(or, The Urban Spaceman rambles about Star Wars, Star Trek, and how Domhnall Gleeson may be the next Gary Oldman)
Today is an exciting day. Amazon just gave me the release date for my pre-order of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it’s such a thrilling moment that even my computer decided to get excited too!
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never been the biggest Star Wars fan. If you say “Star…” I’ll automatically finish your sentence with an eager “…Trek!” But The Force Awakens has got me interested in Star Wars in a way that I haven’t been since Return of the Jedi. I’ve been asking myself why. What is it about TFA that has made me pre-order this on DVD despite the fact I’ve seen it three times in the cinema? (for comparison, the only other films I’ve deemed worthy of seeing more than once on the big screen were X-Men (the first film) and The Dark Knight Rises). In order to answer my own question, I’m going to ramble a little about what holds my interest as a reader or viewer.
Who are these people? How did they get here? Where did all those other people go? Why was Rey abandoned? How did this First Order get so powerful? How did they manage to make a droid even cuter than R2-D2?
TFA does not spoon-feed its viewers. Apparently this is a problem for some people (presumably, the same people who hated TV show Lost). I’ve heard complaints that the film has plot holes (it does, but meh) and that it doesn’t provide any answers.
How many answers did A New Hope provide? How long did we have to wait to find out just what the hell the Clone Wars were? Why can some people touch the Force, but not others? Did we ever get an answer for why the squeaky-clean Empire had tentacle monsters in its garbage compactors instead of, you know, plain old garbage incinerators? (Answer: tentacle monsters make for better tension/viewing than incinerators, ergo, monster.)
The film leaves a lot to the imagination. Which I like. Because I am a writer, and I fill in those gaps inside my head, and sometimes I write the gaps down and flesh them out. And other people do that too. We all fill the gaps in our own ways. And this is kinda smart, because it leaves doors open for writers to come along a few years later and write material to fill those gaps which Disney can sell (consider all the Extended Universe stuff that’s been developed over the years).
For your average Joe Viewer, I can understand why the lack of answers might be confusing. But there are still two more films to go, not to mention the spin-offs and various other side-projects designed to augment the films by building a world fans can really get immersed in.
Mystery is good.
Second, BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS!
Hooray for characters who are conflicted. Han Solo is a broken man? Excellent. Finn is sometimes a coward? Yay! Kylo Ren doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going and thinks Darth Vader is breathing down his neck? Yippee! There is nothing more boring than a one-dimensional character. This film is pretty much the first time Han Solo has more than one dimension. We see the tiredness and the pain on his face, and I think some of that is actually real. Harrison Ford doesn’t want to be there. That much is very obvious. He has nothing to do because Solo has run away from all responsibility and is getting a little old to be the dashing rogue he was in his younger days. The way he went out gave his presence in the film meaning.
I haven’t read the novelisation yet, but I hear that in it, Rey actually and seriously considers killing Kylo Ren, after she’s kicked his ass, and I really wish they had been able to put this in the film and convey it well. It would have given her character an additional layer. She’s the hero. We get it. But being the hero isn’t just about being brave; it’s about being challenged, and overcoming your demons. Compare to Finn, who overcomes the fear for his own life to go save Rey. This is a man who’s been spending the past few days or weeks (or the past 50 minutes, if you want to go off movie-time) running away from the First Order, and now he’s about to fly back into Fort Knox to rescue the girl he cares for. That is a character being challenged. That is what Rey needed in the film.
Further complaints I’ve heard about the film are along the lines of “Waah Kylo Ren isn’t believable as a villain and he’s just some whiny emo kid blah blah” and so forth (though I will note that I find Emo Kylo Ren’s Twitter—@KyloR3n—absolutely hilarious and it should be Followed by everybody). Back to the film. First, he’s very believable as a villain. He represents an (emotional? mental?) instability that we haven’t seen in any SW villains so far. And yes he’s petulant and throws tantrums. I hear the book gives more depth to his character, so he may be suffering the same fate as Rey, at least a little, in the film. But he also makes a perfect Bonnie to Hux’s Clyde. The two are diametrically opposed; Hux is a serious, competent officer who offers to take immediate responsibility for failure and DAMN the consequences! Ren is the naughty child who realises he’s done wrong but immaturely tries to argue “it wasn’t my fault!” Hux is a fanatic who lives and breathes for the First Order, whilst Ren appears to be using them more as a means to an end (whilst simultaneously being used by Snoke… oh what a delicious triangle!). And this works for me. Which leads me on to…
Third, WORKS IN PROGRESS!
As in, we’re seeing people figure out where they fit in to this strange new universe. Rey just got dumped on. She has crazy new powers and hears dead people when she touches Anakin’s lightsabre. Finn just realised he can’t be the trained killer the First Order made him, and oh shit he really needs to get the hell out of Dodge. Kylo Ren is basically just lost and trashing anything in his path out of frustration over his Daddy Issues, his Grandfather Worship, and his unfulfilled desire to get rid of his goody-two-shoes Uncle. He has no idea who he really is, because he’s so busy trying to be like Vader, and trying to be everything his father and uncle aren’t, that he isn’t his own person.
This is partially what is missing from many of the other films. Out of all the ‘new’ characters, the only one who seems to know who he is and what he’s about is Poe. Everybody else is lost and confused, and that’s great to see because it’s relatable. Who hasn’t found themselves questioning Authority at some point? Who hasn’t pondered their own morality, or felt abandoned/alone at least once in their lives?
