I’ve often criticized books for overpowered protagonists, failure to follow Sanderson’s laws of magic, (which I will revise to Sanderson’s laws of special powers), use of plot coupons, subversion without a cause, and conflicts between text and subtext.
In order to further flesh that out, I will analyze three movies that illustrate this problem, as well as a common problem Hollywood seems to be having in regards to writing good female characters.
Here, there are three movies which have received critical acclaim, but fail to achieve true greatness because of these, (and some other), failings. The three movies analyzed are Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
A good starting point is Avery Brook. He’s asked “What was it like playing the first black space captain in Star Trek?” His answer was probably not what the audience member expected, but it’s brilliant.
He says you can’t portray blackness. You can only portray a person. If instead, you only portray a group representation, then your entire character becomes that portrayal.
In older movies, this would be your typical yellowface/blackface character. In modern movies, it’s the character of no flaws. Because these aren’t women as people, they’re women as a group identity, they must be portrayed how the group identity sees them: flawless.
But because these character have no flaws, they’re boring. There is no room for character growth. Character growth occurs when the character has some flaw, and as a result of change that occurs through the story, overcomes their weakness and becomes a better person.
Rey and Wonder Woman have no flaws, at least not any that have room for growth. Rey’s character arc revolves around her realizing her parents aren’t coming back (Force Awakens) and that her parents were nobodies (Last Jedi). Those aren’t character flaws. Wonder Woman’s flaw is that she thinks society can be changed for the better by beating Ares… which then actually works. So even that isn’t a flaw. This storytelling error, which I call Vanilla Wafer Good, is antithetical to storytelling.
These three movies are analyzed because they are all somewhat polarizing, and that’s because they all suffer, to greater and lesser degrees, from the exact same problems. The lowest offender is Force Awakens, followed by Wonder Woman, ending with The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi is such a great offender that it almost seems to take a perverse pleasure in being bad.
The hope is that this will help writers and readers gain a greater understanding of why these things create problems. It can be hard to take criticism of your own work or about work you enjoy, so hopefully you hate at least one of these movies so you can soak up the lessons. If you love all of these movies without reservation, you will probably not get much from these reviews.
Also, since this is an in-depth review, there will be lots of spoilers.
First, let me talk about why there’s a rift between critical consensus on some of these films and audience consensus. Modern movie critics are like John Maynard Keynes description of the stock market. The trick, according to Keynes, one of the very few economists who actually earned money on the stock market, is to realize that what you think about any stock is irrelevant. You are strictly betting on what other people will think about the stock market.
He likened it to a beauty pageant where you aren’t picking which woman you consider the most attractive, but which one you think most people will think is the most attractive. This is the situation that most movie critics find themselves in.
Many if not most of those arguably more pretentious and middlebrow critics were skeptical of science fiction pictures and their sequels and mass-marketed movies more generally…
The opposite is true today. Those out-of-work critics have largely been supplanted by bloggers and fans, and their instincts and impulses are radically different. Fans are fans. They like most everything, especially if it’s “genre” and provides them with special “fan service” moments—scenes that delve into the arcana of “canon” and delight those who have spent an inordinate amount of their lives thinking about the comic books or movies they loved as children and teenagers. Some bloggers have a direct financial interest in keeping on the good side of their movie-obsessed readers (lest they lose clicks) and the publicity machines that offer them junkets and interview access—and awards-season advertising.
As a result, while earlier critics had a hoity-toity bias against sequels to popular science fiction fare of the past, newer voices have an emotional bias toward them enhanced by fear—fear of alienating social-media rageaholics who will denounce them in comments and on Twitter, and of the loss of their somewhat elevated status with the powers-that-be in filmdom. They want to love them. They need to love them. So there ain’t no way they ain’t gonna love them. Even when they don’t deserve the love.
The greatest parody of this new “nerd culture” love is the “Nerd Crew Podcast” by Redlettermedia.
Anyway, movie critics who were disdainful of nerd culture now have to pretend to be nerds because nerd culture has started to suffuse itself in everything.
This is the first movie up because I have seen lots of blogs that act like this movie was the second coming of Jesus Christ. It’s not. It’s literally every-single-Marvel-Origin-Movie done in DCU instead of Marvel.
I get it. Fans have waited so long for a decent DCU movie that they would vote a thumbs up for anything. I’ll return to this point in The Force Awakens. I also get that lots of people were looking for a super heroine movie, as other female superheroes have been side characters rather than main characters. Unless you want to count Elektra. But you don’t want to count Elektra.
