Quick Notes on the New Star Wars Movies

The New Heroes

I thought Force Awakens was merely serviceable as a movie, a huge chunk of fan service and a merry-go-round of “hey remember Star Wars?” but not a lot of new life. And honestly, that means it was a massive failure.

It was the vanguard of the new guard, the movie that was supposed to introduce us to new heroes that we’d love as much as the old ones. Instead, we got Rey (generic gee-whiz do-gooder with a hardscrabble past who can somehow fight and fly better than all the others), Poe (generic impulsive anti-hero type), and Finn (indecisive cipher). To be fair, Awakens was more of an ensemble romp, more like Avengers than Star Wars, but none of these characters are given full living breath in Episode VII; they all feel like stand-ins for real heroes, or Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Finn is the most glaring screenwriting problem. For once, we have a character who’s been inside the machine, who’s served as a stormtrooper, and yet he’s as bland as porridge. He was sold at a young age to be trained by the First Order as a killing machine, for crying out loud! And then he got reassigned to sanitation, apparently. Do we get to peek inside his head? Aren’t the rebels going to treat him with a little suspicion, deprogram him, debrief him, pump him for secrets, test him, find out what his true motivations are? Do we find out what it’s like to be a ninja who’s been bumped down to trash detail? Does he think about his family or his friends back in the Empire? Does he undergo a journey of self-doubt and self-discovery (Rey) or discover the meaning of sacrifice and leadership (Poe)? Nope, nope, nope. If anything, he’s the counter-example to Poe’s learning as he tries to sacrifice himself futilely against that space cannon thing.

In the real world, we have examples of kids like this, who were abandoned by family and trained to be child soldiers. People like this are usually scarred, hard, fragile, difficult, unpredictable, and inherently compelling. But Finn does not behave like a Sudanese child soldier. He behaves like a suburban dork.

I think Force Awakens is a good case study on what does and doesn’t make a hero. Star Wars shows Luke Skywalker suffering great tragedy and then struggling to understand himself and his tremendously dangerous challenges, building a framework for action and self-sacrifice. Force Awakens shows a group of stock videogame characters running from objective to objective, completing quests to get to their next level-up. It feels cheap.

Cinematic Tension

Last Jedi, however, does a better job of capturing that Star Wars panache, in my opinion. While watching it, I remember saying, “Finally, a Star Wars movie that brings it back to these loaded, fraught, incredibly tense face-offs between powerful and determined heroes and villains.” Chiefly, the emotional psychic connection scenes with Rey and Kylo; the Kylo-Luke confrontation; and of course that brilliant faceoff between Rey, Kylo, and Snoke in the throne room. Jedi also does something that none of the prequels ever did: it gave real immediate stakes to a character’s moral choice. Game of Thrones isn’t a brilliant show because of the bloody battles; it’s a great show because of the memorable tensions between great and unpredictable characters.

The Star Wars prequels are boring because there are no mysteries or surprises. Kylo is definitely one of the more interesting elements in the new Star Wars.

For me, Jedi also performed the miracle of redeeming Rey as a character. She was bland and uninteresting to me in Awakens but in Jedi she developed passion, self-doubt, and purpose.

Killing Off Heroes

I agree that Jedi wrote Skywalker out in a weak and anti-climactic fashion. Honestly, the magnitude of Luke’s Force achievement– broadcasting his convincing self across the galaxy, blah blah blah– was never convincingly shown in a cinematic way. To the average moviegoer, Luke could’ve just jumped in an x-wing and flown over in five minutes… and Disney would’ve been better served to shoot that and let Luke die epically in the flesh.

I also take issue with the way in which the creators have chosen to close the chapters of the three primary heroes of the original movies. For a franchise as mythological and metaphysical as Star Wars, does closure on a character arc have to be a death? I think that’s short-sighted. Look at all the great movie endings through history. Many end with deaths, but just as many end with small victories or new journeys. (And of course that’s also what I hope happens to Princess Leia.)

Bad Technology

I was deeply annoyed at Holdo’s sacrifice, not because of any complaints about the character, but because of the holes it punches in the rules of space combat that Star Wars has always upheld. If lightspeed is really the ultimate weapon, why aren’t the x-wings firing off little miniaturized lightspeed missiles instead of stupid lasers? Is it because a lightspeed drive is too big and expensive to put in a missile? Cellphones used to be too big and expensive to put in your pants, too.

