Philosophers On Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

Philosophers On Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)


The latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, opened at the end of last week. It’s a fun movie. But is it more than just that? I asked a few philosophers who are Star Wars fans to write brief reviews of the movie for Daily Nous. Be warned, there are spoilers in these reviews.

I know what you’re thinking: “philosophers writing about Star Wars? Does it get any nerdier than that?” The answer is of course.

Thanks to these philosophers for contributing to this post:

Feel free to review their reviews or share your thoughts about the movie in the comments.

Did I mention there are spoilers?


Roy T. Cook — What Was Missing from Episode VII

Let me start with this: I absolutely loved The Force Awakens. It was almost everything I had hoped for: Sticks were slapped, swashes were buckled, and buckles were swashed. Scoundrels were scruffy looking, and nerfs were herded. Outer space was once more operatic. I even choked up a bit when Han … well, you know … and that hasn’t happened since I watched an Ewok vainly attempt to revive his injured buddy in Episode VI.

But as I left the theater I felt a slight disturbance in the Force. Like something important was missing.

Let’s begin with an obvious observation: stories are often – usually, in fact – about particular characters. Many characters appear in Blade Runner, but the film, as a whole, is Rick Deckard’s story. Likewise with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indy. We care about these stories in part because we care about, or are at least interested in, these characters, and we get excited when new chapters are added to the story because we want to learn more about these characters and their lives.

The Star Wars films are a bit tricky in this respect. Those of us old enough to have seen Han shoot first spent decades thinking that Star Wars was about Luke Skywalker and his Campbellian hero’s quest and, to a slightly lesser extent, about Han Solo’s transformation from criminal loner to heroic leader. In 1999, however, we found out that we had been misled: what we had seen was merely one part of a larger story that was really all about Anakin Skywalker’s descent into darkness and eventual redemption. This is not to say that Luke and Han didn’t play important roles in the final chapters of that story. But the films, viewed as a whole, tell Vader’s story, not theirs.

By the way, the reader interested in the various ways that fictions can conflict with larger fictions of which they are a part should consult the small but flourishing recent literature on the paradox of serial fiction. Interestingly, the literature on this phenomenon focuses on another aspect of Star Wars: whether it was fictionally true in 1977 that Vader was Luke’s father A New Hope.

The Vader-centric interpretation just discussed is not the only way to interpret who and what Star Wars is about, however. There is another character – a heroic character – who can be seen as the protagonist of the first six Star Wars films. In fact, he is the only character other than Vader who appears in all of the first six films: R2-D2. While C-3PO does “appear” in all six films, he receives a memory wipe between Episodes III and IV. Thus, it seems unlikely that this is the same character throughout, although one’s final view on the matter will depend on one’s views on personal identity. Similar considerations apply to Obi-wan Kenobi: he also appears in all six films, but as a force ghost in two of them.

Star Wars is about R2-D2. Most of the heroic deeds recounted in Star Wars are in fact Artoo’s doing: Amidala’s shield generator needs near impossible repairs? Artoo’s got it under control! Death Star plans need delivering? Artoo’s your droid! Buzz droids attacking your fighter? No problem, Artoo is on the case! Your hyperdrive’s been de-activated? Artoo will re-activate it! Need a lightsaber smuggled into a crimelord’s palace? Give it to Artoo!

Re-watch the scenes in A New Hope where Obi-Wan rescues Luke from the Tusken Raiders, takes him back to his hut, tells him a bunch of things whose truth is relative to one’s point of view, and finally gives him Vader’s lightsaber. Keep reminding yourself that R2-D2 knows about everything that happened in Episodes I, II, and III, and knows that Kenobi is feeding Luke a pile of Bantha poodoo about his father. Further, Obi-Wan knows that Artoo knows this. Yet not a peep, not a beep, out of Artoo. Obi-wan and Artoo go way, way back, and in this scene are conspiring together in order to motivate Luke to follow the ways of the Jedi.

Once you know to look for it, it becomes obvious that for most of the original trilogy and the prequels R2-D2 is the only one who has any clue about what is really going on, and he is also usually the only person who has any control over what is happening (exercise: watch the films, and count how many times Artoo saves the “heroes”, often unbeknownst to the “heroes” themselves).

But where is Artoo in Episode VII? He’s mostly not there. And when he is, he is completely out of character.

We don’t even see Artoo until about halfway through the movie. And even then he is rusting, leaning against the wall in a self-imposed “low power mode” coma. When BB-8 shows up, with the tiny scrap of map that everyone has been fighting over, does he re-activate and reveal that he had the other 99% of the map in is memory all along? Nope. When the First Order is about to blow up the Resistance base, does he leap into action, heroically saving everyone’s butts as usual? Nope. Instead, he only budges after the crisis has passed, and then for no apparent reason.

Actually, we need to be a bit more careful here. Rey’s presence – and her awakened Force abilities – may be what finally caused Artoo to share the map. The narrative does imply that Luke isn’t necessarily hiding at all, but rather waiting for Rey. But this fact doesn’t explain why Artoo didn’t do something about the impending Starkiller threat.

Now, it is very cool that the remote control R2-D2 model used in Episode VII was built by Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, two British replica-building hobbyists. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been possible if Artoo had a more prominent role. But it is telling that no one is listed as having actually played R2-D2 in the film. Towersey and Steeples are part of the art department, and the legendary Kenny Baker is credited as an “R2-D2 consultant”, since he never got inside the droid to perform. But given how little Artoo does in the film, this isn’t surprising: No actor needed to play Artoo in the film because he didn’t need any personality – just someone to drive him from one spot to another.

So, as much as I loved The Force Awakens, it nevertheless struck me as a bit like an action film where the action hero never shows up, and the other characters were left to stumble and bumble their way towards salvation. In fact, that’s exactly what it was like. Hopefully future installments in the franchise will treat the little astromech better.


Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker — The Force of Memory

The Force does, indeed, seem to be emerging and re-energizing as a power that actively guides galactic history in Episode VII.  Fresh-faced protagonist Rey is able to use to hold her own against Kylo Ren with Anakin Skywalker’s antique lightsaber; Ren himself is able to use it to not just torture, but interrogate his prisoners. With its help, he sees in the minds of others truths, not merely emotional states, as Vader and Luker were able to do.  Is Finn’s dramatic moral awakening a sign that he, too, has been touched by the Force? These new developments provide philosophers some new grist for the mill in thinking about the ontology and nature of the Force.

Yet Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Many of the themes, settings and action pieces of The Force Awakens will seem like a retread of A New Hope  and Empire Strikes Back, the most beloved of the previous six films among fans. The film is set in a galaxy far, far away that is familiar to the audience, and the return of old faces from the original trilogy is welcome. Yet on planets like Jakku and Takodana, nostalgia for the good old times of the Rebellion is noticeable by its absence: people have forgotten the Jedi, the Force, everything important. The impressive Rebel victory that rounded out the first trilogy now seems hollow and the First Order — Empire 2.0 — rules, while the masked Kylo Ren pledges to complete the work of Darth Vader.

