On the day of SW:TFA’s release, I saw it twice. As a fan who saw the first Star Wars when it wasn’t even called A New Hope, 17 December 2015 was defo a momentous occasion. This post will be spoiler-ridden, contains some nit-picking, and if you are reading this, you know what you’re getting yourself into. By the way, the following post follows the plot a tad but is otherwise pretty random when it comes to my narrative.

It was weird not hearing the 20th Century Fox fanfare at the beginning of a Star Wars film. Really weird. It could’ve been worse as it was only the Lucasfilm logo and not Cinderella’s castle.

The opening notes to John William’s Main Title. It was different. I have seen enough Star Wars and I’m sure many would agree. For SW:TFA, Williams conducted a freelance scratch orchestra in LA as opposed to recording the music with the London Symphony Orchestra. To my ears, the LSO sounded somewhat more robust in delivering Williams’ work in the last 6 films, especially for the Main Title. Only an opinion, so don’t shoot me.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

That’s why he’s not in the poster. What? WHAT?!

The opening sequence showing the slow moving silhouette of the First Order Star Destroyer Finalizer harkens back to that of the Star Destroyer/Tantive IV battle over Tatooine but with the eerie silence of the probe droid launch in ESB.

First Order stormtroopers getting ready to land on Jakku.

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For the first time, the stormtroopers’ screen time appears less banal. In the first three, they were seen as clumsy bad shots and talking about spaceships on duty (they actually still do chat in this film!). We’d prolly seen more of the clone troopers in the prequels but apart from a few head shots going “Yes, sir!”, they’d be filling battle fields en masse in true CGI fashion. The claustrophobic flickering scenes in the Atmospheric Assault Lander (AAL) carrying armed and ready First Order stormtroopers gave a realistic sense of pre-battle tension. And as casualties in the subsequent battle on the ground, these troopers do bleed.

In ANH, you’d have an idea of the cruelty of Imperial stormtroopers (vapourised skeletal remains of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru to name one) but to see them herding the frightened villagers of Tuanul to the square before killing them in cold blood gave me a new perspective on these guys.

A First Order flametrooper razing Lor San Tekka’s village of Tuanul to the ground.

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Little is known of Max von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka other than him being an old ally to the good guys in the New Republic and the Resistance[1], and he prolly knew Leia since she was an Imperial senator from Alderaan, guessing from his description of Leia as more of royalty than otherwise to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).

Our first exposition to Rey sees her scavenging parts on the crashed Star Destroyer. I love the forlorn notes on Williams’ Rey’s Theme, which sounds innocent and at time child-like, something that I have never really heard on any of the previous six films. She would then return to the small outpost of Niima where she’d clean the parts and sells them to the junkyard boss Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg) in exchange for portions (not sure what this was, as I thought currency was described as credits).

Rey cleaning scavenged Star Destroyer parts.

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Have you ever seen anyone eat in Star Wars? Think about it. As in really eat. Probably Yoda nibbling on a Kit Kat on Dagobah in ESB. The rancor eating the Gamorrean nor Jabba slobbering on a frog don’t count, by the way. In her abode (which is an AT-AT – how cool is that!), Rey makes instant bread and eats it with something that reminded me of nori or even vine leaves, until she hears the plaintive bleeps of BB-8 nearby.

BB-8 after being rescued by Rey from being dismantled for parts.

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BB-8, who belongs to Poe, appears in the beginning of the film too. I think BB’s an absolute delight and cuter than Artoo (whoaaa!). BB’s pretty much Artoo’s replacement in this franchise especially when Artoo’s screen time is somewhat diminished in SW:TFA, and who knows what will happen in Episodes VIII and IX. Interestingly, Rey understands everything BB-8 says. I am not sure if this implies further expositions on who Rey is or it’s just that bleepbloopdeetdeet is everyone’s second language in this universe.

FN-2187, a stormtrooper with a conscience.

