What Star Wars: The Force Awakens did wrong

January 17, 2016

(Previous post: What Star Wars: The Force Awakens did right)

Hoo-kay. This is the post that’s most likely to get me in trouble. Star Wars: The Force Awakens currently has an improbably high 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is only 1% less than A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and too thin of a margin for my taste. Which is the kind of statement that has gotten other people lambasted, when they’ve dared to speak anything but glowing praise about this new thing people love.

Let me remind you that someone saying something bad about a story you love is not an indictment of you as an individual. Though you may identify with The Force Awakens, or any other story, criticism of those stories is not necessarily a criticism of you. Read my post about how not to get butthurt when others insult stories you love. If you decide to get butthurt anyway, I may decide to delete your comments, or even ban you. If this annoys you too, please refer to this xkcd on free speech, and remember that this is my site, and in the words of Eric Cartman, I do what I want.

Let’s get started.

Coincidences For Days

Coincidences have always been baked right into the Star Wars DNA. The Force, as a quasi-mystical magic religion, justifies at least some of it. When some dirt farmer from the back end of nowhere meets a woman (who turns out to be his sister) and a villain (who turns out to be his father), you come into this new movie expecting a coincidence or two.

Yet The Force Awakens may have gone too far.

First of all, convenient storytelling, along with being a pet peeve of mine, is lazy. Unless it’s for a big payoff, ala “Luke, I am your father,” it’s better off avoided. For example, Han taking Rey to the one place in the galaxy where someone just so happens to have Anakin/Luke’s old lightsaber is pretty damn convenient, especially since Han isn’t Force-sensitive.

But the biggest offender is undoubtedly the Millennium Falcon being on some nowhere desert planet, just where the new protagonists need it to be (and unlocked, and undefended, and easy to power up) for them to save their lives and meet up with the rest of the cast. To J.J. Abrams and his crew’s credit, that whole scene happened so fast that I didn’t realize what they had done until later, but once I did, I was instantly annoyed. Couldn’t they have thought of a better way to introduce Rey and Finn to the original cast? Especially when they already had BB-8, who was all the adventure hook they needed to get them there.

Another Fucking Superweapon

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: The Force Awakens is a nearly scene-for-scene retread of A New Hope. We start off following a droid lost on a desert planet who’s carrying secret plans of interest to both an evil empire and a resistance movement, who stumbles across a Force-sensitive local, there’s a villain in a black mask, a big ass superweapon, yadda yadda. About the only difference of consequence is that everybody already knows about the big familial revelation, so that gets taken care of here as opposed to waiting for the next movie.

And this is where Episode VII did something everyone thought was impossible for a good decade there: It made people agree with, and come to the defense of, George Lucas.

I know. I’m surprised too.

Lucas came out and said—and you can search for the articles yourself, because I’m too lazy to dig them up—that he’s disappointed with the path Disney took with The Force Awakens. He questioned the point of doing another movie that was basically just A New Hope all over again, as opposed to doing something new.

He has a point.

Whatever flaws the prequels had—and there were many—he tried to do something radically different with them. It didn’t work, but that’s what happens sometimes when you try to do something new. The Force Awakens doesn’t do that. It’s another Force-sensitive yokel on a desert planet. Another droid. Another mask-wearing villain. Another Big Bad to be elaborated on later. Another fucking superweapon. It’s not ambitious. It’s not trying to do something new. It’s safe.

That’s probably the single most damning thing I can say about the movie.

Is It Foreshadowing, or a Bug?

It’s difficult to talk about his movie right now, because so many of the elements I’m about the criticize could end up not being problems. That’s the difficulty with trying to critique the first of a trilogy when the filmmakers know they’re getting the other two movies; this is as opposed to A New Hope, where they had no such assurances, and so needed to make it stand on its own in case they didn’t get a second one.

