Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 21:10 on 03-03-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sorry I haven't participated in this very interesting discussion for a while, since I've been busy and it is quite convoluted to say the least. But a few most likely final thoughts:

-Comparing the Force to actual religions might be a bit futile, since it doesn't seem that there is enough consistent information to go around and what there is doesn't seem to have the necessary details or vocabulary to make comparisons which are anything more than vague (although still fun) and of course there is the big difference that the force is a much more concrete influence on the world, unlike, arguably, our religions do in this galaxy. Although discussing Star Wars and its belief systems has this meta-level of religiousness in it.

-All that said and done, it does seem to have a more panteistic and natural vibe, which does separate it from religions with more of an emphasis on personal gods, which has a more eastern, rather than semitic feeling to it. But that is noly the impression I get. I guess with connection to Jedi-stuff, the difference is whether you see it as some sudden revelation, Kung Fu Panda style, or a gradual awakening requiring practice. And since we don't really know the motivations or capabilities of General Organa, or really, how the force is supposed to function, we'll just have to hope that they'll bother to revisit this point in future installations of the franchise.
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at 06:30 on 01-03-2016, Robinson L
@Axiomatic: Wow, and I thought my knowledge of Star Wars esoterica was pretty thorough, but I only recognized like, one or two of those traditions. You do realize though, that with the exception of the Dathomir Witches, their canonicty has been rendered nil, or is at least in serious question, as per April 2014.
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at 16:27 on 27-02-2016, Arthur B
I would have said that, per the OT at least, the Force and the Jedi seem to be deliberate stand-ins for spirituality. If you take an empiricist, IU approach to the Force, you can get the position you describe, but I think the films clearly present the Force in a spiritual light.

Sorry, I wasn't putting my point very well (obviously taking an empiricist approach to the Force would be rubbish, that's how we got midichlorians), but you've hit on a better way to express it there. The Force is about spirituality, but I'm sure we all know tons of people who would describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious". It is possible to express spirituality without being part of any organised religion, and that's how I think a lot of people in the Star Wars universe may end up using the Force without ever realising that they are doing it.

If nothing else, we see in The Force Awakens that Leia is able to sense Han's death from millions of miles away. So to say she doesn't use the Force is actively incorrect - perceiving things that are happening far away from you is using the Force. (Obi-Wan feels the destruction of Alderaan like a punch in the gut; it doesn't register with Luke.) At the same time, it doesn't seem like Leia's sensitivity in this instance comes down to formalised training so much as it's a factor of her love for Han making her especially sensitive to his presence in the Force.

(Hypothesis: the Jedi were big on forbidding love to padawans because love makes you feel your beloved's presence in the Force especially strongly whilst drowning out other presences, so a Jedi in love might find that they couldn't sense a Sith sneaking up behind them because they were too distracted by their beloved stubbing a toe on the other side of the galaxy. One of the reasons that Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke all found it useful to go hermit was because the more a Jedi interacts with society, the more attachment they have, and the more attachment they have the more dangerously fallible their Force powers are.)
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at 11:57 on 27-02-2016, Axiomatic
There are tons of Force Traditions out there, and every one of them is some sort of religion. You've got Witches of Dathomir, Sorcerers of Rhand, Nuns of G'aav'aar'oon, Jarvashqiine shamans, Acolytes of the Beyond, H'Drachi Seers and the Disciples of Shaa.

Among many, many others. And no, I did not make up even a single one of those. Not even the Nuns of G'aav'aar'oon.
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at 06:41 on 27-02-2016, Daniel F
Arthur:
Not necessarily. You don't need to believe in the philosophy that the Jedi have spun around the Force to use it, after all. If the Force is just there as a literal force of nature (albeit one that isn't amenable to bottling in a lab), and all the religious stuff that has built up around it is merely a way of interpreting it rather than a revealed truth about it, then that would actually be consistent with everything we have seen.

I would have said that, per the OT at least, the Force and the Jedi seem to be deliberate stand-ins for spirituality. If you take an empiricist, IU approach to the Force, you can get the position you describe, but I think the films clearly present the Force in a spiritual light. The mere fact that every character who can use the Force is some sort of space mystic, and that learning to use it is portrayed as an initiation into a larger spiritual world, suggests to me that we should interpret the Force as something closely linked to spirituality.

Bill:
Being a princess is a real job?

