Friday, 1 January 2016

New Star Wars Movie

The new instalment of the Star Wars movie series has been one of the most anticipated and promoted extravaganzas in cinematic history. George Lucas released the first of the seven films in 1977, Star Wars- Episode IV, a New Hope. This was followed by two sequels in 1980 and 83, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Because the first film was the fourth episode of an ongoing story, Lucas then began working on a trilogy of prequels, the first of which hit the screens in 1999. These provided the back story to what took place in the original trilogy. The last of these, Episode III, Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 and there has been nothing more until now. However this new film is very different; it is a sequel to the entire original series, episodes one to six. Star Wars- Episode VII, the Force Awakens is set about thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star, the restoration of the Galactic Republic and the fall of the Empire; this we saw at the end of Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. Now a new threat faces the Republic, the emergence of a regime similar to the old Empire called the "First Order". It declares war on the Republic and attacks it. For the first time, George Lucas is not directing. Instead he has sold the franchise to Disney and they assigned JJ Abrams. Abrams has recently done an excellent job making a run of new Star Trek movies, but when I heard he was to direct Star Wars I was dubious. Star Trek is very much rooted in the mainstream science fiction genre, but Star Wars is not. Star Wars is often described as a sci-fi story, but I wouldn't call it that. It has science fiction elements, but at its basic level it is more of a sword and sorcery tale. It would be very easy to remake Star Wars in a mediaeval European fantasy setting without significantly altering the plot. It has mystical features that Star Trek doesn't. The run up to the film's release was awash with promotion and publicity, including a new Star Wars channel on TV where you can watch the existing movies back-to-back. There was no single premiere, just a one-off explosive first night. It was shown to the astronauts on board the International Space Station at the same time; something that has never been done before.

I didn't feel the need to see the new Star Wars movie straight away as soon as it was released. As a child I was obsessed with the franchise and owned all the plastic toys and figures. I would have been champing at the bit if the film had come out back then. I realized I didn't really have time to go and see it until after Christmas, but I also knew that this wasn't a problem because it would be on show in cinemas for ages. So I went to see the early morning showing today, New Year's Day. I went with my twenty year old daughter Louisa who has already seen it with her boyfriend and friends, but she never dumped any spoilers on me and so neither shall I with you, dear HPANWO reader... I was relieved to see that Abrams has respected the customary memes of the franchise; the titles showing words moving through space like a giant spacecraft were there as well as John Williams' definitive theme. At the end of the film the closing titles also played the theme in its more upbeat working, almost Wild West in feel. This film was very different to the prequel trilogy and that was good. I enjoyed Episodes I, II and III, but my feelings for them were lukewarm compared to the originals I'd loved as a child. I wasn't alone in the impression that the prequels lacked something. The Force Awakens does not; in fact it's far closer in style to the original series than the prequels. Unlike the prequels it doesn't visually overwhelm the viewer with very complex camerawork and excessive detail. It has great special effects, but it uses them more sparingly and appropriately, and less ostentatiously. It also warmly reintroduces the viewer to most of the major protagonists from the original trilogy, all of whom are played by the same cast. They were mostly absent from the prequels simply because the setting was before their lives began. I checked to see and was delighted to find out that the former hospital porter, Peter Mayhew, was brought in once again to animate the furry body of Chewbacca, see: The Force Awakens also introduces three new principle characters. One is a young woman called Rey who lives on the planet Jakku, which is a desert planet very similar to Tatooine. She works as a scrap metal dealer and lives in poverty with barely enough food to eat. Her life changes forever when she meets the second of the new protagonists, Finn. Finn is a stormtrooper fighting for the First Order and he is the first one ever to display personality behind his imperial-style white helmet and body armour. He mutinies when he is ordered to kill civilians in a village on Jakku, something I wish real soldiers would do more often, see: Then he has to go on the run and meets up with Rey who befriends him. It turns out that the Force is strong with both of them, although they only find out during the course of the story. The third newcomer is the principle antagonist, Kylo Ren who is essentially a new Darth Vader. He was a former paduan, a trainee Jedi, who has turned to the Dark Side of the Force. Like Darth Vader he is also closely related one of the major protagonists. The First Order is ruled over by a creature that looks like Gollum or an Orc, beings envisaged by JRR Tolkien. The First Order is interesting because although it uses a lot of the old Empire's hardwear; uniforms, weapons, spacecraft etc, it has quite an ecclesiastical feel to it. Kylo Ren's clothes are very like those of a traditional priest and his lightsabre has two small side blades making it look like a cross. Its blades also flicker like fire; it looks a bit like the burning cross symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. When consulting with the Gollum-like being you can hear monastic chanting in the background. In an inversion of Darth Vader, Ren continuously feels the seduction of the Light Side of the Force and has to fight hard to resist it.
I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that the storyline of this latest movie Star Wars- Episode VII, the Force Awakens is fairly similar to that of the first movie Star Wars- Episode IV, a New Hope. Along with the familiar style, this will satisfy viewers who are nostalgic for the classic Star Wars experience. There are plenty of weird alien creatures, blaster shoot-outs, lightsabre duels and spaceship dogfights. However I was surprised to see that few of the spaceship battles took place in space; all the major ones were carried out close to a planet's surface, within its atmosphere. Therefore the vehicles functioned much more like aircraft than spacecraft. This surprised me, but didn't disappoint me. The dogfights were outstanding and they were fought among the wreckage of crashed imperial starships, in the sky above ancient monuments and in between snowy mountains. The First Order has a secret super-weapon just like the old Empire which had its Death Stars; however the First Order's is far more terrible than the Death Star. Like the Death Star is it a giant cannon, but it is ten times as big. It is not built on an artificial space station, but is actually adapted from a real natural planet, a planet with life on it. This I found very disturbing. The planet they used has basically been turned into a celestial cyborg. This is a very New World Order-ish thing to. Does the First Order signify the Illuminati? There was something else about the film that I found annoying and I wonder if I was imagining the clich├ęd stench of political correctness. Finn is played by a black actor, John Boyega, and he is very good indeed. I hope JJ Abrams cast Boyega because of his considerable merit. However, could Boyega have been given the role simply through affirmative action because he is black? Does this mean if he happened not to have been such a good actor he might still have got the part anyway, maybe elbowing out a better white actor? There's no way to be sure, but I hope not. As I said, fancy special effects are used more conservatively in this film than in the prequel run. The final scene of the movie appears to have no SFX at all and is shot on location at Skellig Michael, the ruins of an ancient monastery on an isolated island off the coast of Ireland. It's famous for its long flight of stone steps and we see Rey ascending them in the film. Other locations were the United Arab Emirates and Iceland, but the studio work was all done at the Pinewood facility in England, where the other Star Wars movies were made. All in all I think this is probably the best ever Star Wars movie. I did not walk into the cinema this morning expecting to come out saying that. JJ Abrams has done a brilliant job creating a new adventure in the best traditions of George Lucas' franchise. In a sense I think Star Wars has gone back to its roots. I look forward to the future movies planned; I know there will be at least two more.   


