Just forget the words and sing along

Sunday, December 20, 2015

So. Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Well, the day has come.  Three short years ago, our collective jaws dropped when it was announced that Disney bought Lucasfilm and they'd be giving us Episode VII in 2015.  It's been three manic years of Internet rumours and speculation, and the it is finally here.

Even though it's only been out for two days, I feel like the last person on Earth who's finally gotten around to seeing it.  I've gotten tweets and texts from people who were there at the midnight shows, sending me gushing reviews.  But the only ones I was looking forward to were from my two best friends.

One currently lives in France, where it premiered on Wednesday, and she's already seen it twice.  I saw all the prequels with her.  Her succinct review:  "I liked it...but it was no Jupiter Ascending."

The other is spending his Christmas vacation in Japan.  I really wanted to know his opinion, because during the prequels, he was the biggest Star Wars fan going.  His thoughts?  "It feels like the first half of a movie...but it's a great first half."  I was a little stunned when he said he actually preferred the prequels a little bit.  What he loved the most about the prequels was the world-building.  He was inspired by those films to read all the novels and comic books and play all the video games because he wanted to know more about this gigantic world that had been created.  He was dying to know the back story of every cool-looking background character with just two lines of dialogue.  But Force Awakens...not so much.

So I bought my ticket online a few months ago for the Scotiabank Theatre in West Edmonton Mall...the same theatre where I saw all the prequels.  What can I say?  I'm old and set in my ways.  It's just not a Star Wars movie unless that 30 foot tall Yoda hanging from the ceiling is watching over me.

Because of the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm, I was wondering what we'd get to start it off instead of the 20th Century Fox fanfare.  I was surprised that it was just the Lucasfilm logo and silence.  And then...the classic John Williams music.  The title.  The opening crawl.  And I felt the same giddiness I had in 1999 when I first saw The Phantom Menace:  "Holy crap.  It's a new Star Wars movie."

I was surprised at how much more emotional this film was.  I never really noticed the wooden acting in the prequels that much.  But in the Force Awakens, are new characters are so loose and they're talking like real people and the have real struggles and desires...the characters feel real.

I love our new characters.  Rey, who's searching for her place.  Finn, who has a crisis of conscience.  And even our villain, Kylo Ren, who has the struggle that he's not really as evil as he wants to be.  How crazy is that?  A bad guy who's upset that he's not completely bad.  

I felt the same joy I did with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:  the joy that Harrison Ford showed up.  He's not Mr. Sleepy-Mumbles, as he is in all his film these days.  He is Han Solo again, and it's magical.  And when Carrie Fisher comes back again as General Leia.  The nostalgia goes up to overdrive to see them again.

Do I have quibbles?  Yeah...the plot is very reminiscent of Star Wars, or A New Hope to some.  Same problem I had with the prequels, and even The Hobbit when compared to Lord of the Rings.  In franchises like this, there seems to be that desire to match up the story beats with the corresponding film in the previous trilogy.  And this matches just a little too closely.  And it's great to hear John Williams do new Star Wars music again, but there's no catchy new theme that I find myself humming.  (But to be fair, people had that complaint with Return of the Jedi and the prequels...save for Duel of the Fates.)

But when we got that traditional iris out at the end and the end credits start rolling, I did something that I did not expect.  Something that the prequels never did to me.  I started crying.  I started crying, you guys, from a Star Wars movie.  I did not expect to get that invested in this film.

It's just so good you guys.  So good.  Star Wars is back.

4 nibs.  My more traditional review is up on my website.

What follows is the traditional rambling BS I blog when I get home from a day in the city, so feel free to check out now.

It's been a rough couple of weeks.  December is always busy at a radio station, what with Christmas contests and charity drives and working ahead to get ready for Christmas vacation.  And things were made just a little more difficult when the morning guy decided to take a day off to catch a midnight show of The Force Awakens.

I never sleep when I get the call to fill in on the morning show.  I mean, at radio stations, the morning show is "the big show," so there's a little more pressure to deliver.  "But Mark," you say.  "Didn't you do mornings in Athabasca for seven years?"  Yeah...but when I started, it took about 8 months for me to calm down enough and adjust to the early hours before I started sleeping through the night again.

Anyway, I got through my sleepless night, did a pretty good morning show, spent an afternoon working ahead for the upcoming Christmas vacation, and went out into the snow.  After being blessed with a mild winter, we were being hit with our first blizzard.  I was reading reports of horrible roads into the city.  This always happens in December...huge snowstorm.  I need to go to the city.  Something craps out on my car.  Thousands of dollars in repairs.  My tires are getting pretty worn out.  This is it.  My tires are going to blow out.  I'm going to die if I go into the city to watch Star Wars.

I headed home from work, and tried to relax.  I put Star Wars into the Blu-Ray to watch it again, because it seems like that's what everyone is doing these days with Force Awakens on the horizon.  After that, I was in the mood for a little more George Lucas, so I decided to watch American Graffiti.  Probably one of the greatest movies ever made about the power of radio, as everyone in the film is united by listening to Wolfman Jack, and at the film's climax, our hero reaches out to that voice on the radio to finally track down his dream woman.  Great stuff.

