Star Wars Episode VIII reminds me of Hero, a Chinese movie set during the Warring States Period starring Jet Li. What I like the most about Hero is its offering of multiple perspectives of the same event. Each perspective details how different characters see and understand the same event differently, and how it leads to conflict. And if one reconciles all perspectives by listening to all sides without prejudice, one gets to a higher truth. In Hero, the truth is an authoritarian one but the conclusion from understanding those perspectives is so profound that I think a libertarian would submit to its truth (within the context of the film of course).
Director Rian Johnson used the same trick in The Last Jedi to explore the conflict between Luke Skywalker and his nephew-apprentice Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. Johnson does not take the relationship for granted and takes time to explain it. The exploration blurs the line between good and evil that previously was so clear in Star Wars, suggesting as I understand the scene, that the relationship between Luke and Kylo arises out of an unfortunate misunderstanding. The conflict is told through three perspectives: from Luke’s, Kylo’s and then from Luke’s again but with further commentary augmented by Rey. The colors, the cuts and the narratives are so convincing that sometimes I wonder which one is the truth. Rey is so confused by the stories told by Kylo and Luke that she demands Luke whether he created Kylo on purpose. The confusion between good and evil even leads to an altercation between between Luke and Rey, a fight so convincing that as I sat in my chair, I began to wonder, is Rey turning? Is Luke a Sith? Who is the good guy here?
There is at least another scene where Johnson tries to blur the line. I do not remember the exact dialog but it is the scene when hacker DJ shows Finn that the same party supplying the First Order weapons is the same one supplying the Resistance equipment. DJ goes on to tell Finn to not get involve and be free.
But the mindblowing moment for me is the philosophical truth Luke discovered during his exile. As he trains Rey, he tells her all Star Wars fans knows since A New Hope: the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” But Luke goes further by explaining explicitly to Rey that is a balance in the Force and the Jedis do not own it. And since there is a balance, the light that the Jedis claim to defend must always come with the dark side. All this is not groundbreaking. But Luke’s conclusion is. He comes to the realization that if that is so, then the Jedis must not exist and the order must end.
Luke’s philosophy casts all of Star Wars films in a different light, forcing us to reassess what the whole franchise really means.
 p/s — I recently learned it was the Japanese film Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa that first used this technique.
The Phantom Menace came out at the cinemas in 1999. I greeted it with such enthusiastic fanaticism — I went to the movies thrice — that I ignored its flaws for years until my cinematic taste became more sophisticated than that of a geeky teenager.
Perhaps I am still suffering from the same affliction 16 years on. Nothing stopped me from waiting for December to arrive excitedly. There I was in the theater for The Force Awakens, a grown man at risk of tearing up as John William’s dramatic masterpiece blared out of the Dolby’s speaker and yellow-lettered paragraphs crawled across the screen slowly.
Watching the latest Star Wars installment felt like meeting an old friend. ”Chewie, we’re home,” said Han Solo as he entered the Millennium Falcon. I smiled as wide as I could.
By the time the credit rolled, I was absolutely sure my latest appreciation for Star Wars would not have an expiry date. I love Episode VII even as Mickey Mouse erases my teenage years spent reading about Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, the Rogue Squadron and the Corellian life into the dustbin.
The story flows well, the acting is not awkward and the jokes are tastefully delivered. It is certainly done cleverer than anything a character called Jar Jar Binks could muster. ”I know how to run. I don’t need you to hold my hand,” barks Rey at Finn as both escape from the Stormtroopers. The best comic relief comes when onboard the Millennium Falcon, Finn conspires with the droid BB-8 to impress Rey which then leads to a hilarious scene of thumb-up exchange.
Nevertheless, several aspects bother me. I do appreciate the various references made to the original trilogy. These references help made The Force Awakens memorable, especially for the fans. But at times, it is too much.
Surely we do not need yet another Death Star and surely there are other plot devices and machines to wage terror. Yet, here comes the Starkiller Base. Director J. J. Abrams and his team pre-empted this criticism into the movie by having a minor character telling the Rebellion Alliance command — now the Resistance — that the Starkiller Base was significantly bigger than the previous two Death Stars. This is a case of imagination running short.
But when The Force Awakens should have copied the originals, it does not do so. The briefing for the Starkiller Base attack scene feels rushed. It gives the appearance that figuring out the weaknesses of a killing machine of that magnitude is easy. The scene lacks the deliberation that took place on Yavin 4 during A New Hope or in one of the Rebel cruisers in The Return of the Jedi.
Worse, despite not being a Death Star, the superweapon’s weakness is very much the same as its predecessor. And oh, do not forget to disable the deflector shield too. My mind wandered to the Forest Moon of Endor for a split second before I jerked it back down to Earth.
I see a parallel here between Star Trek: Into the Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. J. J. Abrams directed both of them. That 2013 Star Trek was the reimagining older version with Khan screaming all the way from 1982. This Star Wars is the stories of Tantooine, Hoth and Endor combined. Since the next Star Wars will be directed by somebody else, I hope more originality will be in order, hopefully without the disaster of the prequel trilogy.
But I do not hate the composite nature of The Force Awakens. I am just dissatisfied with the Death Star-like weapon.
Indeed, as I have mentioned earlier, I love this movie. There are various things I would like to mention but I will not lest this turns into an incoherent rambling of a fanboy, if it is not already. Despite its defects The Force Awakens makes a great addition to the Star Wars universe.
Of course, Star Wars in turn is part of the Disney universe now.
When the news first broke Disney that had bought the rights to Star Wars, a little part of me died. Posters of Death Star with Mickey’s large round ears started to pop-up all over the internet. With the prequel trilogy the way it was, there were fears Star Wars would turn into something that Star Trek fans could trivialize. I myself made snarky remarks, ruing the end of Star Wars.
But the end did not come and instead, Disney did to Star Wars what it did to Marvel and it feels great.
And so, Mickey, I am sorry for doubting you.
And thank you for not sending Darth Vader to force choke me for my lack of faith.