Yet Another ‘Rogue One’-Related Article

Author’s Note: I’m just posting this to get it off my chest and maybe compensate for releasing such a short TTR/TTS compared to the usual, so the post won’t be all that polished (not that my other posts can be considered as such when you think about it), nor all that long.

I’m pretty sure we’re all sick and tired about any discussion of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I know I am. Still, because I have little better to do at the moment, I may as well bring up one issue I had with that movie which doesn’t get as much prominence as I feel it deserves.

Rogue One was billed by its creators as a grittier, more grounded war film. This was supposed to be something different from what was usually presented in the Star Wars setting, but when you think about it, that wasn’t really true so much as yet another claim to promote the film just like how The Force Awakens kept publicizing its so-called emphasis on practical effects.

The problem with the movie is simple: it suffered from a major identity crisis. By that I mean that RO could not decide whether it wanted to be a gritty war movie or a Star Wars film. Sure, there’s an emphasis on the darker side of the Rebellion and the oppressiveness of the Empire’s rule, along with an emphasis on characters who should not stand out nearly as much from the crowd as the main characters in the other films do. But at the same time, this attempt to ground the movie fails hard.

Take for example the continued poor showing of stormtroopers. In the original movie, the troopers were said to be well-trained and professional troops who managed to quickly overrun the defenders on the Tantive IV. When they failed to hit the good guys and let them escape, it was because the Empire wanted to track the Rebels to their hidden base. When the heroes did interact with them in other films, we figured that they could get away with humiliating these guys because these were supposed to be lighter films where good prevailed and the main characters were wearing thick plot armor. In RO, on the other hand, stormtroopers continued to be faceless mooks who got taken down with ease. For some inexplicable reason, characters could easily take out several of them with blunt weapons instead of blasters. A more grounded movie might have tried to emphasize that for “normal” characters, taking on stormtroopers was not nearly as easy due to the fact that they were “normal” people taking on professional soldiers.

A second issue is the fact that despite claiming that this was supposed to be a more grounded movie, it retained the soap opera aspects of the other films. By that, I referred to how the main character turned out to have a close connection to the people behind the Death Star. Of course, Jyn is related to the guy who ensured that the station was vulnerable to a proton torpedo fired directly into a small exhaust port (by the way, there was never a plot hole given that you wouldn’t expect anyone not using the Force to successfully make that shot).

On top of that was the treatment of the Empire. Here, the Empire was portrayed as this totalitarian and monolithic government that the original movies had implied they were. However, the movie goes and ruins that with one scene.

If you haven’t guessed which scene I’m talking about, it’s the infamous scene with Vader on the Rebel flagship.

Why is that scene such a problem, you ask? Well, it goes completely against how the movie wants to portray the Empire. The Empire isn’t meant to be cool. It’s a terrible form of government that ruins lives, with its ranks being made up of monsters, backstabbers, and incompetents. It’s rather telling that the primary focus among the bad guys was Director Krennic, who is the closest thing to a mundane representative of the evil that is the Empire in the series. However, that one sequence goes against everything that has come before it by making Darth Vader look cool. Don’t give me any BS about it making him scary. If they’d made it scary, little kids would be too terrified to continue watching the film while Vader brutally slaughtered Rebels in a scene right out of a horror movie. No, this scene made Darth Vader look cool as he cut through Rebels like butter. The only people who would find the scene scary are the sort of wusses that are afraid to leave the house and post some of the more ridiculous content to the “Nightmare Fuel” pages on TV Tropes. Furthermore, the scene also overshadows the rest of the movie. It doesn’t help that the plot is forgettable and the characters so uninteresting, making it all the easier to forget about everything except for Darth Vader looking cool. So much for a story focusing on something outside of the main cast, huh?

And to be honest, the ending wasn’t all that special in how dark it tried to be. Sure, the main cast was killed off, but it was hard to care about them. Furthermore, the series had already given a darker ending in the form of Revenge of the Sith‘s ending, which ended with the Sith victorious, a lot of people dead or changed for the worse, and the good guys holding on to their last hope. Before that, The Empire Strikes Back had done a good job of establishing a much darker tone than its predecessor.

All in all, on top of its many other issues, RO just didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be. All we can do now is hope that the upcoming movies aren’t nearly as unsure of what they hope to achieve, and are worth watching beyond highlight moments uploaded to YouTube.

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On Disney’s Mastery of the Crowd-Pleaser

I cannot help but feel a mixture of admiration and dread whenever I look at Disney’s spate of upcoming blockbusters. There is something amazing about how the company has seemingly perfected the science of creating a corporate production line of crowd pleasing tentpole films that not only make significant amounts of money, but also succeed in winning over the majority of critics. At the same time however, there is something almost horrifying in how efficient they are in polishing their products.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Disney has in recent years succeeded in producing a bunch of big-budget flicks that make make money on command while also getting fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores. The movies are spectacles in many senses of the word, if often forgettable; good but not great, but rarely bad due to being well executed on a technical level. They’re also safe and polished in their mediocrity so that while they won’t find themselves on lists of the greatest films of all time due to their lack of ambition, their aforementioned polish should at least ensure that few critics give negative reviews. They provide audiences their money’s worth, so viewers are unlikely to think poorly of the product even if they won’t remember it within a few years, if not a few months. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a family-friendly restaurant franchise.