Jerry Griffin said...

Now, that was an excellent review, Sir.

I have personally tired of the attacks from space programming and Episodes 1-3 have left me completely disinterested. (Alternative news impolitically incorrect statements notwithstanding...)

I am now interested in seeing the film because of your insights.



Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Cheers, Jerry. Let us know what you think of the movie.


Ben :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting write up on Star Wars. Just like not being on facebook people look at me like a murderer is the same because I have never watched a Star Wars Movie.

"could Boyega have been given the role simply through affirmative action because he is black? Does this mean if he happened not to have been such a good actor he might still have got the part anyway, maybe elbowing out a better white actor? There's no way to be sure, but I hope not."

In response to this James Earl Jones points many times that Lucas wanted Darth Vaders voice to be something “darker”, if we are to use the rubric of 'race' (Subjective views on the Human Race) we often end up in a web of positive and negative prejudices unwittingly. One could state that Lucas did not think 'dark voice' as in terms of 'Black Man' or that Dark skinned people also represent our dualistic ideas of dark meaning Bad/Negative/Not to be trusted, but rather a voice that was just naturally deep and exotic that James Earl Jones and many other people of all nationalities can have!.

Likewise, the fact that Finn is played by a Black Actor raises no such abstractions in my mind other than he is an actor and has played a reasonable to excellent role. Indeed, there are many non 'Dark' actors cast who play very poor leading roles and such topics regarding performance are not projected into the realm of 'Race' or possible prejudices (be they positive or negative) on behalf of the Casters, only that 'they sucked in this movie' with the dignity of any other factors about their physicality superfluous to the paying audience and cinematic experiance.

Positive and Negative discriminations are self-fulfilling and subjectively ambivilant concepts that are given validation by both sides. Perhaps the battle between Dark & Light, Empire and the Free World is not only in Star Wars but a matter of point of view, dualistic awareness and the real war between expectational patterns, the familiar and Ego?.

Anonymous said...

Aren't the Jedi taken from a middle eastern term? I ask because Finn said he was taken and raised as a storm trooper (rather than being a clone?). This happened for centuries in the Middle East with rulers preferring soldiers raised as slaves from conquered populations. Even the officers sometimes were slaves from children with loyalty only to the army which was their 'parents'. Leon S

Neil Austin said...

Very well written review Ben!
I've just got back from watching Star Wars this afternoon. Xylomet's comment holds water too IMHO. The Finn character was very well portrayed and acted. Harrison Ford gets away with minimal effort and I can't put that down to his relatively advanced years...Max Von Sydow is 86 FFS and has more acting ability in his little finger!
There was an interesting reference to Finn having been 'monitored for signs of non-conformity' which raised a chuckle! The 'First Order/New World Order' is a gimme!
When viewing this film alongside the recent conclusion of the Hunger Games series, it is surprising to me how Hollywood is still so keen to promote the notion of rebellion against a tyrannical regime as the ultimate act of heroism. How long until the masses learn to recognise their own enslavement for what it truly is I wonder?

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Thanks for your comments, Anon, X and Neil. I also thought the stormtroopers were all clones of Jengo Fett, that is why in the prequels they were all played by Temura Morrison, the New Zealand actor who played Fett. I also noticed the reference to "non-conformity" relating to Finn. How like our world that is!