Seven Thoughts on VII (Spoilers)

Seven Thoughts on VII (Spoilers)

I totally click-baited you. There are far more than seven thoughts here as I walk through my blatherings on the box-office-record-smashing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, roughly in screen order.

(I haven’t seen any of the supplemental or behind-the-scenes material, so perhaps some of this has been answered outside the film… let me know in the comments. Also, I’m aware many others share these thoughts and have expressed them already. Still, by request, my musings are now collected.)

  • Lack of Fox fanfare – for both of my screenings, the jump from the last trailer to the Lucasfilm logo was abrupt, leaving inadequate time for chills and a beat of black screen to soak it in. For future films, I wouldn’t mind a Disney logo before Lucasfilm’s to take the fanfare’s preparatory role.
  • Opening Crawl – great first sentence. “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” It’s on. Nothing about taxes or commerce. That said, I was annoyed by “most daring pilot”… and later on when Finn made a direct-to-camera comment about Poe being an amazing pilot. Show me, don’t tell me. (And we did see it… which made this even more annoying.)
  • First LineMax von Sydow (which is enough of a Star Wars name that we don’t need this Lor San Tekka name that I had to look up) starts the film with “This will begin to make things right.” I couldn’t help but think this was actually being said to the audience about the restoration of their film franchise.
  • Intro to Captain Phasma – I was so excited about the prospect of seeing Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth‘s Gwendoline Christie (not Spider-Man’s Gwen Stacy) take on the role of a GFFA warrior, and her appearance on-screen in the opening scene set me up for a much bigger role. I wish I’d have known that scene was her pinnacle of action. For the rest of the movie, she’s just powerless middle management. This was sub-Boba Fett.
  • Force Paralysis – Stopping humans and laser bolts in their tracks is new. I like the new mythology, along with grabbing thoughts through the dark side. It’s curious that Kylo can do these things, but can barely hack his way through a lightsaber duel with first-timers. But I also like this movie’s philosophy of not explaining everything, so I’ll leave it alone.
  • “So who talks first?” – While the first line may have been a message to the audience, this line was the tone establisher. Force Awakens is going to have fun, so set your expectations accordingly. No one will be losing the will to live here.
  • Space Bread – Forget blue milk, I want that instant powder-to-bread mix. In my mind, it comes out piping hot (probably due to exothermic chemical reactions, but still). Of all the moments of her introduction, my favorite is Rey slipping on the Rebel Alliance helmet and head-bop looking around.
  • Casting – Everyone on the new cast is great… Daisy Ridley is the brightest light, but John BoyegaOscar Isaac, and Adam Driver made the new characters more of a highlight than the returning.
  • Clone Army – Kylo Ren’s suggestion that they switch to a clone army was the only real reference to the prequel trilogy that I noticed. (Though I hear there were pod racer flags at Maz Kanata‘s place.)
  • Kylo Ren Temper Tantrums – Who has it worse, the First Order IT team or the Imperial choked-body-removal team? Kylo was the character that surprised me most, with a non-carbon-copy bad guy. All of the Sith we’ve seen in the past always carried themselves as confident and sure. This guy is a basket case, and I like it.
  • Snoke-a-Doke – I enjoyed how towering Supreme Leader Snoke wasn’t immediately revealed as a hologram, letting the audience assume the size difference. This is an echo of how hologram Palpatine towered over Vader. It will be fun to speculate if Snoke is actually that size, or perhaps shorter than Yoda. I assume Luke will fight Snoke in Episode IX.
  • Godwin’s Law –  Hux’s speech and the stormtrooper arm salute was a little Nazi-on-the-nose for my liking.
  • Rey Lightsaber Visions – Obviously, to me, there are two parts to the vision. The first is likely a flashback to Kylo Ren’s betrayal of Luke Skywalker that Han describes briefly. It is on some presumably-not-Mustafar lava planet. Luke’s mechanical hand that he grips Artoo with seems more advanced than the one Luke has in the last scene of the movie — so maybe it’s a flash forward? The second half of the vision is little-girl Rey being left behind on Jakku. It is cut such that we cannot see who is holding her back, nor who the family leaving her are. If the two visions are connected, that might support the theory that Luke is her father and left her there to protect her. I’d rather we not sing that song again, but maybe. Also, I hear that Ewan McGregor recorded a line of dialog for this sequence, and that it’s mixed with Alec Guinness and Frank Oz lines from previous films.
  • Hello, 3PO – C-3PO injecting himself between Han and Leia’s reunion was genius and hilarious… for a few seconds. Until the droid referenced his own red arm. The movie did such a great job of treating the past 30 years of history as “matter of fact”, and then that. Really bugged me. And then he referenced it again, muttering that he needs his old arm back. (Fresh from that, it bristled me that 3PO knew BB-8’s name… until I realized they probably hang out at the resistance droid break room together. Everyone knowing everyone makes the universe small.)
  • Han and LeiaHarrison Ford had life in his eyes and his performance was parsecs ahead of Indiana Jones IV. I felt like it was Han Solo on screen, and quite liked that life hasn’t all gone his way over the last 30 years. However, at no point did I really feel like Carrie Fisher brought Princess Leia to the screen. (OK, maybe her Force-intuition sitting down when Han died.) Her chemistry just didn’t work for me.
  • Safety is our Absolute Lowest Priority – like the Empire before them, the First Order sees no reason for safety railings on cavernous architecture… even half-mile-long family reunion bridges.
  • Ben Solo – At Lucasfilm, I had the pleasure of being part of the story group mailing list and remember Sue Rostoni sending out a note looking for suggestions for a name for Luke’s son in an upcoming novel. I immediately replied “Ben” before a slew of other suggestions were thrown around. Ben was ultimately used for the name and, despite the obviousness of it, I take credit for this no-longer-canon naming in my brain. (If anyone from the story group reads this, and remembers it differently, please don’t correct me.) I was so delighted that this name lived on.
  • Han’s Death – It is well known that Harrison Ford had wanted Han Solo to die in Return of the Jedi. He felt his character needed a proper ending. When I heard that he signed for Episode VII, I immediately assumed that he made a Solo death part of the conditions of signing on. I wasn’t spoiled, but seeing how relaxed and happy that Harrison was in the film promotion phase, I was even more convinced. I wasn’t spoiled, but I knew that death was coming. (And it played out a little slowly on screen.)
  • The Droid Awakens – So what triggered R2 to wake up exactly then? It’s not something in Luke’s lightsaber because it was on the base earlier with Finn. Does he now have a wireless midichlorian detector that triggers when a potential Jedi arrives? Or did Luke program him to wait for Rey specifically? Or something else?
  • Rey, I am your Father – I can’t tell if the audience is being misdirected to suspecting that Rey is Luke’s daughter, or if she is. Personally, I don’t think she is and I hope that she is not. Star Wars has been to that lineage well too many times. Rey and Ben being siblings is even more distasteful, because Han and Leia would know they have a daughter. You can call me wrong in three years.

