On the identity of Kylo Ren

star wars the force awakens kylo ren adam driver han solo ben solo reylo identity twist reveal empire strikes back I am your father luke skywalker

So, I watched The Force Awakens again recently; I maintain my original judgement, that it’s a fun film with great characters, but ultimately a very derivative plot. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure most of the people there were also rewatching it; there were no big laughs at any of the moments there were the first time around, so I’m assuming that was because the other people there were anticipating the jokes, rather than that they didn’t find it funny. Glad to see lots of people liked it enough to watch it twice (or thrice!), in any case.

There was, though, one sticking point for me, and that was the identity of Kylo Ren – or, more specifically, how it was revealed to us.

From this point on there will be spoilers.

Consider, if we jump back to 1980 for a moment, The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone is familiar with the twist which takes place at the end of the movie, of course – Darth Vader is Luke’s father. That’s thought to be one of the most impactful moments in cinematic history, and it’s certainly one of the most memorable; you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t know that Luke is Darth Vader’s son. (Which, I suppose, is something of a shame, because it means it’s rare that people are able to actually experience the twist. But that’s beside the point.)

Part of the reason why this is such an effective reveal is the way we come to learn the information – it’s built up as a surprise, and delivered during an already tense moment. It was foreshadowed previously; Darth Vader and the Emperor have a conversation about “the son of Skywalker”, but they never get any more specific than that.

You can see it here. (Incidentally, there’s a rather clever moment where the Emperor says to Darth Vader “Search your feelings; you know it to be true”, which is echoed later on, as Darth Vader says the same to Luke upon revealing his identity as Anakin Skywalker.)

In any case, though, what’s crucial is that the Emperor doesn’t simply say “your son”, or “the son of your former self, Anakin Skywalker”, or anything that would pre-empt the coming reveal. The exposition is built up as a dramatic moment, rather than as a piece of throw-away dialogue (which is, notably, the problem in Revenge of the Sith when we learn Palpatine is Darth Sidious).

In The Force Awakens, though, we have an almost complete reversal of this scene – rather than saving the revelation of Kylo Ren’s identity for his confrontation with Han Solo on the bridge, Supreme Leader Snoke says something along the lines of (and look seriously spoilers!) “Han Solo… your father”. This is very much not a big reveal – there’s no big gasps from the audience, there’s no shock or surprise. It’s just not structured as a reveal.

I suppose in some ways that makes sense; in The Empire Strikes Back, this information was a reveal to Luke as well. Here, all the characters know the information already – it’s not a surprise to Snoke or Kylo Ren or Han. Why, then, structure it as such? Well… for the audience. After all, if it’s not going to be structured as a reveal to us, why Kylo Ren? Why not just tell us in the lead up to the movie? Announce Adam Driver as Ben Solo, Han and Leia’s son?

Because a twist reveal is just more fun, to be honest. But what we got didn’t really function as a twist reveal.

star wars the force awakens kylo ren adam driver han solo ben solo reylo identity twist reveal empire strikes back I am your father luke skywalker snow hd picture forest

So, let’s structure it thus: we remove any reference to Kylo as Han and Leia’s son until the final confrontation on the bridge. Prior to this, you can just keep it vague; Han can say things like “I saw him, Leia. I saw… Kylo Ren” and Leia can respond with “I wish you wouldn’t call him that”, to which Han responds “That’s who he is now. That’s all he is now” and suchlike. We don’t reveal who he really is until Han calls him by his true name on the bridge – and, hey, that becomes a cool character moment for Han too, because it’s a more overt symbol of how he’s trying to connect with his son, in that it’s the first time we see Han acknowledge Kylo as his son.

But… if we’re going to go for a big reveal, why not push it further? Let’s see if we can top The Empire Strikes Back.

You know what I thought was kinda silly? Naming Han and Leia’s son Ben. I could buy Luke naming his son Ben, but Han and Leia were more likely to call their child Lando or Chewy – Han barely knew Obi-Wan, and didn’t exactly seem to like him, and I’m not convinced Leia had even met Obi-Wan. It was fan service that didn’t really land properly, in terms of the actual characters.

You know what they might name their child, though?

Luke.

So let’s run with that, and take a page from the book of the speculators and theorists: we’re going to have a fake out, and imply that Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker, fallen to the dark side.

We’ll modify some of the earlier dialogue; Han can say things like “I thought I knew him” when Rey and Finn ask about Luke Skywalker. Han and Leia’s conversation would be more “To him, I was just family. But you were his best friend. You can reach him.” We’d also, I think, add in the idea that Leia doesn’t know exactly what happened to Luke, and make it seem that Han does – he can disparage the idea of looking for a map, saying that they might not like what they find, that sort of thing. Obviously Han doesn’t, but we want to preserve the eventual reveal.

Then, on the bridge, rather than calling out Ben, Han will say “Luke!”.

And everyone in the audience is shocked! They gasp! What a surprise… and how confusing it is when Kylo Ren removes his mask (it’d have to be the first time, so earlier scenes would need rewriting) and we don’t see Mark Hamill, but… Adam Driver? (Obviously, they wouldn’t have announced the casting of Adam Driver ahead of time.)

The conversation between Han and Ben Luke Solo will go similarly, but removing any outright references to how they know each other, until… this mysterious other Luke stabs Han. And as the music swells, and Han strokes Luke’s face, he says:

“I love you, son.” “I know, father.”

And then, with that callback to one of Han’s most iconic moments, we learn the true identity of Kylo Ren.

That, I think, is a lot more impactful than Andy Serkis’ throwaway exposition.

Related:

Star Wars Retrospective: Rewriting the Prequels

Facebook| Twitter | Blog Index | Star Wars Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Christmas Invasion

doctor who the christmas invasion review russell t davies james hawes david tennant billie piper noel clarke camille coduri penelope

Did you miss me?

So I’m not really sure if anyone noticed, but today is the tenth anniversary of The Christmas Invasion; the first Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first introduction of the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant.

Early last year, for the ninth anniversary of series one, I reviewed each of the Christopher Eccleston episodes, as part of a Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series, celebrating and commemorating this incarnation of our favourite hero. Naturally, then, it seems appropriate to do the same with the Tenth Doctor – my Doctor. The 2006 series was the first that I really, properly engaged with as a fan, so it’s naturally pretty close to my heart. (Realising it was ten years ago is making me feel more than a little old. Doctor Who has, at this stage, been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t. That’s weird to think about.)

