This post will be talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so if you’ve not seen the movie… I don’t even know why you’re here.
This is the seventh and final installment in a series of posts where I’ve talked about various elements of the movie (mostly positively, I’m a positive guy) and used a well-known negative review from the Huffington Post as a springboard for my own thoughts.
For a longer explanation, please check out the first post in this series.
This time, I’ll present a few general criticisms of the movie that I’ve heard, and then I’ll talk about the things I didn’t like. Please understand, I really enjoyed the movie, and I’ve seen it multiple times. I’ll see it again. But I think it’s fair to discuss weaknesses in the movie. I’m completely comfortable with people taking issue with what I say, either in support of the movie or as complaints. It’s all good.
Never tell me the odds, kid!
Before I talk about my issue, I’ll address some complaints that I’ve heard. They largely fall into four broad categories:
- Finn’s a black stormtrooper!
- Rey’s a Mary Sue!
- JJ Abrams? More like Jar-Jar Abrams! Amirite?
- Didn’t I see this movie before?
Okay, lets talk about these. Some of more valid than the others.
John Boyega’s character immediately received negative attention when he was revealed in the first trailer. A black stormtrooper? Unpossible!
I found that an odd criticism. For all we knew from the original trilogy, all of the Stormtroopers could have been black. The prequels eventually established that the early clone troopers were clones of Jango Fett, so honestly any Stormtrooper that didn’t look like the Maori actor Temuera Morrison couldn’t be a clone.
The movie made it clear that the First Order wasn’t doing clones anymore. (We don’t know if clones were still in use during the original trilogy) but even after that, I’d still see people making comments wondering why Finn was black.
John Boyega is awesome as Finn, by the way. Feel free to disagree, but I really liked him. I now need to watch Attack the Block.
Right after the movie, the character of Rey was accused of being a Mary Sue, notably by the son of John Landis, Max. (We can debate the meaning of Mary Sue. My first experience with the term was from fan fiction (usually Star Trek fan fiction) where the author had written themselves into the story as a hyper-competent character who saves the day along with the usually competent heroes. Sometimes it’s used just to refer to a hyper-competent character in general, regardless if they are an author-surrogate or not.)
This became a rallying cry for people who seem to not like women in action hero roles.
I guess. Am I wrong about that?
I can imagine some people felt Rey was overpowered, and they might have legitimate reasons for saying that other than misogynist leanings.
I know some have said that because Rey is so exceptional, her future storyline can’t possibly be interesting, because she doesn’t have room to grow.
There’s always room to grow. Even if one starts out awesomely powered:
Even if one starts off relatively at the height of their powers:
There’s always room for growth, in some form. I won’t try to argue with anyone who insists Rey is a Mary Sue, but I don’t agree with their assessment.
Another set of common complaints focus on the director, JJ Abrams.
Okay, everyone who feels the need, take a moment to call him Jar Jar Abrams. I’ll wait until that’s out of their system.
Now let’s move on like adults.
I’m not someone who notices directors and direction all that much. If someone gives me a checklist of directorial foibles and tropes, I might be able to notice those, but I admit it’s my caveman-like appreciation of movies that makes it hard for me to evaluate or understand why JJ Abrams has such passionate detractors.
I’m not crazy about his movies, although I was entertained by his two Trek ones (more the first than the second, and that had more to do with plot than anything else.) but in general I think he’s proficient in his craft, if not noteworthy to me.
I mostly remember that he was derided for all of the lens flares in his Star Trek reboots.
I have a friend who really disliked The Force Awakens (after the initial good feelings of seeing the movie wore off) because he was convinced that Lawrence Kasdan would have made a better movie, had he been allowed to do so. The more my friend talked about it, the more he was convinced that Kasdan’s writing credit on the movie was more of a courtesy, and that the veteran Star Wars writer had probably had no real input into the story.
Sure, why not? I mean, I can’t prove otherwise. (The inability to disprove something in scientific circles means it’s not something worth discussing. Just saying.)
I tried to get my buddy to focus on what was wrong with The Force Awakens, and in general he criticized how the shots were framed, how he expected more emotion between characters… none of which seem very solid to hate on the movie.
To my surprise, he didn’t bring up what most people who complain about The Force Awakens seem to complain about.
The came to see a Star Wars movie. And saw Star Wars.
A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away. Again.
When JJ Abrams was announced as the director of the seventh Star Wars installment, there was considerable buzz. He’d controversially rebooted the Star Trek movie franchise, and now he was going to be trusted with that other big Star Property.
