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 00:36 on 10-02-2016, Robinson L
Arthur: Just because peace is fragile and rarely lasts doesn't mean it is worthless.

Yeah, I agree with that, but in a fictional sense, and specifically the fictional sense of the Star Wars universe, I feel like it's not enough. I keep coming back to something Dan H said way back in his "Acts of Sacrifice" article, about how, basically, the bar for meaningful sacrifice for fictional characters is much higher than for real people. The victories of the original trilogy protagonists would be a worthy accomplishment for any real group of freedom fighters, but for fictional heroes - especially in a story as epic as Star Wars - I'd like the lasting effects of their victory to be a bit more epic as well.

(Interestingly enough, relevant to the Tolkien discussion, I recently listened to a podcast where they were talking about this aspect of The Force Awakens, and somebody brought up how, apparently, Tolkien at one point started writing a sequel to Lord of the Rings starring Aragorn's son, but he abandoned it because he couldn't bear the idea of everything going so bad again so soon after Sauron's defeat.)

<blockqoute>Daniel F: I'm not sure I agree about a stronger good power removing all tension.
I never said it removed all tension. I said it "lessoned the power." Yes, my main concern about the Lord of the Rings is the fate of the protagonists and their societies in the immediate future and the next few generations. But part of the excitement for me in those books was also on the cosmological scale, and the - incorrect - sense I got that Sauron's acquisition of the ring could mean indefinite victory on his part, not a potentially vast but inherently finite victory. It may be a tertiary source of tension for me, but it's not irrelevant. I guess it's a case of varying mileage.

Legacy was bleak in its own way, but it was different enough that it wasn't totally intolerable.

Definitely varying mileage, here. Specifically, about it being sufficiently different. For me, the fact that it was the exact same set up as the original trilogy with the exact same enemies nuances was too much, no matter how much creativity they put into the details. I appreciated some of the stuff Legacy was doing (insufferable protagonist and questionable wardrobe choices for the female Sith aside), but the premise infuriated me from start to finish.

Even if I wasn't put off by the Legacy comics, though, the place where all my favorite Expanded Universe and Original Trilogy characters ended up in Legacy of the Force, Fate of the Jedi (so I heard, I could never stomach to read them), and Crucible makes their fate in The Force Awakens look like an unending beach vacation by comparison, so I'm still going to side with the latter if it's a choice between that and the old Expanded Universe.

I agree about the diminishing threats in the pre-New Jedi Order books. I initially welcomed the Yuuzhan Vong as a creative new threat that wasn't tied to the previous villains. I have sufficient issues with the latter half of that series that I'm okay with having it wiped out as well. Ending at Vision of the Future would also lose us the enjoyable but not essential Survivor's Quest, and in hindsight, would probably have been for the best.
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at 07:07 on 09-02-2016, Daniel F
I hope that now they've planted their flag, so to speak, they'll feel more free to explore new territory with Episodes VIII and IX, and open up more creative space.

I've heard that theory as well, and I certainly hope that's the case. But I guess we'll see.

Then, too, in terms of fiction, it makes more sense dramatically speaking if good and evil are about equally matched, so there's a real contest between the two....
On the other hand, if we take a strict dualistic/Manichaean outlook, it means none of the victories our heroes win will ever have any permanence or finality, because evil will always rise up again to muck things up for everybody. In the long view, there's no room for progress or improvement, just a boot intermittently stamping and not stamping on a man's face, forever.

In that case you can at least draw a line between absolute dualism (the good and evil power are perfectly matched, for all eternity) and mitigated dualism (the evil power will eventually lose, but it's strong enough to put up a decent fight in the mean-time).

I'm not sure I agree about a stronger good power removing all tension. It removes tension on the cosmic time-scale, but I doubt that anyone really reads a story or a film on the cosmic time-scale. We don't become invested in the ultimate fate of the fictional universe, but rather in the immediate travails of characters. In LotR, it may well be true that Iluvatar will win in the end, but we are not emotionally invested in Iluvatar as such. Within the framework of the story it is entirely possible that Sauron will triumph and usher in ten thousand years of darkness and slavery. The distant victory of Iluvatar is a framing eschatological hope, not an event in the plot that might negate its drama.

This is why, as an Expanded Universe fan, I actually welcome The Force Awakens. Bleak as it is, the alternatively future we had on offer previously was even bleaker.

Even there, while I agree that Legacy had its fair share of flaws, I at least appreciated that Legacy seemed to be trying to do something different. The abstract idea that there will be wars and struggles and political feuds after the OT ends doesn't negate a sense of accomplishment, for me: that's just part of the endless turn of history. What would negate a sense of accomplishment for me is the post-OT material is all the same wars and feuds. Legacy was bleak in its own way, but it was different enough that it wasn't totally intolerable.