It’s almost as if the freedom struggle that destroyed two Death Stars never happened. While thinkers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger claimed that to exist, we must forget, in Episode VII, the characters who are in control are the ones who have never forgotten, while the characters in whom the Force “awakens”—Rey and Finn—lack a Yoda or an Obi-wan to give their power direction. Hence the trajectory of future films, as new hope emerges from the struggle against the First Order for a renewed Jedi Order—if only the patriarchal Luke Skywalker can be found. As much as the Force binds the Star Wars universe together, so does family (as several chapters in our book, The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy, explain). Perhaps this helps explain why Star Wars appears to be a film treasure handed down from generation to generation, and will continue to be, as long as we continue to believe.


Lewis Gordon — On Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Daddy Issues Continued but….

The danger with entertainment is our tendency of forgetting what it is: entertainment.  As with dreams, where the imagination could play, wishes, desires, hopes, could make themselves manifest where we would otherwise prefer they remain hidden. Thus, the layers of hiddenness and revelation that unfold in this four decade’s romp we call Star Wars are so many that only few could be addressed in this forum.

Let me focus on the darkness of the Dark Father/Darth Vader whose hiddenness awaited confirmation as he was audio-visually “black” (through the voice of James Earl Jones), which made his unmasking (or is it unhelmeting?) such a disappointment of continued white revelation. Power, after all, is feared most as black and thus relieved of threat when the rather lipid and, unfortunately, redeemed father, was re-whitened. Such a disappointing fate for the greatest line, perhaps because of its psychoanalytical and theological significance, echoed across the reaches of cinema, mythic and historical: “I am your father….”

Freud, as we know, would have a proverbial field day, at least given his arguments in Moses and Monotheism.  Redemption could only be offered through a specific son’s willingness of taking on the sins of all the sons, symbolic and otherwise, for the death of the Dark Father, which makes the re-awakening a wonderful subversion of the original premise by making an ornamentally white warrior reveal a dark interior. The force, in this black storm trooper (Finn), speaks teasingly (great decoy of early footage of him holding a light saber) to larger forces at work (yes, pun intended) as the sins of the father, including Founding Fathers, come to bear on what they had suppressed across time in the white washing of history, mythic or otherwise. Perhaps in this awakening, Black Lives may matter a little more through at least one black life willing to walk under the light without white uniform and its uniformity.

Yet, what is going on here is more than a racial matter. The penchant for trinities, which the set up of this one promises for the overall portrait of nine episodes, raises the question of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Patriarchy, we should remember, is ultimately a conflict between fathers—in fact, The Father—and sons, in which Christianity offered some resolution in terms of a special son killing the father and taking on the sins for the deed. Women, in this portrait, suffer as collateral damage. Thus, the twists and turns offered here, where Han Solo (need we stress the contradiction of a man with the name “Solo” trying to raise a family?) faces erasure through the call of the Dark Father as the only father to whom homage must be paid. There is no way out, as Luke (whose name, after all, means “light”) is also a son, which continues the dramatic Father-Son patriarchal relationship. Resolution? While his sister Leia produced a son (Ben / Kylo Ren—his given name being redundant as “Ben” is Hebrew for “son”), Luke offers hope in terms of a daughter (Rey, whose name requires a slight change in spelling to become “ray,” as in “ray of light”), through whom a new relationship is raised: The Father-Daughter possibility. She disrupts this pathological Father-Son drama, and more: her heart reaches not for whiteness clothed in black but blackness once clothed in white but now, at least for a time, wearing the leather jacket signaling a bad Mutha…yes, watch your mouth.

All this may be too much for Geeks’ jouissance.  Some, as we know, protested the unholy of unholies of antiblack and sexist societies: hetero-normative love between a black man and a white woman.  Though tapping into the childish world of entertainment and play, this installment of the series, though retelling its humble beginnings on a desert planet, with all the biblical resonance with which we are familiar, offers more grown up reflection in a world that is willing to accept other species but shudder at the blackness within.

The star of this installment of Star Wars is Daisy Ridley (Rey) as far as I’m concerned. I look forward to seeing the extent to which her character may be able to disrupt The Force—including the Son-Father who is now training her—in this primordial battle between power that destroys and power through which life flourishes.


Kathryn Norlock — Survivors and Resisters

Ignore the reviews saying this is the best movie of the year. It is not, but if you want a great Star Wars movie in the tradition of the original, the makers of this movie have gone out of the way to try to give an updated version of it to you—very successfully, but sometimes dropping the references to the original as gently as anvils. You like cantina scenes? We can give you that. You like cute droids? We have one of those too! The updates are welcome, especially to my feminist friends; one of the central characters is a woman who demonstrates strength, resourcefulness, fighting skills and determination, in addition to the kindness requisite of truly good Star Wars characters. (Although I aspired to grow up and be just like Princess Leia, I preferred the Leia of Empire and Jedi who wore clothing suited to action, spent less time as girl-hostage, and more time using the blaster.) I was going to call the new strong female character a survivor, because her story is that of a hard-scrabble scavenger, but I should call her a resister instead. If there’s a philosophical angle in this movie, it is one akin to the original: There are survivors and there are resisters, and these are not always the same thing. Virtues of survival can include pragmatic sagacity, knowing when one is best off running, knowing the odds of a losing battle and taking those into account, knowing a good payday when one sees it. But the rebels in this movie have the same delicious stoicism of the rebels in the 1977 story. They have survived, each in their way, but rebels in Star Wars prefer resistance to survival, gambling that the good can only shine through the darkest characters with the help of others, believing that death is an acceptable cost of contributing to battle an oppressive Empire, and even in the face of temptation, holding fast to a view that moral goods are not for sale. It is a great Star Wars movie faithful to the feel of ’77, right down to enjoyable moments of laughter and some genuinely sad scenes.
The story is not always optimistic, and the undertone of a hopeless cause may be the best and most philosophical thing about the film. If you know you will not succeed, should you still bother trying to do the right thing? The Stoic and properly pessimistic and Star Wars answer is a cheerful Yes. And you should do the right thing, if at all possible, while flying an X-wing.

 


Daniel Silvermint — Choices and Commitments

This movie had me thinking a lot about choices and commitments. About facing things even when you know it’ll hurt. Near the end, two characters walk out onto a bridge, and what happens next is predictable. But not in a cheap, lazy writing kind of way. It’s predictable because it’s the inevitable result of who the two characters, in that moment, resolve to be.

Han has spent the last several years running away from his responsibilities. Even his participation in the final battle is reluctant. But when he sees his son on that bridge, he decides to stop running, to stop being the lucky scoundrel that can talk his way out of any situation. It’s time to keep his promise to Leia, and risk everything on even the smallest chance of reaching his son. Because that’s what partners and fathers do. The decision costs him, but he doesn’t show any regret, because he fully accepts the consequences of the role he’s chosen.

Ben/Kylo Ren has all the power on that bridge, but unlike Han, he has difficulty accepting where his choices are taking him. He speaks of the pain of uncertainty, of being continually torn between two paths, and what he seems to want more than anything is some kind of resolution. Any resolution, really. If he leaves with his father, the dueling temptations will always be there. But if he takes his father’s life, then he’ll cross a moral point of no return, and commit himself to every subsequent step along the path. When that lightsaber ignites, he’s resolving to just be Kylo Ren, because he imagines that a life without internal struggle will hurt less. He makes the wrong choice, of course, but his almost adaptive preference-like attempt to bind himself is very human.

