Thursday, January 21, 2016

Spoiler Wars: Episode VII Point 3 New Villains

The returns were two weeks ago, the new Heroes with a thousand faces - or at least three of them- were last week, and now it’s on to other new faces…

WARNING:  STAR WARS The Force Awakens spoilers below.  If you STILL haven’t seen it yet, you can CLICK HERE for a spoiler free review, but by this point, you aren’t going to see it in the theater, are you? You Philistine.

The First Order:

Those ground forces put the Storm in Stormtroopers.  I haven’t seen overwhelming, sweeping ruthlessness like that since the Tantive IV boarding and Battle of Hoth.  The First Order has a greater emphasis on quality of their ground fighters matching the improvements in the safety and armaments of their TIE fighters.
Not to mention their Star Destroyers. The Finalizer is twice the size of the classic ones.  It’s not as big as the Super Star Destroyer, because Vader's Executor was basically Manhattan with  blaster turrets and a hyperdrive. 

There's a picture of that size comparison (click here) by someone with better photo manipulation skills than I have.  (Based on that definition alone, I realize it could be a squirrel, but trust me, it looks cool.)

The First Order shock infantry are better trained and equipped, but their aim is still crappy. Having a focus based more on blitzkrieg tactics than guerrilla fighting may explain that.

Adding in the new Flame Troopers to the mix threw some extra terror onto the “officially not clones anymore” gang.  

Supplying and training on an electro baton that can block lightsabers highlighted how prepared these guys were for whatever the Resistance had coming.  On the other hand, considering the effect that thing would have on someone not defending themselves with an ancient Jedi energy weapon, maybe “lightsaber proof” was only a side effect of the First Order being extra nasty.

Finn’s fight with “traitor guy” armed with one of those batons, and his later brief and painful duel with Kylo Ren, gives a clear answer to, “Why doesn’t everyone in the Star Wars universe carry a lightsaber?”  They’re not very effective without Jedi powers and focus.

Jumping back to Finn for a bit, to prove I’m still too hyper about new Star Wars to be completely on track: Everyone over on the Dark Side, from the leaders to the foot soldiers, sure seemed pissed off that he left his trooper training behind to become a good guy in the Resistance.  This specificity is new in Star Wars, it's only been anger at groups.  It adds a dynamic to the villains that they would be personally hurt and upset over an individual’s turning on them compared to the generic concept of rebellion.  Serving in any military unit creates connections of trust and fellowship with squad mates. We’ve never seen it illustrated via the faceless bad guy army before.

Speaking of individuals, he said due to a lifelong obsession with segues.

Captain Phasma

Wow!  She completely shattered Boba Fett’s Star Wars Universe record (Original, Expanded, Disney Purge, or otherwise) for the shortest time between being ultra-mysterious-cool and being taken out in an embarrassing way. Here’s hoping we get some impressive spring back in the next episode. She’s far too imposing looking and shiny to have been left in the garbage masher of an exploding planet that quickly. 

Maybe the General pulled her out on the way to grab Kylo Ren before beating feet in order to build up the military side of the threat against the Resistance next time.

General Hux
I always pegged Percy Weasley to be the faux Nazi, not Bill.

Eddie Izzard was fairly accurate about the British calmness of the Imperials Luke and company first went up against.  Many had an extremely “arranging matches” vibe going on in the original trilogy.  On the other hand General Hux is vehemently excited about the First Order.

Emphasis! On! ORDER! 

Along with the improvements to ships, training and equipment, his attitude showed these guys are serious and fervently believe in the message of galactic control they’re preaching.

He’s also not single minded enough to veto “evacuate in a moment of triumph” when that moment has clearly passed.  His passion, savvy and manipulation of other First Order commanders makes me believe he may lead the military, rather than the Dark Jedi, to take point against the Resistance for the rest of the new trilogy.