Um, yes?
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at 22:52 on 26-02-2016, Arthur B
No, but being a general is.
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at 22:27 on 26-02-2016, Bill
Being a princess is a real job?
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at 21:30 on 26-02-2016, Axiomatic
I always figured that Leia wasn't a Jedi because unlike her brother, she didn't have time to lie around on the couch all day "meditating", because she had a real job.
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at 20:22 on 26-02-2016, Melanie
It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.


This seems completely plausible to me. "Jedi" as a descriptor strikes me much less as an umbrella term for any Force-user who isn't a Sith, and more as "member of the Jedi Order" (or, at the least, someone who identifies themselves that way and follows Jedi-specific practices/beliefs--I mean, in the OT the Jedi Order is pretty much dead as an organization, but Yoda and Obi-Wan are still Jedi). So Leia could be a Force-user, potentially even a strong one, without considering herself a Jedi specifically.

While using the Force is "a religious practice" to the Jedi, that doesn't mean it's always a religious practice, full stop. A particular practice can be religious for some people and not for others. For instance, a religion can ascribe a religious significance to hand-washing, but that doesn't mean that everyone who washes their hands is de facto a member of that religion.
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at 14:52 on 26-02-2016, Arthur B
One might saying that using the Force is a religious practice in itself, though?

Not necessarily. You don't need to believe in the philosophy that the Jedi have spun around the Force to use it, after all. If the Force is just there as a literal force of nature (albeit one that isn't amenable to bottling in a lab), and all the religious stuff that has built up around it is merely a way of interpreting it rather than a revealed truth about it, then that would actually be consistent with everything we have seen.
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at 11:45 on 26-02-2016, Daniel F
It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.

One might saying that using the Force is a religious practice in itself, though?

Off the top of my head, I don't think we saw Luke or even Obi Wan ever performing any visible religious practices in the OT. (Unless you count some of Luke's training with Yoda, I guess.) Most of what we saw was more like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. They used Force powers, and they occasionally stopped to listen to their instincts or resign themselves to the will of the Force, but they didn't have much in the way of ritual. For that matter, they don't have visible costumes either: there is no Jedi costume in the OT.

If I look only at the OT, then... it seems as though the only way I could tell if someone is a Jedi is either if I see them using the Force flashily or if I see their lightsabre.
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at 20:51 on 24-02-2016, Arthur B
On the other hand, there is that line of Luke's from Return of the Jedi, where Luke mentions how the Force is strong in his family: in him, his father, and his sister. I feel think strength in the Force would be incredibly useful whatever your profession, so there is some incentive to develop those abilities.

But what would a general using the Force look like? Odds are, it would be that general allowing their intuition and hunches to guide their decision-making. Maybe dozens upon dozens of Rebel and Resistance lives have been saved because Leia trusted to the Force when making some battlefield gamble or guessing where an ambush is likely to come from.

It is entirely possible that Leia uses the Force all the time but isn't recognisably a Jedi because she doesn't call herself one, doesn't dress like one, and doesn't really do any of the religious practices.
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at 20:36 on 24-02-2016, Robinson L
@Orion: Yeah, I couldn't remember for sure if it was "Trust the Force," or "Use the Force." I think it was probably both, in reverse order to how I just wrote it here.

That's an interesting way of looking at Leia's role vis-a-vis the Jedi.

On the other hand, there is that line of Luke's from Return of the Jedi, where Luke mentions how the Force is strong in his family: in him, his father, and his sister. I feel think strength in the Force would be incredibly useful whatever your profession, so there is some incentive to develop those abilities.

I just find it hard to imagine her wanting to abandon her post as a general or senator or counselor or whatever she is to sit in a cave lifting rocks.

I think this is part of the issue, where the Jedi have been largely type-cast as warrior monks. This made sense in the original trilogy, where Luke was being trained to restore the Order and overthrow the Empire, but I don't remember it being stated anywhere that this is the only direction one can take as a Force-user. But a lot of people--including most Expanded Universe authors, and even Lucas himself in the prequels, got caught up in the trappings without thinking through why things were that way in the original. (It's a similar phenomenon to what RedLetterMedia pointed our regarding the Jedi's use of robes and lightsabers.)


Chris Moriarty update: I've now completed my trawl through her Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction review archives, and uncovered another couple of gems.

