It frustrates me that they had this bullet-proof franchise where they could’ve done anything – as long as it was good – and instead they just rehashed the original movies, and did it in a way that lacks character development, causality, and logic. What was the point then? At least George Lucas tried things with the Prequels. At least his movies contain flashes of brilliance. I cannot think of a single inspiring scene in the New Trilogy. Oh wait! The end credits. Then I was happy.
So, in my opinion, where did these movies go irreparably wrong?
My biggest belief in storytelling is that the foundations have to be both strong and right. If they’re not, either the storytelling will falter, or the story itself will be weak.
In the making of The Star Wars: The Force Awakens, writer Mike Arndt admitted he couldn’t make this story work, that every time Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) appeared, he took over. Exit Mike Arndt. Cue JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who nutted out the story in no time.
Does it show?
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, these are the premises that are introduced the moment the opening credits hit:
the remnants of the Empire have regrouped under a new leader, Snoke, and become the First Order
the First Order have been kidnapping children to brainwash into becoming Stormtroopers
the First Order have built the Starkiller Base
the relationship of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has fallen apart
Leia hasn’t been able to convince the New Republic of the threat Snoke represents, and has had to form her own secret group to investigate
Han and Leia had a son, Ben, who went to train with Luke
Luke Skywalker was training Jedi – among them Ben Solo, who betrays Luke, slays the other apprentices, and becomes Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)
devastated by the betrayal, Luke has gone off in search of the first Jedi Temple
however devastated Luke is, he’s left a map to his location
our hero, Rey, lives on Jakku as a scavenger, and thinks that the events of the Original Trilogy are legend
the Millennium Falcon has been left on Jakku
C3P0 has a red arm.
A big part of the problem here is that we’re handed all this ready-made. All the important beats have happened off-screen. What we get are the conclusions.
People may compare it to A New Hope – in that story, the Empire already exists, the Death Star has already been built, and Luke has already been orphaned and left in the care of his aunt and uncle.
However, when we first saw A New Hope, we had no frame of reference. Everything could be absolute. We’re introduced to Luke, and through him as a cypher are introduced to the premise and are taken on the same journey he is.
In the New Trilogy, we have a frame of reference. We saw the Empire overthrown in the Original Trilogy. So it needs to be explained why and how things are now the way they are.
Moreover, while we are handed conclusions in A New Hope, each character extrapolates on that conclusion and builds a journey – an arc that sees the character develop, e.g. while Luke is orphaned, he trains to become a Jedi and takes on the Empire. Many of the conclusions in The Force Awakens are closed. What happens is we’re going to learn how those things became conclusions, rather than build on them, e.g. Rey doesn’t become anybody. Her whole journey is about learning who she is. This is a narrative device JJ Abrams used in Lost, where we constantly flashbacked in characters’ lives to offer context for what was happening in the present.
Let’s look at the premises in The Force Awakens again – this time, I’ll address the bullet points as if I was an editor working on their story:
the remnants of the Empire have regrouped under a new leader, Snoke, and become the First Order Wait! Who’s Snoke? Where has he come from? It’s okay to have some mystery, but we’re going to need some justification as to why this person could regroup the Empire and how he did it given that the Original Trilogy portrays the Empire’s fall as complete.
the First Order have been kidnapping children to brainwash into becoming Stormtroopers There are scenes where we’re seeing tens of thousands of Stormtroopers. How many Stormtroopers does each ship carry? Surely we’re looking at an army that must number in the millions to be a threat to the New Republic. How have the First Order been able to accomplish this without anybody noticing or fighting back? How are they able to brainwash this many kids? We see a reference to being able to use a clone army – if that’s available, why wouldn’t they use it? Why go to what would seem greater effort, e.g. kidnapping kids, brainwashing them, and training them for years and years? The Empire never did this, so the First Order would have to implement systems to make this possible. Isn’t it easier just to literally build an army from clones?
the First Order have built the Starkiller Base so the Rebellion – who was aware of both Death Stars and took measures necessary to destroy them – have no idea that the First Order is building a whole base into a planet? How can the New Republic be so blind? Also, where are the First Order finding these resources? Also, how does the Starkiller base work? We see it destroying planets almost instantaneously. Light doesn’t travel that quickly. Ships in this universe don’t travel this quickly. While Star Wars has always been science fantasy, this seems a flagrant disregard of the physics that this universe does employ, i.e. light travel still takes time. How the hell does the Starkiller’s discharge travel that quick?
the relationship of Han Solo and Princess Leia has fallen apart So after taking three movies to get them together, they’re now just broken up? I understand the realities of relationships and the pressures Han and Leia have gone through, but this course would – just in my opinion – piss on the legacy of the Original Trilogy, and how the fans feel about these two as a couple.