Though I think you're absolutely correct about the late EU. The early EU was fine, though perhaps the stakes seemed lower after a dozen different books of mop-up operations against the fragments of the Empire. But by the time of LotF and FotJ, it's very hard to feel invested in it. The repetition feels perfunctory and soulless. It is fear of a similarly perfunctory atmosphere, I suppose, that has kept me away from TFA.

I suppose I always liked the idea that the EU ought to have ended with Vision of the Future. That does lose us the NJO (which for the most part is not worth mourning, but there was always the excellent Traitor...), but it feels like a natural conclusion to the post-OT EU, with a positive, progressive look towards the future.
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at 22:43 on 08-02-2016, Arthur B
I don't think the original trilogy generation are shown to have accomplished nothing. Things may have gotten dark, especially once Kylo started wearing a bucket on his head because he thought it was t0t35 k3w1, but they managed to win a few decades of peace for those who lived within the section of space outside of the First Order's sphere of influence, and that ain't nothing. Just because peace is fragile and rarely lasts doesn't mean it is worthless.
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at 22:00 on 08-02-2016, Robinson L
Daniel F: PT ... opened up a massive profusion of EU and other supporting material, some of which was quite good ... A bad pass at something new still creates this new playground for subsequent authors to use, whereas from all I've heard, TFA is a slavish (if competent and slick) imitation of the OT. It's hard to imagine that creating a space for new creative works as effectively as the PT did.

I think Force Awakens was the new Star Wars team's way of saying "we're going back to our roots with this new trilogy and this new continuity." They wanted to assuage fans who felt burned by the prequel trilogy or were skeptical about the new creative direction, while simultaneously presenting something which will both appeal to new fans and give them a sense of what the saga's all about. It's a really delicate balancing at to perform, and of course they didn't manage it perfectly, but I think what they did accomplish is still damn impressive.

I hope that now they've planted their flag, so to speak, they'll feel more free to explore new territory with Episodes VIII and IX, and open up more creative space.


my suspicion (not stemming just from this, of course!) is that much of mainstream Western culture has implicitly Manichaean moral priors. See also pop culture Satan as the ruler of Hell.

Yeah, I'll go along with that. So much that it's easy to read a lot of good vs. evil stories and rhetoric as Manichaean/dualistic if one isn't very careful.

Then, too, in terms of fiction, it makes more sense dramatically speaking if good and evil are about equally matched, so there's a real contest between the two. As someone who grew up on The Lord of the Rings, I find it loses a bit of its power when you realize that in Tolkien's cosmology, evil is always inherently self-defeating, and so even if the quest of the ring had ended in total failure, Sauron would have fallen eventually and everything would be set right somehow.

On the other hand, if we take a strict dualistic/Manichaean outlook, it means none of the victories our heroes win will ever have any permanence or finality, because evil will always rise up again to muck things up for everybody. In the long view, there's no room for progress or improvement, just a boot intermittently stamping and not stamping on a man's face, forever. In which case, who cares if the heroes win today - we all know they're only going to lose again tomorrow or the next day. Same with if the villains win, for that matter.

Alasdair: Rather than signalling the eucatastrophic ending to the series, TFA seems to suggest that the destruction of the second Death Star, the death of Palpatine, and the redemption of Anakin Skywalker...meant nothing.

In a nutshell: this. Perhaps the reason you doubt Rey, Finn, Poe, and even Kylo Ren will manage to accomplish what their predecessors failed (a lasting victory), is that The Force Awakens implicitly suggests an unending cycle, so why should their victory be any less ephemeral than the original trilogy heroes'? (Then again, perhaps finding a way to break the cycle is what Luke's been investigating all this time, and that's what the plot of VIII and IX will be all about. Interesting idea, but I somehow doubt it, and even if it does play out that way, it still massively detracts from the accomplishments of the original trilogy, and even the prequel trilogy, especially Anakin's redemption.)

On the other hand, to your point Alasdair, I come at The Force Awakens as a fan of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe (indeed, I read the first Zahn trilogy before I even saw the movies). You'd think I would hate that the Disney continuity nuked all those stories I grew up on, but I didn't for reasons I'll come to presently.

Anyway, one thing I appreciated about the early Expanded Universe was the way it showed that the galaxy post-original trilogy was still far from perfect, with many threats and dangers for the heroes and the New Republic, without detracting from the victories of the films. The Empire was crippled, and its attempts to regain galactic dominance were always beaten back. The Sith were gone, and the villainous Force users were less powerful underlings who survived Vader's and the Emperor's deaths, and hotshot upstarts. Enemies, in other words, came in two basic flavors: weaker - but still dangerous - versions of what the heroes had already defeated, and complete newcomers to the scene.

But then came the late-stage Expanded Universe, where they had Leia and Han's son turn into a Sith, kill Luke's wife, and generally muck things up before getting offed by his own sister (character consistency? Fuck that, we've got an existing story to recycle as slavishly and melodramatically as possible). Then there were the Legacy comics, which blatantly pressed the galaxy's reset button so they could put things in the exact same place they were at the beginning of A New Hope (if you thought the reset button in Force Awakens was bad, trust me, this was worse). Once again, fascist empire ruling the galaxy with a Sith Emperor at its head, forces of good reduced to ragtag groups of insurgents, and fate of the galaxy resting in the hands of a straight white blond guy whose only qualification is being a direct descendant of Anakin and Luke Skywalker (and who, in terms of likability, makes you pine for Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen at their very worst).

Mind you, those comics told some halfway decent stories, but the extent to which they went out of their way to drive home the point that nothing ultimately has changed or ever will was even more nauseating than the series protagonist. At the end of the series, the Sith Empire has been overthrown and the galaxy is ruled by a Republic of sorts (though with unelected officials), but the surviving Sith have gone back into hiding to rebuild their forces and one day take over the galaxy, just as they did in the prequel trilogy and in the lead-up to Legacy. (The Legacy sequel series - which concluded in August 2014, after the Expanded Universe had already been officially branded non-canon - had the Sith all wiped out, but with the implication "well, maybe they're still out there, somewhere ...")

This is why, as an Expanded Universe fan, I actually welcome The Force Awakens. Bleak as it is, the alternatively future we had on offer previously was even bleaker. With The Force Awakens, so far, we can at least still hold out hope for a lasting victory in the end, and that maybe the next two episodes will reveal that accomplishments of the previous trilogies did matter to some extent. Small hope, perhaps, but when your previous "canonical" answer was "no, no chance whatsoever," this still counts as an improvement.


I found I liked Kylo Ren the most ... Honestly, he resonated with me more than most of the actual protagonists did.

Fair enough. There's nothing wrong with the character of Kylo Ren on paper (except for being Han and Leia's son, ugh), I just can't take Adam Driver seriously in the role. But if he works for you, I'm glad.


Phasma got dumped in a trash compactor, but we should know by now that those things are eminently escapable.

Only if you've got a sympathetic droid along to help you out, surely? If you watch A New Hope again, I'm pretty sure you'll find that trash compactor was the second most dangerous situation the heroes face, losing out only to the climactic Death Star battle (or third if you count Obi-Wan's duel with Vader). I think Phasma can come back, and I certainly hope she does, but lets not kid ourselves - the mere fact of getting herself out of the compactor should be enough to establish her as a force to be reckoned with.
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at 22:12 on 06-02-2016, Arthur B
Coda: I was miffed about how, after being hyped up in the merchandising and ad copy, Captain Phasma barely appeared in the movie, and ended up getting upstaged by a dude with a police baton. Bad form, Abrams.

Phasma was hyped as being the new Boba Fett, and pretty much ended up following the Boba Fett playbook to that extent.

Though it's worth noting that what we saw here was an origin story for most of the characters that then ended up having the returning old timers get more screen time in rewrites, which I'm fine with since the main beneficiary of that was Han Solo who isn't exactly going to be a major presence going forwards.

Phasma got dumped in a trash compactor, but we should know by now that those things are eminently escapable. She's also got ample reason to go gunning after Finn now. Hopefully, that means she's going to be a way bigger deal in the next movie.
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at 21:37 on 06-02-2016, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Speaking for myself, when I saw TFA, I was mostly struck by how, well, bleak the movie was. There's this subtext to the film about how all the happily-ever-afters promised at the end of Return of the Jedi have ended in failure. I mean, it's thirty years on since the Battle of Endor, and it's still Rebellion versus Empire with different names. Most everyone from the original trilogy is still doing the same jobs they were doing thirty years before, while all their hopes for the future have failed: Han and Leia's marriage dissolved, their son Ben fell into darkness, and Luke retreated from the world after his nascent new Jedi Order was slaughtered. The fact that Leia is running a "Resistance" in First Order-held systems rather than, say, bringing the hammer down with a New Republican carrier battle group suggests that the New Republic doesn't want to confront the First Order directly in spite of the threat it poses, which implies that this New Republic is filled with the same problems of decadence (in the Barzunian sense of a society which has goals but no clear idea how to accomplish them) that killed the Republic in the prequels. There's also other little bits of visual symbolism that build on this pessimistic feeling, like how Rey is introduced living in the ruins of war machines from the first trilogy, or how her planet of Jakku seems to be a version of Tatooine where everyone has given up. (I mean, Tatooine was always skuzzy in both trilogies, but the Skywalkers were modestly comfortable as moisture farmers, Mos Eisley was a well-used spaceport, and the Hutts did quite well for themselves. On Jakku it seems like the only economic activity is salvage.) Rather than signalling the eucatastrophic ending to the series, TFA seems to suggest that the destruction of the second Death Star, the death of Palpatine, and the redemption of Anakin Skywalker...meant nothing.

