Spoilers for Rogue One and Episode VII
Rogue One is still on my mind, and feel free to check out my review. While Rogue One managed to be a prequel that had its own style, Episode VII was pretty much a remake of Episode IV. We follow a young orphan, Rey (Luke) who must come to terms with her Jedi powers and combat The First Order (The Empire). We get Kylo Ren (Darth Vader) , who is revealed to be related to one of the protagonists. We even get another death star (Starkiller base).
I discussed all the similarities with a friend and he argued that J.J Abrams would be hesitant to deviate from the original trilogy much, after the backlash that the prequels received. Episode VII played it safe, relying on the return of the old cast to generate hype and satiate the droves that turned out to see the film.
The prequels had some great moments, with Episode III being the strongest. However, the prequels left much to be desired. The performances by Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, the overuse of CGI, pod-racing etc. With that said, the prequels were not bad simply because they did something new. Rogue One is a great example of how the new star war films can respect the past and continuity, while also giving us fresh characters, locations, conflicts etc.
Kylo Ren’s character seemed like a metaphor for Abrams’s fears of not living up to the original trilogy. Ren is a character who wants nothing more than to live up to Darth Vader (the original trilogy) and is worried that he is seen as nothing but a unworthy imitation. One oft-cited piece of wisdom is that one should not try to replicate something that is deemed as great or untouchable. Sometimes, the only approach is to try something new.
Let’s hope we can see something new with Episode VIII.
I took a while to start writing this post, mostly because I honestly didn’t know where to start.
Firstly, I would consider myself a pretty big star wars fan. I love the lore, the universe, the characters and I have seen all six movies. Like most, I do agree the acting and writing of the prequels is generally inferior, thanks to Hayden Christen and Jake Lloyd, but I still liked the world they created.
The Force Awakens is on track to potentially be the highest grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) and it is easy to see why. Hype was unavoidable for Episode VII. Not only was it another Star Wars movie, but we were getting some of the most iconic characters back, along with their original actors. How could we not be excited?
I find that having high expectations for a movie can result in two extremes:
1) mindless praise since subjectivity becomes overshadowed by excitement
2) severe nitpicking because the movie couldn’t live up to very high expectations
This is why I always wait at least a day before truly sharing my thoughts on a film as hyped as Star Wars. After taking a day to collect my own thoughts and scour through news and comments online, I think I am finally ready to add my voice to thousands of others. Some might think, what is the point? I do this for my sanity and to quiet the debate raging in my head over the film’s merits.
1) General Thoughts
I didn’t get to see the film until Wednesday, by which time some of my friends shared their thoughts on how amazing the film was. Maybe that got my hopes up further.
Overall, I believe the film is a solid start to a new trilogy, a 7/10. In true nerd fashion I felt chills seeing the star wars logo on the big screen again, complete with the iconic music and text filling us in on what has happened since Episode VII.
Adam Driver was a standout as Kylo Ren, a character with emotional conflict and rage that truly resonated on screen. This was my first time seeing Driver and I look forward to checking out more of his work.
After Ex-Machina I was looking forward to seeing more of Oscar Isaac’s work but this role is a much smaller one in comparison. Although Isaac does well with what he has, his character does not have that much screen time and doesn’t get that much development. Here hoping that the sequels can better flesh out the ancillary and main characters.
Another Ex-Machina star, Domnhall Gleeson also appears and makes a speech at one point that truly stood out.
My biggest issues and the main reason I felt the need to write this post, were due to the two new central characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).
I was happy to see that Abrams opted to use lesser known actors, which mimicked the casting practices of the original. Ridley’s first acting credit was in 2013, with a few episodes in different tv shows. Yet I couldn’t tell from her performance in this film. She is amazing in her role. Women will like seeing a strong female lead, while Ridley probably has a lot of new fans just due to her looks.
Next, is Finn. I loved Boyega in Attack The Block and I was very happy to hear that he got this role. When it was announced, I immediately saw this role as one that could help catapult his career. However, it looks like Ridley will benefit from it more. Her character has a bigger part in the film and her skin colour doesn’t bother some fans of the trilogy. It is a fact that Boyega was subject to hundreds of racist tweets when he was cast, and I think it is highly unlikely that every racist tweet came from online trolls who simply wanted attention. Racism is widespread online when discussing Boyega and his character. Hollywood has brainwashed audiences into seeing an all-white or mostly-white cast as a natural one. Hollywood has done this so well since its inception that inserting a black character into an intergalactic story comes across as forced. I would hate to know what the disgruntled racists think of blacks being cast in other movies.
As this movie confirms, Boyega is not meant to be a clone of Jango Fett. By this point in the story, a lot of troopers are no longer clones. So with worries of a black stormtrooper satiated, people still complain simply because they don’t like seeing a black character on screen. These are probably the same people that defend whitewashing since they are “colour-blind”. When a black actor is cast, there is no assumption that he got the role because he was the “best actor for the part”. People assume that the actor has no merit and was selected as some form of “reverse-racism” or “political correctness”.