The problems start at the very beginning. One of the rules of magic from Brandon Sanderson is that the level of awesomeness in any encounter is proportional to how well the viewers understand the magic system. Let’s modify that slightly for this example. The level of awesomeness in a superhero battle is directly proportional to how well we understand that superhero’s powers.
I do not understand Wonder Woman’s powers. It starts off with the sword fight. In this sword fight, neither Gal Gadot nor random other person is wearing any armor. They are fighting with real swords. Now, a brief primer on fighting with weapons. Every system of weapons fighting either relies upon using armor or using blunted weapons for training. The reason is that if you fight with swords, you might actually kill the other person.
The only ways not to kill the other person is to constantly pull your attacks, but that trains you to not pull the trigger in a fight. This is a really bad habit to develop in a fight. The final way to avoid killing your partner is to use a predetermined series of strikes and counters, commonly called a kata. But in this movie’s sword fight, neither fighter is pulling attacks or attacking in a pre-rehearsed fashion.
That means that death and/or serious injury should be a regular occurrence amongst the Amazonians. However, at a part of the battle, Wonder Woman does a super shout(?) and it causes the other Amazonian to get a minor injury. Everyone glares at Wonder Woman for injuring the woman, and she runs off as a result of this.
Let’s not mince words here. Everything about this sequence is stupid.
First, throughout the entire beginning, everyone keeps saying, “She must not know what she is”. This kills the “plot twist”. The movie shows us a mythical sword which is supposedly the God Killer. But, (spoiler) the Godkiller is actually Wonder Woman!
Then we see her use a special power that presumably, other Amazonians don’t have. This again reinforces that she’s different and kills the plot twist. This event is merely used so that she’ll be the first to arrive at the shore and see Chris Pine go into the Amazonian World. So the sequence is used for plot convenience rather than story necessity.
But even worse, what actual powers she has seems to depend on what the plot finds convenient.
We can call this affect the Law of Unexplained Powers. In any medium where the powers are not explained, they will be whatever the writer needs them to be. I could also call this The Law of the Covenant.
For example, later on, we’ll see her walk through bullets. Even though they all conveniently only hit her four inches of armor, we also see her smash through walls and ram through tanks. So… did no one else on Amazon island notice that swords don’t hurt her? Do swords hurt her? Do bullets hurt her? What are her actual powers?
We get another ridiculous scene like this when Chris Pine realizes he’s being followed, and instead of leading her through open streets in public, he takes her through a side alley. There, they’re all surrounded. If any of the five people shoots, they will kill them.
But instead, only one person shoots. The rest stand around stupidly. It recalls something Bruce Lee said about why his films took place in older China rather than modern China. He said that if it took place in modern times, someone would just pull out a gun and shoot, and that’d be the end of the fight.
Of course, my brain picked up on all these problems as I watched it, but there was a specific scene which completely killed my interest in the movie. It’s when Wonder Woman crosses the “No Man’s Zone” of WWI.
This is an abject lesson in what’s wrong with how Hollywood writes female characters. Throughout the entire Wonder Woman movie, there has been no character arc for Wonder Woman. Yeah, I know what you’re going to say, “She learns that evil is greater than one person”, but first, that’s not a character flaw. Second, the movie undercuts that lesson at the very end, when a single fight with Ares stops the war. We’ll get into that when discuss text vs. subtext.
No arterial bombshells, no mustard gas, no tanks, no machine gun fire, crossing the “No Man’s Zone” is ridiculously easy.
The scene begs complete historical disbelief, (which, if you’re going to bring up “But it’s not meant to be historical”, go f*** yourself, because this is clearly based in a fictionalized historical World), and it brings up a flaw in Wonder Woman. She has a few accessories that can stop bullets, but going across a machine-gun firing field, she doesn’t get a single bullet wound or scratch.
This is a confusing part of the movie. We see her go through walls, tanks, buildings, etc. At the end of the final fight, which brings back all of the Man of Steel thoughts, she isn’t injured at all. So is she impervious to bullets? If so, why does she need the bracelet things?
This brings up yet another problem. Every time we see Gal Gadot, she looks like she is in a shampoo commercial. We never see her scratched up, bruised, cut, etc. Compare what she looks like to what Bruce Willis looks like in “Die Hard”. Because we see her get smashed around by a literal God and narry a misplaced hair atop her head, the impression we get as an audience is that she’s impervious to harm.
Which brings up another problem. Feminists criticize video game characters because the women walk in a sexualized manner. That’s because the mocap artists are using models, who walk in that stylized manner. You can play female commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2 if you want to see what a female character using male animations looks like. Ironically, the combination of awesome voice acting plus the male animations made femshep a minor internet celebrity.
