Thursday, December 31, 2015

some things change but some things shine forever as they are

The internet always includes a bit of backlash to any film that people love. Whether it is deserved or not. Whether more voices speak positively or not. I am here, for the third day in a row to speak against some of that backlash. Like Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times, who describes Star Wars The Force Awakens as "depressingly unimaginative and dull in long stretches" then just a sentence later says, "This isn't to say that it's not an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours." That kind of contradictory bullshit pisses me off. Does The Force Awakens hit a few too many of the same plot beats as A New Hope? Of course it does. But, here's the thing... Or my thing, anyway--I still watch A New Hope sometimes. Those plot beats are worth hitting because they're good. In fact, I'm thinking of watching The Hidden Fortress tomorrow to see those same plot beats even earlier than Star Wars. There are only so many plots available to wrap stories around. The key to making new stories is new characters, new nuance to the same old plot beats. What matters with The Force Awakens is that Rey is a different character than Luke (and Anakin), Kylo is a different character than Vader (and Palpatine). That Han Solo can fill a bit of his old role, and fill in the role of Obi-Wan in A New Hope and Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace may demonstrate a little bit of the "unimaginative" but it also shows actual evolution of a character over time. That the evil Empire offshoot would think a bigger, badder weapon is the way to go shows the lack of imagination on the part of evil organizations, not the lack of imagination on the part of the screenwriters...

...necessarily. These things could very well be examples of the screenwriters lacking imagination. Or they could be the necessary beats to jumpstart an old story, the return of which fans have been dying for.

Today's film is actually Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and it has had more action in its first few minutes than the entirety of Caravan of Courage. Plus, whiny Mace is dead, Cindel seems to have gotten a little better at line reading and Wicket can speak pidgin Basic (read: English) now... Actually, I'm not sure that last point is a positive, but that narrator in Caravan was fairly annoying.

But, I'm here to finish with Seth Abramson. I've gone through all of his 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' over the last two (1 2) entries and discovered--much to everyone's shock, of course--that not one of his forty items was an actual plot hole, a few may have been stupid decisions on the part of the characters, but most were just questions Abramson wanted answered, which, for the record, a film has no responsibility to answer all of your questions. Especially when that film is setting up a planned trilogy with a few mysteries for fans to obsess over. Today, we move on to Abramson's 20 More Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' because, well, somebody has to be completist about this sort of thing.

First a comment regarding Ewoks: Lucas knew about all these creatures on Endor, like this winged thing that just stole Cindel, and he didn't insert some Stormtroopers riding them into the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi? That is some out-of-character self control on the part of George Lucas. An Abramsonian plot hole, if you will, in the "plot" of Lucasfilm.

I just found that Abramson wrote a third piece about The Force Awakens--10 Reasons 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Is the Best 'Star Wars' Film Ever Made. In it he says, "In law school, they taught us to argue both sides of any issue with zeal and ferocity." I'm thinking Abramson's thesaurus says that zeal means make shit up and nitpick as much as you can. Now, long-time readers of the Groundhog Day Project will know that I can nitpick and make shit up like the best of them. But, I generally label a nitpick as a nitpick, and even in one of my favorite entries I've written--Day 292 - can you keep a secret?--I acknowledged in the footnotes that I was inventing my conspiracy out of nowhere. Suggesting that "Is Supreme Leader Snoke actually a giant" is a weakness in the film, let alone an actual plot hole, is not zeal and ferocity. It's inane.

Abramson's third piece actually gets into elaborate explanations of his points. Perhaps if he had simply chosen ten plot holes to write about before he could have explained better how flaws in characters or plot points he didn't like should be designated as plot holes. His rather long first point boils down to the idea of monomyths (I already covered this), his second argues against Rey as a Mary Sue (I got that too), his third defends Kylo as a "vastly superior" character than Vader, his fourth promotes Finn, his fifth argues, "Han's death was hard-earned, not cynical or contractual," and his sixth point even defends the "cyclical" nature of the First Order echoing the choices of the Empire. But, my favorite one is his #8:

The Force Awakens has no plot holes; it's just in the unenviable position of having to continue telling one of the longest and most complex stories ever rendered on film, and having to do so within a two-hour runtime.

He still, I think, misunderstands Luke's map, as do many people. He says that Ren explains that the remnants of the Empire tracked Luke on "his 'flight' from civilization." I don't know if anyone tracked anyone. I think R2-D2's map--we never actually see what the First Order has--reflects the Jedi temples Luke found, or his stops along the way to finding the original one he was seeking. It's not bread crumbs to be found later. It's just notes on a trip. And, in a galaxy-wide, multi-cultural civilization, I'm not sure how much of it can be said to be a "flight" from civilization. As far as we know, that island where Luke is found at the end of The Force Awakens is on a planet where, you know, other people live. Luke left wherever he was training Jedi, Luke left the Republic. Luke didn't (necessarily) leave civilization.

But, his writing here is clearer, and more detailed. Rather than going for a long list, he should have stuck with this writing style in his previous piece. There is plenty of room for negativity about The Force Awakens--a personal nitpick, for example: Maz Kanata's contention that why she has Luke's lightsaber is a story for another time suggests an interesting tale we will get later when having it could be as simple as someone found it on Bespin and it eventually got into some black market that made its way to Takodana. It doesn't have to be complicated. Maz could have dismissed Han's question just as easily by pointing out that he's a smuggler who has three rathtars on his freighter; I mean, do we need a story about how he caught them? No. We know Han does dangerous shit sometimes. That he is hauling dangerous animals around is surprisingly in-character for him. And, thinking it strange that Maz has something as valuable as the lightsaber of Anakin and Luke Skywalker when Maz is a friend to smugglers and criminals and has been for a long, long time, is actually not in-character. Unless the journey of that lightsaber is actually a major subplot of Episode VIII or the Rogue Squadron film, Maz could just have easily gone with a Barney Stinson-style "Please" in response to Han's question. Instead we get the too-suggestive implication of a story to come, just begging fans to speculate and when fans have two years to speculate, the story we eventually get will probably never hold up when compared to the speculation. Now, that is a weakness in the film. Still not a plot hole. But it is a point of weakness.

And, by the end of this sentence, I will have passed 1500 words already today and I haven't even gotten to Abramson's second list of plot holes. So, let's do this.

After some critique. See, Abramson got significant response to his 40 Plot Holes so he explains himself a little more before getting into his second list. "For instance," he explains, "it's not a plot hole that Rey can speak Wookiee; it's a plot hole that Han and Chewie aren't surprised by it." No, that's still not a plot hole. Han and Chewbacca can speak Wookiee, so they are the people who should be least surprised by anyone speaking Wookiee. Rey lives outside Niima Outpost, which if built up a bit would be a lot like Mos Eisley, the kind of multi-cultural location where people learn each other's languages just to get by. She speaks droid, too. And she speaks Teedo. And, obviously, she speaks Basic. And, I'm sure Han and Chewbacca have met a lot of people who speak a lot of languages, including Wookiee. Lando Calrissian, for one--he spoke Wookiee.

Abramson also acknowledges that, in his previous list, his #11 was not a plot hole, his #16 was explained in the film as was #34 and #38 (Snoke's hologram being big) echoed the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back.

After doubling down on his misuse of "plot hole," Abramson suggests that his previous list be understood "more on the order of 'Capitalism owes us better story-writing than this!' than 'There are too many grip-notches on Luke's light saber!'" The first at least suggests he realizes his list is just his personal complaints, despite still labeling them plot holes, but the second is just silly. I'm not sure anyone suggested that his complaints were that level of nerditry. But, now I'm wasting time.

(Before I actually get to the second list, one more thing: for the record, Phasma is never "hardcore" in The Force Awakens; she's just in charge.)

#1 Starkiller Base sucks energy out of a star thousands of times its size... In a universe with the Force and Hyperspace, I really don't think this detail is a problem. And the alternative is that we get some Star Trek-style lingo that makes less sense than the visual.

#2 "If Starkiller Base is a weaponized, orbit-locked planet--" Gonna stop you right there, Abramson, because the film never tells us that Starkiller Base is "orbit-locked." Abramson does get at an interesting point, though, when he asks, "And if Starkiller Base is a planet-sized object that can fly on its own, why is it anywhere near Republic-held territory...?" I haven't read the novelization, but I saw an explanation that someone said is in there suggesting that Starkiller Base does not actually fire beams of energy like we see in the film--that's just an easier visual--it throws that energy into hyperspace, so it can actually fire on planets at huge distances, unlike the Death Star that went into orbit around Yavin in order to blow up Yavin 4. That beam (and the splitting of it) in the film I think was a mistake on the filmmakers' part because it does offer a confusing layout of planets; the visuals suggest that Starkiller Base and Takodana are somehow in the Hosnian system along with those five Republic planets that are destroyed. In canon--i.e. in the The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary--Takodana is nowhere near the Hosnian System. The visuals in the film--when interstellar communication is possible is something like an Abramsonian plot hole--a confusing choice made by the filmmakers that doesn't hold up very well to inspection.