I felt this relatability was lacking in the original trilogy. Leia always had plans (not necessarily the ones she stole) and knew what she was doing. She was confident and competent, which is great, but I couldn’t really connect with her emotionally despite being in awe of her Hutt-strangling skills and general awesomness. I’ve touched already on Han’s singular dimension—the books which followed in the years after the movies did more for Han than the movies themselves ever did. Luke is the most relatable of all the original characters, but even when he’s being kicked whilst he’s down, he still gives the impression that he knows what he’s doing and can cope. Even finding out that Vader was his father didn’t overwhelm him all that much.
What can I say about the prequels? The highlight, for me, was Ewan McGregor’s beard. I’m aware that some other stuff happened, like Ewan McGregor battling an asthmatic Gen. Grievous, and Ewan McGregor being rubbish at piloting a starfighter, but that’s about all I remember (props to Liam Neeson’s beard, though). I felt like I was watching people doing things. I didn’t feel like I was watching a journey. But that’s just me.
Whew, this is a long ramble. Bear with me, we’re almost there.
Fourth, CHARACTER CHEMISTRY, ROMANCE AND BROMANCE
Some things really, really work well together. I’m going to list some things which work well from the other Star **** franchise, and if you’re a fan, you’ll understand immediately.
Jordi and Data. Odo and Quark. O’Brien and Bashir. Picard and Riker. Dax and Sisko. Nog and Jake. Archer and Tucker. Tucker and T’Pol.
Characters need chemistry. They need to tug at my heartstrings when I see them together, even if there’s no romance involved. Han and Leia actually tugged a whole lot more for me in TFA than they did in the original trilogy (where Leia was annoyingly shoutey and the whole thing seemed rather forced). For me, the only (b)romances which really worked in the original trilogy were Han/Chewie and Luke/Han.
In TFA, the character chemistry works a lot more, at least for me. Poe, Finn and Rey are a litter of excited puppies. “OMG WE’RE DOING STUFF AND IT’S SO AMAZING AND YOU’RE AMAZING TOO, WOOO!!” Their excitement makes me excited because it’s so genuine. I actually had a huge stupid grin on my face each time I watched Poe and Finn escape the Finalizer in a TIE fighter. Poe and Finn have bromance chemistry. I can’t wait for Ep. VIII, when hopefully Finn wakes up and has a manly cuddle with Poe. And Rey and Finn have romance chemistry which is apparent from the moment on Jakku when the first thing Finn asks after their near-TIE experience, is whether Rey is okay. You can see it on her face. Nobody has ever asked her if she is okay before. Nobody has ever put her welfare above their own. And that makes me, as a reader/viewer, go “AWWWWW!”
The good thing about TFA is that even the bad-guys have chemistry! Remember how in the original series, every on-screen bad-guy except Vader was expendable? RIP Grand Moff Tarkin. RIP
Captain Admiral Needa. Stormtroopers? I think of stormtroopers as paper people. Not so in TFA. Hux and Ren have a hate-hate relationship which you can almost taste. An anti-bromance which I really hope will be developed in future instalments. And Captain Phasma is so cool with her shiny armour that you just know, even after the garbage compactor, that she’s going to be back.
Other than Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon, I didn’t think much of any of the character chemistry in the prequel films, though I suppose an argument could be made for R2/3PO. The romance between Anakin/Padmé felt forced. The Master/Padawan dynamic between Obi-Wan and Anakin just didn’t work for me. Every time Anakin said, “Yes, master,” I got a visual of some creepy Igor stereotype limping his way through a cliché horror-film castle lisping, “Yesth, maaaasthter.” TPM held my interest despite Jar-Jar Binks, but Clones lost it during some frolic through a field. It didn’t help that there was a running ‘Anakin saves Obi-Wan’ gag for the next two films which made Obi-Wan look incompetent (although endearingly relatable) and Anakin look like some amazing Mary Sue who could do no wrong (until he turned to the Dark Side).
There isn’t really one “thing” which has piqued my interest about TFA; it’s an amalgamation of all of the above. And yet there is something which does MYSTERY, BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS, WORKS IN PROGRESS and CHARACTER CHEMISTRY, ROMANCE AND BROMANCE much better than The Force Awakens. What is this excellent work of sci-fi space-opera fiction? One word.
Humanity’s warp program is only just getting started. The Federation doesn’t exist yet. Some established alien species are there, but not as we know them. The crew is new and inexperienced, and the whole galaxy is one big fat question-mark. The characters go on some phenomenal journeys, many of them journeys of self-discovery and growth as much as adventures in space.
Is it fair to compare a TV show to a movie? Not really. TV shows have more time for character development and intricate story arcs. But JJ Abrams was tasked with doing for SW what he did for ST; rebooting it. I find it interesting that in doing so, he made Star Wars into something which shares so much with the final Star Trek series.
Super excited to get my The Force Awakens DVD in April. And it’s comforting to know that if the next two films turn out to be utter pants, I’ll always have Enterprise.
Thanks for reading.
Wait a minute, you forgot to talk about the reason I came here: Domhnall Gleeson!
I’ve only seen him in three films so far (Deathly Hallows, The Revenant, The Force Awakens) but I was quite impressed by the difference between the characters he portrayed. I didn’t even recognise him as the same actor from Deathly Hallows, when I saw him in TFA. It was only when I watched The Revenant that I realised I was watching the same actor. And in this regard he reminds me of Gary Oldman, who has an incredibly wide range and can pull off heroes, villains and even American accents so well that he makes it look easy. It isn’t easy; he’s just very talented. Will Domhnall Gleeson go on to demonstrate this level of talent and ability? I don’t know, but I hope so! The world needs more Gary Oldmans.
Thanks for reading!