While the bridge scene offers the starkest examples, the film is filled with moments where characters decide who they’ll be. Leia fights on, as she always does, but in a quiet moment admits that this is her own way of running. Stormtrooper FN-2187 (as much a victim of manipulation and apparent brainwashing as Kylo Ren) decides that he doesn’t want to be a killer, but soon realizes that he also can’t live with the responsibilities he flippantly undertook when he donned that Resistance jacket. Ultimately Finn resolves to be something simpler: Rey’s friend. My favorite character Rey, a gifted pilot and engineer, spends years choosing to stay on a junkyard planet that she easily could have escaped, because she’s choosing to be that same abandoned girl awaiting rescue. She rescues BB-8 instead, and when the full consequences of that decision are later revealed, she takes her cue from Han and runs away from who she truly is. She eventually embraces the Force, because the only way to fight back against her circumstances is to be a Jedi. She rescues herself long before the rest of the gang shows up. And in the final shot of the film, Luke, who has himself fled from his responsibilities, makes no move to accept his old lightsaber, or the frightened yet determined student that’s holding it outstretched to him. He also has a decision to make about who he’ll be.

In the Star Wars universe, deciding who you are often has both personal and galaxy-altering consequences. And that’s why these are great stories, even though they’re simple stories.

(Acknowledgment: this is all informed by a recent discussion I had with two geek buddies. I love them. They know.)


Eric Winsberg — Is This The Eternal Recurrence You Are Looking For?

What, if some day or night a Hollywood film studio were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This movie as you now see it and have seen it, you will have to see once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your movie will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this black mask and cape and this flight through the trenches of a planet destroying weapon, and secret plans hidden in a droid and Chewbacca himself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, movie ticket buyer!”Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the film producer who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to established franchises as to crave nothing more fervently than to watch the same damn movie over again but with weaker characters, darker lighting, and an elevator music version of a John Williams’ soundtrack?

That about sums the movie up, and I have to admit I’m a teeth gnasher.   If I really want to watch Star Wars over and over again, complete with a dark cloaked villain who strikes down his elder on a catwalk, a light saber being ripped from the snow by the force, a firefight against TIE fighters from the Millennium Falcon, a woman with knowledge of a secret location being interrogated in a small room, a trench run by X-wings trying to blow up a planet-destroying sphere, etc. , I know where to find the DVD.  Search your feelings young Padawan. You know it to be true.  And then I can have a genuinely terrifying villain played by James Earl Jones instead of Lena Dunham’s boyfriend in a bad halloween costume whining about how his father didn’t bond with him enough.  Protip:  don’t have your villain take off his mask if he looks like an angsty teenager.

But seriously, aside from having the worst.villian.ever (no really: he makes Count Dooku look terrifying; hell he makes Jar Jar and a pack of Ewoks look terrifying; he has trouble fighting off a single ordinary human), the movie suffers from two serious flaws compared to the original. One of the things that makes Star Wars a compelling movie is that it juxtaposes the sense that the whole story ark is fated and destined to happen from the perspective of the grand scheme of things, with the strong sense that the main characters have an inner life: they make choices.   Luke weighs his loyalty to his family with this desire to go off and fight the empire. When his family is killed in his absence because of his choices he feels great guilt. Han weights his greed and loner rebel streak against his infatuation for Leia and his loyalty to his new friends. But the only character in this movie that has any of this is Fin, and the thing that allows him to have this is that, unlike all the other characters, his is not a reboot of Star Wars past. The writers are so keen to turn Rey into a reboot of Luke that she literally has no inner life—there is vague allusion to something on her home planet that she is torn to, but this is all vaporware.   She just follows the path that she has to follow to reboot Luke (but without needing any training.)  It’s a general problem with the movie, it all plays out on rails so as to re-animate the first movie.  Nothing happens organically.  Instead of “The Force Awakens” it should have been “Episode VII: the same old hope.”  If I had more pomo cred, there would be a point to be made here about everything being self-referential, and audiences caring more about familiarity (and reclaiming the first trilogy’s feel)than genuine drama.

It’s the same, of course, with the bad guys, and this brings us to the second serious flaw: the role of evil in the movie.  Another review I read complained that unlike in the first six movies, the rise of the evil forces is not adequately explained.  I couldn’t care less about this.  In fact, the plodding story of Darth Vader’s origins through three tortuous movies is brilliantly ridiculed in a comedy routine by Patton Oswald.  (“I will kill George Lucas with a shovel.”)  I’m perfectly fine with the fact that Star Wars begins things in the full evil glory of the Empire, on the verge of destroying the last vestiges of its opposition.  I never wanted to see Darth Vader being sad because they took him away from his mother.  But now it’s episode seven.  And we know that the empire was destroyed just a few decades ago.   So now we need some backstory about how a new evil force has taken its place. What’s the point in fighting these guys if they just keep cropping up like weeds?  It’s as if we are watching a sequel to the movie “Patton,” and now the Schmazis have occupied all of Europe and everyone is acting both like this is an existential threat to the world and like it’s perfectly normal and to be expected.  A good WW2 movie doesn’t have to explain the rise of fascism in Europe. But if it’s going to be a sequel, it would be nice if there were some explanation of why we are back at square one other than eternal recurrence.

The movie does have its moments—especially in the first 30 minutes or so.  The images of an abandoned battlefield strewn with the wreckage of Star Destroyers and Xwings is amazing to behold, and the backstories of both Fin and Rey are enjoyable.  But once the movie gets placed firmly on its star wars rails, the fun began to fade for me, and all I could do is gnash my teeth at the repetition.


Louie Generis  — Complicated Questions

The magic is back! Fans of the franchise who’ve long lamented the ruination of their childhoods will be pleased to hear that this weekend’s release marks a significant improvement over the last three films in the series. With returning characters sharing the screen with plucky newcomers and a surprisingly relatable villain, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip takes us on an endearing and weighty adventure of self-discovery.

The story has progressed since the last time we saw these characters, and part of the joy of the theater-going experience is seeing what everyone is up to after all this time. Kindly, perpetually frustrated Dave is dating a doctor by the name of Samantha, and Alvin, Simon, and Theodore are none too pleased. Part of the problem is Samantha’s son Miles, adored by his mother but a tormenting presence in the lives of his would-be stepbrothers. The Chipmunks also fear that Dave’s deepening romance could leave them abandoned by their father, and as much as they continuously insist otherwise, our trio of rad rodents are not quite ready to grow up and be on their own. So the discovery of a hidden engagement ring sets them off on a cross-country race against time to stop the engagement before it changes their family, and their lives, forever.

