Doctor Strange in the MCU

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DOCTOR STRANGE is one of the two comic book movies coming out in 2016 that have me legitimately stoked. It’s a Marvel character I truly love, the cast looks great, and the more I hear about the direction, the more I’m convinced it’s going to capture the spirit of the character.

That said, there are rumors and theorizing to how it will connect to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re a hair spoilery, but stuff that you  already know about if you’ve kept up with the Marvel movies.

Ok, so this article…

http://heroichollywood.com/home-1/2015/12/29/doctor-strange-will-feature-numerous-superpowers

 
…talks about the multitude of Dr. Strange’s magic powers (good stuff, as the guy has an infinite pool of magical abilities to pull from), but it also suggests that the Eye of Agamotto -the pendant he wears that is the source of a good chunk of his powers- may house the Time Stone, one of the six stones that Thanos wants.
 
I hate this idea.
 
1. “Shared Continuity”

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Nobody knows what ‘shared continuity’ means, but it doesn’t have to mean ‘everyone is involved;’ it just means that everything, however tangentially, is connected. Doctor Strange does not need to have a direct link to Thanos’ quest to get involved in Infinity War.

Why? Because he’s bigger than that. The guy literally protects reality as we know it on a minute t0 minute basis. An interloper of Thanos’ magnitude would NOT go unnoticed. He would (and has) taken on Thanos directly purely because he’s a blight on the universe; not because he’s in possession of a really powerful stone Strange knows about.

Sure, Doctor Strange will be involved in Infinity War (A. because he was in the comic and B. because EVERYONE in the movie will be in it), but he doesn’t NEED that direct of a tie to be invested in it, nor do we as an audience. We just need to know that shit’s getting real bad, and that the Avengers need help YESTERDAY.

 
2. The Eye of Agamotto

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The Eye of Agamotto literally houses the eye of Agamotto, a mystical demigod and it has unparalleled powers over wisdom and reality. Making it an Infinity Stone cheapens Doctor. Strange’s world by reducing his magical world to the shared cosmic one. Was the eye of Agamotto ever ACTUALLY Agamotto’s eye? Was Agamotto wearing the Time Stone Vison-style on his forhead? Was it a substitute for his eye? Was it converted into an Infinity Stone after Agamotto’s deeds?

Yes, the movie is still promising to travel to Doctor Strange’s (un)usual vistas, but his world is now a shared one, rather than an individual one. Again, that seems to cheapen it. Especially in that it will be, very likely, a parascientific one.

 
3. China and Magic

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Marvel movies are a huge deal internationally and count on China for much of their revenue. The problem with Doctor Strange is A. His trainer, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), lives in Tibet, a hotly contested region. Calling Tibet by that name is enough to be blocked by Chinese censors B. China is not a fan of magic in movies either, and that will be highly censored. As a result, I expect the movie to be very crafty about what they do and don’t call Strange’s powers.

Much has been made of their connection to ANT-MAN’s Quantum Realm, so there’s lots of reason to believe that the DOCTOR STRANGE movie will contain a phrase like, “‘Magic,’ as we know it, is a manipulation of energy in a way scientists haven’t yet discovered” or something.

I get it, you’ve got to get past The China Film Group, but please, please, please God, don’t cheapen the single greatest magic-user in comics history. If magic is a parascience, what’s to stop Iron Man, Hank Pym, or Black Panther (surprise, he’s a brilliant scientist too!) from adding it to their arsenal?

4. A Strange Presence

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As it was once put in a Marvel comic, when Doctor Strange shows up, you know that things have gotten as bad as they possibly can, and often because he understands what superheroes & superheroines do not. If his involvement is one of the Infinity Stones, his knowledge will be passé. The Avengers are beginning to understand by the end of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and by all rights, the audience already knows this stuff. In essence, this is demystifying a mystic.