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And what about FN-2187, I mean, Finn eh? It transpired on one of the trailers that John Boyega won’t be speaking in his South London accent (I love Rey’s – no, she doesn’t speak Peckham). Early on, you could see Finn’s reluctance in being a trooper for the First Order (he didn’t fire a shot during the massacre). If Han Solo was the character that carried the humour element in the first three, Finn seems to be taking this mantle for the new trilogy. I thought Boyega was really good from this perspective, genuinely evoking some laughs from us in the audience, especially in the scene where he was bringing Poe in the TIE fighter hangar of the Finalizer.

FN-2187 rescuing Poe but with an ulterior motive.

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Escaping from the hangar of the Finalizer.

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JJ Abrams’ promise of practical effects when it came to creatures is first noted at Niima Outpost. I loved that massive hulk of warthog-like happabore that Finn shared a water trough with. Bobbajo, who was first demonstrated at the San Diego Comic-Con, was there too, queuing behind Rey at the junkyard. I’d would never thought I’d get to see a TIE fighter up close until now. There have been interior scenes before from ANH but not as good as when Poe and Finn flew away from the Star Destroyer. Despite Poe’s flying skills and Finn’s marksmanship, the absconded TIE was downed and crashed in Jakku’s Sinking Fields. However, the best one was of course, the Millennium Falcon.

That’s garbage!


That garbage will do!

Rey’s manouevring of the Falcon evading the two TIEs within the interior structure of the downed Star Destroyer was reminiscent of the battle on the second Death Star in ROTJ. The classiest bit was when she had the Falcon stalling vertically to allow Finn to shoot the last of their pursuers.

Rey is good. I wonder where she got her flying skills genes from. Eh? *wink*

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Aboard the Falcon, Abrams also inserted choice bits where you can defo go, “Hey! I know that!”. The pit where Artoo crashed into when the hyperdrive kicked off during the Bespin escape, Luke’s remote that he practised with en route to Alderaan, the hologram space chess of Dejarik (complete with sound), the two gas masks used in the belly of the exogorth/asteroid space slug. You name it. But the best bit was of course the iconic crying-forty-year-old-men scene when Han and Chewie appeared,

Chewie, we’re home.

Han and Chewie’s return to the Falcon, after it was brought on the bulk freighter Eravana.

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Since I am on the subject of Han’s bulk freighter, the scene where the Guavian Death Gang and Kanjiklub (really, Abrams?! lol) made an unannounced appearance was pretty interesting. Firstly, we had Bala-Tik the gang’s security boss who spoke with a Scots accent. I just loved it! Bala-Tik is played by Brian Vernel, and looking him up on IMDB showed a string of UK films and television dramas under his belt, none of which I know of but then again I don’t really watch that much telly nowadays. Another bit was the presence of Iko Uwais (yup, him of Merantau and The Raid fame) which I knew about after reading something on this a while back. Not only that, Uwais (playing a Kanjiklub lieutenant named Razoo Qin-Fee) was accompanied by Yaya Ruhian (Tasu Leech, leader of Kanjiklub) who was also in The Raid. Indonesians in the SW universe, yo!

After much speculation on the net regarding the castle with the multiple banners, including the Mandalorian insignia, we now know that this was the lakeside castle of the 1000-year old space pirate, Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), on the planet Takodana. Her appearance had been kept under wraps for a very long time, but she had been staring us in the face all this while, as Maz is on the SW:TFA poster. Have a look on Google. Maz stands next to Artoo. And you have also seen her orange hand in the second teaser trailer, although looking at it now it is obvious the scene was deleted. Nice job in making it not so obvious, Abrams!

Deleted scene: Maz Kanata handing over Luke Skywalker’s original lightsabre lost at the duel on Bespin to Leia. In the final cut, Maz gave the lightsabre to Finn.

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Poe’s customised Incom-FreiTek T-70 X-wing, callsign Black One, approaching Maz’s castle on Takodana.

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Now let’s talk about the bad guys.