“Is it foreshadowing, or a bug?” Many of the things I’ll talk about from here on come with that unstated question. Much of what I’ll talk about could end up not being a problem; it could just be that we don’t have all the information yet. Though…

Look. While I love me some good foreshadowing, anything that feels like a bug until the foreshadowing is explained may not have been presented in the best way, to put it gently. Ideally, any foreshadowing shouldn’t feel wrong until it’s explained—it should elicit interest, not confusion. That’s hard to do that. Even this paragraph is hard to adequately explain. But the flaw might still be there, even if it’s not as large as it seems right now.

Regardless, I’m disinclined to accept “It’s foreshadowing!” as the reason for why certain elements are all wonky. If they don’t fit well within the story they’re set in, they either need to flagrantly be foreshadowing, or maybe they shouldn’t have been added at all. (Or, you know, fixed.) Though for this question, as with many others, we’ll only find out if I’m right in a few years.

Rey Is [Not] A Mary Sue

After the movie came out, some people mentioned that they felt Rey was a Mary Sue (trope). Others quickly—and, let’s be honest, often vehemently—flew in to refute this, noting that those people wouldn’t have considered Luke or Anakin a Mary Sue; the implicit accusation there being that, because Rey is a woman, her being skilled makes her a Mary Sue where it wouldn’t if she were a guy.

*runs a hand through his hair* Whooie, let’s untangle this ball of knee-jerk reactions. Let me make this clear: Rey is not a Mary Sue in the traditional sense. She can’t be, because she’s not a fan fiction character. She’s not even a Mary Sue in the sense that she’s an Author Avatar (trope). But the term Mary Sue has experienced so much linguistic drift as to be rendered nearly meaningless. What many people mean when they say that someone is a Mary Sue is this: “This character seems improbably skilled. I’m not sure I believe it.”

With Rey, I understand where they’re coming from. Before anyone starts yelling, let’s take all the things she’s good at in this movie: Fixing machinery, flying, shooting, fighting with a lightsaber, and using the Force. Happily, these are all things Luke was a master of at some point in the original trilogy, and all of them he first did in Episode VI. So how do they compare?

Both Rey and Luke had to be relatively self-reliant (Rey more so than Luke) on a backwater desert planet. Luke seemed handy enough in Episode IV, though it was never important to the plot. Rey was really, really good with machinery in Episode VII, somewhat implausibly so since she was just a scavenger, but one data point does not make a pattern.

As a pilot, both of them feel, in hindsight, a bit too good. Luke was a farm boy who jumped into the best squadrons the Rebel Alliance had, but he had the benefit of having done a bunch of things in the movie prior to that to deserve a little special treatment (much like the way Finn got to go along with Han and Chewie later in the movie). Whereas Rey made the Millennium Falcon dance in one of the earliest scenes, when all we had seen or heard of her piloting was something that stuck closer to the ground. Here, I think Rey takes a ding for knowledge—we don’t realize that Rogue Squadron is hot shit in Episode IV, but we get to see Rey make the Falcon pirouette. But even this only made me bat an eyelash.

Both are improbably good at shooting a blaster, even though it doesn’t seem like they had any reason to be so good. Chock it up to lazy writing in Episode IV, whereas I hardly noticed it with Rey. This wasn’t really a problem, in my opinion, because the good guys hitting and the bad guys missing is just a Star Wars thing at this point.

The only times Luke touches a lightsaber in Episode IV is to swing it around when Obi-Wan first gave it to him, and to train with the remote a bit. And with the remote, he sucked. Rey has more of a reason to be good since she clearly had experience fighting with that staff she had early on, but she also goes toe-to-toe with and ultimately defeats a powerful dark Jedi. The Force can be used as a salve for this puzzling competence, but it’s another data point.

As for using the Force, Luke barely uses the Force at all in A New Hope. It guides his shot at the end, and that’s about it. He’s untrained, and it shows. Whereas Rey goes from not realizing she’s Force-sensitive to besting a trained dark Jedi in a knock-down, drag-out fight. It took Luke until the beginning of Return of the Jedi to exhibit notable control over the Force (Force persuasion, etc). Rey’s rapid competence also directly contradicts everything we know about how difficult it is to become a Jedi—from the EU novels, yes, but also from how long it takes Luke and Anakin (and all those younglings) to do anything like what Rey did.