4. Comic Legacy

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This is a weird point, but Doctor Strange has, historically, had comparatively short comic book runs. By “short,” I mean, he’s never had a run that’s lasted 100 issues for whatever reason. Popular, but never wildly so. He has, however, played a major role in nearly every Event comic and is a frequent side character when the more popular heroes inevitably butt heads with a magic villain they can’t stop. Hell, he’s periodically led teams like The Defenders, The Midnight Sons, and The Illuminati. I get where in the MCU, his role will likely be similar: a guy with a rich world and backstory, but whose life is inextricably intertwined with the more-highlighted stories of other superheroes. That makes sense, but…

5. Petulant Comic Fan Bullshit

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…That’s just not what I want for Doctor Strange.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to watch the hell out of DOCTOR STRANGE when it comes out, but what I really want is a self-contained trilogy of movies that delves into his character and those of his allies and adversaries.

The new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, has been spotted on the Doctor Strange set. I LOATHE the idea of a sequel being a team up between him and a more popular hero because that’d be time taken away from the comparatively blank mythologies surrounding his villains. After all, they’re being set up in DOCTOR STRANGE: Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, Strange’s rival and superior; Michael Struhlbarg as Dr. Nicodemus West, Strange’s sociopathic replacement; and Mads Mikkelsen (!), who will in all likelihood play Dormammu, Lord of the Dark Dimension.

Hell, Amy Landecker will probably be playing Clea, Dormammu’s niece & Strange’s partner, a character who, in all of her years of existence never got character development proportional to her character’s potential. THAT’S a movie.

Seriously, the DOCTOR STRANGE movie franchise should do what the IRON MAN trilogy attempted and poorly executed -create a living, breathing world with characters who constantly build off each other for an eventual, insane payoff. The last thing I want to see is the franchise get Superman’d or Thor’d where other characters get thrown in to save a less-than-thoroughly popular character.

Fan-Whining Conclusion

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I’ve always loved comics, and a shared universe has always appealed to me within reason. What would it be like for Spider-Man to fight X-Men villains? What’s Daredevil’s relationship to Punisher? Hell, comics like “Suicide Squad” were invented to handle the fallout of shared continuity and the forthcoming SUICIDE SQUAD movie (another movie that can’t come out soon enough) was greenlit for the purpose of retroactively starting WB/DC’s shared continuity.

But I don’t want ALL the characters in ALL the comics; that destroys tone, stakes, scale, character, and emotional arcs. It’s why, generally, I despise Event comics. They’re the epitome of plot over character. When you read Batman, you expect it to take place in dark, gritty Gotham City, just as you expect Superman stories to be set in bright, shining Metropolis. The same tone applies to Marvel comic characters. I don’t want Captain America’s political intrigue overlapping Strange’s dark mysteries. Double for Spider-Man’s teen comedy. Triple for Thor’s overblown space epics. They’re just characters that don’t mean as much to me.

So, rewinding, is the Eye of Agamotto being the Time Gem really a big deal? Not in the grand scheme of things. If it organically bridges the overcomplicated stories in a way that plays to the strengths of excellent movie storytelling, all the better. Still, I really do worry about thematic and tonal unity, especially in the slog that was AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Too many disparate characters with too many disparate goals and directions. Not for me.

Now when they want to make a Midnight Sons movie with Doctor Strange, Blade, and Ghost Rider…

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STAR WARS: THE FORCE SLEEPS IN

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UPDATED: Structure & Pacing, Structural Similarities, Plot Holes, Coincidences & Poor Reveals, WTF Moments

I’ve always been a STAR WARS fan.

I’ve watched the movies more than I can count, I’ve played the hell out of the video games, I’ve read a handful of the comics, and I’ve watched a fair share of the cartoon shows. You want to play me in STAR WARS Scene-It? You better be ready to lose. I was amped as hell for the trailers for THE FORCE AWAKENS, and was praying to God I’d love the movie.

