The Force Sets Its Snooze Alarm

I finally got around to seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and here are my thoughts on the film. I should warn you that there are SPOILERS in this post. I feel like I’m the last one to see this, but it’s possible I’m not.

I’ve mostly avoided other reviews of the movie, but one criticism I have seen is that it’s too similar to the first movie, retroactively called A New Hope. In some ways this was only to be expected, as the series was based on mythic archetypes in the first place, and never intended to be all that original. That someone on a backwater world would discover their Force sensitivity and a series of bizarre coincidences would result in their teaming up with the other characters…well, that kind of thing goes with the territory. But when you have another desert planet, another droid carrying a secret message, another evil galactic ruler with a masked apprentice who’s related to some of the good guys, another planet-destroying super-weapon, another resistance group led by Leia, and another Jedi Knight living as a hermit, it seems like the parallels have gone a bit overboard. Even the characters themselves commented on some of them. It seems like, even though this is supposed to be, like, thirty years after the original trilogy, there’s very little sense of progress. Now, there’s a certain amount of realism to that. How often does a revolution against a terrible leader lead to another one just as bad, if not worse? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, as the Who put it. Still, this is fiction, and this film more or less made the original trilogy pointless; overthrowing the Empire isn’t all that monumental when another one is right around the corner. What’s more, the Jedi are still nearly extinct, and Han Solo is a smuggler again. It seems like they could have at least highlighted the differences between this evil government and the last one. They have a Supreme Leader instead of an Emperor, so is that a nod to Iran? I kind of think it would have been more interesting to see villains who were trying to consolidate power than ones who already had it. Yeah, we kind of got that in the prequels, but here there would be more of a sense of recent history, of the Empire still being fresh in people’s minds. And why relegate Han and Leia’s family life and Luke’s training new Jedi to mere side notes? In some ways, I will accept that concentrating too much on these things might have ruined the plot, and it’s possible that they’ll be covered in future installments. It’s like, the revelation of Kylo Ren’s identity worked, but I still have a hard time accepting that Han and Leia’s son would idolize his genocidal grandfather, and that Luke’s new Jedi order would make the same mistakes the last one did that partially led to Anakin’s turn to the dark side. I think it was Leia who said Ren had too much Vader in him. So are we supposed to believe that evil is genetic, but skips a generation? Again, it’s certainly possible we’ll learn more about his motivations in a future installment, but as it was I found him undeveloped. And his keeping Vader’s skull, even putting aside the question as to how he could have gotten it, is some real Normal Bates behavior.

But he has a new kind of lightsaber they can merchandise!

Actually, I have to wonder why they don’t have light-scimitars yet. And what was with the flame thrower that, as far as I can recall, appeared exactly once in the film?

The thing is, I did still enjoy the movie. It relied a lot on nostalgia, but while the repetition got a little annoying, in other ways this really worked for it. We get to see the familiar characters again, and rather than being shoehorned in as some of them were in the prequels, their roles are relevant and they’re in character.

That said, Leia was underused, and Luke didn’t even have lines! I was thinking about it, and since no previous film in the series has been a direct follow-up to the last (there’s always some time in between covered by the opening crawl), we’ll probably never find out what Rey and Luke said to each other. I found Rey and Finn to be quite likable new characters, although I’m not quite sure why the former was so eager to return to her meager existence on Jakku.

And neither of them were whiny like people are always complaining Luke and Anakin were. BB-8 was sort of just R2-D2 with a different shape, but he was cute. I was kind of surprised by how small Captain Phasma’s role was. I really like her name; it’s very pulpy.

So overall, I found the movie enjoyable, but I’m really hoping the next installment will go off in more of its own direction.

Another thing I wanted to address was how I’ve heard the new movies are pretty much ignoring the Expanded Universe. Now, I’m not familiar with the Star Wars Expanded Universe. About all I know is that there’s a woman named Mara Jade and a giant green rabbit with a bad-ass attitude. But I kind of like the IDEA of the EU, and that multiple writers have contributed to the big picture. The Oz fandom is obviously much smaller, but I’m reminded of the people who make a point of saying that they’re ignoring Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Oz books when writing their own. They’ll usually do this because they think Thompson’s work isn’t faithful to L. Frank Baum’s, but their own work is also generally quite different from Baum’s. I get the desire to honor the creator, but it’s kind of arrogant to think YOU know what a long-dead guy would have done with his creation. Of course, George Lucas is still alive, but it’s been pretty well established that audiences weren’t too keen on his having the final say on what happened in his galaxy. Anyway, I can understand why they’re not going to work in a lot of references to stuff only the most hardcore fans would get, but there’s a difference between downplaying the EU material and ignoring it entirely. Like I said, though, I don’t know the EU, so I can’t say how much Episode Seven might or might not have contradicted it. I do have to wonder whether Chewbacca still has a family.