The reason people think Rey is a Mary Sue—that she’s improbably skilled—is not because she’s skilled at any one of these things, or because she’s a woman (hopefully). It’s because she’s good at so many things, and some of them don’t seem to have a basis. These are problems that Finn has too—even though he mainly worked in sanitation, he’s such a great shot in the Tie Fighter escape scene that I thought he was Force-sensitive at first. But because it only happens that one time (and his First Order training can excuse a lot, just as Poe Dameron’s training and experience justifies anything he does in the movie), Rey doesn’t have a basis for some of her skills. Added up, some viewers can’t quite believe it.

Look, some people are being sexist. But if Poe Dameron was a woman, I doubt anyone would be saying she was a Mary Sue. Or fewer would be. There are good reasons other than sexism as to why people are calling Rey a Mary Sue, even if Mary Sue isn’t the right term.

But then again, this might not be a bug. It might be foreshadowing.

Maz Kanata

Note: I don’t like talking about a character named Maz, and for it to not be Mazik. I’m kind of annoyed with her. Fortunately or not, her name isn’t the only thing that annoys me.

After I just got done praising the movie for returning to practical effects, why the hell did they make the bug-eyed pirate lady another CGI monstrosity? She was a short, wise old non-human mystic, just like Yoda. Yoda worked much better as a puppet. Why in the name of Frank Oz would they make her CGI?

I don’t understand this. To be honest, it didn’t bother me personally too much while I was watching the movie, because I’ve become desensitized to such things, but three of the four friends I saw it with griped about it immediately afterward. It snapped them out of the immersion. Not a good ratio.

Her entire character was another element of the movie that was nakedly plot driven, by the way, as I mentioned before. They just happened to seek refuge with the one person who had Luke’s old lightsaber and who could mentor Rey, etc. Though I just read that she was apparently Force-sensitive? Which I did not get in the original viewing. I just thought she was generally wise. So maybe that was my mistake, or maybe that detail wasn’t integrated well enough into the text.

Hyperspace, the Passage of Time, and the Size of the Galaxy

I have real problems with how they used hyperspace. Perhaps this is an outgrowth of my EU-and-Star-Wars-video-games past, but hyperspace was way too damn quick in The Force Awakens, and it’s a problem.

In every bit of Star Wars media I’ve consumed, hyperspace is never depicted as being instantaneous. Whether this makes a lick of sense in regards to physics or not, it has a practical storytelling purpose—to keep far away places far away.

I’m reminded of MMORPGs here. In every MMO I’ve played, players clambered for fast travel options. I played a Druid in Everquest, and a Mage in World of Warcraft, so I was used to dolling out portals. But something weird happens when you let all players travel quickly through the world all the time (giving a class or two the ability isn’t a problem):

The world shrinks. The players lose a sense for how large the world is because they’re always blazing past it, and lose chances for serendipity. This happens in our modern world too, as the connective ability of cars, planes, telephones, the internet and more allow us to reach all corners of the globe with relatively little time, difficulty, or money. The world shrinks when you can fly over it as opposed to having to walk.

Which is fine, up to a point. But when you can travel anywhere in the galaxy in ten seconds, an entire friggin’ galaxy becomes too small. It makes it seem comical that they couldn’t find Luke for so long. He was right there! Even though everywhere was right there as well.

The passage of time also bestows a certain weight to events, signifying that they’re important and durable in a way that the frequent crises of the 24-hour news cycle seldom are. When long journeys are seemingly compressed into ten seconds, it feels too rushed. It becomes a scuffle, not a war. And we don’t remember scuffles.

