Thursday, January 14, 2016

Spoiler Wars: Episode VII Point 2 New Heroes

Yes, I haven't stopped yammering excitedly on about the new Star Wars.  If my family has to deal with it then so do you.  Click here for thoughts on the returning elements from the galaxy far far away.  This time I’ll be focusing on the new friends living there.

WARNING:  STAR WARS The Force Awakens spoilers below.  If you haven’t seen it yet, what’s wrong with you?


Let’s start with the new face of the franchise.  I know the merchandise all uses a certain man in black, but that was to build off Vader’s existing Toy Aisle Cred. Now that the release of the film has revealed His Whineyness to all, the little ball droid is sure to be the clear fan favorite.

His electronic noises are expressive, and different from previous droid beeps we've heard to give him a  voice of his own, and his new shape provides surprises as he navigates around and pops out random appendages from around his surface.

Congratulations again to the production team for employing large amounts of practical effects.  I have seen a couple of technical articles on how BB-8 works.  The engineer and seven year old in my head are currently arguing about whether or not we’re going to read them and spoil the magic, but however that turns out, he’s still way cool. 

Per usual for astromech droids in this franchise, BB-8 saves everyone’s lives regularly and carries the story's weight on his shoulders…ish sections of his sphere.

From a narrative perspective, it is fortunate that he remained at the Resistance base while R2-D2 went off on Rey’s hunt for Luke with his former dance partner. (Why Disney isn’t running the Star Wars Muppet Show episode that ended with “When You Wish Upon a Star” near constantly is beyond me.)  If those two plucky little droids worked together, the First Order would be vaporized long before a trilogy’s worth of tales.

Poe Dameron

Poe was too cool to die, explaining his otherwise inexplicable return after the TIE fighter he and Finn stole vanished beneath the sand with him theoretically in it.  That similarity, along with his piloting skills, makes thinking he was the Han Solo analogue is an easy mistake.  The leader of Black Squadron is much more earnest and dedicated to a cause than everyone’s favorite smuggler was. He's more like Leia than her scoundrel of a man.  Also, he formed a bond of friendship with his astromech droid, which we’ve only seen Luke (and his dad) do before. Note that droid nicknames (R2, R4, 3PO) tend to be the equivalent of model numbers not individual serial numbers.  Even most good guys in the movies treat their obviously sentient droids like a smart toaster with a memory card that is erased regularly.  

Poe comes off as a much more competent (and less exploded) Biggs Darklighter type big brother figure than anything else. Alternatively, he’s Wedge if the film makers realized he was as cool as we fans knew he was.

Or maybe, he and the other leads are new and unique members of the Star Wars universe, and we should stop trying to make comparisons to pigeonhole them into previous roles and enjoy where their journeys take them.

Speaking of not fitting in previous roles:

Finn (FN-2187)

Outside the expanded universe (including the single issue of Marvel’s old Star Wars comic I had as a kid, “REMEMBER ALDERAAN!”)
we’ve never seen a Stormtrooper defect before.  They’ve all been weak minded cannon fodder that miss a lot.  Finn doesn’t seem to suffer from that handicap.  I guess the Rebels explanation given by Captain Rex about the helmets obscuring their vision is a possibility.  Either that or the bad guys put the Stormtroopers who can’t hit the broad side of a Sandcrawler on the front lines and the marksmen in sanitation.

Since Finn knew all about the rathtars Han was smuggling, maybe they do put the top troops in sanitation. Perhaps the dianoga in the trash compactor was only a minor example of the “man eating creatures living in Imperial garbage” problem.

Given that his major contributions are that targeting ability with a blaster, and knowledge of Imperial (or First Ordereal) internal workings, if you’re still trying to map characters, he’s Leia…  Except for every way that’s really important to either of them.

I’m the most interested in seeing where his story arc carries him.  There are always Star Wars opportunities for Jedi or ace pilots, but watching a non mechanically inclined guy who shoots well try to build new ties and purpose after a lifetime of conditioning should be uncharted ground.

I’m wondering if the indoctrinated at birth Stormtrooper academy is a poke at the prequels.  That’s the same method of child army conscription the Jedi used to gain members.

When I explained this connection to my daughter, and that the Jedi would go to homes to recruit young children they sensed were strong in the force, she asked:

“What do the Stormtroopers do; knock on the door and say, ‘We sense your child has really bad aim?’”

That’s my girl!


The last of the new big three, Rey could map to everyone- Leia’s confidence and command, Han’s improvisation and flying, Luke’s desert orphan origin and strength in the force, Chewbacca’s mechanical skills and conscience, R2’s electronics knowledge and feistiness.  Heck, she even has 3PO’s linguistic skills, understanding both BB-8 and Chewie without a translator.

Yes, the main character, the most relate-able character, the most awesome character, and the most powerful hero of a Star Wars film is a she.  Yet, they already have left her out of some play sets and used Finn as the “new movie good guy” in the Monopoly game.  As the dad of a daughter, I’m putting every fast food place, toy manufacturer, and giveaway on notice.  If you continue to use Star Wars rewards as the “boy toy” with crappy Barbie rip offs as “girl toys” I’m going full Wookiee on your butt.