When Justin asked us to go to the movies this weekend and review “that new sequel about an aging hero and his beloved, furry sidekick,” he asked us to highlight the philosophical aspects of the film. And nothing could be timelier than The Road Chip’s nuanced handling of domestic terrorism. The Chipmunks, plus unwelcome tagalong Miles, initially attempt to fly to Miami, but they’re soon kicked off the plane by an Air Marshal named James Suggs (comic genius Tony Hale, in an unexpectedly dramatic role). He pursues them for the rest of the film, the Inspector Javert to Alvin’s Jean Valjean. And this is where the film sets aside all the cute CGI and silly sight gags, and raises complicated questions about how far we should go in our collective pursuit of national security. It suggests that even valid concerns about security can quickly descend into a culture of paranoia, where possible threats loom everywhere, and simply boarding a plane with an unusual appearance is judged to be suspicious behavior. If we’ve reached a point where we can no longer trust one another – if we only see sources of danger when we regard our fellow human beings (and chipmunks) – than have we simply traded one form of insecurity for another? The film doesn’t provide us with any easy answers, and I suspect that this is a debate we’ll be having for years to come.


Discussion welcome.

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Colin Heydt
Colin Heydt
5 years ago

After having heard so many positive accounts about this film, I was disappointed. I agree with Eric (and not just because he’s my colleague). In addition to Eric’s points: Both the emotion and the narrative outcomes seemed almost wholly unearned. I didn’t believe the purported bond between Finn and Rey (I know they had adventures together, but how many words passed between them? And they immediately risk everything to help each other?). I didn’t believe that a world destroying weapon that pulled power from a sun could have its shields lowered by one medium rank officer operating from a computer terminal. I didn’t believe that Adam Driver’s bad guy could go from stopping laser blasts in mid-air to being wounded (!) by a recently converted maintenance man brandishing a light saber he’d never used. The movie got worse and worse.Report

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Colin Heydt
5 years ago

You obviously either didn’t pay attention or are choosing to omit details to fit your feelings. Chewie shot and weakened Ren as others have mentioned (did you you not notice the blood pooling at his feet as it showed pretty clearly?). Learn to be open to new character relationships like you were to han and luke. Plus that “medium” ranked officer was possibly 3rd in command of the entire ship/planet/weapon. It’s a big thing , hux and kylo can’t do everything themselves why wouldn’the they have a shield operator? Unless it mentioned she was lower ranked or something in which case my bad. It just sounds like you’re trying reeaaally hard to find problems with this movie.Report

John
John
Reply to  Peter
5 years ago

For me, the combat between Ren, Finn and Rey can all be happily explained once we know their age. For instance, if they are all like, 20 or w/e, then its fine. With regards to Phasma, the real question is why she would even lower the shields, for a “stormtrooper” she was easily coerced “destroy your super weapon that you can use to destroy the republic or I kill you” what sort of Storm Trooper gives in that easily, seriously…Report

Jack Woods
Jack Woods
Reply to  Colin Heydt
5 years ago

Isn’t it a well known psychological fact and, moreover, exceedingly plausible on its face that moments of extreme stress fast-track bonding? Not everything is about meaningful conversations about life, comrade.Report

Eric Winsberg
Eric Winsberg
5 years ago

When Han suggested the plan for blowing up the (not-a) Death Start I seriously wondered: “Is that a joke? Or are they seriously going to do this again?”. And the Fin/Rey bond wasn’t nearly as unbelievable as the Leia/Rey bond. When Rey and Chewie return from Han’s death, Leia lets him walk right by her and she hugs Rey. *WTF????* That’s Han’s best friend of multiple decades and she’s shared multiple adventure with him. I forgot that Fin *wounded* Driver. Ridiculous.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
5 years ago

This is a reach, but you could say his recent emotional turmoil had put Ren off his game to the point he could be wounded by Finn.Report

Jacob Marley
Jacob Marley
5 years ago

Ren got hit with a Wookie bowcaster to the chest. His lightsaber is unrefined, a hatch job if you ask me whereas Luke and Vader’s sabers are refined with tightly powered beams, so I do not think he is as powerful as people are pretending, though stopping a blaster bolt with telekinesis is a new one never seen before. Not only that, he is not that skilled apparently, relying on brute strength, and throws temper tantrums when things do not go his way. Vader just killed those he deemed incompetent.

If the character relationships seems forced to the philosophical world, recall that Luke, Leia and Han did not have much time to bond either. Only a little time is devoted to Luke mourning Obi-Wan. In fact, the same amount of time passes for the new characters and the old ones. These are bonds of circumstance and adventuring (and anyone that’s told you about playing DnD can tell you the bonds elected in questing adventure are up to the players themselves; the world is either poor, nasty, brutish, and short OR the world while appearing that way may inspire the closest of bonds to the point that those relationships become legendary for our new core group), and the growth we are asked to believe in is as unbelievable as the first movie. Between Rey and Finn, there may be a Force bond, and even in not knowing each other, the new core characters sacrifice everything for each other in epic ways. Finn only takes the crazy mission to get down there and help Rey. Rey urges Finn to stay on the forest world. These characters are written as forming attachments rather quickly all the while the audience knows that the unity of the narrative is most likely the Force squishing elements together push the whole thing forward. Recall in SW, characters are written with a destiny in mind, and they could very well in fact know that they are destined like the RPG character in White Wolf that picks the destiny merit/flaw.Report

Roy T Cook
Roy T Cook
5 years ago

The bit about Chewbacca walking right past Leia did bug me. But I read it differently – not as Leia ignoring Chewie as she rushes to console Rey, but rather as Chewie striding past Leia without saying (growling?) a thing. A subtle difference, but then it could be attributed to Chewie’s state of mind after seeing his friend killed in cold blood. Remember that Chewie owes a life debt to Han, and thus his failure to save his friend (regardless of whether that friend might have wanted saving) will weigh even heavier on him that it would on others. But it still bugged me a bit (and as I noted, very few things bugged me about this film other than the Artoo-less-ness of it).
Another thing to keep in mind is that at this point most of us are doing a lot of in-depth analysis based on a single viewing of the film. This is illustrated in the previous comments by Colin and Eric above, who clearly forgot that Ben-Ren getting shot in the torso by a weapon whose destructive power Han Solo commented on multiple times in the film. There are lots of bits that might not make a whole lot of sense until we have the DVDs and the chance at some serious repeated viewings. One thing that has always been true about Star Wars is that parts of it need ‘decoding’ – what’s really going on isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance (or first viewing).Report

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Roy T Cook
5 years ago

Chewy’s immediate reaction was perfect, Han’s son or not he straight up shot that mofo. My first-viewing reaction was that Chewy should be devastated and we didn’t see that. We got two seconds of his mourning after walking by Leia. After the second viewing I started thinking of Empire. When Han is about to be frozen, Chewy goes cray but Han calms him down, tells him to focus on on his promise to look after Leia. Granted Han doesn’t die there, but there was the possibility he would in the process plus no guarantee they would see Han again.
Here, he witnesses Han’s actual death. Chewy has his immediate violent reaction and then focuses his attention to the person Han was ready to offer a job to/shows almost fatherly affection to in their brief interactions, Rey. Maybe that’s how Wookies cope with the loss of a loved one? I’m not a Wookie-anthropologist. But Chewie has the Falcon, a new pilot, and person to look after and he gets down to business. We might see more of him coping in episode 8? Which by the way I can’t wait for because I think Rian Johnson is an auteur/genius.Report

Ivan
Ivan
5 years ago

“Star Wars is about R2-D2. Most of the heroic deeds recounted in Star Wars are in fact Artoo’s doing: Amidala’s shield generator needs near impossible repairs? Artoo’s got it under control! Death Star plans need delivering? Artoo’s your droid! Buzz droids attacking your fighter? No problem, Artoo is on the case! Your hyperdrive’s been de-activated? Artoo will re-activate it! Need a lightsaber smuggled into a crimelord’s palace? Give it to Artoo!”

LOL. This was dope. I never looked at it that way. But I’ve always loved R2-D2.

“Is Finn’s dramatic moral awakening a sign that he, too, has been touched by the Force? These new developments provide philosophers some new grist for the mill in thinking about the ontology and nature of the Force.”

Ahhh. I vaguely wondered the same. But then, at his first opportunity to do so, Finn disclosed that he had chosen not to act on behalf of the First Order. So the implication is that he was raised within the First Order, but that his upbringing was not of his choosing. And that the moment he was first given an opportunity to exercise his will on behalf of the First Order, he chose to rebel.

So this seems to mean that maybe instead of Finn having “…been touched by the Force…” for the first time, the Force has always been with him?

Moreover, does this mean that he had recognized the immorality of his caretakers during his upbringing? Did he struggle introspectively with his circumstances growing up in the First Order?

“Let me focus on the darkness of the Dark Father/Darth Vader whose hiddenness awaited confirmation as he was audio-visually “black” (through the voice of James Earl Jones), which made his unmasking (or is it unhelmeting?) such a disappointment of continued white revelation. Power, after all, is feared most as black and thus relieved of threat when the rather lipid and, unfortunately, redeemed father, was re-whitened. Such a disappointing fate for the greatest line, perhaps because of its psychoanalytical and theological significance, echoed across the reaches of cinema, mythic and historical: “I am your father….”

This, and the rest of Lewis Gordon’s analysis was awesome.

“…Power, after all, is feared most as black…” But why? Why not white?

“Han has spent the last several years running away from his responsibilities. Even his participation in the final battle is reluctant. But when he sees his son on that bridge, he decides to stop running, to stop being the lucky scoundrel that can talk his way out of any situation. It’s time to keep his promise to Leia, and risk everything on even the smallest chance of reaching his son. Because that’s what partners and fathers do. The decision costs him, but he doesn’t show any regret, because he fully accepts the consequences of the role he’s chosen.”

Yes. This is how I saw it too. I agree. This was a powerful moment, written the way I like it. Hard pill to swallow though, seeing Han go.

“When that lightsaber ignites, he’s resolving to just be Kylo Ren, because he imagines that a life without internal struggle will hurt less. He makes the wrong choice, of course, but his almost adaptive preference-like attempt to bind himself is very human.”

I didn’t see this, but now I do. This is spot on. But I think it is short-sighted on his part. Because there is no escaping “…life with…internal struggle…” Time will tell.

“But once the movie gets placed firmly on its star wars rails, the fun began to fade for me, and all I could do is gnash my teeth at the repetition.”

Eric’s review was funny and insightful. But at no point did I gnash my teeth at the repetition. LOL. I thought it was wonderful for this episode to reproduce some of the authentic franchise charm – if not for me, for the young people in the audience. The six to seven year olds and up. Who, like me at six in ’77, were probably lifted into an imaginary world they never dreamt could exist.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Ivan
5 years ago

“But then, at his first opportunity to do so, Finn disclosed that he had chosen not to act on behalf of the First Order. So the implication is that he was raised within the First Order, but that his upbringing was not of his choosing. And that the moment he was first given an opportunity to exercise his will on behalf of the First Order, he chose to rebel.”

Minor point, but Finn’s rebellion in the film came during his first battle, not his first opportunity to exercise his will on behalf of the order (remember, he worked in sanitation before he was deployed). But in support of the more important point you’re making regarding the possibility the force has always been with him, in his backstory according to Before the Awakening, Finn risks his objective in a training exercise to rescue a fellow cadet over the objections of FN-2199 and FN-2100, so it seems like he’s had something in him fighting against his programming for quite a while, and that his moral awakening has been slow but sure rather than sudden. .Report

Ivan
Ivan
5 years ago

Colin, I made some of the bad judgments you describe, but, for the sake of my enjoyment, I bracketed them. Because, after all, this is my beloved franchise. And the *possible* missteps you noted were not devastating. I put asterisks around “possible” because I am holding out hope that in the next couple of installments, further contextualization will explain these away. I can hope. LOL.

Colin said:
“I didn’t believe the purported bond between Finn and Rey (I know they had adventures together, but how many words passed between them? And they immediately risk everything to help each other?).”

But Jacob says “If the character relationships seems forced to the philosophical world, recall that Luke, Leia and Han did not have much time to bond either. Only a little time is devoted to Luke mourning Obi-Wan.”

I don’t remember how much time Luke, Leia, and Han had to bond. But for the sake of my bracketing the missteps, I hope he’s right. And I also wondered if the fact that Finn was black and Rey white, made it difficult for me (despite me being black myself, and very approving of inter-cultural relationships) to believe the purported intimate connection between them? This because I don’t often (if ever) see inter-cultural relationships in film or television. Maybe if this sort of thing occurred as much in film and on television as it does in real life (and if Jacob is right that they had just as much time to bond as the characters in previous installments), I would have felt something between Finn and Rey. I actually felt more of a bond/comfortable-ness between Finn and Han. But I could have this all wrong. Because I just remembered that the on set chemistry between Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster’s Ball was off-the-chain. Oh man, that was something else. Maybe Finn and Rey just didn’t have good on set chemistry?

Colin said:
“I didn’t believe that a world destroying weapon that pulled power from a sun could have its shields lowered by one medium rank officer operating from a computer terminal.”

I believed this, without bracketing. It’s not likely, but still possible. And his lower-than-desired rank allowed me to cheer for the underdog. You have to believe Colin. LOL.

Colin said:
“I didn’t believe that Adam Driver’s bad guy could go from stopping laser blasts in mid-air to being wounded (!) by a recently converted maintenance man brandishing a light saber he’d never used.”

Now mid-air laser blast stoppage was dope! I was impressed. And, yes, *maybe* he should have mopped the floor with Finn – so I had to bracket a bit here. But, Finn was not just a maintenance guy. Early in the movie he was a part of a squad ordered to slaughter some folks (I can’t remember who they were? If they were a part of the Resistance or just some normal everyday folks?). So that implies that he had had at least some martial art/police/military training under the First Order.

Anyhow, I believe Finn and Rey are going to get some Yoda and Obi Won style Jedi training in future installments. This, despite the fact that Rey’s skills are already awesome. Because Jedi training is an essential part of the franchise. And because Finn needs it bad! LOL.Report

Alexander
Alexander
5 years ago

It seems apparent that the filmmakers disliked the plot element of Vader’s redemption and original innocence. In this film, Han Solo makes reference to his son, Kylo Ren, being genetically evil, due to being Vader’s grandson. When Kylo Ren is faced with a relative trying to redeem him, he takes the dark path, making this film the antithesis to the original 1-6 saga. The filmmakers reject redemption in order to make the villain more formidable to the audience, and create the desire for vengeance in the audience. Is this not a corrupting influence on audiences rather than an elevating one?Report

Baron
Baron
Reply to  Alexander
5 years ago

I agree insofar as Ren is inverse Vader.
Maybe this raises the question, that perhaps it is possible to be redeemed to evil? As Silvermint says, the redemption for Ren was to the dark side: a final act that washes away his previous goodness, and solidifies his identity and place in the fictional dichotomy of light and dark. The Freudian rite of passage of slaying the father, allows him to do away with childish self-doubt and resolves his psychological struggle.