These movies, while not original properties, do succeed in part because of their nature as continuations of franchises. They can take the form of live-action remakes (although the upcoming Lion King is taking a step further by presumably being an animated remake of the original film), entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the newly restored Star Wars Cinematic Universe.

The live-action remakes appeal to adults who wish to engage in nostalgia alongside their children and recapture their lost youths, rolling out in a format that is more appropriate for grown-ups too embarrassed to admit they enjoy animated movies for children (as they likely never emotionally developed past the adolescent phase wherein a teenager shuns the childish things they enjoy lest they be seen as anything other than ‘adult.’ Not to say that all adults who watch these movies are like this. Others might just be overgrown children who seek nostalgia and escapism to forget just how much they hate their lives).

The MCU is as assembly line as it gets. We get the standard three acts of most Hollywood screenplays for almost every introductory film: protagonist failing to meet their full potential comes across a (likely expendable) mentor or some other supportive figure who helps them achieve their potential (becoming a superhero). Hero battles and defeats forgettable villain, while somehow winning the love of a forgettable love interest. Cue sequel hook and tie-ins to the rest of the MCU.

This isn’t to say that I hate the MCU’s content. I rather liked Iron Man and even appreciated the pulpy period war movie that was the first Captain America. The first Avengers was a lot of fun, and the second CA movie was pretty good too. But even then, once you notice the formula (and don’t throw any bullshit about “different genres” with a superhero skin my way), it starts to get old fast.

Not only that, but there is often a lack of heart or a distinctive voice to the products. Compare that to one of the earlier superhero film series: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. The series was often corny, quirky, and melodramatic, yet was capable of genuine moments of heart and actual drama. The ending shot to the second film is more meaningful in leaving an impression about the true darkness lying underneath an otherwise happy ending than the ending of Civil War, which alleges darkness, but just can’t resist plugging future movies and showing viewers that the adventure will continue in its final shot. To stick to comparisons with SM2, I recall reading somewhere that the MCU wanted to create a more ‘realistic’ home for the Parkers by having them live in an apartment. Now sure, this is more realistic in the sense that they probably couldn’t afford a house with their meager income, but a similar thing was done with much more impact on both the characters and the audience in SM2. In that movie, focus is given to the reality of trying to be a superhero while trying to live a normal life outside the costume, something that has never come up in the lighthearted MCU. Furthermore, the Parkers’ living situation actually comes up in that movie, which has Aunt May losing the house. And let’s not get into the part when Aunt May gives money to a reluctant Peter. That right there is actual human drama of the sort that the MCU only pretends to engage in. Even the third SM film, while a weak point in the series, at least was bold enough to end things ambiguously in regards to the state of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship. The closest thing to that sort of darkness in the endings of any MCU films happens in the first Captain America movie (which might help explain why I’m so fond of it).

This isn’t to say that it’s wrong for the MCU to strike a light tone. It’s not a bad thing to be fun, even if the movies do get rather samey after a certain point, and the character arcs of the heroes often suffer. Remember how Tony Stark finally seemed to be moving forward with his life at the end of Iron Man 3? Unfortunately, because the studio likes money, and because the nature of comic book story arcs means that the adventure can never end, this happy ending was short-lived.

And then there’s Star Wars. The two movies released thus far can be summed up as fanservice and pandering. Fanservice and pandering. The scene with Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One was not enough to save a mediocre movie and you know it. The Force Awakens succeeded in spite of its script, and even then, there were little things that made it sometimes come off as less a SW film than a pastiche. I’m personally not hoping for too much from The Last Jedi (cripes that sounds more like a title for the final part of a trilogy than the middle section), and fully expecting the Han Solo film to be crammed with fanservice (and maybe show us the whole “12 parsecs” thing that should have just remained a cock-and-bull story that he was trying to pull on what he thought were a couple of yokels) and a story that undermines his character arc in A New Hope because the studio is afraid of having a proper anti-hero as its protagonist (which means we’ll be getting a jerk with a heart of gold who does the right thing at the end).

Hopefully, I’m wrong about at least one of these two movies in the best way possible.

Not that such descriptors apply to only those three products rolling out of the Disney factory. One can see this in their animated movies as well. Moana, which I actually liked, was as perfunctorily executed as it gets. The plot was standard, the heroine followed a basic outline, and the story beats could be seen from a nautical mile away. One can see the laziness of Disney’s factory-like efficiency in how they treat the predictable moment when a supporting character leaves only to come back near the end to aid the protagonist a la Han Solo. The moment is poorly built up, with the reasons for it being hinted as it occurs, but not before (unlike in the case of Han, where we get a brief scene that foreshadows his return at the heroes’ darkest hour). Zootopia (a movie so predictable that I correctly predicted exactly what lines would be said and how they would be delivered at several points) somehow won an Oscar despite the story and the characters being far less interesting than the themes and the world presented in it.

