These new Star Wars movies sure do bring out my analytical side. I’ve already done my review of The Last Jedi, but in this piece of over-thinking I wanted to focus more on Rey, who I find one of the most frustrating protagonists in the recent times. No don’t run, this is not another article on why Rey is a Mary Sue, or why it’s wrong and/or sexist to think that she is. I have zero interest in comparing power levels and skills and why this character shouldn’t have beaten that character, I’m more interested in examining things like motivations and character arcs, and why the writing for this trilogy so far has been letting Rey down.
With books and movies, I don’t usually try to predict where a story might go, and to be honest I never expected to get analytical about a series I’ve only been a casual fan of before. However, many people who love fiction have their personal storytelling catnip, and mine is the theme of redemption. I can’t explain exactly what it is about redemption that moves me so, but it surely can’t be a coincidence that the last time I got an urge to write long in-depth speculations was after the sixth Harry Potter book and that ending, which made me certain that, despite all appearances to the contrary, there was some powerful story going on.
Contains spoilers about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, if you’re one of the ten people on the planet who haven’t seen it yet.
WARNING – contains spoilers
I don’t normally include spoilers in my reviews, but with this movie I wanted to elaborate more on why certain parts of it worked or didn’t work for me, and that’s impossible to do without revealing the film’s key moments. So don’t read this if you plan on seeing the movie.
The title refers to the arrival of strange extraterrestrial vessels over twelve seemingly random spots on the globe (including Australia, which left me feeling childishly pleased about it – we might be a relatively insignificant country of 25 million, but we’re included woooo). To find out the intentions of the aliens, the U.S. military recruits linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), along with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who they hope can break through the colossal language barrier and communicate with these mysterious beings. They are allowed entry into the spacecraft at regular intervals, where they attempt to establish a common language with their hosts. Their efforts are mirrored by the other nations around the world, but as the fear of the unknown grows and the lines of communications shut down, it’s a matter of time before someone opens the fire.
The good stuff first I guess. Visually the movie is rather marvellous, shot mostly with elegant muted tones that create an atmosphere of unease and suspense, helped along by the moody score. The alien ships, which resemble a gigantic coffee bean sliced in half, are wonderfully strange and the sight of them hovering closely above the earth is eerie and awe-inspiring, bringing to mind the black monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The aliens themselves, squid-like creatures who communicate by spraying jets of black smoky substance which arranges itself into fluid circular patterns, are likewise truly otherworldly. It’s hard to portray a squid-like alien without inviting some degree of B-movie cheese, but this film manages it. I also liked the reliance on brain over brawn and the CGI-laden third act, and as someone fascinated by the languages I enjoyed watching Louise and Ian’s breakthroughs in deciphering the language that makes the Egyptian hieroglyphs look like piece of cake to solve. This process, as demonstrated by the scene where Louise takes off her space suit and attempts a more human, tactile way of introducing herself, is not just about cold data – it’s about real connection and understanding.
This is where I go into real spoiler territory. Read more
I went and saw The Force Awakens again. My first reaction was incredibly mixed bordering on negative, but then I found that some of the better elements got stuck in my head in a way a merely mediocre movie simply wouldn’t manage. So I wanted to find out if this was a movie with huge massive problems I could still really like (like Prometheus), or whether its good aspects are ultimately overwhelmed by the flaws. After watching it again I think it’s definitely the former, because otherwise this giant post wouldn’t happen, but I also got a better idea of why so many things about it feel unsatisfying, particularly in the light of some discussions on the internets that sprung up after the movie’s release.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHOY!