Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yesterday I managed to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even though I was ten days late to the party, I managed to get there spoiler free. If you haven’t seen it and you want to remain spoiler free, stop reading now. If you really liked it and went out and bought a Darth Vader humidifier and are sucking right now on a GoGurt lightsaber, you might want to stop reading now.

Although I’ve waited a long time to see this movie, it turns out that I saw it back in 1977 when it was just called Star Wars. This is pretty much the same movie. That said, it is still my third favorite in the franchise. Since this review is somewhat critical of the movie, I would expect to be blasted by the fanboys if anyone actually read this blog. So, set your blasters on stun (and yes, I plan to mash up all kinds of stuff in this review).

The action in the film takes place 30 or so years after Return of the Jedi. The emperor died but it doesn’t look like much has happened to the Empire. They still have Star Destroyers, stormtroopers and they seem to be pretty much in charge of things. They are called The First Order, mainly so that a lot of Nazi symbolism can be dragged into the Star Wars universe. The so called New Republic, which popped up after the Empire died, is apparently limited to one little planet and a couple of large space ships. The rebellion is now called The Resistance, so, with the exception of a few scenes containing dead Empire war gear, it is still pretty much business as usual.

In the opening scroll, we learn that Luke Skywalker is missing. Turns out that he tried to rebuild the Jedi order, but one of his students went bad and destroyed all of his work (and I assume, killed all the younglings). Rumour has it that he went off in search of the first Jedi temple, but no one seems to know where that is.

Princess Leia, now General Organa, sends one of her best pilots, Poe, to a planet called Jakku (a desert planet, e.g. Tatooine) to retrieve a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. The mission is interrupted by a squadron of The First Order and a Darth Vader wannabe called Kylo Ren. Ren has a dark helmet and cool light saber that looks like flames, since we all know the dark side baddies have to have their own signature weapon. He can also freeze a blaster bolt in mid-air, which seems to indicate he is pretty powerful. Anyway, the squad kills most of the people in the little village, but one of the stormtroopers, later called Finn, starts to have second thoughts and refuses to shoot people. They return to the Star Destroyer with Poe as a captive.

Anyway, the clue, which turns out to be part of a map, is hidden in a piece of merchandising called BB-8. The droid escapes and meets up with Rey, an orphan scavenger with flawless skin and perfect teeth living in a dead AT-AT. She senses that there is something special about the droid, and even when offered a lot for him, refuses to sell. Meanwhile, up in space, Ren tortures Poe to discover that the clue is in BB-8, but Poe escapes with the help of Finn. Together they crash on Jakku, but only Finn survives.

Soon Finn (also with flawless skin and teeth, but one can assume he was grown in a vat somewhere or at least had better rations) meets up with Rey and BB-8 at the same time The First Order starts attacking the planet based on Poe’s intel. They escape in a junked ship which, viola!, turns out to be the Millennium Falcon. This was, of course, the first time our heroes had ever escaped from a desert planet in that ship, right?

They get away only to be captured by another ship (again, sound familiar?) run by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Now, I wish they had explained this part a little better. See, space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. So the thought that they would just show up as soon as the Falcon leaves the atmosphere is just wrong. And they could have explained it away with something like a hidden transponder, but if they did I missed it (while I didn’t doze during the film, my attention did wander at times).

Anyway, soon there ensues some cool action sequences that exist to show that Solo is still a rogue, again they misuse the term “parsec” as a unit of time, and our heroes escape.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are quite put out at losing the droid, so they confer with the Lord Grand Poohbah Snape, played by Andy Serkis in his usual CGI glory. He tells them to use their nifty new Starkiller Base (which is a sun-powered Death Star on steroids) on the home planet of the New Republic’s Senate, and it is able to do so from quite a distance (’cause, see, it’s bigger).