#3 Maz Kanata's keeps "her most prized and valuable possession in an unlocked chest in a publicly accessible basement." Presumption: that Luke's lightsaber is Maz' most valuable possession. As far as we know, she's got a collection in just that one room of thousands of lightsabers--her being a lightsaber collector would actually cover pretty damn well that "story for another time" bullshit; anybody finds a lightsaber anywhere in the galaxy, eventually it gets to Maz. Hell, she could have a Katana warship or the Alderaanian ship Another Chance--that would be more valuable than one lightsaber. Potentially, that room and the chest are only unlocked when a Force-sensitive person like Rey is nearby. Plus, the room can be accessible to anyone as long as, you know, Maz knows when someone's down there, which clearly she does, since she shows up right after Rey does. If your storage room has sensors that let you know when people are in or near it, you don't really need guards, especially when there seems to be only one way out. Plus, even if this were a bad idea, it is Maz carrying the idiot ball, not a plot hole.

(Abramson also presumes, in passing, that Maz is committed to the Resistance. The film never suggests this at all.)

#4 Han makes Maz's "cantina... sound incredibly dodgy--so much so that he tells Rey and Finn not to even look at anything once they're inside." No, he tells them not to "stare." That's just being polite. Abramson says the patrons are friendly, citing Maz--the owner who clearly knows Han from way back and has a thing for Chewbacca and is familiar with the Force--and the "couple dudes in a corner [who] offer Finn a ride to the Outer Rim even though he has no money." First of all, wow, three friendly folk in a crowded space. Second of all, those "dudes" are pointed out by Maz, so are presumably more friendly to strangers than others who are there, and they don't offer Finn travel for nothing. He is supposed to work for them. Maz says that up front and we later see Finn helping them load stuff into their ship.

#5 Rey "says she never imagined so much green could exist in the entire galaxy" when she sees Takodana but she dreams "every single night... of an oceanic world dotted with idyllic and gorgeously lush islands." Not sure anyone says she dreams of those islands every night, first of all. And, second of all, a few scattered islands in a vast ocean is a hell of a lot less green than is immediately visible on Takodana. Plus, a line like "I never imagined..." whatever--not often taken as 100% literal.

#6 "Has any film, in any genre, ever allowed a sketchy, background-unknown defector from the Bad Guy camp (Finn) such quick in-person access to the Supreme Commander of the Good Guys (Leia) as we see here, and with so few questions asked?" 1) am I reaching in thinking the addition of "sketchy" is a little racist? Probably, but that word doesn't add much here. 2) Finn's background is actually quite known, I'm guessing, since the Resistance has done flyovers at Starkiller Base and probably knows all about how Stormtroopers are being trained of late. 3) Finn, by this time has spent time with Poe, saved his life, even. He has spent time with BB-8, who seems a good judge of character. He has spent time with Han and Chewbacca. He has fought and killed numerous Stormtroopers, and has Luke's lightsaber (though I'm not sure Leia knows this last detail). Plenty of questions have been answered already, even if no one has explicitly asked them. And, again, even if this was a stupid decision on the part of Poe, taking Finn in to see Leia, that is Poe carrying the idiot ball, not a plot hole.

#7 "Rey remembers quite clearly that she's been told not to leave Jakku..." No. Nothing in the film suggests that anyone told her not to leave Jakku. It actually plays like a psychological affectation of an abandoned child--she's sure her family is going to come back for her someday, so she never wants to be far from Jakku because she might miss their return. "..and yet she has no memory whatsoever of the face of the person" who told her that. If no one told her as much, there is no one to remember, plus, does Rey ever say she doesn't remember her family? In her vision, we see the ship leaving. That does not actually mean that Rey has no memory of anything more. And, if she does, that is not a "logical inconsistency" and not a plot hole.

#8 Stormtroopers has a giant taser. Yes, they have weapons beyond blasters, which 1) prepares them for fighting, say an apparent Jedi (who can probably deflect blaster fire) with a lightsaber and 2) also explains why Finn might be able to wield a lightsaber with some skill; First Order Stormtroopers are trained to fight. Abramson calls the "taser" both "inept" and "inapt." In fact, having more than one type of weapon makes a Stormtrooper quite... Is "ept" a word? And, the weapon, like those staves that General Grievous's Magnaguards' electrostaves, are what one needs to fight a Jedi, who has a lightsaber and can block blaster fire. Thus, apt. And, again, even if this weapon were inept and inapt, that does not make its existence a plot hole.