I think around that time, people began to state that the Star Trek reboot itself was something like a retread of the original Star Wars movie.
- Lonely disgruntled kid in the middle of nowhere has issues.
- Meets older guy who knew his father. Tells him that he has potential.
- Kid refuses the call to adventure. But then decides to follow the older guy’s advice.
- There’s a crisis where bad guys with a planet-destroying vessel are a problem. It’s a serious problem. They blow up a planet. That’s how serious it is.
- They’re planning on blowing up an even more important planet.
- Hero ends up inside the enemy planet destroying vessel, has adventures.
- Eventually, hero succeeds in blowing the planet destroyer up.
- Big party at the end.
It’s a super-reductive argument, since we’re boiling away pretty much everything that make the Star Trek and Star Wars universes distinct, in order to try and frame things onto the Campbellian Heroes Journey.
I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Trek reboot is meaningfully a retelling of A New Hope.
It’s less of a stretch to say that about The Force Awakens. The parallels are not just Joseph Campbell archetypes and vague archetypal situations. They’re very specific. We can’t argue that the Starkiller Base isn’t a larger, more powerful Death Star.
We can’t really ignore the parallels between a droid with secret information being pursued by the bad guys, being shepherded by a young, lonely desert dweller who ends up on the Millennium Falcon, and that young Force-sensitive person watches their mentor die at the hands of a Dark Side devotee.
I choose to embrace this similarity because, in my opinion, it was a calculated decision on the movie-makers to sidestep exactly the kind of torturous comparisons that happened between Star Trek and A New Hope. Just dive in with both feet. No matter how they crafted the plot, there would be comparisons and accusations of lazy writing (which is usually a mark of lazy criticism) and dipping too much into the well of Star Wars.
One reason I don’t mind the Death Star/Starkiller Base parallel: the Death Star was really important in the original movie. The movie’s plot was entirely focused on the Death Star’s destruction. What was in the opening crawl? That Princess Leia had the critical plans to the Empire’s secret weapon, the Death Star. Those plans were necessary to allow the Rebel Alliance to have a chance to destroy it.
What was the climactic moment in the original Star Wars? The Death Star’s destruction.
What was the climactic moment in The Force Awakens? If you said “the Starkiller base’s destruction, obviously” then we’ll have to agree to disagree. (And you’re wrong, obviously.)
A New Hope was all about the Death Star. The Force Awakens was all about something else entirely, one that really had very little to do with the Starkiller Base. The opening crawl laid it out:
Luke Skywalker is missing.
Everything in the move was about finding Luke.
- The opening crawl outlined the Resistance’s efforts to find Luke.
- Poe gave BB-8 the key to finding Luke.
- Kylo Ren and General Hux were more in less in competition to impress Supreme Leader Snoke by pursuing the goal of finding Luke (and blaming the other for obstacles.)
- Supreme Leader Snoke had low interest in waging an overwhelming strike against the Republic, except that it would deny the Resistance resources they could use to find Luke, if they’d gotten the droid with the key.
- Kylo Ren’s interest in Rey seemed to be entirely about her having seen the map to Luke. (There’s some other stuff going on, but that’s why he brought her back.)
- Rey was a bonus for Kylo, as he thought he would be indispensible in getting the Luke-location information from her. (Something Hux would get no benefit from.)
It’s all about Luke, and finding him.
Of course, destroying the Starkiller Base was super-important. As was Finn’s real mission at the Starkiller Base to locate Rey. As was Han’s death. As was the lightsaber battles in the snow.
But the climactic moment of the movie was when a young lady offered Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber to its previous owner, Luke.
In the original Star Wars, we had the denouement of the medal ceremony after the destruction of the Death Star, but The Force Awakens doesn’t give us that. It ends on the climax, because the next movie is going to spring fully formed from Luke’s reaction. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but emotionally it kind of is.
We’ve found Luke, but what next? The amount of possibilities and roads that have been opened up (rather than closed down had excessive details and concrete information been built into this movie) is exciting. And I embrace it fully.
People complain about the lack of answers and the amount of questions raised by the movie, but this is the good part people. This is when it can be fun.
Using the old movie as a framework might be a problem because it’s an easy avenue for complaints, ones that don’t offer easy counterarguments, but I just don’t sweat that. If the movie was too much Star Wars for some people, then it’s just the way it is.
But I do think there is at least one problem in the movie that really bugged me.
