Monday, April 18, 2016

Putting The J In SW

If you haven't seen The Force Awakens yet there will be spoilers in this post.

I mentioned previously that I was concerned about how Disney would handle Star Wars. I finally watched it last week and I'm not thrilled with it at all. I'll explore why below the fold, and part of it does have to do with the culture war. It'll be lengthy and there will be hard core geekery involved, so you've been warned. With any luck I'll get back to my irregularly scheduled posting on more familiar topics, but for now here are my thoughts on this new Star Wars:

Some background will be necessary before I delve into the matter at hand.

Lucas developed a canon system for the Star Wars universe. It was problematic in that Lucas set it up as a petulant child would. To write an "official" star wars story (which was said to be in the "Expanded Universe") you had to get approval from Lucasfilm. Lucas made clear that certain subjects were off limits, such as Yoda's origin story, and no one but Lucas himself could kill off any of the main characters. Lucas would occasionally take things from the Expanded Universe and use it in his films (the name of the planet Coruscant for example, was first mentioned in an EU novel and Lucas later used it in a film).

If you're thinking that's not such a bad system you'd be right if that's all there was to it. It'd be reasonable to assume that since Lucasfilm authorized each novel, game, etc. then the stories would be respected and Lucas would respect the work of the other authors. But Lucas is not reasonable.

The system though was flawed in that Lucas could change anything he wanted to, because it was his story. So now and then something that had been taken as canon in the EU had to be retconned because Lucas contradicted this in the films. Boba Fett's backstory comes to mind; it was established in quite a few EU novels but Lucas tossed that away and did something completely different in the prequals.

Basically Lucas wanted the money from licensing new Star Wars novels but didn't want to be bound to any of the stories that he didn't write himself. Which is about the way a typical spoiled self-absorbed 8 year old would do things. If he wanted to retain complete creative control he should have not approved anything he didn't want to be stuck with. Since he was more than happy to take the money then he should have stuck with what the other authors laid out. Instead he took the money and disregarded anything he didn't like.

Now, to be clear I wasn't crazy about the EU. I read a lot of it and aside from a few authors most of the writing was less than stellar. The treatment of the main characters was not to my liking; for example Luke was handled as if he was some pseudo-Buddhist monk which isn't quite what I saw from him in the films. The overall situation in the galaxy after the destruction of the second death star was a bit silly to me, with a strained credulity replacing what I thought would be the logical progression of events from that point. When folks would ask me if the EU novels were any good I'd tell them it was junk food for the mind; something to munch on but not really that satisfying. There are some other problems which I'll touch on later as they weren't confined to the EU writers.

It wasn't all bad. The short story collections (Tales from the Empire, Tales from the New Republic, etc...) were actually well written. The Han Solo Trilogy (by A.C. Crispin) is a good read with a believable and interesting origin story for Han Solo. The Thrawn Trilogy (by Timothy Zahn) and Shadows of the Empire (by Steve Perry - the writer, not the singer) come to mind as decent reading.

All of this is meant to explain that while I'm unhappy with the way Lucas treated the EU I'm not insisting that the EU be taken as gospel.

Disney has made all of this academic though. The Imperial Senate EU will no longer be any concern to us. Lucasfilm has re-branded any and all EU works prior to April of 2014 as Star Wars Legends and will have no canon status. Anything after April of 2014 in any media will be considered canon. The last remnants of the Old Republic EU have been swept away.

While I approve of the notion that any and all licensed works should be canon, I'm trepidatious about the way Disney did things, and is doing things.

I watched the newest Star Wars flick last week. Why last week? That's a fair question, since everyone except Disney knows that May is the proper month for watching a new Star Wars release. I waited until it came out on DVD because I couldn't find any theaters close by that didn't discriminate against gun owners.

To start off, The Force Awakens was a big disappointment. I joked about finding out what color Pinnochio's nosesaber was gonna be, or that there was actually a Darth Jiminy. By about halfway through I would've been relieved to see a nosesaber or a Dark Cricket of the Sith.

"But it was a fun ride!' is what I hear most often in defense of TFA. So often, in fact that I'm starting to think either Jedi mind tricks are real and I'm immune, or a whole bunch of folks believe they're real but don't realize that I'm immune. I have a motorcycle and mountains less than 20 minutes away if I want my ride to be fun. I watch (or read) Star Wars stuff for the story.

The screen play was done by Lawrence Kasden and J.J. Abrams. The novelization was written by Allen Dean Foster, who also penned the novelization of Star Wars IV: A New Hope. and wrote the infamous Splinter of the Mind's Eye, which was written before it was revealed that Luke and Leia were siblings. I'll leave it at that.