Still, for all my criticism, I would like to make it clear once again that there’s nothing wrong with what Disney is doing. They’ve figured out a formula that works for their business. Their movies please crowds and make money. Not only that, but since they can reliably pull of the former, the latter is more likely to happen. Even someone as cynical of their process as me has to admit to having liked some of their recent movies. The fact is, you don’t always need great art. Sometimes, people just want to escape the dreariness of daily life and the latest neorealist art film isn’t an ideal means for doing so. Fluff might be fluff, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. The subject matter of much of this blog is proof of that.

It’s just that sometimes I wish Disney would take a real chance rather than putting on the appearance of doing so. Aim for the stars even if it means increasing the likelihood of falling into the mud. But then again, that’s not good business, and who am I to tell the people swimming in cash what they should be doing?

Little things that would have improved ‘Rogue One’

So I finally got around to watching the new Star Wars spinoff: Rogue One. My thoughts? Eh. It was competent but unmemorable. And while I could easily write a whole essay on my issues with it and the often poor arguments put up by those who are attempting to defend it, I decided instead that since those are already being covered by countless numbers of clickbait writers and critics of both the amateur and professional variety, I figure that similar to The Force Awakens, I’d just offer a few points of improvement that could have been made with the benefit of hindsight. Beware of spoilers!

 
1. Less Vader
I never thought I would ever argue such a thing given that he’s one of my all-time favorite fictional characters (I only bothered to read the comics featuring him despite being lukewarm on the whole new expanded universe I’ll have to keep some track of now). However, the fact is that I could have done with a little less Darth Vader in the movie. His meeting with Krennic doesn’t really add much to the movie (I didn’t even mind his one-liner), but given the positive reception a certain later scene of his has gotten among various viewers, I would make the serious argument that something along those lines should have been his only scene in the movie.

The problem with Vader’s usage in the actual film was that his prior appearances kind of take the wonder out of that final sequence. By limiting his presence before then to brief mentions, anticipation can be built before he finally makes a memorable cameo.

Just have Tarkin tell his subordinates to contact Vader before we see his star destroyer enter the field of battle and wreck the remaining Rebel fleet. Afterward, maybe have the crew of the Rebel ship inform their comrades that an Imperial boarding party has arrived. Throughout this entire time, Vader has been absent from the movie, as if to emphasize that this spinoff is less about the usual gang than it is the supporting players that made things possible for the good guys to come out on top. Then, as they gather at the likely entry point, the lights go out and there is a silence. This is suddenly interrupted by a soft sound that grows progressively louder and louder. It’s a familiar one: the iconic breathing of a certain Sith Lord. The characters on the screen freak out. So does the audience. And then the lightsaber ignites.

 
2. Do something with Krennic
Krennic was completely forgettable. Of course, one could say that about pretty much any character in the movie. This was a huge shame given that there was material there for a character I wouldn’t forget about as soon as I left the theater.

For one, there was his friendship with Galen. Perhaps they could have given this more emphasis, maybe even have it so that as a friend of her father, Krennic could have represented how the Empire twisted talented people into monsters and tore bonds, be they personal or communal, apart, just like how civil wars can rip apart families and communities. Maybe make him a guy who Jyn may have once referred to as an honorary uncle before everything went wrong to contrast with her two father figures. At least give him something.

Also, all that traveling that Krennic did felt kind of silly. I could understand him going to check on the facility to figure out who leaked the info, but what about Scarif and Mustafar? I guess with the latter you could say that he was trying to play politics against Tarkin, but this went nowhere and added little to the film. As for the former, I guess the script needed him to be on Scarif for whatever reason (I’ve already forgotten why).

 
3. Trim the cast
Quite a few critics have argued that one of the film’s prominent weaknesses is a rather weak cast of characters. They’re poorly fleshed out and by the time of the movie’s end, you just don’t care all that much about what happens to them. I suggest then that the cast be slightly trimmed so that more can be done with fewer characters.

To be more specific, I’d have merged the characters of Jyn and Cassian. Perhaps have it so that instead of just being tortured and apathetic lead number 1138, Jyn could have been a Rebel agent trained by Saw who fought the Empire less out of ideals than out of a desire for vengeance. Maybe even this motivation is starting to fizzle as she finds herself more and more burnt out from carrying out dirty work like Saw’s or having to kill informants lest they leak information after being captured like Cassian does in the movie. However, this all changes once she discovers that her father leaked a message.

In this way, the focus could be on her rediscovering her desire to fight the Empire, except out of a desire to serve a higher cause rather than a darker one like revenge, paralleling how the series itself is about fighting for the right reasons rather than falling into dark paths and methods. Furthermore, this way she would have the standing needed among the Rebels to make her speech and gather like-minded volunteers before the climax.

This trimming should also allow for more time with developing relationships, be they the ones Jyn has with her two father figures or the camaraderie that develops among the Rebel group the movie follows.

 
Bonus: The stuff that bugged me
First of all, I couldn’t help but notice how the movie’s opening seemed to be based less on what the characters would do rather than ticking a few boxes. In this case, leaving the lead character alone because her mom was dead and dad taken away by the Empire. Her mom dies a pointless death after being told to run when it is clear that her acting as she did was stupid due to the fact that she was heavily outnumbered. Maybe just go for the cliche of having her mom killed in a surprise attack on the homestead and her dad taken while Jyn hides in a bunker.

