6 Problems with Star Wars Episode VII
In honor of the release of “Rogue One,” here are the problems the series needs to fix from “The Force Awakens.”
By Alec Cudmore, St. Edward’s University
“Rogue One” is out and I’ve yet to see it.
A few friends tell me that it’s a great film and that excites me, because I have had a terrible taste in my mouth since “The Force Awakens.” There were a few things the previous reboot got right, and many, many that it got completely wrong. With a new Star Wars movie out, now seems like the perfect time to get as many of my issues with the movie out on the page as I can.
Warning: If you haven’t seen Episode VII, there are spoilers throughout this article; there will also be gripes, whininess, and nitpickiness. But I’ll be damned if these aren’t valid points. Disney, I hope you read this. JJ Abrams, I blame you too.
Without further ado, here are 6 reasons why Star Wars Episode VII grinds my gears.
1. Maz Kanata
Previews for Episode VII showed off a lot of cool, practical special effects. What better way to appease fans of the original trilogy than to step away from CGI? Promotional materials for the film even went as far as to discuss that factor in depth—this was a film that was going to be light on CGI and big on real-deal stunts, which helps explain why a character like Maz Kanata was conveniently left out of the trailers.
Maz comes in about halfway through the film. A subtle dislike for the movie had been growing in me since I had begun watching, and her appearance seemed to seal the film’s fate. It’s unclear to me why the character had to be an alien, and incredibly clear to me that she is supposed to be New Yoda (but a girl now!).
The real tragedy though, the cardinal sin of the character’s existence, was that she has already begun to do what most CGI characters end up doing: Embarrassingly date the film. Maz has such close interactions with characters that her CGI-ness stands out like a sore thumb—a green one with googly-eye glasses that will surely get the kiddos a-giggling! All I could think about were the actors staring at air as they read their lines, curious as to what the invisible alien would eventually look like. Spoiler—it looks like a tiny green human.
Now every time we throw on “The Force Awakens” at a viewing party, we’ll be forced to look at Maz Kanata’s oddly plain character design (she’s a green thing with goofy glasses?), and ask ourselves why computer animation is decidedly less charming than puppet-work Yoda. Why is she so flat? Why make a CGI character so damn boring? She could have had wings or multiple arms. If you’re going to go CGI, make it worth our time. I would have much preferred our Maz actress in cool makeup rather than this shit.
In the same vein, the film’s big bad guy, Supreme Lord Snoke, is also entirely CGI. And only appears in hologram form. So it’s a fake projection of a non-existent entity. That’s fine, I didn’t want any mystery anyways.
2. Shallow Stars
I had assured myself that a new Star Wars film would evolve the storytelling we’d seen in other episodes—one-note characters would be given complexity, archetypes abandoned in favor of gray areas of morality. Overall, I was expecting something that changed the way we see the series, honoring traditions past while exploring new avenues.
Instead of creating complex characters, it seems the writing room stopped being innovative right after they decided the two main characters would be a girl and a black guy. Because, hey, that’s enough to keep things fresh, right?
I thought that a female lead was a great idea, as the diversity in the cast would breathe new life into the series, bringing it into the modern age. Oddly enough, it only showed just how difficult it still is for mainstream writers to create emotionally-rich characters, especially when trying to convey that the female lead is a strong independent woman who don’t need no man.
Likely in fear of drawing any criticism, the writers opted to make Rey so strong that she not only needs no man, but certainly needs no mentor, journey, or any development at all. She’s already perfect.
I love strong role models for women, and I love that she isn’t sexualized or constantly put into harm’s way for a man to rescue her. We certainly didn’t require much depth of male action heroes of the past, so why start here? I’ll tell you why. Because good storytelling will always require complex characters.
Rey is strong, and never ever weak. Rey is right, and never, ever wrong. Rey is capable of anything Luke Skywalker was (and more), can fix up the Millenium Falcon better than Han Solo himself, and can resist a Sith Lord’s mind-fuckery torture despite having never used the Force in her life.
These are all signs of a literally strong character, but not one that has any emotional depth. How does Rey feel when she’s wrong? How does she react when she’s scared? If she’s never wrong, never afraid and only ever asking questions to grant exposition to the audience, it’s pretty hard for anyone to connect to that character.
Luke Skywalker wasn’t exactly the most riveting character of all time, and it took until “The Empire Strikes Back” to see him in any sort of interesting position, to see him in a place of conflict. I was hoping Rey would exhibit more human, fallible characteristics in her debut film, but that didn’t seem to be the case. You can write a strong female lead and still make her an actual human being.
Another underdeveloped character, Finn, our male ex-Stormtrooper lead, seems to switch allegiances for no reason other than plot convenience. Despite being raised amidst the brainwashed ranks of the New Order (this film’s evil Empire), Finn quite suddenly realizes he doesn’t want to kill innocent people, despite it being nearly impossible that doing so wasn’t in the job description. Perhaps he had avoided the locker-room talk with other Stormtroopers up to this point?