Those Other Tiresome Dustups

As for the fuss over Holdo, here’s a great article that puts Jedi‘s leadership lessons into laser focus. If you missed the Poe leadership thread in this movie, shame on you.

And here’s another great article about the much-ballyhooed Canto Blight casino scenes in Jedi and what they brought to the franchise. Say what you like about the inclusivity, which I think expands the Star Wars universe rather than tainting it, but you have to admit that Blight itself represents a whole new facet to the universe.

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What Happens to Princess Leia?

What’s Next for Our Star Wars Princess

What happens to Princess Leia in the next Star Wars movies? What should happen with Princess Leia?

There’s no doubt that old-guard Star Wars heroes are dying like irradiated flies. So far, one hero per movie. And no matter what you think of the new trilogy, the question remains for our beloved franchise: what happens to Princess Leia now that Carrie Fisher has unfortunately passed from this world to one far, far away?

Here are some options, and some thoughts.

Princess Leia Becomes CG

I’m fairly certain there isn’t enough footage for Leia’s future to be stitched together out of odds and ends. So the CG option rears its ugly head, and if you remember the uncanny valley moments with Grand Moff Tarkin in Force Awakens, you know how ugly that head is.

However, Disney fortunately shot this down in April 2017, announcing that they will not digitally recreate Fisher. They also said that Fisher won’t be in Episode IX, which is… interesting. But it doesn’t solve the problem of what happens to the character.

Princess Leia Becomes a Force Ghost

This is the lazy solution: cobble together enough old footage to kill Leia and then have her reappear as a benevolently-smiling but silent Force ghost, standing beside all the others. (I wonder what all the Force ghosts do when they’re not summoned for some feel-good postlude. Force bowling? Force Scrabble?)

However, with Disney saying that Fisher isn’t going to be in Episode IX, this is also seemingly off the table.

Leia Goes Offstage

Not Off-Broadway, but simply gets called away and isn’t involved in the flow of Episode IX at all. I doubt anyone is considering this kind of farewell.

The Princess Leia Time Jump

Popsugar posits that Leia will be written out in exposition via a leap forward in time between Episode VIII and IX. I’m thinking Ep IX would open on a memorial service to remember her great sacrifice of five years ago, and all the new heroes would weep over how noble and impactful her last deed was.

Honestly, I think this is a bad idea. In my opinion, one of the main reasons Last Jedi did worse than Force Awakens at the box office was fan revolt at the way the new movies have been killing off favorite characters (although I believe Jedi was a stronger film). Killing Leia offscreen, no matter how reverently, doesn’t feel right. The early returns on Solo make it clear that the Star Wars magic does have its limits. Mistreating Leia could damage the franchise further.

Princess Leia Becomes an Audio Presence

With Fisher unavailable, what if Princess Leia’s called to a far-flung star system to fight another great conflict for the Force? There are plenty of voice talents capable of capturing Fisher’s wry, gravelly audio presence, and plenty of side quests (and for that matter, meta-quests) she could pursue for years and years. This is a bit of an old-school lo-fi solution, but an elegant one.

Princess Leia Ascends Into a New Lifeform

Unfortunately, with the trilogy format, I don’t think they can postpone the Leia problem in Episode IX. So something must be done.

Here’s a suggestion: give Leia her moment of ultimate sacrifice, maybe something where she willingly steps into a trap or threat to save another hero or heroes. (This could be done via a long shot and a lookalike.) In my example, the threat is a chamber encrusted with eggs, each containing a horrible biological threat. After the explosion (there’s always an explosion), the good guys find a large, oddly-shaped globe in the room. After some discussion, they take it to their base and scan it to find that it contains a child.

At that moment, the globe dissolves, revealing a mysterious girl. And Princess Leia is reborn, keeping our ties to the original trilogy alive, and giving Carrie Fisher a positive, life-affirming farewell to the Star Wars universe.

But again… Disney has said that Fisher won’t be in Ep IX.

Don’t Kill Leia at All

My last modest proposal is to find another way. It’s rather short-sighted to assume that all character arcs end in death. Wouldn’t it be seemly to send Leia off to new journeys and new arcs?

Although it’s ostensibly scifi, the Star Wars universe has always been one steeped in magic and myth, about an adventure as connected to the spirit as it is to the physical realm. The Leia of The Last Jedi is certainly older and frailer, but she clearly demonstrates that she is no ordinary being, and perhaps her last farewell to the movies should do the same.

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