The Empire projected the impression of the goals and beliefs that the First Order espouses for real, but behind the façade Palpatine manipulated everything to create a platform for grabbing and holding Sith power outside of any true political aims. 

It’s too early to tell if Snoke is doing the same thing, or whatever he is.

Remember, before the Special Editioning, the first view of the Emperor was a chimp eyed old woman with the voice of Pizpot Gargravarr and the Black Guardian
There was no indication what he truly was, never mind a Sith Lord.  In the original back story, he was a puppet ruler manipulated by Vader and others.

Snoke could be a Sith Lord from the past, being rescued from what looked like certain death, or more miraculously - the expunged Expanded Universe. 

Palpatine back from the grave lacks too much imagination.  Plus he fell down a moon sized pit and exploded.

Snoke’s head scar does match Vader’s. He didn’t explode, but he did get lightsabered, force electrocuted, stopped breathing, and was then set on fire.  Since we’ve seen his helmet,and Snoke doesn't wear one, that means if its Anakin, he has less need of life support after being beaten, shocked, and immolated than he did beforehand.

I hear Darth Maul got better after being cut in half. I suspect gallons of peroxide and scores of band aids were involved. I haven’t made it far enough through The Clone Wars cartoon to know all the details, but he doesn’t strike me as a shadowy planner. He’s more of a “kick in the face” type guy.

That leaves Darth Plagueis the Wise, who’s the front runner in the geek circles I meander about in.  I find it doubtful that a character who got a two sentence mention in the prequels and a novel that doesn’t count anymore is coming back to such prominence in a franchise that’s far more focused on the legacy of the Original Trilogy.

Maybe he’s Jar Jar, continuously manipulated by Palpatine following his turn in the senate.

I guess we’ll find out later.  I hope he’s not Luke.  Having him follow his father would have been a bad enough obvious rehash before we lost Han. Now it would just plain suck.

If he’s a she, it may explain why Luke felt the need to go hide out on his bachelor pad planet.

I’m wondering if the Wizard of Oz reference of the big head hologram is intentional, and he’s a false front schemer trying to manipulate Dark Side users to join the First Order.  It would explain his non-human appearance in the “more species-ist than the Empire” gang of villains this time around.  General Hux and company are much more in control of themselves and their plans than their force wielding ally.  Maybe the General himself generates the “Snoke” and mirrors show.  Or (revealing his geekiness once more) there is another non-human master planner working above Hux controlling the entire First Order with military command and efficiency. 

All you other geeks out there want it to be Grand Admiral Thrawn too.  Admit it. 

If the First Order is constructed on the terror inducing image of the Empire, its dark side Ace in the Hole takes that concept and hyperspaces off with it.

Kylo Ren:

Sometimes, I don’t understand my fellow old Star Wars fanatics.  I’ve seen reviews complaining both that this film is a direct copy of the original Star Wars and that Kylo Ren is the Worst Sith Ever.

The point behind bad guys of this film is that they ARE trying to be a direct copy of the villains of the past. The First Order worked to recreate the fearsome legend of the Empire. One of the big differences between the goals and the reality was Ben Solo didn’t pull it off.  He was a Vader wannabe; wearing a mask and cape for absolutely no reason other than he’s hoping to look cool.  I think the movie’s creators were making fun of nerdy fans who list Vader as a favorite character, but are parsecs away from his commanding presence and self-control.

Ren is utterly consistent.  His personality, his lightsaber and his fighting technique are all massively unstable.  It’s easy to picture how Snoke could manipulate him, whether or not he is strong in the force.  (Thrawn…Thrawn…Thrawn…)

The marketing did an excellent job pre-film setting him up as the new Vader.  The reveal in the story wasn’t that another on this chain of Jedi has turned away from good guyness. 

This chain contains Yoda, Dooku, Qui Gon, Obi Wan, Anakin, Luke and Ben. 
That’s a 43% “join the enemy and embrace evil” rate.
No wonder Rey, whoever she is, was sent away to be self-taught.