Kasden scripted The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. So you'd think he'd know how to write a film. But conversely, he also wrote Return of the Jedi, so he's not perfect.

Abrams. I have problems with Abrams. To go back a ways I'm not at all happy with how he surgically altered Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. Khan was a Sikh, and that played heavily into his identity as a character. The actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, gave a fine performance, but he shouldn't have been cast (or the antagonist shouldn't have been Khan). Here's where evidence of the culture war starts to creep in; in response to criticism of a caucasian actor being cast as Khan, co-producer and co-screenwriter Roberto Orci stated, "Basically, as we went through the casting process and we began honing in on the themes of the movie, it became uncomfortable for me to support demonizing anyone of color, particularly any one of Middle Eastern descent or anyone evoking that. One of the points of the movie is that we must be careful about the villain within US, not some other race."

Race based casting can be appropriate in some circumstances. For example no matter how fine an actor Alec Guinness was, he wouldn't have been believable in the role of Malcolm X. Morgan Freeman would have a difficult time portraying George W. Bush. (Though I can see treatments of stories where those two examples would be acceptable and possibly quite good). So I'm not opposed to the notion of race having some effect on casting decisions, just as I'm not opposed to nationality being a consideration (I cite Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent in Mary Poppins as proof that this is sometimes necessary).

But to purposefully make a villain of a certain race, or to not make a villain of a certain race, is deplorable. In the original stories, comprising TV shows, movies and novels, Khan Noonien Singh was a Sikh from North India. That does not mean all folks from the north of India are ready to destroy you and themselves while quoting Melville. That means Khan happened to be a Sikh from North India.

I bring all this up to establish that social justice sensitivities, as well as a penchant for re-using formula within a franchise, are recurring problems with Hollywood in general and Abrams in particular.

On to The Force Awakens:

I'm on the fence concerning the characters of Rey and Finn. I can't be sure, having only seen the respective actress and actor in this film (and one really needs to see an actor or actress playing a few different roles before their talent can be ascertained) but I do think the performances were decent. Finn's dialogue, and possibly the direction of Rey was questionable in spots.

Rey's mysterious abilities in the Force sans training are out of step with everything that's been mentioned about the Force before. Her success in pulling off a mind-trick (albeit on the 3rd attempt), her ability to Force-pull a lightsaber, and her beating an accomplished Force user in a lightsaber duel are unprecedented within the franchise. The previous canon spanned about 66 years. The EU spanned about 37,000 years. It's true that previous canon, save the films, was discarded by Disney, but it's gonna take some 'splaining to justify Rey being seemingly more adept than anyone in the Skywalker clan.

Poe. I was cool with him until the one scene where he single handedly wiped out 10 tie fighters in about as many seconds, and in his spare time strafed some stormtroopers mid-dog fight.  That just strained believe-ability for me, even in a sci-fi setting.

Kylo Ren/Ben Solo was pitiable. The most prominent antagonist in a sci-fi flick should not be an emo ninja turtle. As far as costuming he'd be more believable in a Cold Steel parody video. And let's not even discuss the most impractical lightsaber of all time. A Sith wannabe that trashes presumably important equipment during temper tantrums isn't a villain I can take all that seriously. There's already a parody twitter account for Emo Kylo Ren. When I think of him being Han's son, I just envision a Hut demanding "Bring me Solo, and the wussy!"

The new Force powers seemed contrived. Reading minds? "Freezing" people? Stopping a blaster bolt mid air? Those things just seem a tad fantastical in this setting.

General Hux, Supreme Leader Snoke, Captain Phasma? On multiple levels I was underwhelmed.

Oh and Snoke; he's an alien. I don't mean undocumented, I mean not human. One of the center points of the Galactic Empire, from which the First Order sprang, was its xenophobia. Non-humans were certainly welcome in the Empire - after all, that spice wasn't gonna mine itself!

Maz Kanata seemed like an intriguing character, as did BB-8. 

If this film wouldn't have involved Han, Leia, Luke or anyone directly related to them it'd have been okay. But they did include them. Badly.

Han was written as a grouchy old con man, not a smuggler. The interaction between Han and Leia lacked any spark, or almost any warmth. The plot-line regarding Luke just wasn't logical to me. A single Sith wipes out his current crop of students and he goes into hiding for years?

Han's death was just awful. It was obvious for a while prior that it was gonna happen, and how it happened just lacked any sense of style. It utterly failed to create the drama that it was intended to create.

