This is a brief and targeted review for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It should go without saying that this review contains SPOILERS but, really, grow up, people. With rare exceptions, you shouldn’t care about spoilers. If a movie is well-written, well-acted, and has compelling storytelling, you should still enjoy watching it. That’s why we watch movies we’ve seen before over and over again — because we care about the characters and find their journeys exciting. Furthermore, surprise endings are usually only there to make up for the lack of an interesting plot. This applies to Star Wars VII. And so, while I say SPOILER ALERT, it really doesn’t matter. After you see the movie, you’ll think, “Huh. I didn’t really care about that crap anyway.”
How’s that for the intro to a review? Let’s get to it.
The effects were superb. The acting likewise was very good on all parts. The action sequences were well-scripted. There were also some callbacks to the originals that fans will like. I found the callbacks irritating, but I think most people liked them. Were all these things worth the price of admission? For me, no. Most people think it’s worth the money, though.
All that being said, almost every issue I have with this film extends from the plot and the terrible storytelling that’s so prevalent in Hollywood these days, at least in the major studio blockbusters.
As is news to almost no one, the original Star Wars was based on The Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Now every good story does not fit into Campbell’s format, but (paraphrasing Plinkett) it works well in a space-adventure movie for all ages. I think this could also be said of most adventure films for all ages, not just the ones set in space. By way of brief summary of The Hero’s Journey, see this picture below:
Now a full lecture about each stage of the Journey is not necessary but I’ll outline a few ideas and point them out in A New Hope. In the original movie, Luke…
- meets Obi Wan Kenobi (Call to Adventure)
- leaves Tatooine via trials at Mos Eisley (Crossing the Threshold)
- journeys to the Death Star and rescues Princess Lea (Challenges and Temptations)
- loses his mentor and is threatened with annihilation by the Death Star (The Abyss)
- uses the Force to destroy the Death Star (Transformation and Atonement)
- returns to the base and receives the medal from Lea (Return and Gift of the Goddess)
There are many ways to fit The Hero’s Journey to Star Wars and not just in the first film but in the original trilogy as a whole. It’s a fairly simple structure and if you’re interested in writing an adventure movie for kids, you probably should understand it. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings also fit this formula, perhaps even better than Star Wars.
There were attempts in the new movie to follow this structure, but it failed for three major reasons:
- It felt like it an attempt to replicate A New Hope instead of fitting a new story to the same structure.
- The Hero’s Journey in a large-scale adventure is inherently less-compelling when the lead role is a female.
- In an effort to appease feminist morons the female’s story lacked essential components of The Hero’s Journey.
I’m going to explain each of these points and most of my arguments are going to focus on Rey because she is the protagonist. Before we go on, I will also say that I thought Daisy Ridley did a fantastic job with the material. She managed to strike a wonderful balance between happy-go-lucky-optimism, confidence, and mystery, making for a very likeable character. I’ll also emphasize again that my problems with the movie extend from the storytelling and how it develops the characters, as opposed to the characters in and of themselves.
Step 1: Why make something new when we know what makes money?
First of all, many other bloggers, critics, and reviewers have made the same complaint about The Force Awakens as I have in #1. However, I will take it a step further and say that the writers failed to understand the application of The Hero’s Journey to A New Hope and that is why they failed to replicate it in The Force Awakens. It’s not just that Luke is thrust into a new world in which he deals with new challenges, it’s that he embarks on a quest to undergo a metamorphosis. His journey is spiritual as much as it is physical and we didn’t get that with Rey. Rey was simply a character who moved from event to event. We didn’t really know why or what the point was (maybe it was “finding Luke Skywalker” but I still don’t understand why that was the driving force of what can be called the plot) and the only reason we didn’t feel lost is because the events seemed close enough to A New Hope‘s plot that we went along with it. When, at the end, Rey transformed into a she-Jedi or whatever no one really understood what happened, including the character. She stumbled into Jedi-ship and seemed as confused at kicking Kylo Ren’s ass as the audience was.
Compare that scene with this one:
Step 2: Let’s create a strong, independent woman! Audiences have never seen one of those!
This seems like a good time to jump out of order and explain #3. I’m not even going to address the superficial and patronizing scenes such as the “why are you holding my hand” scene. No, this goes a bit deeper and also points out how idiotic feminists are when it comes to mass media.