Audiences may desire vengeance against Ren for Solo, as we did for Vader and Kenobi (at very least, vicariously through Luke) but I don’t think they reject the idea of redemption, but instead broaden it. I don’t believe that Ren becomes more formidable for patricide, but more tragic – the loss of a relative to our conception of a tragic ideology. In an age where we are starting to understand how terrorists emerge, is the film (as an expression of zeitgeist) trying to teach us about cultural relativity?Report

Ivan
Ivan
5 years ago

I, for one, didn’t feel vengeful towards Kylo Ren, after he sabered his own father. What I thought was, “Wow, maybe this guy will achieve some height of evil that even Vader hadn’t seen. But that doesn’t necessarily preclude a future redemption for him as well. In fact, it may be a setup for an even greater redemption then Vaders. No?

In any event, the act of killing his own father (the iconic Solo nonetheless) gave me chills. It reminded me of when Vader cut off Luke’s hand, only this was obviously much much more shocking. I knew that all he had to do was activate the saber and it would slice through Hon, but I didn’t think he was going to do it.Report

Patrick
Patrick
5 years ago

Is this film on rails ? Yes, it is. But Why ?
In my opinion it is largely down to it being designed to pull in two different audiences in two different ways.

Group 1 is the New Viewers. The children whos parents have told stories about this movie franchise, about how it was such a massive part of their growing up. The older Wars-Newbie who never watched IV-VI because it wasnt their “thing”, and who found the consternation caused by the (again, in my opinion) gods-awful I-III movies.
This group needed to be hooked into wanting to see the next episodes. IV was such a good hook in 77 it makes a certain amount of sense to stick to that formula. This group will not be aware of the obvious similarities anyway.

Group 2 is the Stalwart Faithfuls. They grew up with this story. They know it, they love it, and they want to be taken back to that joy that lives in their memories. For them, this movie is almost an apology for the mistakes of I-III. Its an olive branch with a note on it saying “Ok, we wont be making those mistakes again, you can trust us”.
I’m part of Group 2. Yes, there were quite a few points where I found myself thinking “Really ? Come on !”. The Attack Plan scene is a good example. Its not the Brass saying “here’s what we need to do”, its a room full of people piling what-if upon more what-if with a helping of youve-got-to-be-kidding on the side. This scene, for me at least, makes it blatantly obvious that the makers were saying “Yes, we know this is a carbon copy of the storyboard from E IV, we couldnt be more obvious about this if we tried. But please, let us take you down this rabbit hole again, the best is yet to come”. That’s what I HOPE they were trying to do, anyway.

Kylo-Ren gave me pause. The actor playing him and the character itself. I was confused by him to begin with. Everything about him seemed “Off” ……. until a few minutes AFTER he took of the helmet. He’s obviously extremely Force powerful, plus he’s tall and physically fit, but walks slightly hunched, almost like he doesn’t feel as fit or powerful as he clearly is. When he speaks he sounds like he’s TRYING to sound menacing but not quite pulling it off, like he doesn’t believe it himself. He is making himself smaller unconsciously while he tries to fit into the life he has chosen. Constantly conflicted, in every aspect of his being.
Yes, he wants to be Vader Mk2. But what he is now is nothing more than a troubled teenager with “Unlimited POWEEERRRRRRR”, almost no self control, and no guiding light to show him the path to follow. And he KNOWS IT.
I laughed at first sight of him without the helmet, but after thinking about what I suspect he is supposed to represent I believe he may have been the perfect choice for the role.Report

Steven
Steven
Reply to  Patrick
5 years ago

You should research the word Ren in Confucian philosophy. It’s like enlightened trait which is closely tied to relationship and behaviors. Especially towards ones parents. Maybe there is influence there…Report

Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
5 years ago

I’m with Ivan (above) on Kylo Ren except I don’t much care whether or not he gets redeemed in the end, as I don’t like the notion that the only path to closure is through redemption. As John points out above, these are basically kids and the movie, like Romeo and Juliet reads as an adolescent melodrama the tragedy of which lies in the fact that the characters think it’s really a tragedy. (Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo kills Tybalt. Rilo Kiley blows up a bunch of planets). But I think that the movie is aware of this and runs with it in a much less clunky way than, say, the prequels did. That’s why I’m with Patrick — i think a pretty boy in a silly mask is exactly what the role needed.

Now, some of the blame for the prequel’s clunkiness we can lay at the feet of Hayden Christiansen, the Platonic form of bad acting, the actor worse than which none can be conceived. But the bigger problems are in the plot points. Remember his descent into evil? Palpatine offers him the chance to join the darkside and he hems and haws over his scruples, at first even rushing to have him arrested. Then the first order that Palpatine gives him once he’s sworn allegiance is to kill ALL THE JEDI CHILDREN and he’s like “sure. whatever.” It’s the most blase transformation of an angsty little jerk into a moral monster in the history of cinema. Lil’ Ben Jr.’s choice is much more compelling and, in many ways, much more like the one the emperor offers Luke in Return of the Jedi (eternal return with variation). Like Luke, Crybaby Ren knows that he’s not a fully trained Jedi .And like Luke, the way to joining the dark side is to kill his own father (Remember the Emperor tells Luke to strike Darth down and take his place). But, absent the Emperor, Han offers this choice himself.

The Fuhrer of Oz ends the movie by commanding the nice young man from Ex Machina to bring lil’ Romeo to him for more training, and the shittiness of his control of the Force doesn’t seem to be the result of bad directing — it seems pretty intentional . He’s a wannabe Darth Vader, and whoever the cloaked baddie is (did the Emperor survive? Is it Jar-Jar?) he knows he can exploit this fact to his own advantage (Han makes this point very explicitly on the bridge). And just as he exploits Ren, he exploits nostalgia for the empire — which is what fascists always do.Report

Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
5 years ago

One last note on reading this movie as an adolescent drama of kids mistaking war crimes for heroism and old folks profiting from it Recall Hegel: “The birth of the child is the death of the parent.” I’m not sure that Rey really is Luke’s daughter and not simply sui generis. But like Lewis Gordon, I hope that her relationship with Luke ends up being more interesting than all the surrogate (or counterfeit or real) fathers and sons that have thus far peopled this patriarchy far, far away.Report

Pablo Colindres
Pablo Colindres
5 years ago

Dramatis Personae:
Inner Geek
Inner Rationalist with existential fear of spiders

IREFS: So, inner Geek, didn’t Eric Winsberg lay down veritable points?
IG: Definitely, although Kathryn Norlock’s view resonanted with me. Did not resistance resonate with you?
IREFS: Maybe. At least let’s agree that Louie Generis’–
IG: –Louie Generis’ post was the (funny) droid we were looking for–
IREFS: –can’t be blamed for not watching Star Wars…sure.
IG: All right, let’s pick the one we like the best.
IREFS: On three.
BOTH: One, Two, Three . . . Yes.Report

