Monthly Archives: December 2015

Fanboy Movie Review #4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

star-wars-episode-vii-the-force-awakens

Great! What does that mean, exactly?

Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.

First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt.  Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.

Rey-and-Finn

Real guys don’t look at explosions…

What I Liked:

  • THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
  • The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
  • The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
  • BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
  • The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
  • Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
  • The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.

 

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Fine, just don’t take off the mask.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of something that has gone before.
  • Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
  • The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
  • Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
  • Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
  • General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
  • Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.

Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):

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More than I can count, I have.

Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the walls of the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About Rey:

rey

There…is…annoootherr…Sky…walllkeerrr…

The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?

But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?

Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.

We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.

 

Conclusions: 

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Oh, so THAT’s why Luke isn’t on the movie poster.

It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.

It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.

But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.

Onward to Episode VIII!

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.

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Letters from Vault 111

[Note: This is partially a bit of Fallout 4 satire, but also an ‘in character’ way to clear things off my chest that the game left unresolved. I almost always play female characters in Bethesda games, and this one is no different, so take note. There are MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so if you don’t want to know about the story and characters of Fallout 4, opt out now.)

From the desk of Evelyn Weir (née Moore), Sole Survivor of Vault 111, Director of the Institute, and General of the Minutemen:

[ Personal NoteI’m not sure what’s wrong with me. I don’t know if I was always this conversationally stunted, or if my long stint in cryo storage has somehow affected my brain. Maybe Nate was just too polite to point it out to me, but these days it seems that I can only respond to any talking point in four basic ways. I’m not sure why.  

Oftentimes what actually comes out of my mouth is different from what I intended to say, or I am unable to articulate certain feelings, nuances, or even share basic information. I’ll attempt to be funny and come off as hurtful; I’ll misinterpret what is being said and respond with something I would normally never dream of. I don’t remember being this limited in law school, but the person who emerged from Vault 111 is quite different in many ways from the person who went into it.

Regardless, this ‘limit of four’ does not appear to affect my ability to write, and so I pen these letters to my friends, family, and the people I’ve met along my travels in the Commonwealth. ]

To Shaun Weir, Former Director of the Institute:

Shaun

From the moment I set foot out of Vault 111, you were my driving concern, the reason behind my every thought and action. I wanted revenge for your father’s murder, of course, but more than that, I wanted my baby back. I did some things in my desperation that, looking back, I’m not proud of. I used people for information. I carved out Sanctuary Hills on the blood of many raiders, ghouls, and supermutants. I turned myself into something I could barely recognize in the mirror. But, I did what I had to. I needed the resources and allies to find you.

And then, when the moment arrived (with you staring down the barrels of my minigun while I stood there menacingly in red power armor), I realized that I had missed your whole life. Not only were you physically old enough to be my father, but you were dying to boot. And we were perfect strangers. We had no relationship, and you acted curiously detached from me at all points. Would a simple “I love you, mom” or a hug have been too much to ask?

I still think that you should have read Descartes and applied a healthy dose of cogito ergo sum to your conduct towards the Synths. They deserved better than what they got from you. They are your children, and my thus my grandchildren. I intend to treat them as such. I also think that what you asked me to do the Underground was not necessary, and horrible. That was a mistake, and one I wish I had never been a party to.

But even with the Underground’s blood on my hands, the loss of life was kept to a minimum. I can only imagine the carnage that would have come to pass if the Underground or the Brotherhood ever had their chance to destroy the Institute. I promise that I will continue your work with the Institute, albeit on a different trajectory. Too bad you were never able to fully articulate your vision of the future to me (which is still pretty nebulous, I have to admit). Regardless, I count myself lucky to have known you for the brief time I did, even if it was only to lose you again. You can’t know how much that hurt.

To Jack Valentine, Private Eye:

Valentine (Clipped)

I know you feel that you are merely a pretender with dead man’s life in your head, but I urge you to consider that our memories, our will, our personality…those are the things that make us who we are. I don’t see you as an android pretending to be Detective Jack Valentine of the BPD. No, I see you as Jack Valentine reborn. One day maybe you will, too. You didn’t choose this situation for yourself, of course, but you’ve done well with the hand of cards you were dealt. You and Ellie have helped countless people who were down or desperate, and I know you didn’t do it for the caps.

You were instrumental in helping me find my Shaun, and you stood with me through so many dangers and hardships to get to that point. I know you were unhappy with me when I sided with the Institute, and I don’t blame you. I would be in your place. Somehow, though, I couldn’t tell you that the son you helped me find was, in fact, the Institute’s leader. It seems like that might have cast my decision in a different light for you.

But, I am glad you haven’t abandoned me. Rest assured that I will use the resources of the Institute to determine why you were discarded, if you want, and to ensure the fair treatment of Synths of all types. Also, I hope you will consider staying on in Sanctuary Hills as its resident sheriff. The town needs it, and there is no one I would trust more in that position. The badge is yours if you want it.

To Piper Wright, Editor-in-Chief of Publick Occurrences:

Piper (Clipped)

Piper, you are my best friend. Some of my best memories of my time in the Commonwealth are when I donned the signature coat and fedora of the Silver Shroud. You looked the part of the side-kick in your dashing red trenchcoat. I loved those times. You hunt the truth, even when it’s hazardous to your health (shall we say especially when it’s hazardous to your health). But you never give up, and you help people, and not just when it’s convenient or easy.

Like Jack, you felt betrayed by my decision to join the Institute. I can’t seem to convince you with words (certainly when we speak face to face), so I hope that actions will suffice instead. I have already decreed that all Synths that want to live on the surface, freely and without further contact with us, may do so. The abduction and replacement program has been terminated (along with the troublesome scientist at the helm of it). You have my solemn and most sacred vow to use the technology and resources at my disposal to help rebuild the Commonwealth. You’ve put your trust in me before, and I hope that you will do so again.

So how about this: You want the real story of the century? How about an all-access press pass to the Institute itself? No restrictions, no censorship, just you and the inside scoop. What do you say? Oh, and you called it on Mayor McDonough, just FYI. Yep, totally a Synth. Again, not sure why I couldn’t tell you this before, but there it is.

To Codsworth:

Codsworth

You are the only living family I have left, my one link to my old life before the war. You remember Nate and Shaun just as I do, and the happy little home in the suburbs that we all shared together. You were there when we first brought Shaun home from the hospital. You cared for him, and us, tirelessly ever after.

And it is because of that, that I owe you the biggest apology I’ve ever given out. We didn’t take you to the vault when the alarms sounded. I should have tried, but I was scared. When the alarms went off, I ran. You deserved better than to be abandoned to that uncertain fate. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you remained around Sanctuary Hills for two centuries waiting for our return, or that we were reunited.

Like the others who had a stake in me finding Shaun, I couldn’t tell you that I had found him, and that he was alive. But he’s gone now, having died from a vaguely defined disease that the Institute, in all their knowledge, was powerless to stop. I know you would have wanted to see him again. He had Nate’s eyes, bright and clear and intelligent. Looking into them was like seeing a window to the past.

With his passing, however, I know that I can’t reclaim the past; I have to move forward. I used to think that family was only blood, only human, but I was wrong. You, Jack, and Curie have shown me that family transcends mere flesh and circuitry, and I’m glad you are here to help build a future with me.

[Personal Note: There’s so much more to say. I’m still reeling from all the ramifications of what my actions have brought about. “War never changes,” that’s what Nate used to say, but lives are something else, something different. If my time in the Commonwealth has taught me anything, it’s that Life is Change. We’ll just have to see where these changes take us. ]