Star Wars

Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economical writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character, Ripley, ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien, forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by my desire to explore this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE & MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love & Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness, and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders represent what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage, they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippie) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to their side and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this. Their initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility, and the fact Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state, arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling, and the fact the Lost Tribe reach ‘paradise’ by plane, hints that there may have been some truth in their prophecies.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE & FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time), criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture, while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer, Fifi, also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identification figure) losing his purpose in life, and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economical writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should have been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Five Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economical writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape-revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being, abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film (it’s the same trick from Alien), and arguably this is done for the whole film. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would have connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could have worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told, which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary, but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines, while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but far-fetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited its subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably its subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as placing her in a relationship would have dulled the character for the sequel, which is eventually what happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in subsequent arguments, Han suggests she is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why would she do this? Fear of undermining her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested, as she’s constantly depicted as resistant to Han’s advances. When Han shows concern for her, she pushes him away, and when they finally kiss, he comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her, and she escapes the situation as quick as she can. It’s true she is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling her he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish, and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would have been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the Force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “No, there is another.”

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

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Return of the Return of the Star Wars (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Here are some more of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015). I liked the not so subtle digs at the prequels. The first line of the film is, “This will begin to make things right”. The Starkiller Base blows up the Republic and thus the Senate (there’ll be none of that talky politics crap in our Star Wars). I believe I also heard some dialogue criticising the inferiority of a clone army in comparison to stormtroopers. The humanising of the stormtroopers again seems like a reaction against the prequels. Finn (John Boyega) shows us they’re human beings with feelings, not disposable duplicates, which raises the stakes of the war. Plus, other stormtroopers have emotional reactions, showing us Finn is not just an anomaly.

Finn, I’d say, is the best of the new characters. His disreputable past, humour under pressure and strained bravery have their roots in Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) original character, but his youthful inexperience and Boyega’s performance distinguish him. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) roots are more evident, being a blatant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) clone, but with a greater sense of sadness about the loss of her family and less enthusiasm for adventure. Making her more of a reluctant hero makes her eventual bravery seem more heroic, and her stronger connection to her home makes her leaving more moving. Also, it’s good to see a woman in a traditionally male role and not appear at all out of place (why would she?). Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) struggle with the dark side seems far more genuine and nuanced compared to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) sudden conversions. I know we’re bound to see more of her in the future, but Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) did nothing except look cool. I think they were going for a Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) vibe, but throwing her down the trash compactor kind of diminished that. If you want a character to look cool, don’t throw them in the garbage. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also does very little. The writers obviously decided to make the other characters think he was dead for half the movie, not for suspense, but because they could think of nothing to do with him. Max Von Sydow’s character is entirely superfluous. All the information he conveys could have been told visually. Han Solo is as fun as he’s always been and it’s sad to see him go, as his relationship with his son and split from Leia (Carrie Fisher) added new dimensions to the character that would have been nice to explore further. However, his death is unearned, being the culmination of a story we haven’t been given time or reason to care about. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll care because it’s Han Solo, not because of anything the film has done. I wish we had seen less of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), possibly even nothing at all and just had him talked about to build an aura around him. I think it would have been far more interesting and darker to have Kylo Ren talking to Vader’s dead skull, which only seems to be in here so they could get that one shot in the trailer and probably on a bunch of merchandise.

The CGI used for Snoke is nothing new and looks out of place with the retro vibe the film’s going for. In fact, things start to really go wrong with the sudden introduction of Snoke and other CGI elements. We also have a pointless runaround on a freighter with CGI tentacles. It seems to be there so we can have some last bits of fun and humour with Han and Chewie (Peter Mayhew), but it serves no plot purpose apart from the bounty hunters inform the First Order of BB-8’s whereabouts, but this makes no sense as they’re already able to track him. Maz Kanata (Lupita Kanata) is another out of place CGI creation that seems utterly pointless. The time spent with her really bogs the movie down. All the emotional issues and plot points brought up during these scenes could be worked out on the Falcon; perhaps while being pursued by TIE fighters and Star Destroyers à la The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I don’t see any reason why Han couldn’t have picked up Luke’s lightsaber somewhere, and Finn couldn’t just ask Han to take him away from the war instead of propositioning other characters. Maz’s cantina-esque home seems to have been included just so another box can be ticked on the film’s list of essential Star Warsy stuff.

