The Force Awakens: A Geek Debate

So I’m going to try something a wee bit different here today: I am going to use my opinions to openly (but politely!) disagree with someone else’s opinions. *Gasp!*

A little while ago, Andrea Johnson posted her “not a review” of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As I had recently seen the movie and I usually find much of agreeable interest in her reviews, I read it.

GOOD PEOPLE, SHE WAS GRIEVOUSLY WRONG. *Thumps podium*

*Clears throat* Spoiler alert.

The Force Awakens: A Geek Debate

So it is perhaps already clear at this point (assuming one has clicked on the above link) that Ms Johnson is “against” the movie in question. I, in my turn, intend to make a case “for” the aforementioned movie. To that end, I will address Andrea’s pertinent concerns regarding it, and put forth my counter-arguments in its favour, before a final summary statement of defense.

… If you’re still here after all that formal windbaggery, let’s debate!

Quote (these will henceforth be marked in blockquotes as below):

No way around it, your experience with the new Star Wars is directly connected to your past with Star Wars. Kids who have never seen a Star Wars movie will experience this new one completely differently than people who grew up watching episodes IV, V and VI as kids.

My past with Star Wars:

I grew up watching Star Wars. In the mid 80’s I was old enough to put a movie in the VHS player and hit play, but I wasn’t old enough to have the comprehension to understand a long story. We had episodes IV and VI on VHS, and I liked watching them. I didn’t understand the storyline at all, but I liked how I felt when I watched them, the music really stuck with me. I wondered why Luke went from wearing white and tan to wearing black. Han Solo was my first crush.  I wanted my wedding dress to look like Princess Leia’s long white dress during the medals ceremony at the end. I wouldn’t realize it for 15 years, but I was taking my first steps towards a love affair with the Campbellian Hero’s Journey.   Much later, when I finally saw episode V, things really started making sense.

I can attest that Andrea’s first point is a good one – though I feel there is also room here for (yes they exist as well) The Indifferent Viewer when it comes to the original trilogy. (Sidenote: in the interest of not digressing too hard, I shall be disregarding the prequel trilogy here.) I was, prior to seeing The Force Awakens, more or less an Indifferent Viewer myself. I had seen the movies, though not as a child, and though I certainly didn’t dislike them, they never stood out as something really special.

I posit that this is OK! Might not one also be allowed, upon witnessing what the original trilogy had to offer, consider it as a whole and declare “eh, it’s all right”? Regardless, this was the baggage of opinion that I carried upon seeing The Force Awakens. (I mention it because I feel that this is also important, not merely valid – as I will try to explain at a later point.)

Star Wars, like The Princess Bride, offers fans a sort of cultural secret handshake. If I say “are there rocks ahead?” and you respond with “if there are, we’ll all be dead”, I immediately know we are of the same tribe. Star Wars references (and Spaceballs references) serve the same purpose.

… Do they?

I can absolutely understand this point coming from a longtime fan of the movies, one whose childhood is indelibly stamped with Star Wars geekery – but at this point, popular culture itself is so indelibly stamped with everything Star Wars that I suspect the whole “secret handshake” aspect might be redundant. At this point, who doesn’t know that the ‘correct’ response to “I love you!” is “I know”? Who doesn’t know that a Darth Vader impression must come complete with the whooshy mechanical breathing noises? Rearranged sentences, a Yoda impersonation is.

This is not an attempt to belittle the fandom – far from it. The popularity of these movies being so massive doesn’t necessarily cheapen it; it means there’s more to share, more to discuss, with more people who might hear such a line and wonder about the movie(s) it came from…

It was a very JJ movie.  Lots of action, neat special effects, some nice nods to the originals.  Other than the obvious storyline nod, there were subtle and well done connections using color, clothing, and cinematography. From an artistic point of view, I appreciated those. But when it came to the movie itself, I felt no emotional investment towards the characters. Zero.  If the new characters died at the end of the movie, I wouldn’t have cared.  There was no hook to get me invested. The movie felt like a stand alone, like it wasn’t connected to anything, like it’s creator wanted to stand apart instead of be part of something larger. There was no Hero’s Journey here. Not in the music, not in the plot, not in what the characters went through. It felt flat.