I think the idea of this new trilogy is that this new generation will make things right, but after watching TFA I found that I could not believe that Rey, Finn, and Poe are the ones who will do it. The sad thing is, I don't really have a precise explanation why I think this. Maybe the fact that TFA's pessimistic reiteration of ANH makes me think this trilogy is set in a world that can only ever end in failure. Maybe the movie spends a lot of time depicting the transfer of totems of adulthood from one generation to the next while not asking if there is still anything of substance behind those totems (seriously, am I the only one that thought that having the movie end with Rey flying the Millenium Falcon with Chewbacca, R2-D2, and the lightsaber Luke lost at the end of ESB was a little much?). Maybe I'm reacting to Abrams' weakness with characterization or his tendency to copy the form of older franchises while neglecting the substance. Maybe it's all of this.

All I can say is that, in light of all this, I found I liked Kylo Ren the most. Yes, he is a piece of shit, and yes, every likes to make fun of his emo-ness, but I found something honest about his weakness. With his clumsy attempts to emulate Darth Vader, his rages, and his insecurity, he was admitting that something had gone wrong with the world, and that he was desperately looking for something to provide him with some sort of stability. Honestly, he resonated with me more than most of the actual protagonists did.

There is one thing I did like about TFA: the implication that the C3PO we see in the film
is actually V3-N03, a medical droid rebuilt in Threepio's image to spread the legend of Big Bot while the real Threepio is off building Outer Rim Heaven.


Coda: I was miffed about how, after being hyped up in the merchandising and ad copy, Captain Phasma barely appeared in the movie, and ended up getting upstaged by a dude with a police baton. Bad form, Abrams.
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at 01:05 on 06-02-2016, Daniel F
Which I understood in a sort of Gnostic way. There is the good or the right way in the centre, which is known both intellectually and emotionally and then there is distance from it. The dualistic view is hobbled somewhat in that the Star Wars universe doesn't seem to have two different forces as in a christian, zarathustrian or manicheist dualistic way, rather there is two different approaches of which the other is clearly presented as good.

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. On the Dark Side, I was actually thinking along somewhat Augustinian lines: you have goodness, which you can identify with the Force (as Augustine identified it with God), and then you understand evil as distance from or rebellion against it. In this view the Dark Side is not the yang to the Light Side's yin, but rather the Dark Side is any emotional state that stands between the practitioner and the goal of appreciating the will of the Force. I can't help but think it significant that the primary face of the Dark Side, in the Star Wars OT, is redeemed in the end, particularly through the protagonist's denial that he can be utterly evil. I note also the regular metaphor of the Dark Side as something that clouds or obscures, as if to imply that its function is to prevent someone coming to a true understanding of the Force.

On Manichaeism and pop culture, I couldn't help but also think of The Lord of the Rings here. It's another text with a very clear moral framing, but if anything, an even more explicitly non-dualist theology. LotR just doesn't work if you think that evil is in any way equal or opposite to good; evil only makes sense as a destructive rebellion against cosmic goodness. Morality is monistic. Yet I seem to recall when the Jackson films were released, multiple reviewers talking about LotR as a good-versus-evil story in a very Manichaean way.

So my suspicion (not stemming just from this, of course!) is that much of mainstream Western culture has implicitly Manichaean moral priors. See also pop culture Satan as the ruler of Hell.

Anyway, coming back to Star Wars, my experience is that different works of Star Wars media jump between dualistic and monistic views of the Force. Even a title like, say, Jedi vs. Sith imposes a dualistic view, or you can consider something like KotOR's morality system. Moral dualism clearly has an appeal. But I am not sold on the idea that OT itself implies that view.

I'm certainly not suggesting that the OT has a particularly subtle moral philosophy, or even that it's all that coherent. But I have doubts about straightforwardly reading it as dualist/Manichaean.

I guess that even with significant problems, the prequel trilogy did try to do something completely different. Which is not altogether an original thought. That it failed to do that, at least in my opinion (there was a bit too much nonsensical stuff there), leaves still space to admit that at least Lucas didn't just replicate the earlier films.

I can be free to admit that TFA might be a better film, while also respecting the PT more for what it tried to achieve, I guess. But one also has to avoid judging the PT too harshly in retrospect: it had significant flaws, but it also opened up a massive profusion of EU and other supporting material, some of which was quite good. The PT films might not have good movies, but if you'll pardon something controversial, I can't help but wonder if they were/are better for the long-term health of the Star Wars franchise than TFA and its sequels will be. A bad pass at something new still creates this new playground for subsequent authors to use, whereas from all I've heard, TFA is a slavish (if competent and slick) imitation of the OT. It's hard to imagine that creating a space for new creative works as effectively as the PT did.
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at 21:46 on 05-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
I guess that even with significant problems, the prequel trilogy did try to do something completely different. Which is not altogether an original thought. That it failed to do that, at least in my opinion (there was a bit too much nonsensical stuff there), leaves still space to admit that at least Lucas didn't just replicate the earlier films.
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at 20:30 on 05-02-2016, Robinson L
Janne: I guess it is a testament to the franchise's power, that although I was not really expecting anything special, except a good adventure from the new movie, I have still somehow managed to be disappointed that it was not as good as it could be expected to be, in an utopistic view.