(Note: This could all come down to film-making choices, probably made in the interest of cohesiveness or flow, which accidentally made hyperspace travel seem much faster than it is. In which case, it’s an accidental mistake instead of a deliberate one.)

The new hyperspace rules J.J. Abrams and his crew pulled out of these asses are also going to introduce plot holes all throughout the Star Wars universe. In the EU, ships had to get a certain distance away from the gravity well of a planet or a star to enter hyperspace, which meant that there were limits to their ability to dart into battle or escape (or even get remotely near some planets in the Deep Core)—and limits, as opposed to powers, are where the story takes place.

If you can enter hyperspace from inside another ship or bypass planetary shields by coming out of hyperspace after them, what’s to stop people from doing that all the time? The latter, especially, brings to mind hyperdrive equipped bombs. Sounds like a game changer to me. But I doubt it’ll ever come up again, because it’d break too many future stories … even though fans will be wondering why the characters didn’t just do that again from here on out.

Catwalk Equals Death

It became obvious after a certain point that Han wasn’t long for this world. To me more than those I saw the movie with, apparently, since I called it prior to their mission to Starkiller Base, because once they were there, there was little thematic reason for Han to be there unless he was going to die. In this movie he was an old mentor character, and while it’s not inconceivable that the writers could have juked us and let the mentor survive, by that point they had been so predictable that I trusted them to make the obvious move.

That’s not good. You want to be able to trust a movie in certain ways (even a mystery, though there you want to be able to trust that you can’t trust it), but when it becomes outright predictable, you don’t even get that slight thrill of doubt, where you wonder if this is the film that’s going to defy the usual expectations (the good guys will win, the main character will get the guy/girl, etc). It probably won’t happen, but as long as there’s doubt, it’s exciting! But once you know a movie is never going to do that, the magic is gone. Being able to complete trust a movie completely is like an old marriage—comfortable, but not exciting.

And seriously, a catwalk? If anyone hadn’t clued in on it by that point, it was obvious once Han walked out onto that precarious catwalk. Too much, Abrams. Too much.

Han, Leia, & Luke

Luke excepted, since he did basically nothing this movie, Han and Leia were perhaps the weakest parts of this movie. Which, on the one hand, makes sense. They’re not the heroes anymore. They’re support. They shouldn’t be the focus of the film.

But some of the dialogue between Han and Leia, especially when they flatly laid out their motivations, was so stilted as to become cringe-worthy. I’m glad they were married, by the way—that was the one thing I went into the movie saying I would be pissed if Disney destroyed. But it was only implied why they separated, i.e. that Ben’s fall and Han’s inability to deal with it drove him to escape back into smuggling. And here, at least, I wanted more. These are our old friends. Would it have killed them to put an iota of the effort they put into the other relationships into a better sendoff to the big Han x Leia relationship we all cared about?

Speaking of Leia, two huge gripes. First, we never see hew do any generaling. I kind of liked the idea of switching her from politician to general, it’s a neat idea for a new Leia, but we were only told that she was a general, never shown.

As a matter of fact, Leia did almost nothing in this movie. She showed up after battles were won, spouted some exposition, and hugged people (Han, Rey). That’s it. She’s not the star, granted, but she could have easily been much better in the role she had, with just a few tweaks so she could show instead of tell.

Let’s pause for a moment. This is about the halfway point in this post, to which you might immediately (and rightfully) reply, “The halfway point? Damn Stephen, this shit is long.” Which, ya know, fair point. I have a lot more negative things to say about this movie than positive ones, which is an odd state of affairs when I claimed to have enjoyed it.

But I also enjoy cheap whiskey and pervy anime, and I read a damn lot of those Star Wars books when I was younger, most of which weren’t very good. Just because I recognize that something isn’t as good as it could have been doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. It just means it could have been better.

Back to it.

Another Damn Resistance

The factions in the original trilogy made sense: There’s an evil empire, and there’s a bunch of rebels. Even the prequels made sense—there’s the moribund Galactic Republic, and the morally questionable Separatists. In The Force Awakens, we have the empire revivalists of the First Order, the successors to the Rebel Alliance in the New Republic, and the Resistance.

