Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why "The Force Awakens" Was a Terrible Star Wars Movie (Continued) -The State of the Galaxy Part 1 *SPOILERS*

Before I dive into the deep end of setting here, I want to reiterate that I really enjoyed the movie just like the vast majority of fans out there. However, almost everyone that I've talked to about the movie felt that something was off. I've written these posts to illustrate why the new movie didn't "recapture the magic" of the original, why it didn't feel like Star Wars, and to help my fellow storytellers make informed decisions when crafting their own stories.

If you missed my first post about "The Force Awakens" and would like a quick overview, you can find it here.

I swear that I fully intended for this to only be one post. But setting is just so important, and I really really wanted to give you guys a bar fight. So you get this one today and the bar fight on Friday.

Now that that's all out of the way, time to jump into The Setting.

The Setting. AKA The State of the Galaxy.

Can't find a picture of the
original crawl anywhere...
In the original Star Wars movie, now known as Episode IV: A New Hope, the galaxy is in a civil war and the underdog "rebels" have just won their first battle against the Galactic Empire, during which they managed to steal the plans for a WMD, the Death Star.

And that's just what we learn in the opening crawl.

Half an hour into the movie, we learn that a huge war had been fought two decades previous, just before the advent of the Galactic Empire. We learn about the force and about the Jedi and their destruction. We learn that the Emperor has only just dissolved the Galactic Senate, the last vestige of the Galactic Republic, and that the Galactic Empire is an oppressive totalitarian regime willing to destroy planets to cement its control.

I find your lack of exposition disturbing...
In the two-minute scene where we first see Darth Vader force-choke someone, we learn everything we need to know about the Emperor, the Empire, Darth Vader, the Death Star, and the Rebel Alliance. And just prior to that scene, we learn everything we need to know about Luke, his father, the Jedi, and the Force.

That doesn't leave much to question, it just leaves us wanting to know more because it's a compelling setting. But most importantly, we understand everyone's motivations. And we don't have to wonder why any of the characters are doing what they are doing.

The Force Awakens on the other hand... In the opening crawl we learn...

Oooooo... High definition...
Well, actually the opening crawl is super confusing. Apparently there is a remnant of the Galactic Empire, the First Order, which is trying to kill Luke Skywalker for some unknown reason. And the Republic is back, and they're supporting Leia and some sort of resistance for some unknown reason, who are also apparently hunting Luke in the hopes that he alone in the entire galaxy can restore peace and justice... because apparently the republic isn't cutting it? And so they're funding this to find him... for what? To have him tell them what they're doing wrong? We don't know...

Don't get me wrong, having some mystery here is totally fine, but we end up with way more questions than answers... All we've really learned is that the bad guys are called the First Order instead of the Empire, the good guys are called the Resistance instead of Rebels, and everyone is hunting for Luke Skywalker. There's no other real information in there. It tells us the basic situation but nothing of the setting. Which is fine. It's not good Star Wars (every other Star Wars crawl has given us way more info), but it's fine. As long as we learn what we need to know as the movie progresses.

At least there's more than two this time...
So what do we learn about the state of the galaxy in the movie then? Well, not much... We learn that Luke started to rebuild the Jedi, but his nephew killed all the students, and we learn that someone named Snoke is leading a military organization as well as yet another secret society of force users who are bent on the destruction of the Jedi. Because we needed to repeat that plot element too...

We learn nothing about the Republic. Are they still at war with the remnants of the Empire? Why are they supporting the Resistance? Who's in charge? Where is the Republic military during the entire movie while the First Order is blowing up planets?

We learn nothing about the Resistance. Who are they? What are they resisting and why? Why are they looking for Luke? And why didn't they ask the republic for help when they found out about Starkiller base?

At least we do learn a couple tidbits about the First Order. They're led by a force-user (the aforementioned Snoke), and they have some kind of connection to an organization known as the Knights of Ren (the aforementioned secret society). Oh, and we learn that they are really pissed off that the Republic is supporting a group of foreign military insurgents in their territory.

"Lack of information leads to Confusion.
Confusion leads to dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction leads to lower critical ratings and
(excepting ginormous franchises) lower sales figures."
Now, I'm not saying that the audience needs every bit of info handed to them, but there's a few critical pieces of information missing. Critical because without these bits of info, the audience is confused. People don't like to be confused. Mystery is OK, suspense is OK, confusion is not...

For example, it's critical to our understanding of both major groups (First Order and Resistance) to know whether or not they're at war with each other. Without that information, we don't know why either group is doing what they are doing. It's like watching a bar fight without knowing who either of the participants are, who started the fight, and what the fight is about. It may be fun to watch, but it's difficult to care about the parties involved or who wins. It's a spectacle instead of a story. And I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, I'm just saying that it's not Star Wars. Star Wars was a story with spectacle. "The Force Awakens" is just a spectacle.

But I've gone on long enough today. In the next post, I'll illustrate my points about confusion using a bar fight as an analogy. In the meantime, enjoy this meme I prepared that covers the previous six movies.

I can't believe I created a meme for this...

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