Another Unanswered Question from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As I continue to move along with “unanswered questions” from the Star Wars movies, I’ve been making an effort to cast an eye toward some more of the outstanding questions from the new Disney©®™-era movies, and some day I might possibly do one about Rogue One.

If you’re really nice, I’ll write an unanswered question post about Solo: A Star Wars Story. But only if you’re really nice. Probably never The Last Jedi, though, because talking about that movie is like bringing up religion or politics at a dinner party.

How Long Did Finn Go without Drinking Water After Jakku?

Finn crash lands in the desert with Poe, and wanders to the outpost where he finds Rey. He’s dying of thirst, and drinks from an animal trough in desperation. He actually gets sick from the water for a moment, but continues to take some handfuls.

After that, we don’t see him drink again until they’ve arrived at Takodana. I’m just presuming he drank at the bar in Takodana, at least, before the First Order showed up to move the plot along.

But he didn’t drink on the Millenium Falcon. I maintain he couldn’t have. The Millenium Falcon had been sitting on a back lot, vacant, for years. That’s directly from the dialogue, too. Rey said it.

The odds, therefore, that there were any consumable items – especially potable water – on the Falcon are very slim. Even if there had been, they would have spoiled before our heroes ever got there. Of those things on Jakku that were consumable, they were scarce enough to be rationed out as small amounts.

So my follow up question is…

Shouldn’t We Have Seen Finn Display More Adverse Side Effects from Extreme Dehydration?

It’s just not satisfying to set up the idea that Finn went the better part of a day in the desert with a suprisingly-thick set of clothing on his body, and remedied that with four handfuls of rank water. He should have been delirious by the time they got in the Falcon, and barely able to stand when Han and Chewie showed up.

The trip to Takodana should have killed him.

I know, the easy answer is that it’s a space fantasy. Further, when we’re dealing with JJ Abrams’ construction of interstellar travel, no trip takes longer than one hour.

I just wish we’d seen him at least greedily gulp down something liquid in Maz Kanata’s bar. It would’ve been a great gag, honestly, to have him constantly thirsty through the rest of the movie. I mean, we committed to Marvel®©™-style humor in The Force Awakens, would stooping to grab a handful of snow because he was still thirsty have been out of place?

What are your thoughts?

finn and rey in star wars the force awakens a star wars movie called the force awakens with finn and rey in episode vii which is star wars the force awakens a movie with finn and rey.
“Please! I see a vending machine right over there! Please let me swing by and get a soda!”

An Unanswered Question from The Force Awakens

This is my first time wading into the sequel trilogy with my “unanswered questions” line of blogs, and so I wanted to put a question out there that I’ve honestly not encountered during my many debates about Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

I have to be honest, it might spur a whole string of these question blogs. It’s one of many questions I have about my least favorite element of The Force Awakens…Starkiller Base.

Starkiller Base Firing at Chuck Wendig's House
If it’s firing in Hyperspace, why can we see it? That’s not even my question this time!

What Powered the First Firing of Its Prime Weapon?

When we encounter Starkiller Base for the first time, it’s primed to fire and destroy Hosnian Prime, the quasi-Coruscant that gets a few brief moments in the film before being incinerated. Hosnian, we hardly knew ye.

General Hux gives a fun little psychopathic speech that’s an ode to maniacal dictators of Earth history, and then they fire for all the troops to see. It’s a neat sequence, even if the scene on Takodana (Takeout Diner?) with people witnessing Hosnian Prime’s destruction is a bit too reminiscent of Spock Prime’s witnessing of Vulcan’s destruction in Star Trek (Insert obligatory “2009”) which isn’t in the Star Trek Prime Timeline.

(Honestly, at this point, I feel stuck in a feedback loop where I have to keep using the word Prime at any opportunity. Thanks, Abrams.)

It also creates its own set of questions about witnessing the event from a distance unless Hosnian Prime is in a very close/neighboring system to Takodana. It’s dramatic onscreen, so it’s fine. It’s fine.

Back to the question at hand, later in the film we see Starkiller Base prime for firing. It sucks a nearby star of its energy, plunging all into darkness. It’s a neat sequence, even if I prefer the book’s version of things where the base collects dark energy from the space around it. I think it’s neater and more thematically meaningful if this weapon is drawing literal darkness to power it for its dark deeds. It would also have alleviate the question I have.