Second, what was up with the inclusion of the two bar thugs that harass Luke in A New Hope? Why did those characters have to be there given that they were on Tatooine not long afterward? Apparently they left Jedha just in time to avoid getting roasted by the Death Star.

An Update on My Progress

This is an update for those wondering why it’s taking so long for me to churn out the next post. For the record, I’ve been using what free time I have to work on the Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked of the next Naruto arc on my list, and boy is it taking me a while to write despite the arc being shorter than the multiple arcs that were focused mostly on Sasuke. It’s going to be a real doozy too given that after writing quite a bit, I’m still not even done with the first draft. Only now do I realize just how much there is to talk about there.

Here’s a bit of something to chew on while I try to finally finish the review: my suggestions for minor changes to The Force Awakens that would have made it so Rey’s growth felt less controversial. First of all, make her less invincible. In other words, don’t be afraid to have her fail and land herself in serious peril despite her best efforts. For example, while she did escape from her shackles near the end, she manages to avoid getting captured just fine without the aid of her friends. Maybe make it so that despite doing fine for a while, she eventually finds herself cornered, only to be saved by her friends. This would better highlight the importance of teamwork among the good guys (to contrast with how individual villains don’t seem to like each other all that much), as well as to emphasize that her friends were willing to come all that way to save her (in contrast to the family that abandoned her), in turn shifting her further away from her loner tendencies.

Second, instead of letting Rey develop the ability to apply the Force in different ways over the course of the movie, instead, as with the original Star Wars, focus instead on one skill that is mastered by the climax. In the original, it’s Luke applying what Obi-Wan taught him when he was practicing with the lightsaber in order to pinpoint the thermal exhaust port and guide the proton torpedoes to it. Instead of a mind trick then, perhaps have Rey escape her bonds using telekinesis. It could even be hinted at by having her unconsciously moving objects when under high levels of stress, which could in turn be used to indicate both her potential as well as emphasizing whatever emotional issues she has that could lead to the Dark Side (and in turn working well to foreshadow the risks of her hostile state of mind during the final parts of the confrontation at the end of the movie). Going back to telekinesis, this skill would become more prominent each time she used it during the movie. This would then come to a head when she overpowered Kylo’s own telekinesis to nab the lightsaber.

And that’s not even getting into making it so that her fighting style is far dirtier and more pragmatic than what we got in the movie. You’d think someone who had to fend for herself against a hostile planet would understand the value of not fighting fair. That would have been a cool way to differentiate her from Luke and Anakin while also showing similarities over which she could bond with Han “Shot First” Solo. It certainly would have been one way to show her gaining an advantage over Kylo Ren during their duel, if she just kept fighting dirty to make up for her lack of experience with a lightsaber.

How the hell does my mind expend so much brainpower on this crap?

Video Games, the Escapist Character, and a Bunch of Thoughts

I’ve previously explored the concept of the escapist character and how they relate to the audience. Characters like James Bond and Indiana Jones are less about character arcs and relationships than they are about thrills and adventure—that is to say, escapism. Such characters are broadly defined in a manner in which their simplicity ensures memorability. They are not so much surrogates for the audience, as they are what members of the audience wish they could be. These characters benefited in the later stages of the twentieth century from the popularization of a medium that could effectively take advantage of them, as the escapist character’s relationship with the audience was perfected through letting said audiences become the character. The medium I speak of, as should be obvious in the title, is the video game.

In a video game, players can take control of a character, and through them thus do things that they could only otherwise dream of. Even the average geek gorging out on nachos and soda can pretend for a time to be Batman or whatever larger than life character they wish to be.*

I’ve also previously written on the perils of adapting a video game for the big screen. The ingredients that make a great game do not translate into a great movie. A game is an interactive experience while a movie is a presentation. That is why great care must be taken even as one transplants what should be a cinema-friendly element—the escapist character—from a video game. One risk lies in the importing of certain characters that might not be able to succeed within the same niche upon transplantation into a new medium.

Given my previous digressions on Star Wars, I suppose it oddly fitting to bring that franchise to the fore once again because the damn theme is still stuck in my head. Prior to the changes made to the canon by Disney, two notably escapist characters were introduced into the fictional galaxy far, far away via video games. Revan and Galen Marek served their roles as escapist characters well within the concepts of the games they were introduced in (Revan in particular even had an appearance that was decided upon by the player), however, upon closer inspection, one can see various ways in which they were a poor fit for the old canon unless certain changes were made.