But let’s get back to the movie. Each of these scenes illustrates the first problem. Wonder Woman seems to gain powers as the plot needs them. This means there’s no excitement in watching her do battle, since we already know that what she can do depends on what the plot thinks is convenient at any moment.
The second is that she has a group of people following her around, but none of them are worth anything or do anything. This is the biggest problem with an OP character, the more OP a character, the more useless every other character becomes.
Finally, we get to the next supremely problematic scene. The final battle. I haven’t gone over the mustache-twirling villains, or what I like to call puppy-kicking villains, but yes. These are the two dumbest villains in a movie.
Anyway, there’s a fight with one, where we find out that the person the movie has set up to be the big baddie is not the big baddie. We find out that it’s some random British person instead. We then get a bunch of random punching.
This brings up the same problem in Man of Steel. Do I care if two invincible people are punching each other repeatedly? They can’t actually hurt each other, so who cares? A related problem, Patty Jenkins can’t direct action. She clearly doesn’t know how to do it.
There’s a movie called XX, which is a series of four horror anthologies directed by women. It’s horrible. One of the reasons why is in the interviews with the women, several of them state they don’t like horror movies. Let that sink in. They’re directing horror movies, but they don’t like horror movies.
I think Patty Jenkins is in the same spot with Wonder Woman. When you look at what she’s directed, she’s done brilliant work, but none of it is in action. No offense to her, but I’d rather see her make another Monster than be forced to direct a style that she isn’t suited or interested in.
So, what can we glean from this? First, it’s important to give characters flaws. Wonder Woman is an amalgamation of two other movies: Thor and Captain America. The “fish out of water” sequences of Thor with the overall character of Captain America.
In Thor, Thor is a cocky jackass who nearly starts a war and gets his teammates killed. As punishment, Odin throws him down to Earth to learn humility. This interesting first act is where he learns to accept humility. The boring second part is where he fights a bunch of random things.
In Captain America, Steve Rogers is a physical wimp who has to overcome his own limitations to join the military. It isn’t until an officer sees him jump on a fake grenade that he decides that Steve should be selected for a special program that turns him into Captain America. The boring second part is he fights a bunch of random things.
Analyzing wonder woman, it’s an interesting love story for the first part that becomes a boring second part where she fights a bunch of random things.
Frankly, lots of the movie is just lackluster. The entire first sequence with her as a little kid and teenager are terrible. Boring dialogue, bad acting, (the fact that all the women used weird accents to imitate Gal’s speech pattern didn’t help), and the fact that they give away the “plot twist” in the first act, doesn’t help.
Another problem is a directing problem. Even outside of the action sequences, Patty Jenkins uses boring shots.
I make fun of Zach Snyder because the way he directs, it seems like he envisions a “money shot” first, and then he sets up every other sequence to make that money shot occur. The result is a chaotic and disorganized sequence of images that leads up to the money shot, often at the expense of whatever is going on in the actual story.
Patty Jenkins shoots more coherently. There is no conflict created by her choices of framing shots. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single frame that stands out either.
A good director should be able to do both. For an example of directing that is both coherent and beautiful, see Mad Max: Fury.
Another problem is the use of the Zack Snyder-esque slow motion sequences. There’s a key to using slow-motion. Slow-motion should be used to either reveal important information or to highlight the chaos of a battle. For a slowdown revealing information, see the trailer for The Shining. For a slowdown revealing the chaos of war, see Saving Private Ryan.
Even another director known for using slowdowns for emphasizing awesomeness, John Woo, understands the importance of when to use slow motion and when not to.
Now that we’ve talked about individual scenes and directing choices, let’s talk about the overall movie.
The overall message of the movie is confused because there’s a conflict between text and subtext. To make this incredibly simple, text is what the literal text of the story tells you. Subtext is the entire framing of the issue.
To examine that, let’s look at Transformers. In Transformers, the actual character arc of Megan Fox’s character is that she’s a beautiful woman who knows everything about cars. She complains about how men don’t understand her brilliant mind, but only focus on her good looks and body.
That’s text. But the subtext is given through all of the shots that Michael Bay uses to establish her. In all of these shots, the camera leers and ogles her. The subtext of the film is “yes, she’s just a sex object to be stared at.” Text and subtext collide.
Text and subtext collide so often in a Michael Bay film that they produce an interesting phenomena. Immediately after viewing a Michael Bay film, most people can’t remember anything about it. The cognitive dissonance, as well as visual overload, makes the story completely forgettable. There’s so much going on that nothing is actually being registered.