We’ll get to the introduction of the Doctor in a moment though; this episode is also important for kicking off the new series tradition of Christmas specials! The closest thing to a Christmas special in the classic series was, I believe, The Feast of Stephen (missing from the archives, but home to the famous “Incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home” line), so this was somewhat unprecedented – but Jane Tranter had been so impressed by series one that a Christmas special was commissioned.

And it works – of course it works. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t make sense really, when you think about it. You’ve got Russell T Davies writing, who’s always had a firm grasp on the emotional core of stories, particularly when it comes to themes of family, which is something well suited to Christmas. More to the point, though, you’ve got the very nature of Doctor Who itself – the classic juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane, the frightening and the normal, is perfectly poised to give us a properly scary Doctor Who Christmas. And that’s what we get! Murderous brass band Santas and Killer Christmas trees. It’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll resonate with the kids over Christmas

doctor who the christmas invasion killer christmas tree baubles santa orchestra pilot fish david tennant tenth doctor james hawes rtd

And, just like any Christmas, we spend time with family – in this case, the characters we grew to know and become familiar with across the last season. Rose, Mickey, Jackie, and even Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale North, currently Prime Minister, in case you didn’t know who she was!) have central roles in this episode, while we wait for the Doctor to appear.

It’s a clever thing to focus on these characters, particularly given that the Doctor has just regenerated. For one thing, it emphasises the fact that, despite the lead actor being recast, we’re still watching the same program – all these characters we’ve got to know and love are here, they exist, and they continue to play an important role. Frankly, it’s also just a lot of fun to see these characters here; I know that’s not quite how it would have been viewed ten years ago, but honestly, watching this I got really nostalgic remembering these characters. Going into the episode, part of me was expecting it to be a little hokey, and a little crap, but it wasn’t – The Christmas Invasion is a genuinely good piece of television. That’s in part because of how strongly drawn the characters are – Jackie Tyler is a gift, I tell you, a gift.

More than that, though, by focusing on these other characters we see the Doctor’s regeneration framed as a loss; it’s a concept that I don’t think was ever explored in such depth before. Billie Piper does a great job of selling how emotional Rose is at the Doctor’s regeneration, essentially treating it like she’s been abandoned, and in many ways, she has been. The Doctor – her Doctor – has left her. Christopher Eccleston isn’t there anymore. Rose, just like the audience, is having to get used to a new Doctor. It’s through her that we are able to process the change, and, indeed, are eventually able to accept it.

doctor who the christmas invasion tenth doctor david tennant pyjamas sycorax satsuma arthur dent tardis did you miss me wake up tea

The Christmas present, though, is the Doctor. Anticipation has been building for nearly forty minutes when he finally appears – yes, we’ve had teases here and there, but never a proper look. And when he does finally appear, it’s immediately a moment of triumph; the Doctor’s arrival is signified as we begin to understand the Sycorax, breaking down a boundary that the rest of our heroes had faced so far.

Right from the off, the Doctor is charming. It’s a lot of fun to see him on screen, whether it’s casually dismissing the Sycorax so he can catch up with Rose, Mickey and Harriet Jones, or destabilising everything the Sycorax had achieved so far with just the push of a button. The simple fact of the matter is that David Tennant as the Doctor is a genuinely charismatic and entertaining character – where Chris Eccleston last year was more withdrawn, making the audience approach him, David Tennant’s Doctor has been designed to be loved right from the off. (A personal favourite moment of mine is his quoting of the Lion King, actually.) It follows through all the way to the end, as the Tenth Doctor sits down for Christmas Dinner with Jackie, Rose and Mickey – something the Ninth Doctor never would have done. He doesn’t “do domestic”, as he said in Aliens of London/World War Three.

Despite this, though, there’s a ruthlessness and a steel to the Doctor; he kills the Sycorax leader (”No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”) and deposes Harriet Jones with a mere 6 words. It’s one of the earliest hints of this Doctor’s arrogance and hubris that will ultimately prove to be his undoing – but that’s a matter for another Christmas, really, a few years from now. For now, though, it’s an interesting character trait in an incarnation of the Doctor we’re still only just getting to know; as fun and charming as he is, there’s something distinctly alien lying beneath the surface. And that’s something we shouldn’t ever forget.

In the end, then, The Christmas Invasion is a perfect introduction to the new Doctor. We’re shown him gradually, with short scenes here and there, before he eventually steps up to save the day in the final act. The Tenth Doctor proves himself to Rose, Mickey, and Harriet Jones – but more to the point, he proves himself to us.

On top of that, we’ve got an imposing threat in the Sycorax, a compelling plot with the Guinevere One Probe, strongly drawn characters with our returning cast, and, of course, a truly Doctor Who juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane to create the scariest Christmas ever.

9/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

TV Review: The Flash – Running to Stand Still (2×09)

the flash christmas special dc running to stand still the cw grant gustin lightning

Holidays can be a time for gentle reflection on the year past. Our ups and downs, our triumphs, our heartaches. But don’t forget, it can also be a time for disemboweling our enemies.

‘Tis the season, now, for the winter finale of The Flash. If you take a moment to think back to last year, with The Man in the Yellow Suit, we had some pretty seismic revelations and plot developments: Barry confronted the Reverse Flash for the first time, and we learned that Dr. Wells was in fact the man who killed Barry’s mother. The Flash was in a fundamentally different place when we returned in January.

Running to Stand Still opens in such a way that would make us think we’re in for something similar to the previous year; Zoom is seen chasing Harry through STAR Labs, with a cliffhanger before cutting to the title card. It’s a clever bit of misdirect, actually – this sequence harkens back to previous episode Enter Zoom, which opened with an in media res style flashforward. We’re lead to expect something similar here, with a speedster showdown much like last Christmas, but it’s a deliberate ruse; the Zoom plot takes something of a back seat from here, relegated to the episode’s closing scenes – it’s indicative of what’s to come, but not a concern for the present.

Right now, it’s about the Rogues – specifically the Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, and the Trickster, as played by Liam McIntyre, Wentworth Miller, and Mark Hamill. (You may have heard of Hamill; he was in a small, indie movie that came out recently, which you can read my review of here.) The plot deliberately offers something smaller scale, and more intimate, than the spectacle of last Christmas – and that works particularly well here. You don’t always need to see the man who murdered Barry’s mother for a good story – Mark Hamill chewing the scenery is often just as effective.