If It Needs a Star to Power Its Prime Weapon, How Did Starkiller Base Get the Power to Destroy Hosnian Prime?

This is tougher to answer than I’d like. The “jazzier” visual choice to drain a star onscreen later in the film is what creates the issue.

That’s because obviously, Starkiller Base is lit by a star. There is a light source. It’s close enough that they can siphon its energy quickly and without destabilizing it enough to go nova. I know that Star Wars stretches physical laws – I’m not an idiot – but there is a baseline question about how it all works here, that I’m trying to answer.

It’s tempting to say that one solution is, Starkiller Base moved. It was at Point A, charged up its weapon, and moved. Even though Snoke specifically says in the film, “Prepare the weapon for firing,” he could simply be indicating that the weapon’s been charged and they’re ready to fire off when the command is given.

However, Starkiller Base moving carries its own complications. If it can, and it can hold a charge for an indeterminate amount of time, then it removes their reason not to travel to the general system area of their intended target and fire.

The advantage of Starkiller Base is supposed to be that it can fire through Hyperspace. I’m tabling the question why you’d even be able to see the beam then, but whatever.

Heck, I’m being generous and not asking, if it can target through hyperspace, why not target the star where your desired planet it, and hit that, causing it to go nova and destroy the whole system?

However, if it’s locked into a stationary position, it still opens it to attack. A hyperspace beam is truly advantageous if it can be fired from an indeterminate location; if you’re locked in one place then you can fire the weapon once and you’re done.

Starkiller Base from Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens
I had an alternate interpretation as to how it was constructed, that was cooler than what they’ve established, to be honest.

Back to the Question of a Second Charging Source

Which brings us back to the question at hand. We have no indication that Starkiller Base moved. Given the consistency of lighting and position, it decidedly looks like it didn’t.

The star it drains at the climax of the movie is possibly the second of a binary system. If that’s the case, the First Order planned to fire the weapon all of twice. That seems like an awful lot of effort for two shots.

Perhaps that was enough. Given the fact that The Last Jedi establishes they conquered the entire galaxy about 48 hours after the destruction of Hosnian Prime, I guess maybe that was all they cared about. It still seems like effort disproportionate to the result, and doesn’t account for the idea that any piece of the armed forces were deployed…anywhere…but there you go.

The final option is they were in a star cluster, but nothing visually indicates that as a possibility.

None of these answers are particularly satisfying. But if I’m honest, just about nothing having to do with the Starkiller Base, outside of the design, is.

Zing!

I have plenty of other questions about Starkiller Base that I can answer as authoritatively as any YouTuber. I’ll get to those in enough time.

Draining a Star in Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens with Starkiller Base
I mean, honestly, with how close it is…why was it still cold?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Recently I shared my review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I’ve gone on as much as anyone else about the kerfluffle around Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

Recently for Aggressive Negotiations, my fellow Jedi Master Matt Rushing and I had it out (yet again) about a Star Wars movie I like but don’t love. He does love it, and so our negotiations were, indeed, aggressive.

Here is my most recent review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, originally posted to my account over on letterboxd. (I linked some text for fun.)

Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor in Rogue One A Star Wars Story released by Lucasfilm after it got bought by Disney.
The rebel assassination team assembles to deal with my heterodox opinion about a Star Wars movie.

My Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has a lot of elements that work well. Delightful scene-stealing characters, solid art direction, bold effects work, and slick plot contrivances  make you forgiving of a very uneven start. The third act is indisputably a well-constructed battle scene, full of the type of visual dynamism that keeps you invested.

It also has a lot of things to like, and I think that’s part of the issue. The things to like wind up making you wonder if they were inserted at the cost of things that work. There are obvious inserts that feel far less organic than they should, and work to pull you out of the film. There are a couple of “for the fans” moments that end up being head scratchers because they’re so inorganic as to interrupt the narrative.

The first thirty minutes or so are far choppier than they need to be. After a terrific opening, the movie basically has a fluttering series of introductions and re-introductions that make me wonder how much of the reported restructuring had to do with the producers worried about treating the audiences as intelligent enough to keep up with things. While far from as egregious as the first reels of some of the recent franchise fare in this regard (here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad), it takes the film a bit to find its rhythm and really start progressing.

