EXPeriencing ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’

(Image via Reddit. Warning: Mild spoilers below.)

In March of this year, I blogged about how I became a Star Wars fan. I concluded that post saying I was “pretty freaking excited” to see The Force Awakens in theaters. How excited was I? Excited enough to go without my husband, the much bigger Star Wars fan, because he’s an introvert and didn’t want to see it in a crowded theater opening weekend. By the time all my friends and their brothers had seen the movie Friday evening, I couldn’t wait any more. I bought a ticket (to a really cool movie theater in Carmel called FlixBrewhouse) and saw The Force Awakens on Monday the 21st.

It was amazing.

I’m not just saying that because zOMG Star Wars!!1! I like Star Wars a lot, but I’m not so devoted to it that I can’t see its flaws–or rail on said flaws over and over and over again. After my first viewing of The Force Awakens, though, I found very few flaws, and the plot, characters, acting, and immersion were stellar.

I can’t recite the original trilogy word-for-word like my husband can, so I rewatched Episodes IV, V, and VI before seeing The Force Awakens. I’m glad I did because Episode VII really felt like a continuation of that trilogy. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, things aren’t as we thought they should be: there’s no new Jedi order, stormtroopers of the First Order are wreaking havoc on the Resistance–two groups it didn’t seem like we’d have or need at the end of Jedi. While some people who are devoted to the now non-existent extended universe may be salty that there aren’t a hundred Jedi running around, the militaristic stormtroopers of the Empire/First Order versus the scrappy pilots of the Rebellion/Resistance fit well in the universe. The classic good versus evil fight is still going from 30 years ago, but we still recognize that 30 years have indeed passed.

I think my favorite thing about The Force Awakens is that blend of old versus new. It’s in everything from the ships to the characters. Hello, Millennium Falcon! Hello, Han and Chewie! Hello, Easter eggs that call to the original trilogy! But these “old” settings and characters don’t just pander to Star Wars fans. They provide the perfect bridge to all the new–new worlds, new characters, new powers. For instance, I am a huge fan of Finn and Rey. Finn, the stormtrooper turned good, and Rey, the lost girl on Jakku who, well, I won’t get that spoilery on you. Their dynamic with each other, with Han Solo and Leia, and with the bad guys makes the movie fun and fresh. I like the uppity kids dynamic versus the old rogues, because what were Luke, Leia, and Han 30 years ago but uppity kids themselves?

And as I’m talking about the characters, I just have to take a minute to fangirl over the fact that they actually got Harrison Ford to come back for the part of Han Solo. He’s always said he never liked the character and he’s been famously tight-lipped about talking about Star Wars. As in, he never talks about it. Ever. So to see him on the screen–with some significant screen time–made my Harrison Ford-fan heart flutter. And just like the blend of old and new characters, the “old” and young actors make a great dynamic. John Boyega, Daisey Ridley, and Adam Driver pair well against Harrison Ford, et al.

(Well. Kylo Ren/Adam Driver doesn’t pair all that well against Han Solo/Harrison Ford… If you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll leave that at that.)

The Force Awakens was an overall exciting movie experience. It’s absolutely something that should be seen on the big screen, and more than once. There’s humor, there’s sorrow. There are space battles, the Force, and some sweet lightsaber action. I laughed often, and I cried a little, too. If you like Star Wars, $20 says you’ve already seen the movie. If you don’t care one way or another about Star Wars, but want a good movie night, I’d go see it. It’s fun, and you don’t need to have Yoda’s every line from Empire memorized to enjoy it.

Becoming a Star Wars Fan

When I started this post, it was meant to be a review of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. But by the time I had finished my intro and even begun talking about the series, I was at nearly 400 words and the post about the show itself was only going to get longer. Before I knew it, I was over 1,100 words into the post and nowhere near done.

No one wants to read an 1,100+-word blog post about a TV show.

So, rather than write a dissertation on The Clone Wars, I decided that the intro to the post—how I ended up becoming a Star Wars fan—was really a post in and of itself. I’ll blog about The Clone Wars later, possibly in a few different posts. Binge-watching TV shows and then deciding to blog about them seemed great in theory, but that’s a lot of material to try to break down and express your feelings for at once. You probably wouldn’t review all of the Harry Potter books in one post, and likewise, reviewing the entirety of a TV show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Clone Wars, Breaking Bad, etc.) in one post is a bit over-the-top. Breaking it down by book/season, though, now that’s doable.

Anyway, what were we here to talk about? Ah, yes, becoming a Star Wars fan.

I don’t remember what or when my first Star Wars viewing experience was. It had to have been at some point in my childhood because I know I saw Episodes IV, V, and VI before Episode I came out when I was 10. Yet I have no “first-watch” memory of the original trilogy. I saw Episodes I, II, and III in theaters and have clear memories of II and III because I was a teenager. But I know I didn’t love them. In fact, my strongest feelings for the prequels were that I just really wanted Padme’s dresses.

Clearly, I wasn’t a mega-fan of Star Wars growing up. Honestly, it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I really became an actual fan of Star Wars at all. I had always enjoyed it to some extent—mostly for nerd-cred—but I didn’t go out of my way to watch the movies or buy Star Wars swag or fervently declare my favorite Episode.

My husband Terry, on the other hand, has been a huge fan of Star Wars since childhood. Episode V is his favorite (“Because the good guys are getting their asses kicked. It’s a little more realistic. They won in Episode IV but then the Empire came back with a vengeance… Because bad things happen to good people in the real world and I like that realism.”) He’s also read almost every single Star Wars book (which were once somewhat canon but have since all been retconned by George Lucas, and Disney isn’t beholding themselves to them for Episodes VII, VIII, and IX), he has a Jedi costume he wears for Halloween, and he collects Star Wars action figures. He may not be a total mega-fan either, but he comes pretty close.