Weather Wizard and Trickster are, I think, uniquely suited to the Christmas special, in a way most of the Rogues aren’t, necessarily – Weather Wizard’s powers immediately present you with the possibility of a “white Christmas”, and the Trickster allows a level of seasonal whimsy you wouldn’t get elsewhere. After all, which of the other Rogues would dress up as Santa, and hide bombs in Christmas presents? Not Leonard Snart, that’s for sure; for his short appearances, Snart was a welcome source of humour, puncturing the atmosphere with more than a few sarcastic comments and eye rolls. That’s one of the great things about keeping a recurring cast of villains – The Flash has been able to develop Weather Wizard, Trickster, and Captain Cold across the past few seasons, and the show really benefits from having a group of villains that we, the audience, have come to know.

the flash review mark hamill trickster santa christmas running to stand still season 2 rogues dc arrowverse

Of course, the emotional stakes this year were significant nonetheless – we got further traction on the Wally West plot arc which was introduced a few weeks ago. Iris finally decides here that she can’t keep this secret anymore, and ultimately tells her dad the truth – the fact that he has a son he didn’t know about.

Candice Patton and Grant Gustin both do great work with their scenes here; Iris confiding in Barry, Barry being supportive, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to see the two of them being able to interact with one another free of the love triangle from last season; Iris, as a character, has really come into her own over the course of this season, which has been great to see. I’m looking forward to seeing her develop further when we return to the show in January.

Real plaudits, however, deserve to go to Jesse L Martin, who gave a really astounding performance as Joe finds out he has a son. It’s a really nuanced, emotive performance – his initial reaction conveys a lot, even where the dialogue is more closed off, and he develops it further as Joe opens up to Barry later in the episode. Andrew Kreisberg did a great job writing this episode, giving Jesse L Martin (who’s one of the best actors on the program) a lot of interesting material to work with; there’s real depth to his performance, giving us a very successful installment in this storyline.

A moment I particularly liked, actually, came towards the end, where Joe gave Barry his watch – something he’d previously discussed with Iris – and said he’d “always planned to give this watch to my son”. It was a really nice, poignant exchange, with a great performance from both the actors: it reinforces the bond between Joe and Barry, and the fact that, even though Joe now knows he has a biological son, it doesn’t diminish his relationship with Barry. That was something I really liked, in any case.

the flash review joe west running to stand still wally west dc arrowverse crying upset jesse l martin hd

Another impressive emotional sequence – immediately following the watch exchange, actually – was Barry talking to E2 Harrison Wells, to forgive the Harrison Wells who killed his mother. It builds on a more subtle arc they’ve been developing throughout the past few weeks; the idea that Barry might, in fact, be dealing with depression, and his fears that he wouldn’t ever be happy. But here Barry lets go – he’s not going to carry the weight of his mother’s death anymore.

It’s a really significant character moment, which was paralleled in a very clever way through the character of Patty, who was shown to be dealing with similar problems; she felt responsible for the death of her father at the hands of Weather Wizard, and was dealing with similar depression type feelings. It’s really impressive to me that The Flash, primarily an action-adventure programme, is putting so much thought and care into more subtle character development moments like this, because it is really, genuinely very effective.

The sad thing is, though, that it just makes the aspects that don’t work stand out more. They finally brought Jay and Caitlin together as a couple in this episode, with kisses under the mistletoe and a few jokes about different traditions on Earth 1 and Earth 2. A few good jokes came from Cisco mocking the pair of them and puncturing the romantic atmosphere, but the fact remains – this relationship has been quite poorly handled, and you get the impression that they were only brought together because the writers didn’t know what to do with Caitlin as a character. It’s a bit of a shame, but hopefully they’ll be able to make something of it soon.

In any case, though, this was a really excellent episode – one of the strongest of the season so far. Even though it didn’t have a dramatic showdown between Barry and the series villain, akin to last year, we got something with just as much significance, just as much depth of emotion, and we have just as much to look forward to next season.

9/10

This review was recently published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Superhero TV Index

TV Review: Arrow – Legends of Yesterday (4×08)

Arrow The Flash Crossover Logo Legends of Yesterday review Grant Gustin Stephen Amell

Wait, the ‘Indiana Jones’ reference is the only thing I understood. 

So, typically, I don’t review episodes of Arrow, on account of my being quite so far behind on the series, but I thought I needed to make an exception for this episode, given that it’s the second part of the annual crossover special.

This episode opens with a flashback to Ancient Egypt, showing us the first life of Kendra and Carter, as well as the beginning of their enmity with Vandal Savage. It’s a clever move, and a good way to adapt the flashback structure of Arrow to fit with this episode; last year, one of the main issues with the crossover episode, The Brave and the Bold, was that they tried to maintain the typical Arrow flashback structure. The problem, though, was that it had little relevance to the main plot of the episode, and was more than a little overshadowed by the appearance of Barry, Cisco and Caitlin.

Here, though, the use of the flashbacks ties into the main plot of the episode really well, and gives us an interesting insight into the past lives of the Hawks. It’s a rather neat, effective little structural cue that has a significant impact on the story, where we get to see more of Kendra learning about her powers – and, more importantly, where we see Kendra in a position of greater authority than Carter. I must admit, I did find him quite obnoxious still in this episode – saying things like “I’ve always been the planner, and now I’m starting to understand why” really began to grate after a while – so it was nice to see Kendra starting to push back against that.

(One other things, with regards to the Hawks – I’m not really certain how I feel about the actual execution of their powers. The costume they wear aren’t great, and the wings don’t look amazing either. Perhaps I’m being a tad critical, but still. It’s something to think about for Legends of Tomorrow, when the time comes; the problem I have isn’t so much the CGI, but the style and design of the wings. It looks questionable; wings just aren’t like that, so there’s something a little off and disconcerting about seeing them here like this.)

arrow the flash legends of tomorrow crossover ancient egypt flashback legends of yesterday review hawkman hawkgirl

In many ways, this episode is a significant improvement on its predecessor; although there’s quite a few characters who don’t really get much of a look in, like Thea or Diggle (and I kind of got the impression Laurel was only in it because of Katie Cassidy’s contract) or Caitlin, the entire episode felt a lot more balanced and better paced than Legends of Today. I think that’s in part because the episode was much more focused – even the digression with regards to Oliver’s child, which I’ll come to in a minute, had a direct impact on the main plot. That’s something that couldn’t be said in the previous episode, and I’m glad they made the change this go around.

Something I found quite interesting here was the fact that they used Barry’s time travel powers. It was rather a surprise, actually – I thought they’d be a little too ‘out there’ for Arrow, given that it’s typically a little more grounded. Still, I suppose now that they’re delving into magic and mysticism, that’s unlikely to remain to be the case. Regardless, it was used well (and I suppose it’s important to include that, given that Legends of Tomorrow is going to be a time travel program) and I quite liked the way the different characters dealt with it. Barry, obviously, was pretty shaken up, which is understandable given his experiences last season, but Oliver was interestingly pragmatic about the whole thing, taking the opportunity for a second chance and rolling with it.