My worry had been, given that this was a JJ Abrams movie, that it would be absolutely beautiful, frenetic, and well-characterized… but that it would suffer from a terrible script. Afterall, STAR TREK 2009’s ENTIRE second act is literally a continuous string of Deus Ex Machina; SUPER 8 didn’t know who its protagonist was and made the mistake of trying to make a slasher movie out of E.T.; and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS’ script had no rules, no stakes, no consequences, and forced emotion on top of a twist everyone saw coming a mile away.

What I got, well… It was some mix of the bunch.

I like to judge movies on their own terms. You want to be an intellectual arthouse movie? Awesome, it better be provocative. You want to be a schlock creature feature and nothing else? Cool, your kills better be memorable. STAR WARS; THE FORCE AWAKENS wanted to reintroduce STAR WARS to a new generation, and in so doing, it wanted to remind audiences what was so great about the Original Trilogy. It had the added pressure to wipe away the “stain” of the Prequel Trilogy. To do that, it basically retold A NEW HOPE with elements of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. As a fan film, I suppose it succeeded on its own terms. It hit every nostalgia button it possibly could, was pretty, exciting, and more or less shocking at moments. On a basic screenplay level, though, it was sloppy and pandering on such a level that I wonder if JJ Abrams is a good judge of scripts.

::SPOILERS START HERE::

::SERIOUSLY, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS::

In all fairness, I liked a lot of the movie. The opening on Jakku with Rey was emotive; Han’s banter with everyone ruled; I liked where Finn’s arc was going; I loved Kylo Ren WAY more than I’d expected to; the alien and monster design was superb, giving me a few new favorite creatures from the series; Han & Leia’s interaction was fantastic, as was C3P0’s interruption of it, which was classic; I liked BB-8 more than I was expecting; and I loved the movie’s final location where Luke was hanging out. The fact that one had to climb an insane staircase to reach his Jedi Academy/Monastery is such a subtly brilliant way of conveying how the Light Side works –especially when one imagines many would’ve just landed a space ship at the top of the mountain and have had done with it.

There’s also a long take that’s kind of wonderful where Finn is slashing down people with the lightsaber while Damaran is swooping around in the X-Wing, taking down TIE Fighters like a boss.

After that, well, it sort of becomes like the rest of Abram’s work for me: A movie theater stand up. It looks great from one angle, but the more you move, the more you can see that it’s flat and that one good shove would knock it over.

As I get into this, please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t hate the movie; I just think that it’s extremely mediocre and without terribly much interesting to say.

Given the choice between rewatching it and the prequels, I’d still pick it, but depending on which prequel, it might be a tough call.

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THE CHARACTERS

I love Kylo Ren as a petulant, volatile Darth Vader fanboy who’s got towering daddy issues and a massive inferiority complex. I thought Adam Driver’s performance was riveting, which is way more than I was expecting for this character.

Little bad to say about Han Solo or Chewbacca in this. Harrison Ford especially brought a poignant weariness to his character. Still the rogue with a heart of gold, but one tarnished with time and sorrow. A serial killer Dark Jedi son will do that to you. His interactions with Leia recall their romance in The Empire Strikes Back in the best possible way, full of loaded double-talk and unsure flirtation in a galaxy to hard and harried to have time for it.

Poe Damaran was fun, for as little as he was on the screen. A smart-aleck ace pilot, he had some great one-liners and was a fun enough phallus for Finn to emulate, but he didn’t get anywhere near enough screen time to make a larger impact than that. In all fairness, he probably should’ve been killed in front of Finn’s eyes, causing Finn to find the strength that’d been eluding him the entire movie.

