We stopped sleeping on The Force Awakens and went and saw it finally. It took us a while to get out to the cinema on account of all the Grand Theft Auto V we were playing.
A friend recently posted a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of “As I get older, the biggest lie I tell myself is I don’t have to write it down because I’ll remember.”
Quite true, since as listeners will probably note there’s a lot of things we could’ve talked about regarding The Force Awakens but, well, we didn’t. I did however have a list of things I wanted to discuss but apparently my mental notes were erased once we hit the record button. I wasn’t even struggling to remember what I wanted to talk about, it was just poof, gone. Anyway, here are some of those things.
BB-8 is not Jar Jar Binks
When BB-8 made his first appearances in the trailers I was certainly one of the people who thought, I have a bad feeling about this. It struck me as the most improbable droid design and he seemed positioned to merely be overly cutesy comic relief. Perhaps he’d even provide Jar-Jar levels of tooth-grindingly hokey slapstick.
In the end it turns out he was comic relief, but in much the same manner as R2-D2 had been. In a way BB-8 is an improvement on R2 as his design allows him to actually keep up with his human counterparts in action sequences. That’s something they always had to fudge a little with R2. He’d be lagging behind in one shot and then suddenly he’d be caught up to the gang in the next. He could also traverse all manner of terrain his little wheels shouldn’t have been able to handle, like a forest floor and the loose sand of Tatooine’s dunes. BB-8 is more believable on most terrain (though Neil Degrasse Tyson disagrees).
Except for stairs. They even comically demonstrate BB’s problems with stairs in one scene, as he slowly crawls down into Maz Kanata’s bargain basement. Which I was happy to see since I’d been wondering about how he’d take on stairs since he first appeared on screen and assumed they’d just conveniently not show it. BB-8 did manage get down them, but slowly, Certainly this must be a huge problem for him and a massive design flaw by his makers. Or is architecture designed for accessibility more often in that galaxy than in ours? Only places like the Mos Eisley Cantina that don’t want droids don’t have ramps? It made me wonder why they don’t just give those droids the landspeeder hover technology. Sure, he’d end up basically being Vincent from The Black Hole, but Disney owns those rights anyway.
However, other than being cute, BB-8 pretty much lacks personality when compared with the Laurel and Hardy / Bert and Ernie snark of R2 and 3P0.
Kylo Ren is not Darth Vader
Lately I’ve seen a few memes that attempt to defend Kylo Ren’s supposed badassness. There seems to be a faction of devotees who really want him to be someone other than the character they saw on screen. They don’t want him to be the emotionally muddled and very human Ben* Solo but rather his one-dimensionally psychotic idol, Darth Vader. Wishing Kylo Ren to be more of a space-Nazgûl seems to me completely misses the point of his character. He has some strong hereditary Force power, sure, but he’s also incredibly unfocused and impatient.
On the podcast I claim that he turned to the Dark Side because he, like his uncle Luke, didn’t have the discipline to be a Jedi and was just kind of shitty at it. So he took the easy route and started indulging his fanboy cosplayer tendencies by creating a character who is essentially a corny parody of Vader. Ridiculous and, in Kylo’s case, completely pointless mask, a silly flaming broadsword and an odd penchant for capes. He’s just a little too cringingly pathetic to ever be truly badass—as is true for most villains and bullies. In the Potterverse, he’s the sort of disenfranchised adolescent who’d turn to the Death Eathers to make him feel like a man. Or, in our own world, he’d turn to DAESH. Not mythically evil, just a horribly misguided young man making poor life choices.
So Kylo Ren isn’t Darth Vader. But he is a lot like Anakin Skywalker from the Prequels—something I think his fans** might be in denial about.
Captain Phasma is Boba Fett
Kickass costume. Holds a blaster well. Essentially does nothing. Will probably get eaten by a large monster in Episode IX.