I have to admit that I really had reservations on what appeared to me initially as a Vader wannabe/fan-boy that is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). After watching the film, though, I am now so looking forward to see how much more twisted and evil, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, Kylo Ren will become in the next two installments. In the first third of the film, details of Kylo’s parentage was exposed to the audience and I just couldn’t believe the reference to Vader as “grandfather” was actually in (with that dialogue omitted of course) the burnt/distorted Vader helmet scene in the trailers. I have to really stop writing nice job, Abrams for the umpteenth time. And this lad has issues. Big ones.

Rey facing Kylo Ren for the first time during the attack on Takodana.

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Surprisingly, I didn’t mind seeing that this character actually succumb to temper tantrums and to inadvertently provide comic relief (the two trooper’s nervous reaction after Rey’s escape on Starkiller Base for one) in this film was right refreshing. I can’t remember Vader making me laugh but this is good. Hehe. As for the music, the theme that represents Kylo Ren (the nearest to a named theme is Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle which comprises a repeat of five brass notes) is nowhere near The Imperial March. Then again, we didn’t get The Imperial March until ESB so let’s hope Williams writes something in the same vein for Episode VIII.

Kylo Ren witnessing the attack on the New Republic planets in the Hosnian system from the bridge of the Finalizer.

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Another main character that was shrouded in secrecy during development was Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). I hate that name. Snoke sounds like… I dunno, something cuddly and furry like Mr. Snuffleupagus. I kid you not. Again, like Lor San Tekka, not much is known about this towering hologram who looks like a cross between Gollum and Voldemort. Obvious a practitioner of the dark side although it was never made explicit that he was Sith.

The, umm… delightful General Hux, First Order general and commander of the Starkiller operation.

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General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson[2]) was the archetypal, or should I say, Hollywood stereotypical baddie with an English accent. Hux came across as an uptight boarding school prefect with a quasi-maniacal slant (just check out the Hitler-like speech he gave before the First Order blew up the centre of the New Republic in the Hosnian system).

Captain Phasma walking down the corridor on Starkiller Base, not knowing what was gonna hit her in the next few moments.

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Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was superb. She came across as menacingly serious, although when she was ambushed by Han’s little infiltrating entourage on Starkiller Base, it didn’t take much for them to force her to drop the base’s shields down. I had to stifle a laugh when Finn smugly dropped the captain honorific when he spoke to her. To think she was then dropped down into a trash compactor at the end of her brief captivity, much to the glee of Finn, was also somewhat funny. However, if they did actually shoot this scene, I was kinda glad Abrams didn’t include it in the final cut.

To me, the final third of the film was written to bring out the best of the Death Star escape (ANH) mixed with the Battle of Endor (ROTJ – without Ewoks). Of course, the most poignant moment in the all seven films is also in this third act.

BEN!

This was the final exposition for the Kylo Ren character in this film with regards his lineage, I guess. I had a very strong feeling that Han Solo would meet his demise in this film, although I admit to not knowing how that would come about. Harrison Ford had mentioned that an element of the story showing the natural progression of events attracted him to the script. Admittedly this was somewhat a non-specific comment but coupled with the knowledge that he wad originally requested that his character to be killed off in ROTJ lent further weight to my suspicion. I, for one, am looking forward to see Kylo “Ben Solo[3]” Ren meet his comeuppance in the future films, and have no interest in seeing him redeem himself.

Resistance X-wings pummeling the thermal oscillator, an operation vital to the destruction of Starkiller Base.

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Of course, in this installment, the Resistance was only finally victorious by the skin of their teeth. Prior to the destruction of Starkiller Base, the other surprise was Rey’s lightsabre battle with Kylo Ren, especially when we were fed with multiple segments of Finn battling his way with Luke’s old lightsabre in the trailers. At times, seeing Rey’s intense glare at Kylo during the battle gave me the impression that she was filled with anger especially after witnessing Han’s demise over the shaft of the base’s thermal oscillator. Rey is nevertheless one bad mutha, and I do hope Luke trains her, and trains her well.

Face off – an unmasked Kylo Ren approaching Finn and Rey.

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Luke Skywalker in the last few minutes of this 135-minute cinematic opus. Discuss.

