Infinite Squee

A couple more Star Wars: The Force Awakens thoughts

Now that I've had some time to think about it, I really love two things about the new series of movies:

1 - That they start in media res, like A New Hope did. We could easily have gotten an entire movie about the disintegration of the Republic, the rise of the New Order, Kylo Ren's fall to the Dark Side, and so forth. But who cares? LET'S SKIP STRAIGHT TO REBELS BLOWING SHIT UP. :D I think one of the many things that made A New Hope so compelling (and made The Force Awakens feel similar from the start) was the way that we were plunged right into the middle of things with the opening credits crawl.

2 - That the events of this movie were precipitated by the original trilogy characters screwing up. As much as I love them, they're flawed people, and pretty messed up in some ways. I really liked that it wasn't enough to be brave and heroic in battle; it wasn't enough just to love each other. They made mistakes, they hurt each other, and ultimately, with the best intentions, they inadvertently precipitated events that tore down everything they'd built. And the ways in which they screwed up felt natural to their characters. Luke ends up replicating the mistakes of the people who trained him; Leia and Han are apparently not-so-great parents, and Han wasn't able to put Leia and the welfare of the rebellion ahead of his own pain after everything that happened with Kylo Ren and Luke. They're people, not paragons, and being good at one thing -- or being a likable and decent person, generally -- doesn't mean you'll be good at something else, or will always be able to rise to life's challenges adequately.

(Though Leia manages not to be quite as much of a failboat as Han and Luke -- at least she stuck around to try to fix what all of them managed to break.)

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I gotta say, that is one thing that does disappoint me - that Han and Leia could be such bad parents as to produce Kylo Ren. Admittedly we don't know the whole story there yet, why he actually turned, and he does come across like teen rebellion gone wrong...and the Force is a mystical agent, offering temptations that don't square with anything in reality. But still, it's something I have a hard time squaring with my view of those characters. It's one thing to make mistakes while trying to rebuild a republic, but screwing up child-rearing such that you produce a patricide...that goes beyond "even good guys aren't perfect" and into "outside of the theater of war these characters are completely unredeemable fuckups" and that's too disappointing.

...not necessarily out of keeping with the Star Wars story, mind, which is all about supposed heroes fucking up beyond all hope (see Obi Wan). But still, yeah, not the story I really want. (It's why I prefer to see Star Wars as high fantasy, about an ongoing war against forces of darkness that can never be entirely defeated, more than a tale of shades-of-gray characters who ultimately screw up more than they succeed.)
I'm not really sure if it's fair to blame Han and Leia for the way Kylo Ren turned out, though. I mean, the fact that he's selfish and immature ... yeah, that's probably on them, at least partly. But outright evil -- that, I don't think is them at all. The way I've always read the darkside/lightside thing in Star Wars, is that the dark side can corrupt even really decent people; it's not what's in them to begin with, but a sort of metaphysical corruption or taint -- or maybe just bringing out the capacity for darkness, selfishness, and evil that's in everybody. The way I read the characters, Kylo Ren's big flaw isn't that he's outright evil; it's that he's not strong enough to resist the allure of power and the dark side's eroding effect on a person's morality. I agree about teen rebellion gone wrong, but I feel like, once he started down that slippery slope, he quickly went beyond what Han and Leia could reasonably be held responsible for ... just like it isn't really fair to blame Anakin's junkyard-slum-dweller (but apparently loving) mother, or really to blame Obi-Wan THAT much, for the way he turned out. I think we've always (well, since RotJ at least) been meant to see falling to the dark side as a tragedy as much as a moral failing, because nobody has to, and anybody theoretically could; Luke had a pretty close brush with it himself.

... that said, it definitely seems like the way to live a long and happy life in the Star Wars universe is to avoid getting involved with the Skywalkers at all costs. :D

It's possible that I'm just trying to justify it, because I love these characters and don't want to think of them being responsible for that. But I honestly don't think they are, and even in-universe, I don't think they're meant to be -- that they screwed up, yeah, but I don't think they screwed up that bad. It's mostly on Kylo Ren himself.

