A Disturbance in The Force (Awakens): Part 5 – Finding Fault With The First Order

Posted: January 7, 2016 by patricksponaugle in Movie Review, Opinion, Star Wars
Tags: , ,

This post will be talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In particular, plot points surrounding the militaristic First Order.

As the title suggests, this post is the fifth of a series of posts, dealing with a specific source of criticism of the movie. The full explanation can be found here.

Phasma

The First Order (of Business…)

As I explained previously, I’m planning on talking about various elements of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by examining the 40 allegedly unforgivable plot holes that Professor Seth Abramson recently published on the Huffington Post. Although it might seem as if I’m just a fanboy defending a movie I like (which is partly true)  I’m also hoping to explain some insights into the characters/elements that seem to have been wildly misunderstood by some. (By some, I mean Professor Seth Abramson.)

Ten of his 40 unforgivable plot holes dealt mostly with the First Order, so I’ll list them here and examine their validity. If this doesn’t interest you, skip down a ways to where I give my thoughts on the Galactic Empire 2.0.

1. To blow up the 120-km “Death Star” in Star Wars, the rebels needed detailed plans for the base and a full-scale invasion force — as well as the supernatural targeting skills of the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy. To destroy the exponentially larger and better-protected “Starkiller Base” in The Force Awakens, all that was needed was a janitor with no special skills, a few run-of-the-mill handheld explosives, a couple not very difficult X-wing blaster strikes, and some moxie. It also helped that the Millennium Falcon was able to “fly low.”

I don’t remember Yoda employing his supernatural targeting skills to blow up the Death Star. Hmmm.

I think Abramson is downplaying the effort put in by the Resistance to destroy the Starkiller Base’s critical Thermal Oscillator facility. (That is a groaner of a technobabble name, I admit.)

I’m tempted to say that the first Death Star was so easy to destroy, Luke literally did it with his eyes closed.

Destroying the Starkiller Base was the result of multiple steps, any of which could have failed catastrophically, as opposed to the one thing the Rebel Alliance pilots had to accomplish against the original Death Star.

Starkiller

One of those is a Death Star. The other is a planet with a BFG built into it.

Bigger does not necessarily mean better. The iceberg that wrecked the Titanic would not have damaged one of the Titanic’s lifeboats had one rowed into the mass of ice. Which is a crappy analogy, I admit.

I will talk about my problems with the Starkiller Base (in a later post), but I thought the succession of required actions taken by the Resistance were significant challenges. (Please save criticisms of Han getting past the planetary shield via hyperspace for a few posts from now when I talk about Han and his legendary ship. But I’ll just say here that Han’s use of the Falcon was more involved and critical to the success of the mission than just flying low.)

9. What is all this nonsense about the First Order only wanting to destroy the Republic because the Republic is supporting the Resistance? First of all, isn’t the Resistance part of the Republic, not a separate operation? And if it is separate, why has the First Order only just now discovered the not-very-well-hidden fact that the Republic is supporting the Resistance? And if the Resistance is in fact a part of the Republic, why didn’t Starkiller Base destroy the Republic’s planets and moons much, much earlier? In other words, what is the status of the war between the Republic and the First Order at the beginning of The Force Awakens, such that this precise moment is when General Hux decides to simply press a button and destroy the Republic?

It literally took me two viewings of the movie before I decoded what Abramson was trying to articulate in his first sentence. I believe the professor is referring to when Hux suggests using their secret weapon to strike at the Republic, to prevent them from supporting the Resistance in getting to Luke Skywalker. The action to use the weapon was prompted by the inability of the First Order forces on Jakku to get BB-8, which denied Team Snoke the final clue to Luke, and could give the Resistance the edge in locating the last Jedi.

Supreme Leader Snoke was consistently focused on finding Luke Skywalker, and he was fearful that the Resistance will bring Luke back from exile. I don’t know why, but I don’t consider this a plot hole necessarily.

Context in the movie suggests that the Resistance is operating with Republic support. There is nothing in the movie that suggests that the First Order had not known this. At no point did we see Hux get a report and go “What? The Republic is supporting the Resistance? That’s unpossible! Although it does explain the X-Wings.”

My assumption is that the Resistance is acting as a proxy force for the Republic, and like the superpowers in our Cold War, there is some kind of detente between the First Order and the Republic.

I’ll admit that these are my assumptions, I’m not claiming them as fact. But there seems to be a reluctance on Snoke’s part to escalate against the Republic, except that it might be useful to prevent the Resistance in getting aid from the Republic in relation to finding Skywalker.

