The Force has Woken Up
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
|| The Force is not just awake, it’s up, brewing coffee, and making waffles. I saw it last week after diligently avoiding trailers, rumors, and anything online that looked like it might even remotely reference it. Although I did watch the first trailer when it hit back in April, the only things I remembered were the crashed Star Destroyer in the desert and the red light saber with cross guards. Since both are revealed within the first few minutes of the movie, I actually managed to see it with as blank a slate as possible.
Overall I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a fun ride and it went a long way in removing the stank left by the Prequels. Although I avoided everything associated with TFA as much as possible, I did binge watch the preceding SW movies in Episode order. As bad as the Prequels were when they came out, they were even worse now. Both they and the Original Trilogy are deserving of their own entries, so I will only reference them enough to say that for me, the TFA goes a considerable way in restoring the magic of the Original Trilogy after suffering through the Prequel’s debacle. Rey, Finn, and Poe are fantastic, and worthy heirs of the SW Universe.
Even though I enjoyed TFA, and would recommend seeing it in theater, it definitely has its faults. I found most of these faults to be both readily overlooked and deeply disappointing. I found them so easy to overlook because of how simple the fixes for them were. Just a bit more time with the story and a handful of minor tweaks would have significantly limited them, and made for a vastly smoother story. I am deeply disappointed for exactly the same reason. With the time and budget they had, it is absolutely inexcusable for them not to have done so.
So… do I really need to mention that there are SPOILERS from here on out? No? Good, because I’d like to talk about some of these faults, particularly those I’ve seen the most mention of online.
There are a veritable plethora of coincidences in TFA. While that’s normally indicative of lazy writing, normally you don’t have a unifying Force that binds all living things together, guiding their actions. In the SW Mythos, the Force appears to do more than just exist, or give psychic boosts, but to actually help influence events. This is certainly most emphasized in the Prequels, but even without the Midiclorian shitshow the Original Trilogy is rife with references to paths and destinies. So, given the internal construct of SW’s Universe, coincidences aren’t just allowed at a higher frequency, they’re expected. Don’t believe me? Then how, praytell, do C3PO and R2D2 get delivered to Luke’s Aunt and Uncle, after ejecting on an escape pod, (and avoiding being shot down) on all of Tatooine in A New Hope? Or, in Empire Strikes Back, how does Luke manage to crash land within walking distance of Yoda when all Obi-Wan tells him of Dagoba is its name? I would offer that the answer is the Force, which, I may have mentioned isn’t just awake and making waffles, but pouring Breakfast Porter all around.
Death Star Mk III, aka Starkiller
Much like the King of Swamp Castle keeps living up to his name and building castles in the swamp, daft or not, the Empire keeps building epically scaled weapons platforms. Each iteration is that much bigger and TFA‘s Starkiller is the biggest of them all, feeding off the energy of a star and destroying multiple planets simultaneously. I heard the groans even as I watched, wouldn’t the Empire, or New Order, have learned by now!? Interestingly this question comes even as there are those calling for us to invade countries in the Middle East. Again. This is real life, when the only thing we have to show for our invasion of Iraq over a decade ago is trillions of dollars spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and ISIL. And yet, there are those in power calling for military action against either Syria, Iran, or any mix inbetween. Sadly enough the construction of the Starkiller as one of the easiest things to accept, since for those who see violence as the means to security, the answer to a defeats is only ever more violence. Anyone pulled towards supporting the New Order would also view the loss of the previous Death Stars through the lens of them being too “weak.”
Exhaust Ports and Reactor Cores
As much as the building of Yet Another Death Star (with new, Starkiller, branding, of course) is unsurprising, if not out and out expected; a design that allows for a single point of catastrophic failure does push the bounds of credulity. That being said, the Air Force continues to pour money into the F-35, the Navy continues to fund the Littoral Combat Ships, and the Army continues to receive tanks they neither asked for, nor even want. Again, this is real life, not fiction. It’s interesting, and rather sad, that we demand more accountability in our fictional governments than in our our actual government. Regardless, the overriding of sound engineering by politics, budget, time and arrogance has been, and will remain to be, a constant of human experience.
This was also one of those points that just a little additional tweaking would have helped. Have the Starkiller littered with the things, but Finn is able to tell the Rebels which one they consistently use. It would take less than a minute of dialogue and it would smooth over the bump.