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you think of the film? What did you notice?

The Force Wakes Up Spoiler-Free and Feeling Refreshed

The Force Wakes Up Spoiler-Free and Feeling Refreshed

1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was the last time I went into a Star Wars movie completely fresh.

For Return of the Jedi, I received a copy of the movie novelization a week or two before the premiere and my 12-year-old self couldn’t help but peek at pages… and I regrettably learned that Han Solo comes back, Yoda dies and a few other nuggets.

For 1999’s The Phantom Menace, I had spent the previous three years competing hard against the entire internet (it was smaller at the time) in a drag-out race to completely spoil every detail of the movie with my team at theForce.net.

For Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I had the immeasurable life experience of being at the first art department meetings long before George Lucas had even solidified the story and witnessed them taking shape week-by-week over years. Before the public premieres, I could pretty much quote the movies. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Throughout my life, it has long been a knee-jerk wish to be able to have my mind wiped of Star Wars knowledge and to see the films fresh again. Probably one wish ahead of world peace.

And so it came to the first public screenings of The Force Awakens and with great effort (given my social media crowd) I had managed to to see nothing more than the two trailers. I had made a few too many educated guesses and had an unfortunate tendency to mentally check off trailer scenes, but from the first few lines of the opening crawl, I got to be swept away in the way that the creators intended. And swept away I was.

As I was deliberately avoiding even people’s impressions of the movie, I will hold off further initial thoughts about the film itself… or maybe just keep them for lively in-person discussion for those who might want to see me ramble.

A huge thank you to everyone at Lucasfilm and Disney. I know how much work it was to get us here… and we never saw it coming.

Did you see Episode VII? Were you spoiled in advance? What are your spoiler-free thoughts?

I’m happy for you, Star Wars. I am.

I’m happy for you, <i>Star Wars</i>. I am.

In just a month, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in movie theaters.

In October 1999, my life-long fandom and involvement with the popular Star Wars website TheForce.net landed me at a lunch on Skywalker Ranch which lead to my recruitment to take over the efforts at StarWars.com. I picked up my family, moved to the Bay Area, and for seven years was part of Lucasfilm’s marketing team through the remaining Star Wars prequels. I look back at that time as the best professional experience of my life for many reasons, but most of all the sheer uncompromising excellence of every person I had the pleasure of working with.

In 2006, I was burned out, missing my young children, and facing the gauntlet of Indiana Jones 4 with no further Star Wars in sight. I left my position at Lucasfilm to move back to Canada and start new life chapters.

In 2012, it was announced that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and that a new wave of Star Wars films would be made. From my desk in Calgary, I had decidedly mixed emotions. As a fan, the prospect of a breath of fresh air in my beloved franchise made me giddy. On a professional level, my heart sank. There will be more Star Wars, and I will not be involved.

In the months that followed, many Lucas friends and colleagues ended up losing their jobs as Disney consolidated operations. I consoled myself that, in all likelihood, I would not have kept my position in the new efforts even if I had stayed. That said, a handful of those I worked with closely kept their positions and continue to guide the company and the story. So… maybe I could have done the same? I can talk myself into either possibility, depending how I want to feel about it.

I am proud that there are hints of the legacy of what I was trying to accomplish with the online marketing that have carried forward, even if such hints are in my mind only. I am proud of the team that I fought alongside who are still at Lucasfilm making a difference.

I am sad that the trivial blips I was able to contribute to official Star Wars lore were swept away in the expanded universe reboot… even though I am strongly in support of that housecleaning. (And advocated such a move while at Lucasfilm.)

I worry that the new Star Wars films will be amazing, and my time with Star Wars will be further tainted with some kind of asterisk because I was on board for the bad films.

If I could sum it up best, I feel like the girl who said “see you later” to Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi and now stands in the concert crowd looking up at the guitar-playing Star Wars that I turned down.

That said, I will never be able to experience Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith as a fan. I will think of the scenes I was off camera for. I will remember scene development and behind-the-scenes turmoil. I will remember alternate edits and creative choices. I wouldn’t trade it, but it’s something I can’t experience purely even these years later.

And so, with a month left to The Force Awakens, I’ve decided to make the most of it. I’ve avoided much of the speculation and spoilers. The day-to-day news. I’m avoiding all the new footage in commercials.

When I walk in to the first showing (not even a special screening) in my city on opening night, I will do so as a regular fan. Enjoying my trip to a galaxy far, far away just as the creators intended. Where I began.