Harrison Ford had argued for decades that Han should be killed off. If I recall he wanted it to happen in the first film. Definitely by the third he was urging Lucas to give Solo the axe. So I can see that as a condition of him being in TFA, along with his considerable salary, was that Han had to die. Abrams went along, thinking that some major character had to die anyway to give the film "gravitas"! (Because Formula Trumps Plot!) And I could see how it could have worked for the movie. But it didn't work the way Abrams did it. Han Solo was punked, not by his son, but by the director and screenwriter.

Chewbacca. Oh, Chewbacca. A Wookie that swore a life-debt to someone, palled around with said someone for 40+ years and then witness him being murdered wouldn't just howl in rage, take a pot-shot and go on with his life. It'd have been more in character to see Chewie leap from the upper level and proceed to literally tear Han's murderer limb-from-limb or die in the attempt.

Upon returning after Han's murder, Chewie wouldn't have just strolled past Leia, nor would Leia have let him. Unless of course you have no idea who the characters are that you're writing the script for.

And as a pointed aside, if I was traipsing around the galaxy with someone, getting in firefights and other such misadventures,  I'm pretty damn sure I wouldn't wait 4+ decades before saying "Hey, that's a neat looking bowcaster. mind if I try it out?". You could just chalk that up to another gimmick that didn't work, but I see it as yet more proof that the writers didn't understand the characters, or the technology, let alone how to use either in a film.

R2-D2 and C3P0? Abrams did what I thought no one else could ever do - he made them boring

The dialogue was clumsy in spots, and a bit too trendy/current to be appropriate. I half expected one scene to go like this:

Finn: Hey, Rey. You're a pilot. You can fly anywhere; why go back? You got a family? Got a boyfriend? Cute boyfriend?
Rey: Because reasons.

I'm not exaggerating much. Some of the dialogue could have been seamlessly inserted into most any late 90's early 00 sitcom. And it strikes me as wrong to have any character in Star wars exclaim "Oi! Get Off Him!". In Crocodile Dundee 4, yes. In Star Wars, no.

The battle sequences were less realistic than I'd have liked. By that I mean the participants acted nothing like I'd have expected from actual sapient beings engaged in such conflicts.

Cannons that fire self guided projectiles are not cannons; they're missile batteries or missile launchers. Someone should make a note of that lest the same error be repeated in future films.

Speaking of ordnance, why didn't the X-wings use proton torpedoes on their assault on Starkiller base?

John Williams (not to be confused with the guitarist, who is also extremely talented) is a wonderful composer. But there were only two pieces from his score that I find memorable; Rey's Theme and March of the Resistance.

I don't fault Williams; in order to have a grand piece of music you kinda need a grand story (or at least a story). This lacked the latter so it's remarkable that there were even two pieces that I thought worth mentioning.

At Maz's cantina - a reggae band? I half expected to see a dread locked Twi'lek rockin' the ganj. I like reggae. I played in reggae bands. Star Wars is another galaxy, and as such should have music quite a bit different than what you'd find in a tourist trap in the Keys. Williams wanted no part of writing the music for the cantina scene (again). So Abrams himself, along with Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) wrote the tunes for that part. I sincerely hope they don't include those tunes on the soundtrack album. Not that they were bad in and of themselves, just too Terran for the room.

The biggest problem I had was the plot. Or lack thereof. Of all the sins and transgressions Lucas was most certainly guilty of, he at least put together a decent overall story. Even the prequels as badly written as they were, told a very interesting story about two people falling in love amidst turbulent times and the choices they made. Take away the bad acting and script writing and Jar-Jar, and it's actually a captivating tale. 

But TFA doesn't have a story. It has formula. It re-hashes most of A New Hope and some of The Empire Strikes Back and tosses in impressive visuals, a cute droid and hamhanded catch phrases. Oh, and we mustn't forget the Disney penchant for featuring characters that are orphans who overcome adversity. In this one they doubled down on that theme. This wasn't a movie. It was a 2 hour plus commercial for a line of toys.

If someone would have told me that the Galactic Empire had become the First Order, headed by Supreme Leader Snoke, whose dark Jedi enforcer was the leader of the Knights of Ren, and they were fighting the RESISTANCE (caps oddly in opening screen crawl), headed by General Leia because the New Republic was otherwise busy and Luke Skywalker had taken a sabbatical, I'd have just assumed you were trolling me. Unless of course you were a third grader, in which case I'd have thought it a decent effort at sci-fi writing for a 10 year old.

Something else was being marketed as well, something I found disturbing.