Because of his enjoyment of the series, and by virtue of being with him for 10 years and spending lots and lots of time with him and caring about his interests, I’ve not only become much more appreciative of the franchise, but I’ve become an actual fan. It’s hard not to when you know information about characters, events, and technology through the extended universe that you don’t get from the movies alone. For instance, did you know Darth Vader’s gauntlets are the only on-screen representation of Mandalorian crushgaunts? These add to Vader’s already considerable power and strength.

(My friends and I created a drinking game for whenever we watched Star Wars movies: every time Terry knows too much about the Star Wars universe, everyone takes a drink.)

I didn’t care overly when Episode III came out in theaters in 2005. I went because I knew I should, not because I was super excited for the movie. But do I care that Episode VII is coming out in December? Yes, actually, I’m pretty freaking excited for it! For this one, I’ll be going because I want to see what happens next in the universe—how Disney reinterpreted the characters, how different they are from how I know the books are, what the graphics and robotics will look like, who all these new characters are that they show in the trailer… There are so many questions I’m excited to learn the answers to.

And for this movie, I’ll definitely be wearing my Star Wars swag.

Saga: Book One Cover

Experiencing Saga: Book One

Cover photo via Image Comics. And yes, that’s a baby breastfeeding.

In December, I came across a Mashable article titled “‘Saga’ is the must-have graphic novel of 2014.” Okay, you’ve captured my attention. I like graphic novels (despite the fact that Persepolis is the only one I’ve ever actually read… Oops). Though usually when someone says, “Go get this book/game/movie,” I take that advice with a grain of salt. But for some reason with Saga, I couldn’t get the article out of my head. I wanted the book ASAP, though I couldn’t tell you why. So I used some Christmas money and picked it up just after the holiday and sat down to start reading.

Saga2Chris Taylor, author of the Mashable article, does a great job of telling you what Saga is about and why it’s a compelling graphic novel. It’s about two star-crossed lovers who come from a warring planet and its moon who are trying to navigate the galaxy with their new-born daughter while being hunted by everyone who wants to destroy the “abomination” of their union. The mother, Alana, comes from the planet Landfall where everyone has wings, and the father, Marko, comes from Landfall’s moon, Wreath, and has horns. Landfall and Wreath have been at war with each other so long that no one knows why, but the conflict has been spread across the galaxy. Alana and Marko, who should be sworn enemies, have fallen in love despite, and maybe because of, this fact. Sound a little like Romeo and Juliet in space? You’ve got it. I would mostly agree with Taylor’s description of Saga as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones meets Romeo and Juliet meets Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care,” though the Game of Thrones part only comes into play in that anyone could be killed at any moment, and you never quite know who’s safe and who’s not.

I tried very hard not to devour this whole collection (the first 18 issues of the monthly comic) at once, but it was hard. Each chapter ends on a great cliffhanger, and the characters and the universe just suck you in. I think my favorite part through this whole bizarre, complex universe is how easy it is to relate to the characters. Obviously I don’t have wings or horns, I’m not a ghost or a cyclops, but all the characters are written in a way that if they showed up in your living room, you could carry on a conversation no problem. Though you probably wouldn’t want them sticking around too long for fear of becoming collateral damage…

SagaI think I find the characters so compelling and relatable partly because the way they talk is so current. They talk like they’re coming from 21st century America, so when they drop some universal truths on you, they connect even more. Also, every character swears like a sailor, which I always appreciate. When you’re being chased by two armies and several mercenaries, you’re gonna drop an F-bomb a couple times.

I also really like the art. The illustrator Fiona Staples does a really beautiful job depicting backgrounds of new planets and outer space, but I think her best depictions are of the characters’ facial expressions. Combined with their voices, the characters’ facial expressions add a whole ‘nother layer to their realness that I don’t think just anyone could pull off. From page one I was drawn into the art as much as the conflict and the conversations.

Saga3

I’m not gonna lie, Saga is pretty weird. As Taylor writes in his article, Saga’s author, Brian K. Vaughan, has been “working on the details of the Saga universe since he was a kid; it first arrived on paper, apparently, when he was bored in math class. Given all those years he spent thinking about it, it wouldn’t be surprising for Vaughan to make a mistake common to the space opera genre—overwhelming us with detail, trying to impress us with all the world-building. In fact, he gives us just the right amount of background information—almost nothing.”

Sometimes, this “almost nothing” means you turn the page into an undeniable WTF situation. For instance, there’s a planet called Sextillion that is one giant red-light district brothel. Why is it there? Where did it come from? How does the character’s ship who’s visiting this planet get him there? We don’t know, and that’s just fine. I will also add, Vaughan and Staples don’t shy away from showing sex. Or blood and gore for that matter. If you’re not into graphic images or graphic language, I probably wouldn’t suggest this work to you. But if you’re like me and think that the realistic depictions of a bloody war and all the language that goes with it only add realism to an otherwise very fantastical world, this could be for you.

I really enjoyed Saga, every bit of weirdness and all. The ‘verse Vaughan has created is sprawling and intriguing, the characters are real and diverse, and the writing, illustrations, and storytelling are spot on. I need to go pick up the next few monthly issues that are out so I can continue the epic journey. I hope this saga continues for quite some time, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.