The politcal questions that the professor brings up are interesting though, so I’ll touch upon them again below.

10. For that matter, why is it made to seem like the entire Republic is centered in just one star system? Let alone one whose planets and moons are all visible to one another with the naked eye? Isn’t the Republic intergalactic? And why did the First Order choose to destroy all the planets and moons visible from Maz Kanata’s home-world, but then initiate a conventional invasion of the latter planet? Why not just fire one more planet-killing beam and destroy Kanata’s planet too? Because not doing that leads to a significant military defeat for the First Order that was totally avoidable. And another thing: if the Republic is in power, why is the Resistance the “Resistance”? What are they resisting? Isn’t the First Order the “Resistance,” as they’re resisting the hegemony of the Republic? It’s like someone on-set said “the Rebels need a new name,” without realizing that the political situation in the Galaxy had totally changed since the events of the previous films.

Hux clearly said he was destroying the Senate, and not the entire Republic. He also said the remaining systems would not dare to oppose the First Order, so Abramson’s first sentence is not even accurate.

star-wars-force-awakens-trailer

The invasion of Takodana was to capture BB-8, the droid with the map, which was established as a high priority objective. Blowing up Maz’s planet would not achieve that goal and would set back the First Order’s hopes to find Luke.

The complaint about the name Resistance seems spurious, and I don’t think I need to explain the historical parallels of paramilitary forces termed as resistance movements.

There is value in the complaint about actually being able to see the destruction of the Hosnian system that housed the Republic Senate and presumably a significant fleet. I can’t imagine that we’re expected to believe that Takadana is in close orbit with the Republic Senate planet. That’s something I’ll (spoiler alert) complain about in a later post. So I will give the professor partial credit.

Pro tip: don’t waste valid criticisms by burying them inside incorrect and trivial complaints.

12. Captain Phasma is supposed to be a big-deal character in The Force Awakens, if the merchandising and casting are any indication, and yet (a) how bad of a commanding officer do you have to be, how thoroughly inept in military tactics and strategy, to command the worst-trained fighting force in the Galaxy (the Stormtroopers hit even less with their blasters in The Force Awakens than in any preceding Star Wars film); (b) she’s only in three scenes, in one of which she relays an order from Kylo Ren to initiate a massacre of innocents (hardcore!) and in another of which she immediately surrenders to Han, Rey, and Finn as soon as they encounter her and then does exactly everything they ask of her (pathetic!), making her character incomprehensible; and (c) in her third scene she effectively reveals that Finn’s character is incomprehensible, as she notes that he has in fact been trained since birth to obey all orders, and has never in his life disobeyed even a single order until the day he decides to act like he’s never been trained, indoctrinated, or dehumanized at all.

Gwendolyn Christie is too awesome for such short screen time, I agree. I assume Seth Abramson is a Game of Thrones fan, since he remarked on the casting of Phasma raising his expectations. (Gwendolyn Christie plays Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, and is sublime and wonderful.)

But Abramson’s expectation does not make it a plot hole. Any merchandising of a female Stormtrooper officer in unique chrome armor is going to be a big deal, regardless of her screen time.

Enough groundwork occurred to establish her as a foil to Finn, much like Kylo is being cast as a nemesis for Rey. Therefore I expect we will see her again. Perhaps in an unexpected way.

16. By the end of the movie, the impression is left that every single First Order soldier is dead besides Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux, and Kylo Ren. That probably won’t turn out to be the case, but the fact that we’re given this impression makes the climactic discovery of Luke on an isolated island entirely irrelevant. After all, what need does the Resistance have of Luke now? Why should anyone care, at this point, if he’s found? Because there are two bad dudes left in the entire Galaxy, one of whom only shows up anywhere as a hologram? And okay, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are millions more First Order soldiers elsewhere in the Galaxy; isn’t it strange that the film gives absolutely no indication whatsoever that this is the case?

The Professor is correct, of course. General Hux clearly gave the order for every single First Order soldier to report to the Starkiller base. Every Star Destroyer was emptied of troops, every outpost abandoned. Minutes and minutes of screen time was spent showing every single soldier reporting for assembly at the site of the weapon. Then that interminable roll call, while Hux patiently waited for every soldier in his military to be accounted for and present for his big speech.

Oh right. That didn’t happen.

I can’t explain why Abramson is asserting this. Even if the First a Order had zero military outposts other than the Starkiller Base – which is crazy unlikely since it’s a secret weapon – we’ve seen multiple First Order capital ships floating in space. That’s an indication of First Order troops not on the icy moon that houses the super weapon.

Not a plot hole.