Look, up in the sky! It’s a destructive beam of energy that we shouldn’t see for years and years. Centuries maybe! And probably not during the day time!
At some point, I’ll talk about the Starkiller Base, and try to rationalize some if not all of it. But I can’t handle our heroes looking up into the daytime sky of Takodana (Maz’s location) and seeing the destruction of the Republic Senate system. (I think it was called the Hosnian System? Nerds, help me out.)
That makes no sense.
The Star Wars movies have always been more space opera and science fantasy than science fiction. but usually some things kind of make sense. The Millennium Falcon and other ships with interstellar capabilities have hyperdrives to take them faster then light (or into hyperspace, where distances can be traversed unbelievably fast. We can debate all this…) but in general, the laws of the universe have coherence.
(Usually, but not always. In The Empire Strikes Back when the Falcon is in a cave on an asteroid, they’d need a lot more gear than gas masks to exit the ship and look for critters.)
But Finn and Han seeing the destruction of the Republic Senate worlds is pure fantasy. I can’t imagine what bullshit reasons would allow it.
Takodana can’t be in the same system as the Republic Senate worlds. If that was the case, Han wouldn’t bother getting BB-8 to Maz Kanata in the hopes of getting the droid onto a clean ship for passage to the Resistance base. He’d just turn BB-8 over to Republic forces, directly. If they’re right in the same system. And if he was worried about talking to the authorities, he doesn’t need a clean ship, he just needs anyone to ferry BB-8 to safety.
Takodana (or at least Maz’ watering-hole) is populated with characters who seem more comfortable in the hinterland where smuggling is common, then right in the middle of the Republic. So Takodana appears to be where the First Order is nearby, and the Republic is less so. Almost all of The Force Awakens seems to take place in this contested, less-controlled zone.
So the Hosnian system would have to be many many many light years away, and therefore the light of the destruction of the planets would take years to get to Takodana.
Is this is a big deal? No, it doesn’t break the movie for me. But it just seems kind of ignorant. I felt the same way when I saw the Star Trek reboot, and Nero had dropped Old Spock off on a frozen planet (Delta Vega?), to get a good view of the destruction of Vulcan. For that to work, the frozen rock would have to be a moon of Vulcan. I guess.
But Jim Kirk is ejected from the Enterprise in a pod after the ship had gone to warp for a considerable amount of time, taking the Enterprise probably far far far far far away from Vulcan.
It was fine for the plot to have all this happen, but it seemed silly. And I have a low tolerance for scientifically unsound silliness in my science fiction. Even in my space opera.
The Force Hits the Snooze Button (and goes back to sleep I mean. At least my coverage. I’m not saying it was boring. Don’t read too deeply into what I just said!!!)
Okay, I’m ending this seven part series on The Force Awakens. Which I loved. I have some more blog posts planned, but they’ll be one-shots, here and there. I have a lot of time before the next movie, so I don’t have a rush to get them out.
I will mention one final thing. One of the primary features of this series was examining the 40 ‘unforgivable’ plot holes that Professor Seth Abramson wrote about. I’ve mentioned before that he came up with 20 more, but I wasn’t interested in tacking all of them (since they were largely in the same vein as his originals.) But recently, Professor Abramson published 10 Reasons ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ Film Ever Made.
I read a little bit about the article, which implied that Abramson had originally chosen to argue both sides of the statement: is The Force Awakens a good movie or not? I mentioned that I have not read the article in-depth, but it appears that he’s arguing on behalf of the movie with the same kind of blind zeal that he argued against the movie before.
It’s hard not to think that he’s writing this article just to troll both sides of the fanbase, for page views.
I was happy to use his initial work to frame my own thoughts on the movie. But I would have rather he’d presented honest criticism of the movie.
(There’s a great take on the Abramson situation over at the excellent Film School Rejects website; I think that’s worth a read.)
Okay, I’m done talking about the meta-discussion of the movie, my defense of it from alleged plot holes, my take on the movie, other criticisms which vary in validity, and my own biggest gripe.
Now I need to get back to cranking out Game of Thrones posts. Finally.
Comments are welcome. Super welcome!
Most images from The Force Awakens, obviously. Korra is from Nickoledeon’s The Legend of Korra. Buffy Summers is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spock watching Vulcan die is from Star Trek (the Abrams reboot.)
I make no claims to the images, but some claims to the text. So there. Except for the LUKE SKYWALKER IS MISSING line.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved