The Guild Awakens (Part One)

Hey y’all, we’re back, hopefully for good. My apologies for the long hiatus, but it’s been an interesting five months, what with graduate school and all. So, I figure that I should reintroduce this thing with a bang.

So, as we all know, the long-awaited Star Wars sequel came out recently, and has elicited much comment from all and sundry, some of which has been utterly pretentious, some of it hopelessly biased, and some of it relatively sane. I hope this discussion will be the third. We shall see. There will also be multiple parts to it, because I have a lot to say about this movie.

Since it has been over a month since this movie came out, spoilers will abound. You have been warned.

We’ll start this off with discussing the plot of the movie, mostly because I’d rather get the parts I find kind of obnoxious out of the way first, and focus on the good bits later.

The fact is that one of the criticisms of this movie which is eminently fair is that it seems like too much of a retread of A New Hope. Desert planet? Check. Scrappy youngster? Check. Giant superweapon? Check. Poorly defended weak spot? Check. Dead mentor figure? Check. Trench run? Check.

While I find this to be a bit obnoxious, these did not kill my enjoyment of the movie for several reasons. First, originality is overrated, and it should be pointed out that the deservedly-reviled prequels were much different from the originals. Second, playing it safe is underrated–to put it bluntly, you need audience members in order to keep getting movie contracts. Third, there seemed to be a kind of rightness to the cyclical nature of the threat here, an expression of time as a wagon wheel, not a spinning wheel or a line. Maybe I’m overthinking this a bit.

Also, there are several rather large plot holes in this movie, primarily centered around the Starkiller Base. First, why would you hollow out a planet in order to make a superweapon? Just build another Death Star, it’ll be cheaper and take less time than drilling what looked like a ten mile-diameter hole through thousands of kilometers of rock, never mind the thousand mile-diameter spherical chamber where the planetary core used to be. Good night. Snoke should not be nearly so cavalier at the end of the movie when the base explodes. That thing probably consumed the lion’s share of the First Order’s resources for years just to construct, never mind the time and effort expended on figuring out how to split the beam of solar energy into five parts or the people and ships stationed on it.

Second, why does no one seem to know about this? Again, you’re hollowing out a planet and firing a star out of it, the resource and research expenditures couldn’t help but be noticeable. Aren’t there any spies for the Resistance in the First Order?

Third and finally, why isn’t there a regiment of stormtroopers garrisoned right on top of the thermal oscillator thingamabobber? That seems like something you should perhaps protect from infiltration.

Anyway, enough about the Starkiller. We also have the questions of how Anakin’s lightsaber was recovered from Bespin, why the New Republic isn’t kicking the First Order around like a soccer ball instead of bankrolling a scrappy band of volunteers, and why Luke flipped out and left instead of trying to fix what went wrong–including, say, killing Kylo Ren. While there are numerous explanations–respectively, the Force, war weariness, and the fact that Ren is Luke’s sister’s and best friend’s son–getting an in-movie explanation for any of this would have been really wonderful. (Although, in fairness, these might be answered in the next movie.)

Leaving aside, of course, the question of just how Po got off of Jakku. My guess is that he hired a smuggler, but it would have been nice to get an explanation for that. (Although at least we got how he survived the crash–the same way Finn did.)

Which brings up the question of why a sanitation engineer was conditioned to kill from a young age and was taken along on the obligatory war crime scene mission. While there is some precedent for this–the old Marine Corps dicta of “Every Marine a rifleman”–even the Marines don’t believe in “Every Marine an infantryman.” I’ve heard good explanations for this, mind, but they require a knowledge of military bureaucracy that is not generally possessed among Hollywood writers.

All of my complaining aside, the fact is that this movie makes much more sense than Episode I (what did the Trade Federation hope to gain by that blockade, exactly?) and almost as much sense as Episode IV (why not do orbital bombardment with Star Destroyers–or, for that matter, mount engines on asteroids and crash them into planets at relativistic speeds?) We have compelling A and B plots–the search for Luke and the Starkiller base, the first of which the audience is invested in because of Luke, and the Starkiller base because we are invested in the universe. We also have multiple subplots going on in this movie–Rey and Finn’s character arcs and relationship arc (which is not necessarily a romantic one), Po and his droid, Han Solo and Leia’s falling out and getting back together, Kylo Ren and his inner turmoil–some of which are more compelling than others, admittedly, but they’re enough to give this movie a recognizably human dimension in addition to the grand spectacle.

However, let’s face it, plot has never really been Star Wars’ strong suit. For that, you have to go to the characters, which have always been where the franchise rises or falls–if you don’t believe me, compare Obi-Wan, Padme, and Anakin in Attack of the Clones to the same characters in Revenge of the Sith. That’s what the next post is going to be about, and if you were put off by the negative tone of this section, the next one will be much more positive.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

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