So, with that understanding out of the way, let’s talk about text and subtext in Wonder Woman. The text of Wonder Woman is that there is good and bad in all of us. Life is more complex than good vs. bad. This is given to us directly in a speech that Chris Pine makes at the end.
But then there’s the subtext. The subtext of the movie is given when Wonder Woman kills Ares at the end, and ends the entire war.
Thus the text says that there is good and evil in all, but the subtext says that a single good person can kill a single bad person and end a world war. Text vs. subtext.
But all of that isn’t the biggest problem with Wonder Woman. The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman. She is given absolutely no flaws. As a result, she’s a dull character.
Let’s talk about a common gripe I have with characters without flaws. There are several scenes where doing something stupid should result in a catastrophe, but because the writer refuses to give the character a flaw, through luck and/or coincidence, doing something fatally stupid will somehow work.
The worst offender here is the “shark jumping” scene in No Man’s land. Wonder Woman has no knowledge of modern military tactics or warfare. Despite warning from more seasoned veterans, she runs out into the middle of a warzone. So, her running out into the middle of a killing field with mustard gas, artillery, machine guns, etc. should have resulted in the immediate slaughter of the entire group that followed her out there, trying to save her and/or follow her example.
That would have given her a character flaw, (naiveté), and reinforced text with subtext, that she’s a fish out of water. Instead, running into the middle of a killing field results in no casualties on her side, and they easily break through. It destroys all of the previous dialogue about how neither side had gained an advantage after years of fighting.
This causes another problem. All of the side characters have nothing to do. Outside from Chris Pine, the side characters should be thrown into a meat grinder. The female secretary to Chris Pine is obnoxious, as are most of the male characters that follow Pine around. Because Wonder Woman can already do everything, there isn’t anything left for anyone else to do.
Finally, there’s the problem I talked about at the beginning. What are Wonder Woman’s powers? How come sometimes she can use a gigantic force bubble, sometimes not? How come getting hit by lightning causes her to gain more power? Can she stop bullets or not? Why does running through a building not hurt her? What good are her bracers if she can’t be hurt?
Because we don’t know the limits of her powers, we don’t feel the stakes of her being in combat.
Breaking it down, this is a boring/middling film with an above average romance story that’s destroyed by everything else surrounding it. It’s competent enough, but is competent really the standard that we want to start judging movies by?
This brings us to competent movie number 2.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Take everything I said above, and it’s mostly going to be the same.
The Force Awakens is a far more competent film. But the biggest problem is Rey. She’s written the exact same way as Wonder Woman. She has no flaws.
This is also a nice time to talk about the overpowered protagonist and when it makes sense for them to be overpowered. If you watch Dragon Ball, you’ll know that Goku is the most overpowered protagonist in history. But, and this is a key point, he’s also a total moron.
Because he’s a total moron, he has to lean heavily on Bulma to help him find the dragon balls. This makes sense from a story perspective, Goku was raised by his grandpa out in the middle of nowhere. So, he’s not the most intellectual person alive.
Another example of the tempered OP protagonist is in Die Hard. If you watch Die Hard, you know that Bruce Willis is a complete badass within one domain, doing cop things. However, he’s not a very good husband. His overpowered nature only extends to one domain, and it’s a domain that we understand because of the character.
John McClane, super computer hacker, would not make any sense in the context of the story. The OP-ness of any character should be directly related to that character’s storyline.
So, in the context of the story in Force Awakens, Rey is a desert scavenger. Yet, she’s somehow a super fighter with her staff. (She even does some kata forms in the Last Jedi). When do scavengers do kata forms and practice staff fighting?
Now, as an example that is OP that is within her domain, she knows how to repair a spacecraft. Yeah, being a scavenger doesn’t automatically equate to being a repairer, but it’s at least explainable. She’s seen enough space crafts to know where the parts go, and she can tell the quality of the parts from when she sells them, and she has to craft her own bike at least, so there’s some plausibility there. It’s far better than when Anakin decides to create C3PO, a protocol droid and the most useless robot imaginable, for his mother in the prequels.
Now, OP that is outside of her domain, she gets into a gun fight with the Stormtroopers. She’s never fired a blaster before in her life. She’s even looking down the wrong eye when she aims it. This would be a perfect time to introduce a character flaw that would require her to rely upon her companions or where her weakness would have to be overcome. Instead of using a blaster, she could lure them into a trap or otherwise solve the problem.