Revan’s shortcomings as a character lie in the fact that in many respects, he (according to the wiki, Revan is, or rather was, canonically a he) does in fact embody the Marty Stu. While the traits that do define him as such work for an escapist character, they fail to make him properly fit into the larger framework of the franchise, which eschews such characters in favor of broad archetypes that have the potential for developmental arcs. He is described by others as having mastered both the light (ergh) and dark (ugh) sides of the Force without succumbing (argh) to the temptations of the latter. In addition, he is also highly skilled in a variety of disciplines, talked up by others, and even gets the girl at the end. Now granted, this works well for an escapist character. However, this doesn’t quite work all that well within the wider mythos. Looking at it from a more distant vantage point, Revan’s existence undermines the later existence of Anakin Skywalker, the so-called Chosen One of unprecedented potential who, despite all his natural talent and wide variety of skills, was also a highly flawed person who ultimately failed to achieve any of his goals, but at least came to be redeemed and fulfill his destiny in the final moments of his life. It’s why it is so satisfying to see Revan lose badly in his confrontation with the Sith Emperor**, and then suffer further humiliations later on. But as bad as Revan was, there was arguably an even worse example of an escapist character who was more of a Marty Stu when considering the broader context: Galen Marek.

As the protagonist of a game that promised players a chance to live out their fantasies of kicking ass with the Force, Galen excelled in that capacity, pulling off great feats of ability with the Force and shifting the course of the galaxy’s history—an exemplar of power fantasy within the realm of video games. If Revan was but a point in which the audience could insert themselves into the SW saga, then Galen was just a good old fashioned Marty Stu. To bring you an idea of the insanity, let’s bring up how he’s portrayed as possessing such a huge amount of potential in the Force that he tops Yoda by telekinetically moving an entire Star Destroyer (!!!).

I know that size matters not, but holy shit. Galen is in fact, so skilled and so powerful to he manages to take on Darth Vader and win before proceeding toward a confrontation with Palpatine himself (!!!). Oh, and while he does die in the process, Galen does manage to successfully wound the Dark Lord of the Sith while also leaving behind a legacy of inspiring the founders of the then fledgling Rebel Alliance, the symbol of which is based on the Marek family crest (!!!). Are you laughing yet? I know I was.

Anyway, if Revan serves to undermine Anakin, Galen undermines Luke. He pulls off moves that make Luke’s development in the original trilogy look like a joke, and then proceeds to influence history to a degree that rivals that of the heroes in the actual films. It’s hard to see Luke as special and the last hope of the Jedi when others make him look like a noob.

While escapist characters in video games do have the potential to succeed when adapted to new mediums or within the context of a larger story, one should not immediately assume success without first ensuring that they are a proper fit.

 

 

 

 

 

* Afterword I: A Very Brief Digression into How the Video Game Narrative Can Be Manipulated By the Game Itself
Given its prominence, the concept of the escapist character and their role within the context of a video game has undergone some analysis within the context of video games themselves. Something other narrative mediums cannot do quite as well is outright mock the player for attempting to escape into a game.

For example, games like Spec Ops: The Line outright mock the players’ attempts to live out their fantasies of being a badass heroic soldier, taking apart the nature of such simplistic narratives in the face of the fog and fury of war.

** Afterword II: Author Inserts in Expanded Universe Works
Something that’s always irked me is how people writing material for expanded universes in established franchises often seem to feel the need to leave their mark by writing in blatant additions that either come into conflict with established canon or go too far in making their particular contributions bigger and better than what already is part of the franchise they are contributing to.

Look at the old SW EU and check out just how many authors felt the urge to write in characters, abilities, and devices that completely eclipsed what was presented in the films in terms of scale. In addition to the ridiculousness of Revan and Galen, we also had villains who rivalled Palpatine in terms of just what they could do despite Lucas outright calling Sheev the very worst and most powerful of the Sith Lords. We also had other superweapons that foreshadowed Starkiller Base and its ability to rehash, with visibly diminishing returns, the dramatic potential of the original Death Star.

It even expands to the serial escalation of The Force Awakens. It’s not enough that we have a new bigger and badder Death Star, no. It’s not enough that once again (remember what happened in the Star Trek movies?) J.J. Abrams has to arrange convenient methods of travel that cut down travel time for characters down to almost nothing (did anyone else think that Han’s new trick of going into hyperspace from or to enclosed locations was kind of ridiculous?). No, now, based on suggestions from materials beyond the movie, it’s suggested that Snoke has to be some sort of big bad villain whose scope makes Palpatine’s look minor in comparison. Palpatine, the closest thing to the Devil himself in the series. They knew they couldn’t top Vader, but they just couldn’t help themselves with trying to take on the other iconic villain in the franchise.

How Some People Miss the Very Point of Star Wars or Yet Another Star Wars Post Because It Won’t F-cking Get Out of My Head

Note that this is yet another Star Wars-related post because for some inexplicable reason the damned franchise won’t get out of my head. Hopefully it’s the last one for a while so I can get back to TTR/TTS. Also note that the opinions expressed herein are my own, and you are welcome to your own opinions regardless of whether or not they match up with mine, even if I personally think your opinions are wrong and you deserve to be laughed at for having them.

Point 1: The Tone
The series is not meant to be taken in any manner other than that of a callback to the adventure serials George Lucas enjoyed in his youth. While the series as a whole is not slavishly devoted to the pure pulp of the works that inspired it, as is evident in the darker turns introduced with The Empire Strikes Back, it is ultimately meant to, in the end, take those old stories and then proceed to tell them in new ways without losing sight of their essence.

