I suspect that most of you have plans to see the next Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, in the near future. I don’t plan to join you, mostly because I was disappointed by the previous movie in the series chronology, The Force Awakens. I may change my mind if someone I trust recommends the movie, or if I read something intriguing online, but the Star Wars name has lost its power over me. It no longer means an automatic ticket purchase. Future Star Wars movies have to earn my dollars just like any no-name film.
I’ve previously posted about how the James Bond / 007 franchise lost me as a customer, and this post explains how Star Wars did the same. I’ll give examples below, but I can sum up my disappointment with The Force Awakens in two words: lazy writing.
Like most Americans in my age group, I saw the original three Star Wars films in the theater, and they stuck in my mind. I can still remember where I saw them, the characters’ names, and the plots of each film. I don’t know if they made such an impression because they are inherently great, because I was young, or because I wasn’t exposed to as much entertainment back then. (We had a television that could tune in to two channels, and computer games that were text-based.)
I don’t think any future film will be able to cut through the clutter of modern entertainment and make the kind of impact Star Wars did back then. That may be one reason I don’t recall much about the three prequel films, or it may be that they were simply not that good.
I was a bit worried about The Force Awakens before I ever got to the theater. All of the promotion and marketing hype focused on “now, we have a female Star Wars character” and “now, we have a black Star Wars character”. This made no sense to me, because I remembered Leia and Lando. More importantly, it’s not a compelling reason for me to drive to a theater. “Hey, do you want to pay $8 to see a white girl and a black guy?” “No, I see those at work five days a week, and I get paid to go there.” What I didn’t hear about the film was “whoa, you should see that spectacular space battle” or “you won’t believe who the new emperor is” or anything other than the characters’ demographics. The legacy of the first three films was the only thing that brought me to the theater.
When I saw a black guy as a stormtrooper in the promotional clips, I was afraid the new writers had been too lazy to watch the previous films. Stormtroopers were supposed to all be Fett clones, and Fett wasn’t black. However, in the one piece of good writing for The Force Awakens, the writers explain that cloned stormtroopers cost money, so the new empire kidnapped children and conscripted them. It makes sense, and as a bonus, it’s evil.
I’d like to say the authors took that concept and ran with it, but they dropped the ball … into a black hole. They gave themselves a perfect way to portray the evil of the new empire, and they did nothing with it. The stormtrooper’s origin story could have been the first half of the film. The movie should have been full of scenes with children being stolen, and scenes of brutal military training designed to crush compassion and decency out of the stormtroopers.
How did the writers portray the new empire as evil, then? By dressing them like space nazis, and having them make angry speeches. So, they aren’t evil because they kidnap and brainwash children, they’re evil because they make questionable fashion choices and have poor public-speaking skills. Lazy writing.
The laziness continues after our favorite stormtrooper joins the rebel side. When he meets a new person, he shakes hands with them and says something like “pleased to meet you.” Does that sound like someone who was raised in the brutal military barracks of an evil empire? There are so many interesting things the character could have done after changing sides. He could have started a cantina fight because when someone walks in front of him, he shoves them out of the way, stormtrooper-style. He could have gone to a rebel training base, and berated the instructors for being so soft on the recruits.
I know the character isn’t evil, and his refusal to murder helpless people is his defining moment, but you don’t get to wear the white armor if you’re a complete softie. We didn’t get an interesting character after his moment, we got another good guy who could have come straight out of the rebels’ accounting department. Lazy writing.
In television, I expect and forgive a certain amount of lazy writing. Those guys have to pump out a show a week. There is no excuse for it in Star Wars. They had years to make this film. They had the budget to hire any writer on the face of the planet. They still came up with the laziest plot imaginable. “An imperial super-weapon can destroy planets. An orphan in the desert teams up with Han Solo and Chewbacca and uses The Force to destroy the super-weapon.”
This movie could have done so many other things. It could have followed the defeated remnants of the Empire as they rebuilt and prepared for a surprise attack, while most of the rebels didn’t take the threat seriously. It could have followed one of the rebel leaders, who wasn’t as altruistic as he seemed, when he sees an opportunity to seize power. Dozens of Star Wars novels have been written, and presumably many of them have plots and/or characters. Those could have been used, and it wouldn’t have been that much work. Instead, they copied the plot of the original film. Lazy writing.
Star Wars fans, please deposit your hate mail in the comments section below.