Yeah, despite largely enjoying the movie, I was rather disappointed by the ending when I first saw it, and found myself thinking "is that it?" Then it occurred to me that actually, while less than what I would've hoped, it's probably a little bit better than we had any reasonable right to expect.

Granted, that's dependent upon your enjoying the film approximately as much as I did.

What the difference really is that for some, the movie worked well enough and plucked the right strings, intellectual and emotional, to make it fit with everything else. To others, like me, the strings plucked were not all the right ones, causing emotional disconnect, which leads to nitpickiness and starting to see the strings, that is the construction of the plot too closely. So what for others is a reasonable enough development felt to me to be there to underline a characters awesomeness too strongly and to be plot convenient. Neither I feel, and I do think feel is the correct expression, is wrong exactly

I completely agree with this, although at the risk of opening up a completely other can of worms, I might make a similar argument in regards to the prequel trilogy. *ducks behind a large rock*

Re: Gnostic interpretation
Ah, I see. I still think the "Dark Side" terminology in the original trilogy kind of cut against that interpretation, but I guess it's an interesting concept.
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at 08:14 on 05-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
I guess it is a testament to the franchise's power, that although I was not really expecting anything special, except a good adventure from the new movie, I have still somehow managed to be disappointed that it was not as good as it could be expected to be, in an utopistic view. But that's emotions for you, I guess.

Arthur:
A deep, rich, complex theology is hardly what the series to date has led me to expect.


Yes, I understand that, but like with most fan discussions of large franchises (or religions I guess) that hardly stops the theological debate from happening. But I guess what it boils down to: yes, your and Michal's take on it is a perfectly possible way to see it and it can even be seen to conform to a certain view of the preceding mythos. But equally, I'm not convinced that my interpretation is obviously wrong, at least completely. What the difference really is that for some, the movie worked well enough and plucked the right strings, intellectual and emotional, to make it fit with everything else. To others, like me, the strings plucked were not all the right ones, causing emotional disconnect, which leads to nitpickiness and starting to see the strings, that is the construction of the plot too closely. So what for others is a reasonable enough development felt to me to be there to underline a characters awesomeness too strongly and to be plot convenient. Neither I feel, and I do think feel is the correct expression, is wrong exactly and still, I am not at all sorry that I saw the movie, it was fine. But a final nitpick on this: what about Leia? Wasn't she supposed to be "strong in the force" as well (although Darth, as was his first name in the New Hope, did not see it, but then, it's hardly the only thing that shifted later). So why wasn't she a jedi then, only her son? She never struck me as someone who didn't believe in herself enough? What's that about?

Robinson: I took it from Daniel's post:

It's really quite bizarre. If you just go from the OT and PT, there is no such as the Light Side. There is only the Force, in a vaguely monistic way that waffles its way in between the Brahman and Abraham's God. Per the films only, Star Wars' morality is not actually dualistic. There is only the Force/life/goodness/whatever, and evil is to defect from it. The closest you get to any idea of a 'light side' is in the occasional somewhat confused quote from Luke, e.g. "How am I to tell the good side from the bad?"


Which I understood in a sort of Gnostic way. There is the good or the right way in the centre, which is known both intellectually and emotionally and then there is distance from it. The dualistic view is hobbled somewhat in that the Star Wars universe doesn't seem to have two different forces as in a christian, zarathustrian or manicheist dualistic way, rather there is two different approaches of which the other is clearly presented as good.
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at 22:30 on 04-02-2016, Robinson L
Janne: The dichotomy between light and dark is a simplistic thing and it is a shame that it came out that way. Approaching it from a gnostic view point is actually much better, especially with the added sort of pop or fantasy culture mysticism and orientalism put on top of it.

I'm not sure what it would mean to approach it from a gnostic viewpoint - can you expound?

The interpretation which always appealed to me, the most retains the Light Side/Dark Side dualism, with Light being equated with selflessness, serenity, etc., and dark being equated with selfishness, aggression, etc., but which holds that the two are, in fact, ethically neutral on their own, that an excess of either is cause for concern, and that what's needed is for a person to seek a balance between the two. The lamentably short-lived Dawn of the Jedi comics explored this concept nicely.

Unfortunately, there's very little interpretive space within the movies to support this reading.

Fishing in the Mud: I would like to say that this Kylo Ren is so laughable that I can't find him scary, but I honestly can't say that. He hits just the right note of nerdboy sociopath convinced that feminism has ruined his life.