He even pathetically tries to abandon his new companions halfway through the film, though the script practically manhandles him into coming back, because that’s what main characters do. For someone the writers clearly wanted to be conflicted, Finn sure seems to make decisions quickly.
Wouldn’t it have been far more interesting to see Finn develop overtime? To see how the New Order morphed his mind, and how escaping was his only hope to be a good person again? His character switches sides so quickly, it’s almost as if the New Order had picked him up on the side of the road, stuffed him in a uniform and expected him to carry out his duty as if everything were normal.
The other characters don’t stand out to me as much, and I’m not sure if that’s a symptom of their 2D-ness or a matter of the script’s focus. Kylo Ren rages a lot, Han Solo is his same old wacky self, Chewbacca makes the noises, C3PO is obnoxious but charming, Princess Leia is strong-willed and caring, and the New Order is made up of Space-Nazi freaks that we are supposed to hate because they scream and yell like Nazis and treat others like Nazis and Nazis are bad so they are bad.
Do any of these characters struggle with any inner turmoil? Does the New Order have any longstanding goals other than universal domination and just being plain evil? It seems we won’t find out until Episode VIII (hopefully).
3. Recycled Plot
Fans of the new movie will likely hate me for pointing this out, because they’ve heard it a thousand times in YouTube rants and in the forums, but it has to be said: “Episode VII” is the exact same movie as Episode IV.
I could go into more detail on this, but if you don’t see my side as evidenced by the obvious similarities between the two movies, there’s really no point in going into detail here. It won’t change your mind, so here’s the quick version.
The New Order (Empire) tries to capture a rebel pilot named Po (Princess Leia) who gives the plans to a droid named BB8 (who is R2D2). Meanwhile, Rey (Luke Skywalker) is on a desert planet called Jakku (Tatooine), and boy is life humdrum and destiny is in the stars somewhere (that’s what the music tells me, okay).
A chance encounter with Finn (Obi-wan) leads Rey to get into the Millennium Falcon and escape (that’s just the same as the old movies) and meet Han Solo through complete chance (again, exactly the same). Kylo Ren is Darth Vader, there’s a new Death Star, you destroy it the same way, there’s a cantina, a new little green alien filled with wisdom—it’s the same movie okay? It’s the same. Maybe it’s an homage, maybe there just isn’t any creativity left, but it’s the same damn story.
4. One in a Million
Disney is going to do with Star Wars what it did with Marvel: Create an endless slog of films that will vary in quality, but rarely in themes and character development. It’s not an if situation, but a when one. These films are a gold mine, and it’s likely we’ll be seeing a new one every year for the rest of our lives.
Why should Episode VII pack any sort of punch when they’ll have a few hundred more to try and sell me? Didn’t like Episode VIII?
Don’t worry, a film focusing on Chewbacca’s origin story will be out in a few months, followed by a computer-animated movie featuring fan-favorite R2D2.
In fact, why don’t we just resign ourselves to the fact that we will be seeing Marvel-styled origin stories for every single Star Wars character in existence. If we just accept that fact now, perhaps we won’t experience the franchise fatigue that’s bound to happen.
What we’ll have is a dozen new Star Wars movies within a decade, directed and written by entirely different people with entirely different ideas of tone and direction. Star Wars will be the new Marvel. I guarantee it, because it’s Disney. We wanted more Star Wars and we got it, and we’ll keep on getting it.
5. Chewbacca Goes Unhugged
At the end of the movie, after Han Solo dies, Princess Leia completely ignores Chewbacca and gives Rey a hug instead. They literally met like five seconds ago.
Chewbacca helped save the universe and his oldest friend was killed in front of him. Even JJ Abrams admits this was likely a bad move. Fuck this movie; give Chewbacca some love.
6. The New Story Invalidates the Old One
A strange case of amnesia seems to be rampant in this new Star Wars story. The tales of the Empire’s defeat are just stories that can’t be true…or can they!?
People apparently forgot about the Empire so quickly that a new one popped up within Han Solo’s lifetime. How is that possible? How could that have happened? It really starts to make you wonder what the point of destroying two Death Stars even was. Did rebels die all those years ago for any reason at all? Is there really no credible way to retain records with the technology we see in this movie? How could these historic events be allocated to mere legend?
Luke gave an arm for his cause. Yoda, his life. And all for jack shit. There’s a bigger Death Star, Han’s kid is evil and shit is worse than ever. How can anyone enjoy the original trilogy knowing how garbage everything turns out anyways? This new storyline is canon, and fans now have to accept that.
The prequels were cringey at times, but at least they tried to tell a new story and add richness to an already-established universe. The new film managed to reverse it all in one swoop. It feels more like a reboot than a sequel.