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11 Responses to The Force Sets Its Snooze Alarm

  1. I think I can safely comment on this subject as I run :)

    Disney’s iteration is obnoxious on several levels, not only because they threw out an expanded universe that functioned as one continuity for 35 years, encompassing novels, comic-books, short-stories, animated series and video games, but also because they tossed out Lucas’ own story treatments for where episodes 7, 8 and 9 would have gone. They, of course, have the legal right to do that, thanks to a bad decision on Lucas’ part (and one that he now regrets), but that doesn’t mean it’s artistically justifiable (not that corporations have ever cared about art). Star Wars is a universe of stories centered on the vision of George Lucas; when most of those stories and Lucas himself are throw out of the equation, what’s left is a brand name. And around that brand name, Disney has crafted what is essentially big-budget fan-fiction.

    But Disney wasn’t content to merely toss out the Expanded Universe, they also had to pillage from it, and in ways that twisted and flattened the original. For example, Ben was the name of Luke’s son in the EU, and it was Han and Leia’s son Jacen who turned to the dark side. Disney meshed those two together, but also robbed them of their complex journeys and arcs, which are fascinating and brilliantly told throughout the book series.

    There are some who argue that Disney HAD to throw out continuity for the sake of creativity. Given that they basically remade A New Hope, this argument collapses. But generally speaking, such a view falls into the idea that continuity (which means a long interwoven history of stories) stifles creativity. It’s been shown time and again that continuity actually fosters creativity. Anyone who writes fiction set in the real world, where you don’t get to reboot the events of history, can tell you that facts don’t stifle anything, but are the springboard for creative ideas, providing parameters that force you to stretch creatively. Yet the myth persists, in large part because it’s been continually fostered by comic-book companies like Marvel and DC so that they can reboot their stories and characters whenever they need a boost in their quarterly earnings. Rebooting brings in large, but short-term profits by appealing to young and new fans who are intimidated by lengthy series. But it’s at the cost of both story and long-term fans, who become alienated and stop buying. Long-term fans are ultimately the bread and butter of any enterprise. In the case of Disney, they don’t care because despite the fact that the Expanded Universe has brought in upwards of 5 billion dollars in profits, box office and DVD sales has been 8 billion and toy sales has brought in 12 billion, and they know brand loyalty will keep many of the fans onboard for their new canon.

    Ultimately, fans who haven’t already will learn that if they care about a story or characters, they’ll vote with their dollars, which is the only thing corporations care about, and not support cash-grabbing gimmicks that are anti-literary and anti-fan.

    • Nathan says:

      Movies often combine characters and switch around traits, but this is somewhat of an unusual case in that the movies are the primary sources for information on the universe. It does make more sense that Luke would name his son Ben after his mentor than that Han would give HIS son the name of an annoying old man he only knew for a little while, unless it’s just a coincidence that he has the same name as Obi-Wan’s alias. Then again, I think Ben’s real name was only used maybe once or twice in the film.

      I guess it’s not too surprising that a movie with J.J. Abrams at the helm would sort of but not entirely reboot the franchise considering what he did with Star Trek. And I liked those movies as well, but felt the reboot idea was kind of lazy.

      • Lazy is the operative word. It’s lazy writing to have practically nothing happen after 30 years, and even worse to put the galaxy back to the way it was in A New Hope, particularly as it renders Return of the Jedi superfluous. It’s also bad writing as far as the characters are concerned. Luke faced down Darth Vader and the Emperor. Why would he go into hiding (even from his friends) because one bratty teenage student goes dark? And the whole idea they need a map to find him is absurd. Why isn’t Leia a Jedi? Why is there not a whole Jedi Order in the galaxy? Why is the whole story reliant on coincidences?

        By contrast, the EU is so well-developed, and while not perfect (no long running series is), had so many great stories that they could have adapted or built off of (if they wanted new stories). To toss it all out for something that is all style and nostalgia, but no substance, is beyond comprehension.

      • Nathan says:

        The thing about Luke being the last Jedi makes no sense when he was supposed to have been training a new order. Did they all get slaughtered again, or what? I can just imagine someone suggesting Rey become a Jedi, and her saying, “You mean that sect that was mass murdered twice in the past sixty years? No, thanks!”

  2. Wasn’t Rey desperate to get back to Jakku because her parents could come to get her at any minute? I mean, after ten or fifteen years, her parents still could show up at any friggin’ minute. Or maybe it was something else.

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