First, in terms of sheer reading enjoyment, we have her discussion of four recent "Heffalump Hunts" from this column back in 2013. I won't post the whole thing, but here's an excerpt where she weighs in on the issue of the lack of a Jewish Narnia or Middle-earth:

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis weren't just "Christian" writers. Rather, they were Englishmen who belonged to a narrow segment of Christianity characterized precisely by their top-down, hierarchical structures. Both Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism are relatively young religions (at least by Jewish standards) whose entire theologies are based on the power of a single leader to define doctrine for all the faithful. In contrast, Judaism is basically a four-thousand-year-old family argument.

Then, from 2014, we have this moving tribute to Iain M. Banks and his Culture series. Here's an excerpt from near the end of the piece:

we all, if we are honest with ourselves, experience that bad feeling in the pit of the stomach that you get when you know that good people need something from you…and you are quite possibly not up to the task. Iain Banks never forgot this. And that is why his novels are among the greatest achievements of modern science fiction, both intellectually and emotionally.

(I must say that, personally, I only recently started reading Banks' Culture books last summer, and while I mostly enjoyed the stories, and they're undoubtedly great intellectual achievements, I rarely find them emotionally engaging. Not entirely sure why, it just feels like there's something cold about his protagonists that makes it difficult for me to become fully invested in them. Still, I'm happy to hear other people have found his works so engaging and rewarding.)
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at 07:49 on 24-02-2016, Orion
Robinson -- I don't remember exact words but I believe that's basically Ben's mantra in the death star bombing run.
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Why isn't Leia a Jedi? Well, because the premise of TFA is that all the Jedi are gone; it never occurred to me that it would require justification because I had no expectation that she would be a Jedi to overturn. I'd actually like to flip the entire question around. Why would Leia want to be a Jedi?

The Jedi ways were many things for Luke. They were a legacy from his father; they were a way to fight the sorcerer who was hunting him personally; they kept him alive when he was thrown into the war; they were his best hope of becoming someone important and respected.

For Leia, none of that pertains. Leia doesn't need a legacy from her birth father because she's living out the legacy of her adopted parents. She's not being pushed by destiny because the Skywalker family drama* seems to be over and there are no dark jedi to fight. She already has a job; it likely that Leia did more for the Rebels as a General than Luke ever did as a Jedi. Her skillset is well-tuned to the needs of the fledgling New Republic. I just find it hard to imagine her wanting to abandon her post as a general or senator or counselor or whatever she is to sit in a cave lifting rocks.

*Actually, to echo Ptolemaeus, one thing I like about the trilogy is that the entire Jedi angle is kind of a side show, and Luke is important more because his dad is the emperor's first mate than because he's a Jedi.
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at 11:35 on 19-02-2016, Arthur B
It pleases me greatly that after so long silent or only providing intermittent updates, Achewood finally seems to be back on a regular schedule of weekly self-contained comics.

Especially when one of them involves taking the old Charles Schultz memorial comic and having a bit of fun with the concept.
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at 22:00 on 18-02-2016, Robinson L
Hmm, good point, Orion. Do I remember them using the phrase "trust in the Force" in the movies at all, or is that from the Expanded Universe?

Janne: even if christianity is not dualistic, the view of Christianity as being about the war between heaven and hell is very tenacious and very common in culture popular and otherwise and also in history, when one thinks how the everyday business of religion has proceeded. Which might be a way to see the Star Wars cosmology.

Yes, this was something which occurred to me a while ago, but I couldn't find a way to articulate it. Thank you, Janne.

why was Leia not a jedi?

That chafed with me too, especially after the Expanded Universe did an overall disappointing job of realizing her potential in that regard. On the other hand, when I was talking with my mom and sisters about The Force Awakens, I described a counter-factual scenario where Leia might have used the Force to aid the X-Wing attack on the Third Death StarStarkiller base. Ptolemaeus dismissed the idea, saying one of the things she appreciates about Star Wars - as opposed, say, to Harry Potter - is that it depicts nonmagic characters as well as magic characters playing a crucial role in the heroes' victory. As she pointed out, Leia's Force ability was touched upon, when she
sensed Han's death
, but it seems like she appreciated that Leia's main role in the story is not one of the magic people
I should think especially since the only other non-magic member of the original Big Three has now been killed off
. I'm more disappointed Leia didn't have a more active role in the plot, but ptolemaeus felt this was probably to keep the focus on Han, and that she'll have more weight to carry in Episodes VIII and IX. I certainly hope so.