(Emphasis is my own.)

“No emotional investment” – Right here, I think, is where Andrea’s and my opinions of the movie really and truly diverge. As I mentioned before, I was never truly swayed by the original trilogy. I enjoyed the story, I liked the characters, I can definitely appreciate the artistic effort that was put in – but all of this is coming from my adult retrospective point of view. I don’t see much, aside from maybe Yoda and the Ewoks (shush and let me finish!) that would have interested Child Me at all*.

Cut to today and to The Force Awakens, and suddenly everything is different for me, because suddenly I am finding all of this exciting! These characters are interesting to me! I would have LOVED to have smart, daring, sympathetic scavenger Rey to geek out over as a kid. She would have brightened so many dull days. She’s certainly brightened the most recent ones.

Finn, likewise, makes the faceless, disposable Stormtroopers more than just fodder who can’t shoot worth a damn. He’s not the best hand with a lightsaber, maybe he’s not even really the Hero – but to touch upon countless feminist arguments that have undoubtedly been made better than I could do… Isn’t that sort of the point?

It’s sad that the best thing I can say about The Force Awakens is that the Pilot guy was really hot.

Don’t be sad, Andrea. Poe wouldn’t want you to be sad. Look at him. Be happy.

Poe Dameron 1

(Yes, I really will take any excuse to post his picture. No, I’m not ashamed.)

The original three Stars Wars movies made viewers feel something deep inside. It made us feel like we were something larger than ourselves, made us want to be better people, to stand a little taller, to be worthy of being part of something larger than ourselves.  The Force Awakens made me feel none of that.  That’s what frustrates me.  I won’t remember this movie in 10 years, I won’t be quoting it’s lines, I won’t be using dialog like a secret handshake.  Star Wars is no longer what defines a generation…

With all respect due to fans of the original, while I can absolutely understand why Andrea feels this way – God knows I’ve certainly dug my fannish heels in over other films/stories I’ve held so dear over the years, in the fear that they’ll be handled poorly – I don’t agree that The Force Awakens, and perhaps even what follows, can’t be seen as something special to a new generation of fans. Little girls with no interest in Barbie dolls and tea sets are going to (and already do!) love the hell out of a character like Rey. They can boo and hiss with enthusiastic abandon at Kylo Ren (though hopefully that may change, Darth Vader-style, before the end…), who dared to try to tell her he could teach her anything. (Can you see where I’m going with this point?)

I don’t say this often, and for good reasons, but I’ll say it now – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie I wish I’d been able to see fifteen or twenty years ago. It could have changed so much of my perspective, and so many ideas about what a girl could be capable of. If it does this for a new generation of young girls (and boys!), then how can that be bad?

And if it sways an Indifferent Viewer to the proverbial Light Side of the Force, then surely that’s another reason to appreciate it…

 

*Child Me always did love a good Henson-esque puppetfest, and Adult Me will fight anybody who puts them down. But that is, perhaps, another debate entirely…

12 thoughts on “The Force Awakens: A Geek Debate

  1. I am kind of with you both on this one. My experience with Star Wars is more like Andrea’s. I spent my early years overseas and in the late 80s/early 90s where there was absolutely nothing on TV for kids my age. My parents would literally put VHS movies on for me and my brother on a loop, including Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, etc. which I recognize now was the root of my deep love for all of these trilogies even to this day.