The big twist, however, was that the “face of evil” on the tie in product packaging turned out to be a self-doubting, tantrum throwing prat.    It’s clear his fellow leaders and troops fear his power, but do not respect him.  The Stormtroopers laugh behind his back and Hux derides him without punishment and sets him up in front of Snoke.

Kylo Ren is exceptionally strong in the force.  We’ve seen blaster bolts deflected and absorbed before, but never stopped cold.  Ren not only survived, but engaged in duels following a blast from Chewie’s bowcaster, which blew everyone else it hit across the screen in bunches.  That massive wound (and Rey’s ability to calm herself in a time of crisis to better access the force), are the only reasons he lost the duel at the end of the film in spite of his flailing, tree choppingly out of control attack patterns.

His tearing secrets out of the disciplined fighter pilot mind of Poe Dameron with ease also showed his strength.  However, it equally highlighted that Kylo Ren is an unfocused blunt instrument.  Similar to his dueling, it was a sloppy and violent attack.  Likely a skilled and controlled force user could have pulled out the information without Poe knowing it happened.

Aside:  I hope Hux, Phasma, Snoke or someone else (Thrawn!) truly takes the role of “Main Bad Guy” for Rey to defeat, allowing Chewbacca to avenge the familial betrayal of his best friend with unchecked Wookiee rage.

We sadly all know couples that are trusted and loved friends this scenario plays out with.  Although they are truly caring souls, they somehow screwed up the parenting thing astronomically to produce rotten kids.  However, stabbing their folks in the heart with a laser sword is usually metaphorical in those cases.

Killing Han may make a more competent, complete and controlled Sith out of Kylo Ren as it forces him completely to the Dark Side. It may also make him unredeemable; it’s hard to say.

Darth Vader’s redemption was shown and accepted before we learned what a cool hero Obi Wan was, before we learned that Obi Wan was like a father to him, and before we learned Anakin was a whining child murderer who acted much like a creepy stalker to impress his eventual bride.

Ben Solo’s doofusness and slaying his own dad (and cultural icon) Han Solo are now directly linked with the character from his introduction. 
This massively undermines any coolness he may develop in parts VIII and IX. 

Another Aside: His name- He’s Kylo Ren, leader of the Knights of Ren. 
That would be fine if he was known as “Kylo.” But everyone called him “Ren.”  That makes him leader of the “Knights of Me.” Does that mean they all started together and he added to his list of immaturity by naming the group after a new made up handle for himself?  Otherwise, if it’s an organization he took over, that would be like joining the Knights of Columbus, changing your name to “Columbus” and thinking no one would notice.

Are they the rest of Luke’s pupils? If so the “last Jedi” should be hiding on a planet alone.  Luke struck me as far more competent than that once he outgrew his, “going to Toshe Station to pick up some power converters” phase.  Then again, Luke did trade in his cool black duds for beige, floor length ensemble.  Maybe he’s slipping.

Then there’s his real name.  Ben?  Leia knew “General Kenobi” as Obi-Wan, and Han knew him for about three hours. The only explanation is they named him after family friend Ben Kenobi Junior, Rey’s dad.  (Yes, I’m holding on to that theory like a Rancor on a Gammorean Guard until proven otherwise.)

Here’s hoping the answers to all of these questions will be as cheer inducing and Star Warsy as this film was.

I probably have gone on way too long in my over excitement about The Force Awakens in general and specifically analyzing Kylo Ren both psychologically and narratively.

Then again; I’ve got a pretty strong understanding of what would cause someone to favor the Original Sith Lord.

Luckily for me, instead of driving my family away because of that, my wife acts as an enabler for my addiction.  She provided a late Christmas gift (to replace the one destroyed in the cleanup efforts following a freakfire extinguisher- fish tank accident) that matches the jacket she found on clearance last summer…

May the Merch Be With You!

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