Friday, June 29, 2018

Force Awakens: The Opener

Caveat: These last six posts are going to be a bit tricky. We don't have IX yet, so we don't have the full scope of the story. And, since Lucas doesn't have direct influence here, it's going to be a bit hard to see if the same conventions such as the right to left and left to right rule that I've been forging my entire thesis of Star Wars on applies here. However, looking at this trilogy in the same way as I've looked at the first six films has revealed that they CAN be looked at in this way and provide a coherent message. So, for the moment, we'll go with the same conventions. I may have to re-write these reviews come 2020 but, somehow, I doubt it. We'll see.

The structure of The Force Awakens is not just from A New Hope, but from The Phantom Menace primarily.

-Two characters attempt a negotiation, but get split up. A character in black makes evil plans
- A hair-brained rescue attempt leads to going through a dangerous underbelly with horrific creatures and jerk locals.
- The mentor figure takes a chance on a previously unknown Force user in a seedy underbelly
-  The man in black comes for the woman. She leaves for a fake world.
- A surprise journey to the place of final showdown (which involves woods) becomes successful because of the locals
-The man in black kills the mentor
- A battle rages above the planet as the good guys engage in a suicide mission while on the ground the good guys confront the man in black. The mentor dies but the man in black is defeated by a Force user, with a chasm involved.
- After a brief celebration it is assumed that all will be well.

What we are seeing with TFA is the merging of TPM with ANH to create a different thing altogether. But that's not as urgent as the below picture:

What. The. Flaming. Hell. Is THIS??

Oh man, I may need to rethink that. The man in black is coming from the left, right out the gate. Kylo Ren is a protagonist??? What is this? What am I looking at? The guy who kills villagers without a second's thought as well as family friends is a hero? Since when, Disney? Black may be the color of purpose but it's also the color of hell and the abyss! What the heck is this??

Am I going crazy?

But Rey and Finn are both portrayed as heroes as well. This is weird, maybe Abrams screwed it up. Nope, Ren is showed from left to right in almost every single scene in this movie, regardless of what he's doing. It's like the movie keeps telling us that no, it means what it says: Kylo Ren is the good guy here! And it keeps the logic of the previous six films. The biggest takeaway for Kylo Ren is that something else is going on each of these scenes that makes him a good guy, regardless of how reprehensible his actions are. It's a tantalizing nugget of information that makes me question exactly what point they're trying to make.

Rey continues the WTFery. She's a slave, like Anakin, and she's sheltered and ignorant, like Luke, but unlike them she's a hardened warrior already. Don't believe me? Let me ask an awful question: what happens to women in environments where might makes right? Well, they don't wind up having their own place to live, unmolested, whole and healthy, I'll say that much. For all you SJWers out there who are raging saying "Women can be more than just sex-slaves!": I admire your innocence, if not outright naivety. Someone as pretty and with as much spunk as Rey would have been broken and used up well before nineteen and hooked up on drugs to keep them subservient, probably by the age of thirteen, and that's late, as far as sex-slaves go. By nineteen their fates are tragically sealed in a cycle of drug addiction and rape. And that's in the United States, a first-world country where you don't necessarily want to think of those sorts of things are happening. What's going to happen to someone on a backwater place as Jakku?? One would think that Rey, who was enslaved to Plutt at a very early age, would have been long gone. She should be broken, addicted to drugs, self-loathing, and almost past the point of saving in this environment.

Rey is none of these things.

Instead, we get a scrappy survivor, who has taught herself everything she needs to keep herself useful and relatively free. Instead of being thrown into a chainmail bikin Rey proves to Plutt that she can be useful in other ways, and is thus spared from the fate of girls her age in a place as awful as Jakku. She's the exception to the rule, that one in a million diamond in the rough that proves that sheer willpower can get you to wherever you want to go. But the problem is that Rey's mind is made up: she's going to stay on Jakku and wait for her family, who had left her there. Despite her clear aptitude for the Force, which we'll cover in subsequent posts, she still wants that connection to her parents. This attachment to her parents is her source of strength. She wants to be whole and intact for them when they get back. Making an image of who she wants her parents to see when they get back she clings to it, fighting with a ferocity that only the truly desperate can appreciate. She's strong and independent because, on some level, she thinks this will bring her parents back. It's the same with all abuse victims: maybe if I'm what the abuser would have wanted in the first place they'll come back and love me. Maybe, just maybe, if I can be good enough, strong enough, smart enough, I'll be someone worth coming back to and loving.

Finn is another example of the diamond in the rough. Finally(!) the kidnapping of children is flipped on its head and we can see how ugly the Jedi Order had gotten by taking children from their families. The First Order does it now and the context for the ailing Jedi Order's ghoulish ways has been exposed. Finn has been a slave since birth. The death of his friend, however, shocks him, and he can't unsee the blood and anguish that The First Order commits. The thing that I don't see a lot of people commenting on is how the rest of Finn's arc in TFA and TLJ is him mourning the loss of his friend. The shock of losing this person, whoever he was, causes Finn to do something that he had never even thought of before: to rebel. He resolves to get away as fast he can and so he frees Poe. Everything Finn does in TFA and TLJ is in done while mourning his friend. He sees Kylo Ren, the source of all this tragedy, and does nothing about it.

And this is where the tragedy starts to mix in. We meet Han Solo and learn a few things: every single member of the previous trilogy has met tragedy. Luke is gone, having lost hope after the destruction of his school. General Leia and Han are estranged after the turning of their son to the Dark Side, which they're very aware of. They know Snoke is the problem.

Waitaminute, we know what the problem is right off the bat?

Yes, we actually do. Unlike in the first two trilogies, where half the problem is the ignorance of the protagonists about what's actually going on, in this trilogy we know immediately what the problem is. Han, Maz Kanata, and Ben together clue us in that this time will be different. Knowledge is power and, even though the heroes of the Alliance had failed in the long run, they can pass on the knowledge they have... assuming they want to. Han is broken down by the loss of his son and marriage, but this tragedy has turned him into a softer, kinder human being. His speech about the Force and Luke is a testament as to how far Han, the eternal skeptic of the original trilogy, has come. He has seen enough to know that the Force not only exists but that he is a part of it. Many people who complain about the "stagnation" of the original trilogy characters seem to miss that these people are actually very different from when we last saw them. All of them have evolved into completely different people. They're sadder, wiser, and approach life completely differently from the subverter trilogy. But that's what 30 years does to you: you change. Did they stick to their stereotypical roles? Yeah, and that's what changed them. Once in a while you have the opportunity to individuate and become more yourself. Sometimes you take this chance and sometimes you don't. Han, Leia, and Luke didn't and their characters suffered the consequences of sticking with what they knew. But we'll develop that more in The Last Jedi.

We end this post with the reveal that Snoke is actively manipulating Ben with Force visions of his grandfather. With the right to left view we know that what Ben is seeing is not real. It's just an old helmet with no real power behind it. But Ben, confused and angry, clings to it with all his might. He needs purpose and the fake visions provide it. He wants a place in the world and the memory of Darth Vader provides a place for him to put his anger and hurt in a place where he thinks he may actually do something of meaning. I cannot understate it enough: Ben Solo places his entire worth in his resemblance to his grandfather. Snoke has convinced him that this is the only way for him to have worth.

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