And somehow it was just very sad to see Solo in his old years scampering about doing the same sort of nonsense he was doing before he joined the rebellion.

I agree with you there. At the same time, it felt utterly plausible to me. I think from the end of Return of the Jedi, you could see Han permanently shape up, mend his ways, and become a more mature and dependable person. That was the direction the Expanded Universe stories took his character, and I think it's entirely reasonable. However, I think it's also entirely reasonable to suppose that - although he is at heart a decent and noble person - he might fall into old bad habits again under the right circumstances. (The Expanded Universe actually also toyed with that scenario, if not quite to the same degree, and handled it fairly well, as I recall.) It's certainly not nice, but I find it understandable and not contrived, which is more than I can say for some other plot and character elements in the film.
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at 22:36 on 17-02-2016, Orion
On the Force, and Belief

American culture celebrates two kinds of faith. There is the neoliberal ideal of faith in yourself, and there is the charismatic ideal of faith in God. I tend to think that Star Wars draws on the second as much or more than the first. American Christians are often taught that Jesus will do all kinds of useful things for them as long as they believe he can do it. If you believe Jesus will reserve you a parking spot, he will reserve you a parking spot. If you get to Walmart and the parking lot is full, it means you subconsciously doubted that Jesus would come through.

The impression I got from the movies was not that Luke struggled because he didn't believe in himself, but that he struggled because he didn't believe in the Force. (IIRC) When Yoda asks him to lift the X-Wing, he doesn't say “I've been lifting rocks for a few weeks and I want to work my way up spaceships at my own pace. You're obviously higher level than I am, so please lift it for me.” He says something to the effect of “that's ridiculous,” and he is genuinely shocked when Yoda moves it. Same goes for the blindfighting exercise against the remote. (IIRC) His reaction is not “That's too hard,” so much as “that makes no sense.”
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at 22:13 on 16-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Happy late birthday greetings Ichneumon!

Another belated point, Daniel(damn, stay away for a week and things keep on happening and people writing):
I was not specifically thinking of a Gnostic view. I actually find it even more interesting that you put Christianity into the same category as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism here, since unlike the latter two, Christianity does not posit a dualist cosmology.

Yes, that was careless of me. And also, gnosticism and dualism are not mutually exclusive. The source of my mistake is, as it often is, to focus on how things seem on the practical level as opposed to how things are explained theologically, or cosmologically. So even if christianity is not dualistic, the view of Christianity as being about the war between heaven and hell is very tenacious and very common in culture popular and otherwise and also in history, when one thinks how the everyday business of religion has proceeded. Which might be a way to see the Star Wars cosmology. The proper way to see the force is as some sort of benign force that one is in balance with, which is some sort of pop-taoism. And the dark side is using the force as a shortcut to reach goals, which leads one away from the balance and proper knowledge of the force. In action it comes out as dualism, but really is about gnosis of the force, life and everything. I think this holds even with the term Dark side, as any side away from the light in this instance is a dark side.

I too agree on the general feeling of futility in the new film, which might have affected my opinions and which was enforced by how the plot was so derivative and even the look of the film emulated something decades old. But to each his own. And why was Leia not a jedi? It seems they were dead set on providing some sort of status quo from the ROTJ. And somehow it was just very sad to see Solo in his old years scampering about doing the same sort of nonsense he was doing before he joined the rebellion.
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at 22:00 on 15-02-2016, Robinson L
Chiming in to say a (very belated by this point) happy birthday, Ichneumon.


On The Force Awakens, excellent points from both Jamie and Shim.

However, from my readings and other discussions - I also wasn't born in the 70s to be able to provide an eye-witness account - while there might have been a sense that social movements and international political tensions were building towards some climactic "end-point," they likely expected it to be ruinous rather than triumphant. By '77, it was clear that the social movements of the 60s and 70s hadn't totally remade society the way many people thought they would, and in the US, scandals like Watergate and the debacle in Vietnam must have still been fresh in people's minds. Perhaps by now, on the international scene, it was also clear that formal decolonization didn't spell the end of major troubles for Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I think it was Bruce Bethke (in Star Wars on Trial) who noted that popular cinema of the time was pretty cynical, filled with anti-heroes little better than the villains, and basically (though he didn't put it in so many words) a precursor to contemporary grimdark aesthetic.