Going all grimdark with Star Wars misses the entire point of the series, given that many modern audiences don’t appreciate the context into which the movies first entered the popular consciousness. After the rampant melodrama in mass entertainment in earlier years, cinema entered into increasingly dark, realist, and psychological periods, with the era into which George Lucas first made his mark being one known to some as New Hollywood, during which the biggest movies often were more artistic in their aims and often rather cynical. This in part explains how Lucas’ strange little movie managed to distinguish itself from all the other major releases coming out of Hollywood that year.

The movie called back to the films of yesteryear, which were more melodramatic, sillier, and more idealistic, even if they were also a lot kitschier in their stylings. Even with the darker turns the story took in the following installments, everything still managed to end on an idealistic note, which was fitting given the nature of the story.

It’s not that I don’t have a theory for why people seem eager to take the series apart and make it darker and edgier. People have grown weary of simplistic blockbusters in the modern age of Hollywood, an age that Star Wars’ massive success helped bring about. With this much saturation in the movie market, it’s hard to appreciate the earnest and simplistic way the movie communicates to audiences. In a way, the series is a victim of its own success. Some people want it to be different because what originally made it so different has been copied to death by other blockbusters, if to, for the most part, lesser success.

The problem with that is that once you take the franchise to darker places in side stories, the overall optimistic tone begins to seem questionable given the new information. How does one reconcile the inscrutable, yet seemingly benevolent Force with some writers’ later attempts to question this part of the premise? How does one reconcile the eventual conclusion that everything will turn out for the better at the very end despite the occasional victories of evil with the urge some writers have to say, no, in this case the darkness wins, and that’s final?

Point 2: Manichean Morality
Relating to the above points on the premise of the series is the rather simplistic morality of the story. Something that bugs me a lot about some of the non-movie material that was released as part of the franchise was a tendency to split the Force into a light and dark side, with the implication that both needed to be balanced out. This bothered me because one, it conflicted with how I interpreted the Force as laid out in the movies, and two, because it gave me the sense that people wanted to revise the morality of the Star Wars universe and make it into something more resembling that of Dungeons & Dragons or whatever other franchises are out there with moral ambiguity.

The Dark Side (note the capitalization of the words in the term) is not a different point of view. It is meant to represent a corruption of what is natural. The Dark Side is to the Force what cancer is to the body. There is no light or dark side, just the Force and its corruption in the form of what groups like the Sith espouse.

It’s why the climax of Return of the Jedi is so important. Luke’s physical triumph over Vader is not treated as such. Listen to the music during that sequence and you hear something mournful, because it represents the darkest moment of the story, when Luke finds himself sorely tested on a spiritual level upon seeing the benefits of giving in to the Dark Side. In fact, after disarming Vader, the music segues into the Emperor’s theme, indicating that the bad guys are this close to winning. Luke’s real victory comes when he rejects the pull of the Dark Side and decides to save his father’s life by affirming his decision to remain a Jedi instead of becoming Palpatine’s new apprentice. There is no moral ambiguity there. By making the choice that he does, Luke becomes the ideal Jedi and a pure force for good, in this way not only surpassing his father as a warrior, but also surpassing Yoda and Obi-Wan, who had been revealed as having manipulated a young man in the direction of killing his own father due to their lack of faith in the man who had once been Anakin Skywalker. It’s the culmination of Luke’s character development, as he has at that point mastered himself on both a physical and spiritual level.

People miss the point when they say that the Jedi were wrong to believe what they did about the Force, and that Yoda was simply biased in his teachings to Luke. Rather, what they should have taken from the movies is that while the Jedi had the right idea, the way they went about it was often flawed, just as the doings of a religion’s representatives do not necessarily reflect on the teachings of the religion itself.

It’s also annoying, if understandable given the at times questionable execution, when people completely misinterpret the Prophecy. There was no balancing in the Force by destroying the Jedi and Sith alike. The Jedi resemble Taoists in that they try to live in harmonious balance with nature, in this case, the Force.

While the original trilogy had the moment of triumph of all that was good be Luke’s rejection of the Dark Side, in the context of what was revealed in the prequels, the real victory thus comes after that moment. Anakin had seemingly failed to fulfill his part of the Prophecy when he joined the Sith and became Darth Vader. However, once Luke makes his decision, all the moving parts finally click into their proper places. It is Vader who can only look between his master and the son he wanted to so badly protect. It is Vader who says nothing as he is forced to choose between a continuation of his current life or certain death for the sake of saving someone he loves. It is Anakin Skywalker who makes the fateful choice to sacrifice himself in order to protect the person he cherished most. And in doing so, he destroys the Sith, destroys the corruption in the Force, and thus brings it into balance.

There’s no moral ambiguity there: good triumphs over evil. That’s all there is to it.

Well, at least that’s what it seemed to be until a certain storyline in The Clone Wars was confirmed as part of the canon. Honestly, I can’t even keep up with this franchise anymore. I’m too old and have too many responsibilities in the real world to geek out and memorize all sorts of minutiae like I could in my youth. But anyway, fuck everything; I still prefer my original conception of the story’s morality. Maybe if Disney sells the franchise somewhere down the line or something, a new canon will be established.

