Obligatory Star Wars Opinion

Hello, and welcome to the year 2016. I'm sure you're very excited to read several thousand words about my opinion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so let's get down to some serious in-depth analysis!

Ha ha, I am kidding, of course. The last thing the internet needs is yet another Star Wars thinkpiece, and in any case I can't be bothered to write my own. Instead, I'm just going to pick some existing ones that I like, mash them together with a few paragraphs of commentary, and call it a day.

A few days ago, I got into a heated debate over the film's quality with a close friend of mine, during which I failed to make any coherent points, mostly because I'm not light enough on my feet to hold up my end of an argument without introducing an abundance of inappropriately lengthy pauses. The point I had hoped to make, however, basically amounted to:

  • Of course The Force Awakens doesn't make a lick of sense.
  • None of the Star Wars films ever made much sense to begin with.
  • All of this is completely fine.

Lucky for me, then, that Aaron Bady has articulated this argument far more eloquently than I could have. It's a long piece with a lot to say - and I do think you should read all of it - but here's a crucial bit:

It's not a criticism to call Star Wars infantile fantasy; that's simple description. None of these characters existed before they walked onscreen, and they fall apart if you think too much about their paper-thin backgrounds. But that's how action figures work: they are meant to be picked up and played with; they are not meant to be ruthlessly interrogated for their psychological coherence.

-- Aaron Bady

Indeed, I would argue that the only reasonable way to enjoy anything to do with Star Wars is on the level of pure feeling - to watch them with precisely the same diligent emptiness that enables the series' trademark sword-wielding space-Taoists to commune with the omnipresent, primordial Force of Narrative Convenience (bonus question: does this mean that a Jedi's true power is the ability to break the fourth wall without the audience noticing? (secret bonus question: who cares?)).

I think the biggest problem with Star Wars as an institution is that, based as it was on Joseph Campbell's laughably blinkered "monomyth" framework, it only ever extended that opportunity to the men in the audience (Campbell once handwaved this colossal oversight in his theory by claiming "women don't need to make the journey"). Women watching the films couldn't just "let go" and be swept along quite so easily; first they had to find a way in.

Now, with a charismatic new heroine in the pilot's seat, The Force Awakens has deliberately invited women to enjoy that same feeling of escape, no rationalization required. Rey is nothing so intellectual as a criticism or a deconstruction of Luke Skywalker; she's a way in, a conduit through which women can finally let go their conscious selves, and act on instinct. That fact alone makes me really happy!

On top of all that, I've finally found a concise, snark-free explanation for why I hated the prequels so much (aside from the abysmal dialogue, I mean):

The prequels failed ... because they tried to explain away what was self-evidently ludicrous. They tried to restore order to the galaxy by placing past, present, and future into a coherent cause-and-effect relationship: Instead of placing their faith in the force - the way an open-mouthed child lets the storyteller carry them off - the prequels tried to explain what the force really was (MIDICHLORIANS!) and worked so hard at it that they made the entire thing tedious and boring. They turned their targeting computer back on.

-- Aaron Bady

This resistance to logic, I think, is what differentiates "space fantasy" from true science fiction. Star Wars doesn't benefit from an explanation of the Force any more than Lord of the Rings would benefit from an explanation of fire demons or soul-devouring bling.

Speaking of which...

To study Tolkien beyond Lord of the Rings is to come to a keen understanding of how tragic this history actually is, how Return of the King looks like a happy ending mostly because that's where Tolkien (quite deliberately and self-consciously) decided to stop writing.

-- Gerry Canavan

There's a common saying that every story ends in tragedy, if it goes on long enough. It's true for Shakespeare, it's true for soap operas, and it's true for sprawling transmedia franchises. Disney may have defenestrated the Star Wars expanded universe, but the one thing not even they could change is that the rebellion's victory at the end of Return of the Jedi has to be fleeting. Without another star war, there can be no more Star Wars.

Nearly every media franchise has a moment where it purports to become "darker" and "edgier", and most of us are quick to shrug it off as desperate grasping toward a new demographic. But what if this is just the inevitable desire (albeit clumsily executed) to come to grips with the inherent bleakness of unending conflict?

Return of the Jedi never asked us what we thought would happen when those people woke up the next morning and the Empire still had 90% of its guns, ships, territory, generals, and soldiers, ready to descend into vicious, scorched-earth fanaticism as they slid into defeat; it just wasn't that kind of story. The Force Awakens is that kind of story, and I find that interesting enough to be excited about 8 and 9, to see where they try to take this story now that it turns out fairy-tales aren't real and that deeply entrenched totalitarian systems don't have exhaust ports, trench runs, or single points of failure.

-- Gerry Canavan

There's something I find weirdly inspiring about the biggest, most culturally mainstream intellectual properties being driven headlong into postmodernism by their own financial success - forced against their will to recognize the ephemeral nature of heroism and the crushing inevitability of chaos, because that's the only way to keep the ride from stopping. There's just something perfectly delicious about it, you know?

Anyway, in conclusion, I think the big question on all our minds is: why the hell isn't there a Bushido Blade game with lightsabers? #justsayin