17. Why does General Hux need to gather all of his troops just to tell them he’s about to press a button and destroy the entire Republic? Can’t he do that without a cattle-call of his entire army? Because it really ends badly for him, putting his entire army on the very planet he’s about to make Resistance Target #1. No chance anybody saw that coming?

Again, Abramson seems to imply that Hux made the ribbon cutting event on the Starkiller Base mandatory for everyone. For which there is no evidence. In fact, Kylo Ren and the crew of a Star Destroyer watch the weapon fire from their ship.

FirstOrder

Thank you for coming to my birthday. I’d have you sing the song, but we can’t afford the royalties. But we can blow up the Republic Senate. They’re discussing taxes on the Trading Guild, and therefore deserve what we’ll be serving up.

As for why Hux wanted the guys and gals who happened to be on the Starkiller Base to assemble for the firing? I don’t know why militarists love big rallies like that. Among Hux, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, Hux was the one lobbying to use the weapon, so he was probably really into the pomp and circumstance of the firing. It seemed like his big drama queen moment.

Obviously Hux doesn’t have to, but he wants to.

Plot hole? I don’t see it.

36. Why are all Stormtroopers human (or humanoid)? If by the time of the First Order any clones being raised to be Stormtroopers are no longer clones of Jango Fett, why aren’t there now Stormtroopers of every species as well as every (human) race? Why aren’t there flying Stormtroopers from the same species as, say, Watto (from The Phantom Menace)?

Gosh, maybe there are non-humanoid Stormtroopers! But they’re just off doing something else. All of them! (If Abramson can make wild ass assumptions, maybe I should do that too.)

But more than likely, all Stormtroopers are basic humanoids. I don’t see why that’s a plot hole. It’s logically consistent with all previous movies.

The army of the Old Republic were clone troopers, but at some point regular humans were being used, I suppose. If the First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire as the opening crawl indicated, the new organization would have inherited a great deal of materiel, equipment, and facilities suitable for humanoids.

There seem to be abundant  populations of humanoids to be conscripted. Should the First Order decide to return to using clones, they wouldn’t have to throw away all that Watto-shaped gear. They’d just have the clones wear the armor they had at hand. (Maybe change the helmets. Helmets seem to evolve over time.)

38. Is Supreme Leader Snoke actually a giant? Because if not, wouldn’t him using holographic technology to make himself appear huge be a pathetic affection signaling deep-seeded insecurities? Even the Emperor never did that; he just appeared normal-sized or tiny. And if Snoke is a giant, how come we’ve never seen a humanoid that size in Star Wars before?

No, Snoke is most likely not a giant. As for his logically inconsistent presentation as huge in a hologram…

Emperor

Lord Vader, as you can see, I am literally a giant floating head. Holograms don’t lie. This has nothing to do with deep-seated insecurities.

… let’s just assume that Supreme Leader Snoke does have deep-seated insecurities. Why would that be a plot hole?

39. Why would the First Order spend untold quadrillions of [insert unit of money here] to build the Starkiller Base, when a similar concept and design plan had twice before been destroyed with minimal difficulty by the rebels? And doesn’t the recurrence of this tactical error for the third time in the (relatively) brief history of the Empire/First Order suggest that everyone in the First Order who was involved in the construction of Starkiller Base, at every level of management and authority, should be instantly shot in the head? (Of course, it’s too late for that by the end of the film, but still.) How positively brain-dead is Snoke to have learned literally nothing from history? And for those who say that clearly a solar-powered Death Star is way better than a non-solar-powered Death Star, well, clearly not!

Finally, Abramson is dancing around a legitimate complaint: the Starkiller Base. I’m going to give him this point, because I’m going to probably dedicate an entire blog post in the future defending the idea of the First Order building the Starkiller Base, why it makes sense for them to do so, and why it’s a pretty cool idea.

Although in plot hole #1 (see above) he implies that the attack of the Death Star was complicated and wouldn’t have succeeded without Luke’s Force-guided skills. Now he’s saying that it had been destroyed with minimal difficulty.

Talk about logical inconsistencies. Plot hole in the plot holes!

I’m actually curious why the Republic didn’t build some Life Stars in the multi-decade interim between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. (A Life Star would be exactly like a Death Star, but with a nice cheery paint job, and maybe act like a huge hydroponic farm during peacetime.)

The Rebel Alliance had the schematics to build Death Life Stars ever since the first Star Wars movie. Throw one in orbit around a planet (so it could be defended by a planet-generated shield like the one the Empire used at Endor) and it would provide excellent defensive support against invading capital ships. Or against another Death Star. (As long as it shot first. Like Han did with Greedo.)