Louie Generis
Louie Generis
Reply to  Pablo Colindres
5 years ago

Wait. We were supposed to watch Star Wars?Report

Louie Generis
Louie Generis
Reply to  Pablo Colindres
5 years ago

OH GODDAMN IT.Report

jay
jay
5 years ago

ugh, this film was so superficial. all of the opportunities to ask deep questions about the human condition were pissed away. a stormtrooper questions his life-long allegiance and swaps sides – after about thirty seconds’ contemplation he’s now one of the goodies. an allegedly evil character questions his path – nope, no big deal, just a few teenage tantrums and he carries on his merry route. despite thirty years’ evolution, no major character does more than continue their previous role, no regrets mate. Return of the Jedi had at least one interesting puzzle at its core – what does it mean to fight ‘evil’? By fighting do you just become evil yourself? But this film just leapt to the same old black and white binaries (good versus evil, whatever that means – ask George Bush I guess) and answered every question with a drawn out sword fight. oh, and we had this plot at least twice before! what a wasted opportunity.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  jay
5 years ago

I too was sorry to see that a new Star Wars film failed to refocus on the franchise’s central theme of asking deep questions about the human condition.Report

Stephen S.
Stephen S.
5 years ago

“Keep reminding yourself that R2-D2 knows about everything that happened in Episodes I, II, and III, and knows that Kenobi is feeding Luke a pile of Bantha poodoo about his father. Further, Obi-Wan knows that Artoo knows this. Yet not a peep, not a beep, out of Artoo. Obi-wan and Artoo go way, way back, and in this scene are conspiring together in order to motivate Luke to follow the ways of the Jedi.”

In Episode IV, Obi-wan specifically tells Luke that he does not recall having ever owned a droid before. Ignoring the technicality that perhaps Jedi never “own” anything, I’m assuming Obi-wan either doesn’t remember R2 or he’s flat out lying to Luke. That seems unlikely to me. Telling Luke that R2 was his droid during the Clone Wars would have been an extremely enticing way for Obi-wan to convince him to come to Alderaan.

Secondly, you are assuming that R2 never had his memory wiped between episodes III and IV. In all those years, there’s a pretty good chance that R2 had his memory wiped, either to protect secret Rebel information or simply a change in ownership.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Stephen S.
5 years ago

At the risk of displaying entirely too much knowledge of the topic:

Artoo wasn’t Obi-Wan’s droid during the Clone Wars. He belonged to Padme Amidala throughout episodes I and II, and seems to have become Anakin’s astromech droid by the start of episode III; he stays with Anakin till the end of episode III, when he passes to Bail (and in due course Leia) Organa. Obi-Wan has his own astromech droid, R4-something, that’s destroyed by buzz droids at the start of episode III, and gets replaced by another R4 unit later in episode III. Since astromech droids seem to be pretty ubiquitous, it’s not crazy to think that Obi-Wan just doesn’t remember this particular one. (Though the Obi-Wan/Artoo conspiracy reading of episode IV is also pretty cute.)Report

Kylo
Kylo
5 years ago

This fielding the Force Awakens as a serious competitor to Lucas’s mythos is troubling, especially from humans as you all appear to be. Particularly tone of nostalgia I hear dribbling through some of these paragraphs. Be careful. Wanting the the past to return is dangerous.

The critical issue I think many or all of you have ignored is the progressive nature of the storytelling from IV through III. The storytelling in VII is minor, B-plot, and regressive.

If any of you are taking this Abrams/Kasdan Force Awakens seriously, I don’t think any of you fully understand Lucas’s achievement.

First off the PT (I-III) is dynamical, not mechanical. It hides some pretty weird ideas about mythology and colonization (really: ALL the humans are bad guys in the PT). The kind of grand joke is that a rescued slave becomes the main enforcer for the colonizing humans. Humans only become ‘good’ (integrative) because of one very big plot-point: the Rebels are born the moment Palpatine names Vader and the jedi get slaughtered wholesale.

And weirder, Anakin isn’t close to being ‘the chosen one’ of the prophecy. If you listen to the story closely, he’s the result of tinkering with nature: he’s the spawn of somebody named Plagueis (a taboo name). And his children are the reason the Emperor is defeated. Lucas creates a prophecy and a mythology he subtly tells us is entirely false. It’s pretty daring and radical as a response to the simplicity of the OT.

And there’s hundreds of subtle gags, like Kubrick’s mode-jerks that fill in the blanks: he has Kiera Knightley sub for Portman throughout Phantom Menace, and then opens Clones with Portman’s voice thanking her underling…then a few seconds later the girl with the voice is bombed and the ‘real’ Portman/Amidala gets out of another ship. Nothing of this level of artistry is evident in the new film, it’s all hooks on the surface. Like R2’s awakening.

When we look back in 40-100 years, Lucas’s films will be taken on the level of Kubrick; they’re complex takes on humanity, storytelling, tribalism, ethnic division and mythology.

That was Lucas’s plan it seems, to deliver something that seems to be one thing (Jar Jar appears to be a stereotype, when actually HE’S the one stereotyping everyone else in his dialogue: Jar Jar is part of a race that got kicked off the surface of his planet by the colonizing humans.) From every non-human POV in the film, even Jar Jar, comes a natural distrust of humans. And maybe that’s why people hated these films. They’re uncomfortable from a human point of view.

This new film is just a PC entanglement for millenials.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

Ok, I’m posting partially from irritation–I wanted to say what I’m about to say but opened this thread and I happened to glance at a major spoiler while trying not to which–of course I haven’t seen SWTFA–reinforced what I’m about to say.

What are the values that supposedly stand behind obeying the warnings to not read threads that include spoilers? Certainly they are not purely epistemic–don’t all philosophers want to know everything they can when they optimally can (an ASAP criterion)? Are there some higher-order aesthetic values related to anticipation of the surprise of knowledge, given that one has sufficient reason to warrant such surprise, that override the need to know things optimally ASAP? If so, then why is such anticipation valued over the pure epistemic need to know ASAP? And why do some–no doubt–actually wish to know spoilers ASAP even if they also wish to engage an experience that replicates in actual aesthetics the propositional content of those spoilers? (Not me!) I know I want answers about the psychology of epistemology –but also answers with respect to the values of action, and particularly with respect to reacting to spoilers. And now especially because my reaction to knowing a spoiler is so very strong.

I will not review this thread farther until I have seen the movie–and see for myself—ARRGH!!Report

elicia
5 years ago

Now that anyone who takes Star Wars so seriously that SPOILERS (!*! beware!!!***) will offend them has already seen the new movie, can I go ahead speak to the obvious subtext? K.

If you know me, and my tendency to rant about patriarchy-as-the-root-of-all-evil, you might guess that I really, really liked it.

Subtext: End of the Patriarchal Story. You know, the Hero’s Journey? The story that any classic archetypal literature of the last 5000 years has paid homage to, that Jung and Joseph Campbell talk about? You know: Young hero receives message from the universe, goes on a journey to find himself, his daddy-issues come up, he faces his dark side, light prevails?

Meanwhile, it’s barely worth a footnote to mention the female story that the other half of humanity has been stuck with: chick waits behind for the hero, missing him. Or, post-feminism, gets to be catalyst / muse / love interest. Absolute best case: badass sexy sidekick.