Edited at 2015-12-21 10:40 am (UTC)
Hmmm, if you don't think Han and Leia are responsible for Kylo Ren falling to the dark side, how do you see the downfall of the Republic as precipitated by them? As I interpreted it, from what we saw, the Republic was undermined by a dark lord plotting in its midst, which I don't think was any of their faults - okay, maybe they could've protected against evil even better, but the only thing we know they did that (we keep calling him Snickerdoodle to the point I've forgotten the actual name. Snoke?) was letting Ben go dark side. And maybe they screwed up handling the aftermath of that, but being hit so hard by a personal trauma that you just don't have it in you to get up and fight again is different to me than being a total failure.

That being said, yeah, that's about how I see the dark side as working - that it can seduce good people as much as evil. And people strong in the Force face more temptation. (Kylo Ren seems pretty strong, in spite of his insecurities - that Vulcan mindmeld trick of his seems to be a new gift, unless it's in the prequels. And he is in the Skywalker line. I do wonder what his specific motivation was - like, the basics seem to be he wants to be powerful like Vader was, but why did he latch onto Vader as a role model, because he just felt weak, or was he envious of someone stronger than him (a young Rey?) or what?) What makes me go ??? about Han and Leia's parenting is that Kylo (...or Ren? Which is the right short form? Like, Vader is Vader, never Darth, unless you're Obi-Wan and I retcon that as mockery...) -- anyway, what makes Kylo disturbing is that he's actively choosing to go dark side, it's something he wants, rather than a misjudgment.

--I've got to hand it to the movie, the prequels had the main character falling to the dark side for 3 films and failed to interest me in what exactly going dark side is like, while all it took in this movie to get me intrigued was a single supporting character who flips temptation around into pursuit...

Edited at 2015-12-21 11:08 am (UTC)
Well, I definitely don't think they're 100% responsible for it, or that they're the only factor -- it's more like Nice Job Breaking It, Hero than outright, active maliciousness or even negligence. I think ... hmmm, maybe not explaining it very well ... a strong and capable leader probably could have pulled the Republic through in spite of the machinations of Snoke or whatever his name is*, but none of them actually seem to have had those skills. And it probably would have been possible for a skilled teacher to have guided Kylo Ren through his adolescent anger period without having him slip over the edge, but Luke wasn't that teacher. And more involved parents might have been able to pull Kylo Ren back from the edge, but Han and Leia weren't those parents. But I don't really see any of these things as being the characters' faults really, so much as ... they just turned out to be fallible and human, rather than the models of wisdom and enlightenment that the older generation in a long-running series often turn into.

(*Side note: WHO NAMED THE CHARACTERS IN THIS MOVIE. Rey is fine, but pretty much all of the other new ones ... can someone else name the new characters in the next movie, please???)

Anyway, I guess what I was trying to say above is that I really appreciate that the movie didn't turn Han, Luke, and Leia into models of wisdom and practical advice for the younger generation; they're all still the same glorious messes that they were in the first three movies -- trying their best, being brave and committed, and yet still messing up a lot. Unfortunately the cumulative effect of the three of them not being superhuman pillars of wisdom is that the Republic fell apart ... again. The biggest thing that I would hold them responsible for, in Luke's and Han's case, is running away instead of trying to make things better, but again, I also can understand the two of them not being able to overcome their own guilt, hurt, and (perceived) responsibility for it.

What makes me go ??? about Han and Leia's parenting is that Kylo (...or Ren? Which is the right short form? Like, Vader is Vader, never Darth, unless you're Obi-Wan and I retcon that as mockery...) -- anyway, what makes Kylo disturbing is that he's actively choosing to go dark side, it's something he wants, rather than a misjudgment.