Instead, she’s fine. She can shoot a blaster just fine. Whatever. We run into the same problems when she faces Kylo Ren. Despite having no training whatsoever, she beats him at every force battle they have.
Rey’s big character arc is that she stays on the planet in the middle of nowhere because she thinks her parents will return at some point, even though she’s a full grown adult. But then she’s told that her parents will never return. That’s her character arc.
In The Last Jedi, the writer/director seems to understand how terrible a character Rey is. She doesn’t want anything, so she’s just running along, doing stuff. In Force Awakens, she runs away from doing anything repeatedly, only to be brought back into it by plot MacGuffin.
It shouldn’t need saying, but I guess I’ll say it, a character’s arc should:
- Have consequences upon the story.
- Should be brought about as a direct result of what happens in the story.
Her “arc”, if it can be called that, has no consequences in the story and isn’t brought about by anything other than someone telling her that her parents are never going to come back. Her second “arc” is that she wants to know her place in the World and “do the right thing.” It’s the second arc that sucks.
In a good character arc, the decision to “do the right thing” is the consequence of some story element. Batman is fighting crime in Gotham as the result of his parents dying when he was a child. Spiderman does the right thing because his inaction lead to his uncle Ben being killed. Thor does the right thing because he’s a spoiled child initially and gets stripped of his powers and sent to Earth until he can learn to wield power responsibly. Captain America wants to do the right thing because he was scrawny, weak, and bullied.
See, all of these characters want to “do the right thing” as a result of some other event. In Rey’s life, the catalyst is…?
Like Wonder Woman, we have the same problem that Sanderson already warned us about. When we don’t know the magic/power system in use, we can’t enjoy a victory. The powers displayed in this movie are far beyond anything in the original trilogy, or even in the prequels. This is always an ominous sign, because like Wonder Woman, it inevitably means that the victory will be sealed with previously unknown and unexplained power.
Anyway, like Wonder Woman, the side characters have nothing to do. Finn is there, but his character arc is weird. He’s a Stormtrooper who doesn’t want to commit violence. So he murders a bunch of his stormtrooper friends. You can see there’s no problem with the logic involved there.
Like Wonder Woman and the mysteriously overpowered protagonist, Rey can easily escape any predicament, so there’s never any tension in the scenes with her.
With the unexplained powers now bestowed to the force, Kylo Ren gets shot with a blaster by Chewbacca, which normally sends people flying into the sky. But here, it doesn’t move him on a walkway.
So is this a force power? Or did it just go completely through his side? Did he blunt the impact with the force or is he only holding his guts in with the force? If it’s the latter, then he should have died when he gets knocked out at the end as his guts would have gone falling out. See the problem with using unexplained powers?
There’s a few other minor gripes. There’s a lot of inappropriate/not-funny humor in it.
For all of these criticisms, the major criticism is that the movie is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original trilogy. It even goes to the point where Han Solo, when they talk about destroying yet another death star, says, “yeah yeah, we’ve done this all before.”
Chris Stuckmann gives the very lame excuse that all of the movies have sequences in common. This is true, but also banal. At a certain distance, Hamlet and The Lion King are the same movie. If you ignore characters, plot, narration, style, and tone. You know, if you ignore everything.
But The Force Awakens is a point-by-point remake, apparently designed by a committee, that introduces some new characters and toys to sell children. It’s only if you ignore all the similarities in characters, plot, narration, style, and tone that you can say otherwise.
That said, Force Awakens is a decent film overall. But then, a godawful abomination is given to us.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Well, let me amend that. This movie is an abomination if you viewed the original trilogy. If you forget the original trilogy, or have never seen it, then this film might be meh. Not great, but ok. The biggest problem with it is that while other movies thus far studied have used a few plot coupons, this movie could pretty much be called Plot Coupons: The movie.
The movie overall feels like a middle finger to the critics of the Force Awakens. Didn’t like the fact that the other one was too “by the numbers”? This one will take that and smack you across the face with it, it will go out of its way to break cannon and the established film genre.
The first problem is things that were annoying in the Force Awakens are now amplified to the nth degree. The bad comedy? You better get ready for a whole heaping of it. Overpowered female characters? You better get ready for a lot more of it. And the expansion of force powers? The force is now an all-powerful magic that can do whatever the plot needs it to do in any situation, even though the film says that it’s just the energy that binds together living creatures. Don’t go looking for any consistency in this film.
If you can say anything positive about this, it’s that it’s a total mess. That doesn’t sound like a compliment, but whereas the Force Awakens is a movie designed by committee, this one is clearly an auteur project, even though not by an auteur who knows what they’re doing.