With the amount of subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original films, I’m beginning to think it was genuinely the filmmakers’ plan to subconsciously trick us into thinking The Force Awakens was a great Star Wars movie by using as many familiar aspects as possible. It’s got everything you like about Star Wars, how can it be bad? The logic makes sense, and I think after the disappointment of the prequels, they were right to go back to what we love about Star Wars. I just wish there could have been something really original and different to make it stand out from the past films, but they played it safe. A sensible marketing decision, not a very exciting artistic one.

Return of the Star Wars (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015) is undoubtedly a Star Wars movie. What I mean by that is a real effort was clearly made to make it like the Star Wars you love and remember, i.e. the original trilogy. In terms of visuals, it was refreshing to see heavy use of real sets, locations and animatronic creatures and a lack of CGI. However, this did make the two CGI creatures they did use stand out (why couldn’t they have gone the whole hog?). It also had a genuine sense of humour and adventure that the prequels sorely lacked. In terms of the plot, almost every element had an air of familiarity about it, and this is where the real problems lie. There were no risks, no subversions, and no surprises. It was great at being the Star Wars we know, but it brought nothing new apart from a more gender and racially diverse cast. So, in the end, it sorely lacked what was so engrossing about the original trilogy, its excitement and originality.

Below this picture of the Star Wars are twenty-two very familiar things in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m sure there were a lot more, but this is enough to be getting along with.

star wars

  1. Desert, snow, and forest planets.
  2. A hero’s journey for a young outcast who lives on a desert planet and yearns for adventure.
  3. The information we want is in the little droid!
  4. Bad guy in a black mask with family issues, struggling between the pull of the light and the dark.
  5. Hero is led to adventure by little droid.
  6. Hero then meets an older mentor, who takes them away from the desert planet, teaches them about the Force and talks of mythical past adventures.
  7. Stormtroopers burning people on a desert planet.
  8. Finn’s first view of the Niima Outpost mirrors Luke’s first view of Mos Eisley.
  9. The Millennium Falcon flees from TIE fighters by flying inside something large.
  10. Shooting TIE fighters from Millennium Falcon gunner bay.
  11. Interrogation and torture while strapped to a technological rack.
  12. A cantina scene with a diverse range of aliens, including an alien band.
  13. A diminutive, wrinkly alien encourages hero to learn the ways of the Force.
  14. Evil mentor appears via giant hologram.
  15. C-3PO comically interrupts tender moment between Han and Leia.
  16. Planet-sized superweapon with a weak point that must be destroyed by an X-wing assault and Han laying mines.
  17. Flying down trenches.
  18. Hero’s friend with less than perfect past, at one point, threatens to leave and abandon the cause but returns to rescue the hero and save the day.
  19. On the enemy base, the hero witnesses their mentor being killed by the villain from a distance and screams.
  20. Body falling down deep chasm inside a large technological base.
  21. The hero, who doesn’t know everything about their family, learns the ways of the Force and faces the villain (who – in all likelihood – is a family member), who asks them to join the dark side and be trained by them.
  22. The last of the Jedi must complete the hero’s training in part two.

The Light and the Dark (Star Wars: The Original Trilogy)

So, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015) is out today. I have my ticket for an 11 a.m. showing and plan to post about it soon after, but until then, let’s talk original trilogy. So much has been said about these three films that I could easily start regurgitating oft-heard opinions, so I’m gonna stick to a single feature of each film I particularly like and one I particularly dislike; a light side and a dark side, if you will (see what I did there?).

Not Getting Any Action (Star Wars)   

What I dislike about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977) is Luke’s (Mark Hamill) lightsaber never sees any action, and before you all start shouting that the original trilogy isn’t all about dumb action and lightsaber duels like the prequels, hear me out. If you consider that the film was intended to function as a standalone piece – with the prospect of sequels in no way a certainty – then Luke’s lightsaber really should see some action. I mean, he’s given it, told its backstory, trained with it, and then he never uses it. It doesn’t make any sense. Some heroics on the Death Star featuring Luke whipping out his weapon to fend off some stormtrooper fire, proving Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) right about its superiority over a blaster and silencing Han’s (Harrison Ford) mockery, seem like the obvious payoff to this lightsaber setup.

