Review (second viewing): Star Wars: TFA

Why can’t we all just get along?

The family caught this flick again last night, and, upon a second viewing –

I like it even more.

This time, I watched with the Social Justice Warrior/Reactionary conflicts in mind, and discovered a great big ‘eh’. The movie is neither some sort of blanket endorsement for radical feminism nor an Affirmative Action set piece. As it totally appropriate in any good story and totally keeping with the vibe set in ANH with the Mos Eisley bar scene, race and ethnic background just don’t matter. Good guys and bad guys come in all shapes, sizes and colors – got it. Let’s get on with it.

Similarly, Rey has been praised to the heavens and mocked for being this female Jedi prototype who can whup full-grown human males despite giving up 50+ pounds of muscle. But in the actual movie, she never does that: her two most involved fight scenes involve a couple of thugs trying to steal BB-8 where she is armed with a fighting staff (which we see her carefully toting about in all earlier scenes) and her assailants aren’t really trying to get her, they’re trying to get the droid. A woman armed with a weapon against two humanoids who are not (or were not, at the start) focused on taking her down – yea? Then, later, in her light saber face-off with Ren, the movie goes out of its way to show us that he is seriously wounded, and is relying on the Force – so that, when Rey, also strong in the Force, fights him, it is not a battle of muscle primarily. It also bears noting that someone as skilled with a fighting staff as Rey might also have a good idea of what to do with a sword.

Much has been made about the hand-holding in the Finn/Rey escape from Jakku – he keeps trying to ‘save’ her, while she keeps protesting – and then they save *each other* in the Falcon. Note that Finn’s actions spring from complex emotions and a horrible backstory: Rey is the first human being ever to look at him as another human being, being a storm trooper doesn’t give one much opportunity to develop one’s interpersonal skills, and, as delightfully unlikely a warrior as Finn seems to be, he still thinks he’s the expert here, and should be doing the saving.

But what’s needed is street rat smarts, not he-man heroics – and Rey’s on her turf and has all the relevant smarts. So, while of course the big manly-man and little wispy woman aspect is not intended to be ignored, this ‘saving’ is more an example of how the whip-smart dame would figure something out ahead of the gumshoe, not any sort of statement that Finn is, metaphorically, a bicycle. In fact, in the end, the two of them are falling all over themselves about what a cool escape they made, and gushing with praise of the other – complementarity? (1)

When Rey figures out how to disengage the safety on her blaster, and then nails the first storm trooper she shoots at at 50 paces, she looks appropriately surprised (2). How she instantly became Annie Oakley could have used some more support, but at least they show that she, like us in the audience, is amazed she can hit anything at all. My son, who is much more into this sort of thing, was willing to buy that she is a crack shot, but unwilling to buy that she could be a crack shot with such wobbly shooting form. I only note that few if any shoot-em’-up movies could survive that level of criticism.

I liked Poe and Maz more this time around. Poe struck me as a cardboard pretty-boy hero character the first time, but after a second viewing he seems to have at least the promise of some depth; Maz was pretty good – the tough part is to make the wizened sage role something other than a stereotype, and she pulled it off, sort of.

Finally, I left the first viewing less than happy with the bit characters, thinking that too many had been shoe-horned in with too little screen time to be anything other than props. Not so much on second viewing. C3PO  was annoying without being charming, and would not have been missed except, of course, he would have been. Other than that, Phasma and Hux are – OK. We’ll just have to see how they are used going forward.

I have mixed feelings about taking Star Wars as the defining myth of 2nd half of the 20th century or giving it some other equally exalted position in the world of ideas. It clearly has been enormously influential, but it has competition – on the light side (so to speak) are Tolkien and Lewis and even Miller in Canticle for Leibowitz; on the dark side is a mountain of nihilistic crap, lead perhaps by The Matrix (a movie I love but the series ends up as the worst sort of intellectual garbage). So I can see paying special attention to how the ongoing series tries to shape people’s ideas about the world. The solution is not going to be arguments, but rather promoting healthier mythologies.

  1. Women and pilots/men as gunners thing is straight outta Starship Troopers.
  2. One thing that bothered me more this time than the first time: we are both supposed to recognize Storm Troopers as real people through Finn, AND accept that they get gunned down in their thousands and tens of thousands without a moment of remorse or second thought of any kind. Well, which is it?
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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

10 thoughts on “Review (second viewing): Star Wars: TFA”

  1. So, while of course the big manly-man and little wispy woman aspect is not intended to be ignored, this ‘saving’ is more an example of how the whip-smart dame would figure something out ahead of the gumshoe, not any sort of statement that Finn is, metaphorically, a bicycle.

    Of course, Finn DOES save her life at one point in that sequence, with nary a thank you.

    1. Yes, at least once. Also by shooting down the TIE fighters, but that was a joint effort. The point being that, when it was over, they were both very excited and grateful to each other. Which I think is a good thing.

      1. I don’t know. Rey naturally being not just good, but an expert, at every single thing she attempted to do, while Finn was about one or two steps above a bumbling idiot, seems to me to be something we’re supposed to notice.

      2. I think Rey’s omnicompetence is introduced in a way that makes it both humble and part of the hero’s journey of discovery: she is put into situations where she has to try something, and is surprised and delighted when it works. She never stands around looking down on the little people, but discovers her powers as necessity dictates. Rather than being too impressed with herself for being able to fly the Falcon, she’s ebulliently grateful to Finn for shooting down the TIE fighters. Her reactions to her own competence saves it for me.

        The most difficult competencies from a story telling standpoint are also the most mundane: how does she know so much about the Falcon? How can she figure out enough to fly it like an ace in 10 minutes? Unlike mind control, light saber fighting and even expert shooting, which can be attributed to at least some degree to her being strong in the Force, being a mechanic and pilot seem farther fetched. I agree with the complaint that it would have only taken a line or two of dialogue to make all that more probable, but it’s just not that big a deal for me.

  2. One thing that bothered me more this time than the first time: we are both supposed to recognize Storm Troopers as real people through Finn, AND accept that they get gunned down in their thousands and tens of thousands without a moment of remorse or second thought of any kind. Well, which is it?

    Yeah, and the implication that they were all just stolen away from parents as kids makes it even darker. I really wish the movie had something where the “resistance” had an ongoing operation to break stormtroopers of their programming and try and return them home. Something that could have been spent time on instead of the stupid doomsday weapon. (heck if they established that the trooper programming involved using the dark side in a kind of perma mind-trick way, it would have made a lot more sense why the Republic wanted Luke back.

    The most difficult competencies from a story telling standpoint are also the most mundane: how does she know so much about the Falcon? How can she figure out enough to fly it like an ace in 10 minutes?

    But they kind of do. It’s just subtle:

    First of all, we see her as a scavenger, working for a junkyard. Especially given that some parts are clearly more valuable than others, it’s obvious she would develop some grasp of mechanics over the long years working there. (Otherwise we may as well ask why she picked that one reverse hourglass part in that one panel out of the ENTIRE star destroyer she was scavenging in when we first meet her.)

    Rey mentions a line of ownership for the Falcon since Solo had it. How does she know this? The large, “portion-guy” is obviously the one in charge of the junk city she’s living at. At one point he cries out that Rey is stealing “his ship” when he takes the Falcon. He is the last owner and so its obvious he would have some knowledge of the chain of ownership (yes the name is given but even I had to look it up, Unkar Plutt).

    In the vision where Rey is left on Jakku, it is clearly Unkar Plutt that is holding her arm, so he was the one she was left in the care of.

    So conclusion? Junkyard dealer has Falcon. Has little girl entrusted to her care. It’s not a large leap that he had little girl working on the Falcon (and probably other ships passing through). Since he’s raising her, it’s also a short leap that he might have even taught her how to fly the ships. So when she’s later in the cockpit saying, “I can do this I can do this” it’s not the words of a kid who’s ever drove, but a kid who never got to take the family car out for a spin without supervision. Heck it also explains her words about “that ship is garbage” and how she knew which one to run for when under attack. It also gives a possible explanation for how Rey beat up the guys. They were sent by Plutt for the droid and may have had orders not to harm her (maybe he has some soft side).