Through the movie in her absence Rey was referred to (with one exception) as "the girl". I don't think this was accidental. Here's a panel discussion about the importance of Rey's character to feminists.

I don't object to the character of Rey. I didn't object to Leia or Padme, both of whom were not mere damsels in distress. (Although I'm not happy with the way Leia's story seems to have played out in TFA - I expected the daughter of Anakin Skywalker to have a more obvious Jedi persona than just feeling events through the Force). If Rey becomes a central character, or the central character I could be cool with that.

But when you set out to put a certain type of character in; in other words if it has to be a woman or it has to be a black person or it has to be a white person because social justice then you lose me. If it's central to the story that a character be of a certain sex or race or nationality or species then it's cool. But seeing as how TFA lacked a story I'm leaning towards the characters being written for reasons of sensitivity or trendy-ness rather than anything legitimate.

I don't object to Finn being black. Neither did I object to Lando being black in a time when some folks actually did raise their eyebrows at that. I don't object to the possibly romantic undertones betwixt Rey and Finn, just like I didn't object to Lando flirting with Leia.

In short I don't have any problems with the race or sex of anyone that's been cast so far. But in movies (with certain exceptions) as in politics as in damn near everything else that doesn't specifically require a certain race or sex, it's not cool to say that "this role has to be filled by X because social justice/diversity".

In sci-fi in general and Star wars in particular, its just not edgy or trendy to have folks of a different skin color than Luke and Han and Leia. On Broadway it may be "diverse" to cast a black man as a traditionally white character, but in Star Wars they didn't trifle with skin tone - to show non-discrimination they put a fish headed alien in charge of the entire Rebel fleet!. Top that one.

Remember, in Star Wars, they didn't show characters as powerful women by becoming head of a company or overcoming a bad relationship; in Star Wars they showed how tough a female character was by having her swing and kick a Nexu into submission or use her own chains to strangle a Hut!

And before anyone brings up transexuals, may I point out that it'd seem tame compared to an actual changeling.

So folks raving about how "diverse" or "empowering" the new Star Wars is for minorities kinda missed the whole point these past 39 years, and weren't paying attention to sci-fi in general for at least the past 60 years.

Another thing that disturbs me. The treatment of Anakin's/Luke's old lightsaber. Maz tells Rey that " calls to you". No where in the Star Wars franchise do I recall a fetish-ization of objects. But they seem to be well on the road to doing that here. What'll be worse is if it's revealed that Rey didn't Force-pull the lightsaber to her (in a later scene); that it flew to her of its own accord.

Now this would seem suiting in another franchise, but I never recalled Yoda saying "The lightsaber, chooses the Jedi, it does". Lightsabers are typically built by Jedi as a test of skill, upon or prior to their ascension from padawan to knight. It's possible that Abrams was just so lazy that in his mad rush to steal from previous films he accidentally lifted that bit from Harry Potter confusing wands with lightsabers. But I have another theory.

Progressives, both of the culture and political ideology, tend to fetishize objects, or project that onto others. Hence all the talk about "gun violence" and the underlying notion that it's the gun's fault, not the person's. We've seen it often; "murdered with guns", "the gun went off", etc. and of course the still prevalent cries that the deodand be destroyed. So it's not a stretch to see them doing this with lightsabers.

The progressive culture and the progressive ideology are separate, but related. In both there are two central tenants which are antithetical to my culture. These two tenants can explain much about how progressives act and think and try to influence the world around them. They are A: a top-down social structure and B: focused on the collective as opposed to the individual.

With those things in mind it's not necessary to construct an elaborate conspiracy theory to explain why some things occur. It's simply part of a culture or ideology they either grew up in or otherwise embraced.

For example, Abrams was born in NYC and raised in L.A. Kasdan is an outlier, being born in Miami and raised in West Virginia. Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm and producer of TFA, was born in Berkley. I can't find where Bryan Burk (one of the producers) was born, but he attended USC's school of cinema, so I assume he's Californian. Foster (who wrote the novelization) although presently residing in Arizona was born in NYC and attended UCLA.

I'd think it's safe to say that the vast majority of folks involved in creating TFA are part of the progressive culture if not political ideology. In fact, Abrams and Kennedy are part of Bloomberg's Everytown Creative Counsel. In case you've been lucky enough to not hear about it, that's the group that Julianne Moore is putting together to push for more gunowner control laws instead of something useful.

Michael Arndt was born in Virginia, though his family traveled around as his dad worked for the Foreign Service. But despite Arndt being an award winning screen writer, he was pulled off the project before the final draft was written.