Did anyone except for me notice that Rey never failed at anything she attempted? That at no point did she receive so much as minor assistance from someone else, especially from a man? She lives on her own, makes money on her own, and fights off bandits on her own. She runs from explosions on her own, too (fine, I’m mentioning the hand-holding thing), and for some reason runs faster than and fights more effectively than the male lifelong soldier. Rey jumps into the Millennium Falcon and doesn’t technically know how to fly it, but almost instantly figures it out. She even aims her copilot’s cannon for him after he was too inept to shoot down the enemy fighters before getting shot himself (again, lifelong soldier). Han Solo (longtime captain of the ship) also doesn’t understand the Falcon’s intricacies as well as this girl.
She gets captured (the only time in the movie when she wasn’t immediately successful), but solves the problem before the male rescue team gets there and uses it as a chance to fight off the powerful male villain. (Did anyone else catch the rape-y dialogue during the mind-reading scene? Creepy.)
Why do I have such issue with these things? Look again at The Hero’s Journey picture and see the phrase “Challenges and Temptations.” In his book, Joseph Campbell refers to this stage more accurately as “The Road of Trials.” This is the main area of growth for the hero. Here he learns by trial and error, success and failure, how to navigate the new world. He changes and improves himself, becoming the hero that can conquer in The Abyss and emerge a new man. How exactly did Rey do this?
Forget sticking to The Hero’s Journey, how is a film interesting in which the hero never really struggles? And the fact that she never once needed help from another person is such obvious and pathetic female-pandering that I can’t believe so many people bought it. Try to think of an adventure movie with a male hero (e.g., Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Iron Man) in which he never receives help. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
I mean, come on, would it have been so hard for Finn to show up and help Rey fight off the bandits? You didn’t need her to be a damsel in distress, just have her give him that nod you give the dude who saves your ass in battle. Just an acknowledgment and move on. That’s what tough guys do. Nope! She needed to do it all on her own.
The path to any reward — or, in the case of Star Wars, mastery of the Force — is paved with work and discipline, something totally dismissed in The Force Awakens because they wanted a “strong” female hero. Okay, it may be a lousy plot, but at least Jezebel, AlterNet, or Salon won’t be writing pompous and condescending blogs about it. Leave that to me.
Now lest you think me a sexist (that comes later), this also would have sucked if it was a male hero in The Force Awakens. In an entertaining and insightful (and pretty overanalyzed) review of Disney’s Frozen, Stefan Molyneux points on how the film does a disservice to young girls by giving them a heroine who accomplishes a great deal without any kind of preparation or trial and error. The fact that Frozen is also a Disney movie is worth noting. It’s not a coincidence. It’s kind of their M.O.
Step 3: Sorry, idiots, it was doomed from the jump.
So now that we’ve established how The Force Awakens was a failed remake of A New Hope and how it starred a heroine created to appease feminists, let me wrap up with point #2. That is, action-adventure films with female protagonists are less interesting than films with male protagonists.
I will say this until the day I die: you can’t change biology. These things are not a social construct. On average, females are naturally more suited to interpersonal relationships, detail-oriented thinking, and micro-level problems. Males are better suited to abstract thinking and large-scale problems — the kind of problems a hero would be addressing on a macro-level journey, driving the plot of an action-adventure movie.
Now all men and all women don’t fit in these categories, but when you’re making a space-adventure film for all ages, it’s best to play to the averages. Male leads are more believable and will always better resonate with the audience than a female lead in these type stories. Hollywood doesn’t understand this, but Hollywood does understand marketing and box office results. Therefore, male leads is what we’ve usually gotten.
This is not true for all movies or for all protagonists — don’t misconstrue my words. The point is this: most little girls don’t run around pretending to be a Jedi killing Stormtroopers, but boys will. In the context of The Force Awakens, not only will boys not want to pretend to be Rey, but most girls will not either. That is, most girls will not want to be Rey until their progressive mothers sit them down and tell them that this is what they are supposed to want. But hey, why leave kids’ movies alone when you can make a social statement and teach kids what’s best for society instead of just letting them play?
Last but not least, why did we think this was going to be anything else?
Really though, all the problems with this movie are easily dismissed with one key understanding: Star Wars is a Disney franchise crafted to sell a particular image and product. Disney has always been all about the girl-power, offend as few people as possible way of life. Combine that with J.J. Abrams, who specializes in action-entertainment rather than interesting plots, and a Star Wars marketing machine that wants as many people as possible buying trademarked products… and this is what you get. Is there any surprise that the plot ended up as it did? It has to fit the Disney-Star Wars-Abrams narratives.
Edit: This review is complete, but some of the finer points are fleshed out further in a later blog.