While I like Finn, I wasn’t thrilled with how the movie treated him. Firstly, it wasn’t clear if this was his story or Rey’s, and it led to some confusion in execution and some duality in beats where Finn would attempt to do something cool and would, inevitably be upstaged by her or someone else. Secondly, Finn was constantly upstaged, never really getting a chance to grow into a hero in his own right. In many respects, the movie seemed to punish him for having been a Stormtrooper, constantly making him lie, blunder, over-react, or be the butt of multiple jokes and attacks. Thirdly, while I admire the way Finn and Rey’s stories intersect (Rey doesn’t want to be a hero or fit into the larger galactic struggle but ultimately accepts it whereas Finn wants to atone for his sins and become a hero, only to be punished for it), it undercuts his redemption arc. That’d be fine for a side character, but Finn is either the protagonist or the deuteragonist. WAY too early to punish that kind of character, especially when it’s your first leading black character.

I buy that Rey is damaged and that she’s reluctant to leave Jakku because she keeps waiting for her family to return, and I ultimately buy that she accepts the call to heroism. I don’t buy the second arc thrust upon her where she must simultaneously accept that she’s been a Jedi savant all this time. Unlike Luke Skywalker, whose call to heroism is directly tied to his instruction in the Force, Rey merely learns that she’s Force-sensitive and proceeds to go through the motions of his journey. This perplexingly includes Obi Wan’s post-mortem call “Use the Force, Luke” where Luke gains the concentration necessary to destroy the Death Star, only for Rey, it’s to push back as Kylo Ren is driving her off a cliff. It’s a good moment, but it’s flat not her arc.

General Leia Organa didn’t do much for me. Carrie Fischer brought the regality, but not the fire that one usually remembers of her. Instead, we get a jaded general, much more like The Empire Strikes Back’s General Carlist Rieekan. Old, tired, grim… but not all that memorable or unique.

Everybody else? Either Meh, or mishandled. Who was mishandled?

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CHARACTER MISHANDLING

Captain Phasma. Gwendoline Christie’s enigmatic chrome stormtrooper character had next to nothing to do throughout the film. She was a vague threat at best in the opening, and a whipping girl in the end. Ignominiously dumping Brienne of Tarth in an off-screen trash compactor for fan service? Please. A simple change that could’ve given her MUCH more impact? Making her the random-ass stormtrooper that Finn fights outside of Maz Kanata’s bar. Afterall, only SHE knows what he looks like under his stormtrooper helmet, and this duel would have a hell of a lot more emotional stakes and consequences. If he wins, it’s a triumph of his determination and righteousness; if he loses, there’s all the reason to believe that he’ll be tortured to death as an example by the organization he fears. The fact that the deus ex machina X-Wing attack saves Finn from that duel would’ve only ramped up the rivalry between Finn and Phasma that could’ve paid off exponentially in the sequels.

Han Solo. His every moment of screen time is perfect, save for his death at the hands of Kylo Ren. It’s telegraphed as hell, and you know from the moment he steps on that catwalk, he’s done. Didn’t have to be that way. All the scene needed was more humanity. Harrison Ford’s face conveyed a broken fatherly love, which was appropriate, but we needed more. Not a sense that his son was already lost, but that he really could be saved. He didn’t have to say anything obvious like “I love you,” (although calling back “I know” could’ve been powerful here), but even if they’d hugged first, desperately clinging to each other, Han Solo himself shedding a tear, there’d be so much more question to the inevitable.

Maz Kanata. Lupita Nyong’o is a fantastic actress, and through a strange mix of miscasting and tepid characterization, we got Maz Kanata, a doddering old female Yoda type with big freakin’ glasses. Film magazines touted her as a drunken seer, and if that’s the case, they totally missed the mark. While she DOES call Finn a coward (another example of the script trading in the obvious) and while she’s oddly eloquent in the ways of the Force to Rey, it’s all very surface level. She’s an armchair/blue collar psychologist written by people who’ve never encountered such people. You find them all the time at tattoo parlors, bars, hair salons, grocery stores, farms… and it’s impossible to nail down the richness of their experience and advice without doing so specifically to their work and experience. We don’t know much about Maz Kanata, and it’s clear the script doesn’t either, ergo her down-to-earth-but-insanely-insightful advice is just the same kind of Force-talk we’ve heard before. And it’s nonsensical.

