Star Wars and the Lightsabers of Storytelling

kylo ren vs reyPerhaps better than any other Star Wars film so far, the lightsaber duels in The Force Awakens tell a story and establish who the characters are in that moment. Only the duel between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi even comes close to telling this sort of tale via clashing blades. At first glance, the duel between first Kylo Ren and Finn and then Kylo Ren and Rey is brutal and it doesn’t get any less brutal after repeat viewings. Gone is the elegance of the Prequel Trilogy and with good reason. Kylo Ren doesn’t have the benefit of training with a Jedi Order who has perfected the weapon over millennia and Finn and Rey have never even held a lightsaber before that day. Every swing of a saber has meaning and you don’t need to have seen a single other frame of the film to get what sort of people these three characters are.

Finn has the least training with these sorts of weapons and it shows. He gets in a few good blows but it comes off as more beginner’s luck combined with a Kylo who is far from being at his best. (More on that last part later.) With any sort of sword fighting, a raw beginning can sometimes have more luck than someone who has trained, as they do not react in a way that is expected. In other words, someone who has even basic training will be more likely to attack and block in a way that utilizes more standard stances and responses that will be easier for someone else with even more training to counter. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite enough to help Finn last more than a few minutes despite his determination to help his friend.

Kylo Ren’s responding actions speak louder than any words could. He doesn’t take Finn as a serious threat. A traitor? Sure but he’s clearly familiar enough with Hux’s training program to know that there’s no way FN-2187 knows enough to be more than a nuisance and it shows. He toys with Finn especially at the start, dodging some of Finn’s more wild swings with a distinctive ease and even knocking him to the ground and turning away instead of pressing his advantage and ending it. Turning your back to an enemy is an insult. It’s not until Finn lands a blow that actually hurts him that Kylo steps up his game and decides to end the fight now. This time, he’s not content with disarming Finn and follows it up with an injury that ensures the former stormtrooper will stay down.

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The Fan Awakens

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by our friend Shannon Donahue, who created our Tosche Station logo!

I’m hooked. I’m a fan. I’m a Star Wars fan. I am a science fiction fan. It’s a big deal you guys.

Confession… I hated science fiction.

Like, I really hated it. It only took one (kind of awful) person I knew as a child to ruin an entire genre for me. I was sure that I could never have anything in common with that person so I sure as hell wasn’t going to like “stupid space stuff”. Nope, not me.

To me, science fiction had nothing at all to do with my life. I couldn’t see how these people in weird costumes or freaky alien makeup had anything to do with me. How on earth could I have anything in common with these people/things? Not only that, but I failed all my science and math classes in school.  My brain just doesn’t think like that. I like music and art and historical costume dramas. I hung on to this as a part of my personality for a really, really long time. It was just a part of who I was. I didn’t like Sci Fi. I was NEVER going to like Sci Fi.

The problem with that was my best friend was a HUGE Star Wars fan. Growing up she had all the books, she had the posters, she had the 3 ft Darth Vader statue that she hand made. She made a fan video complete with costumes. I didn’t get it. I was never going to get it and I didn’t want to. But when you love someone, you pay attention to the things they love. As we grew up and changed I learned a few things along the way. I might not have seen any of the Star Wars movies, but I knew enough about them to understand and play along. I knew the characters. I had a basic understanding of the plots. Slowly I had more and more friends who were HUGE Star Wars fans. In my group of friends I was the weirdo that didn’t like this stuff. I slowly began to realize that maybe, just maybe I was holding on to hating something for no good reason. I found myself painting Star Wars art for friends all the time. It was beginning to feel like every day I was having another conversation about Star Wars.

So, before I attended my first DragonCon four years ago, I sat down and watched the original trilogy. Dude, I didn’t hate it. Okay, I didn’t love it either, but I didn’t hate it. This was groundbreaking psychological shit for me. I felt free somehow. I realized I didn’t have to know space or science stuff. This was mystical, not scientific. I could get on board with this. But I still wasn’t really a fan.

Then I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens. I thought I was just excited for my friends. Then the second and the third trailer. Oh Boy! As each trailer was released and then finally the movie, I fell more and more in love and here’s why…

Rey

I am so in love with her. Rey is exactly what I want in a female character. She’s soft and she’s hard. She does what has to be done with strength and determination. It seems to me that she has every reason to trust no one, but she flies into a terrifying new direction with new people and places and she does it with such amazing grace. I am in love with the fact that I can turn to my nine year old niece watching the movie and know that she is seeing herself and seeing a woman full of strength and kindness.

Finn

There is so much to love!  He’s funny!  He’s interesting! I love that this movie made you rethink good and bad and black and white. Finn helps us do that. He is a stormtrooper; we are supposed to pull against this guy, but somehow from the very beginning we don’t. We want him to succeed. We want him to find himself away from The First Order. The moment that Poe renames him is brilliant to me. I love that Finn is scared and silly and that he has what seems to be a limitless kindness.