This movie is a mess when it comes to text vs subtext.
So let’s start untangling that mess. The plot, such as it is, involves three tangled webs that get brought together at the end.
Plot thread one is with Po, a cocky young pilot who was promoted in the Force Awakens. Somehow, despite being a small resistance in the first film, the First Order is now a gigantic Empire and the ruling Empire is now… the resistance. Again, plot consistency is not a virtue in this story.
Anyway, when the rebel base gets attacked, Po realizes that they can take out a star destroyer. So he devises a counterattack using a series of bombers to take out a star destroyer. It’s pretty much classic Star Wars, even if the “your mama” jokes that he uses to sneak the attack past are insanely lame. A small rebel force takes out a much larger force through the use of guile. And also classic Star Wars, one of the female commanders of the bomber ships gives up her life in order to destroy the star ship. We’ll get back to the text vs subtext problem that this creates.
Instead of being congratulated on his brilliant counterattack and destruction of a massive star ship, Po is reprimanded by General Leia, and demoted. Now we get to text vs subtext. The text here is that Po should learn not to be cocky. Except we learn that the brilliant plan that Leia and her general come up with is to drive their spaceship until it runs out of gas. Which means all of the bomber ships would have been destroyed anyway, and they would have been getting pelted by a star destroyer as well, which presumably would have eaten up more of their gas reserves.
So the subtext is that Po was right in his actions. But the text says that he was wrong. When your text and subtext are fighting each other, your story is going to have problems. More importantly, the Po angle never gets resolved. He’s too cocky at the beginning. But at the end, he pulls back and retreats when going up against the First Order, which makes their opening gambit against the First Order completely useless and wastes a bunch of lives.
He gets saved by Luke Skywalker, Rey, and some crystal foxes, not through the use of his own cunning, cleverness, bravery, or skills. What an amazing lesson there is in that. “Do nothing and hope someone else will save you”. Thanks movie!
Anyway, we learn through “Unknown Plot Device” that the First Order can now follow ships through hyperspace, something established as impossible in the previous series. But plot needs this to happen for this series, so it does. I don’t mind this so much but let’s be real here. This technology would be worth way more than the “Death Star that we keep making and getting blown up”.
In the initial onslaught of the ship, the commander’s bay is destroyed, shooting Princess Leia out into space. Whereas in the original trilogy, Leia only had the ability to sense when Luke Skywalker was nearby, she now has more powers than any other Jedi. Which makes you wonder why this is called The Last Jedi.
Being able to survive the vacuum of space along with absolute zero temperatures while unconscious and shielding yourself from a blast, then being able to move yourself along in the vacuum of space, surely this counts for super jedi powers? After all, in the original trilogy, the force can make you jump higher, lift rocks, and gives you premonition.
This is why fans of the original trilogy will hate this movie. Again, this movie seems to go out of its way to show spite towards fans, but even if we remove that, we hit the Sanderson problem again. Without knowing what the Force powers are now, we know two things. First, any problem will be resolved by “The Force”. Second, any time there is a problem that requires writing, the Force will resolve it.
She gets taken in and another female assumes the role of leader. Po questions the leader about what her plans are, she says that they will head in one direction and do nothing. This brings us to the central plot of this film: How much gas does a ship have?
This leads us to three splitting paths. The first path is Po, Leia, and that General, the second is Rose and Finn, and the third is Rey and Skywalker.
Rose and Finn’s storyline goes nowhere. Finn has a bracelet from Leia that will lead Rey back to the ship. So he has to survive in order to lead Rey back to the ship.
Since the General hasn’t said what her plan is, he concocts a plan to find a hacker who can get them onboard a First Order ship, then pick up that hacker, transport them back to the mothership, jam the beacon on the First Order ship, and then return back to the original mothership.
If it sounds convoluted, you haven’t seen the movie. There’s a lot of plot holes that get left here like, “How much gas does one of these escape pods have, since they have to be able to reach an entirely different planet, exit off that planet, and then return? Or were they planning on buying a new spaceship when they got onto the new planet?”
Well shut up, says the movie. Even though the other escape pods that we see only drift slowly through space, this one is seemingly able to teleport. Because plot requires it.
Anyway, they arrive at the casino to mostly stumble around awkwardly and be given some exposition about Rose’s backstory. Then they get caught instead of finding the person they are after, for a parking violation.
Then they get into prison, where they coincidentally meet someone who can do exactly what they need, because the plot coupons are strong in this one. After plot coupon breaks them out of jail, they then escape using some creatures that are poorly guarded. Because one good plot coupon deserves another.