Actually, maybe what we saw when the Starkiller Base’s super-luminal cannon took out the Senate planet… it wasn’t blowing up the planet and its moons, it was blowing up the planet and its defensive Life Stars.

I’ll put a pin in this idea and save it for later.

That would definitely justify the First Order’s need for such a weapon. But Professor Abramson can keep his point. For now.


My thoughts on the First Order

I admit to not loving the First Order characters as much as I did our new heroes. Kylo Ren was perhaps the best of the First Order elements. General Hux didn’t make the impression that Peter Cushing did as Grand Moff Tarkin, and although Andy Serkis is an excellent voice actor and motion capture artist, seeing Supreme Leader Snoke as a hologram that looked a little bit too much like Lord Voldemort was kind of immersion-breaking.

Though I’m not necessarily unhappy with the dramatic underplay that’s going on. Let me step back a moment.

We don’t know much about the rise of the First Order, but this is one of those things that I can be patient about. I assume more details will come in the later movies, particularly if we learn about the catastrophe at Luke’s Jedi Academy, and exactly how (or if) Snoke was involved.

We know that the First Order came from the remains of the Galactic Empire. The opening crawl told us that, as well as comments by Max Von Sydow’s character (or Max Von Cameo as a buddy of mine called him.)

Disney has the option to use elements from the Expanded Universe canon of Star Wars (basically the approved-by-Lucas books) and in those stories we’ve seen military leaders from the previous Galactic Empire creating fiefdoms in defiance of the new Republic which took on the governance of the planets that rebelled against the Empire. The Empire was gone, but its shadows lived on.

We don’t know if the First Order was created immediately after the fall of the Empire or just happens to be a recent phenomenon, a new Empire-like group that has replaced some previous one. Because of the amount of time that’s passed there are endless backstories that could be filled in.

But for now, let’s just treat the First Order as something like the Galactic Empire.

Snoke, Kylo Ren, and Hux more or less echo the Emperor, Vader, and Tarkin, although when Tarkin died in the destruction of the first Death Star, no military figure managed to replace him as a peer to Vader.

Tarkin-and-Vader

We all agree that Tarkin was either a peer or a superior to Darth Vader? Vader always seemed deferential, with just the right touch of insolence to make it questionable what the actual hierarchy was.

Hux and Kylo Ren have a different relationship. Neither seems to be the boss of the other, but both seem to be jockeying for Snoke’s approval, with which to lord over their rival.

But at the moment, Kylo Ren seems to have the advantage because Snoke appears to be less interested in military conquest (which seems to be more of General Hux’s ballpark) than he is with finding Luke Skywalker and other matters of the Force.

Snoke is all about finding Luke. And I find that more interesting than simply an I want to rule the galaxy motive. For all I know, Snoke doesn’t care at all about taking any more Republic territory, if he could get his hands on Luke for some other hidden objective.

Oh, I did bring up Captain Phasma earlier when addressing Abramson’s complaints about her lack of importance in the first movie. I’ll repeat my claim that she’d be a great element to further Finn’s story. Especially if she isn’t quite the villainous character we’d expect her to be. (I need to think this through a bit, for a future post.)

My gut reaction is that the Republic and First Order were operating under some kind of truce or Cold War (since it didn’t seem like there was any buzz about hot war activity.) With the crippling blow to the Republic by destroying the Senate in the Hosnian system and whatever fleet assets were there, it appeared that the First Order had a tremendous advantage, but that was somewhat mitigated by the destruction of the Starkiller Base.

I’m fine with both superpowers taking hits, since it allows the next movie to be more personal, and not about huge spacefleet activities (or the Senate debating tax reform.)

Troops

We were told there’d be cake. The cake was a lie.

Next post, I’ll take on the last of Professor Abramson’s original 40 plot holes (he published 20 more, but I don’t think I need to continue this exercise) and I will talk about the legacy characters, those Rebels and Smugglers that we fell in love with in the original trilogy. Hope to hear from you there!


Comments are welcome. Super welcome!

Images from The Force Awakens, obviously. And that picture from The Empire Strikes Back. Where the Emperor is totally shown actual size, and not crazy huge, right? Picture of Tarkin is from the original Star Wars.

So I have images from the only three good Star Wars movies.

I make no claims to the images, but some claims to the text. So there. Except for the plot hole quotes that Seth Abramson had in his HuffPo article. Obviously I make no claims to that text, and encourage you to read his entire work there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. Captain Phasma reminds me of General Grievous. From the animated series (which I saw because my kids were young then), I was expecting him to amount to something in whichever bad movie he showed up in (yes, I know, Revenge of the Sith). But, not so much.