I’m certainly aware that there are Star Wars fans who really, really like this movie. And I like it, too! This is likely my second-favorite Disney-era Star Wars film.

I think it’s got enough red meat to satisfy the fans, I just wish it could’ve been cooked better.


So There You Go

I wound up giving it 3 1/2 stars this time around, but I struggle a bit with that. That last 1/2 star is very much on the merit of its final space battle.

I think it’s at that rating point because, as I mentioned to Matt, if I have a choice between this and The Force Awakens, I’ll choose this. Sorry, y’all, that’s just how it is.

But none of the other Disney®™© Era movies released so far will ever have as warm a place in my heart as Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Enfys Nest and her band of marauders from Solo A Star Wars Story during the climactic scene on Savareen.
Enfys Nest stands ready to defend my opinion.

What I think Now and Why: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Part V]

From the previous blog in this series:
The ironic thing is that everything Lucas had pointed out, from the Tone Poem structure to the old movie serials influences, helped shine a bright new light on The Force Awakens which allowed me for find my way to enjoying it. Which brings me, finally, to my new review.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Opinions can change.

Sadly, past statements usually are treated as an unchanging piece of our firmament, the words of long ago regarded as eternally fresh. People like to leverage your past statements as a way to vet what you have to say now. If they like how you’ve revised yourself, it’s referred to as nuance. If they don’t like what you have to say, it’s held as dishonesty.

This seems a weighty way to start a movie review. There’s a reason for it, though.

I wasn’t particularly kind to The Force Awakens when it first came out. As the title of this blog series suggests, that has changed.

“A Good, Wholesome Adventure”

At a glance, The Force Awakens‘ mission statement is “to have fun.” This was surprisingly anachronistic for Star Wars by December 2015.

It’s worth noting my love for the prequels endures.

The prequels are tonally serious; they’re dealing with the collapse of civilization and loss of freedom. Even though The Clone Wars started with a lighter touch, the sense of dread increased as it marched inexorably toward its inevitable resolution. (Lucas also used the series to back-fill story and character development given only a glance at times in the prequel trilogy, but that’s a topic for another time.)

I enjoyed it all. I really, really loved a lot of it.

My initial reaction to The Force Awakens was wrapped up in a whole lot of factors, covered earlier in this series. Worth repeating is that during the lead-up I was steeped in too much Star Wars for my own good. It colored my expectations and my reaction to the material. Also worth repeating is that the amount of implicit and explicit disrespect heaped on Lucas as a filmmaker during the run-up to The Force Awakens grated on me.

As a self-appointed Star Wars Expert (still true) and ardent Lucas Apologist (still true), refreshed in the great miasma of esoterica released through the years, I was prepared to dissect the new film from every possible angle.

What I didn’t realize is that I was making the same mistake that the prequel bashers before me had made. I was setting myself up to dictate what made something “worthy” of being Star Wars.

Journey’s End

So that’s where I started. Here we are now at the end of my personal journey. This is what I think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens now.

The Force Awakens is a charming film, filled with fun and excitement. It’s imbued with the emotional resonance I remember Star Wars having when I was a kid. It’s nearly impossible now to remember those halcyon days when it wasn’t about mythology and intricacy, but just “a good, wholesome adventure” as Lucas cited in the original The Making of Star Wars special.

From a technical standpoint, The Force Awakens is an achievement. The cinematography is wonderful. The shot compositions, camera movement and color palette feel at home in Star Wars. The editing is amazing; the pace is swift without being relentless. The script is clear, straightforward and accessible. The characters are charismatic, distinct, and memorable.

Kylo Ren flares up.
Also, lens flares.

To be sure, this is a JJ Abrams film, not a George Lucas one. Part of this journey has been accepting that this is actually a pretty wonderful thing. Though I was enjoying Lucas creating a masterwork over decades across many media, the only way Star Wars grows is if new blood gets injected.

The Empire Strikes Back is what it is, because Irvin Kershner put his stamp on it. Return of the Jedi is what is it is, because Richard Marquand contributed.

I’ve come to love the storytelling flourishes Abrams pulls off. Rey’s introduction is several minutes without a word from her, yet we know all about her and the life she leads. There are small, subtle moments, such as Poe’s look of surprise/amazement at the magnitude of the military preparations as he’s off-loaded into the Star Destroyer at the beginning.