From what I gather, the original Star Wars was a stark and deliberate contrast to popular media of its era. Part of what made it revolutionary was its clearly demarcated heroes and villains, and its unflinchingly and unapologetically optimistic spirit. (Though, arguably, this optimistic spirit and uncomplicated approach to good and evil may have facilitated the rise of neoliberalism under Thatcher, Reagan, and their ilk.)

Whereas The Force Awakens, as both Jamie and Shim elucidate, is much more a reflection of the sensibilities of its era - which, as I've said, seem in some respects to be a throwback to pre-Star Wars 70s cinema. If you think about it, the genre currently dominating box offices is superhero movies, which have a reputation for being ethically simple (or, less charitably, simplistic) and optimistic to a rather juvenile degree - just like the original Star Wars. But if you look closely, a lot of these superhero movies wallow in moral complexity, and not only contain a good whack of "dark" material, but have a pretty bleak undercurrent to them where each victory is only temporary, and while it prevents greater tragedy (this time), ends as often as not with the world and the heroes a little bit worse off than they were to begin with. (Actually, it reminds me of how I once heard Lovecraft-inspired RPGs described, if the player characters manage to win.)

So in that sense, I guess the bleakness of Force Awakens makes for some good social commentary - as you've both eloquently attested - but I'm not sure it's in the best traditions of the saga.

Shim: I think he's supposedly running to the rebellion, but isn't that just because there's nowhere else for a runaway to go?

Yes, it's made perfectly clear in the movie that Finn only tells Rey he wants to rendezvous with the Resistance; I think he intends to see BB-8s information safely shepherded to them, but beyond that his intention is to flee and not to fight. Until, of course, he has his big dramatic turn after the battle at Maz Kanata's.

Luke is excited by shit that is going on right now, and you get the impression that if the droids hadn't crossed paths with him he'd have tried to get offworld and join the Rebellion one way or another eventually. (This is made explicit in some of the deleted scenes where Biggs is talking about how he and some of his fellow students at the pilot academy intend to go join the Alliance.)

I think it's made explicit in the film itself (or maybe just in the post-special edition releases, it's been too long since I've seen the pre-SE version) when Luke and Biggs bump into each other on their way to their X-wings on their way to Yavin, and Luke says: "I told you I'd find my way to the Rebellion someday," to which Biggs responds: "I never doubted you." Or something to that effect.


On an almost entirely unrelated note to all of this, a chance perusal of a recent issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction last week has introduced me to the awesomeness which is Science Fiction author and reviewer Chris Moriarty. Here's the passage which had me hooked:

Now I pride myself on being an open-minded person. But the English spent 800 years kicking the holy living crap out of my family in Ireland. And then they drafted their potato-eating arses and shipped them over to Calcutta to kick the holy living crap out of the other half of my family. So if, in 2015, you are going to sell me a "global" anthology composed exclusively of white writers from former British colonies—then you know what? I want my damn flying car, and I want it now!*

*Okay, I am being flippant. But seriously. Even Star Trek in 1966 understood that you need a few non-white faces on your starship crew if you don't want the rest of the world to laugh at you.

And then there's this passage, describing the future imagined in the anthology which inspired the above tirade:

It is the future of middle-age policy wonks and tech mandarins. And it embodies the same deeply disempowering assumption that "we"—we the code jockeys, we the technorati—will not survive unless we cast our lot with the corporate elites instead of with the great, unwired mass of humanity. We may rail against the machine in the privacy of our home. We may go on paleo diets or take Marie Antoinette-style datastream holidays. But in the end we know that our only chance at keeping our DNA in the gene pool is to follow the profits into orbit.

And lest I give the impression that Moriarty is a mostly negative reviewer, I should point out that the above comprises more than 80% of the critical writing I've seen from them so far (I still haven't worked out Moriarty's gender for sure, and I'm trying not to make assumptions). Here's a positive passage from elsewhere in the article:

We have indeed come a long way from the days when James Tiptree, Jr. was dismissed by hard sf fans because her work was "too political." This change arrived, as all real change does, through a combination of hard pushing from the periphery and slow evolution from the interior. But I think it really has arrived. Over the course of the past five years or so, Aliette de Bodard and Vandana Singh (more on her later) have both joined the standard list of go-to writers for hard sf anthologies. And both of them write from a post-colonial perspective that combines hard science with even harder politics.