After riding the creatures around and smashing things without sustaining any injuries or being unable to ride this new creature, they get off it and are rescued by the person who got them out of the jail cell.
It’s an important note here that Finn and Rose have failed at everything they’ve done. The only reason that they’ve found someone to help them is because the plot requires them to have found someone, not because they’ve done anything intelligent or heroic in all this time.
This is something the film does constantly. We’ve seen the Jedi escape in the Jaba the Hutt sequence in Return of the Jedi. So it sets it up like it’s going to do exactly what Return of the Jedi did, except it immediately subverts it. This is one reason why fans of the original trilogy hate this one.
But it’s not my job as a writing critic to point out how the s diverges from the original. It is my job to point out how this makes the entire plot line worthless.
You could remove this entire sequence of events and it would only marginally change the plot. In fact, the only thing that they do accomplish in the end is getting a bunch of people killed. But we’ll get to that.
This cuts us over to Rey who is trying to get Luke Skywalker to train her. This version of Luke is an old grouch who won’t train Rey. This scene played out in Empire Strikes Back when Luke Skywalker went to train with Yoda, but that movie knew to keep it brief. Get the point across and move on. This movie does not know how to do that.
So there’s a lot of pointless things that go on, until finally, Rey convinces Luke to “train” her. His training consists of telling her what the Force is, that Jedi’s are useless, and that the Jedi’s should be destroyed.
There’s a whole series of problems with this entire sequence. One, even ignoring all the plot holes that it opens up, you could remove 90% of these sequences. The filler is strong with this one.
Two, the amount of plot holes this opens up are immense. Through “newfound magic powers of the force”, Kylo and Rey are able to talk to each other. Three, Luke says he doesn’t want to be contacted, but gave a precise map to identify where he was. This seems a little contradictory, but as said earlier, being consistent is not a virtue in this movie.
Anyway, the movie continues by introducing a black hole thing that goes nowhere and does nothing. Again, this movie seems to want to deliberately break away with the traditions of the original trilogy by subverting them, so instead of training and gaining new powers, Rey learns nothing from Luke.
Anyway, her “training” complete, Yoda gains a new power to come back from the dead and zaps the Jedi’s history and methods with a gigantic lightning bolt, because plot says that needs to happen.
It then cuts back to Po, who is trying to buy time from the general. He stages a mini-coup, which then gets put down quickly. The general reveals to them that her plan was to go to a long-abandoned rebel base on a planet, which was exactly 18 hours worth of gas away. It is very convenient that it was exactly 18 hours of gas away, but if this movie knows one thing, it’s how to redeem a plot coupon. She was going to go there and let the space pods escape.
For being a great general, she doesn’t seem to realize the obvious problems with her plan.
One, the star destroyers can see the other ships. There’s nothing to stop them from destroying them. Instead of using the other ships as battering rams to weaken the First Order’s ships, which is what she does at the end with her own ship, she simply lets the crews onboard die for no good reason.
Two, the First Order can easily send out crews to investigate the planet after it’s done.
Three, what was the point in waiting until the end when a mutiny is staged to reveal all this? Text vs subtext again, for a great general, she doesn’t seem that bright when you investigate what she does.
Four, if the calculations were off or if they were diverted at any point, the plan wouldn’t have worked. Having a backup plan seems like something a good general would do. But fortunately, the general read the script and knew that a plot coupon would be waiting around every corner.
Meanwhile, Rose, Finn, and new hacker guy get onboard the star destroyer, but right at the end, they get captured. Again, this is another subversion of what we expect from A New Hope where they break into the ship to rescue the princess. The new hacker guy turns them in and tells the First Order about the plan to evacuate to a planet.
We then get a battle with Finn, who went from a man who abhorred by violence to willing to duke it out with his old commander. Much like the original trilogy here, his old commander turns out to be as useless as Boba Fett in the original.
While the battle is going on, Rey meets up with Kylo on board the star ship, who immediately brings her to general Snoke or whatever his name is. They talk and Kyle kills Snoke. So the big baddie was just some dude. How he got all those force powers isn’t explained, because who cares? Not this movie. We have another point where the movie seems to go out of its way to give a razzie to its own fans.
Kylo and Rey fight each other after Rey learns that her father and mother were some random people. Again, another razzie to fans.
It cuts back to the General, who orders an evacuation. The First Order immediately begins shooting down the planes. So the general turns the ship around and rams it through the First Order ship. This is going to be an example of text vs subtext in a minute. This is probably the only moment in the film where it felt like Star Wars.
