Episode VII even *is* compared to the political situations of the first six films; and {3} these films don't reflect a single vision any more. Lucas could always talk openly about what he was up to, but who could do that now? JJ Abrams? Kathleen Kennedy? Rian Johnson? Colin Trevorrow? Lawrence Kasdan? There are just too many cooks in this kitchen now.

: The funny thing is, actually, that the political subtext seems strikingly counter to the one Lucas would have espoused (or so it seems to me): the Resistance sounds to me like the anti-Communist insurgents of the Afghan War . . .

Hmmm. I can sort of see that parallel, I guess. What's interesting about *that* is that members of the Carter administration have openly admitted, if memory serves, that they encouraged/lured Russia into invading Afghanistan because they felt Russia should have its own Vietnam. So if the original Star Wars trilogy was inspired by the Vietnam War, with the bad guys being the U.S. and the good guys being the Viet Cong, and the new trilogy was inspired by the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, with the bad guys being the Soviets and the good guys being the proto-Taliban (and their American supporters!), then the dynamic of local warriors fighting back against an imperial invasion remains the same, the only thing different is which empire was behind the invasion (and, thus, which that inspired the movies' villains).

I think I want to ponder this idea of the Republic being America, and supporting the Resistance (i.e. whichever Middle Eastern "freedom fighters" you guys are supporting on any given day of the week), a little more. There was nothing in the first six movies like that. By that I mean, there were no third parties supporting *either* the Empire *or* the Rebellion. And if the First Order has destroyed the Republic's homeworlds -- if the (American) Republic has suffered enormous blowback for helping the Resistance -- then, well, where do the next movies go with that? Does the (American) Republic pack it in? Does it stand and fight? Is it irrelevant to the Resistance-vs-First Order battle from here on? Etc.

: Of course, it's a little shocking to watch TLD now and realize that these heroic anti-Communist warriors will later develop into the Taliban.... 

Indeed. See also Rambo III. (Please see it! *Someone* has to!) (And no, I haven't watched it since it first came out on VHS, back in '88 or '89.)

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10 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

John Drew wrote:
: If Lucas wanted Episodes 1 through 3 to be some kind of stirring, Gibbon-esque epic, an analogue to some kind of DeMille-ian Grand Historical Film Event, why should he get credit for failing to realize that vision?  This isn't a grade school soccer league where you get a participation medal.  

True, but JJ Abrams also shouldn't get a medal for doing a soccer-themed dance when he ought to be out there playing the game.
 

I'm not sure who wrote what you've quoted, but it wasn't me. :)

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On 1/4/2016, 8:08:13, Ryan H. said:

Rian Johnson said that his cinematic inspiration for his film came film Letter Never Sent and Twelve O'Clock High.

I haven't seen either of them, so I don't know what to make of that.

I've seen some of Twelve O'Clock High. There's a lot that goes on in it, but the part everyone seems to remember best is Gregory Peck as a pilot cracking under the strain of too many bombing missions. 

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John Drew wrote:
: I'm not sure who wrote what you've quoted, but it wasn't me. :)

Ooops. (Pronounced the way the Honest Trailers guy says "boobs".) Fixed it.

Justin Hanvey wrote:
: Maybe some Poe Dameron going through mental strain and a bit of ptsd about the war? That could be interesting

It would be nice of *one* of these films turned Poe Dameron into an actual character, especially one worthy of Oscar Isaac's acting talents. (Apparently Poe was originally supposed to die in the TIE fighter crash, but it was only as Isaac was being hired that JJ Abrams decided to bring the character back for the third act. Which explains why that thread of the film's makes no narrative sense whatsoever.) (And I ask you, did *anything* in the first six movies make as little narrative-structural sense as that?)

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Peter T Chattaway said:

Which explains why that thread of the film's makes no narrative sense whatsoever.

Right.  So we're supposed to believe that after the crash Poe made it back to some civilization, hired a ship in order to make his way back to the base in time to meet up with the squadron and make his way to fight with them, and this basically ahead of the others.  It's highly improbable, but I suppose feasible.  What makes absolutely no sense whatsoever is that he would do all of this without trying to find BB-8, whom he said he would find and whom had the part of the map which was so desperately needed and was the whole reason that Poe was there to begin with.

 

Just about every part of this film is barely held together by plot points that don't make any sense and Abram's decision there possibly shows that he just wasn't all that worried about this.

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Well I just assumed he contacted his people and got a ride back to the base. All that happened between the crash and the getting to the base for Han and co. seemed like a few days

But not looking for BB-8 good point, maybe he was worried he was being tracked.

Course it's all conjecture and the film could have at least taken a second to tell us what happened

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As I think about TFA more, my biggest problem is still 

Spoiler

the return to D'Qar. As others have said, it felt hollow. It should have been Leia and Chewbacca who embraced and commiserated. You get Chewie's howl of fury when Ren kills his father, but Chewie's relationship with Leia has grown immensely since they first met - the princess and "big walking carpet." For all we know, Leia has never met Rey until they embrace after the Falcon lands back on D'Qar. Leia and Chewbacca are also Han's closest intimates and I like what someone said about the nature of Han and Chewie's friendship - they were friends and companions before they got involved in the Rebel Alliance and now that Leia and Han are separated. Rey is very likeable as a character, but too new, whereas we've followed Leia and Chewbacca since 1977.

It's also interesting that a lot of the criticism of TFA is based around the unoriginal plot and excessive use of nostalgia. Lucas used the insights of Joseph Campbell and classic mythological motifs for the original trilogy and now J.J. Abrams has seemingly relied upon Star Wars' own mythology 

Spoiler

e.g. the mentor figure dying at the end of every first episode of a trilogy, a terrifying superweapon, etc...

I have to admit too, I haven't seen this much speculation about characters and plot since Lost and it is refreshing and exciting to swap theories.

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To my understanding, SW 1977 was the first time a pop film actually self-consciously replicated the Cambellian thing. Since then, though, it's gotten to be a cliche of certain kinds of popcorn movies, and that's the biggest difference between what Abrams does and what Lucas did. The monomyth trail is well beyond blazed at this point--it's been paved and has convenient exits for weary travelers. 

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