Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Force Awakens (spoilers)

My boys and I have seen the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, twice. And I love this
film. I didn't expect to get goosebumps, but when that iconic "Star Wars" logo popped up...I felt just like a kid. The story was great, with a perfect mixture of nods to the old and introduction of the new. The new main characters, Rey and Finn, were great characters and well-acted, and I can't wait to see them in the next films of the series.

Also from a purely film-making standpoint, it was really beautifully done. The action scenes were interesting and did not overwhelm the plot but actually added to them. Even the lighting told a story. For example (major spoiler alert), take the scene where Kylo Ren kills his father, Han. Kylo Ren was torn apart inside by the desire to be both 'light' and 'dark' (Romans 7, anyone?). As he is telling this to Han, there are two sets of lighting on Kylo's face--red lighting (typical of the Sith, the Dark Side), and the light of the dying sun behind Han.  As Kylo makes his decision to go full-Dark Side, the sun is extinguished, leaving his face bathed only in red light. This is the sign of a great job of directing, to allow every part of the scene to subtly tell you what is happening inside the character's mind.

But what I loved the absolute most is something which I haven't seen discussed yet...but which I have to believe is purposeful.

Go back to the original prequels for a minute. Like so many others, I was not a fan of the prequels. And yes, I hated the typical things every other fan hated--Jar Jar Binks, the overwrought and nonsensical politics, the wooden acting, the decision that so many original trilogy characters had to show up in the prequel (it was Darth Vader's origin story, not C3P0/R2D2/Chewbacca's origin stories).

But what annoyed me personally the most was the vast difference in fighting styles and the Force.

In the original trilogy, the fighting is very simplistic--simple sword fights done with lightsabers. Most of the battles are actually blasters and ships. But in the prequels, it's all martial art specialists...Jedi and Sith flip through the air like acrobats, dance-fighting their way across all manner of backdrops, force-jumping to massive heights, etc.

The reason for the difference, of course, is that martial arts were so much more a part of filmmaking when the prequels were made compared to the original trilogy. Fanboys tried to explain it away, saying that the original trilogy occurred during a time of Jedi rarity and thus the fights were less dramatic; but this makes no sense. Obi-Wan and Anakin fought dramatically in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith; then they fight very simply and woodenly in Episode IV: A New Hope. Why? What explanation is there?

You see, in the original trilogy, the Force is used as basically a mystical ability, reminding you more of a Biblical prophet than anything else. Vader uses it to force-choke, Obi-Wan uses it briefly for a Jedi mind-trick, and Luke uses it for a force-jump. But for the most part, the Force is not used as a physical battle aid. Through the Force, the characters have visions of the future, see the ghosts of Jedi past, sense the presence of other Jedi across large distances of space, predict where laser blasts will come from, and "feel" the goodness-or-badness of others. Indeed, when used for other things it seems relatively weak compared to the Force during the prequels...even lifting an X-wing seems to take a lot out of Yoda, who in the prequels probably would have sent the thing on a bombing run while doing a Sudoku on the side.

Meanwhile, in the prequels, the Force primarily manifests in physical telekenetics. It is used for dramatic lightsaber battles, for controlling dice-rolls, for bringing down sections of buildings (and holding them up), for making impossible leaps in effortless ways, and the like.

Even the characters who are in all six movies seem affected by the change. As mentioned earlier, the Force's physicality seems to be missing from the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin Round II fight in A New Hope; likewise, even things as simple as forcing a lightsaber to you seem to take far more energy in the original trilogy than in the prequels.

What I love so much about The Force Awakens is that it doesn't endorse either part, but in fact adds a third focus. In The Force Awakens, we see the mind-control aspect taking on far greater power than ever before: untrained Rey is able to overwhelm a highly-trained Stormtrooper guard to release her, and Kylo Ren shows the previously-unseen ability to extract information from someone's mind, a sort of psychic surgery. Along the same lines, Ren on multiple occasions holds a person in place, but it seems not to be a force-push and instead to as if he is "in their head", overriding their desires to move their arm/leg/whatever. Also, we see Ren--who hasn't even finished his training--able to stop a blaster shot mid-air and hold it there for several minutes; this is another trick we've never seen.

And by approaching the Force in this way, we get a very different view of the changes between the two previous trilogies. Now, what was actually just unbalanced filmmaking looks purposeful.

Now, the Force takes on something akin to the Christian view of the Holy Spirit--a ubiqutous force throughout all creation, which gives different gifts at different times and to different people, depending upon the need (cf. I Cor 12:4).

It seems that all aspects of the Force can happen in a given generation, but the tides of the Force ebb and flow like an ocean...and different generations have different levels of Force sensitivity.

So when Obi-Wan was young and Anakin was his apprentice, the Force was widespread and really strong in telekinesis. So an entire generation of Jedi learned to use the Force to supplement their lightsaber skills and become virtuosos on the battlefield; meanwhile the ability even of the Jedi Council to see the future or read or influence people's minds is relatively weak.

A generation later, the Force has evolved. Now we see that Obi-Wan and Anakin--though no doubt still quite skilled in battle--are no longer able to use the Force in dramatic fighting skills. On the other hand, they are quite adept as prophets; the warrior-priests of the prequels are more 'priest' than 'warrior', but now Obi-Wan (who in Episode I is barely able to sense the attempt to kill him on the ship he presently is aboard) by Episode IV is able to sense the emotions of people on Alderaan half a galaxy away.

Then another generation passes, and again the Force's ebbs and flows continue. Enter Rey and Ren, and we see people whose fighting skills are not particularly Force-supplemented, and neither do they seem to have the same type of empathetic prophesy as the original trilogy; however, they have an overflowing abundance of mind-control.

I truly loved this movie, and think what they did with the Force--which I have to imagine is on purpose--was sheer genius. It gives them complete flexibility in the future to evolve and change the Jedi abilities as time goes on, allowing them a tremendous amount of storytelling power.

And was just super-cool.

(NOTE - if this for some reason doesn't work with the Extended Universe, I don't care because (a) that isn't canon, and (b) I haven't read them.)

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