Luke is the obvious guess for her father, but I’m hoping the films follow the surprise tradition rather than the Skywalker family tradition for any reveal.  There's two pieces of key evidence I have to go against the front running suspicion.  

The first is she's nowhere near as whiny as Luke was, his dad was and his nephew is at her age.  Then again, Princess Leia didn't display that behavior, maybe it's only the men in the family.

The second is John Williams used the main theme very sparingly in this story, mostly only as snippets here and there throughout the course of the film. (Crawl and credits don't count.) Traditionally in all six previous films, the full blast “Star Wars Theme” was reserved for “A Skywalker Does Something Awesome” moments.  Rey had plenty of those, and unless they’re deliberately hiding it musically, that leitmotif didn’t show up.

My bigger hope is that she’s not connected to anyone and the lesson is more about the importance of your true supporters, not where you came from.

Since everyone has to have a guess, I’m basing mine on her English accent.  The Received Pronunciation could hint one of two things:

A) Since that particular British accent has been established in universe as an Imperial accent, used for official government type stuff (assuming that survived the Expanded Universe implosion) she’s got ties to one of the military bad guys, not the Force using ones.

B) She’s a side effect of Obi Wan being alone on Tatooine a loooong time.  From a practical standpoint, this gives Disney an excuse to bring in Ewen McGregor as a force ghost, and for a solo film explaining where her parents came from.


C. Her hairdo is actually tied back ear flaps and Rey Binks will redeem her bloodline.

My daughter decided she’s “Rey the Hutt” because it can’t be crazier than any other Star Wars relationships that came out of nowhere.

Speaking of relationships:  I know there are fans out there pushing for romance between every combination of these three main characters.  I’d prefer none of that, please.

We’ve seen what a Star Wars love story looks like without Harrison Ford to ad lib some life into it. 

Attack of the Clones anyone?  With better dialog it would have felt "forced." (ha!)  As it was each romantic line dropped in the middle of the scene like a lead plated turd.

Even the epic (and now tragic) Han and Leia pirate and the princess tale wasn’t all wonderful.  For every, “I love you…I know,” moment there was a, “My hands are dirty too.”

At its heart, Star Wars is a kids’ adventure movie; a throwback to the action serials of the past where gangs of youngsters would cheer together at basic good versus evil plotlines in a darkened theater each week.  It functions far better when it illustrates the attachments, benefits, and connections of  friendship.  Here’s hoping the fantastic chemistry between the new cast is developed that way instead of getting all mushy.  Finn and Rey learning what it means to have a true and trusted friend after their isolated childhoods would be a more powerful character arc than a shoehorned in love story.
Yes, I liked Donna better than all of the other NuWho companions as well. 

Mas Kanata should keep flirting with Chewie though, because sometimes getting crazy enough eventually turns to awesome. I don’t think she’s the “new Yoda” either.  First of all, she’s older than Yoda.  As much as I hate to drop a Next Generation reference, she strikes me more like Guinan.
She’s excessively old, wise, and secretive, but more a source of practical wisdom and knowledge than abstract philosophy. 

Other options:

She’s a gruff, inappropriate, if loopy acting, impossibly ancient wise woman with eyeball issues – could be Augrah, hmmmm? 

Hey, she did own a bar…maybe she’s Ackmena?  Too bad Bea Arthur didn’t live to replay the role.

Back to Rey:  It’s her functional skills that set her apart from previous desert dwelling pre-Jedi orphans.  Living as a scavenger she learned how to make kit bash repairs, fly by the seat of her pants and fight with melee weapons on her own.  Kylo Ren’s mental wedgie could have opened up past training memories, or just as likely linked her awareness, inherent power and ability to learn on her own directly to the force. Further backing up my Kenobi theory, she’s the first force sensitive we’ve seen since Old Ben (and young Ewen Ben) that always uses the force correctly, calming herself in order to improve her abilities. Whether it be hypnotizing James Bond, or lightsaber dueling; she brought herself into a state of being, “calm…at peace,” before her powers amped up.(Perhaps she noticed that's what made "The Force" theme music swell.)

Man, the cheer for her force summoning the Skywalker lightsaber was as loud as, “Chewie, we’re home.”  Fellow old fans, the new stuff works too.

It’s not a cheap copy; it’s a return to the successful elements of the originals, but with unique variations and combinations to reset the baseline of awesomeness and build on it for the franchise going forward.

The enthusiasm of the new Big Three flies off the screen while it’s shared with, and bolsters the same feelings in the crowd.  We experience the excitement of Finn’s shooting and planning successes, Rey’s flying prowess and fixing the Falcon in front of its true owner, and Poe getting to try out a TIE fighter.

Mr. Dameron thrilling to the speed and maneuverability of that craft should be alarmingly relatable to anyone who remembers playing TIE Fighter after countless hours of better protected but far less acrobatic flight simulator combat in X-wing. (They're available as digital downloads now, can we PLEASE get them on PlayStation network?)

With an extra seat and better armor on those TIEs, it looks like the bad guys have done some upgrading.  We’ll get to them next week, because I’m finally learning to keep my post lengths under minimal control.

No comments: