Tuesday, December 29, 2015

it's a dumb movie thing

I want to cheat a little bit. I will not be watching Star Wars The Force Awakens today, but this blog entry will primarily be about that film. Imagine, if you will, this is part two to yesterday's entry (since Wesley never got the rest of his commentary to me). Really, I've got Kiss Kiss Bang Bang playing again, and I might watch TROOPS after. There will, of course, be SPOILERS.

But, it's time for some blog to blog business. Namely, this blog--the Groundhog Day Project--and Seth Abramson's blog at Huffington Post. Specifically, while looking back at his recent entries, movies are not his thing, he recently posted two entries about Star Wars The Force Awakens because he apparently just became the expert on "plot holes."

David R at Unreality magazine made a good point three years ago, and we we should get out of the way:

There's a lot to like about the way the Internet has affected the film industry. It's given us new filmmakers, new ways to find movies, and a wide forum to really examine the art of film. So stop clogging it up talking about plot holes. I know it's fun, but we have got to chill out on that.

I must apologize because by continuing this conversation (if you will forgive my use of the term) about plot holes today, I am adding to the clog. David R continues:

One of the first problems that comes up with "plot holes" is that people often can't even get the definition right. Literally, "a hole in the plot."

Abramson uses the Wikipedia definition--the simplest version of it--and he defines a "plot hole" as a "logical inconsistency." The thing is, a logical inconsistency in, say, a character's behavior is not a plot hole; that would be, were we to bother with a term for it, a "character hole," I guess. (Or, the character being handed the Idiot Ball.) This logical inconsistency must be related to the plot. We'll get into the distinction more later, but for now, think about it this way: Poe Dameron's sudden reappearance in the battle over Maz Kanata's castle on Takodana would be evidence of a plot hole; i.e. Poe disappeared into said plot hole after the TIE fighter crash and then reappeared out of it when useful for the action. Except, this is not a plot hole because later Poe explains that he managed to get out of the crash just as Finn did, and made his way off Jakku, no big deal. Might have been worth seeing, but really would not have affected the larger plot at all, so we skip it. It's a plot hole only as long as we get no explanation. And, in this case, we do get an explanation.

David R offers up a useful guide to what is not a plot hole: character choices, things we have to infer on our own (for a Force Awakens example, notice that the film never explicitly tells us that Kylo Ren is the student who turned bad among Luke's new generation of Jedi he was training. We have to put that together from what the film does tell us (and we might not even be right), and what David R calls "Things that sound right, but actually have no relevance to the movie." By that, he means, things like, well Abramson's #1 in his first piece on The Force Awakens--the wonderfully titled, 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'--so let's just get on with this nightmare. Let the Blog Wars begin.

(And, I do not mean the Harriet the Spy TV movie. In fact I did not even know that exists until just now.)

First, Abramson's 40. And, I will offer the first one word-for-word so you can get a sense of what we're dealing with here:

1. To blow up the 120-km "Death Star" in Star Wars, the rebels needed detailed plans for the base and a full-scale invasion force--as well as the supernatural targeting skills of the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy. To destroy the exponentially larger and better-protected "Starkiller Base" in The Force Awakens, all that was needed was a janitor with no special skills, a few run-of-the-mill handheld explosives, a couple not very difficult X-wing blaster strikes, and some moxie. It also helped that the Millennium Falcon was able to "fly low."

Let's break that down, you know, for Abramson's logical fallacies. What the rebels needed to destroy the first Death Star is debatable. What they had was certainly a larger force than what the Resistance had at Starkiller Base. But that doesn't actually tell us anything about what was needed. In fact, what we see on screen tells us what was needed. There is no plot hole here, nor is there even a plot problem. In fact, in terms of the plot, Han hangs a lamp shade on the idea that regardless of the size of the base, there has to be a weakness.

Now, a few details that are presumptuous:

  • we have no reason to believe Luke to be the "most powerful Force-user in the galaxy." In fact, at the time, we know from the larger plot of the film series that there were at least two other more powerful Force-users around--Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine
  • we have no reason to believe that Starkiller Base is "better-protected" than the Death Star
  • we have no reason to believe that Han's explosives that he brings specifically for this job--remember, Finn was loading them just before they left--are "run-of-the-mill." Plus, factcheck: those explosives do not actually destroy Starkiller Base. Those explosives merely open a hole that allows Poe Dameron to get inside the thermal oscillator which the X-wing's missiles (or whatever Poe is firing--I was never enough of a Star Wars nerd to memorize armaments) do more damage to, but even that does not actually destroy Starkiller Base. What destroys Starkiller Base is that it currently has the energy of an entire star inside it and the thermal oscillator that allows that to be possible is damaged so, well, it overloads and (apparently) turns into a star because of all that energy.

A few more things: I think we can assume that flying an X-wing takes some skill, as it seems like not just anyone can jump into one and fly it, so to dismiss the Resistance's X-wing pilots' contribution to the battle at Starkiller Base is a little rude. As is the suggestion that a janitor--nevermind that Finn says he was in sanitation and sanitation in military service is probably a lot more involved than the restrictive label of "janitor"--has no special skills offensive to anyone who has ever worked as a janitor. And, moxie can go a long way. If you believe differently, you probably should not be watching Star Wars films, or any films for that matter. And, yes, actually, it did help that the Millennium Falcon can fly low. I'm not even sure what Abramson is trying to suggest with that last line.

Now, I would not spend three paragraphs on each of Abramson's points for a couple reasons: 1) I don't have the time and 2) there are 60 of these things between his two pieces and, really, as you will see if I manage to get through all of them even in brief, they don't really deserve or necessarily even require so many words. But, understand that those three paragraphs demonstrate the way my mind is working as I read crap like this. I mean, you want to complain that The Force Awakens hits the same major plot beats that A New Hope did, I'll counter with the repetitive nature of mythic storytelling, and at least we will have something to debate. I would have liked the film to branch out in some new direction, but hitting the same beats in different ways, and with different characters, especially a more empowered female lead than Leia ever was, was plenty to enjoy. For me, and a whole lot of others. What the internet allows is an equalizing power that means any complaint could potentially have as much "volume" as any praise. Except for the nature of the internet, of course, in that the complainers, especially when it comes to nerdy complainers, have a tendency to speak a little "louder." Plus, Abramson has the benefit of Huffington Post's audience.

(And, for the record, yes, I'm envious of the sort of numbers his Star Wars pieces probably have gotten, but me personal problem with an English Professor who writes a blog abusing the concept of the "plot hole" and getting a lot of attention over it will not keep me from being objective. Plus, I tend to make my lack of objectivity really, painfully obvious when it rears its head.)

Anyway, let us move on.

Abramson's #2, simplified--Han Solo lost track of the Millennium Falcon for years but finds it immediately when it flies. a) Han specifically mentions that he could track it once it was off Jakku and b) Rey specifically mentions that it hasn't flown in years. So, unless Han happened into a business venture at Niima Outpost on Jakku (or someone who cared to tell him about it being there happened to cross paths with him), he's not going to know it's there. But, turn that ship on and maybe there's a beacon that turns on. It's not rocket science. Well, I guess it's spaceship science. But, it's not a plot hole because we can easily infer how it went. We could also get all religious about it and assume the Force was working in mysterious ways by making sure the Millennium Falcon was there at Niima Outpost that day so that Finn and Rey would meet up with Han and Chewie so they could all play their part in the Battle of Starkiller Base and whatever is going to come after, especially anything involving Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren or Supreme Leader Snoke.

And, that was me being brief.

I think I could do better.

Abramson's #3 - Kylo Ren, "powerful Force-user", duels with an "ex-janitor"--you really need to stop harping on janitors, Abramson--"who has never held a light saber" and doesn't use the force and barely wins. There's also a bit about Ren's light saber design. The presumption: Kylo Ren would know anything at all about lightsabers. As far as we know, no one has made a light saber in a few decades. In a universe with blasters, lightsabers are not particularly useful and there aren't any folks around who have made them. On the other side, we can actually assume that Finn has had combat training and the stormtrooper who fights Finn on Takodana proves that they have weapons beyond blasters. Plus, the fight at Takodana also makes a point of showing us just how powerful Chewbacca's bowcaster is, and Kylo Ren has taken a hit to the side from that thing; he's not at 100%.

That was like a line or two shorter. That's better, right?

Simplify...

#4 Rey being good with the Force is just that, Rey being good with the Force--it's not a plot hole. See also, my point above about assuming Luke is particularly powerful.