    I look forward to you wrapping up the counter-points to Abramson’s original article. They make for a good springboard, but I hope you won’t limit yourself to that.

    As for the man himself, it seems like he’d be A Cool Dude to see the movies with, then nitpick the hell out of them later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting take on Phasma and Grievous, who was pretty cool in the Clone Wars animated stuff as you mentioned. Then he was kind of dropped in to Revenge of the Sith with no real in-movie backstory to communicate his previous badassery.

      Like

  2. S. John Ross says:

    My own questions about the First Order are (A) what are they? A government? A pro-Empire military cult? I really can’t tell. (B) If they have the power to drain stars, why do they even need a giant gun?

    My own take on the rally is that this Weasley guy just really liked Pink Floyd: The Wall and always wanted to shout things like “There’s one smokin’ a joint! And another with spots!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jennnanigans says:

    I can’t wait to read all of this – I’m going to read the rest later but I got to the mention of Phasma and had this thought:

    At the end of Star Wars, Darth Vader goes flying off after Han blasts him and I remember AT THE TIME being like ‘well that’s the end of him’ because I was a child. It always felt like a triumph and the end of the Villain. Years of drinking and head trauma have corrupted my memory files and I can’t remember if there was a ‘BUT HE SURVIVED?!?!’ hook or not, but I don’t remember one.

    WHAT IF – Phasma, who was sort of analogous to Darth Vader because height/body armor/sexy voice has a lot bigger role than we imagine? WHAT IF the big bad is less Ren than her? Sure, the main conflict of the SW has been between Force Users, but WHAT IF it comes down to the First Order being the real threat? Phasma somehow escapes the trashtruck, knocks Hux down and steals his lunch money and First Order Official Leader Hat and becomes the First Order’s big bad? This is probably just me fangirling at Phasma because Brienne of Tarth is The Best but I just had that thought and got all excited about it.

    Can’t wait to read the rest! You must be worn out from all these! They are so in-depth!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We do see a moment in the original Star Wars, where Vader regains control of his spinning ship and is flying off into the darkness. You probably were so delighted with the rush of the Death Star exploding to take that in.

      I’m sure Phasma survived, and got off the base. I like your idea of her stealing Hux’s hat. I’ll tweet you some other thoughts I have.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Also, apropos of nothing, “Many Bothans Died” is my Star Wars cover band.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. careyadams says:

    I feel like ol’ professor didn’t actually watch the movie. Not many of these are actual plot holes. Some were actually explained in the movie. Some are obviously purposely left open to interpretation. Some are clearly left to be big questions going forward. He must be a lot of fun to watch movies with.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was saddened that Captain Phasma didn’t get more screen time, and I was a little off put by how easily she was subdued. That scene seemed a bit rushed, BUT there are at least two more movies and a Blu-Ray release that will more than likely have extended scenes. Also it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of how awesome TFA was.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Pro tip: don’t waste valid criticisms by burying them inside incorrect and trivial complaints.”

    Nice one. Yeah, the valid criticism there, not to pat myself on the back too much, is my main complaint in the movie as I outlined in my short review (https://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/first-impressions-star-wars-the-force-awakens/). I’ll be interested to see what you say about it in the later post, as you say…

    Also, your whole Life Star idea has me thinking back to a concept from Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Avengers and New Avengers (which I dearly love). In it, he posits that to fully and completely defend a planet, you need a comparable amount of power – in other words, to defend a plant, you need to be able to destroy a planet. As such, a Death Star being appropriated to defend a planet is the appropriate amount of force! Anything less and you leave yourself open to a greater force.

    Which Starkiller Base appears to be… Arms Race! Cold War! You’ve made these points already 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s totally cool that you’re reinforcing my points, especially with references to Hickman.

      Oh, you have a blog too? (I kid, I kid… people, everyone should be reading David and his wife Holly’s blog. We mutually get behind in reading each other’s stuff, and then overly apologize about it.)

      Hey David, now that I’ve finished my blog post series on TFA (with a few more to come, randomly) I can read and comment on yours. I HAVE NO EXCUSE!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] A Disturbance in The Force (Awakens): Part 5 – Finding Fault With The First Order […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sue Archer says:

    I was disappointed that Captain Phasma ended up being a bit of a cypher. And it did bug me that they are “forcing” her to help them by not keeping a wary eye on her at all times when she’s on the system. She could have easily sabotaged their efforts. But maybe she didn’t want to….

    Liked by 1 person

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