From what I understand (with a little guess work tossed in) Arndt was dismissed because his ideas clashed with Abrams' and perhaps Kennedy's. He wanted the new film to be more focused on the new characters, with the old characters (Luke, Leia and Han) to be more in the background. Disney had already set a timeline and Abrams wanted to get that pesky formality of a script out of the way so he could start working with the arts department to set up his action shots. Arndt was interested in making a good story, and that would have taken too much time when a story wasn't at all necessary for the feature length marketing visuals that Disney et al were salivating over.

Shame, as I think Arndt would have delivered a better screenplay. Hell, I could have delivered a better screenplay. Drunk. With a loud death metal band playing in the foreground as I tried to write left handed with my fingers duct taped together.

I have no idea if the reason for the creative differences involved Arndt's lack of progressive vision. Actually I only assume that Arndt isn't a progressive based on where he was born and I could very well be mistaken.

What I am sure of is that progressivism has reared its ugly head. This is not confined solely to the film either.

There's a media effort around TFA which includes tie-in novels (which will be considered canon). One of the most important is a series of books that explains what happened between RotJ and TFA. The series is being written by Chuck Wendig and is called Star Wars: Aftermath.

I've never read anything by Wendig except the preview pages of this SW book on Amazon. A big deal is being made about the "backlash" concerning his character choice. "...a mom, a gay dude, a lady bounty hunter..." are how the author describes his protagonists. As I mentioned I haven't read the book yet. I have seen a few pages of it and the writing is absolutely atrocious. I pride myself on being able to read anything but this will be a challenge.

S.M. Stirling has a great story idea in his Emberverse series. The plot direction was a bit different than I would have preferred, as was the character development, but I would have kept reading it if not for the writing. I got 2 books in and threw in the towel solely because of ambiguous sentence structure. There was a bunch of subject confusion in the way he wrote sentences, so that it seemed like once every few pages I was having to re-read a sentence to know which noun the verb applied to. In the end it became too aggravating and I gave up on the series.

Wendig's writing is far, far worse. Short, choppy sentences, or sentence fragments, coupled with an incredibly annoying overuse of hyphens makes any point he is trying to convey just about not worth the price of dragging it out of his phrasing.

I'm thinking the plethora of 1 star reviews on Amazon would be there for that alone. (As of this writing, over on Amazon it has a 2.6 star rating after 2,088 reviews, with 37% 1 star ratings. Add the 18% that's just 2 stars and you have a majority of folks that definitely don't like the book.) Most of the comments I've glanced at confirm this; they're complaining about his writing as well as the flatness of the characters and a few other things. I'm not seeing complaints about the romantic leanings of the characters (though I admit I haven't read all 2,000+ comments).

Wendig is a Social Justice Warrior. Not just a SJW but a puppy kicker (referring to opponents of the Sad Puppies campaign Also, see Nicki's archive of Sad Puppies related posts for more info on what transpired). Here's a nice summation of Wendig's progressive views and why they're less than cool. To see his perspective for yourself, here's Wendig's screeching about an alleged boycott of TFA.

Without having read anything else by Wendig I can't say for sure how he landed this project. If his writing was half as atrocious as the snippets I've read in this book, then I can only surmise that his political/sociological/ideological views are what got him the contract.

(The big defense of his writing, and indeed TFA, is that commercially they're successful. Wendig got onto a bunch of best-sellers lists with this book, and I'm sure everyone has heard how well TFA did at the box office. It's a new Star Wars movie and book tie-in. There's no way it couldn't have been successful. Half the movie could have been direct shots of characters on an etch-o-sketch and it'd have broken box office records. And, as seems to be the case here, the most atrocious writing would have been overlooked because of the "Star Wars" on the cover. So financial success isn't an indicator of quality in this instance, only the popularity of the franchise.)

Again, the problem I have is not the external make-up of a character, it's that some writers, of books and movies and other media, tend to create a story around some socially conscious trait of a character, rather than creating a story and then developing characters in such a way to facilitate the story. Hell, oft they completely forget to create a story, or bother to develop the character, thinking whatever trait is contained within makes said character and/or story complete.

I don't think that a bunch of progressive SJW's consciously decided to use Star Wars as a vehicle to spread their destructive concepts. It just tends to happen like that. For progressives, especially the SJW type, that flawed view of the world is all they have.

The focus within their culture on the collective makes group identity real damned important, so much so that they tend to ignore other things, like character, or character development, or plot-lines, or a friggin' story.

