Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.
Last week we embarked upon an epic-length review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We went over the opening scene in great detail, but there’s just so much more to say about the first proper Star Wars movie in over 30 years that I couldn’t possibly fit everything into a standard issue of Morning Coffee. So, here we are.
Today I want to talk to you about the second scene, the one that introduces us to the proper main character in the film. Like I said last week, I didn’t know anything about the plot going in, and I didn’t know anything about the characters, either. I assumed JJ Abrams would try to balance the old cast and the new, and I also assumed the movie would try to focus more on the new cast, as they’re meant to represent the future of the franchise as a whole.
All that was fairly easy to predict, but what I never would have predicted is that I was about to meet my second-favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe.1
That character is first introduced to us as a lonely scavenger, left behind on a forsaken desert planet. However, much to our delight, she soon reveals herself to be so much more than that.
At this point, a fair spoiler warning is due. If you still haven’t watched the film, you may want to jump over to the Top Five section. Everything from that point on is spoiler-free.
WARNING, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Issue #31: The scavenger and the droid
Last week we left off with BB-8, Poe Dameron’s little droid companion, rolling away quietly into the desert night after narrowly escaping a Stormtrooper raid that resulted in the capture of its master. As we were told, BB-8 is carrying a small device containing a map to Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi. This map is ostensibly revealed as the key to everything that’s going on, and keeping it safe from the bad guys is paramount.
Now the focus changes to a quiet and mysterious figure, roaming inside a vast mechanical structure and gathering a few pieces of machinery. The figure’s movements are swift and precise, and betray a sense of familiarity with the place, and the situation.
By the time our masked figure reaches the outside of the structure, we get a glimpse at her face. She’s young, but strong, and there’s a certain roughness to her gaze. She’s clearly used to living in hardship. She drinks the last remaining drops of water from her bottle, and then slides off a huge sand dune using a metal sheet as an improvised toboggan.
It is at this point that we finally comprehend the reality of the situation. The mechanic structure she was searching is revealed to be a huge fallen Star Destroyer. It appears to have been abandoned for a pretty long time, suggesting it was probably left behind shortly after the Empire’s disastrous fall from power at the end of Return of the Jedi.
The tracking shot that follows her from the top of the dune until she reaches firm ground does a fantastic job of conveying the insane scale of those monstrous ships. Her tiny figure descending with the Destroyer in the background serves as a powerful reminder of the Empire’s former might, and of the incredible odds our heroes faced in the original trilogy.
The girl finally reaches her vehicle, a kind of futuristic motorcycle that glides above the surface, not unlike Luke’s speeder in the original Star Wars. As she glides away, we get another tracking shot, this time panning as she leaves behind the remains of another huge Star Destroyer, similarly abandoned for the desert to claim. Once again, we are reminded of the sheer size of these things, and how crazy our heroes must have been to oppose them.
As the planet’s sun sets, the girl reaches something resembling civilization: a small colony of scattered tents with a flea market that appears to be the only social structure that still functions in the entire planet. As she cleans some of the pieces she found, she observes an old woman, her face and skin badly damaged from too much exposure to the sun. The girl gets lost in contemplation for a moment, no doubt wondering whether she’ll end up like the old woman one day. She then proceeds to sell the pieces in one of the shops, obtaining a measly quarter portion of food in exchange. She appears disappointed, but she clearly has no other choice but to accept.
When she reaches her home, the first thing we see is a small plant. This is a meaningful image that tells us something important about the girl: she cares about other living things enough to grow a plant in a planet where water is so scarce. We also see a doll dressed as a Rebellion fighter pilot, which tells us the girl surely dreams about something beyond what her current life has to offer.
Indeed, as she quickly consumes a frugal meal, she sits outside her tent — which turns out to be the remains of a fallen AT-AT Walker — quietly watching the horizon while she puts on a pilot’s helmet bearing the Alliance Starbird shield. Thus, we know that she prefers to live by herself, away from society. The helmet is another symbol, too: something like that must be worth something in that world, and yet she decided to keep it for herself instead of selling it, despite her precarious living conditions. This is a girl for whom some things are more important than money.
Now is the moment when two of our main characters meet for the first time. The girl suddenly hears a faint alien dialog in the background, and as soon as she realizes what’s going on, she jumps and starts running towards the source, not without picking up her staff first. As she climbs over a small dune, we see our little droid being hauled away by an alien figure riding a mechanical beast. The girl doesn’t hesitate to intervene and rescues the droid, threatening the alien, who promptly releases BB-8 and leaves it with her.
She goes on to explain the alien’s purpose to BB-8 — “he wants you for parts”, she says — and then she proceeds to fix its antenna, which had been bent at some point since the previous night. It’s also apparent that she understands the droid’s beeps and boops, just as she understood the alien’s language. She then points BB-8 in the direction of the nearest outpost, and proceeds to go her own way.
However, BB-8 pleads to come with her, to which she reluctantly agrees. The droid emits a few grateful beeps, and she calmly replies, “you’re welcome”, before they both walk away.
Exposition done right
I’m going over the first few scenes in so much detail because they’re jam-packed with relevant information about our characters and/or the universe we’re in. Just as in the opening scene, there is not a wasted moment in this one: every shot and every word of dialog tells us something important, and lets us understand this new world in a better way.
Think about it: we already know that the girl is physically very fit, that she can survive by herself in a pretty hostile environment but she doesn’t want to waste her entire life in that place, that she’s good with machines and speaks at least three languages — English, BB-8’s language and the alien’s language — that she cares for living things, that she shies away from society but doesn’t shy away from a fight, that she empathizes with others and values some things more than money, and that she dreams of being a pilot in the Rebel Alliance. We’ve also been shown the remains of the fallen Empire, while simultaneously being reminded of its past glory. Finally, we’ve learned that Jakku is a pretty desolate planet where water is scarce and everyone seems to be fighting hard for their mere survival. All of this and more in literally just five minutes. Damn impressive.