Well .. hello new era. Hallelujah!!! The woman becomes her own hero. She kicks the villain’s ass. She sees through the Bad Guy’s pathetic adolescent daddy issues. She don’t need no training. She’s beyond all this patriarchal guru-disciple nonsense. She IS the Force. The Force behind Nature, the intuitive feminine. As the female, she’s an outsider, untrained …but she trusts her instincts. When she loses her fear, the Force is with her. She un-masks the terrifying boogeyman. She un-hands him, thereby nullifying the threat of the Empire.

(blaring soundtrack to my rant : Tina Turner We Don’t Need Another Hero!! We don’t need to know the way home! We only want to know the way beyond. . Thunderdome…)

What’s so brilliant is that the guy that gets introduced at the beginning (Poe Dameron) is the brash, hot, smart-talking guy. According to movie convention, this The Hero. Right? He flies a fighter jet like a badass. He makes witty comments when captured by the scary bad guy. And then .. he dies! Wait! He can’t be the hero … are they playing with us??? Deliberately turning our expectations upside down???

Then there’s the other guy. Is HE the hero?? But .. he’s not hot, not suave, not badass, not brashly shit-talking. Hm. My inner teenage girl is disappointed. And yet .. he wakes up and does the right thing. Despite not being born brave or cute or talented. Despite being born a clumsy garbage man, a drone of the empire. Maybe he IS a hero, a modern, end-of-the-patriarchy, realistic, Everyman sort of hero. Yeah. I like that.

And yet he doesn’t end up being THE Hero of the movie. He doesn’t Get the Girl. He doesn’t Vanquish the Villain. The villain kicks his ass and the Girl rescues him. Whoa! The archetypal hand-to-hand-combat good-evil face-off happens between the Bad Guy and the .. GIRLl! Like the female characters in Mad Max: Fury Road, Prometheus, and Jupiter Descended, Rey becomes her own hero. These films all tell the story of the post-patriarchy: the intuitive feminine Force Awakens, like a mama bear, and throws off the yoke. Stay tuned for the sequel: the end of duality. She awakes to a new era: starring, the WOMAN. Let there be LIGHT! (light saber sound effect)Report

Ivan
Ivan
Reply to  elicia
5 years ago

Yeah, I like your critique. The parts you critique may in fact have been deliberately created to turn much of what we’re used to, on its head.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
5 years ago

Three

(1) It speaks to the state of the field that virtually none of the commentary here deals with the aesthetic properties of the movie. To me, it hardly felt like Star Wars. The pacing was breathless and frantic with very few breaks in the action for comedy and character development. This was a hallmark of the Lucas films, even if it wasn’t always executed properly (Jar Jar *shudder*). The musical score was unremarkable. The cinematography was also noticeably different. Virtually everything was shot about three feet from the characters, and there were no wide epic shots except for the shoehorned bits at the beginning. The wide and distanced shots in Lucas’ films helped create a sense of space and openness that contributed to the feeling that all of this was part of an epic saga in a larger universe. (Coincidentally, this is precisely what I think Prof. Cook got wrong about Star Wars: it has lasting appeal because it has a rich and imagination-inspiring universe full of diversity and wierdness. It simply isn’t about any particular character.) These things all made it feel like the corporate cash-in that it was. Not that it was a bad movie.

(2) That the plot was derivative doesn’t really strike me as a problem. Virtually all action movies follow the same general plot anyway: bad guys have some world-ending weapon and must be stopped. Would it really have made that much of a difference if the world-ending weapon was different? They already knew that the death-star concept worked. So why *wouldn’t* they try to build another better one? If the plot does have problems, it’s with the fact that the First Order isn’t really explained at all.

(3) Rey isn’t really all that inspiring from a feminist perspective. Sure, she is clever and has physical power, but this is offset by the fact that she seems to be more or less completely ruled by her emotions. Moreover, she doesn’t seem to have much agency, but is rather dragged along somewhat against her will throughout the plot. She seems to have all of her decisions made for her because of the imminent need to help people, whether it’s BB-8 or Fin. Leia is a far better character in this regard.

(4) Kylo Ren was a truly pathetic villain. The worst tragedy of the prequels is the missed opportunity for a convincing narrative in which Anakin’s descent is not driven by fear of losing his wife, but rather by utilitarian absolutism. The groundwork for this is laid out a bit in the movies, but even more so in the animated series where Anakin grows increasingly impatient with the half-measures of the Senate and the Jedi in resolving the civil war. This was the main way in which Palpatine was manipulating Anakin. The part about Padme dying in child-birth was completely forced and unnecessary. If Padme had been killed off by the conflict instead it could have served as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Driven mad by grief, Anakin would resolve to end the war and restore peace to the galaxy at all costs, even if it meant wiping out the jedi (who, once again, seem to be a blundering hindrance to Anakin in the prequels). This would have made Vader a far more frightening villain insofar as his evil would be the result of a completely identifiable and human perspective, and would even be philosophically defensible to a certain degree. (Of course, none of it would have saved the movie from Christiansen’s godawful acting.) In comparison with how Vader *could* have been portrayed, Ren is pathetic. He just seems to be a sort of shallow angsty school shooter with force powers instead of guns.Report

Eric Winsberg
Eric Winsberg
Reply to  YAAGS
5 years ago

I did allude to the fact, in my review, that the soundtrack was awful. This is coming, by the way, from a person who’s first ever LP was the soundtrack to the original. I honestly think the crappy soundtrack was the thing that most significantly affected my enjoyment of the movie. It was horrible–Jurassic Park level horrible.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Eric Winsberg
5 years ago

I assume you meant “Jurassic World level horrible”. Because the score to the original Jurassic Park was amazing.Report

Eric Winsberg
Eric Winsberg
Reply to  YAAGS
5 years ago

Right. Sorry. I definitely did mean “j ‘world.” I dont remember the original that well, but I do remember cringing to the whole score of the recent one.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

Ok, finally saw it today, and enjoyed it in my leather recliner (probably makes head-lice transmission a bit less likely?) and the nice, big screen. But when the heck did this preselection of seating ala the airlines start?

My overall impression has to jibe with elicia’s above. Question: is Rey now the best candidate Yoda was referring to in the original series when he contradicted the spirit Obi-wan who claimed Luke was the last Jedi hope but replied “No, there is another.”

I second Eric W’s displeasure with the music, but in my own case I’d have to say that the sound track in general was so damn distracting with surround sounds that I hardly even noticed it!

But my glancing at this thread earlier and seeing the words Han-death-sad really did ruin that scene for me, even though Kylo’s earlier testosterone rages against his own self-assessed weaknesses pretty much telegraphed how meeting up with Daddy would play out, with a cool light-saber serving up his own “point” of the Plath poem.Report

Steven
Steven
5 years ago

Any thoughts on the word Ren? It being Kylos adopted last name, and any ties to the Confucian word Ren? Is there any correlation? We’re discussing Confucianism in my philosophy class and it seems almost ironic that he bears the name Ren while he treats his parents and relationships so terribly.

Can Kylo Ren redeem himself and embody what it is to be Ren in accordance to Confucianism?Report