The Raid guys. You hire Yayan Ruhian, Iko Uwais, and Cecep Arif Rahman, the three biggest badasses and most skilled martial artists from the two most brutal, most insanely competent martial arts movies of the last ten years, and you just have them just stand around in silly space armor? Wtf, Abrams.

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STRUCTURE AND PACING

UPDATED: Bottom point

Devin Faraci’s been reposting this epic quote from @thatmashguy on the Birthmoviesdeath forum, and it really does nail the pacing.

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By way of example, Han Solo is carting violent tentacle monsters across the galaxy, presumably to fill ganglords’ Rancor quotas. Shortly after he meets Finn and Rey, his ship is attacked by gangsters and these tentacle monsters escape and begin murdering everyone. There’s no plot reason for this; it’s there purely because it’d been arbitrarily too long since the last action scene. It feels rote and token, and even though the gangsters report the incident to the First Order, it never has any impact on the plot, as in the very next scene, SOMEONE ELSE reports the good guys to the First Order. All of this deprives us of moments of quiet that would’ve given more time to explore and deepen the characters.

UPDATED: The script is a hodgepodge of “and then” storytelling that hops action scene to action scene with little regard for organic, character-driven storytelling. It apes the original trilogy and pays lip service to Campbell’s Hero Journey without actually understanding how it’s facets operate and cooperate. For example: Denying the Call. It’s a hallmark in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and it’s a token show of reluctance meant to give the protagonist a greater sense of agency and show what they feel they have to lose. There is a moment in THE FORCE AWAKENS when Rey seems to do this by pointedly rejecting the lightsaber and all it means. However, THIS IS NOT HER MOMENT. It’s attempting to be, but her arc is not s journey to the Force, but accepting her larger role in the galactic struggle. She has no reason to deny the lightsaber as in that very scene, she comes to grips with her abandonment issues. After that, her call to the Force is utterly… Well, “forced.” If THE FORCE AWAKENS was a good example of The Hero’s Journey (which it is absolutely not), that moment of Denying the Call would’ve been when Rey rescued BB-8 from the Not-Jawa Scavenger. Rey tries to send BB-9 on his way, he asks to come with her after saying he’s on a classified mission from the resistance, she refuses, he persists, she reluctantly agrees. That token denial is literally all you need to show her apprehensions about entanglement and about the likelihood of disrupting the routine of her life.

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STRUCTURAL SIMILARITIES

UPDATED: last point.

So the Force Awakens bears more than a few similarities to the Original Trilogy. Let’s count.

1. A desert hovel is burned by stormtroopers and its occupants executed
(A New Hope)

2. A small droid who communicates with beeps carries a message that’s the key to everything
(A New Hope)

3. Said small droid projects this information as a hologram to the protagonists, and that message is only a part of a larger whole
(A New Hope)

4. A person in white wrappings subsists in a backwards desert community
(A New Hope)

5. The Millennium Falcon evades TIE fighters by trick-flying through an extremely narrow environment
(The Empire Strikes Back)

6. The Millennium Falcon is caught in a tractor beam and is taken into a larger ship
(A New Hope)

7. Everyone’s on a quest to find a master Jedi
(A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back)

8. A bar of galactic scum where an alien musical band plays
(A New Hope, Return of the Jedi)

9. A short special effects person who is an expert of the Force
(The Empire Strikes Back)

10. A Dark Jedi reports directly to their master, who is projected as a giant hologram
(The Empire Strikes Back)

11. A borderline mystical experience in a claustrophobic, natural environment [Rey’s first confrontation with Kylo Ren where he comes out from the rock formation]
(The Empire Strikes Back)

12. The Resistance/Rebel base is on a forest planet in a temple-looking hangar, where everyone plans around a circular, lighted table
(A New Hope)

