Friday, January 22, 2016

Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Dazzling.  I think that is the word that best describes The Force Awakens.  As I walked out of the the theater, I was left with how this newest addition to the Star Wars franchise made me feel.

While I didn't notices specific details like the star fleet stationed in the Hosnian system or that Poe has a custom X-Wing, I was so drawn into the roller coaster of a film that the details didn't matter as much as the story did.

Please note that this post will contain spoilers.
If you have not yet seen the film, you may want to skip this post.

My absolute favorite thing about The Force Awakens is the lead cast.  From Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) to the London born Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) this cast has diversity from the opening scenes onward.

Why don't we start with the ladies?  There are many women who have strong roles in this film, all of whom have an important part to play in The Force Awakens.

From Rey's hopeful optimism that her family will return for her and her grit and drive to remain on a world where she struggles to make a living while she waits; to Leia, who no longer trusts in the Senate to remain in-corrupt and has chosen to take on the role of General, leading her own military force while hoping her estranged husband and son will return to her; to Lupita Nyong'o's Maz, who watches the world go by her and has the ability to recognize a person's character through their eyes; and finally Jessica Henwick's Jess Pava, a pilot in the Resistance who flies under the call sign of Blue Three in the X-Wing squadron led by Poe Dameron.

To have a female character be the main focus of her own story and to see how she chooses to be the author of her own tale is wonderful and heartbreaking and inspiring all at once.  This is a girl who was abandoned (possibly sold into indentured work) on the desert planet of Jakku, a sad sort of Tattooine-wannabe full of swindlers and those struggling to survive, and who has to learn how to survive on her own.

We are first introduced to Rey as she is scavenging parts from the crashed remains of ships leftover from the Battle of Jakku (which isn't mentioned in the film, but is covered in a lead-up novel).  There is an innocence in Rey's steadfast belief that her family will come back for her, as she marks each passing day on the walls the destroyed AT-AT Walker that is her home.  While she is unquestionably capable of taking care of herself, Rey also has a soft side which is seen when she rescues BB-8 from a scavenger who would have torn it apart, in the flowers and doll inside her home, and the look of sorrow and resignation that she gives the older woman she is sitting with while cleaning her scavenged finds.

Rey is a woman of both physical skill and strong morals who chooses to continue living meal-to-meal rather than give up BB-8.  Able to understand binary, Rey knows that BB-8 is looking for his master and that he is a part of the Resistance, so when they meet up with a man wearing his stolen jacket, she and BB-8 team-up to take him down.  Left with no choice but to run with BB-8 and the stranger she only just met (and who keeps holding her hand, lol), Rey takes to piloting a starship with ease, fending off Tie Fighters and escaping into the expanse of space.

Another of my favorites was General Leia Organa who, like her birth mother, is unable to stand idly by while corrupt politicians are in power.  Unlike Padmé, Leia has chosen to lead her own military group and defend the Republic from the First Order.  She has been beaten down by life, her husband and brother have left and she no longer knows where her son is, though she continues to pray that he finds the good in himself and returns home to her.  Leia has never allowed her losses to be what defines the path of her future, carrying on even when the odds are stacked against her and those she loves are in danger.  It was lovely to see how she had aged and the respect that her experience and knowledge have gained her.  Leia is the master of her own fate and continues to uphold the Organa family name and honor the parents of her heart, Bail and Breha of Alderaan.

Next on the list is Poe Dameron, a pilot in the Resistance who can fly anything and who is originally from Yavin 4.  Poe has chosen to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a pilot, but when the corruption of the senate becomes too much for him he joins the Resistance.  Poe is one of the best pilots in the universe and is one of Leia's most-trusted operatives.

What I liked about Poe was his goodness.  Instead of running with the map fragment, he entrusts it to BB-8 and returns to fight for the villagers, a decision which ultimately leads to his capture and torture by Kylo Ren of the First Order.  We don't see much of Poe after he escapes the First Order with FN-2187, who he humanizes by naming Finn, but his presence is felt in Finn's acceptance of his name, carrying his jacket, and both Finn and Rey's delivering BB-8 to the Resistance.  His mission is not abandoned, only passed to others to complete.

Something I would like to see in later films, is how Poe deals with the torture he endured at the hands of Kylo Ren and the First Order.  The person he idolizes may be the only person who can truly understand what it is like to be tortured by a force-user and I would appreciate seeing Leia counseling him as he recovers.  It would make his character more accessible to audience members.

