Similar to a Jedi going into exile, I’m back on WordPress after a prolonged absence. I haven’t been able to finish emotionally processing Episode VII (“The Force Awakens”), and writing sometimes helps in my grieving process. Before I start, I wanted to warn anyone who hasn’t seen the movie about possible spoilers. My definition of a “spoiler” is quite broad. I don’t even want to know character names prior to seeing a movie, let alone a summary of the plot. I’ll definitely be mentioning both character names and plot details in this post.
Did anyone else who’s seen the movie feel like they went to the wrong theater by mistake, or almost want to walk out? I hadn’t heard any negative feedback regarding the film more than two weeks past its release date. Financially, it keeps rewriting the record books (although, I probably haven’t watched half of the hype-driven films in the top 10). IGN gave the movie an 8.8 rating. Maybe IGN aren’t to be trusted? A site that I consult to read about content promised “bloodless” and “antiseptic” levels of violence. Compared to what? I skipped over paragraphs about blood being smeared on a helmet, and overlooked the phrase “astronomical body count” due to those other positive terms. Was it me, or did blood also get wiped/dripped onto snow, with the camera lingering on the bloody snow? That was missed by the reviewer.
As someone who liked most, but not all, of the prequel content, I thought this film would be enjoyable, but I realized that it’s impossible to recapture the magic of the original, due to the fact that it was so original in 1977. Instead, after all the patience, and mostly avoiding spoilers (one major event was completely ruined by, of all people, a political commentator), something intuitively kept telling me to “have a bad feeling about this” installment.
I’ve had over three days to reflect on what I saw, and I’ve reached the conclusion that, for whatever reason, virtually all of the character relationships in Episode VII are broken, regardless of where they left off in “Return of the Jedi,” with little to no explanation. That theme even affected characters we just met for the first time on a big screen. For this post, I wanted to focus on the main antagonist, Darth Tantrum (excuse me, Kylo Ren).
Starting from the opening sequence of the movie, I wasn’t sure what to make of this Kylo Ren. First of all, who are the two men in some kind of hut or dwelling, discussing a USB thumb drive? One is eventually revealed as Poe Dameron (like the ghosts who carry lanterns in “The Legend of Zelda” folklore?). I had to read or listen to other reviews to find out Lor San Tekka’s name, if it was even mentioned at all. Kylo taunts this gentleman, saying, “Look how old you’ve become.” Immediately, my brain was scrambling for any similar content in previous films from this franchise. Maybe Han Solo was dismissive of Obi-Wan, but did it ever sound like disrespect, purely because of someone’s outward appearance or chronological age? I wanted to know more about Lor San Tekka than I did about Darth Tantrum, but Kylo apparently murdered him (the camera cuts away as the saber comes down and audio fills in the visual gap).
During the same sequence, Kylo is able to freeze blaster ammunition in the air. Again, my brain was drawing a blank. I’ve seen lightsabers parry away laser fire or possibly absorb it. Darth Vader put up his hand to somehow impede laser fire or absorb it. Was this new visual simply a cheap homage to “bullet time” from The Matrix? How do these new rules of physics work in the Star Wars universe, or are they symbolic of a lack of imagination, and the sense that this new saga has very few innovative things to say to a modern audience?
I’m trying to remember the next scene where Ren appeared. Possibly to interrogate Poe? “I had no idea we captured the Resistance’s best pilot.” First of all, how would he know that? Did Poe give up his own name? Secondly, why would you compliment a member of the other team? It felt like an awkward line.
I’ve read message board posts where others describe Kylo as a “conflicted” character. In what way? Before I get to that, he asks a burnt mask to forgive him. Isn’t that unusual behavior for a villain? His plea to be forgiven is in reference to impulses to be a righteous person. In my reading and researching a topic like forgiveness, the psychological perspective is that someone else has been harmed. You vicariously feel that person’s pain, and recognize that it was caused by your own actions or impulses. Therefore, you need to ask them to grant you forgiveness in return for your genuine remorse and refusal to hurt them in the future. Does Star Wars even understand those concepts? Was that dialogue inserted to symbolize how the modern world has twisted morality by 180 degrees? Whatever used to be “right” is now “wrong.” Darkness becomes the substitute for light. Lies become the new truth.
Returning to the idea of Kylo being “conflicted,” I’d ask again, how do we know this as a viewer? I can only think of the incident with the helmet, and a conversation with a hologram called “Snoke,” in which Kylo self-identifies as being “conflicted,” That takes me off on a tangent about the modern idea where it’s up to each individual to self-identify as (fill in the blank). Has there been any precedent for Star Wars characters declaring their own identity? I think of Luke (“I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”). In most cases, the idea of someone being conflicted came from a third party, outside influence. “I feel the conflict within you.” “I trust that your feel-ings are clear on this.”
If I were deciding whether a character was “conflicted,” I’d look at his or her actions. Did Kylo enjoy performing interrogations, or did he seem “conflicted”? It’s hard to mention the interrogations without again wondering where the idea of pulling thoughts or images out of someone’s head has been seen before or described as a Force power. Putting false images there, maybe (in the case of a “Jedi mind trick”); but, removing them almost seemed like witchcraft or the occult. To take one more detour, what was the purpose of the interrogations in this movie? Initially, it seemed like the First Order were trying to find a complete map with possible military intelligence. In a later interrogation, Ren was saying that the Order already has a map that’s over 90% complete, with only a section missing, and possibly a yellow or orange dotted line showing places to look for evidence of where to search next. For 30 years, or whatever time period they had the mostly complete map, didn’t they think of deploying assets to the uncharted territory? Everything else had narrowed down where not to look. Let’s even say that the Resistance got their hands on this information. How would it have been useful to them without the Order’s portion of the map?
I’ll mention one more thing, since my post is getting verbose. Why does Kylo wear a mask? Typically, I think that characters are wearing masks to hide their identity, to conceal a disfigured face, for protection in battle, or for life support (Darth Vader). In the case of Darth Tantrum (which I won’t get to in this post – but those were also perplexing), I would not have guessed his identity or his parentage if he went without the mask for the whole film. When he did remove it, his face didn’t look scarred or abnormal. He obviously lived without wearing it, and he was able to stop blaster ammunition in the air, which seems to rule out protection. All I can figure is that Darth Vader wore a mask. Kylo wants to be the next Vader (never mind being the first Kylo), and it makes his voice even more distorted and monotone. Was there any significance to him revealing himself to Rey first? Almost as if to say, this woman is a strong feminist archetype, so of course she can give an order to remove one’s mask, and men automatically obey her.
For my next post, I’ve thought up an alternate ending to “The Force Awakens,” which I hope to share. It may actually enhance the idea of Kylo being a “conflicted” character. At the very least, I wanted to try and redeem what seemed like a very weak ending to this new chapter set in the Star Wars universe.