Rey is a vibrant lead character. Kylo Ren’s villainy is a more human one than we usually get in Star Wars; his anger management issues are a refreshing touch in a narrative series where the villains are typically so controlled and deliberate.

I rejected Finn’s silliness at points. But he was a compelling character maturing through his actions, and he serves a solid story purpose. I caught flack for pointing this out long ago, but he’s actually what Lucas was trying to achieve with Jar Jar. Though I’m more fond of Jar Jar than most, Finn is certainly a more successful expression of that character type.

I adore BB-8. Maz Kanata delighted me.

Getting back to my love for meta theories, The First Order is a commentary – intentional or not – on the rabid Star Wars fanbase itself, angrily resisting any change to the world as they thought they knew it. I point as an example for this to the fans who reacted poorly to the idea of the old series of books and comics being invalidated by Lucasfilm/Disney.

The Great Thaw

Naturally, there were plenty of things I picked on when the film first came out, otherwise my journey isn’t very interesting. Warming up to them had a lot to do with my growing acceptance of the film.

To give you an idea, I picked on the horns for the opening fanfare. (I still do, honestly). I was picking on the instruments and conducting of a sliver of a piece of a film score. I actually had to “get over” the LA Philharmonic’s treatment of 10 seconds of music to admit that the rest of the new score is actually quite wonderful.

Starkiller Base is a huge sticking point for a lot of people. It was for me at first. Then, as I thought about it, it works because of the very nature of what The First Order is: a cadre of villains not trying to build a future but restore a past they’ve idealized and fetishized. It works thematically.

I’ve already commented on the meta nature of Han’s character earlier in the series, and it was realizing that which ameliorated my original complaint about his scene with the Rathtars. I originally hated that scene. “Han doesn’t need a motivation to look for Luke,” I decried. That missed the point. The point was that Han was out of tricks, and the galaxy was done with him.

Besides, if I can look the other way on an overlong sea-monster sequence in The Phantom Menace because it was full of Qui-Gon character building moments, I can roll with this. I can roll with it even if only because this scene plays with considerably more excitement, and a “monster moment” is part of the DNA of Star Wars.

…and if I’m going to get hung up on the Rathtars, I might as well get my knickers in a bunch about a sock puppet forcing the story forward in The Empire Strikes Back.

Once I “got there,” I saw the nuance of his portrayal in The Force Awakens, as opposed to the chip I had on my shoulder about his regression to immaturity. He is very much what every Father fears: the reason their kid chooses poorly. Then the moment where he tenderly forgives his son, accepting responsibility at the final moment for what he did to help push him down a dark path, is a dramatic moment worthy of this epic series.

I harped on ship design – a fetish of mine – for a while. Then I realized it, too, speaks to the nature of the galaxy. The heroes we knew failed in their mission to refresh and restore the galaxy, and the ships reflect that. Yes, it also serve a marketing purpose of making the film accessible and friendly to fans. I’m fine with that.

(Except for the Resistance troop carrier. Seriously, screw that ship design, it’s awful.)

Perspective

But I really, really focused on every little thing I didn’t love. I ground that axe until it was a sharp blade and swung it at anyone who defended the film. And I dug in my heels as I spent countless hours discussing it.

Looking back, I think that there was a part of me that didn’t want to like The Force Awakens, no matter how much I claimed that I did. I was a Lucas Loyalist, and to love something that didn’t have his express involvement and blessing undoubtedly weighted my criticisms.

In short, I became the sort of fanboy I hate being. I feel like I owe an apology to my buddy Shawn, who took a great deal of abuse in the first week on behalf of the film.

Once I stepped back, I saw that Lucas built something so enduring that The Force Awakens works as a part of the saga regardless any shortcomings I may find in it still. I (and other fans) looked the other way with a lot of choices Lucas made because it resolved well. I enjoy his filmmaking style, and understand his art. I like to think I understand him as a person through it. (For the record, Revenge of the Sith remains his greatest work, and the best of the series.)

In Summation

I’ve learned my lesson. I learned to live with certain shortcomings with the previouse six, even as new issues cropped in as they’ve been continually revised through time. Looking for Abrams to achieve perfection in a way that Lucas doesn’t think even he attained becomes reductive and tiresome.