Moving on from Poe, we go straight to FN-2187 who becomes an instant friend of Poe's when the pilot names him Finn...

Now, Finn is the character that I feel like many audience members can most identify with.  Not because he was kidnapped and brainwashed to fight for a cause he doesn't believe in, but because he's trying to find his place in the world.  Luckily for Finn, he has two people (and a droid) he can count on to keep an eye on him and to guard his back.

Like most of the current Stormtroopers, was stolen from his family at a young age and brainwashed into becoming a perfect soldier for the New Order.  However, something didn't quite stick and during his first mission Finn chooses not to join in the slaughter of the villagers on Jakku, instead lowering his blaster rifle and incurring the wrath of his superiors and the possibility of reprogramming.

It takes a certain kind of strength to go against everything you've ever known, to turn away from the only family you've ever had, and walk your own path in life.  Finn has the potential to be one of the strongest characters in all of the Star Wars films, believing himself to be a coward running from his fears while, in reality, supporting and protecting his friends and those who need his help.

There is so much more that I could talk about, lol, but this post is already super long and has all the important bits that I wanted to share.

At times, it felt like I was re-watching the original trilogy, but that isn't really a bad thing when the overall feel of the film was uniquely Star Wars. ;-)

In conclusion:  The Force Awakens is a wonderful addition to the Star Wars franchise.  It is both a spiritual successor of the original trilogy and a true continuation of the story.  If you still haven't seen this movie, what are you waiting for?  It has aerial battles, awesome characters, and action galore, so go buy a ticket!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review of George

Written by Alex Gino, George is the story of a child who is struggling in a world that doesn't see her for who she is.  All they can see is a boy when George knows in every part of her that she is a girl.  Early on, we learn that George's greatest wish this school year is to play Charlotte in the fourth grade production of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web.  She struggles against a teacher who believes that George's audition is a joke, a classmate who is vicious and cruel, and a mother who doesn't know what to do with a son who says he is a girl.

Throughout the story, George finds strength and encouragement in her best friend Kelly.  The daughter of a musician, Kelly takes the revelation that George is a girl quite well.  She still needs some time to think things through, but is ultimately both accepting and supportive of her friend going so far as to allow George to wear some of her clothes on a trip to the zoo and calling her Melissa, as George has requested.

Ultimately, George is able to take on the role of Charlotte, a performance that is surprisingly well-accepted by her peers and most of the school faculty.  A blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment is when the Principal quietly lets George know that her door is always open if George should need someone to speak to.  Support like that is hard to find in the cis world and is nigh impossible to come across in the trans world.

While I could feel my heart breaking from the first moment that George has to hide in the bathroom with her girl magazines and the way she is subtly disgusted with her own body, this story has a happy ending that will leave readers with a sense of hope in the future.

One of the things I liked most about this story is that it is told from George's point of view and George never once sees herself as a boy.  From the beginning of the book all the way to the last page, George is a girl.  Readers immediately understand that this is a girl who just happens to be in the body of a boy and, hopefully, will encourage tolerance and understanding in those who read this story.

This is a fairly short book, easy to read through in one sitting, and is perfectly relatable to the audience it was written for...  It is of note that George is the first book of its type to be written for middle grade readers.  It was an enjoyable read for me, as an adult, and was a great way to read about a child transgender character.  The author has written an amazing book that will appeal to reader's of all ages, but one that is also accessible to children and that presents the transgender topic in a way that is easy to understand.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review of Baby Penguins Everywhere!


As a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, I grabbed this book on first glance simply because penguins and then because BABY PENGUINS!!!

What starts out as a cute story about a lonely lady penguin finding a magical hat, from which emerges an astonishing number of baby penguins, soon becomes a lesson in self-care.  Even in the midst of those we know and love, people (and penguins) sometimes need a moment to themselves... to regroup, to think, or just to catch one's breath.

Sometimes, in the struggle to be supportive and make ourselves available for friends and family, we forget all about me-time.  It is important to take some time for ourselves, to reflect on our lives and where we are headed, and it is my plan in 2016 to devote at least a morning to spending time with myself.

Parents will probably enjoy the moral of the story more than their children, but this book is a great way to let kids know that its okay to need alone time.

In the end, Ms. Penguin and her flock of baby penguins are happy as can be spending time with each other as they frolic and play in their frozen home, even while they remember that it's okay to need alone time... That there will always be people (or penguins) there for them when they come back into the craziness of family and friends.

A solid book to start the new year of with!