What I like about Star Wars is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia is set up as the damsel in distress whose heart will be won upon her rescue by the brave hero. This doesn’t happen. But I’m not gonna complain about the lack of payoff, because in this case, Luke not getting any action is a good thing. Luke’s fantasising about rescuing Leia is presented like your standard fairy tale adventure, with the hero believing he will win the princess as a reward upon her rescue. It’s made immediately clear upon her rescue that Leia has no interest in falling into the arms of her rescuer. In fact, she’s sure she could have done a far better job if the roles were reversed. Showing Luke’s beliefs were wrong draws attention to the sexist ‘women as reward’ trope, acknowledging the belief that women are just objects to be won is pure fantasy. In the end, no one wins Leia, and the heroes’ rewards are the friendships they’ve formed and their personal growth. Oh, and shiny, shiny medals. Look at them shine!

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The Wrong and the Right Kind of Force (The Empire Strikes Back)

What I dislike about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980) is Han and Leia’s relationship. I can hear the boos from fandom again, but again, hear me out. Why does Leia fall for Han? All he does is pester her about his belief that she has feelings for him – when she seems adamant she doesn’t – and jibe her with misogynistic remarks. And somehow this courtship technique works? What? Did he force her into submission with his sexism? What kind of message is that? No matter how many times a girl says no, just keep pestering them and acting like a jerk and eventually they’ll give in because every girl, deep down, loves a bad boy? I’m not averse to the idea of them having a relationship, just the way it’s presented. Han does nothing to deserve Leia; he doesn’t change his ways, and he’s too arrogant even to tell her he loves her when he may never see her again.

LEIA: “I love you.”

HAN: “I know.”

There’s a suggestion in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983), when this famous exchange is reversed, that Han loves Leia for her ruthlessness and ingenuity as a fighter. These are attributes she has in common with Han, and ones that Empire would have done better to draw attention to, to make their relationship more believable and morally credible.

What I like about The Empire Strikes Back is its energy. There is no sitting down to work out emotional issues; it’s all worked out during the action, which makes it really exciting. We also have an exuberant Yoda (Frank Oz). The Yoda in Empire is fun. He laughs, cracks jokes, is full of energy and good advice, is surrounded by nature, and is enjoying life! The stiff, humourless Yoda of the prequels, who spends his time sitting in a big metal tower with a bunch of other stiff, humourless characters, makes the light side look a lot less appealing.

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Strangle that Slug, Sister (Return of the Jedi)

No, I’m not gonna hate on the Ewoks. Yes, perhaps their defeat of the Empire is slightly ridiculous, but it has symbolism, drawing attention to the series’ theme of technology vs nature; as the equally ridiculous destruction of the Death Star in the first film did, which is not criticised nearly as much. Plus, they’re damn cute! No, what I dislike about Return of the Jedi is Leia’s reveal as Luke’s sister, which is far more ridiculous than teddy bears beating up space Nazis. It was clearly just included in an attempt to rival the “I am your father” twist from Empire, and it fails miserably. Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) revelation came out of nowhere, but still had credibility, a big emotional punch, and consequences (the bad guy’s the good guy’s dad? Oh no! How can he keep fighting him now?). Leia being Luke’s sister was clearly never the intention of the filmmakers while making the previous films – Luke’s attraction to Leia being a main story point of the first film – and doesn’t really change the character dynamics (the heroine’s the hero’s sister! Well, I guess he’ll carry on caring for her just like he did before. Just with less kissing). Furthermore, when Leia is told she’s Luke’s sister, she doesn’t react to the fact this also means Darth Vader is her father. What’s all that about? Lazy writing, that’s what that’s all about.

What I like about Return of the Jedi is… Well, it was a lot harder to think of something, to be honest, and what I eventually thought of is still connected to something I dislike. I dislike Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit (as did Carrie Fisher). Leia has gone from a strong female character, who would not be a reward for any man, and who would always stand up for herself with her actions and her words, to being dressed up like a prostitute for an obese space slug and seemingly shocked into silence by the trauma. The one thing I do like about this is Leia gets to strangle her male oppressor with the very chains he imprisoned her with. It’s something at least.

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