Why the fuck are there three factions?

Especially since there doesn’t need to be. The New Republic and the Resistance are on the same side, and there’s no reason for the Resistance to be a separate entity. It’s like if WWII consisted of the Axis powers, the Allied powers, and … the other Allied powers, for some reason. There’s no reason for it. Even resistance movements like the French Resistance are on the Allied side. It needlessly muddles the waters.

Granted, there are reasons for Abrams and his crew to have done this. Most notably it keeps the protagonists’ side small and scrappy, instead of having the full might of the New Republic bearing down on the First Order. But without a good reason why the New Republic isn’t doing exactly that, it makes an entire faction of good guys look like they’re holding the idiot ball (trope), which is frustrating. Tension should not be artificially constructed. It should be a natural outgrowth of how the world is set up. Or at the very least, it should be explained.

This could have been fixed with one or two lines of dialogue. Maybe it was and I missed it. But it would have been better if they put serious thought into why the New Republic wasn’t laying the smack down on the First Order, and told us, instead of sidelining the most powerful political entity in the galaxy when I’m pretty sure the New Republic would be concerned about a bunch of Empire revivalists gaining strength. Especially when they have a planet destroying superweapon that’s torching their planets. I feel like they’d get a little touchy about that.

Captain Phasma

I get what Abrams was trying to do with Captain Phasma. Finn needed a superior officer for a few lines of dialogue, so why not take a crack at making the next cool Boba Fett-type character? Her costume is instantly iconic, her attitude is cool (she actually acted more like Darth Vader than Kylo Ren did), and even though I’m almost thirty years old, I still want an action figure of her.

The problem is that her role within the film is so minimal that she doesn’t need a name. She doesn’t need to be iconic. Slap the cape on her to signify that she’s his superior officer, and that would be enough. She actually distracted from the plot by being more clearly interesting than all the other stormtrooper mooks, even though it never went anywhere.

That doesn’t mean that all tertiary and below characters should be boring. All the henchmen in the original Die Hard are noted and praised for having a quirk or two, which made the whole movie more interesting. The problem with Phasma is that she’s so clearly there to build her up for later movies, even though she hardly fits in the movie she’s in so far.

But if that were all, I wouldn’t bring it up. And the fact that she’s a woman adds in an interesting note of subtext, in that the First Order appears to be more accepting of women than the Empire they so venerate. Is that a change in doctrine because that’s what they believe, or because they can no longer afford to dismiss half of the (human only) population they could be drawing troops from? Interesting thoughts.

No, the problem with Phasma is how she shuts down Starkiller Base’s shields rather than, I don’t know, dying for her empire or calling other stormtroopers or locking the terminal down or literally anything else. In her shiny boots, I would have told them to fuck off, and to kill me if they wanted—and for someone who seems so loyal to the First Order, I expected her to do exactly that. This was another instance of lazy scriptwriting, where they got backed into a corner with the whole shield thing and thought, “How can we get those shields down?” And I agree that it’s better to use an established character than make up a new mechanic or something, if only it didn’t undermine what we knew of her.

Billions Died, No One Cared

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” -Joseph Stalin

Turns out, Uncle Joe’s famous saying is as true for fiction as it is, tragically, in geopolitics.

Here’s the dirty truth about humanity: We don’t really care about other people. Not in the abstract, not deep down, not in the same visceral way we care about saving just one person, or one family. We have trouble conceptualizing numbers over a certain limit, and the limit’s small—if you get to a few hundred dead, you’re already going to have to use comparisons to fit the victims in people’s minds. Some of us push ourselves to care anyway, because we’ve decided it’s right, which is great—but it’s all an effort, whereas it doesn’t take any thought to not want someone you know to die.