Han leads Chewbacca, Rey and Finn to Ireland, I mean, Takodano, and a version of the original Mos Eisley Cantina (on steriods). By this time news of the missing droid has spread. There is a huge dude with a cute girl in the bar as a throwback to Jabba the Hutt who work for The First Order, and another dude with a mouth made up with one of those old timey microphones who works for the Resistance, so pretty soon everybody knows where the droid is to be found. We are introduced to the owner of the bar, Maz Kanata, who plays the role of Yoda, but her character was original enough that I’ll give them a pass on this one. Rey finds herself drawn to a vault in which she finds a light saber that once belonged to Anakin Skywalker and, later, Luke. When she touches it she has a vision, and we can assume that she has what it takes to be a Jedi.

Well, the bad guys show up and start blowing up the place, and Rey is captured. Before total victory, the Resistance shows up (yay! Poe is alive) and Finn takes up the light saber. While he doesn’t demonstrate Jedi powers, it remains to be seen if he will become a knight. Ren figures out that Rey has seen the map, so all he has to do it get it from her memories, so The First Order leaves.

Back on the Starkiller Base, Rey is strapped into an interrogation chair when Ren comes in to get the information from her. Here he takes off his helmet, which we learn is just for show, as underneath it is Hayden Christensen in a black wig, but with the same whine. She discovers that she has the ability to block her thoughts from him, and, frustrated, he gets called off to a meeting with General Hux and High Supreme Bad Guy Snape. Here is where Darth Vader would have mind-strangled the General like he did Admiral Motti, but Ren just whines about how strong Rey is. Snape, sensing another he can turn to the dark side, says to bring her to him right after they use the new fancy weapon to destroy the Rebel, I mean, Resistance, base.

Unfortunately for that plan, Rey discovers she has mad Jedi skillz and escapes. Since I’ve spoiled enough of this so far, let me wrap up the last bit of the movie with our heroes meet back up, a major character dies, and X-wing fighters fly into a trench and blow up the weapon before it can destroy the base.

Sound familiar?

Oh, Rey eventually finds Luke, who manages second billing despite 20 seconds of screen time and no dialog. Jedi master, psssh, his agent is the Jedi master.

Do I want my $15 back. No. Overall, I think it would be difficult to reboot this series and make everyone happy. If the goal was to make a movie to introduce a new generation into what Star Wars was to mine, I think they succeeded. Also, if the goal was to make a metric asston of money, they did that as well.

I give it a solid B, but I am eager to see where it goes from here. There is a lot of potential, although I hope they deviate a bit from the the original story line. If Luke and Rey end up training on a swamp planet, I might get a bit snarky.

Travel: 2015 Ireland – Dublin and Doolin

My first trip to Ireland was in 2014 and I welcomed the opportunity to return this year. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate very well.

I did manage to snap a picture of the Irish countryside from the plane.

It is quite beautiful, but I did find it strange that there was almost no “forest”. One of the things you get when flying over the United States is that you can always see large stands of trees. Apparently the British cut those all down to make boats.

Still, it is very pretty and I can see why it is called “The Emerald Isle”.

I got into Dublin on a Sunday morning and made my way to the hotel. I’ve been traveling a lot and I have little spare time, so I didn’t have as much time to plan for this trip as I wanted. During the entire journey I had the feeling that I’d forgotten something. I realized what it was when I got to my room and discovered I had left all my electrical power adapters at home. As I was leaving Ireland for Germany I needed both UK and European adapters, but luckily Dublin is a tourist town and I was able to find them with little problem.

That evening I was eager to try something I had read in the book Boozehound. The author referred to ordering a “Guinness and Powers” and I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Turns out that Powers whiskey is the most popular whiskey sold in Ireland.

I can see why – it is quite tasty. It’s smooth, even in the “normal” version (there are lots of grades of Irish whiskey, even within the same brand).

The weather was cold, windy and raining, but the company was wonderful. On Wednesday evening my friend Patrick took me to a local pub that specialized in craft beer and was known for good food. He brought along his childhood friend Liam, who was a lot of fun, and an Englishman named Malcolm who was in town doing some construction work. Malcolm is from north of Newcastle, which means he probably has more in common with Scottish culture than British, and he was also fun to hang around.