In TFA the characters didn't really grow much; they were just there. Rey, arguably the main protagonist of the film, didn't have much of a back story explained, nor did she develop in any conventional way. She just suddenly had the ability to pilot starships (in the book Star Wars: Before The Awakening it's mentioned that she spent a lot of time on flight simulators, but if you didn't read the book targeted at 8 to 12 year olds you'd be ignorant of that seemingly important point). She all of a sudden could pull off a Jedi mind-trick. Oh, that lightsaber fighting thing? She could always do that - after all, you never saw her practice or receive instruction did you?

Finn. After decades of mind programming (read: brainwashing) he suddenly decides he's not gonna do the bad guys dirty work anymore. Then with no real explanation, after attempting to abandon his friends once before, he decides to lie his way into a mission onto an enemy held planet to save Rey.

At this point I'd not be surprised if in Star Wars VII the whole film revolved around Poe and Finn explaining that they're a couple and Rey explaining how being asexual makes her empowered and Chewbacca explaining how he never felt like a Wookie which is why he's having surgery to become a Twi'lek. No plot, no lead in, just a few action scenes interspersed around the dialogue of how they feel about their non-cis-ness.

And none of that would bother me terribly much if they just included a damned story. Just a story - that's all I'm asking.

(Although as an aside there's one compelling reason not to introduce homosexuality into the SW universe - Wookies. I know I sure as hell wouldn't like to be just chillin in the cantina, listening to some mediocre space-reggae when Chewbacca tosses back one too many, decides he wants a little sum'n-sum'n, and realizes I'm within paw's reach.)

TFA was written and directed and produced by people that just don't understand people. Groups, perhaps. Individuals? Nope. So it's not a shock that they so badly mishandled the interactions, which also makes it no surprise that they flubbed the plot. See, it takes individuals to make a coherent collective. That's one thing progressives don't understand. They think if they want the group to do better then they must forget the individual and focus on the group. But doing that screws up the group. Instead if you focus on the individual that will help improve whatever group they belong to.

Progressives, especially in Hollywood just don't seem to understand people. As another example, take the story of The Great Flood as told in the book of Genesis. It's not that difficult a story to tell and most folks in the Judaeo-Christian world know it. But if you make it into an "environmentally conscious" flick that transforms the protagonist into a misanthropic Earth First/infanticidal maniac don't come crying to me about how religious films never make any money. (That flick actually did make money, but was heavily criticized for its treatment of the characters, especially Noah himself)

They didn't seem to understand the technology involved either. Their treatment of vehicles and weapons weren't plausible from my understanding of how those things worked in universe.

So as not to be just another rant I do have some ideas about how this movie could have been better. I could probably figure out a way to extricate this mess into some cohesion for the next movie, but I'd charge them an arm and a leg for that, and they still owe me $25 for this damned DVD they claim is a film!

But instead of what transpired in TFA, imagine this:

After RotJ, the Empire didn't just collapse. It continued to fight, albeit as a remnant of its former self. The Alliance to Restore the Republic (i.e. the Rebellion) succeeded in restoring the Republic, albeit in a smaller form with a slightly different system of government; one with more of a federalist approach to things. Individual systems and/or planets retained a higher degree of autonomy. As such once the remnant of the Empire was fought to containment, interest in annihilating them waned. Leia saw the danger of complacency but couldn't persuade the senate to act. A tentative truce begun.

30 years past RotJ Leia is still monitoring the Empire's remnants for signs of aggression from a planet just beyond the New Republic's borders, with a division of volunteers and a small fleet. Spies, working for her, unveiled a plot for the Empire's remnant to attack the New Republic. This information was passed on to a courier (Poe) on the planet Jakku. Before he could leave the planet was attacked by a small contingent of stormtroopers. The militia in this settlement was able to repel the invaders but Poe's ship was damaged in the attack. As he worked to repair his ship a 2nd wave of stormtroopers invaded, this time overwhelming the militia. The courier and the droid escape on foot as the settlement is destroyed and the villagers are imprisoned, with the children being separated from their parents.

The courier and the droid bump into a scavenger (Rey) and are given aid as stormtroopers pursue them. The courier asks the scavenger to look after the droid until he returns, and then leads the pursuers in a different direction so that the scavenger and droid can escape. The courier is captured.

 The courier is taken aboard the star destroyer orbiting the planet and interrogated, first by imperial officers and probe droids, but when that proves fruitless a masked inquisitor, powerful in the dark side of the force arrives.The inquisitor succeeds in finding out some unknown information was given to a droid, but the courier passes out before much more is discovered. A search for the droid is ordered.