Luke’s hidden location, obviously trying to outdo Obi-Wan when it comes to being a “strange old hermit”. Stock photo of Skellig Michael in Ireland, where Abrams shot the final scene of the film.

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I have to admit I was a tad disappointed with the amount of screen time[5] that had Luke in it, although it is likely Abrams did this on purpose. So, it won’t be until May 2017 when we get to see what’s coming. Not trying to sound morbid, I do wish Mark Hamill stays well, health-wise, as I really want Luke to stay on until the very end of the final trilogy. One small point, though. From all the photo spoilers on the net about what Luke looked like in this, one leaked photo was the real deal. I wonder what happened to the person who Whatsapp-ed his/her friend going, “Hey look at this. But please don’t share it.”

A few words on the film as a whole – firstly, SW:TFA felt like a great combination of a continuation of a saga, with a reboot of the franchise. The tale continues on from events told in ROTJ yet now we have new characters that are an embodiment of the original characters that are Luke, Leia, Han and Vader. To paraphrase a fellow fan[4], seeing Rey sat in Han’s seat in the Falcon’s cockpit at the end of the film represents a kind of “change of guard” as it were. SW:TFA was also filled with abundant references of the trilogy, from the ominous opening sequence of the Star Destroyer to spaceship chase/battle sequences which mirrored the asteroid belt chase/two Death Star battles, respectively. These aren’t rehashes in my opinion, but life and world events do seem to repeat in real life. So, it is no surprise that thirty years on the First Order exists, having arisen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire, although with the difference that the tables are somewhat turned, with the First Order not governing the galaxy any longer. A kind of a better armed Rebel Alliance but with an evil intent, I guess.

I also like the mix of characters in SW:TFA. I am not attempting to do a PC piece here, but the first main black actor in the Star Wars universe was Billy Dee Williams[6], and if I remembered correctly ROTJ had one black X-wing pilot (Grizz “SHE’S GONNA BLOW!” Frix, Red 5) and a Chinese Y-wing pilot (Ekelarc “I’M HIT!” Yong, Grey 3) during the Battle of Endor, both of whom perished. As for women amongst Imperial personnel, there was none in the original trilogy. Now, we have a stormtrooper captain who is a woman, and if you listen carefully, some of the First Order stormtroopers are women – I heard at least one reporting to Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base. The Resistance base on D’Qar had a good mix of humans from different ethnicity as well as non-humans, and I am sure it wasn’t equal opportunities in employment exercise.

General Leia Organa in the command centre of the Resistance’s base on D’Qar.

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Now, cameos. This is somewhat interesting. Carrie Fisher’s daughter is one of the Resistance’s personnel in the command centre, although I don’t really know what she looks like. An uncle of Oscar Isaac is also in the film. But the best bit is that apparently, Daniel Craig is an uncredited stormtrooper – he’s the trooper whom Rey did her first Jedi mind trick on! Also, according to IMDB, Nigel Godrich (Radiohead producer) also played a stormtrooper.

Now with Abrams having set the story, I am looking forward to see how Rian Johnson is putting his mark on the franchise when he does Episode VIII. Abrams will now be producing, and although not credited as a writer, I may well be reassured with the continuity of events that will unfold. According to Variety magazine, Daisy Ridley has read the script to VIII which she had described as “very good”.

And just one more thing. I can’t believe all these have been going on for so long, and thanks to this, I have a reason to be giddy as a schoolkid once again. Here’s to Episodes VIII and IX, and panjang umur insyaAllah, we will meet again.

References:
1. STAR WARS The Force Awakens – The Visual Dictionary | ISBN-10: 0241198917
2. Wookiepedia: The STAR WARS Wiki

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[1]There are some further info in Wookieepedia on a lot of things but I’m just gonna go with the flow here.
[2]Two actors from Ex Machina in this film eh?
[3]His full name is Bengawan So… what? WHAT?!!
[4]Zul Salim hath spoken.
[5]43 seconds. In the poster, Mark Hamill was credited first, although at the end credits Harrison Ford had that honour.
[6]James Earl Jones had been in the films from day one but I am talking about onscreen actors here.