Leia hasn’t been able to convince the New Republic of the threat Snoke represents, and has had to form her own secret group to investigate How complacent are the New Republic? The Empire couldn’t have been gone long before the First Order started building the Starkiller base and kidnapping children to become the First Order. How could the New Republic possibly become so complacent so quickly? If the remnants of the Empire were in such disarray that the New Republic disregards them as a threat, then surely those remnants couldn’t have so quickly regrouped into the First Order. If they were a formidable force that could form the First Order, surely the New Republic wouldn’t have grown complacent about them.
Han and Leia had a son, Ben, who went to train with Luke Could we see him discovering his Force ability? Could we see Luke offering to train him? Could we see Han or Leia express reservations?
Luke Skywalker is training Jedi – among them Ben Solo, who betrays Luke, slays the other apprentices, and becomes Kylo Ren How is Ben Solo turned into Kylo Ren? What are the Knights of Ren? How was Snoke able to poison Kylo right under Luke’s nose? This is the most compelling premise that has been introduced into this New Trilogy, and yet it’s all already happened off screen.
devastated by the betrayal, Luke has gone off in search of the first Jedi Temple at the height of conflict, Luke decides to leave? Even if Kylo’s betrayal devastated Luke, wouldn’t he continue the fight given his absence is going to lead to more deaths and growing First Order tyranny? What is the purpose of him leaving? Has he gone to find help or wisdom? That might make sense. If he’s just had enough and taken off, that doesn’t seem very much like Luke. Again, I understand we’re picking up the story later, but this path would be incongruous with Luke. You might compare it to Yoda exiling himself after failing to overthrow Palpatine. However, Yoda leaves following the Empire’s rise. The Empire has won. Also, he still later trains Luke. Here, Luke would be leaving when the New Republic are still in the ascendant. Luke’s absence allows Kylo Ren (and Snoke) to destroy the New Republic. This wasn’t the case with Yoda.
however devastated Luke is, he’s left a map to his location What? Wait? What sense does this make? Luke’s gone off to hide … and left a map to his location? Why would anybody do that? It’s totally illogical.
our hero, Rey, lives on Jakku as a scavenger, and thinks that the events of the Original Trilogy are legend It’s only been about twenty years since the events of the Original Trilogy. How could they so quickly cede into legend? And even if we accept this as a premise, how does it contribute to the story? Rey throws in her lot with Han, Leia, and everybody. Her believing all this is legend in no way shapes her outlook or influences her decisions. So it’s really just a pointless aside that does nothing for the story or character.
the Millennium Falcon has been left on Jakku How did that happen? It’s right by Rey, our hero. Surely somebody had to leave the ship there on purpose. It’s not just coincidence, is it? How flukey would that be?
C3P0 has a red arm Um, what?
If you look at each point, ask yourself what they build on, and what is left as a conclusion that will be explained later. For example, why does C3P0 have a red arm? Well, we’ll explain that later. Why did Luke leave? We’ll explain that later. How did Ben Solo turn into Kylo Ren? We’ll explain that later. Most of these threads exist to be explained later, rather than to be built on so we take a journey with the characters. Sure, the characters take a physical journey. Their circumstances change. But they don’t. Rey is calm, quirky, and self-confident; Poe is brave, audacious, and a hotshot; Finn is nervous, garrulous, but courageous when he needs to be. They have stayed this way through both movies.
Compare that to A New Hope: Luke is orphaned, lives with his aunt and uncle, and aspires to leave Tattooine. He takes a journey, where he discovers his abilities, joins the Rebellion, and destroys the Death Star. Yes, we do explore his past, but only to propel the story forward – it’s because of his parentage that the Emperor is interested in him, and attempts are then made to abduct Luke and turn him to the Dark Side. This is all moving forward and, as we move forward, Luke grows and changes. Han Solo is introduced as a hotshot mercenary. The Rebellion’s cause changes him – his friendship with Luke, his infatuation with Leia, and the good of their cause. Leia is singled-minded, authoritative, and closed off, but becomes warm and open. We see all that happen. In the New Trilogy, it’s all still to be explained to us why things and people are the way they are.
These story beats could’ve been interesting. The problem is the most interesting aspect of each of them – the how behind them – has happened off-screen.
The prequel to The Force Awakens could’ve been a compelling story. How did the First Order rise? Let’s see it as the Resistance try to track down this new threat. How did Snoke turn Ben Solo? Let’s see it as Luke trains these Jedi, and Snoke begins to subvert Ben. How is Leia struggling to convince the New Republic of this new threat? Let’s see it. Etc. They could’ve taken us on real journeys as we met the characters and got to know them. We could’ve become invested in them. We could’ve seen how events changed them, and the struggles they had to face. That would’ve been interesting, maximized the usage of the Original Trilogy characters, while transitioning to New Trilogy characters to carry on the story.
But The Force Awakens (and this whole franchise) is summed up by one scene: when Han Solo and Finn (John Boyega) find Luke’s old lightsaber. Han Solo asks Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) where she got that. And her response?
‘A good question … for another time.’
That’s all The Force Awakens is – a lot of questions that are never answered. Forget growth. Interest is generated by teasing that one day all this will be explained.
It really doesn’t seem the ideal way to build a franchise.