The Force Awakens: And With It Some Problems
Thoughts first brought on by The Force Awakens are now congealed. Not into a gooey mess, but a some hopefully well-reasoned arguments as to why the films don’t work compared to their older counterparts.
Plenty of people have pointed out the structural issues regarding the two newest Star Wars movies - Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The colons may be extraneous. There’s a lot of good breakdowns on Youtube such as this one and this one.
I saw The Force Awakens in the cinema. Oddly I saw it with my wife, who is not a Star Wars fan and can’t admit to having ever seen the original trilogy all the way through. It’s something I will rectify as I finally uncovered my DVD box set of both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. I have now also purchased the new film on Blu-Ray.
So this will be a household suffused with the Force. Our daughter will grow up watching The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Hopefully they’ll bring the latter back to Netflix Nordic. She is a future Jedi.
So with that in mind, here are my problems with The Force Awakens.
The original and prequel films all had a sense of time. Things progressed over an indiscernible amount of time in each movie, so that viewers never quite knew how many hours or days had passed in the Star Wars universe from the beginning of the film till the end. But there was a perception that it was by no means quick. Probably the fastest film overall was The Phantom Menace.
Luke’s transition from farm boy to hero of the Alliance didn’t occur overnight, even if A New Hope only clocks in at two hours and five minutes. Every movement between scenes be it from the Lars family farm to the Dune Sea to Mos Eisley and then to Alderaan and the Death Star took time. It felt weighty, and that Luke had time to bond with everyone as a result. The same is true of the trip to Yavin IV. It had to have taken time, else how would Luke magically be assigned the call name Red 5?
The movement of characters and situations took time. This was never more apparent than when anyone traveled through hyperspace. It wasn’t an immediate warp, otherwise Han would never have been able to leave the cockpit. The Empire Strikes Back Really emphasizes this with the amount of time it takes everyone in the Millennium Falcon to get from the Hoth system to Bespin. All the while Luke trains.
Hyperspace is in effect a faster way to travel between star systems, but it is by no means instantaneous. Traveling across the galaxy still takes time. The old expanded universe made this very apparent throughout the books, with characters some times on board for weeks at a time while they went around the galaxy.
Whereas in The Force Awakens hyperspace is simply a holding zone. Black squadron, led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), is hiding in hyperspace waiting for the signal to attack Starkiller base. This was never how it worked in any of the other Star Wars movies. The attack on the second Death Star was done without knowing whether or not the shield protecting it had been brought down. So when the rebel fleet jumped into the system they add to scramble to deal with this news.
The fact Black Squadron is waiting to attack undermines the pacing of the film. They’re trying for a sense of urgency but the fact is that there’s no threat to anyone under the current circumstances. And the only way this is regained is the countdown to the recharge of Starkiller base and Black Squadron’s inability to penetrate the base’s defenses.
Large, overwrought weapons have always been the folly of the Emperor and the Empire in Star Wars. For Rogue One, the inclusion and focus on the Death Star makes sense. The very fact that A New Hope begins with Princess Leia attempting to get the Death Star plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi ties in nicely with the story of Rogue One.
The Force Awakens suffers the same folly of the Empire by insisting on a super weapon. Props to them for converting a planet or moon into a death machine, I imagine recycling the ore they dug out saved some on the transportation and disposal costs. But what’s the necessity in such a weapon? If The First Order, aka the former Empire, is seeking to regain dominance of the galaxy is the concentration of their time, energy and resources (recycled or otherwise) on the construction of a singular weapon the smartest move?
It smacks of the creators trying elicit the awe of the original trilogy without comprehending what provided that. The Death Star was certainly striking, but there was something practical about its construction that Starkiller Base failed to have.
More than that, the way Starkiller Base worked was absurd, and yes I realize this is a fictional universe. I can accept lightsabers and the Death Star laser converging and then shooting out to destroy a planet. And there’s a variety of energy weapons and defenses found throughout the movies, TV shows, comics and books. But the fact that Starkiller Base fired a hyperlight weapon that traveled between star systems really irked me, and that’s something I’ll get into more detail in a bit.
But the real problem with another super weapon is the need for it to be bigger and badder than previous ones. Not only was it larger than the second Death Star, but it could destroy more planets in a single shot. Plus it ate a star. So badass… Except it’s not. It screams of desperation on the part of the filmmakers because they were unable to come up with a reasonable threat.
Starkiller Base’s super weapon distorts the entirety of the Star Wars universe, and this plays into the problem with time mentioned early. To emphasize that the hyperlight weapon has been fired and destroyed planets in other systems the creators show us this. They show us from a number of perspectives. We see it Starkiller Base, from Kylo Ren’s ship, from the Resistance headquarters and of course from one of the planets being destroyed.
The greatest offender in this case is seeing it from the Resistance headquarters. All because we can see it from the planet, the weapon’s discharge can be seen across time and space as if it’s happening just a matter of miles away rather than in another section of the galaxy. Not just that, but the five planets destroyed by The First Order are all shown in the same shot, implying they were in the same system.
If those planets were in the same system fine. But if they weren’t then JJ Abrams and crew have really warped the perspective of how big the Star Wars galaxy is. And done so for the worse. Part of the beauty of Star Wars has been this huge universe to explore. It’s big not just in history and complexity but size. There are thousands of systems to explore and yet The Force Awakens shrinks that to just a few.
I know there’s a limit to what’s possible in a film, but we’re shown maps of the galaxy a couple of times in the movie in an effort to show the scale of the world at play. Yet that’s undermined by the aforementioned displays of time and distance. What’s more the way the maps are displayed with a dotted line for the path to Luke Skywalker really does make sense for traveling about hyperspace and the galaxy.
It only works if it’s a record of Luke’s path or it’s a prescribed hyperspace route. But we’re never told which if either it is. Then there’s the fact that a part of the map is missing. If the galaxy is meant to be old and inhabited then tell us why there’s parts of it that aren’t on the map.
I know from reading the books that there’s parts of the galaxy that are unknown to the Empire, the Republic and others. Those places are known as Unknown Space. But none of that makes sense as in the end of The Empire Strikes Back the rebel fleet is clearly seen well outside the galaxy. So why is this suddenly an issue in The Force Awakens?
The Good Bits
The Force Awakens is still a Star Wars film and that’s why it’s worth watching. The new characters are great and I look forward to seeing how they develop. So I’m in… but I always was.