Still, regardless of the above, if I wanted moral ambiguity, I’d just check out another franchise which had such a thing as part of its overall premise. Star Wars is ultimately a very idealistic story, with a simplistic and idealistic morality to match. To take that away is to take away part of what makes it Star Wars and not some other story. Sure, you can play around with things as some entries in the franchise have, but to outright argue for some sort of moral ambiguity or balancing of the light and dark sides is to write stories that just aren’t Star Wars. When you introduce elements that contradict the very premise of the work, you either have to do them very well so that everything fits nicely, or you don’t do them at all. It’s why I didn’t mind when George Lucas clarified that anyone arguing that the Dark Side wasn’t necessarily a bad thing was just deluding themselves. In the end, for better or worse, the simplicity of the franchise is a defining part of it. It’s what makes it childish in many respects, but it is also what makes it easy to digest and relate to.

Ways the Next Star Wars Movie Can Improve Upon The Force Awakens or How I Learned to Write a Clickbait-Style Post to Compensate for My Inability to Finish the Posts I Want to Write

Welp, now that the hype has died down for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I can at last move on and hope to the Force that I don’t have to see yet another bit of merchandising associated with the franchise for a while. Personally, having watched the movie, I thought it an adequate entry in the franchise. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was a decent enough stepping stone for future episodes to work with that certainly indicated some improvement from the previous trilogy. Still, there were some noticeable issues I had with the movie, issues that hopefully will be rectified in future installments.

Here are some basic ways that the next movie can improve upon what we got from the previous episode.

Warning: there are some spoilerish details in this post so if you don’t care for that sort of thing, watch the movie wherever before reading the following.

1. Improve the Writing for Rey
I’m kind of on the fence on whether or not Rey falls into the Sue category. On the one hand, she is perhaps a tad too competent to ever come off as an underdog, is quickly loved and trusted by others, has no notable (and persistent) flaws, makes no real mistakes that harm her and the people close to her, and never seems to be in any real peril. On the other, perhaps her character and any shortcomings could be explored in future films (although this would then raise the question of just why the writers didn’t bother giving her some sort of prominent flaw to work past over the series given that she pretty much accepts that she has nothing to look forward to going back to Jakku). If she’s not a Sue, she does come dangerously, dangerously close, and she also doesn’t have the excuse of being an escapist character a la James Bond due to such characters not really working in a series like Star Wars.

The writing for Rey seemed to be an issue that plagues a lot of male writers whenever they try to write a strong female character. Maybe they just don’t know how to write women. Maybe they are afraid of being seen as sexist. But what often happens is that they wind up creating a character devoid of actual flaws (ex. A female lead who is clumsy, but clumsiness isn’t really much of a flaw to work with compared to say, an actual shortcoming as a person such as greed, racism, vindictiveness, possessiveness, and so on) who can’t be challenged on any meaningful level whether physical (notice that a lot of female action leads don’t really get hit all that much or show any signs of damage when they do, in contrast to say, John McClane in the first Die Hard, who is brave and resourceful, yet a clearly flawed person that steadily takes on more and more damage and stress over the course of the story) or otherwise.

A rather well written action heroine was Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. Where modern films might portray her as a standard badass with survival skills, T2 instead was willing to portray her as a flawed human being who had suffered a lot of emotional and mental damage as a result of her experiences. She was paranoid, prone to acts of extremism, was unwilling to develop relationships with either her son or other people (note that in contrast to the rapid bond she builds up with Kyle in the first movie, she’s mentioned as having shacked up with guys simply as a means of helping John learn the skills he needs to fulfill his destiny). In fact, it’s young John, who we first believe to be a mere delinquent, that possesses traits more associated with femininity in that he is the one who provides a moral compass for both his mother and the machine assigned with protecting him. This is how you write nuanced characters without allowing their sex or gender to limit what they can become.

Here’s just one possible thing they might do with Rey. Play on the fact that she’s a prodigy when it comes to a great many things. Maybe, just like the man who crafted the lightsaber she brought to Luke, she grows cocky as a result of her successes. Maybe this combines with the habits she developed growing up alone and seemingly friendless on Jakku to make her think that she doesn’t need to rely on anyone and can handle things herself once she’s been properly trained and has attained the necessary experience. Maybe seeing Finn in such bad shape as a result of trying to protect her makes her all the more afraid of connecting with others too closely and obsessing over becoming strong enough that she not only doesn’t need saving, but also in ensuring that she can protect those who mean so much to her. Think Anakin, except with much better writing. It’d also serve as a nice contrast with Luke’s own character arc in the original trilogy, which suffered from the fact that he faced far less temptation than Anakin had. It’d also be a great way to play on the concept of an action heroine and that of the damsel in distress, in that Rey’s distress would be not the result of her being a helpless weakling, but because of the character flaws stemming from her own strengths. Take what’s there and expand on it to create a character with various nuances to her, including her own vices and virtues.

2. Make Snoke an Actual Character or at Least Give Him a Presence
It’s not going to be easy replacing Emperor Sheev Palpatine alias Darth Sidious. Whether you loved his low key ham in Return of the Jedi or his over the top scenery chewing in Revenge of the Sith, the guy was just a fun villain to root against. In the former, he managed to exude menace as the personification of all that was evil in the series, while in the latter, he was a breath of fresh air and emotion in a sea of vapid dullness. Hell, his first name managed to make him an even more memetic character once it came out.