#5 Star Wars has included hand-held communicators before, so the idea that Hux or Ren could contact one another as Starkiller Base falls apart may be unlikely but is certainly not impossible, and definitely not a plot hole.

#6 When the planet is cracking apart, the crack between Ren and Rey is (in)convenient but not a plot hole.

#7 Rey can speak Wookiee. So what? And, Han and Chewbacca, who both do speak "Wookiee"--Shyriiwook, actually--have the least reason to be surprised that someone else would also understand it.

#8 is the Poe Dameron thing I already covered. It ain't a plot hole as long as Poe explains it. A more detailed explanation would just be a waste of time.

#9 The Republic and the Resistance are two separate things. The film not explaining this as explicitly as Abramson might like--that's not a plot hole.

#10 Why is the Republic centered in one system? Because governments tend to be centralized. I'm not sure any of the dialogue in the film suggested that the entire Republic had just been destroyed. I mean--and keep in mind, five planets were destroyed at once--you blow up, say, Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and... I don't know, Denver, the United States is going to be seriously crippled afterward. And, anyone who did just destroy all of those cities would probably go around claiming afterward that he just destroyed America.

#11 That we only see (and this is debatable, given Rey's vision) one Knight of Ren is not a plot hole.

#12 Phasma being lame--also not a plot hole. It's just a sequel to the Boba Fett thing from Empire Strikes Back. He didn't really do anything there, or even in Return of the Jedi--seriously, he gets beat by a blind guy--but everyone decided he was a badass. And, with the EU removed from the official canon of Star Wars stories, we don't have anything else to go by. Phasma does nothing early in the film but talk, and ends up doing nothing later. It would have been nice if she were the one to fight Finn at Takodana, but a) she wasn't, and b) Abramson doesn't even suggest that option, while I do.

#13 Considering how Abramson just calls Finn a janitor, yeah, killing a bunch of innocent people at what Finn tells Rey was his "first battle" was the "first naughty thing the First Order had ever required of him."

#14 Whether or not the First Order would actually chase down the AWOL Finn is not a plot hole, and Finn assuming that it would is on him, not on the plot.

#15 Abramson presumes that when Luke gave up training Jedi and he disappeared--while the text crawl at the beginning of the film suggests it may have been recent, we are never actually told how long ago it was--and Han returned to smuggling that the First Order even existed, let alone that it was powerful. Luke's choices and Han's choices do not a plot hole make.

#16 If all of the First Order soldiers are dead at the end of the film, that also doesn't create a plot hole. It just means the next film will get away from the First Order.

#17 Hux gathers his soldiers before the big gun gets fired because he's a showman. Military leader gives big speech to fire up the troops, news at 11. That is not a plot hole.

#18 Abramson is not the only one that assumes Luke left the map as "bread crumbs" to get to him later. I assumed the map was just a record of Luke's search for the original Jedi temple. But, even if Luke left bread crumbs, that just makes Luke a bit of a jerk, it doesn't create a plot hole.

#19 Abramson asks why the Resistance didn't access R2-D2's data. 1) maybe they just can't when he's in sleep mode. 2) Maybe they did access it. His map was incomplete, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway. (My problem here is not that R2-D2 is propped up in a corner, but that he's not just in storage on a ship. I'm guessing this base is not permanent, so are they really lugging R2-D2 out to stick him in the corner at each new base? Still, not a plot hole.)

And, I'm going to stop (for now) at #20. I might feel obsessive enough tomorrow to continue, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has ended, TROOPS has come and gone. And, I'm getting close to 3000 words.

#20 Why do they send Chewbacca and "a random girl who Leia just met" to go collect Luke? I don't know--because Leia is busy leading the Resistance, which now might be the most powerful organization in the galaxy with the First Order and the Republic both crippled. Or maybe because Rey seems naturally talented with the Force and her existence (not to mention her apparent goodness) might be exactly the thing to get Luke out of whatever funk he's in. The other obvious option, if Luke is just going to be like, "Oh, you found me, I'm coming home" would be to send Poe, just like Leia sent Poe after the map Lor San Tekka had before. But, Poe doesn't seem to have a ship, while the Millennium Falcon is right there ready to go.

And, still not a plot hole.

I am just obsessive enough that I'm already thinking about covering 21-40 tomorrow, and then cover Abramson's 20 More Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' the next day...

Maybe.

Or maybe I've made my point.

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