sniffnoy: (Chu-Chu Zig)
[personal profile] sniffnoy
So, I basically stopped really caring about Star Wars a while back, but Noelle organized an expedition to see The Force Awakens today, so I went and saw it. It was OK? There were substantial parts that didn't make a lot of sense, or at least weren't sufficiently clarified, so I'm basically going to complain about it here.

1. What exactly is the status of the New Republic and the First Order? I went in assuming that (as in the old Expanded Universe) the New Republic had basically taken over either all of the old Empire, or at least most of it except for a small Empire rump state. The opening crawl, however, spoke of a "resistance" against the First Order -- OK, so I guess the First Order is an actual state, and a powerful one? And the rest of the movie mostly treats it like that?

So I mean, there's a few confusing things here. If it's an actual government, why does it call itself the "First Order"? That sounds, y'know, like, well, an order, such as a military order, or a religious order -- well, OK, not a religious order, definitely a military order. I was definitely confused at several points watching this whether the First Order actually held and governed any territory, or whether they were just a bunch of marauders trying to recreate the old empire.

Second of all, where's the New Republic? Later things in the movie suggested that the New Republic has not gone and replaced the Empire but in fact only holds a few planets. If this is true, couldn't we have been told this at any earlier point? That's pretty unexpected. But OK, so the New Republic is around. So the situation is one of two warring states -- the New Republic and the First Order? With the First Order more powerful, I guess? (How did that happen?) As I've said, I was definitely confused as to which ones were actually states, which ones were just roving warbands, and how they stacked up against each other.

But anyway yeah, if the New Republic is there, why is all the focus on this Resistance? Rather than, y'know, open warfare between the Republic and the First Order. Apparently the New Republic has decided instead to just fund and support a resistance group inside the First Order, but I don't understand how the two sides aren't at open war which would be a bigger deal.

2. You can't just brush over the destruction of the Hosnian system like that! I mean... holy shit, that thing just destroyed, what, five planets? I mean, let's compare this to the original Star Wars. There the Death Star was used to destroy Alderaan, and it was a big freaking deal. This was an unprecedented atrocity. I mean, in the real world, an atom bomb can wipe out a city, this is a hell of a lot bigger than that. Now, OK, Star Wars, and science fiction in general, is frequently not very good about scale; "planets" tend to be quite small. Nonetheless, the original Star Wars did acknowledge that yeah, this was a true atrocity. Consider the exchange between Leia and Tarkin:

Tarkin: Since you are reluctant to provide us with the location of the Rebel base, I have chosen to test this station's destructive power on your home planet of Alderaan.
Leia: [shocked] No! Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons. You can't possibly–
Tarkin: You would prefer another target? A military target?! Then name the system!

...emphasizing that yeah, the Empire is willing to kill a planet's worth of civilians just to get what it wants. (Or just to demonstrate its capabilities, as ends up happening when Tarkin destroys Alderaan anyway.) And it's a "great disturbance in the Force", let's not forget that bit.

I mean, yeah, Star Wars underplays just how big an atrocity this would be, realistically speaking, but that's a little hard to convey, I think what it does at least deserves credit.

Now we contrast The Force Awakens. Here, the First Order destroys, what, five planets? I don't know if it's actually five, but it's multiple. And it's just kind of brushed over as yeah, another bad thing that they did. No acknowledgement that this is an amazingly horrible thing at all. Hell, barely even any acknowledgement that it's a terrible thing for the New Republic, even though this presumably took out basically the entire government; the New Republic should be in chaos after this, yet no mention is made of this. Does the New Republic even still exist as a political entity after this? Who knows! This one attack potentially reshaped the whole fucking political landscape of the galaxy, ending the war in a single blow, and nobody's talking about whether it did or not.

Which leads me to a tangential point. Starkiller Base was somehow kept secret? I mean, c'mon. In the original, not everybody knew about the Death Star, or its full capabilities, but at least the rebels knew it existed -- I mean, a project of that scale would be a bit hard to hide. Sure, scoring the plans was a big coup for them, but finding out that it existed wasn't the hard part. Here, apparently Starkiller Base was just totally unknown until it was used. (Because again, if the New Republic knew about this at all, which they should have, they would be at open war with the First Order.)

Which leads me to another tangential point that ties back into #1 -- the First Order has the resources to build such a thing? That's way more power than I would expect of them. (Not to mention to develop the technology in the first place...)