13. The Resistance/Rebels must destroy the First Order’s/Empire’s gigantic space station which is capable of destroying planets.
(A New Hope & Return of the Jedi)

14. They must do this by destroying a single, very small target on its surface
(A New Hope)

15. Two characters are directly tortured by Dark Jedi
(A New Hope)

16. There is a protracted infiltration sequence within the enemy space station
(A New Hope)

17. A person hides from stormtroopers by hanging onto something below them.
(A New Hope)

18. The climax involves taking down shield generators, testing will against a Dark Jedi, and a space battle to kill time
(Return of the Jedi)

19. A father and son have a bitter reunion over a technological void and one of them falls.
(The Empire Strikes Back)

20. When the protagonist faces insurmountable odds at the climax, the meditate on the Force to achieve victory
(A New Hope)

21. One of the characters is mortally incapacitated and is heavily hinted to be resuscitated in a sequel
(The Empire Strikes Back)

UPDATED: 22. A character negotiates for droids with a desert scavenger.

(A New Hope)

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DIRECT FAN SERVICE

Compounding this, we’ve got copious amounts of fan service, which just highlights how utterly reflexive and dependent on the original trilogy this is.

Like we’re still using X-Wings and TIE Fighters? Technology’s not improved in 30 years?

There’s tons of wreckage on Jakku, featuring X-wings, Star Destroyers, and even an AT-AT walker where Rey is squatting. Do we need to know what battle happened here or what was important? It seems just there for us to geek out over.

Same for Finn inadvertently kicking up The Millennium Falcon’s hologram chess game. It’s not as egregious, but it’s literally only there for the audience’s nostalgia, if they have any.

Tell me you were surprised when R2-D2 turned out to be under the tarp, and I’ll call you a liar. In a movie literally constructed of fan service, there was no way for this to be anything other than obvious.

Darth Vader’s Helmet was a similar kind of fan service, but it made sense in context (even if it raises A TON of questions about how it came into Kylo Ren’s possession) because it highlights Ren’s obsession with his family, with the legacy of Darth Vader, and with his own struggle to adhere to the Dark Side.

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COINCIDENCES & POOR REVEALS

UPDATED: last point.

True to his trademark, Abrams continues pumping his movies full of coincidences and easy solutions in the name of advancing the plot.

Rey is a badass female hero with emotional depth, yes, but how badass is she? She… is a master mechanic; can speak droid code; becomes a master pilot in moments; is suddenly an expert markswoman; can understand Chewbacca; can perform Force Pulls, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Force (idk, focus?) with next to no training; can withstand Force torture by a trained Dark Jedi; and is an instant master with a lightsaber. How many other skills has she perfected?

The Millennium Falcon is junk? Sure, I’d buy that after all these decades, but why does it still fly perfectly? Was it ever a junker? Was it ever top of the line? Wasn’t it under guard? That fat junker trader seemed to have more than enough guards to protect it. And he chased after it when it took off. He clearly wants it. It’s just there because we have to get to a sci-fi dogfight?

Why is Luke’s lightsaber in a random box in Maz Kanata’s bar? Yes, the movie lampshades this, but Rey’s Force premonition guiding her into the basement, to a closet, to a box that obviously contains a, if not THE, lightsaber has literally no mystery or surprise and is tepid as fuck.

After Finn defects from the First Order, EVERYONE in the First Order recognizes him as a traitor… except at the time, he was a nondescript Stormtrooper and was ONLY seen without his helmet by Captain Phasma.

One stormtrooper in the attack on Maz Kanata’s Bar has anti-lightsaber weaponry, as if he knew that he’d be in a grudge match with Finn who’d just happened to be given Luke’s lightsaber. Is anti-lightsaber gear standard issue in the off chance that Luke shows up ready to kick ass and take names?