Kylo Ren

Adam Driver does something with his presence and his voice that is both completely and totally terrifying and also completely vulnerable and broken. We know nothing about his story except who his parents are. That revelation breaks us. It breaks us for Han and Leia, but also for Kylo. What sort of hurt, what sort of lies must he be holding on to for him to turn so dark when he came from such love? This doesn’t feel forced or contrived to me but very, very real. Our parents are a part of who we are, but more than that our perception of our parents is a part of who we are. I still find myself wondering about Kylo Ren and who he must think his parents are if he feels he must turn from them so violently.

Family

I was going to write about Han and Leia and what I loved about them. I was going to write about Luke. But what I loved about them and every character in this movie is this: it’s a movie about family, not just the family of your birth but the family of your choice. You can choose to walk away from the family of your birth. You can choose to find a new family with your friends. I felt this so strongly throughout the movie. Obviously the other movies have been about family, but that always felt like it was just the Skywalker family.

I connected so strongly with this movie because I felt the bonds of family in almost every scene. The family that is forged between lifelong friends like Han and Chewie. The family that can be instantly created between new friends as we see with Finn and Poe and then again with Finn and Rey. Our families, no matter how they are created, are our strength and our weakness.

The Look

I loved the look of the movie. I’m a visual person and this kind of stuff is important to me.  

  • BB8 is not only the most charming thing I’ve ever seen outside of a Pixar film, it’s also genius in its simplicity. It’s nothing but circles and a few rectangles and somehow it emotes better than most humans I know.
  • Maz Kanata’s Palace is another example of the look that I love. Flying into that land and walking up to the front doors felt real and magical. Then you find yourself in a dive bar! I loved it. Lupita Nyong’o was perfection as Maz. I want to sit and have shots with her, I want her to look into my eyes and see more than I see. I want her to teach classes at my local metaphysical book store.
  • The dreaded catwalk scene with Kylo and Han is pure lighting genius.
  • The last 5 minutes of the movie on Skellig Michael. Your heart is in your throat, your eyes are burning with hope and the unbelievable beauty of that place. Then your eyes are burning because of the unbelievable acting from Daisy Ridley and especially Mark Hamill.

I could never put my finger on what didn’t capture my interest in the original trilogy. It took this movie to show me. Just as a Jedi must not deal in absolutes, why must these movies? The Jedi and the Rebellion are good and everyone else is bad. The universe that has been expanded by The Force Awakens feels more real to me because there are no absolutes. A stormtrooper can be the hero. The villain can be a Skywalker/Solo. There is Darkness in the Light. There is light in the darkness. This movie perfectly captured that to me and I hope that it is indicative of how the rest of these movies will go.

What I learned about Star Wars and about science fiction is this: it isn’t necessarily about space. It isn’t necessarily about war. It isn’t about science and it doesn’t feel like fiction. These stories are about people dealing with life. Life with some crazy shit going down. Just like my life, minus the hyperdrive.

** edited to leave out the three pages of POE IS HOT! SNAP IS THE BEST! X-WINGS, YAY!

Looking? Found someone you have I would say, hmm?

thumbnail_21381“Where’s Luke?” That was the question on everyone’s lips during the lead up to The Force Awakens. We all wanted to know why Luke wasn’t on the poster or the trailers. What has he been up to the past 30 years?

A few seconds into the movie, during the first line of the opening crawl, we (sort of) got our answer. Not to mention a hell of a lot more questions.

We also got a new cast of characters who, for a couple of hours at least, made me forget about the search for Luke Skywalker.

(Spoilers under the cut.)

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The Force Awakens News from Entertainment Weekly

jj-abramsSometimes, the best news is the kind that nobody was expecting.

Earlier this week, Anthony Breznican of Entertainment Weekly revealed on Twitter that there’d be no new trailer or footage from The Force Awakens shown at Disney’s upcoming D23 convention. This wasn’t much of a surprise, since director J.J. Abrams revealed prior to San Diego Comic Con that the next trailer wouldn’t be released until the fall.

Today, however, EW released a slew of articles and photos from the upcoming issue, featuring interviews with J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, information about character names, and a badass cover of Kylo Ren. Club Jade has an excellent roundup on what we’ve learned so far.  Here’s some of my highlights:

  • Kylo Ren is not the character’s given name. He comes upon it after joining a group known as the Knights of Ren. Also, his broadsaber is a weapon of his own creation. Could he be the Sith fanboy we’ve all been dreaming of?
  • Kathleen Kennedy persuaded Abrams to direct the film by asking him a simple question: “Who is Luke Skywalker?” While Abrams and Kasdan don’t reveal any new information about Luke’s role in the film, or even what he’s been doing up until that point in the timeline, it’s clear that he’s still a major influence in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
  • Rey rescues BB-8 from a soccer ball style net, held by an alien named Teedo and his luggabeast. How does Teedo come upon BB-8? And does Rey have a history with the droid before rescuing him? That’s still unclear.
  • Yes, there’s a reason the surnames of Finn and Rey are still a mystery.
  • There’s a photo of John Boyega in stormtrooper armor next to the crashed TIE fighter, that can be seen in the Behind the Scenes reel from Comic Con. Odds are he’s the one flying that thing, perhaps out of the hangar that we see in the second teaser. “Fly, yes. Land, no!”

As if this isn’t enough new information for us to digest, Breznican teased more news coming tomorrow, featuring everyone’s favorite scoundrel-turned-general, Han Solo. Stay tuned….