Some people are arguing there was no need to change the race of characters, but nothing is being changed here, something is being added. If aliens don’t bother you, then black skin shouldn’t. I was discussing the film with a friend on thursday and although I know he is not a racist, he still said something that made it clear he was brainwashed by the whiteness of the mid-century originals. In his own mind, he thought all Jedi were supposed to be white. Although the originals never said or implied this, the on-screen presence of only white Jedis crafted this image. By the time A New Hope begins Jedi are nearly all dead, with Obi-Wan and Luke being the few ones left. We see a more diverse group of Jedi in the prequels, encompassing many human and alien races. Meanwhile, the only black character we get in the original films was Lando Calrissian.
I am not disappointed or angered at seeing a black character. I am disappointed that the black character is reduced to comic-relief and sidekick for the white protagonist (Rey). Boyega is a great actor and was best in the films during his character’s serious scenes. However, those scenes feel relatively scarce. Tie-in material reveals that he is a skilled soldier and marksman, but this is downplayed (emphasis on the word downplayed, we do see some of this) in order to provide a foil for Rey and her skills with the force and mechanics. While Rey is the capable, white heroine, Finn often comes across as the bumbling black sidekick. This comes after a marketing campaign that featured Boyega holding a lightsaber and facing off against Kylo Ren, almost making it look like he would be a Jedi. He is not and I think it was the marketing’s bait and switch that leaves me more disappointed with Finn’s role. While his character is brave, he ultimately is wounded and rendered unconscious by Kylo Ren. At the end of the film, after being saved by Rey numerous times, he is unconscious and in intensive care with the rebels while Rey flies off to meet Luke and presumably train with him.
Some people may not see what the issue is, but that is probably because they lack the proper perspective. There is nothing wrong with comic relief in itself, Han Solo was beloved comic relief in the original films, but black people have a record of disproportionately being used as comic relief in films. They are also routinely used as a supporting actor for a white lead. I was hoping to get something different from Finn, the first black lead in a Star Wars film. I have no doubt that racism plays a part in some of the criticism of Finn and Boyega, but I do believe some criticism of the role he was given is warranted. Yet I still have to ask: Would Boyega’s casting and his character get as much vitriol (i.e. comparisons to Jar Jar Binks) if he was only another white male lead in star wars? Or does his skin colour already indicate to some people that he does not belong?
I also have no doubt that sexism and the manosphere mentality that “sexism is dead and feminism is the enemy” contributes heavily to the criticisms of Rey. Hollywood brainwashing is at work again. Men rarely question the merits of the male hero who is good at whatever the plot requires him to be, and who is irresistible to the opposite sex. Why would they question this hero? It is the ultimate form of wish fulfillment. In contrast, seeing a strong female character, and one who does not hook up with anyone at the end of the story, renders their fantasies null and void. While a strong male character is pretty much taken for granted these days, a strong female one is often regarded as a Mary Sue, a female character who is “usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling.” The term comes from a 1973 article by fanzine writer, Paula Smith, and is now used to refer generally to lazily-written female characters who are loved by all men and are special due to or in spite of their skills (I’m looking at you Bella Swan).
While I have to admit that Rey’s proficiency with the force seemed way advanced for a beginner, I think it is important to ask whether her character’s skill would get picked apart as much if she was a man. After all it is the fact that a woman is doing so well that leads people to criticize the character with terms like Mary Sue or “pc”. We don’t hear people venting over how much of a Marty Stu James Bond is and it seems that people are content to either justify or ignore these double standards.
Another part of this post that I initially struggled with, was how to end it. The paragraph above seemed like too abrupt an end, and I was tempted to continue with a deeper analysis of racism and sexism as it relates to film. Yet I couldn’t bother with that. I wrote my Master’s thesis on racism in film, I have written numerous blog posts and poetry pieces on racism, and have explored racism numerous times in my YouTube videos. I do not discuss the topic only for views or hits, but I still get tired of repeating the same arguments and repeatedly seeing them fall on deaf ears. For every comment that I get applauding my work, there are usually five from people whose defensiveness and anger causes them to resort to straw-man arguments and various other terrible arguments that ignore facts and help people feel more comfortable with the way they see the world. I have yet to experience someone commenting on any of my writing or videos, saying that I changed their mind and helped them see an issue in a different light. I have even had a (formerly) respected family friend accuse me of racism for using the term “my fellow blacks”, in the context of saying that it is a shame films like Joyride 2 and Barbershop 3 are expected to do well at the box office while ones like Selma face relative struggle.
If my point failed to get through to a lot of people with all the other pieces I have done I do not know if it is worth it to preach yet again. Hopefully people can understand where I am coming from.