#9 Flametroopers. Again, not a plot hole. Also, a realistic addition to a military that uses intimidation to subdue its enemies and innocents alike. That's why real-world armies include soldiers who carry flamethrowers.

#10 There were toys released that were not in the film. Not in any way a part of the plot of the film, so not a plot hole. Plus, Abramson acknowledges that something might have been cut from the film. In fact, a sequence on Starkiller Base involving speeder bikes and snowspeeders was apparently cut from the film. It's removal creates one of the only (sort of) actual plot holes in the film--Poe's jacket that Finn now wears apparently switches from Finn to Rey wearing it between scenes, and then back again, and we don't get to see any of this jacket switching which means the writers and the director and all of Hollywood have failed and Star Wars The Force Awakens no longer makes any sense at all because of this gaping plot hole.

I kid, of course.

#11 TIE fighter is tethered. Actually, as Abramson puts it, "Since when, in the history of space films, have spacecraft in a well-guarded spaceship hangar needed to be tethered? This is just silly on so many levels. But it elongates a cool escape scene by thirty seconds, so hooray!" See, my thought when that "tether" showed up was that the TIE fighter was being fueled, and this bothered me not one bit. Plus, yes, it lengthens the action sequence, and offers up more time to a) demonstrate that Poe is a capable guy and b) allow Poe and Finn more time together because (see #6 above) apparently no one can ever judge anyone's character in less than a minute.

#12 Yay! Abramson caught on to the bowcaster conundrum. Thing is, Han having never fired Chewbacca's bowcaster in 40 years together is less a plot hole than a relationship hole, and I weep for the conversation Han and Chewie might have had later if Han had not been killed by Kylo. In fact, the absence of that particular connection between the two is probably the thing Chewbacca laments most each night now that Han is gone. "Why didn't I let him fire my bowcaster sooner," Chewie asks himself... except in Shyriiwook, not Basic. And he weeps.

Abramson dismisses this bowcaster business as a "gag." But, really, it is a setup, so we realize just how bad an injury Kylo has sustained later. See, the fight at the end of The Force Awakens is Kylo at nowhere near his best, and he hasn't finished his training. Imagine the badass he was in act one and elevate his power level a whole lot and Kylo in the next film could be as dangerous as Vader has been in, say Force Unleashed video games or his recent comic, or on the Rebels cartoon. Modern special effects can make Kylo be as powerful on screen as we all imagined Vader was, but really never got to see.

#13 rehashes #8. Plus, Abramson really doesn't like the idea of a toy line, I think. He seems to think the "Tasertrooper" exists just to have more toys possible.

#14 makes no sense to me. Abramson says: "For folks trying to hide BB-8 from the First Order, BB-8's friends sure make some inexplicable, unnecessary decisions to trot him out in public." 1) no one makes any effort at all to "hide" BB-8, so there is no logical inconsistency in "trotting him out in public" but 2) no one trots him out in public either. Abramson is as dismissive of droids as Teedo is. BB-8 can actually make his own decisions. And, he is never unnecessarily out in public, at all. This is his mission once Poe is out of the picture, so of course he is going to go along into Maz' castle. Taking him to Maz' is the only "decision" that might fit Abramson's contention, despite the plural, and I would say, that was BB-8's decision, not anyone else's. So, at best, this is BB-8 carrying... no, being the idiot ball.

#15 Finn turns out not to know Starkiller Base as well as he implied, so "why doesn't Han let Leia know that they've been had?" 1) no time for that, 2) Finn turns out to actually have a legitimate plan on what to do; and Han is just being as dismissive of "janitors" as Abramson has been, in balking at all, and 3) maybe radio contact at this point would a) not work because of the shield or b) reveal their location to the First Order. And, like before, idiot ball at best, not a plot hole.

#16 "Why can't Starkiller Base be used until it's dark...?" It can be used whenever, but the First Order, obsessed with big guns, wants a big beam of energy, so they will drain the entire energy of the star, thus, you know, causing it to become dark. I don't think Abramson is stupid. In fact, judging by his writing in some of his non-Star Wars pieces, he seems relatively intelligent. But, this is just him not paying any attention to what is going on on the screen. In fact, many of his "plot holes" are just him not paying close enough attention. And, I know from attention. I spent a year picking apart and expanding on a single film. And, I wrote once in this blog (and this line has made it to being quoted in my master's thesis)--Day 113 - not today:

...every piece of art deserves to be studied and broken down. Every piece of fiction deserves to be dissected until we know not just what it means but what it can mean.