(I should also point out that the early columns I've read from Moriarty - about half of what's available on the MF&SF site so far - aren't nearly as political as this one, either, which perhaps explains why I'm not as excited by them. Still, Moriarty's critical insight and ability to express enthusiasm and to a certain extent inspire it in readers - or at least this reader - is present in each and every column.)
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at 18:29 on 15-02-2016, James D
Yeah, I think that made Finn the most relatable of the heroes - he's primarily motivated by self-preservation after he sees firsthand that the First Order ideal is just a big crock of shit. He doesn't care about protecting the innocent, he doesn't try to save any of the villagers getting massacred, he just panics like any young soldier might during his first combat, and is presented with an opportunity to desert before his misgivings can be brainwashed away by his superiors. After that he just wants to escape the terrible punishment coming his way, and it's only after quite a while that he actually starts to think about putting himself in danger to help other people.

His terror at the prospect of being caught by the First Order and unwillingness to think of confronting them made their threat seem a lot more real, and made his gradual turn to selfless hero seem much more realistic. Han Solo's similar transformation in IV seems much more abrupt and "Hollywood" in contrast, occurring exactly when the narrative needs it to and with no insight into the inner conflict. He's perfectly willing to abandon the Rebellion at first, and later turns up seemingly just for the hell of it.
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at 00:31 on 15-02-2016, Arthur B
I think Finn is actively running away for the first half of the movie, but then there's that crucial turn in his character when the First Order attack the castle and he ends up coming back to try and help out and then ends up going to Starkiller Base with Han in order to help Rey. His arc in the movie is actually pretty satisfying, in that he goes from a Stormtrooper with a glimmer of conscience to a runaway claiming to be a Resistance fighter for kudos to an actual hero of the Resistance lying in stasis waiting for destiny to activate him again.

Bur your general point about the original trilogy characters having mostly chosen their side quite firmly does hold true. Contrast Luke getting excited when C-3PO mentions knowing stuff about the Rebellion to Rey getting excited about the Jedi; whereas Rey is energised by legends about do-gooding space knights from times past, Luke is excited by shit that is going on right now, and you get the impression that if the droids hadn't crossed paths with him he'd have tried to get offworld and join the Rebellion one way or another eventually. (This is made explicit in some of the deleted scenes where Biggs is talking about how he and some of his fellow students at the pilot academy intend to go join the Alliance.)
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at 23:45 on 14-02-2016, Shim
Yes, happy belated birthday.

Jamie, that's a really interesting take on it, and I tend to agree with it.

I might actually go further on one point (EDIT: and I will do so at enormous length).

In the original trilogy, I think everyone other than Luke had actively chosen their path. Han and Chewie were career smugglers, Leia was a dutiful princess and (although we have little information) apparently committed to the Rebellion, as were the droids. Obi-Wan had been in limbo, or perhaps biding his time, but with Luke's arrival he sprang into action like someone who knows what he's doing. Luke very soon committed to the Rebellion without any of the regretful whining of most fantasy farmboy heroes. Darth Vader is a consumate professional, and even the Skywalker parents have things in hand. Luke himself seems happy enough to become a womprat-shooting farmboy.

In The Force Awakens, that doesn't seem to be true any more. Finn shows no sign of having wanted to be a soldier and escapes as soon as possible, always running away rather than towards and pretending to have purpose when he has none. I think he's supposedly running to the rebellion, but isn't that just because there's nowhere else for a runaway to go? Rey was stranded on her planet and is some kind of bonded worker; she's good at what she does, but she had no choice. I think you could create another parallel with the audience here about lack of meaningful life choices.

Ren is trying to be a Sith, but it feels to me like he drifted into it through angry flailing and very poor choice of role models, and is now frantically struggling to make a go of it because he's already turned his back on everything else. Maybe he's not just torn about the correct path to follow, but stuck in an existential crisis. This is a far cry from the Emperor and Darth Vader and their firm commitment to evil rule.

Poe is presumably the exception, but we see so little of him it's hard to tell.

Meanwhile, Han's return to smuggling comes across as a bit of a midlife crisis and he struggles to handle the competition even before his Big Moment. Leia is as competent as ever, but everything she's ever worked for personally or professionally has crumbled into ruin. Luke lost four fathers, a mother and a hand in a quest for personal meaning and the greater good, felt the weight of the universe on his shoulders, brought down the greatest evil ever known, and then his brave new world burned to the ground around him.