A stormtrooper (Finn), having become morally disgusted by the enslavement committed on Jaku, frees the courier and escapes with him in a small shuttle craft. The craft is damaged and the two are separated after they crash land while evading stormtroopers. Finn bumps into Rey and the droid and they proceed to flee more stormtroopers, this time escaping in an old freighter they stumble on to (the Millennium Falcon).

After they leave orbit and make a short hyperspace jump, they're pulled out of hyperspace and captured by another freighter, piloted by Han Solo. Solo agrees to help them but explains that they're caught in a gravity well trap, which keeps them from jumping to lightspeed and they must first disable the projectors (which he was about to do when he stumbled onto the Falcon, which had been missing for about 2 years) and hopefully flee the system before whomever set the trap arrived.

They manage to destroy the gravity well projector a few minutes after the Star Destroyer arrives. The Freighter takes heavy damage and is on the verge of breaking up. Solo and company board the Falcon and jump to lightspeed directly from the hanger of the freighter as the Imperials destroy the freighter, causing them to think they've destroyed Solo and his crew.

Luke is in the midst of a lesson with the 2nd generation of Jedi he's training. He pauses, feeling a disturbance in the Force. He recovers, concludes the lesson, and announces he'll be leaving for a bit as something urgent has come up, asking an older student to take over the lessons until he returns. 

In a village on a jungle world, an Ithorian Jedi ignites a lightsaber, scanning around for an unseen danger. A hooded figure emerges from the shadows. A crimson blade flares to life as it attacks. Tree limbs, leaves, household debris are hurled at the Ithorian as he attempts to fend off his attacker. As a large container strikes him from behind, the Ithorian Jedi is cut down. A company of stormtroopers appears at the edge of the jungle and the dark figure tells one that the village may be surrounded. It then shows the villagers being rounded up, the children separated and the adults shackled.

 The Falcon emerges from lightspeed above Takodona. Han explains they need repair parts to complete their journey to deliver the droid. They meet Maz who agrees to help them, with the caveat that it'll take a little time to acquire all the parts needed. while waiting Rey stumbles into a cellar in Maz's castle where she has a vision of her past, and scenes of her future involving a hooded figure with a short red lightsaber and a miniature whirlwind of debris surrounding him. Scared, she runs into the forest after a brief chat with Maz about not needing to return to Jakku and learning the ways of the Force from Luke. 

As Han and Chewie are installing the parts, the Empire's remnant attacks Takodona. The mercenaries in Maz's bar put up a fight, stalling the stormtroopers long enough for the Falcon to get airborne, but Rey and BB-8 are missing. han and Chewie search and find them, just as they're confronted by stormtroopers and a hooded figure with a short red ligthsaber, who takes a special interest in her. As they seem near defeat Luke arrives, battling the hooded figure (who whips out a longer red lightsaber) to a stalemate, jumping on board the open ramp of the Falcon as they all make their escape, dropping Luke back at his X-wing as they leave the system together.

They reach Leia as she is training a group of young children. Her tech team starts to decipher the data BB-8 carries. She mentions hearing of Han's freighters demise, but knew he was safe. Luke mentions the disturbance to Leia. She acknowledges she felt it too, though not as strongly. More subtle, twisting, like an echo. The techs decipher the information. A meeting is held where it's revealed the remnants of the Empire have a small force of dark Jedi. They're raiding settlements on planets, taking force sensitive children to train, holding parents hostage to ensure compliance, and forcing the parents either into slavery, or to do the Empire's bidding as spies and saboteurs. Their plan is to plant their unwilling agents on New Republic worlds, some acting subtly (sowing doubt as to the need for defensive forces), some more overtly (sabotaging defenses, suicide bombing, etc), to prep each world for an invasion. A handful of non-Republic planets have fallen already using these methods.

Luke realizes the danger of his fledgling Jedi corps to be outnumbered by these children trained as dark jedi. He, Maz and Leia discuss the implications and what's to be done. Han offers Rey a job. She declines. BB-8 is reunited with Poe, as he briefly explains how he escaped to Finn. Finn is debriefed, then detained until Leia chats with him, assuring her security chief that Finn's not a spy. The security chief, a changeling, begrudgingly accepts her judgement and gives Finn an i.d. badge. Luke talks with Rey, sensing great power in her. She says she's overwhelmed with all the recent events. Luke teaches her how to meditate, clearing her mind, feeling the Force. She then agrees to become a Jedi.

