Star Wars - The Force Awakens - Impressions
This afternoon I decided to go to the cinema and watch the latest Star Wars film.
As a child Star Wars was a huge influence on me - and still is today as I found while watching the new film.
My parents and family would be well aware of the number of times I had watched the original series as a child, to the point that I could retell the script to myself during long commutes to school and back each day. I was a fan of sorts - with an almost perfect recall scene by scene, word by word of the original movie.
The prequels of the late 90s, early 2000s have been forgotten. I never watched the animated series either and can pass no judgment on them as neither good nor bad. As one of the original fans, I had effectively gone into hiding when it came to modern Star Wars.
With Star Wars a relic of my past other films had taken on the mantle of the epic hero's journey motif - particularly the Matrix.
The new film shares a sense of welcome nostalgia of the old plus the introduction of the new to the series.
Before seeing the film I had heard many of the spoilers, I knew what happened in parts of it and I had heard many times how it was a rehashing of A New Hope.
I disagree that it is a rehashing of A New Hope. What it shares in common with it it shares in common with all hero's journey stories - which A New Hope was also.
And it does it well.
I had heard it said that the space battles and light sabre fights were less spectacular than previous films. I do not think it matters - they were incidental to the plot due to the nature of the new heroes.
For me, the thing that best captures a Star Wars film is that emotiveness of the hero's journey plot devices. The original had it, the Matrix had it and the new Star Wars films has it.
This plot device is one that captures my imagination still. The idea that there is a destiny of discovery that the lead character must go through to become a figure of legend. The events and action that takes place such as space battles, laser fights, and so forth - these are secondary to the true nature of the Star Wars film. The key to Star Wars is, and always has been, the narrative of growth from backwater nobody to mysterious figure of legend via facing one's own personal demons.
That is what makes a film 'Star Wars' in my opinion. Tie Fighters and X-Wings are mere window dressing - though very delicious window dressing that still has appeal after all these years.
The film has flaws, no doubt about that. But they are forgiveable in my view. I wasn't the only audience member who audibly laughed at the temper tantrum thrown by one of the main antagonists in the film. Some of the characters are quite weak - both in appearance and demeanour, some of the action scenes lack weight and force - but as mentioned these weren't what the film was focusing on and I can forgive it that. It captured the key I spoke of earlier quite well.
My thoughts about the films to come I will share. There is a certain predictableness about this genre of film that is inescapable - it is their destiny after all.
I would imagine that episode 8 will focus on the training of Rey in the ways of the force. There will be a massive failure on her part in facing her own demons - at least initially although this failure will in fact be what readies her as to face her final challenge in episode 9 (most likely dealing with the shadowy bad guys).
My other thought pertains to the philosophy of the films. There is a sense in my mind that they will travel down a slightly Eastern path of indicating that there is always struggle between light and dark and that the quest to find balance involves recognition that the struggle is eternal. There will be no final banishment of the dark side but most likely a recognition that it will always be there - just as there will always be champions of light to take the fight to them. The sense will be that the force itself is a force of balance. A balance of unstable equilibrium where at times the light has ascendancy and at times the dark. Very similar to the struggle of order versus chaos in Moorcock's world.
My final comments are about some of the art inspiration and scenes from the new films. My mental associations and linkages that I make with imagery and signage is still present to a limited extent. There were two scenes in the film that to my mind were extremely reminiscient of a series of artworks in a CG Challenge Art Book from 2005 that I own. This is to be expected since science fiction has similar motifs throughout its history. But the similarity was quite stunning. I won't post the imagery here but if you have access to the following material the references are here:
"CG Challenge Grand Space Opera, Icons of Galactic Civilization and Conflict" by Ballistic publishing, first published 2005. A piece of artwork by Hodong La called "Warfare and Harmony" reminds me very much of one of the scenes from the film (the Star Destroyer wreckage in the desert). Another piece of artwork by Fred Bastide called "Helix Rugens One" (namely the ship) reminded me very much of the speeder that Rey pilots early in the film. This is to be expected though since science fiction works always inspire one another and share a lot in common.
A few other thoughts.
The sound and music that is often associated with hero's journey type films, whether it be the original Star Wars,the more recent Matrix films, or the latest Star Wars generates within me some of the strongest emotions in film. There is something special about seeing a character experience growth and recognition about those age old questions 'Who are you?' and 'Where am I going?' It always tugs at my emotional core each and every time and despite its manipulativeness I cannot help but admire it. The new film succeeded very well on this front.