If you watched ANH then you know the story of TFA. While I would have liked a more original story, I understand the decision in making TFA a transitional movie so it could acknowledge its heritage even while setting a wholly new course. The familiarity of the story works so well as we reconnect with these beloved characters from the Original Series because it is familiar. I would also argue that since TFA mirrors ANH, it is also another telling of the Hero journey described in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a 1,000 Faces. Before you can get too upset about the repetitive nature of the story, you also have to acknowledge how often Lucas himself sacrifices his characters development upon the alter of Campbellian Mythos. And, just to pile on, if the English language’s greatest playwright can repeatedly use the mistaken identities of identical twins for his plots without losing writing cred, then I see no reason why I should be upset about another “chosen one,” on a “hero’s journey,” culminating in a “decisive battle,” with a “trench run” that’s fun as hell to watch.
Lowering the Shields
This was the worst bump IMHO. For Captain Phasma to have simply caved and been able to lower the shields from a single console with a simple command required too much suspension of belief. It could have been done better, and it should have been done better. There is no excuse really for it not to have, when only a modicum of effort would be required. Even having Finn, Chewy, and Han shoot up the control panel while Han says, “Everything’s fine now!” would have been better. I think I understand the attempt, that the Stormtroopers, even their elite Captain, are really just bullies who cave to anyone standing up to them, but the execution rings hallow, and didn’t work with the character. I think Captain Phasma could have been a much more intriguing character, I can also see how there wasn’t the time to develop her.
The size and scale of the galaxy in which SW takes place seems to be off. And that’s being generous! The destruction of 5 planets within view of a 6th didn’t seem right, nor did the Starkillers attack coming from either the same solar system or having faster than light abilities. I have no answer for this one other than a reminder that SW is Fantasy, not Science Fiction. While I still believe all storytelling rests under the penumbra of SciFi, distinctions are sometimes helpful. Star Trek, for example, is more classical Science Fiction. SW is more akin to Science Fantasy or, as I like to think about it, as Myth with space ships. It is Legend writ large, and this is one of those times when I remind myself to accept it as Myth, and not Science Fiction.
Kylo Ren is a Whiny Bitch
My initial reaction to Ren was, in a nutshell, dufuq? His anger issues seemed over the top and overly wrought. It was actually jarring and I thought it was a huge mistake at first. Granted, I still think Adam Driver could have done a better job in his performance, but I think the core of the character is to show the logical consequences of giving yourself up wholly to your anger. It really does make for an interesting contrast between Ren and the various Darth’s who were far more collected. I wonder if he will be back, and if there will be more explanation of his fall. It is perhaps understandable if he is powerful in the force, but average as a person. The pressure of living up to his family’s legacy would have been huge, and if he wasn’t up for it, turning his anger and frustration to the Dark Side certainly makes sense. I hope he returns, honestly, and we learn more of his story. I also liked the touch that Ren’s sword is “rough” while every other lightsaber in SW’s has been smooth. It’s a visible reinforcement of his instability. (It would have also helped solidify my own thoughts on what would have made Lightsabers even cooler!) When I watch it again I’m going to pay special attention to Ren, and see if my thesis holds up to further scrutiny.
I know there are many out there who were upset by Han’s treatment and ultimate death in TFA, perhaps none so eloquent as Rod Hannah’s take over at Blue Milk Special. I didn’t have the connection to Han that they did though, so my experience was significantly different. In re-watching the Original Trilogy prior to TFA, I was surprised to see just how much of asshat Han is. He is the prototypical rogue, good in a fight, clever, greedy, and wholly disconnected from his emotions. It’s not until Return of the Jedi that he really becomes the Han everyone loves and, ultimately, remembers. But through two out of those three movies he is insulting, arrogant, and his emotional depth is limited to anger, greed, and fear.
He also runs away, or at least tries to, but is pulled back either by conscious (ANH), or events, (ESB). I thought his character in TFA was therefore appropriate. Losing his son to the Dark Side would have been a crushing blow, and running from Leia a natural reaction. All of which is underscored by Han’s pause before confronting Kylo Renn, ne Ben, his son. Yet again he has a chance to walk away and avoid the danger, and once again he returns to face it. It is a powerful scene, and a simple act of offering redemption instead of the usual over the top heroics upon which his reputation was built. It shows his true heart, his compassion, and the importance of individuals. He knew all to well the risks, but took it anyway, not just for him, but for Leia as well. Han should have died, multiple times over, to any number of nameless Stormtroopers, bounty hunters, or Tie Fighter pilots, to have died at the hands of his son makes the end of his journey uniquely personal in a way nothing else could.
Finally, it is my hope, a new hope (sorry, couldn’t resist!), that the next movie takes the SW Universe in a wholly new direction. The transition has been made, the torch has been passed, and the time has come, IMHO, for new stories to be told. I’m excited for May of 2017 and seeing what happens next!