I think that this journey I took with The Force Awakens will help with my reception of the further episodes, and anthology stories, and help me keep things in perspective. Lucas walked away, and I’ve got to get over that. He made the decision to let someone else make Star Wars, and they made a pretty great start of it.

Even if it did include a helicopter shot at the end.

Jedi that was, Jedi to Be – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Part II]

From the previous blog in this series:

The first big question with The Force Awakens was, for a fan like myself who liked it all, from Cloud City and Naboo to Tatooine and Gungans, if I would continue to love it now that Lucas wasn’t driving things.

The Preparation

During the “Journey to The Force Awakens,” I prepared myself for something all nerds thought was impossible after 2005: a continuation of The Adventures of Luke Skywalker.

I wondered if they could surprise me, as Lucas had surprised me with the prequels. (And to reiterate, it was a pleasant surprise, so don’t go on with your attempts at wit.)

I wondered what they would do to deepen the mythology I’d come to revere, and whether they were using the trove of notes from Lucas’ archives to shape this chapter.

After (many) years composing Star Wars apologia, things were distractingly open in direction and interpretation.

Ben Kenobi talks to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in Star Wars Return of the Jedi.
“One last time: Owen wasn’t actually my brother. Ignore that part.”

The Mistake

As part of the months leading up to The Force Awakens, I re-read old Star Wars stories. I read new Star Wars stories. I conjectured about the what the trailers were showing. A fair number of my predictions were correct, but predicting that there will be a lot of running in a JJ Abrams film is like predicting that the sun will rise.

I was hopeful, but skeptical. When they announced that the “Expanded Universe” was discarded, something of which I had been a proponent for years, I rejoiced and applauded that they’d opened their possibilities back up for stories and characters.

When I saw “a third Death Star” in the release poster (later revealed on-screen as “Starkiller Base”), I openly registered my discomfort. I did a lot of this “on air,” appearing on both my own podcasts and others to offer thoughts on these things.

I cannot overstate how much I delved into things in the final months leading to the release of The Force Awakens. The core question I kept returning to was whether it would “elevate itself from entertainment to art,” as I think Lucas managed.

I recognize this now as a significant part of my baseline error. Inadvertently, I’d fallen into the same trap hard-core fans fell into in 1999. After spending time studying Star Wars History as if it were a college course, I was going to measure The Force Awakens against an unattainable standard.

It was going up against what I thought of Star Wars.

The Result

While watching the film, I didn’t watch it so much as observe it. I studied it. I treated it the way Lucas has come to treat his own work: as a sociological piece to be dissected and discussed as a treatise on Big Important Things. I watched it with a lot of friends, and the opinions ranged from enthusiastic embrace to…me.

I came out of it with a chip on my shoulder. I harped on the callbacks and what I thought were the clumsy attempts at humor. Me, someone who liked Jar Jar, was complaining about the humor. The irony was, in fact, lost on me.

We’ll come back to all of this later in the series.

The Next Level

After seeing the film, I spent nearly six hours debating it on various podcasts.

The blame is on me for this. But I don’t think any “nerd” can deny that the desire to Speak with Authority About Things skews our perspective. To be fair, I think that’s a condition common to most people nowadays.

He’s going to talk about the movie for more than six hours. You’re going to want this.

The ultimate moment of clarity, though, was to realize I had frozen my opinions of “what Star Wars was” in amber and wasn’t giving the film a fair shake. Once again, I made the exact same mistake that fans made in 1999, and what some repeated along with me in 2015.

The Reason

It’s been long cemented in the minds of die-hard fans that Star Wars is some sort of stellar apocrypha born full-formed within Lucas’ brain. Lucas turned, in his later years, very professorial. He was no longer just telling stories, he was acting as an instructor to his audience.

And being what I believe is a star student, one who loved even the classes others hated, worked to my disadvantage. I had to embrace what I was in college and challenge what my professor had taught. I had to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I had learned.

I had to come back to The Force Awakens understanding that no decision in a script is taken lightly, nor is it accidental. Given that, what was it trying to say both in its own context, and as a meta-work within the frame of Star Wars itself?

For a quick peek at some of those thoughts, I invite you to download and enjoy the commentary track for The Force Awakens in which I participated as part of Aggressive Negotiations on The Nerd Party network.

Up next: The Further Adventures of the Meta-Narrative.