Another useful implication of the time travel aspect is to emphasise the power of Vandal Savage; he’s such a serious adversary, they need to change time to deal with him. That’s something that’s only been true of Eobard Thawne previously, and in making that the case here, it means that Vandal Savage has a certain weight to him as a villain – he’s treated as a threat on the same level as villains who took entire seasons to deal with.

(In terms of the final resolution – I was quite surprised by the fact that they killed Vandal Savage off, with Malcolm Merlyn doing something to bring him back. I was expecting him to simply escape, though I suppose this was a deliberate move to counter expectations. Wonder how they’ll address it in Legends of Tomorrow?)

arrow oliver queen stephen amell william son legends of yesterday review the flash legends of tomorrow

The other major plot point of this episode was the introduction of Oliver’s son – an arc they’ve been building to for nearly two years, given that the first indication of his existence came towards the end of season 2.

Oliver discovers the existence of William (not, interestingly, Connor Hawke; somewhat surprising, given the existence of the comics character and the upcoming time travel program) and begins to make efforts to get to know his son – keeping it all secret at Samantha’s behest, however. That was something I found interesting, although it’s clear that this is a set up for future drama, particularly given Felicity’s reaction to the news in the aborted timeline. (I must say, though, I found her reaction to be more than a little unreasonable – if that’s how the character was depicted throughout last year, I can understand why people became so aggravated with her.)

I’m not certain where it’ll go, but I am looking forward to eventually seeing how it all pans out – it’s a really interesting storyline, with a lot of potential, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they explore that. (As an aside – does anyone think it’s possible they’re going to depict William as having autism? I’m speaking from a place of ignorance, but the character did seem to fit most of the TV stereotypes for depictions of autism – obsessed with the Flash, quiet, didn’t make eye contact much. It’s perhaps more likely that I’m reading too far into it though.)

In the end, then, this was a very enjoyable episode of Arrow; it managed to improve on the flaws of its counterpart, whilst at the same time building a fun and engaging storyline, and laying the groundwork for a compelling ongoing plot.

9/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Superhero TV Index

TV Review: The Flash – Legends of Today (2×08)

The Flash Arrow Crossover Logo legends of tomorrow legends of today legends of yesterday review

When did our lives suddenly become an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie?

This week, we’ve got the now traditional annual crossover event between The Flash and its parent show Arrow. (They even have special logos! How nice.) This time around, though, unlike last year, it’s a two-part story – rather than the largely self-contained episodes we got last season, this time, you need to watch both episodes to get a satisfactory, complete story.

Of course, what’s also new is the fact that these two crossover episodes are also acting as set-up for the upcoming spin-off program, Legends of Tomorrow – which you can probably tell from the titles! That means, then, that we’re here introduced to two new characters who are going to have pivotal roles in Legends of Tomorrow, and get the superhero origin for a third: Vandal Savage, the main villain in the new program, as well as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, two iconic DC heroes.

Hawkgirl, of course, is someone we’ve already been introduced to – Kendra Saunders, played by Ciara Renee, who we’ve seen enter into a relationship with Cisco over the past few episodes. She’s very much filling the role of a fish out of water here, given the pretty seismic revelations about her life that are going on; not only is Kendra a metahuman, but she’s also a 4000-year-old reincarnated Egyptian warrior princess. It’s definitely the sort of knowledge that’s going to make you question a few things, and Ciara Renee does a great job of portraying a subtle, understated reaction to this change.

It helps, though, that we already sort of know the character, having seen her relationship with Cisco develop over the past few weeks – and, of course, the fact that Ciaran Renee gives a fairly charming performance anyway. Falk Hentschel as Hawkman, or Carter Hall, doesn’t really fare quite so well; he’s in the position where he already knows about his past lives, and in his attempts to explain it to Kendra, comes across as a rather condescending and obnoxious character. The character is borderline insufferable, and I really hope that changes when he returns on Legends of Tomorrow in January.

Most successful of all the new character introductions, though, is Vandal Savage. Casper Crump does a great job of portraying this villain as someone who’s genuinely powerful; he’s got a very commanding, very threatening screen presence. He’s an impressive villain, who you can believe would be a significant enough threat to warrant a spin-off program dedicated to him; none of our heroes this week, from Arrow or The Flash are able to properly beat him. They can barely hold him at bay; the episode ends with him achieving his aim, and both parties simply leaving. Barry might have rationalised it as a tie, but it’s undeniable – Vandal Savage is the winner at the end of this episode, and it really sets him up as a properly intimidating villain.

arrow the flash legends of tomorrow legends of today crossover review caspar crump vandal savage aaron helbing todd helbing

Naturally, though, we still have our main cast – of both shows, that is.

This episode starts with Barry pushing himself, trying to get faster, and reflecting on his battle with Zoom once more. It’s nice to see a callback to this confrontation, and delve into how it’s beginning to haunt Barry; it shows a certain vulnerability to him, and emphasises the fact despite his superpowers, Barry is still impacted by what goes on around him. It’s something that’s returned to later on in this episode, with Barry admitting to Oliver that, despite everything, he’s “never felt so powerless”. I do really appreciate the fact that, even though this is primarily an action adventure show with a focus on superheroics, The Flash isn’t letting character moments take a backseat, and they’re still making sure to keep including them in the narrative.

Similarly, we had a lot going on for Cisco this week, in terms of his relationship with Kendra – which is obviously now in a very different place, after the revelations as to her true identity. Carlos Valdes does another great job here, really proving quite how talented he is, and demonstrating that there’s a lot of depth to Cisco as a character – he’s not just a comedic side character who gives the occasional technobabble explanation. There’s an interesting examination here of how Cisco has been dealing with his own powers as a Metahuman, which does in fact have some nice emotional weight to it – like I’ve already said, I’m glad that these characters are being developed throughout each episode.

In terms of the Arrow crew, the most significant appearances were reserved for Felicity and Oliver, as you’d likely expect – although Thea certainly got some good lines it too. I’m a little behind on Arrow (by which I mean, I’ve not yet caught up past the end of season 2 yet) but it’s nice to see these characters interact with the ones from The Flash. It does help to remind us of the fact that there is a shared universe here – I’m consistently impressed at what the CW has managed to achieve over the past few years with these characters and this world.

the flash review barry allen grant gustin cisco ramon carlos valdes legends of tomorrow

Admittedly, though, not everything about this episode is perfect. It’s more than a little overstuffed – with quite so many things going on, it’s difficult to really let any of them breathe. Appearances from John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn aren’t really as effective as they should be; they happen so quickly and with little explanation that it means Merlin is reduced to simple exposition dumps at times when the script needs to move along somehow. Neither Thea nor Diggle (nor Iris, come to think of it) had a huge amount to do in these episodes, because they were simply crowded out by everything else that was going on.