That’s why, when Starkiller Base blew up all those random planets, no one much batted an eye. My reaction was “Why do all those planets look like they’re so close together?”, not anything to do with all the lives being snuffed out. It establishes the stakes, but we don’t care about the stakes until they impact characters we care about, which undercuts the menace the scene was supposed to convey.

This problem is fixable. In fact, the first Star Wars showed how to do it: Give the audience someone who does care to care through. In Episode IV, it was Princess Leia who served this role, as we cared about Alderaan’s destruction not because we gave a flying fuck about Alderaan, but because Leia cared. It’s the same reason we didn’t want Minas Tirith to fall—Faramir and Eowyn were there. Though Minas Tirith points to another way to draw us in: Let us see the place, so we feel as if we know it, and want to see it survive on the strength of its own character. Places like Ankh-Morpork of Discworld and Hogwarts of Harry Potter would qualify for that.

Episode VII did none of this. All those planets just exploded, and no one cared. Some people assumed the planet with all the cities was Coruscant, though apparently it wasn’t? That such a big detail wasn’t addressed says that maybe that whole plot point wasn’t that strong.

Let’s Talk About Lightsabers

I’m going to repeat what everybody else has said about Kylo Ren’s lightsaber: Its design is dumb. I went looking for more information on it, and according to Wookieepedia, apparently the lateral extensions are not crossguards, but actually exhaust ports to discharge excess heat from the unstable weapon. Which, er … okay?

If they wanted to convey that it was an unstable weapon, there are other ways they could have done it, such as keeping the vents but making them only discharge heat periodically, so Kylo could use it with all the skill and flexibility of a normal lightsaber, just so long as he let it vent every so often. Because when everybody misunderstands what you were trying to do, you probably screwed it up, and those vents/crossguards would make it a lot harder for Kylo to maneuver his lightsaber without lopping off his own wrists, Force or not.

Then there’s Anakin/Luke’s old lightsaber. Wasn’t it lost in Cloud City? Which is an issue that annoyed others far more than it did me. I read the EU, after all. Luke’s old lightsaber (and his lost hand) reappeared there as well. (There was this clone, a blue-skinned admiral, a Force-sensitive assassin, it was this whole big thing.) But we could have used a throwaway line to explain how it was retrieved, if only so those people who were bothered by it could stop thinking about it.

Bigger for me was how Finn managed to hold Kylo Ren off for any amount of time. I still slightly hope he’s Force-sensitive, if only to make that scene make more sense. And perhaps this is my EU prejudice talking again, but a lightsaber consists of a weightless blade that can lop off limbs on contact—I feel like Force-sensitivity is a good prerequisite for fighting with the thing! But Finn held off Kylo Ren for a while, when Kylo should have been powerful enough to, even with his injuries—though it’s good that he had those, otherwise there’s no way this flies—easily out maneuver Finn and bisect him from crotch to throat with swordplay alone. Kylo Ren is trained in how to fight with a lightsaber, after all. Don’t underestimate experience.

All The Eggs In One Basket

Tying in with the “Hyperspace, the Passage of Time, and the Size of the Galaxy” section above, I feel like The Force Awakens underestimates how big the universe is, and what that should mean for the story. Take Luke training another set of Jedi. In the original trilogy, I never bought that all the Jedi were wiped out—and lo and behold, at least two masters (Obi-Wan and Yoda) showed up. Add in all the EU ones that popped up throughout the various books, and it looks like what would have happened, happened—the purge got a lot of ’em, but some slipped through.

Even the prequel was better here. There were a damn lot of Jedi, because of course there would be—though even then, a council of ten for all the Jedi in the galaxy seems small, and we didn’t see as many as we perhaps should. (Remember, Earth today has seven billion people. Even if Force-sensitives were a fraction of a percent, there would be a lot of them—and it appears to be both hereditary and dominant, so there would be more, because vows of celibacy are so well upheld and all.) But there were a lot, and since we humans aren’t very good at visualizing large numbers, that’s enough.