I will pretentiously argue that these parallel the older relatives of a lot of younger people. Forces beyond their control, and decisions taken en masse, mean the security they worked for (jobs, pensions, savings) has proven hollow, and they're left worrying about the future rather than anticipating or enjoying the comfortable old age they were led to expect. They see their own children working lousy jobs for poor pay and struggling to afford the rent, and we've still got wars and dictators all over the place. Progress made in reducing inequality is being rolled back rapidly by governments who apparently don't care about it.

Luke could rely on the wisdom of Obi-Wan and of Yoda, as well as the greater life experience of Han and Leia; even when his mentors died, they continued to guide him. Everyone his own age was an ally. There's probably some kind of Darth Vader metaphor you could work in as well.

Finn and Rey mostly fend for themselves in a hostile world, and though their elders are technically on their side, there's little the Rebellion can do in the face of an oppressive system. Maz Kanata is a supportive stranger, who does them a small favour but is completely powerless when things go wrong. Worse yet, they're faced with Kylo Ren, who actively opposes them because their modest ambitions conflict with his own pathetic dreams of winning respect the only way the galaxy seems to understand it - sheer power.

I think one of the things that seems pathetic about Ren is actually that same-generation thing. Ignoring the family heritage, he seems like he should be a natural ally of Rey and Finn, striving together for a better world, but he's sold out to the older failed generation and their failed philosophies.
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at 18:58 on 13-02-2016, Jamie Johnston
Happy birthday Ichneumon! (Better late than never, I hope.)

And hopping in (also a bit late) to the conversation about The force awakens: I confess my memory of the original trilogy is hazy, but mulling it over I feel like the lack of historical 'progress' may be quite appropriate given the real-world context.

My recollection of A new hope is that there's a sort of atmosphere of Epic Things in the offing. Luke wants adventures and has a sense of Destiny. Leia is already fundamentally enmeshed in this epoch-making galactic struggle. Han is minding his own business but still on a fairly big scale, wheeling and dealing all over the place. And in the real world it's the late 70s, with a corresponding general sense (and I wasn't alive so I'm going on received opinion here) that history was travelling in a certain direction, that various social movements and international political tensions were building towards some sort of climactic 'end-point'.

Now here we are in the mid-2010s and I think to a lot of people in the audience, especially young people, history and the state of the world feel a lot more like what we see in The force awakens. The big hopes of the later twentieth century have not really been realized. A lot of the time it seems like the same wars and the same social conflicts are happening again and again and it's hard to see the future as anything but a slow downward spiral. Previous generations over-promised and under-delivered.

And what strikes me about our heroes (and to some extent our villain) in The force awakens is that their starting-points and their dreams are more modest than their 1977 counterparts. Finn starts as a footsoldier and sanitation worker and his ambition is to get away and have a quiet life. Rey lives from hand to mouth and basically wants to eat, tinker with machines, and see her family again. Poe is a well-respected pilot but still fundamentally a guy doing his job, and doesn't seem to have any particular drive to do anything else. Ren is a big fish but in a much smaller pond than either his parents or his grandfather, and he seems to be entirely motivated by personal inadequacy and interpersonal anger rather than ideology or a desire to achieve any particular political goal. In short, they're a pretty good reflection of a lot of people their age in the audience.

(Also note that they have much less support from their elders. Rey's parents are permanently absent and she's completely alone until she meets Han, who, let's be honest, is no Obi-Wan in terms of mentoring and guidance; Finn literally has no parents at all; Poe is older and in a slightly different position, and for all we know he may have a supportive family in the background somewhere, but they have no impact on the film at all. So even if we're prepared to cut Luke and Leia's generation some slack in terms of their large-scale political achievements, the world of the film as a whole is clearly one in which the older generation has abandoned the younger one to its fate and only enters their lives in order to ask them for help.)

So I think I'm agreeing with Alasdair that the film is pretty bleak and seems to promise no triumphant ending, and that it doesn't feel likely that our heroes will surpass the previous generation and achieve a lasting galactic golden age. But to me that seems right and appropriate. No doubt the current trilogy will have a happy ending but I'll be quite disappointed, to be honest, if it's the same kind of happy ending as Return of the Jedi because that wouldn't feel true to the times we live in.
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at 22:59 on 12-02-2016, Ichneumon
So it's my birthday today.

Not exactly breaking news or of much relevance to this train of discussion but officially adding another year to the tally is a bit of an event.
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