Similarly, the subplot with Harrison Wells, Caitlin and Jay didn’t really work either. It very much felt like something that was shoehorned into the plot for the sole and only purpose of ensuring that there was something that wasn’t crossing over this week. It would have been better, I think, had this simply been excised to allow the main plot more room to breathe, and just dedicate more time to developing different aspects of the plot. Whilst I can understand the need to set up Velocity 6, given that it’ll likely be important in future episodes, I’m not really seeing any reason why it had to be this week – there’s nothing here that’s going to follow over immediately, so why not just save it for an upcoming ‘freak-of-the-week’ episode that has fewer responsibilities?

Ultimately, it’s this feeling of being overstuffed that hampers the episode, and holds it back from being quite as good as it should have been. It is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while. Regardless, though, this was a thoroughly entertaining episode of The Flash, and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of this story on Arrow.

8/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Superhero TV Index

100 Books in a Year: Paper Towns

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#11 – Paper Towns – John Green – 4/5

I am quite fond of John Green’s books; this is the third one I’ve read, but before this, I’d read The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. (In fact, I wrote a little bit out The Fault in Our Stars here, if you’re interested.)

And, you know, because of this, I thought I had the basic formula to a John Green book down, and pretty much all figured out. (Spoilers from hereon out, by the way.) I was, essentially, expecting the missing character, Margo, to be dead; given that John Green has a cancer death book and a road accident death book, it seemed to me that this was going to be his suicide death book. I mean, I know I’m oversimplifying with that, but still. That’s definitely something you’re lead to believe over the course of the novel, that’s true, but of course, in the end, Margo is alive.

Paper Towns is something of a discussion on the manic pixie dream girl trope; though it’s never invoked by name, it’s something that’s on the forefront of the main characters thoughts throughout the latter half of the book. It’s something they do explicitly condemn, in the end, which I thought was nice – you can’t just romanticise people and your relationship with someone, there needs to be something much more real there. It’s a good message, particularly for the general target audience of these books.

And, you know, as with all of the John Green novels, it’s a lot of fun to read, and very easy to get through. They’re all eminently readable, and generally just pretty good books all round.

Books Read: 11
Days since start: 99
Days until finish: 265
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Books Index

Doctor Who Review: Series 9 Overview

doctor who series 9 review overview peter capaldi jenna coleman steven moffat era logo twelfth doctor vortex title sequence clocks clara oswald

With a little under a week to go until this year’s Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song, I thought now would be a good time to post my annual retrospective on the series, and try to collect my thoughts on the show across this past year.

First of all, here you can find my review of each episode, alongside the score given to it; it’s worth checking these out, methinks, because I’d say they’re amongst the better reviews I’ve written over the years.

  1. The Magician’s Apprentice | Steven Moffat | 10/10
  2. The Witch’s Familiar | Steven Moffat | 9/10
  3. Under the Lake | Toby Whithouse | 7/10
  4. Before the Flood | Toby Whithouse | 6/10
  5. The Girl Who Died | Jamie Mathieson & Steven Moffat | 10/10
  6. The Woman Who Lived | Catherine Tregenna | 8/10
  7. The Zygon Invasion | Peter Harness | 8/10
  8. The Zygon Inversion | Peter Harness & Steven Moffat | 10/10
  9. Sleep No More | Mark Gatiss | 8/10
  10. Face the Raven | Sarah Dollard | 10/10
  11. Heaven Sent | Steven Moffat | 10/10
  12. Hell Bent | Steven Moffat | 10/10

Here we’ve also got a nice graph, showing the scores above, because I do love a good graph.

doctor who series 9 review episode rankings steven moffat peter capaladi jenna coleman maisie williams clara oswald twelfth doctor gallifrey graph

You can see, actually, that I gave this series quite a lot of high scores – there were more perfect scores in this series than I’ve ever given before.  Six of the twelve episodes in this series got 10/10, with quite a few others getting 8s and 9s as their score. In hindsight, I do wonder if I was, perhaps, overly kind and enthusiastic with some of those scores – but then, these aren’t marks of objective quality, rather of how much I enjoyed the episodes, in terms of my own idiosyncratic tastes.

Noticeably, there are a few key areas where my tastes differed from the common consensus – I was quite a fan of the more experimental Sleep No More, but largely unimpressed by Toby Whithouse’s traditional two part story. I’ve reached a point where, having seen a lot of Doctor Who, what I really want more than anything is something that pushes the boundaries of what I’m familiar with, so it was great to see a lot of that this season. Sleep No More and Heaven Sent are, if nothing else, memorable by virtue of the fact that they really pushed the boundary of what Doctor Who does.

The two-parter aspect of this series is something that I’m still not entirely certain of; the problem is that in some cases, it’ll extend a flawed story longer than you’d like (for me that’s Before the Flood & Under the Lake) or it means that the story just doesn’t quite work until you see the second part – a prime example of this being the Zygon story. In general, it works, but in terms of the viewing experience on a weekly basis, it’s much more difficult to consider this a success. I think I’d prefer it if, next year, we returned to something more akin to the structure of the first few series, wherein we would have two parters, but it was predominantly self contained episodes. Balance seems to be the best, in this case.

doctor who the girl who died series 9 review peter capaldi jenna coleman twelfth doctor fires of pompeii jamie mathieson maisie williams ashildr me

Something I did appreciate, quite a lot, was the depiction of Clara and the Doctor across this series. Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are phenomenal actors, and they got to have several brilliant stand out moments across this series; Capaldi’s Zygon speech and Jenna Coleman facing the Raven will likely be remembered for a long time to come.

I like the fact that both of these characters have developed since last year; the Doctor is no longer a broody, retrospective individual, but someone who’s really throwing himself into the adventure and having fun. There’s a journey here, an evolution, and when we begin series 10, we’ll be seeing a Doctor who is, once again, subtly different and a nuanced, developing character.

Clara’s arc this season was, I think, undercut somewhat by the nature of her role in the stories this season. What we were, in theory, supposed to see was an extension of Clara’s arc last year, as she became more and more of a Doctor like figure. And it worked in some episodes, certainly – Face the Raven springs to mind immediately – but I feel like Clara was sidelined in too many episodes (The Woman Who Lived, the Zygon two parter, etc) for her eventual ending to have the thematic weight it deserved. Certainly, it was still effective, but I do wish Clara had been given a greater role throughout the series.

doctor who clara who jenna coleman maisie williams spinoff series 9 review rachel talalay classic tardis restaurant ashildr me overview

My only other principal worry, though, was that this series was way too reliant on continuity and callbacks to prior episodes.