3. Why does everyone care so much about finding Luke Skywalker? I mean, yeah, OK, he's a big deal, but surely he's not going to turn the tide of the war (or resistance, or whatever; see #1 again) all by himself. He's not Fox McCloud. I mean it makes sense why Han and Leia (and later Rey) would care so much, but not so much why the Resistance aside from them would. (I suppose we can justify the First Order obsessing over him as being due to more of a desire to exterminate the Jedi than due to war-related goals.) "Find Luke Skywalker" is the driving force for so much of the story, but I don't understand why that's something worth doing. And where the hell did this map come from, anyway? I mean somebody had to make this map, right? Maps to Luke Skywalker don't just appear out of nowhere.

EDIT: Struck that last bit as not really essential.

On that note, what was up with R2-D2's sudden awakening at the end? In that it seemed to have no cause within the story. It seemed to be a "because the plot requires it" sort of thing.

...OK. I'm done complaining for now. There's more I could say but I think that would be picking nits. The original left a lot unexplained too, after all, and wasn't really the worse for it. These are just the things I think need explaining or fixing.


Date: 2015-12-22 06:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So... here's the thing. All these same thoughts occurred to me when I was watching the movie -- the political context is underdeveloped and vague -- but the more I thought about it, the more that seemed a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. Yeah, I have no idea what the guiding principles of the "Resistance" and "First Order" are -- I have no idea why the previously victorious Rebel Alliance is now a Resistance against the First Order (which somehow became an existential threat to pretty much everyone). A lot must have happened to get to that point in the last 30 years.

The creators, however, aren't dumb, and surely understood that all this raised more questions than they answered, and more likely just wanted to re-create the *feel* of Episode 4, which was similarly underdeveloped in all the same ways. (Watching Episode 4 in isolation, all we really know is Empire Bad, Rebellion good, farm boy rediscovers an ancient religion against a scary guy, etc.).

I also think it's likely that the creators originally intended to put in more backstory for these things, but wanted to make as clean a break from the prequels as possible -- for all the faults of the prequels (and I maintain that they aren't *quite* as bad as they're often maligned), they undeniably created far more context for the Galaxy Far Far Away than the original trilogy ever did.

For now, we're meant to be content with a story about the individuals, not the groups. Similarly, on re-watching the original trilogy recently, I was struck during Episode 5 how it seemed to focus far more on the struggles of the protagonists than the Alliance and Empire as a whole. Instead of seeing where the rebel fleet escapes from Hoth to, we see Han and Leia try to dodge Imperial ships in an asteroid field and then go to ground on Bespin and get captured, while Luke goes to Dagobah. I see Episode 7 as doing much the same thing, for better or worse -- what do Rey or Finn care about the Hosnian system, which barely existed in the first place as far as they knew?

Date: 2015-12-23 03:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So regarding the first part, I don't think it's really the same. Yes, the original Star Wars left a lot underdeveloped and vague, as you say. (As can often be seen by how much changed between the original intent and the later movies, e.g., is the Emperor the Big Bad controlling the Empire, or is he just a puppet of the military?) And The Force Awakens leaves a lot of the same things underdeveloped and vague. We don't really need to know the guiding principles of the First Order, just that they're the bad guys. All this is fine. But I continue to think that point #1 is a big problem. We don't need to necessarily know how the First Order got to where they are today, but I think we do have to have a clearer idea of just where that is. In the original Star Wars it was pretty simple: A small rebel group (OK, with some powerful supporters, but that's brushed over) against a gigantic Empire. A good underdog versus an evil upperdog. (Note how you left that implicit in your "Empire bad, Rebels good".) Here it's not clear who, if anyone, is the underdog or the upperdog.

(It's also interesting how the original movie included some hints that the Empire would necessarily collapse without the Death Star; obviously, they didn't go that direction in the sequels!)

Your third point is interesting, I don't really know what to make of it. Still, I really don't think brushing over the destruction of the Hosnian system like they did works. In the original movie the destruction of Alderaan was presented from Leia's point of view, and then sort of reiterated from the POV of Obi-Wan's group that was traveling there. Here we got the actual destruction purely from a villain's POV, with none of the good guys present, and then reiterated, well, insufficiently, as I've said above.

So here's the thing, then -- let's try looking at this not from the point of view where there's a fixed story and we're trying to best tell it, but the point of view where we're writing the story in the first place. Neither Rey nor Finn nor any other of the good guys is present for the Hosnian system's destruction. Neither Rey nor Finn (we will suppose) really cares that much about it. So then why include it? The destruction of Alderaan was integrated with the rest of the plot of Star Wars; the destruction of the Hosnian system is kind of decoupled from the rest of what is otherwise a tightly-plotted movie. I don't think it makes sense storytellingwise to include it if you can't treat it properly.

(Also, an unrelated point, but I think if the movie is supposed to be like the original Star Wars, it definitely suffers for a lack of a good Tarkin analogue. :) General Hux is much less interesting. But I suppose they have to avoid making it too similar...)

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