I have wanted to write this blog post for over a week. I had read an article that sort of enraged me about all the horrible things in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and how we all should feel horrible about how much we enjoy it when there was so much needless death and violence. Planets were DESTROYED people! Don’t you even care? What is wrong with you?!?!
And I wanted to rage about so much of it, mostly I wanted to rage about why can’t we just like things for a little bit without having to tear them down. WHY?
I know the film is flawed. I just don't care. Like, I can't muster any dislike for it hard as I try. I unabashedly, gleefully loved it.
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) December 26, 2015
And that was why I didn’t come here earlier. Because yes, there are flaws, and sure, we should be able to talk about it, but maybe not THE MINUTE we get out of the theater. Unless you’re one of ~those~ people.
So, I’m going to try and avoid this just being an exercise of me yelling at people who have written or made comments that bother me about the movie. I’m also going to try and avoid having really complicated and overly theorized debates with die-hard fans who will point out the ways in which I am wrong because of that one thing that happened in that one scene. To do that, I’ll try to shape this all around the one thing I do feel I have some expertise, Storytelling: what is required of the storyteller and what is the responsibility of the audience.
Good storytelling, at the very minimum, requires well rounded characters with plausible conflicts and believable conclusions. On this, SW:TFA delivered. We have a girl abandoned on a planet waiting for her “family” to return to her–and we are told through the checks on a wall that she has been waiting A VERY LONG TIME. We have a Storm Trooper with personality and angst, hopes and dreams and a backstory. All of these things are completely new concepts. We have a fighter pilot, who is a bit of a mystery, but that’s okay, because he’s funny and stands up to the Kylo Ren in a very Han Solo sort of way as long as he could.
And of course, we can’t forget about Kylo Ren, our newest bundle of Dark, Rage and Angst. If nothing else, it’s going to be really interesting watching where he goes from here.
As for the plausible conflicts? Sure, a few of them were incredibly similar to A New Hope, but I don’t care. Good stories get re-told all the time. Sequels re-use plot all the time, and they had a very unhappy fanbase to appease. Plus, you know the biggest part of a good story is the story you bring to it. I had no problem bringing all my nostalgia and childhood memories to it. <3 HAN <3
But I’ll get to him in a second.
First, I want to talk about the audiences responsibility in storytelling. For, this I think, is where Star Wars really excels. It has established itself as something that demands further thought, further investigations (and if we’re going to be cynical, yes, further viewings KA-CHING). It demands the audience to trust it, that all the questions will be answered… eventually. I love hearing all the theories, the little things that people noticed that I hadn’t picked up on.
This brings me to one way in which the storytellers and some of their audience failed a bit. Rey. The story tells us that she knows how to take care of herself and has been doing it for a very long time. It tells us that she knows all about the mechanics of space travel because of all the junkers she’s taken apart. We get a line or two about past experience flying, and we see her fly one of those weird hover-cycles. She knows how to fight, we see her do it in the very beginning. What some audience members are having a hard time reading into it is how any of that translates into what happens later in the film.
Where the filmmakers fail, is that they assumed by giving the little backstory we get on her and the glimpses of a connection we see when she touches the lightsaber, we would all conclude that she is a true and believable BAMF. They must have assumed that because Luke was believable as the One True Jedi with even less known backstory, and because society has given us BAMF characters like Katniss Everdeen and (a J.J. Abrams’ creation) FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, that we’d all be able to believe that a mere girl could be that awesome.
Or maybe not, maybe they are geniuses. When watching the film for the second time, something dawned on me that hadn’t the first time. They weren’t using the “Mary Sue” trope on Rey, they were using a whole other trope, the “Villain Unknowingly Gives Hero Powers They hadn’t Possessed Before” trope.
My argument is that while Rey has always had The Force (how and why is still mostly unknown) that it didn’t truly awaken until she was being interrogated by Kylo Ren–mind probed if you will. In fact, the two most Jedi-Obi wan-like things she did– using the Force to confound a Stormtrooper, and the fight in the forest– were accomplished almost immediately after Kylo Ren got into her mind.
Now, I know what you’re going to say: “Tamela, you’re suggesting that instead of being a Mary Sue, she’s only powerful because a man gave her the power?! What sort of feminist are you?”
Firstly, I am a horrible feminist a lot of times, but more importantly, I’m saying this theory–unlike the Mary Sue argument–has nothing to do with gender. In fact, the two other examples that came instantly to my mind are both male. The first one, of course, is Harry Potter (I told you I can bring anything back to Harry Potter). The only reason Harry had all the things required to destroy Voldemort was because the Dark Lord himself gave them to him when he was wee and the only protection he had was love. Love is a powerful weapon, but it don’t kill the beast.
The other example that came to my mind is in Avengers Age of Ultron (that’s right, I’m a geek on a lot of levels). Iron Man faces Ultron with his strength almost completely depleted but with one jolt from the Bad Guy not only is Iron Man revived, he is rejuvenated to terrifying levels.
That, my friend, is subtle storytelling, and it’s another thing that the Star Wars franchise excels at and rewards its fanbase with. Because, for subtle storytelling to work, you have to be convinced your audience will pick up the smallest of hints and nuances. But, if you do it right, you’re rewarded with the trust of an audience that will stick with you through a series of films even when they have so many questions and are frustrated about a few things here and there.
And, that brings us to Han Solo.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute of every scene that included Han Solo. And there were a lot of scenes and lot to love. But, anyone who knows me, who has heard me wax poetic about my very first BFF, who has read the essay my friend A.J. O’Connell and I wrote for the upcoming fanthology “Fandom Universe: In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away” that was picked up by The Mary Sue (eeep, still jazzed about both those things), you know how very important this character is to me and always has been. You will know that I’m really only there for the Han. And the Chewie.
So, what about his story bothered me?
Not that he died, not that it was his own son who killed him. It was that we had no context for it, we got no… something, and man, did I need that something.
I guess my problem was that I wanted it to rip my heart out. I wanted to be compelled to stand up in the theater and wail, pound my chest to make sure it was still beating, I wanted to ugly cry like the teens I used to take to Titanic every weekend back in the day. It was the only scene I hated that it was taken from the original. It was so very much the Obi-Wan/Darth Vader fight in A New Hope. Only this was worse because it wasn’t a guy we’d only started to really like and an asshole we’d just met. This was an asshole we’d just met and HAN FUCKIN’ SOLO. And I don’t want to wait 6 movies to get to the part where it’s relevant and will break my heart.
And I know, Harrison Ford wanted Han to die, blah, blah, blah… but this isn’t about what Harrison Ford did or didn’t want, or what he had in his contract. There were ways to kill the character off while also giving us some bits of Han as Father, Han as Husband(ish thing).
But, like I said. I am a responsible audience in love with the way Star Wars tells its story (mostly) and so I will wait and see if we get that heart-wrench I so desperately needed. And because I am a good fan, while I wait, maybe I’ll just go and see this one a few (dozen) more times.
- Together We Can Do Something Spectacular
- On the Journey of Life…