The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar had Daleks, Missy, and Davros, as well as the Maldovarium and the Shadow Proclamation. The Girl Who Died had a significant plot point and motivation predicated on a flashback to a six-year-old David Tennant story. The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion had Zygons, Osgood & Kate, and a fair few references to Classic UNIT stories. Face the Raven had cameos from old aliens like Sontarans and Cybermen and Ood and Judoon. Hell Bent, obviously, had Gallifrey.

That’s 7 of the 12 episodes with a real connection to the past, there, and it’s not like the others weren’t devoid of references here and there – Mark Gatiss threw in at least one joke about Silurians that I could remember, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there were more throughout the series as well.

The worry is, of course, that this will start to alienate people and put them off – it’s great for fans, and I loved it, but there does come a point when you have to say that enough is enough. Series 9 has had the lowest viewing figures of any of the NuWho series across the last ten years, and I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the reason why; after all, the last time Doctor Who got mired in this much self referential continuity was the 1980s, and you remember how that turned out.

Obviously, I don’t think Doctor Who is in trouble. This has been one of the strongest seasons in several years, with some genuinely amazing episodes in it.

But I think that, more than anything, series 9 reminds us of the need for change, and the fact that we can’t be complacent. We’ve got to have evolving main characters, we’ve got to have changes to the format, and we’ve got to have innovative episodes.

So long as we keep that in mind, I have no doubt that Doctor Who will continue to rise to new heights.

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Film Trailer Thoughts | Star Trek Beyond (2016)

star trek beyond poster justin lin trailer sabotage yellow purple chris pine sofia boutella idris elba

I mean, it’s kind of an awful trailer, isn’t it?

There’s no two ways about it, it’s just awfully generic. 80s music, action shots, joke, action shots, title of movie, final one liner. This is possibly the most formulaic trailer I’ve seen; the only thing it was really lacking was some sort of ominous voiceover, but I’m almost certain we’ll see that at some point in the future. The actual subject matter is, frankly, just sort of meh as well. It’s difficult to judge the film on this because there’s so little substance to the trailer – the film is presented very much as a generic action movie, and little more.

And that’s fair, I guess. It will have to be marketed in a certain way for it to appeal to as broad an audience as possible; conventional wisdom suggests that if you market this movie as a philosophical, classic style Star Trek movie, then it’s not going to get as many ticket sales. Whether conventional wisdom is in this case correct remains up for debate; I suppose they have arguably got some evidence for this, given the success of the last two movies. (I’d consider them, for the record, entertaining movies, but not really good Star Trek movies.)

I do have some faith, to be fair. There seems to be a few indications of something more traditionally Star Trek-y in there; the survival movie aspect has potential, as does the fact we’re being introduced to a new alien species. I like the ideas that are evoked by the title, Star Trek Beyond, and I like Idris Elba’s line, “This is where the frontier pushes back”. I wonder if, perhaps, there’s something about the planet transforming people into aliens – that female alien looks a little like Zoe Saldana in the makeup, so maybe that’s Uhura? (Or perhaps I’ve just got used to these movies having very few women in them.)

At the end of it all, though, this just isn’t inspiring much of a reaction in me, because I’m finding it difficult to actually, like, care. It’s a really generic trailer, with a group of characters that I just never properly connected with. Sure, it’s Kirk and Spock and all of them, but they’re not the versions of the characters I know very well; so far, there’s 6 ish hours of screentime with them in two movies of debatable quality spread out over 6 years. I’m not hugely invested in them.

So, you know, whatever. I guess Star Trek is this now? Cool, sure, whatever.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Star Trek Index

100 Books in a Year: Postcards from an American God on the Edge of Mars

100 books in a year reading challenge summer marathon books novels september 2015 2016

So, I was talking to my English teacher a while ago (read: she was talking to the class, and I was there) and she mentioned that every year she tries to read one hundred books. This started because of a competition with another girl a few years ago. (The girl won.) I, in my infinite arrogance, decided that I could probably make a decent stab at that if I put my mind to it.

And thus, I shall. From the 12th September 2015 to the 12th September 2016, I intend to read 100 books. Just to make it a little harder on myself, though, they have to be books I’ve never read before.

#8 – American Gods – Neil Gaiman – 5/5

This was the book where I really started to understand the acclaim that Neil Gaiman gets. Obviously, he’s an author who was on my radar; he’s written one brilliant Doctor Who episode, and one reasonable one, and I quite enjoyed Stardust (but I preferred the movie, admittedly), however I’d never quite seen where the bulk of his reputation came from.

And now I do. I totally get it – Neil Gaiman is a fantastic author. American Gods is a very well written book; it’s got a whole host of interesting and compelling characters, and it’s written in such a way that we really get to take the time to get to know the different characters. I’d almost describe it as a meandering style, actually; it’s a fairly slowly paced book, but it uses that pace remarkably well.

I mean, it’s one of those books that’s difficult to talk about in short form; I sort of want to just bullet point stand out moments, but that would very quickly turn into a transcript of the book itself. (Even more so considering I was reading an expanded tenth anniversary edition!) Certainly, something that stood out to me was the twist ending, which I shan’t ruin, but I think it can be considered amongst the more effective twists of this nature, ever. (Yes, it’s hyperbole, but making exaggerated statements is part of the fun of running a blog. Plus, it really is that good.)

#9 – The Martian – Andy Weir – 5/5

Next up was Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I was drawn to because the film looked good, but I never got around to seeing it. Since finishing the book, though, I found out that Andy Weir writes Doctor Who fanfiction, and also wrote rather wonderful short story called The Egg, which you’ll probably have read before, even if you don’t recognise the title. So, you know, definitely an author I’m likely to be interested in.

The Martian has a really excellent, distinct voice to it; large swaths of the book are in a first person perspective, written as log entries by Mark Watney, the astronaut stuck on Mars. Andy Weir infused the character with a certain sarcastic, irreverent wit, which makes the book really enjoyable to read. Often there’s a lot of technical jargon – which I respect a lot, because it draws a veneer of realism over the plot, and really adds to the tone of the novel, but it’d be a lot less interesting if it wasn’t being relayed by such a well drawn protagonist. So, that’s handled very well, in essence.