If I have not proven that as fact time and time again in this blog, I figure that I am just doing what Julie Powell did once upon a time, dropping "a tiny line... into the endless sea of cyberspace, the slender east of lures in the blackest of waters." I think about film. I want other people to think about film. In fact, if we would all pay as close attention as Abramson thinks he has to The Force Awakens films might actually make some many mistakes, or might make it more clear that characters are the ones making the mistakes because some characters are flawed just as some people are flawed, damn it. I've spent several thousand words on Abramson, now, a few thousand more on Star Wars, and many, many thousands more on films generally and specifically. I have done this because, in my life, films mean something. When someone misuses a term like "plot hole" to nitpick a few things he didn't personally like, or get, that offends me. What you personally want or expect from a film is worth expressing. But, let us not, as in Inside Out mix up our boxes of facts and of opinions. Let us not put "unforgivable" in our title as clickbait and then offer up items that are clearly forgivable as much as Abramson seems to have actually enjoyed (and defended) the film in his third piece.

 

 

 

 

 

And, just because I'm a completist:

#17 Poe and Finn survive a crash. Yeah, as we see in Finn's case and can assume in Poe's, TIE fighters have ejection seats. Get over it.

#18. "Kylo Ren can read Rey's mind from a distance..." Nope. Film never suggests this. In fact, he has trouble reading her mind up close, which the film makes quite clear. Plus, Kylo could know exactly where Rey is on Starkiller Base and still be preoccupied with the presence of his father or, you know, the X-wings shooting at said base. Plus, idiot ball at best, not a plot hole.

#19 is at least labeled as "a little petty." "[S]ince when do blaster wounds cause massive bleeding?" They don't. The Stormtrooper with the bloody hand was injured by an explosion. It ripped his glove open, even. And, if blasters have been upgraded in the decades since the Battle of Endor, good for technology. Not a plot hole.

And, Abramson suggests the First Order troop transports carry only a handful of Stormtroopers to make the toy's price point low enough... While I like cynicism when it comes to capitalism, troop transports in reality often carry a small number of troops--just watch any footage from Vietnam with those helicopters that carry fewer soldiers than the First Order troop transports. But, really, what annoys me on this point of Abramson's is that he refers to the Empire's transports that "held scores" of soldiers. I'm not sure if he means the Republic Gunship, aka LAAT, used during the Clone Wars and seen in-canon in Attack of the Clones because it carries a whopping 30 clone troopers, because yeah, 30 is more than the smaller vehicle here seems to hold. And the AT-AT could hold 40. But, the logic that suggests that because larger vehicles are available the First Order should not use smaller ones is exactly the same logic that suggests that Starkiller Base was a good idea as a followup to the Death Star.

#20 I'll give you word-for-word. The first part of it, anyway:

Even accepting that Jakku was Finn's first military assignment of any kind, as many readers of my first article on the film clearly did [and Abramson would have, had he been paying attention to dialogue], are we to assume that he was entirely in the dark about the giant, racist, homicidal, Galaxy-spanning terrorist organization he was mopping floors for?

1) nitpick: sanitation on a military base is still a military assignment. 2) Abramson's own interpretation of the First Order--that we see all of its soldiers on Starkiller Base--suggests that the First Order is not so giant. Abramson's own confusion about there not being non-humanoid soldiers suggest it wasn't clear that the First Order was racist. Finn has been trained to kill, so homicidal seems rather obvious; in fact, that's any military. People in the military for whatever country or planet or organization probably don't figure on that country or planet or organization being "evil" until they actually see it commit evil acts. Finn's situation is actually, exactly what one would expect to create a defector. On his first assignment in the field he realized that this army he has been forced to be a part of likes to slaughter innocents. And, that is how narratives work--we start Finn's story at the moment that he gets to see who he's working for. Plus, even if he has been seeing how horrible the First Order is indirectly for a long time, there is no direct consequence for him until he just got caught not shooting people by Phasma. And, this just happens to also be when there's a Resistance pilot around to help him escape. This is where drama happens. This is where a story worth telling begins. It is not a plot hole.

1 comment:

  1. "Does The Force Awakens hit a few too many of the same plot beats as A New Hope? Of course it does. But, here's the thing... Or my thing, anyway--I still watch A New Hope sometimes. Those plot beats are worth hitting because they're good. In fact, I'm thinking of watching The Hidden Fortress tomorrow to see those same plot beats even earlier than Star Wars. There are only so many plots available to wrap stories around. The key to making new stories is new characters, new nuance to the same old plot beats."

    Why, Robert, that sounds....conservative!!!

    ReplyDelete