Well, I think that's what he ought to do. It didn't work for me, or any of my sisters, but I'm glad it came through for someone.

Arthur: if someone is going to be mostly reactive in the party I'd rather it be a droid than Finn or Rey, both of whom won me over massively.

Same here, which is probably why I enjoyed the movie so much, overall, despite the various issues. It set out to be a fun adventure, and in that regard it succeeded overwhelmingly for me.

That's an excellent defense of Rey's use of her Force powers, Arthur - I especially agree with you about the interrogation scene (and yeah, why do I keep forgetting about Kylo Ren's bowcaster injury when I think about that duel?). It all still feels a little too easy for me in spots - and unlike Luke in Empire Rey ultimately succeeds, which may be why I find it harder to swallow - but the movie has done such a good job of making me want Rey to beat Kylo Ren at his own mind trick game, or free herself by bamboozling a stormtrooper, or take Kylo Ren to pieces with her lightsaber, that I don't really care if it's plausible or not.
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at 22:20 on 04-02-2016, Arthur B
I'd say that the Force is more about believing in yourself than exclusively consisting of believing in yourself - it's not that you get all these special new capabilities just by believing in them, it's more that you had them all along but you couldn't use them because you didn't believe, if you see what I mean.

But either way, I'm kind of on Michal on this one. Also, what could the Force possibly be which wouldn't be disappointing at this stage?

A deep, rich, complex theology is hardly what the series to date has led me to expect. It is probably too late to add one in, and if they did that it would be kind of tonally inconsistent even if they managed to make it fit the facts. So a simple explanation is what is called for, and if that doesn't satisfy you, then I dunno what to say except that if you were hoping for something a bit more baroque and erudite you're looking in the wrong universe.
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at 21:07 on 04-02-2016, Michal
And if the force is meant to be just believing in yourself, it is not very interesting in my opinion and rather disappointing.

Which means that's probably *exactly* what George Lucas had in mind.
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at 19:53 on 04-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, why not. If we allow all the what ifs then why not. But surely you must admit that that does take a lot of explaining things just so. Which I guess is possible, since we saw it in the film. Still doesn't explain how Rey did stuff she didn't know were a possibility, which seemed there to just underline Rey's capabilities. But of course it could be explained that she just figured it out, since Ren had just used the force to try and invade her mind and she just inferred.

But is such perfect control of one's mind without any previous experience or knowledge that the force works in this fashion really such a credible thing and not cutting corners? If the force works by just one's trust in what is possible to do with the force, that would still require some knowledge. And if the force is meant to be just believing in yourself, it is not very interesting in my opinion and rather disappointing. But I guess it is not unprecedented. But Yoda's cryptic statement could easily be seen as just the sort of thing any pop-zen master says to the pupil in order to demonstrate their own mastery. It doesn't actually need to mean that the whole measure of the skill in question is belief and no experience or practice is required.

But I guess the explanation for Ren's cock-up is alright. I still can't really say that I liked it much. That whole planet business was a bit of a let down, to be honest. Among others. Isn't it kind of proof of a problem in plotting, when it requires a short essay with refernces to how the earlier mythos might support it to explain it? But fun though, like being in a theological dispute.
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at 15:39 on 04-02-2016, Arthur B
Why does everyone forget that Ren had been shot in the gut with Chewbacca's bowcaster, which is demonstrated to us over and over and over again as being one of the most powerful projectile weapons in the movie, and has keep hitting himself in his wound in order to even keep conscious (endorphins being a wonderful thing for that purpose) when he is having the fight?

Why don't people complain about Luke holding out as long as he does in his duel against Vader in Empire Strikes Back, when Vader has a decades-long head start in saber training and Force use and Luke's training is woefully incomplete? Sure, Luke doesn't have a good time in that fight, but by rights Vader should have had him disarmed in seconds.

Also, it's not like Rey spontaneously activates a mind probe without prompting or any experience in Force-based telepathy. First there is the interrogation sequence, where it seemed clear enough to me from their emoting that Ren started out with the mind probe, Rey put up a wall of resistance as an instinctive response, then she found that she could use that wall to push Ren out of her mind, then she found she could push a little further into Ren himself. It's only later that she tries to apply that to the stormtrooper, and it's established early on that she is a fangirl of the old legends of the Jedi and Luke Skywalker so presumably she's as familiar with the concept of the Jedi mind trick as any of us are.

Consider this: maybe Force training is not and never has been about developing Force abilities like they are teachable skills. Let's entertain the notion the training is instead a matter of overcoming the doubts and ingrained assumptions that stop you using these abilities in the first place.

Luke never had any "shoot very accurately without using a targeting computer" Force training - Obi-Wan just told him he could do it if he tried, and he believed Obi-Wan and he did it. Yoda seriously thought that Luke, despite the early stage of his training, might in fact be able to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp by using the Force - Luke fails because he doubts himself and Yoda succeeds because Yoda has absolute faith in his own ability to do it.