Snoke clearly is meant to be the overarching villain of this new trilogy just as Palpatine was for the previous two. Just like Sheev, he’s the brains behind the bad guys, and appears before his subordinates utilizing hologram technology that makes him look huge and imposing. So far though, I’m not sure what we have to work with. He’s clearly the bad guy, but there’s been little revealed about him as a character. In contrast to Palpatine, he wasn’t left completely to the imagination in the first film of the new trilogy (compare that to the original trilogy, where the emperor is only mentioned in A New Hope, appears through a hologram for one scene in The Empire Strikes Back, and then finally makes his proper debut in ROTJ, thus serving as a shadowy reflection of Yoda).

Hopefully this time we actually get something to characterize Snoke because so far he feels like Palpatine 2.0, except with nowhere near as much charisma.

3. Don’t Make Another Into Darkness
I can understand why TFA was basically a Greatest Hits Collection of classic SW. As with Abrams’ Star Trek, the studio needed to revive a cash cow franchise while also making it accessible to mainstream audiences. Like that movie, they basically made a sequel that was actually a soft reboot of everything, hence all the familiar tropes and other story elements, while also hitting the reset button to make the good guys the underdogs all over again (boy, does the happy ending in ROTJ look like the Rebels jumped the gun a bit in hindsight), and bringing in their very own versions of Vader, the Emperor, and the Empire (making everything the good guys worked for three movies ago kind of pointless).

But now that the hard part’s done, they can surely go off in their own direction, right?

Unfortunately, this is the cash cow franchise. As seen with the Marvel movies, Disney probably doesn’t want to take too many risks given how much money there is to be made with an IP they bought for over four billion dollars. It’s why they’re planning on running the franchise into the ground by releasing an episode every two years instead of three like the previous two trilogies, and why they’re also release spinoff anthology movies in between. It’s why Disney is making such a big deal out of how “inclusive” the franchise now is whenever they get the chance (and why “progressive” media outlets are so keen to swoop in on such developments). SW is a product, it always has been, and Disney intends to outdo even George Lucas when it comes to making money off of it, and that means creating a product that will appeal to as many people as possible. It’s not about politics or art or what have you. It’s about getting to what’s in your wallet by any means.

It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if the suits altered whatever script Rian Johnson turned in so that it would be more marketable. Yeah, maybe they might true to make their very own version of Empire, but honestly, given Disney’s desire to create a multi-movie universe in the vein of Marvel, they’ll probably stuff it to the brim with allusions to other SW movies and maybe even lift certain parts verbatim from other movies, just like Star Trek Into Darkness did.

Maybe I’m wrong and Disney is confident enough in the IP and people involved to handle the next episode with a light touch, but given stories about the behind-the-scenes antics at Marvel, don’t be surprised if the movie only appears adventurous only to turn out to be just adventurous enough to make the average schlep think it so, when it reality it’s a fairly safe picture that markets itself as adventurous (you know, like a lot of the Marvel movies).

Bonus: If There’s Actually a Space Battle or Dogfighting, Do a Better Job With It
As with The Phantom Menace, part of the climax of TFA involved dogfighting and blowing up a command center. And just like TPM, I honestly could have cared less about what was going on there. This was because of much more than the whole blowing up the Death Star bit being highly overplayed by that point. It’s also because I had no reason to feel invested in what was going on.

In contrast to ANH, where the movie’s focus was on the battle at the Death Star, and where the stakes felt huge because the Empire getting off a shot would destroy everything the Rebels had worked for, in TFA the focus was on what was happening on the ground. Aside from maybe Poe Dameron, all the characters the audience was supposed to care about were directly on the planet. Furthermore, there was nothing particularly exciting choreography-wise or even new with the dogfighting. ANH was something different yet so familiar, making it stand out from everything else that came out during that era. ROTJ, while rehashing the Death Star plotline, at least had the advantage of this being a vital part of the climax of the original trilogy in addition to showcasing just how far special effects had come since the original Star Wars.

If anything, the filmmakers should take a page out of the playbook from, of all people, George Lucas. Go nuts with depicting the sheer scale of battles, but avoid making the mistake of not focusing on crafting characters that the audience cares about. People are way more willing to accept over the top sequences so long as they are not only done well, but also when much of the tension surrounds the question of just what these characters the viewer is invested in must do to get out of the sticky situation they find themselves in.

Bonus: Fewer Cameos
One thing about TFA that should cause it to age less gracefully than the movies it tries to be a pastiche of is its inclusion of celebrity cameos. Cameos are by their very nature distracting, because they take the audience out of the story so that they can make remarks about Celebrity X suddenly appearing in a movie. Cameos also tend to date movies. When any flick features a celebrity cameo, it immediately dates itself due to the fact that big names of any moment will eventually fade into obscurity at some point or another. TFA managed to avoid most of the usual issues with cameos by only including celebrities as voices, although hopefully future films will just focus on telling a story.