I do get what you're saying about the difference between falling to it vs. actively seeking it. But I still feel as if a lot of it is the person Kylo Ren is, innately, rather than his upbringing. Like ... okay, to use a real-world example, my brother is a virulent racist and misogynist -- not to the point of actual violence (although we used to, when he was in his 20s, half-jokingly and half-seriously worry that he WAS going to kill somebody someday by accident; he's that tightly wound), but he is absolutely the sort of person who throws around slurs and flies Confederate flags and so forth. None of us can figure out where he gets it from. Nobody else in the immediate family is like that; my parents, for all THEIR flaws, certainly aren't like that. My sister and I aren't like that at all! But he's kind of always been that way -- it didn't really start to express itself quite like that until he was an adult and started being around people who were like that, but even when he was a little kid, he was rigidly inflexible and incredibly intolerant of people expressing opinions different from his.

(oh god, exceeded comment limit - it's been awhile since that happened! XD)
Part 2

So, the point of all THAT is ... I can see SOME of Kylo Ren's emotional problems (his anger management issues, for example) stemming from his parents' turbulent marriage, and the fact that they presumably were more devoted to their careers/lives than being closely attentive to their son. But I don't feel like his underlying draw-towards-darkness is really their fault, or Luke's either. At worst, there was a certain amount of negligence on everyone's part, because none of them noticed how bad it was until it got REALLY bad. But that's more the kind of "assuming everything's okay until it falls apart" thing that a lot of people do, especially when they're busy and caught up in their lives.

Anyway, I really didn't mean to imply that the original trio ended up being total failures -- I don't think they are! I just feel like they didn't end up growing into their roles as leaders and shapers of the new generation very well, but like I said above, I actually appreciate that they DIDN'T end up as wise role models as is so often the case with the older generation when their kids move into main-character-hood. Instead, they're still muddling through themselves. I don't think I'd consider them terrible parents, so much as just mediocre parents, but they happened to end up getting handed an extremely difficult child to raise. And I don't think they're terrible statesmen and leaders, either ... just not that great at it. But that appeals to me too -- the set of skills necessary to plan a rebellion are not the same skills that it takes to rebuild society afterwards!
Ahhh, okay, I see what you're saying. I liked it, too, that the old guard weren't paragons of wisdom and virtue - that's something I always loved about the first trilogy too, that Obi-Wan originally comes across as the wise old wizard, and then the more you know about him, the more you realize he's not perfect, that he screwed some things up badly and he's learned a bit since but he still messes up sometimes. He's as human as anybody else, even if he's older and powerful and has seen a lot.

I guess, while I don't mind my beloved characters having flaws, I'd prefer not to see either the fall of the Republic or Kylo Ren's fall as being largely their fault - that yes, maybe they could've done more, but so could a lot of other people, and they are up against an implacable and ever-present, ever-rising evil. It's tragic enough that they're living to see the end of an era they fought so hard to build, and that they ultimately weren't strong enough to save; to hold them responsible for that end just seems like salt in the wound. To me, there's a wide gulf between "Nice Job Breaking It, Hero" and "they're not superhuman and couldn't pull off the impossible this time around" and I lean more toward the latter interpretation. Likewise, with Kylo Ren, we'll probably see more of this, but I'm assuming for now that it mostly was his choice, and falling into a bad crowd, more than negligent parenting on their part - like, maybe they could've done more - and I'm sure Kylo thinks they could've - but they did a lot. It just wasn't enough...

Really, I think we have similar interpretations, and I did like that they weren't perfect - I just am a bit more inclined to blame circumstances rather than put the fault on them for what went wrong (...aaaaand I guess I shouldn't be surprised by how defensive I am of these characters! ^^;;;)

(And considering it a bit further, I think for me, I find their personal failings more...acceptable? Like, Luke abandoning his sister and his best friend to go hermit it up, and Leia and Han not managing to work through the loss of a child together, I'm okay with laying the blame for those mistakes on them. But the fall of the Republic and Kylo Ren, that I prefer as externally caused, out of their control or power to stop, rather than due to their incompetency or negligence or lack of effort.)
To me, there's a wide gulf between "Nice Job Breaking It, Hero" and "they're not superhuman and couldn't pull off the impossible this time around" and I lean more toward the latter interpretation. Likewise, with Kylo Ren, we'll probably see more of this, but I'm assuming for now that it mostly was his choice, and falling into a bad crowd, more than negligent parenting on their part - like, maybe they could've done more - and I'm sure Kylo thinks they could've - but they did a lot. It just wasn't enough...

