Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Let's talk.
I tried to watch cinematography more this time, and I did. But this post isn't about the framing or the ways in which JJ Abrams used light and dark to communicate about character to his audience. It's about the reason I actually like or dislike a movie, rather than critically appreciate it. It's about character.
The interwebs have many opinions about this film. I'm firmly in the camp of Loved It, somewhere behind The Empire Strikes Back and, after the second viewing, in a dead heat with Star Wars (ep. IV, which I stubbornly call the original because goddammit A New Hope). I think FA is maaaaybe a notch better, overall. Or even several notches. I'm only qualifying the maybe because, well, sentimental attachment. (I was five when I saw SW. I had feelings back then.) If I gather up my objectivity, then... yeah. Better.
The story's mostly the same. Hero's journey, blah blah, superweapon, blah blah, something Force-y and lightsabers and space battles and the good guys win! But. But.
It's about friendship. Rey's the protag and the hero, absolutely, but there's more of a sense of group effort, here. She needs Finn. More importantly, Finn needs her and his development comes about because of that need and the loyalty it engenders. Rey, for her part, doesn't throw a hissy-cow when she finds out Finn lied about his past or go on about oh, the betrayal! He becomes the person who does come back for her, and who will fight for her, and for whom she, too, will fight. I hope to see more growth and development of what I hope remains a friendship (I say, as if friendship is somehow inferior to romance. It's not. But friends first!).
And, well, the movie's about Rey. Savvy and capable, rather than feckless (and a little whiny. Sorry, Luke. You totally were). Confident. Capable. Brave. She's also seriously lucky with a lot of things (but that's part of being a hero: luck. Even Beowulf knew that). She cries a fair bit, but she doesn't get all wobbly-lipped and trembly, which is a pet peeve of mine with young female protags. And she doesn't scream. She is also kind to things weaker than she is, like stray droids. She doesn't take the easy way and sell BB-8, or refuse to get involved in his business. YES, that's all light side stuff, but so what? The world could use a little more compassion and give-a-shit. She runs at trouble, instead of away from it. She doesn't need rescuing. No one makes a big deal about IT'S A GIRL. Everyone in the First Order calls her The Girl, but no one says oh, heavens. How can a GIRL be doing these things?
There's been some muttering that she's too capable, what with the piloting and the engineer/mechanic stuff and the so-many-languages and that Force business. To this, I merely shrug. Luke shot down a Death Star on the strength of his feelings, ffs. Rey bounces the Falcon off half of Jakku before she twigs to flying her right, and she uses her force on a) a stormtrooper (and Obi-Wan told us they had weak minds) and b) to resist Kylo Ren. (Which, yes. She's tough. He's...not. Reminds me of his uncle at that age. Cough.) She's no more capable than Luke was, back in the day. Or Harry Potter. Or a dozen boy heroes who manage, somehow, to kick ass despite being farmboys or neglected orphans or whatever else.
And then, Kylo Ren. Vader was super scary (I was five. Gimme a break.). But Ren is... relatable. (Dear gods, I hate that word. But it fits here.) He's not totally confident. He wants to be such a badass. But he's scared, too, that he'll fuck it all up. He's lonely. He gets frustrated. He's trying to measure up to something bigger than he is. He is, as Chuck Wendig has noted, vulnerable. He feels like a real person, which I think is more important sometimes for villains than for heroes. We want to be the hero, but we can see ourselves being the villain because we, too, have those issues. That weakness is in us. It's what we do with it that matters. And that's why Ren's the villain: because he's an asshole by choice. Because, you know... I don't think you should be able to come back from patricide. Even Luke didn't do that. Face Vader did not mean kill Vader. It meant settle your shit, kid, and become your own person. And Kylo Ren, well. We all know who he killed, and if that makes him his own person, because it was his choice...then I really wanna see Rey stomp him flat someday. Vader inspired fear, but fear is a reflex. Genuine dislike means there's an emotional reaction. I don't like Ren. I don't hate him yet, but the trilogy is young.
Leia was formative for me. Get that walking carpet out of my way and I thought I recognized your stench and mouthy and fierce and all that...so different from the Disney princesses of the day (this was, of course, long before Mulan). And without Leia, we couldn't've had Rey. But I'm so glad we do have her, and that we have Finn (a stormtrooper! The Rat and I have been wondering about them forever), and that we have a villain who we can really, genuinely despise.
So yes. Better than Star Wars.