Jakku is Tatooine
Given all the other mash-ups and rehashing of elements from the Original Trilogy, why they hell aren’t the Jakku scenes set on Tatooine? Why are so many desert planets in this galaxy inhabited (by light skinned people) at all. Is it because the Empire and the First Order keep blowing up the habitable planets? But whatever the reason (it’s explained in various Force Awakens book and video game tie-ins apparently), why did they create a new desert planet that seems to be exactly like Tatooine in climate and society? Why not make this “Battle of Jakku” the “Battle of Tatooine”? There’d even be the nice continuity of that maybe the Millennium Falcon had been stolen or acquired by one of Jabba’s Hutt brethren. The whole set-up was a bit of a ham-fisted way for Rey and Han to meet up anyway, so why not? And instead of the sort of Jawa/Tusken Raiders mash-ups they had on Jakku, we could’ve had actual Jawas and Tusken Raiders. Given the films apparent mandate of nostalgia pandering, why pull that punch? I felt like Jakku was the weirdest choice they made in the film.
Snoke is not Palpatine
Mostly what I mean by “Snoke is not Palpatine” is “the name Snoke is not as good as the name Palpatine.” Snoke has got to be, by far, the dumbest name in Star Wars. Ever. Which is a god damn achievement. It sounds like the name of a Congressman from Delaware. Re-elect Gordon Snokes (R) in 2016! So, actually, the name Snoke is the weirdest choice they made.
J.J. is not George
Which is a good and a bad thing. Lucas was recently quoted criticizing the film’s creators for not being innovative enough and rehashing his ideas. Or, as one parody site put it, making a film that was both popular and enjoyable. The Force Awakens is no Episode 1. On the other hand, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens won’t be the innovative, game-changing juggernaut that George Lucas’ A New Hope was (read this defense of the man). Star Wars was actually the second time Lucas’ changed the game, having re-written the teen comedy template for the ’80s with American Graffiti. The same as Star Wars gave us Battlestar Gallactica, where would John Hughes and Cameron Crowe have been been without American Graffiti? That’s two films whose style affected almost everything we saw for a decade and beyond.
But though more of an innovator than Abrams, Lucas wasn’t wholly responsible for the triumph of those films either. Lest we forget, and most people have as pointed out by this NY Post piece, Marcia. When Episode 1 came out and people said, “How could the person who made A New Hope have made this piece of bantha poodoo?” My response was, “Because she didn’t,” and people said, “WTF you talkin’ about?” And we all chalked another one up to the patriarchy’s revisionist history.
The Force Awakens is not Star Trek
To me, and many others, the tone of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film was entirely wrong. It’s essentially the same bro-ish tone that’s used in The Force Awakens, but it’s a tone that more or less works in the Star Wars universe. While it seems everyone else is trying to nit-pick holes (and more holes) in The Force Awakens, I’m willing to more or less let it be what it is—a slightly ridiculous, action-packed buddy movie. That’s all a Star Wars film should be and that’s all it is.
Unlike an overblown, pretentious movie like Prometheus, finding fault in The Force Awakens provides little pleasure. I do wonder if I’ll enjoy The Force Awakens once it makes it to the small screen. Though I didn’t agree with the tone of Abrams’ Trek reboot, I did honestly enjoy it in the theatre. When I tried to watch it on DVD later, I had to turn it off—removed from the larger-than-life spectacle of a cinema screening, it was utterly unwatchable dreck. I was actually shocked at just how bad a film it is. Curious to see how The Force Awakens holds up in a few months time.
* Seems a little weird to me that Leia and Han named him after Obi-Wan. In A New Hope, you didn’t really get the impression Leia knew him personally so much as knew of him. And Han pretty much straight-up didn’t like or respect him in the two or three hours he knew the “old fossil”. It’d made sense for Luke to name his offspring Ben, but Leia? If Ben didn’t look so much like Han, I’d be tempted to suggest Luke and Leia’s incestual relationship didn’t end with that kiss in the Hoth infirmary.
** I don’t know if she’s a fan per se. But when Kylo removed his helmet in the Rey interogation scene, the pre-teen girl beside me gasped and said, “Ooooh, he’s so good looking!” I guess the Sorting Hat would put her in Slytherin.