Ahhhh, I see, and I'm entirely willing to go with this interpretation as well. :D Because, yeah, I truly adore these characters, not just in spite of them being ridiculous failboats but because of it, and I actually do agree that their failings are mainly personal ones. In all honesty I don't think what you're saying is too different from how I feel about it; I just might not have been explaining it very well, above. I think I am willing to put a little more responsibility on them, but mostly in the sense of "not quite the right people for the job" than "yeah, they totally fucked THAT up, didn't they". I think mostly what I was trying to say above is that I really appreciate that they didn't turn into the wise old people of the series; they're still the same people they always were, complete with all the things they're terrible at ...
Yeah, I was thinking last night that some of my reaction, too, is that I have read a bit of the Extended Canon (I loved Timothy Zahn's books) and that has a lot of Han and Leia and Luke learning to manage the Republic, coming into their own as new kinds of leaders, and I really enjoyed that story. Even knowing it's officially been thrown out, I'm happier to see them as fairly successful for a time...

...Up until the capital worlds get destroyed and good grief but Star Wars is all about the massacres! The universe is awfully dark for such fun action...!
(*Side note: WHO NAMED THE CHARACTERS IN THIS MOVIE. Rey is fine, but pretty much all of the other new ones ... can someone else name the new characters in the next movie, please???)


...Well, I like Finn, too. And Kylo Ren, for that matter (though I spent the whole movie thinking it was Kai Loren, which I prefer :P) But Poe? and especially Snickerdoodle Snope Snoke? Yeeeeah...
Aargh, Poe. XD I really wish they'd named him something else, because I adore the character but have trouble taking his name seriously. On the other hand, this is the series that gave us Wedge (Antilles), so maybe I should just be glad it's not worse ...

Oh, you were wondering above on how to shorten Kylo Ren. I think there are a few points in the movie when people just call him Ren, aren't there? So I would be inclined to go with that one. But yeah, it's hard to say. Actually, it's a little bit difficult to tell how names work in the Star Wars universe, in general. I realize it must vary between cultures, but even so, I don't think it's entirely clear how many of the names are a first name/last name combo, as opposed to a two-part name that's meant to be used in one piece.
Oh Wedge. It's credit to...something that it only rarely strikes me how silly that name is, so I imagine I'll adjust to the others...I thought Poe was spelling Po and for some reason finding out it was Poe made me much better with his name (I have no idea why I care about spelling. Especially since the assumption - well, my assumption anyway! - is that they're not speaking English anyway but we're just getting a translation from Galactic standard. ...and now I'm trying to think if we ever see written English in the trilogy. I am going to need to rewatch those movies, I thought I knew them well but maybe not!)

I am so curious how shortening the names is going to go. There doesn't seem to be a clear pattern to it, but with something like Darth Vader, the existence of other "Darths" makes it clear that's more of a title than a name, hence Vader being his name. While as Kylo Ren, there was something about the "Knights of Ren" but I'm not sure how it works...I bet in a few years there will be a standard such that calling him one name will sound as wrong as "Darth" does!
Oh hey, and allow me to point you to a prompt at the Force Awakens kinkmeme that I am SERIOUSLY tempted to write. (The anon reply comment is me. /fails at anon as usual) It doesn't make up for the unfairness of that particular character death, but the idea of Han Solo: Ghost Troll is probably how I'm going to console myself when I'm not busy thinking of unlikely ways that a non-superpowered character could survive falling a mile or two into an exploding planet after being stabbed. XD

Edited at 2015-12-21 12:20 pm (UTC)
Hah, yeah, I can totally see Han pulling that kind of shit! (Though do they do exorcisms? Do they even have the concept of "ghosts"? I'm trying to think if the word comes up in the trilogy...)