After Leia consults with her New Republic contacts, it's agreed that small groups of advisors, preferably containing Jedi will visit as many planets as possible, warning of the specific danger to the children and setting up defenses at each location. An Imperial remnant fleet attacks, having traced an unknown-to-him tracking device planted in Finn. The security chief discovers this and almost executes Finn before Leia intervenes. A medical droid removes the implant and Finn is released. Luke and Poe respectively lead squadrons to stave off the Imperials while the base is evacuated. Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Rey, Finn, R2 and 3P0 escape on the Falcon. Rey feels a dark presence, the same that almost captured her on Takodona, searching for her. Leia comforts her and helps mask her presence in the Force as they enter hyperspace. Leia teaches her a little more about the Force as they travel. 

They all rendezvous in a distant system. On board a Mon Calamari cruiser they revise their plans slightly, split up into small teams and head out. Han, Leia and Chewie on the Falcon, Luke and Rey in a small freighter that conceals half a dozen X wings, Finn and Poe and a Bothan Jedi in a similar freighter, Maz and Mon Calamari Jedi plus a small crew in another freighter. Several other small craft with Jedi of various species. As Luke walks back from checking on the freighter's pilot he asks Rey if she's ready to continue her lessons. She nods and he activates a remote as she puts on a helmet with a blast shield and ignites her blue lightsaber. The first few shots sting her legs and arms, but under Luke's guidance she blocks the next four in a row. The credits roll

That would have been doable in the same time frame as TFA was and presumably for about the same budget. It would have pointed in a direction, but not necessarily to a resolution of the plot, for the next film, perhaps the entire trilogy. It would have provided more plausible explanations for events and characters, with a lot left open to explore. I think getting into Han and Leia's (or Lukes for that matter) children going to the dark side is a mistake, but it even leaves that possibility open.

If scripted right (which is a real big if in Hollywood) and shot right, I think the above would have been at minimum as good and in all likelihood much better than TFA as it was done. And that was just loosely following their notions but with a little more emphasis on having a story. For roughly the same amount of money they could have had a much better story and made just as much at the box office.

So I don't buy any arguments about TFA being the best that could be done.

But it's too late now. I think I could pull the mess that is TFA out of the fire (for a real damn large fee, just caused they pissed me off) so I'd hope that an actual professional would be able to do the same. My fear is that an even more progressive minded team will tackle the next films, making the same mistakes this last team did.

I do have some ideas about what could be done to mitigate the damage in the future though:

First of all, If Kennedy is to be retained (or even if she's not but firing her should be on the table) hire both a staff sergeant and a gunnery sergeant from the Marine Corps. Give them each veto power over any scene that involves any sort of a battle, especially small unit engagements. Sound military tactics won't change if you transition from firearms to blasters. Hiring a Naval surface warfare officer and NCO would be a good idea to get straight how a military space ship would be organized and used. Also, hire a redneck with similar veto powers concerning any scenes involving conflict, argument or moderate to heavy drinking. In fact hire three rednecks - it's not like we're over-represented in Hollywood to begin with.

Secondly, fire anyone who talks about his or her "artistic vision". The idea is to retain people who will focus on the story, not what they think will get them an award or praise from their preferred clique.

Thirdly, any author that prides himself on "diversity" should have their contracts cancelled immediately.

Fourth, don't threaten to sue fans for putting together fan oriented events that make the franchise more fun for fans. Fire anyone that suggests doing so.  Better yet, make them wear a sign that says "I have a catblade up my butt" for a week, then fire them.

Fifth, any executive that suggest a month other than May for a Star Wars film release should be ignored, if not defenestrated.

To sum up an overly long post, I didn't like TFA as much as I should have because in large part progressives did what progressives tend to do and just didn't produce a good story. It didn't have to be that way, and there's still a chance to change things for the better, but that'll be difficult with progressives dominating the industry.

As limited as my time is to write, there's a reason why I spent so much time penning this critique of Star Wars in its new iteration. I grew up with Star Wars. As a kid I saw it during its first run in the theaters. Saw the movies, read the books, and generally was entertained when I could immerse myself in that world. I liked the story, despite any complaints about how Lucas handled things (and those complaints were legion). I grew up with it and to some extent I've been growing old with it. I never went to conventions or dressed up as characters from the films (though I did have most of the toys as a kid) but I have shelves full of the books, of the movies, and the video games. I saw 2 sets of trilogies in the theater, when I don't think I've seen a complete trilogy from any other franchise except on DVD. I was a fan, perhaps not hardcore but consistent. So I'm jotting down my thoughts on this to express how I think and feel now that I've seen the direction Star Wars is headed in. It can all be summed up in a single hyphenated sentence:

J.J. Abrams finally accomplished what George Lucas threatened to do for the last 4 films - he fucked up Star Wars for me.

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