This is why both Obi-Wan and the Jedi Academy use the bucket-on-the-head method of teaching people to use their Force senses. It's not about learning to use a sense that has atrophied and needs training and work to make it function - it's about overcoming the assumption which you have worked with since birth that your physical senses are the only ones you have. Once you believe you can block the little zappy droid's zaps with your lightsaber without seeing it, then you will be able to do it; if you don't believe you can do it, you never will.

And that is why Rey is able to hold her own against Ren in a lightsaber duel, and overcome his telepathic probe, and use a force ability she has not been specifically taught. When it comes to the crunch, Rey is able to act without doubt, whilst Ren is full of doubts.

We have been told this quite specifically by Yoda. "Do, or do not. There is no try."

Taken in this light, a heap of stuff makes perfect sense. The Force is basically all about "believing in yourself", a value which may be hokey and sentimental but is also 100% Hollywood right down to the core. This is consistent whatever your status; more or less all the significant Dark Side Force users we have ever encountered believe implacably that they have the power to enact their iron will. Kylo Ren is the major exception, which is what makes his inherent doofiness a necessary and important part of his character; it is explicitly stated in the film that he needs to do something to lay his doubts to rest definitively if he is ever going to progress.
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at 13:57 on 04-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
The Sithbringer aspect would explain it to some degree, yes. But I really don't have anything against Rey's skillset as such, if those skills are something she would have. But disregarding the lightsaber-variation of the argument for now, I don't think the thing with the force usage is really about academy vs. autodidactism (has that particular group embraced Rey?), but really the concept of the force as a skill. So I guess, if someone is "srong2 or whatever, they could resist whtever that Ren guy was trying to do, but if she had no prior knowledge of the force, what it can do, or what she can do, how was she able to use the force on that Stormtrooper (which Abigail Nussbaum noted in her review)? And going by the idea, that experience actually matters in addition to the potential, her just defeating Ren in a duel was a bit too much, with him being able to stop a blaster round in midair and all. I mean, it lessens the potential threat of Ren as well, doesn't it? And what happens with Luke? After a week she's like "Hey, the second thing I did with the force was mindfuck a stormtrooper and that took you what, 2-3years to do? Yeah, I think were done here. I'll go and burst a sun with my mojo. Don't worry, it'll be an dark sun, I'm sure." It just kinda goes against the idea of the ability to control the force being a skill in general, something that has to be learned, that is something that one has to invest some time in. And I think that was an idea of how the ability worked, right? That there is a difference between being "strong in the force" and being able to do varied stuff with it.

Finn was okay, if a bit of a vague character. And I missed his magical dog as well. Jake the Dog and Finn the (ex-)trooper, The fun will never end, It's Star Wars time!
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at 11:29 on 04-02-2016, Arthur B
Maybe we already have and we haven't noticed.
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at 11:21 on 04-02-2016, Bill
You're tempting fate here. Do we really need a Moorcock Star Wars novelization with Luke covered in layers of Eternal Champion and multiverse bullshit?
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at 10:57 on 04-02-2016, Arthur B
I mean, think about it: Anakin, bearing that lightsaber, killed most of the people he loved and alienated the others, and it took him to the point of utter destruction. Luke was seriously trying to kill Vader at the end of Empire, and was only able to walk away definitively from the path of hate once he lost it. Luke also has this deep look of foreboding when Rey shows up to offer him the saber back, which becomes much more meaningful if you see it as Luke rueing the return of this particular bad penny.

No spoiler tags because if seeing Star Wars unspoiled was a big deal to you but you still haven't seen it yet then either you're being lazy as fuck or you've got enough higher-priority things going on in your life that Star Wars probably doesn't seem that important in context anyway.
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at 10:51 on 04-02-2016, Arthur B
I don't mind BB-8 being reactive because a) the droids were always kind of the Greek chorus of Star Wars anyway and b) if someone is going to be mostly reactive in the party I'd rather it be a droid than Finn or Rey, both of whom won me over massively.

I don't get the complaints about Rey's extensive skillset. She's been fending for herself in an outpost occupied by a baffling variety of aliens and scavenges starship parts for a living. Learning self-defence skills, a wide scattering of languages, and how starship engineering works are all perfectly appropriate things for her to pick up along the way. The only really mysterious "why is she that competent?" issue is her capability to resist and turn around Kylo Ren's force interrogation without formal training, but frankly trashing the idea of a formal Jedi Academy with organised classes in favour of Force use being something you discover within yourself, either by yourself or with the help of a guide, works just fine for me - and Force stuff works perfectly as a mysterious "there's something more going on here" thing.

Naughty fan theory: so, the lightsaber used by Anakin and Luke alike is almost a character in itself by this point. It literally summons Rey with the wails of a screaming child, and shows her glimpses of all sorts of things connected to its past bearers.