And I was dismayed to discover that American Graffiti is the latest disc that my Blu-Ray player has eaten.  I've already blogged about this.  I have a bunch of Blu-Rays now where, when I pop them in the player, the disc goes dead after the loading screen.  I google the problem, and the Internet tells me I need to download the newest updates.  I google my make and model, and they tell me that no updates have been released for my Blu-Ray player in three years.

So I think it's time to upgrade the Blu-Ray player.  I've already decided to wait until the new year, to see if I get a Christmas windfall from gift cards and Christmas bonuses, and couple that with post-Christmas sales.  Even so, Blu-Ray players have really come down since I bought mine six years ago.  You can get a really decent model for just under $100.

And then I start thinking, "Well, if you're going to spend that much money on a Blu-Ray player, why not those new tires you're fretting about?  Or a new couch?  That one you got for free from a co-worker 8 years ago is getting pretty worn out.  Oh, wait.  You can't afford any of that stuff, because you don't make a lot of money!  And right now, what little you do have you're blowing on crappy Christmas presents because you can't afford good ones!  YOU'RE A FAILURE AT LIFE!  YOU'RE A TOTAL AND COMPLETE LOSER!"

Hello, sleepless night #2.

Needless to say, I wasn't in the best condition when I woke up on Saturday morning.  A quick peek out the window verified that the snow had stopped.  A check of the road conditions online said that the roads were good.  Did what I lovingly call the pre-flight checks on my car.  Oil's good...could top off the tank...tires a little low.  When I got gas, I also took a moment to top up the tires.

Since my Christmas shopping is largely done, all I was doing in the city today was seeing the movie.  So I decided to go straight to West Edmonton Mall.  My showing was at 1:45, and I was there at 10:30.  Lots of time to browse the Mall.  I once read that the final Saturday before Christmas is always the busiest shopping day of the holiday season, but the Mall didn't show it.  It looked and felt about as busy as a typical Saturday.  I noticed that, too, on my last couple of Christmas shopping excursions.  Christmas seems to be quieter this year.  This being Alberta, I'm sure the slowdown in the oilpatch has a lot to do with it.

Roamed the halls, went browsing in my usual haunts.  A few nice Blu-rays spotted in HMV, but I decided against picking them up for the time being.  Gotta slow down a little bit, what, with Christmas shopping tapping me out and all that.  I'm glad they finally brought the whale back, in its new location in front of Sears.  I'm a tad disappointed that it's not in a fountain again, but just on the floor, with the area painted blue to look like the ocean.  It used to be a thing that I'd always toss a penny into the whale's fountain.  But its fountain is gone.  Pennies are gone.  Grow up, Mark.

It was getting time for the movie.  I made my way over to the theatre and found my seat.  People were amazed that I decided to see it on a Saturday afternoon, instead of opening day, or even one of the midnight shows.  The midnight shows have never been my thing.  I only ever did one...and that was for the first X-Men way back in Y2K.  And as for opening day...well, I had to work.  As I blogged before, I keep forgetting that I live close enough to the city now that I can slip into town after work and catch a movie on opening day.  Seven years in Athabasca, so far from Edmonton, I just got programmed that I have to plan an entire day around films.  But now...not so much.

But as the lights dimmed, and the trailers started running, all I could think was, "Things have been rough the last couple of weeks...hell, it's been a rough year.  Please be good.  I need this to be good."

And it was.

Still here after my tales of angst and woe? Well, turn back now, because I'm about to get into spoilers.

I expected that a mentor character was going to die.  As I said, these things try to match the story beats of the previous trilogy.  We had Obi-Wan die in A New Hope.  We had Qui-Gon die in The Phantom Menace.  Someone was going to die.

And, because of the whole generational aspect to these films, it made sense that one of the new characters would be revealed to be the child of one of our classic heroes.  I was so certain that Rey's last name was being kept secret because they were going to reveal it to be Solo and that she was Han and Leia's daughter.

But I didn't expect the child would be the villainous Kylo Ren, the son of Han and Leia, fallen to the Dark Side.

And I didn't expect that the mentor who died would be Han Solo.  Harrison Ford finally got his wish.

It was such a tragic death.  It's how Count Dooku's death should have been handled.  Kylo Ren has been told that killing his own father is what's needed to complete his path to the Dark Side.  When it does happen, and Han is trying desperately to reach his son, it's a gut punch when Kylo Ren fires up his lightsaber and eviscerates his own father.

That's what Anakin's path to the Dark Side lacked...genuine heart.  Emotion behind it.

And there's still hope for Rey.  Some are already speculating that she's Luke's long-lost daughter.  Notice that she had a doll in her hovel that was dressed in X-Wing pilot flight gear?  And she was messing about with a X-Wing pilot's helmet that looked kinda like Luke's?

I guess we gotta wait for Episode VIII, coming in May of 2017.  

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