    The thing is, I followed the Star Wars franchise even after that. As I got older, I went beyond the movies to gorge myself on the EU novels, comics, video games and later the shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and now Star Wars: Rebels. To me it’s been a lifelong experience of watching a universe that’s ever expanding, ever growing, so even though TFA was A Big Deal, seeing “the next new thing” happen in the Star Wars timeline wasn’t a completely new experience. It was easier to embrace characters and storylines I’d never seen before because that’s how it’s always been for me. I don’t disagree there’s probably still some “secret handshake” thing going on there for us who have grown up on the original trilogy, but for me personally, that feeling’s been more diluted because of continuous exposure to the other Star Wars media. Don’t get me wrong though, because I probably hold to the classic trilogy as dearly as Andrea, but at the same time, there are dozens of other EU characters I know I love as strongly if not more so than the heroic trio Luke, Leia and Han. (Interestingly, I only just finished a Star Wars book this weekend that completely DESTROYED my feelings, it was THAT good.) This is why the wipe of the old EU making them Legends is a sore point for a lot of folks. So many of our beloved characters, all gone. (MARA JAAAAAADE…)

    Anyway, I thought TFA was fun. Yes, it was a bit derivative of the original, but I still loved it! I felt there was adequate emotional attachment, but probably more so for a whole new generation of new fans. Character-wise, they could have done better with some (Poe literally only had like 10 minutes on screen) and even now my favorite character is BB-8…a droid. But there was definitely quotable material (I already have a “That’s not how the force works” t-shirt)! I mean, compared to the prequels there’s just no contest, TFA just underscored how dreadfully bad episodes I, II, and III were. On the other hand, I can see myself watching TFA again and again and again – it has rewatchability value. And though the original trilogy will always have a place in my heart, I feel all fuzzy inside when I think how these new Star Wars movies will have the potential to be the same way for my own children. 🙂

      1. I’m not sure where her failure to connect with the new characters occurred, but I thought they were great! (And that ‘s from someone who saw the original Star Wars 26 times in the theater.) I especiallly loved John Boyega.

        Having watched the original recently, I thought the acting in the new movie was FAR better, as well. Just sayin’.

  2. Yes. (My SW background briefly: I found Star Wars in high school in the ’90s and loved it. I was a Jim Henson fan before then, so if liking Ewoks is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.) I think maybe I can see how this movie might not be special, in the grand Star Wars tradition, to a new generation of pre-geeks (and if so, who cares? Episodes I, II, and III probably weren’t either.) but I think it *will* be pretty darn special to a new generation of pre-geek girls. And I think that is what makes this movie so important.

  3. THIS.

    This is what the blogosphere is all about! People discussing stuff, people agreeing, disagreeing, saying why they agree or disagree. I effing LOVE this post!

    ” I’ll say it now – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie I wish I’d been able to see fifteen or twenty years ago. It could have changed so much of my perspective, and so many ideas about what a girl could be capable of. If it does this for a new generation of young girls (and boys!), then how can that be bad?”

    because i like adding fuel to fire, and because this debate is totally fun – I got two words for you: Ellen Ripley.

    1. Hell yes Ellen Ripley. Although I never found her a particularly sympathetic character (in the first film, at least), and loved her the more for it. No, no, she doesn’t have to make herself likeable. She knows better.

  4. We went a second time yesterday, to be utterly assaulted visually by full 70mn IMAX glory. And once again, the sheer joy of having a fabulous heroine bowled me over. Leia was ok, but she was always supporting cast at best. Luke was a whiny brat right up until he donned black and became slightly menacing (I do love that fan theory about Ep6 even if TFA doesn’t bear it out).

    But Rey is the unapologetic centre of the film. I might not recall specific dialogue (actually that’s not true; I do – mostly from Rey), but there are visuals indelibly inked on my brain starting with that opening shot of her dangling inside the downed star fighter.

    And I love Finn’s heroic journey of seesawing confidence and commitment. Yes, seeing the old faces was lovely, but it was the new ones that stole the show (BB8, Maz!)

    I’m clear it’s not the best film ever made and I retain a soft spot for the original trilogy (not that they’re the best films ever either), but I respectfully submit my agreement with you that it’s fab. And I wish I’d seen it 15-30 years ago. Instead, I’m belatedly realising why I always loved Labyrinth so much – Sarah must have been one of my only SF heroines on screen.

    1. About Labyrinth – yes! This is the film I was thinking of when I made that statement, because it’s the one film from that point in my life that’s really stuck with me, and Sarah is precisely why. Well, Sarah and David Bowie and all the muppets, but really mostly Sarah.

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