I like to imagine that the screaming child is one of the younglings massacred in Revenge of the Sith. And I especially like to imagine that Disney secretly got Michael Moorcock to consult on the movies, and the saber in question is this dimension's local incarnation of Stormbringer.
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at 02:03 on 04-02-2016, Fishing in the Mud
I would like to say that this Kylo Ren is so laughable that I can't find him scary, but I honestly can't say that. He hits just the right note of nerdboy sociopath convinced that feminism has ruined his life. The Hayden Christensen bridge has been burned regardless, but I don't think he could have managed to hit that note for me.
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at 22:49 on 03-02-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
The dichotomy between light and dark is a simplistic thing and it is a shame that it came out that way. Approaching it from a gnostic view point is actually much better, especially with the added sort of pop or fantasy culture mysticism and orientalism put on top of it. And of course it is combined with a sort of faustian idea too, that the descend into the dark side is a sort of deal with the devil and boundaries are crossed for the sake of achieving an end that is misguided in the first place. Also, the idea that the descend happens through uncontrolled emotions is a good one. Interestingly, with all this talk of petulant raging, the sith lords of the original three had their shit together quite admirably. Darth Vader was controlled and very unfazed by pretty much everything. And the emperor was very controlled too. And Vader's salvation came through succumbing to his parental emotions. So, good space monk -> emotional turmoil -> bad space monk -> emotional turmoil -> good space monk. And really, I think the thing works through states of mind rather than accumulation of karma or sin, which makes Vader's crimes irrelevant to the mental state he was in when he died. The rather heavy handed way they are doing it with this Ren fellow is very annoying.

But I guess I chose to focus on the robot, because the new movie itself was amusing enough, but was just so much doing the same thing again and so blatantly, that it his hard to really grasp at anything more concrete. I'm happy the movie is doing well and its great that the protagonists are more diverse, but all in all it was just so flat. The new robot doesn't do anything. The stormtrooper guy does stuff, but for unknown reasons. The chosen one is the worst kind of chosen one, the kind that just knows stuff, because they're chosen. One of the strong points of the original trilogy was that it made its world building deeper by referencing the passing of time quite well also. So the wizardry is more credible, when it actually takes a significant amount of time to learn the magic. At first, he was clearly unskilled, doing the only trick with the help of the space monk ghost (destroying the death star). Next, he is training, but is clearly far from mastering anything. And finally he becomes a master after at least some years have passed.

So if someone just knows how to do stuff, it lessens the impact of the skill and is kin of nonsensical anyways. Same thing ruined Kung-Fu Panda for me. Yeah, so I guess some things did bug me about the new movie... but in the end, not really that much. It was alright, but nothing more. Which I don't really know why I expected it to be or why it even should be more.
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at 18:15 on 03-02-2016, Robinson L
@James: ... And some of the most prominent insurgents come from the desert ...

@Daniel: Yeah, I'm not sure how that happened. I agree the Expanded Universe is too niche to be responsible, and that our Western obsession with Manichaean binaries is a more likely culprit, but maybe doesn't tell the whole story. It'd be an interesting topic for a bit of pop culture archeology. I do feel like the language use may be partly to blame as well, because to me, referring to "sides" implies two equal portions which are opposed in some fashion.

@Janne: Sorry I didn't get to you before, but I meant to say that even though it didn't bother me, I see where you're coming from with BB-8. Artoo was a very proactive character, but BB-8 is almost entirely reactive.


Anyway, the more I think about, the more I think I know who would have been a much better actor to play Kylo Ren and to bring out those qualities mentioned in the "Dorks Awaken" essay: Hayden Christensen. The biggest complaints about his portrayal of Anakin after all (whiny, petulant, emotionally unstable) are precisely the traits which define the Kylo Ren character. The key difference being that unlike Driver, Christensen could still pull off being legitimately threatening when he needed to (slaughtering Tusken Raiders in Attack of the Clones, slaughtering kids and battling Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith).

I've even joked in the past that casting Driver might have been a stealthy attempt on Abrahms' part to rehabilitate Christensen, but the more I think about it, the more it fits. And hey, as long as they were ripping off Darth Vader's character arc for him anyway ... (I think that's the one element of the movie which really, genuinely, and truly pissed me off.)
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at 10:35 on 03-02-2016, James D
thank goodness they went with that stereotype, rather than "Middle Eastern terrorist" - what a trainwreck that would have been

Yeah, what would that have been like? A small group of young male insurgents who believe in a weird religion and who hate a vastly more powerful oppressive nation plot to blow up one of its giant symbolic installations. Though most of them die in the process they succeed against all odds, but immediately afterwards their leaders are forced to go deep into hiding as a galaxy-wide manhunt begins.

That would've been terrible! ;)
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