Having a ghost canon is extra fun because it's an easy 'fix' if anyone else dies, too! XD
I love your thoughts!!

they inadvertently precipitated events that tore down everything they'd built

I don't think they did, though! One thing I loved about this movie is that they didn't hit us over the head with the "What Happened In Between" exposition (which was frustrating at first but I ended up liking a lot). And two things we DO get: references to the Republic, and a reference by the First Order that they think the Republic is secretly helping the Resistance even though they claim not to.

That was huge to me, and it really helped me feel the SCALE of the SW galaxy, too. Basically, what I drew out of it was that the good guys won and set up the Republic -- but it's only brought peace and order to some (most) of the galaxy, and there are still lots of other factions, chief among them the First Order that is a remnant of the Empire and still holds some systems and *probably* even has treaties in place with the new (lowercase! aaa!) Republic because that's what large governments end up having to do even if they hate each other. But within the First Order territories there's the Resistance. And the FO suspects the Republic of secretly smuggling weapons and resources to the Resistance because OBVIOUSLY and also that's also something governments *actually do* (cough cough Afghanistan Vietnam cough).

My read on Leia was that she and Han used to be involved in the heavy lifting of building the Republic, but when they lost their son, they both went back to their comfort zones (Leia: "We both did") -- they left the Republic, and Han went back to smuggling but Leia had an equally drastic change and left to go to the FO territories and help the Resistance there because that's *totally* her comfort zone. (And it probably made the FO even more convinced the Resistance was secretly getting help from the Republic, because LEIA.)

Anyway, yeah, my read is that Resistance =/= the remains of the Rebellion, that the Republic is actually there and succeeded and grew out of the Rebellion but TFA is actually a smaller story with a smaller group of planets (despite the larger weapon). It did totally amuse me how this story felt so much like A New Hope but it was ANH where they DIDN'T CARE AT ALL about ANY of the actual plot elements; they were just vehicles to the character stories they wanted to tell! Like, it was ANH if that story had been told in the background while we focused on a completely other story about individuals. Droid with plans? Eh, not important, of course R2 has the missing piece at the end. Going up against a planet-destroying superweapon? Eh, who cares, the big space battle is just a backdrop. Just make sure it gets done in between Rey getting out and Han's death scene, oh, Chewie has the detonator, great, done. Destroying the shield generator? Easy, threaten a silver stormtrooper, done, get on with the real story. XD XD XD

Like, I think the similarities to ANH were deliberate but none of the ANH plot elements were given actual narrative importance and I suspect that was deliberate as well and it made me laugh SO HARD.

(part 1 of 2)
Okay, I seem to have derailed myself. Where was I? SCALE. I think the SW galaxy is BIG. And I also think the time scales are longer than we know -- otherwise how can everyone have forgotten the Jedi so fast? They probably have fictional!science, so I think Han and Leia are actually much, much older than we suspect, and enough time has passed for the Republic to rise to stability and their deeds to pass mostly into legend. Oh, and the size-bigness of the galaxy would also help with that -- different parts of the galaxy "know" different things about history.

Also I wanted to jump into your and xparrot's discussion above but I didn't want to butt in -- I don't think Han and Leia had to be bad parents. There are more than enough examples in RL of parents being wonderful and their children . . . um . . . falling to the Dark Side, as it were. Parents can be amazing and the kids can still end up going wrong. Besides which, there may have been traumatic incidences in Ben's childhood that his parents had absolutely no control over -- there are plenty of cases of kids ending up traumatized by abuse that had nothing to do with their parents and their parents had no knowledge of until it was too late. (Consider also that given how career-oriented they are, they probably had professional help with childcare, introducing other possibly-negligent or abusive people into the equation.) Leia and Han were probably also high profile people; Ben could've been kidnapped at some point or had his life threatened or otherwise have been in traumatic situations that weren't his parents' faults per se. But I don't think any of this even needs to be true -- sometimes parents are as loving and kind as can be and it's not a guarantee of anything, and I actually liked that SW seemed to be implying this.