It’s actually quite tense in places, which is accentuated by the switches between Mark Watney’s log entries, and the third person descriptions of events on Earth with NASA trying to save him. Ultimately, though, what I was most fond of was the closing paragraph, which put forward a really hopeful view of humanity. It felt fitting, and I liked it a lot. (Matt Damon narrates it over the trailer for the movie, as it happens.)

 #10 – Postcards from the Edge – Carrie Fisher – 4/5

I found out recently that Carrie Fisher had OD’d on cocaine while they were filming the Hoth scenes for The Empire Strikes Back. Then I found out she wrote a semi autobiographical book about her experiences, called Postcards from the Edge. So I figured I’d give it a read. (They also made a film of the book starring Meryl Streep, but that’s not exactly pertinent to the matter at hand.)

I’m glad I read this book in the end. It’s very good, and it’s also very honest; there’s a clear sense that Carrie Fisher isn’t holding anything back here, not at all. Throughout the book, there’s a series of different perspectives and stylistic presentations – it’s divided into four sections, and each one is different from the last. It’s all very cleverly done, and you come away from it with a much greater understanding of addiction and recovery (or, at least, of how that process went for Carrie Fisher.)

Certainly, I’d recommend it – it’s a cleverly presented, well-told story, that has some genuinely impactful themes and ideas within it.

Books Read: 10
Days since start: 98
Days until finish: 266
Currently reading: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Click here to see my progress reports and updates on this whole reading malarkey. Have any suggestions for books I should read? Get in touch!

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Books Index

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star wars the force awakens review episode vii logo jj abrams lawrence kasdan

And this is the new one. The film we’ve all been waiting for since 2013 when the Lucasfilm deal was first announced. The Force Awakens has, as I understand it, already broken several records with regards to pre-opening ticket sales, and I think it’s on track to beat Jurassic World as the biggest opening weekend of all time.

This review will, obviously, contain spoilers. They’re going to be fairly in depth in terms of an examination of the film, so beware of those. I don’t want to ruin Jar-Jar’s cameo appearance for anyone, and so on and so forth. The actual spoiler-y discussion begins after the read more jump; first up, I want to talk a little about my expectations and thoughts having gone into the film.

For a fairly long time, I was hesitant about the movie; my expectations were pretty low, and I was interested simply because it was Star Wars, rather than because I had any real or genuine expectations of legitimate quality. Over the course of the two year wait, though, and particularly in the last few months as new trailers began to be released, I began to get more and more excited. In the end, it was my Star Wars Retrospective rewatch that really got me immersed in this world again, and really looking forward to the new film.

So, as I was sat there watching the beginning of the film – the Lucasfilm logo appears, the music blares, the credits scroll – I ended up sat there with a great big stupid grin on my face.

And rightfully so.

Once again, I feel the need to stress – from hereon out, there be spoilers. If you are still reading at this stage, you’re an idiot, or you just don’t care. Regardless, make sure you know which you are before you keep reading.

Anyway.

The Force Awakens opens strong, with the attack on the village in Jakku. It serves as a great introduction to both Poe Dameron and Finn; rather effectively, we get to see the battle from Poe’s perspective, with the Stormtroopers doing all of these brutal things… before slowly moving across to focus on one of those Stormtroopers, with their conviction clearly wavering. This is, of course, Finn, who’s played by John Boyega, and he’s going to be one of our key focal characters for the rest of the film; after an extremely entertaining escape sequence, which does a great job of showcasing both Finn and Poe as characters, Poe Dameron gets a much more reduced focus. It’s a shame, to be honest; Oscar Isaac gives a great performance as an interesting character who has a lot of potential, and while I can understand the in-story reason for taking him out of the action, I do hope his role is bumped up a fair bit next time.

star wars the force awakens review rey finn milennium falcon daisy ridley john boyega jj abrams

Regardless, though, John Boyega as Finn is a perfect protagonist for this new movie. There’s a lot of heart to his character, and he has a great character arc; moving from First Order soldier to deserter, before eventually joining with the Resistance, and all because he has such a keenly tuned sense of right and wrong. I think Finn is, in fact, my favourite character across each of these movies; he’s a really compelling character, and John Boyega gives a great performance. I love the fact that he’s driven by a fairly simple desire to do what’s right, and by compassion for others; a fairly simple, small touch that was included, and I quite liked, was that at one point Finn is knocked out, and the first thing he says when he comes around is “Are you okay?”. His primary concern is Rey, and whether or not she’s alright. It’s a nice thematic thread which follows through the entire movie.

Rey, similarly, is a lot of fun as our other main protagonist. In many ways, she’s our Luke Skywalker analogue here; stuck on the desert planet, wanting to leave, before ending up on a strange adventure across the galaxy. Interestingly, though, there’s an added complication: she feels like she has to stay on Jakku, because of some familial obligation. She’s waiting for someone. It’s an odd little detail, added in presumably to build up to a reveal in the next movie, as we find out who her family are, and why they left her on Jakku. I’m guessing she’ll be Luke’s daughter, but perhaps they’ll surprise us.

Aside from that, though, Daisy Ridley gives an engaging performance as Rey. I really like her voice, actually. That’s an odd thing to pick up on, I suppose, but it stood out to me anyway. There definitely seems to be the basis of an engaging character here, and I’m looking forward to seeing her grow and develop across the next two movies. Certainly, Rey was a lot of fun to watch on screen, and her return will be welcome, regardless of whether or not we find out more about her background.

star wars the force awakens review han solo chewbacca milennium falcon harrison ford jj abrams peter mayhew joonas suomato

I was also quite impressed by how the return of the Original Trilogy characters was handled, by gradually introducing them to the plot. We didn’t begin with Han or Chewie or Leia; first it was an X-Wing, then Stormtroopers, then the Millennium Falcon, and then Han and Chewie. By layering the reveals like this, it let each aspect have the opportunity to breathe, and have a much greater impact in its own right.

The Force Awakens also works, of course, as a showcase for the best of Han Solo – which is what you’d expect, really. They do a great job of reminding us of exactly what we loved so much about him in all the previous movies, and why Han Solo is such a cultural icon; it’s because he’s such a genuinely compelling and engaging character to see on the screen. It’s wonderful to see Harrison Ford back, and to get quite so many great scenes and fun lines. JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan really make us fall in love with Han all over again, before – well, I’ll talk about that in a minute. The point is, then, that Harrison Ford’s appearance here really elevates the movie, genuinely adding to it’s strengths.