Kylo Ren, in praying to Darth Vader, expresses that he needs guidance to deal with his father, Han Solo. That’s the right familial connection, but the wrong way to reveal it. There’s no impact to and for anyone but the audience. (However, it’s MUCH more emotive and present when Han confronts him, calling him Ben and trying to call him home… even if the dialogue lacks the humanity borne by both actors’ expressions and if the result is obviously handled)

Similarly, nearly all of the emotional stakes are expressed directly Kylo Ren says he’s struggling not to return to the light side …which blatantly sets up that he’s going to convert (when just his interaction with Han would’ve hinted this). This is exacerbated with both of his interactions with Snoke, who constantly condemns his weakness. In the same way, all of Finn’s emotional goals and duplicity are communicated directly; first to BB-8, and then to Rey when he comes clean. Both of these are obvious, and had been previously communicated through nuanced acting. Further, his coming clean undercut the dramatic payoff of her discovering his lie and having to deal with it.

Starkiller Base is able to wipe out the entire Republic with one shot, which apparently consists of only 4 planets, all grouped together.

UPDATED: In the Millennium Falcon, Finn briefly picks up a robotic ball: Luke’s floating training droid from A NEW HOPE. Why would Han have that in his ship? Why wouldn’t Luke have that for ongoing training. Much more pertinently, why would you step on an action beat with fan service that would take fans out of the movie? It’s terrible timing.

PLOT HOLES

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It also wouldn’t be an Abrams’ movie without a plot hole or two. Most of these can be waved aside, but the top one with Poe Damaran is a critical mistake of the movie.

Poe Damaran’s mission is to bring BB-8 to the Resistance Base, but after his TIE fighter crashes, he simply disappears from the story and shows up later at the Resistance Base, his mission apparently forgotten.

Similarly, it’s super weird that he wouldn’t check to see that the storm trooper who betrayed the First Order to rescue him –and who he himself named– survived the crash or was in any condition to make it to civilization.

Moreover, it’s fun when Rey uses a Jedi Mind Trick to escape the torture cell, but who did she learn that from? How did she know that was a viable Force ability? Sure, she’d had premonitions, but that’s all she experienced, unless when she saw the slaughter of Luke’s Jedi Academy, she absorbed some memory of tactics. Or if ‘the myth of Luke Skywalker’ accounted for that.

The galaxy has been pretty well-known for quite some time. While it’s very plausible for the characters not to know what planet Luke is on, it’s highly implausible for them or their navigation computers not to at least have a map of that particular stretch of galaxy.

Why is the mission to collect Luke, exactly? The information contained in BB-8 shows where he is, but the ACTUAL mission is to remove the threat of Starkiller base, which the Resistance is already taking care of. The only person with vital information is Finn, but as a sanitation worker on Starkiller base, how would he be privy to ALL of that information? So really, BB-8’s only purpose is to establish what is going to be the plot of the sequel, which, in JJ’s mind, is probably “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK again.”

UPDATE: On that note, here’s a plot hole that would’ve removed the necessity for the Death Star rehash: the galaxy map. It didn’t seem like a big deal on the first viewing, as in a pirate movie, half a map necessitates a journey; here, though, BB-8 has the terminus point in a galactic map. They could’ve check it against another map? Seems like a MUCH faster way to find Luke, which would’ve changed the focus of the story. ALSO, R2-D2 has the complete map and conveniently wakes up after the climax to use it, as if he knows it’s the end of the movie. Sloppy writing that withholds information for the sake of a different, lazy story.

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THE LIGHTSABER DUEL

The defining moment of every Star Wars movie. Yet here… I didn’t feel much. Yeah, I was worried about Finn while Kylo Ren was wailing on him. Yeah, I liked how Kylo Ren kept beating his open wound, physically hating his own weakness. Yeah, I cheered when Rey Force-pulled the lightsaber…

But the duel was otherwise as empty as pick your fight from the Prequel Trilogy. No, it wasn’t as flashy as those, but it was blankly intense.