Okay let's see if I'm under the character limit... NOPE (part 2 of 2)
Yeah, my read on Leia and Han as parents is that they were somewhat uninvolved because of being busy with their own lives, but Kylo Ren's faults are mostly his own. Not entirely -- I don't think Han and Leia were fantastic parents, just middle-of-the-road ones. But yeah, as well as the example of my brother above, I think the reducto ad absurdum version of that argument is that every terrible person in history was the product of their parents, and I'm pretty sure that is not AT ALL true. And the worst thing about Leia and Han as parents is most likely just that they were busy with their careers and fought a lot, which is true of a ton of couples.

(I will never stop giggling over the Emo Kylo Ren twitter, btw.)
... oohhhhh! I COMPLETELY missed that the Republic is still around and the New Order didn't overthrow it! That's actually much better -- not just less of a rehash of the A New Hope situation, but also a much more complex situation with more to lose, if Our Heroes fail. Thank you very much for pointing that out! And that makes it a great deal less like they broke everything, and more that things are breaking elsewhere, and Leia, for one, is going off to fix it.

Like, I think the similarities to ANH were deliberate but none of the ANH plot elements were given actual narrative importance and I suspect that was deliberate as well and it made me laugh SO HARD.

haha! I didn't even really notice that (I think I was too swept along in the character stuff) but YES YOU'RE RIGHT, and that's both hilarious and awesome.

Plus, by this point, audiences are a lot more jaded. A planet-destroying superweapon was a big thing in 1977, but now that's just every other night at the cinema; the actual story is elsewhere. XD
Ooh, yes! (I may have to end up buying the novelization ... at least if I write the Big Damn Post-Movie Epic I've been contemplating. Because I need a new giant project like a hole in the head ... hahahahaheeeeeelpmeeeee)

I'm really glad you pointed that out, though, about the political situation in the movie! Because, yes, I completely missed that, but it creates a situation that is so much more interesting and nuanced than "rebels good, empire bad".

Oh, I keep meaning to make a post about the original trilogy! I bought it earlier this week and we've been watching a movie a night (Return of the Jedi tonight -- how festive! \o/). I am having BASICALLY ALL THE STAR WARS FEELS right now, for the new and old characters both! But one thing that is really fascinating to me about rewatching the original movies is how, in a way, the new movie feels like it has redeemed the whole franchise for me. Not that I ever didn't like them! But, it's sort of like, between the disappointment of the prequels and my growing awareness of the older movies' deficiencies (like the fact that every single character in the first movie, even the background extras, are white, and Leia is literally the only female person in the whole movie), I'd grown away from it a little bit. But NOW ... now that I have my DELIGHTFUL new movie, a movie headlined by a female Jedi and her black co-lead, I find myself going back to the original movies in a much more uncritical way, if that makes any sense. Because the franchise as a whole has taken many of those old weaknesses and fixed them, instead of just having it always be a thing. It makes it feel a lot more comfortable to be a fan of it, rather than just a person who enjoys the movies -- and I'm still not sure if I'm making sense, but I guess where I'm going with that is that I've fallen completely in love with it all over again, including with the original movies, and I feel really good about the whole franchise right now.
I like this take on the movie. I was a bit annoyed by how derivative it felt and I wasn't quite as gracious as to why they characters made the mistakes they did, but this viewpoint makes sense to me. What I loved most about the film was how alive the scenes were. It felt real.
What I loved most about the film was how alive the scenes were. It felt real.

Yes, I thought so too! I really liked how they made the world feel so lived-in, when I've gotten used to the glossy, video-game look of movies that rely more heavily on CGI.