Similarly, it’s nice to see Leia, C3PO and R2D2 back, each in their various capacities. Honestly, I think C3PO’s appearance was my favourite of these three; it was a genuinely funny little segment, and I appreciated the efforts made to introduce some humour into these movies. As nice as it was to see Carrie Fisher back as Leia, I did have a few problems with the fundamental nature of her role here, so… we’ll talk about that in a moment, anyway.

star wars the force awakens review kylo ren adam driver ben solo reylo lightsabre jj abrams sith

One of the most interesting aspects of the new movie is our new bad guy, Kylo Ren. It’s a difficult thing to pull off for this movie – The Force Awakens is having to compete with Darth Vader, who is genuinely the best villain in movie history. Even the prequels never quite had that issue, given that they were the story of a young Darth Vader – here, now, we’re looking at a Star Wars movie that is almost entirely divorced from the story of Vader.

Whilst Kylo Ren isn’t quite on Vader’s level, JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have managed to create the basis of a villain with a lot of potential to be explored in the future movies. They’ve written a villain who is genuinely conflicted, and Adam Driver has done an amazing of portraying this. Lines like “I can feel the power of the light calling to me” give the impression of the potential for an interesting examination of the dichotomy between the darkness and the light; for Kylo Ren, evil is something is aspires to, rather than something that comes naturally. He self harms throughout the final fight, constantly hurting himself in an attempt to tap into the dark side – Ren is demonstrably volatile, using his lightsabre to smash and destroy some display monitors as a result of some bad news, all in a pique of teenage rage. His instability is clear as well; even though he’s strong with the Force, it’s evident that this strength is not something he’s in complete mastery of. The creative team involved have managed to find a new angle from which to approach the idea of a force using bad guy, and I’m really excited to see where the story goes from here.

Of course, Ren’s identity was hotly debated before the beginning of the movie, with two theories starting to prevail. Quite a few people believed it could be Luke Skywalker (under the tutelage of Supreme Leader Snoke, also known as Darth Darth Binks)… but there was another. The other prominent theory was that Kylo Ren was, in fact, Luke’s former apprentice, and the son of Han and Leia. This was, of course, proven to be true. And then, of course, Kylo – or rather, Ben – eventually killed his father Han.

It was an interesting moment, but I’m not convinced of how well it was handled. The actual demise of Han worked very well (though I’d have preferred it if he had some final lines), and I think it’ll serve to emphasis the danger that Kylo Ren poses in later movies. I do think the actual reveal of Kylo’s identity could have been structured much better; the information is given across as little more than some throwaway dialogue, rather than built up as the seismic revelation it should have been. That is, I think, a bit of a failing on the film’s part – not a debilitating one, but certainly a notable one.

star wars the force awakens review x wing poe dameron oscar isaac jj abrams

That predictability, though, is something that hampers the film throughout. It’s two major moments were far from surprises – the identity of Kylo Ren, and the death of Han Solo, were both fairly obvious. Or at least, they were to me; the average movie goer isn’t going to have been sat theorising about the movie for months, considering whether Kylo Ren would be akin to a new Jacen Solo, or if Harrison Ford would finally have convinced them to let Han Solo die. So, in fairness, it’s difficult to honestly and legitimately argue that this is a serious fault or detriment to the plot.

No, the main issue with the plot is how derivative it ultimately proved to be. We’re watching a remake of A New Hope; the plot strays too far into nostalgia territory, and ends up dangerously close to being a perfunctory remake. We have something of a remixed collection of Star Wars’ greatest hits – a desert planet, an aerial battle over an ice planet, and even a brand new Death Star. It’s this last one that was, I’d argue, the worst – a huge superweapon was introduced, simply so that it could be destroyed in an essentially identical way to the original Death Star. There was little interesting to the concept – yes, it’s a planet, and yes, it drains stars, but so what? Essentially, all it is is a massive Death Star. They even make this comparison explicit within the story.

In fact, the only narrative purpose this Starkiller base serves is to destroy what appeared to be Coruscant; the new Republic has been destroyed, and our heros are reduced to a small group of ragtag soldiers with limited resources – the Resistance – fighting against a much larger and more powerful organisation, the First Order. Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

The Force Awakens is, in essence, hiding in nostalgia. For fear of alienating audiences in the same way the prequels did, they undid much of the development of the Original Trilogy to try and re-establish the status quo from A New Hope. I think that can only really be considered a mistake; the Empire and the Rebellion wasn’t what made Star Wars great, it was the struggle between good and evil. You don’t need to simply redress the originals to bring that back, particularly when it takes away the triumphant ending of Return of the Jedi. Leia’s role here, even though she’s a General rather than a Princess, is ultimately a regression.

I always kinda thought that the Yuuzhan Vong were a bit of a stupid idea – for those of you who don’t know, they’re aliens from another galaxy who, in the novels and EU, invaded some time after Return of the Jedi. They seemed to me to be too much of a departure from the Star Wars I knew, but I do think I appreciate them a lot more now – they were a new idea, and that’s important, it really is.

That lack of new ideas in The Force Awakens – in terms of the plot and general status quo, I mean – is a real disappointment. I do think the movie would have been strengthened had they approached it from a different angle; make the First Order the small, ragtag group this go around. Show that the new Galactic Alliance is struggling to succeed as a young intergalactic government. Emphasis the intimate, personal, small scale struggle caused as Ben Solo became Kylo Ren.

Just don’t give us reheated leftovers.

star wars the force awakens review milennium falcon jj abrams lawrence kasdan

Now, honestly, I really did enjoy The Force Awakens. It’s a stunning film, visually speaking – it looks amazing, moreso than any of the other Star Wars movies than preceded it.

And, even despite the issues I highlighted, the plot issues aren’t hugely noticeable whilst watching the film – JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and all the actors involved did such a genuinely compelling job with the character arcs throughout that the plot problems almost just didn’t matter. Finn, Rey and Poe Dameron are a great new trio for us to be introduced to; Kylo Ren is an intimidating villain with a lot of potential, and it wonderful to see characters from the original trilogy again.

The Force Awakens is, undeniably, better than all of the prequel movies. And certainly in some regards, it’s better than the original movies. Not in all aspects, though.

As a reintroduction to the franchise, The Force Awakens does a pretty stellar job. As a movie, it does a wonderful job – I’ve emphasised, all throughout this review, how genuinely fun it is to watch, and that’s true. Seeing this movie is a genuinely enjoyable experience, and I’d really recommend it to anyone who enjoys fun movies.

I’ll likely have a lot more thoughts on this over the coming week (obviously, I’m going to watch it again) but for now, this is essentially where I stand. A hugely enjoyable movie, with one fundamental flaw.

9/10

Related:

Star Wars Retrospective

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Star Wars Index