Think about the lightsaber duels in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. They’re less about the combat and more about the emotional states of their combatants. EMPIRE’s is all about Luke’s arrogance giving way to fear and desperation and Vader asserts his dominance over him and spends the whole fight toying with him. JEDI’s is a literal test of wills, as Luke can barely fight without risking giving into the temptation of the dark side. For both men, the fight is a utilitarian crisis. Can either convert the other without having to kill them? Is there enough goodness in either man to do the right thing?

The fight with Kylo Ren in the woods crops up because he won’t let them escape. There’s something to be said about Finn’s attempt at heroism, but the gesture is empty and given no room to breathe (unlike the EMPIRE & JEDI’s slow, methodical fights). Rey’s turn with the lightsaber is fun, but ultimately blunted by the fact that the same beat had literally been done minutes ago by Finn. Where Kylo might taunt her with some cryptic lines about her being “the girl” or whatever, it’s impossible to know what that means outside of the context of information we can only presume will follow in the sequels. His defeat at her hands is just “girl power;” it has nothing to do with either of the characters’ emotional goals. What’s more, the fight is separate from the primary mission, which is destroying Starkiller Base. It’s fun, but it’s blank, and it’s not where the story is.

Think of EMPIRE and JEDI’s fight choreography. There’s a constant sense of geography, where the slashing isn’t as vital as the mood, the literal setting seeming to become an internal one as well. In THE FORCE AWAKENS, it’s a barrage of slashing that, while good-looking, doesn’t convey anything more than it is.

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WTF MOMENTS

UPDATED: Bottom point

I also had questions that weren’t necessarily plot holes, but just moments that struck me as strange or undercooked.

It’s a big deal when Rey force-pulls the lightsaber to fight Kylo Ren, and it feels like her coming into her own, but what about when he’s forcing her over the ledge? She closes her eyes and concentrates on the Force and somehow gain the fortitude to shove him back. Is that all the Force is? The ability to feel confident in a fencing duel?

So Starkiller Base can destroy multiple planets at a time, right (Like the Sun Crusher base in the Extended Universe), which is fine, but to do so, it must extinguish a sun to power it. Why? That destroys another star system for the sake of destroying another? Why not just have a planet that can destroy a sun to achieve the same purpose? Did they just not want to emulate the Sun Crusher? Or did they just want to make something that shot lasers like the Death Star?

UPDATE: So in the Original Trilogy, the Rebellion won. Cool. So why are they, in this, fighting from a place of weakness. The Republic fights in proxy battles using “The Resistance.” THE FORCE AWAKENS offers little rationale for this and even less for “The First Order,” who are The Empire 2.0. If they are upstarts, aren’t THEY “The Resistance” to Leia’s Republic? Why do they have the military advantage if (as a wiki article explains what the film did not) the Battle of Jakku was the final, decisive battle that finished the Empire? These are big questions with no rationale in-universe answer. The REAL answer, though, is that Abrams just wanted to recreate the circumstances of A NEW HOPE.

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CULMINATION

What all of this builds to is a sense of a harried movie that’s ticking off a checklist of plot necessities -“necessities” including copious fan service, egregiously unnecessary X-Wing dogfights, set callbacks to the original franchise, etc, etc. All of this came at the sacrifice of plot coherency, organic character development, and a story that was shown, not told. As a result, most of the affair feels driven by set pieces and plot.

Say what you will about the Prequel Trilogy (and there’s A LOT to criticize about them on a basic screenplay level), but at least they tried new things. Sure, they were executed poorly, but they were the soul of George Lucas laid bare- a clear expression of how something he once loved was perverted, rotting out from within and leaving only tedium. They’re bad movies, but they’ve got a soul and an original pulse to them.

As for THE FORCE AWAKENS… All I really know is that Abrams is a big Star Wars fan.

If only he’d been more than that.