But here, Luke trains one set of Jedi, and they all get killed by a rogue disciple (again? Le sigh…), and then Luke runs away. First of all, kinda lame, Luke—that’s why tweets like this ring so true. Maybe try again, you crybaby?

But that aside, it understates the size of the galaxy. With no empire actively suppressing them, Luke should be able to train up a few Jedi, and then send them out to train other Jedi. Even if a few turn evil and go on killing rampages, there should be Jedi all over the place. Millions of them, even billions. But there aren’t. Even Luke’s example alone ought to be sufficient to spawn Jedi all over the place, yet he’s seemingly the only one still after thirty years.

With the Empire suppressing information about the Jedi, it made a certain amount of sense (though people shouldn’t have forgotten so quickly). Without that, it beggars the imagination.

Poe Got Screwed In The Lead-up

Am I the only one who thinks Poe Dameron got seriously screwed in the pre-movie promotion machine? He’s one of the first characters we see, and it’s his actions that keep the map out of the enemy’s hands (not to mention introduces Finn to Rey, leading to the rest of the plot), and he was on no posters, no promotional material, nothing. I don’t know if that’s the treatment Han got in the lead-up to A New Hope, but since that movie wasn’t a guaranteed smash hit like this one, it’s a bit strange that Poe got shafted so badly.

Though I’ll grant that there’s a good reason for it—after the opening stages of the story, Poe doesn’t do a whole lot. Oh, sure, he flies like a badass and helps take down the Starkiller Base, but he’s mostly an ascended Wedge Antilles—which, for the record, I friggin’ love. Some of my favorite EU books were Wedge books. A majority of them, actually. There’s something about a badass normal who not only manages to survive two Death Star runs and decades of the most harrowing flying against the biggest monsters the galaxy has to offer, but thrives in it. If Poe is anything like EU Wedge, bring him on.

So it’s unfortunate that the aerial battle against Starkiller Base was almost entirely disconnected from the battles on the surface involving Han, Rey, Finn, Chewie, and Kylo. They were fighting for stakes we cared about—redemption, revenge, getting out with their skin intact. Personal stakes. Poe was fighting for abstract stakes, to save faceless millions, which while cool and all, rings hollow when we didn’t care about all those billions that died last time. And sure, Leia was on one of the targeted planets, but it’s not the first time she’s been on a planet targeted by a planet buster. It’s getting to be routine at this point.

I went off on a tangent there. The point is that Poe was under promoted and underutilized, considering he stole every scene he was in.

Finn’s Coma

Finn’s coma (or was it just normal unconsciousness?) at the end was largely pointless. About the most I can guess is that they’re hoping to use him as a fish out of water again, when he wakes up for the next movie and asks what the hell is going on. Or to keep him from going with Rey to see Luke, but a simple injury that left him conscious could have done the same. And it cheated us out of something potentially great—seeing how Rey would treat Finn after everything happened, and how Finn would react to it. I would have liked to see that far more than the sleeping beauty kiss.

Rey Skywalker

This is what I said when I was leaving the theater: If Rey ends up being Luke’s daughter, I’m gonna be pissed. Apparently, I’m not the only one (here’s one example, you can find others).

The problem with Rey being a Skywalker (or a Solo, though I doubt that) is that it takes away the aspirational nature of her character. Luke had this, because originally we neither knew nor suspected that he was Darth Vader’s son—he was just the nephew of some moisture farmers from Tatooine. He started out as a nobody, and though it later became clear that he actually wasn’t a nobody, that revelation let viewers imagine that maybe we too are actually someone special, and that we just don’t know it yet.

That trick could work again, if we weren’t primed to suspect it. And because we are, and because it would be the second time this has happened, Rey being Luke’s child would strip her of her aspirational nature and make the stewardship of the Force “The Divine Right of Skywalkers,” as the article I linked before suggests. If you ain’t a Skywalker, get the fuck out, basically—when, if she’s a nobody who just happens to be powerful in the Force, our children can continue dreaming. Anyone could be a Jedi, anyone could be a hero! (Just as Finn seems to be a nobody who just happened to resist the First Order’s brainwashing better than most.) That would be a much better story than another Skywalker.