Underneath the entire Star Wars saga, there’s a running theme of sacrifice. Obi-wan sacrifices himself, Luke sacrifices his hand, Darth Vader sacrifices himself at the end, etc. Unfortunately, the film couldn’t let this go without screwing it up.
Rey escapes, the First Order pursues the Jedi onto the new planet, they have a battle which makes us think of the battle in Empire Strikes Back, but it again subverts it.
This time, the reason that the Resistance or whatever they’re called in this film is fighting is because they have a single door that stands as the entrance. So the First Order has a battering ram that can fire and destroy the entire door. The resistance decides to mount up a defense and take out the battering ram.
After getting slaughtered, Po decides that the resistance should fall back. Finn disobeys the order and makes a suicide rush at the battering ram. Rose then rams into his ship, causing them both to crash. When Finn asks her why she did it, she says “We don’t win by fighting what we hate, but by protecting what we love.”
In addition to this being an asinine statement, it undermines what the general did. The general sacrificed herself so that the ships could escape. That’s the subtext. But the text here is that the general is wrong. Sacrifice and strategy are for suckers, you should do nothing and wait around, because a plot coupon will save you.
Anyway, Finn and Rose somehow make it back to the main base, even though their ship is destroyed. The beam is charging up to destroy the entrance. But never fear fans, because plot coupons will keep coming.
This time, Luke Skywalker appears. He gets into a battle with the First Order, and with Kylo, only to reveal that he’s actually an astral projection. More plot coupons, keep them raining down. As always, once you give an unspecified power, the temptation to use the unspecified power to write your way out of a hole will always be there. That is the true Dark Side.
Our next plot coupon gets redeemed immediately after. There’s a group of crystal foxes, that only exist to show that there is another way out of the rebel base. They find it, but they can’t exit, and Rey arrives at the entrance where the crystal foxes are leaving to clear out the rocks and rescues them. She then flies the rebels off in the millenium falcon, where we get hit with the lesson of this movie twice.
The first time, the rebels fire off a distress signal that no one answers, and they say, “It will be up to us to forge a new rebellion.” The second time is when the movie ends by showing the kids on an ore-mining planet turning a rebel ring symbol on.
Did you get it? It’s saying, “This is a movie meant for the new generation. F*** all you old fans.”
My critical analysis? Even if you ignore all the times where it explicitly goes against canon, this movie sucks. At least 70% of the movie is filler that leads nowhere and does nothing. There are no character arcs. Rey learns nothing, Po learns nothing, Rose learns nothing, etc.
The amount of plot coupons is ridiculous. The amount of plot MacGuffins is ridiculous. The moral of the story is “Do nothing and hope that you will be saved by a miracle.” It’s not dark. The Empire Strikes Back was dark. This is just stupid.
Even ignoring all that, the movie is just plain boring. Again, this is a movie that hinges on how much gas a ship has.
The overall point seems to be that the Force must always be in balance, every light Jedi will bring about an equal dark Jedi. Since Snoke died, so too must Skywalker. Which means that Skywalker’s belief that killing the Jedi is the only way to restore balance is correct, and killing Rey would be the best thing he could do. Sadly, he never seems to follow this through all the way to its logical conclusion.
The final verdict? This movie is like The Dark Knight Rises. That movie was a spectacle. I expected Bane to say, ‘Are you not entertained?’ If you enjoy spectacle, and don’t mind problems with plot, characters, or past continuity; you will enjoy this film. If those things bother you, look elsewhere.
The biggest problem with this movie, outside from wasted time and pointless side quests, is Chekhov’s gun, which I’ve talked about in other articles. There are no setups and payoffs, everything is strictly payoffs with no setups or setups that lead to nothing.
We’ve examined a few things here. First, why Hollywood can’t write a good female character. It’s because Hollywood will not create a female character with any sort of flaws. Even when there is ostensibly a flaw in the character, it never manifests in any way in the story. This means they never grow, they remain dull and flat characters.
Having an overpowered character may not be a fatal flaw, but it needs to be within the context of the story. When characters have powers that are outside of what they should know, it shows in the story.
Second, we’ve seen how plot coupons can ruin a story. One of the tell-tale signs that a plot coupon will be used is when Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Power/Magic are violated.
If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting. –H. G. Wells
Third, we’ve looked at text vs subtext. If text and subtext are colliding, then the story will feel muddled and confused.
Fourth, we’ve examined why most critics are terrible at analyzing nerd culture, because they hate it and yet have to pretend that they love it in order to make money. They’re like blind men at a beauty pageant.