Entries in Movies (1)

Saturday
Jan162016

Plot vs. Heart in Star Wars Episode 7

I've been thinking about this movie for a while now, and though I absolutely adore most aspects of it, I think I can point to one specific difference that causes the plot of the The Force Awakens to suffer where A New Hope succeeds. Obviously, many people have brought up the easy comparisons to the original Star Wars, some going as far as calling it a straight remake. I wouldn't go that far, but I do think that the attempt to mesh the original film plot template with an extension of the original trilogy has created some thematic problems that make the overall structure of the film more disjointed.

Let's take a look at some of the plot points that most have criticised for being too similar (list taken from Entertainment Weekly):

1. There’s a droid carrying valuable information who finds himself on a desolate desert planet.

2. There’s a Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed antagonist who arrives on the scene shortly after the information is handed off, looking for the droid.

3. There’s a desert settlement that is wiped out by stormtroopers.

4. There’s a hero who’s tortured by the bad guys to retrieve the information.

5. There’s a lonely, Force-strong desert dweller who dreams of more.

6. There’s a worldly old warrior who has to explain the Force to the next generation.

7. There’s a cruel military officer who holds a comparable level of authority to his Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed colleague.

8. There’s a mostly unseen supreme evil that’s pulling the strings from the shadows.

9. There’s a criminal element that’s owed a debt by Han Solo and attempts to kill him after he screws up their arrangement.

10. There’s a cantina filled with various alien creatures.

11. There’s a moment when one of the heroes abandons the fight as a self-preservation measure, but he eventually returns.

12. There’s a massive spherical weapon that’s used to destroy a planet.

13. There’s a base belonging to the rebel forces on a forest-covered world.

14. There’s a surrogate father figure who is cut down by someone previously close to him, who has turned to the dark side.

15. The hero watches helplessly from afar as the surrogate father figure is slayed.

16. There’s a coordinated aerial attack on the massive spherical weapon that’s monitored from a control room by Leia.

17. There’s a trench that X-wings flew through in order to fire on a vulnerability in the weapon and destroy it.

18. There’s a massive explosion that gives the rebels a major victory but likely allows the Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed antagonist to survive to fight another day.

These comparative observations are completely valid, but I don't really have a problem with them. I enjoyed returning to a familiar place in the Star Wars universe while also being introduced to new characters that I was genuinely invested in. But here is where I arrive at my biggest issue with this narrative remix. The goals of the characters were connected by plot points that did not serve those same narrative goals.

Let's think back to A New Hope. What was the one thing that set the entire film into motion? The Rebel theft of the plans to the Death Star. This bold action established a cat and mouse game that was present throughout the entire film and also foreshadowed the climactic third act.

In The Force Awakens we are presented with a similar plot device, but one that holds none of the same urgency nor the power of foreshadowing. The First Order and Kylo Ren are on the hunt for Luke Skywalker. Though he has presumably been hiding for 30 some years. What is there to convince us of the urgency of this new piece of information hidden in a lovable droid?

In A New Hope the danger is explicit. The Empire has a new weapon that is capable of immense destruction. Destruction that is heavily foreshadowed and then demonstrated less than halfway through the film. The information the Rebels have obtained is desperately important and will be used directly to inform their assault in the third act.

The reveal of the Starkiller base in The Force Awakens lacks all the narrative weight of the original Death Star. Our only frame of reference for its potential power is in its direct nostalgia-driven mirroring of the Death Star. None of the borrowed plot devices like the hidden information in a droid being pursued by stormtroopers help to setup the also-borrowed third act climax.

There is a familiar structure in the new film that ultimately betrays what made the original plot compelling. We are only interested in finding out where Luke Skywalker is because of his importance in the original trilogy. We are only impressed with the potential destruction of the new Starkiller base because of the original Death Star's impact in A New Hope. There is no narrative thread that serves a singular driving purpose in Episode 7. Only a series of borrowed - though heartwarmingly familiar - plot devices that serve multiple, disconnected character arcs.