    Well… until you see what was revealed in the novelization.
    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Unkar_Plutt

    But then all that just gets into the question of how much should be spelled out for audiences. Should there have been a line like “Plutt took me flying” or “I was trained how to scavenge on this thing” or are the crumbs in the movie enough for viewers to put together? That’s a larger debate I’m still looking for an answer for. Maybe we should go ask JCW.

    Oh, and for those who say “she fixes the Falcon better than Chewie” the movie DOES say MULTIPLE TIMES in dialog that the Falcon has been modified by the people who owned it since Solo did (I’ll have to listen again to the dialog because it may even confirm Plutt was the one who modded it). Which, AGAIN, makes sense, how is Solo & Chewie supposed to know what’s been done to it since they saw it? She does not “fix” the falcon, she REMOVES a mod that was put on it. (Not necessarily here, but I’ve seen others complaining about how “nothing was explained” in TFA, and then proceed to ignore or miss the things that WERE explained in it and that just gets annoying.)

    1. I agree that hints were given, and I’m personally satisfied that, whatever mysteries remain are either not that important or will be made clear in the subsequent movies. That Rey knew the Falcon was obvious when she called it a ‘piece of junk’ – calling it a piece of junk on a planet that is effectively a junk yard is not a mere general observation that applies to just about every other object in sight, but rather the sort of thing someone who knows the ship would say – Han would say – Han did say.

      That someone must be looking after Rey was an issue I pointed out in my review of our first viewing. That it is Simon Pegg’s junklord is kinda beautiful, if true.

      I for one am really looking forward to the next installment. I really want to see what they’ll do with all the strained family dynamics they’ve set up, what with Han and Lea, Finn, and Rey all having complicated and tragic stories of one kind or another. They could go either way: show how families are essential or pretend how they make no real difference (a hard sell, given the Skywalker clan is the story). PC or Real? That is the question.

      1. I am curious to see where they go. As a friend of mine pointed out:

        Ok, the lightsaber duel between Kylo and Rey. He should’ve won. But, before he could get in the killing blow, the planet rift separates them and she manages to get away. I think that would’ve been better because it looks like he’s going to be the villain for the next movie, too, but we already know Rey can beat him and now she’s even found Luke Skywalker. Dude doesn’t stand a chance no matter how much training he gets.

        That is going to make tension harder in the sequels. I’ll be interested in how they try showing the challenges now that Rey’s been established as such a challenge conqueror.

    1. “#30: Rey used to sneak onto the Millennium Falcon — and other ships — at night to study them. Which is how she knew so much about the Falcon’s layout and internal workings. As a pilot, she’d been flying ground vehicles of all sorts since she could remember but she was fascinated by all things mechanical.”

      Well, that helps a little! Thanks. Fascinating.

      1. Well I found this:
        http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=17692

        Which I think spells out a lot of our debate.

        This trust becomes really important when the audience is presented with something that doesn’t seem to follow naturally. Maybe it’s a plot hole. Maybe not. But something jumps out at the viewer. Hey! This character isn’t acting according to their stated goals, therefore…

        A: …I must have missed something earlier. Or maybe this will be explained later. Maybe this will even pay off in a later reveal.

        OR:

        B: …THIS STORY IS STUPID.

        Here’s the thing: It’s the job of the storyteller to create and maintain that trust. Talking about how to build trust is like talking about how to build creativity or enthusiasm. It’s not really something you can force. Let us agree that it’s a lot of work to get a stranger to trust you, and even harder if you’ve already proven untrustworthy in the past.

        Which is something I’ve tried to say for awhile.

        So I guess the difference between us was that I had just a smidgen (about the size of a mustard seed) more trust in JJ than you. BARELY more. I don’t want to oversell it – I’m still plenty annoyed with him.

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