This is, of course, exposition, but it’s brilliantly done and it never feels out of place. If this was a lesser movie, we would have gotten a random character whispering to another: “oh yeah, that girl, she’s just a filthy scavenger. Spends all her days looking for scrap parts in those old Destroyers. Don’t go near her!”
Instead, we got a few gorgeous tracking shots, some amazing landscapes, and only a few words of dialog. The scene never feels rushed, despite being so densely packed with information, and from the first moment we feel like we understand the girl, and empathize with her. I really have to give it to JJ and his team: this was an impeccable scene, and it shows how much thought and care were put into the film.
As we get to meet the girl we also get to listen to my favorite theme in the entire film’s soundtrack. I’ll be honest, though: generally speaking, the film’s score didn’t blow my mind. I think it’s overall very correct, but it doesn’t reach the heights of other films in the franchise — with one notable exception.
If Star Wars had that wonderful Binary Sunset moment, and Empire had the Imperial March, this film has Rey’s Theme — which, incidentally, is the name of the girl, although we’re not supposed to know that yet.
Rey’s theme, whose main motif we get to hear in this scene for the first time — the track for this scene is called The Scavenger in the album — is whimsical and light-hearted at first, but it also has a sense of wonder and discovery, and a touch of melancholy towards the end… it’s a fantastic piece of music, and it suits the character perfectly.
I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for a few weeks and the only theme that’s gotten stuck in my head is Rey’s Theme — and its variations, like The Scavenger. It may take some time, but I suspect it will go on to become every bit as iconic as all the other great themes in the previous films. It is that good.
I think that’s enough Star Wars talk for now. Now let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces of writing.
Top Five: Windows Phones are dead, Barbie’s got a new body, and the great whiskey heist of our time
This week’s roundup includes a bit of everything. Enjoy.
Great piece by Ian Betteridge on the precarious situation of the Windows Phone platform:
There’s an old joke, probably dating back to Roman times, which goes like this: “Never kick a man when he’s down – he may get up.” Following that advice would be the only possible reason right now not to write that Windows Phones are dead and buried, and that Microsoft ought to just quietly forget about them.
This reminded me of Michael Dell’s now infamous 1997 quote on Apple. Sometimes a company manages to turn things around before it’t too late, but those are exceptional cases. Now, if there’s a company capable of creating a successful platform through sheer insistence, it’s definitely Microsoft.
This fantastic presentation on the current issues with website bloat was clearly the highlight of my week. Via Marco Arment:
The Medium team has somehow made this nugget of thought require 1.2 megabytes.
That’s longer than Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s psychological thriller about an impoverished student who fills his head with thoughts of Napoleon and talks himself into murdering an elderly money lender.
Racked by guilt, so rattled by his crime that he even forgets to grab the money, Raskolnikov finds himself pursued in a cat-and-mouse game by a clever prosecutor and finds redemption in the unlikely love of a saintly prostitute.
Dostoevski wrote this all by hand, by candlelight, with a goddamned feather.
So great. I’ve always tried to keep Analog Senses as lean as possible, but clearly I still have some room for improvement. If you care about such things, this will definitely give you the motivation to start working on it.
Great interview with Alex Pixelle on ilovehatephotography. I love her style, and there are lots of interesting tidbits sprinkled all through the inteview:
To me photographing an actor/artist, is above all, bringing the best out of him/her and sublimate their charisma. The complete opposite of the craziness of the paparazzi. You have to respect them. It is pro to pro relationship, that is how they accept you. This is a very big but also very small world so we meet often with the same people. That allows to create recurrent professional relationships and even friendships. It works a lot with the word of mouth. They like how you work, your punctuality, your motivation, your work etc… then they call you back and they recommend your work to others. Having unexpected and wonderful encounters is one of the best things in this job. Learning again and again from these people, from their life experience and evolve in this job is awesome! That might be funny but “my idols” are behind the cameras, be it film directors, artistic directors, chief of operation and of course directors of photography with whom I love hanging around with.
In case you haven’t heard, the world’s most iconic doll just got a whole lot more diverse:
Three new bodies, actually: petite, tall and curvy, in Mattel’s exhaustively debated lexicon, and beginning Jan. 28 they will be sold alongside the original busty, thin-waisted form on Barbie.com. They’ll all be called Barbie, but it’s the curvy one — with meat on her thighs and a protruding tummy and behind — that marks the most startling change to the most infamous body in the world.
It’s a massive risk for Mattel. Barbie is more than just a doll. The brand does $1 billion in sales across more than 150 countries annually, and 92% of American girls ages 3 to 12 have owned a Barbie, thanks in part to her affordable $10 price tag. She’s been the global symbol of a certain kind of American beauty for generations, with brand recognition that’s up there with Mickey Mouse. M.G. Lord, a Barbie biographer, once said she was designed “to teach women what—for better or worse—is expected of them in society.”
That last sentence is really scary, mostly because it’s very true. That’s why something seemingly as inconsequential as a doll offering more realistic body shapes is so important.
This story has it all right there in the title: whiskey, and a heist. What more do you need?
I hope your week was productive. Mine has been pretty good, actually. The app I submitted for review last week has already been approved by Apple and is now available on Spain’s App Store. Seeing the app released was a great feeling for me, and I’m quite proud of the result.
Other than that, my review of the Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long tripod kit was published on Tools & Toys, and I’m now working on the next one, which is due in a couple weeks.
Other than that, there’s something new about the site that I’m getting ready to show you next week. I don’t want to spoil anything, though, so you’ll have to wait a few more days to find out what it is :)
Until then, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.