Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why Character Wins in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

AKA I got excited. 

You don’t just come back to Star Wars because of the compelling/exciting plot – stripped to it’s bones it is THE plot. Dark vs Light. Hero vs Villain. Father vs Son. (This is to put it all very simplistically)

You come back because you fall in love with the characters.

That’s what the prequels lacked for me, no one fell in love with Anakin or Obi Wan or Padme as characters. They were fairly wooden. And I didn’t hate those films – I found bits of them painful and the acting was lacking but I was interested in the journey Anakin took to becoming Vader. It could have been executed a lot better, but there were bits I did enjoy. They lacked heart. Both The Force Awakens and the original trilogy have earnest, excited characters with lots of life inside them that you feel protective of and affection for. They inspired your love.

You come back for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia. Three icons who have endured the years.

And you will come back for Finn, Rey and Poe because they inspire the same love that I, and you, felt for that original trio. And that is a credit to Boyega and Ridley, who are both quite new on this stage, and Isaac who is just stepping into these kind of action/adventure roles. Ridley must have felt such pressure and the world on her shoulders – a female lead in a Star Wars movie – a female with perhaps more power than perhaps any character we’ve seen before on Star Wars… It’s brilliantly subversive and a huge task – she would be taken to pieces if she didn’t play it well, but she does – you can see her passion so visibly on screen. She plays it with youthful energy and wonder and excitement – you can feel her excitement both as an actress and a character to be part of this – and you can feel that that’s how you’d be if you were in those shoes too. 

It’s the same with Finn – he seems breathlessly excited in his acting – he’s charming and funny and you want to learn with him and Rey as they take their first steps. Poe fits so naturally – like he was born into that role. Rey and Boyega interact brilliantly and wittily, and it’s so fun to watch their friendship grow as they both get thrown into these new worlds and roles. The old cast are very much mentors and it’s great to see them again but it’s really just as exciting spending a lot of time with Rey and Finn. Forget the ‘political correctness’ and agenda-filled debates and enjoy this because Rey and Finn have already shown they’re so much more than that. Many of the complainers and nay-sayers have the wrong priorities and are just voicing insecurities. These two actors and characters are more than capable of sustaining and reviving a love for Star Wars and what it’s always been at it’s heart.

In the same way your favourite character could be any of Luke or Han or Leia – here you could pick almost anyone and it’s so fun to have all these options – all different in their own way.

I LOVE Rey and I feel strongly protective of her and Daisy Ridley – I, and probably many women who grew up watching Star Wars and wanting to be part of it, feel such an affinity to her and that’s already given me so much more than I hoped for from this film. To have Rey – whose eyes light up at ships and droids and scavenging - in a Star Wars film feels so amazing and I’m almost jealous of the young girls who will grow up watching this and the young boys who will grow up watching her and Finn and Poe and have them as their first point of hero. (I’m not saying Leia wasn’t awesome – she definitely was and is – but Rey is another great character for this generation – she is self-sufficient and proactive and in all the action). The villains were perhaps a bit thinner but I did think Adam Driver played some of his moments very well – you can see the conflict in him in the big moments and hopefully his character will grow as the movies progress. Hux was much more one-dimensional but I think this movie was more focused on introducing the heroes and the villains will be fleshed out later (Molly Weasley would still shut him down in a second though).

Yes, it was nostalgic. Yes, it did replicate the plot of the first one – but I think it did that to recapture that awe and to really show it was going to put all its effort into launching these characters – because they are what’s crucial. I am very much a CHARACTER-over-plot person – I know that might not be the same for a lot of people – but give me good characters, characters I care for and engage with – and I will watch the movie time and time again regardless of plot deficiencies, wobbles and moments where I have to suspend disbelief or ‘not-question-it’. It was the right focus for this film I think – launching a new trilogy. And there were some moments of surprise and nice twists and plot mysteries to carry it through too.

I needed to write this after listening to the review by Talking Comics – my favourite podcast. They always get reviews and debates pitch perfect and they inspired all these thoughts and this excitement to bubble up in me, so that I word-vomited this out as soon as I got home from work. I’m so excited for this saga to continue and just for how thrilling it is to be back on this ride with great characters and a captivated audience. 

I have several reviews and thought-pieces in the works for books by Louise O'Neill, Howard Jacobson, Victoria Aveyard, Sabaa Tahir and G. Willow Wilson (Ms Marvel!) which I will work on over the next few weeks - but this couldn't wait!

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