During the wonderful meal I mentioned I was interested in learning about Irish whiskey, and Liam suggested a place in Temple Bar called Mary’s Hardware. The only problem was that we were considerably north of there. It was suggested that instead of taking a taxi that we should get on the ubiquitous public bikes and ride down there. A few minutes later I found myself barreling down O’Connell street, dodging buses, construction and irritable taxi drivers.

Mary’s Hardware turned out to be a blast. It’s a little hole in the wall, and speaking of walls, along one side of the bar is a wall full of hardware supplies. While mainly a bar, apparently you can actually buy hardware there.

There we had some whiskey, including the excellent Green Spot, and delightful conversation that I am both unable to and refuse to post here (grin). It had the makings of a long night but Patrick and I had meetings the next morning, so I announced I was going to walk back to the hotel and play Ingress. Since it was now around 1am, I was informed that a fat geek like me walking along looking at a gigantic phone would probably get mugged, so we all got into a cab. The stereo was playing Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry” and we all started singing, including the driver. It was a perfect end to a wonderful evening.

One part of the conversation I can repeat involved me getting out of Dublin. I really like that city but I was told I needed to see the rest of Ireland. One location that kept coming up was the Cliffs of Moher, which is on the west coast near the town of Doolin. So I decided to head out there over the weekend.

Since I didn’t have a car I decided to take a bus. The main bus line in Ireland is Bus √Čireann, but Google told me the best way would be to take a GoBus to Galway and then a Bus √Čireann bus to Doolin. The GoBus is nice, with WiFi and a bathroom, and it goes direct from downtown Dublin to Galway. I then had to rush to make my connection for the rest of the trip, and although it was only a fraction of the distance, the journey is on back roads and takes almost half of the total trip time.

The western countryside is beautiful – what I could see of it. It was a miserable day weather-wise, with rain and wind and about 100m of visibility. That said I enjoyed the trip. There is a lot of stone in this area so everywhere you look are stone walls and stone buildings. There is the occasional “castle” although they tend to be in such disrepair that only a wall or two remain. I got left off in Doolin near my Bed and Breakfast, and I felt like I was in a movie from the 1960s when I was the only person to get off the bus. I watched it pull away through the drizzle, leaving me alone by the side of the road.

But it was a quick walk to the Bed and Breakfast, which was warm, comfortable and inviting. It is right across the road from Fisher Street, which is both picturesque and the home of Gus O’Connors Pub, renown for Irish music.

This is Fisher Street, with the ocean off to the left and what is left of the 500 year old Doonmacfelim Castle can be seen on the right (it’s that little back square toward the top of the frame).

While it was time for lunch, I was told I needed to visit McGann’s, which was another pub a short walk away. The owner asked me to sit at the bar since he was expecting a bus load of tourists.

Now, I’m an avid tourist who hates tourists. I know that sounds hypocritical, but when I travel I try to blend in and both meet and become part of the local culture. Not like the group that arrived in Doolin by bus, stormed into the pub and then proceeded to demand things. Now, I’m sure that this is good for business and the owner took care of them all (including the guy who asked for a Miller beer – hey, I guess in Ireland it is an import) but I really disliked the noise and jostling.

Food was good, though.

As I walked back to the B&B the weather got worse so I decided it was time for a nap. First, I had to change my plans to go to Paris later in that week, but after that I had a wonderful siesta falling asleep to the sound of the roaring wind.

For dinner I had to walk down to O’Connors. The place was full but not packed, and I found a spot in a corner. The food here was excellent, and I had the best sea bass I’ve ever eaten.

O’Connors in known for music, but I was still tired and decided to leave before they started. Apparently this was a good thing, because at breakfast the next morning I learned that they didn’t go on until late, around 22:30, and I doubt I would have liked sitting there alone for 90 minutes or so.

Speaking of breakfast, I was staying at a B&B so I went for the full Irish:

It was yummy.

Sunday morning found me starting my journey back to Dublin, this time to an airport hotel and a flight to Germany the next day. I was on the left side of the bus which meant for the first part of the journey I was often looking straight down at the sea, with only a small stone wall between me and it. Beautiful. I really look forward to visiting this part of Ireland again, just not during winter.