Plus, it’d mean that Luke is a pretty shitty father for abandoning his daughter on a desert planet, in addition to being a shitty leader of the New Jedi Order. Not a great look for the former hero.

R2’s Convenient Nap

This is just lazy-ass storytelling. R2-D2 is right there, sitting in Leia’s base, but he’s asleep, because it wouldn’t be convenient for him to be awake until the big climax is taken care of. It’s especially egregious because it’s unnecessary—BB-8 could have had the entire map, it could have just encoded or damaged, and they needed to use a key or a repair tool (plus a certain amount of time) to read the thing. That’s still convenient, yes, but less obnoxious than what we got. And it could have also allowed for why the First Order didn’t backup the data and figure out where Luke was from that, instead of the usual trope.

There were other issues I didn’t touch on, such as the times when there were awkward silences when mostly people would have said something, the end scene between Luke and Rey being the biggest example. But I’ve nitpicked a lot, and going any further would entail nitpicking even more.

Now that I’ve discussed what Star Wars: The Force Awakens does right and wrong, let’s finish this off with the final accounting. At least, the final accounting until the other two movies are out.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    Regarding the Rey is a Mary Sue thing, I also felt she was a bit too good at too many things. However it’s worth noting that she usually masters things very quickly… after initially messing up. See her extremely clumsy initial handling of the Falcon, her forgetting to take the safety off the blaster, and her first attempt to use a Jedi mind track. She also seems to feel a need to prove herself and finds well meaning offers of help condescending. Her combination of immense power and her need to prove herself are actually a pretty dangerous combination. This way lies the Dark Side…

    For my part, I think The Force Awakens was rather messy compared to A New Hope. Granted the first Star Wars film was something of a mess before the editors (including Lucas’ then wife) worked their magic on it. I’m not sure how much editing could have helped The Force Awakens though. It’s supposed to be about finding Luke Skywalker, but then it gets sidetracked with Starkiller Base and we barely see Luke.

    (To be fair, the opening crawl made a big deal out of the search for Luke. It never promised we’d see much of him in the film. My expectation that Luke would play a major role in the film himself was based on “Luke Skywalker thirty years later” apparently being what made JJ Abrams overcome his initial reluctance to take the project.)

    I also personally wasn’t a big fan of Kylo Ren’s storyline. I’m fine with the actions of the original cast not solving all the galaxy’s problems. But Han and Leia’s son taking a piss on everything they fought for with little apparent reason didn’t sit very well with me. Some people have suggested that Kylo Ren is going to do redemption without the easy “redemption equals death” approach that was taken with Vader, but as interesting as that route might be, I’m not overly keen on seeing the redemption of a guy who ordered a bunch of innocent villagers slaughtered just to prove how ruthless and hardcore he was.

    BTW, we’re probably kind of used to Leia not being much of a Jedi because of the EU, but there’s arguably a bit of a missed opportunity there too.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      You’re right, Rey does fail at things … but she also gets radically better in a short period of time. Which is as much the format’s fault as anything else. How are you supposed to show how difficult it is to learn all of this when you only have a couple of hours of runtime and she’s supposed to fight a sith (or whatever the bad jedi are calling themselves now) by the end of the movie? Tall order. It probably means they shouldn’t have required the lightsaber duel, but probably they thought that was table stakes by this point in the franchise.

      It was definitely messier than A New Hope. Definitely. It also has to balance more with the old cast showing up, but still. They coulda done something. It’s messy.

      Agreed on Leia. I didn’t really think about it until you mentioned it. Leia entering that battle with a lightsaber would have been AWESOME, even if she didn’t go full fight scene and just used her lightsaber (or some Force powers) to defend her troops. That would have been really cool, and showed her actually doing some active generaling. You’re right; a missed opportunity.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *