SciFi Weekend: Star Wars, The Force Awakens; Doctor Who, The Husbands of River Song

Star Wars Force Awkens Rey BB-8

The Force Awakens was the sequel to Star Wars we were looking for after the original trilogy. While J.J. Abrams has never understood Star Trek, he is a perfect fit for a franchise such as Star Wars which centers more on action and mythology than the type of ideas which characterize Star Trek when done well.  Rather than rejecting parts of of the original as with Star Trek, J.J. Abrams made a sequel to Star Wars which was a true homage to Star Wars: A New Hope. The movie has many parallels to the original, but does introduce a new generation of characters and mix things up enough to keep it fresh.  It avoided the mistakes of the second trilogy. There was no Jar Jar Banks, and it presented a cuter version of R2-D2 for a new generation. This review contains major spoilers, along with looking at some of the questions left unanswered in the movie.

In many ways, The Force Awakens was a retelling of the original story for a new generation. Both The Force Awakens and A New Hope have much of the early action on a desert planet with a droid carrying important information playing a major part. Therefore it did not came as a surprise that the escape was on The Millennium Falcon. Having it sitting there unused for years but all fueled up and ready to fly is just one of many plot holes which are easily ignored. Nor was it a surprise that Han Solo showed up. Many of the scenes on The Millennium Falcon felt quite familiar. Rather than repeating one classic scene, Harrison Ford did provide another reference to the original when asking about a garage chute.

The biggest surprise of the movie was that Rey turned out to be the character with the Force. We saw this when Rey found Luke’s lightsaber at Maz’s watering hole (reminiscent of the Cantina scene), with no explanation of why it was there. The producers did an excellent job of keeping this secret, such as showing the rare scenes in which Finn held the lightsaber in previews and posters.The experience would have been quite different if the previews showed the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren, or showed Rey holding out the lightsaber for Luke at the end.

Once we learned that Rey was really the main character with the Force, her path in the movie became clear. She would fight the movie’s villain, be tempted by and resist the dark side, and ultimately find Luke–after this movie’s version of the Death Star was destroyed (including flights through the trenches).

Once we saw the bridge in this part of the universe where hand rails have never been invented, it was also obvious that Han Solo would reprise Obi Wan Kenobe’s death scene. J.J. Abrams explained that this was also done to establish how evil  Kylo Ren was so that he could be at the level of a Darth Vader. Of course moments later in the movie R2-D2 woke up, so that viewers wouldn’t be sad for too long.

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The movie introduced other characters. One of the new characters, Poe, was intended to die but instead he turned up later in the movie. This isn’t the first time that Abrams planned to kill a character who seemed like a major character and later changed his mind. The original plan was to for Jack to be killed on Lost. While it might have been a surprise to see him later in the movie, most genre fans know that if you don’t see the body, the character most likely isn’t dead. I would have preferred it if there were brief scenes of Poe surviving but getting separated, and showing how he escaped from the planet.

Abrams also repeated an error he made in Star Trek in ignoring how big space is. The Enterprise seemed to travel from Vulcan to Earth in minutes, and in the alternate universe it is possible to beam by transwarp onto a starship traveling at many times the speed of light. The hyperlight weapon in The Force Awakens seems implausible, undoubtedly as a result of a desire to have a weapon even more powerful that the Death Star. The weapon was capable of destroying four distant planets as if they were nearby, with the four planets also appearing to be very close to each other.

The politics of the movie was also puzzling. It looked like we had a civil war between the Republic and the First Order. If that was the case, why weren’t the forces under Leia’s command the military for the Republic, as opposed to a rebel group? While I’ve seen explanations on line such as a peace treaty between the Republic and the First Order which made it necessary for the Republic to hide their actions against the First Order, the meta reason is most likely to be reminiscent of the rebel forces in the original trilogy. I suspect that having had its capital and a few other planets destroyed, we won’t see much more of the Republic, except possibly at the conclusion.

If a big moment in the second movie of the first trilogy was Darth Vader telling Luke that he was his father, I wonder if the second movie of this trilogy will be Luke saying the same to Rey. While I think that this is the most likely reason for Rey having the force, there are other possibilities. Maybe Leia is her mother, making Ren her brother, but this would require an explanation for Leia giving no indication of knowing about a daughter. Possibly Rey is descended from Obi Wan Kenobe. This could also explain the connection with the lightsabre as Luke’s lightsaber previously belonged to Obi Wan.

Another theory is that Ren’s parents are not from the characters we know. In The Empire Strikes Back, after Luke completed his training under Yoda, Obi Wan said , “This boy is our last hope.” Yoda replied, “No, there is another.” It was assumed he was referring to Leia, but she was never trained in the Force. Perhaps Yoda was referring to someone else that we do not yet know about.

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There are many other questions raised, some of which will probably be answered in subsequent movies. Others might be plot holes which there is no good reason for, but the movie was so much fun that most viewers won’t care. Some elements of the movie were taken from plot points in the expanded universe which was invented after the movies, which should give fans a lot to speculate on. The novelization for The Force Awakens also fills in some points.

The Daily Dot listed ten things learned from the novelization. Among the most interesting are the description of Kylo Ren’s feelings about killing his father:

In the movie, it isn’t clear what’s going through Kylo’s mind after he stabs his father through the chest with his lightsaber. The scene quickly shifts gears, and Kylo, wounded by a shot from an enraged Chewbacca, snarls up at Finn and Rey from a crouched position before the two heroes flee.

In the novelization, Kylo feels “stunned by his own action.”

“Following through on the act,” the narration says, “ought to have made him stronger, a part of him believed. Instead, he found himself weakened.”

Foster wrote the novelization based on a version of the script that later underwent significant revisions. It’s possible that the discrepancy between page and screen here is not a casual inconsistency but a deliberate choice—that J.J. Abrams and company didn’t want to suggest that Kylo felt conflicted after the fact. Of course, given how difficult it is to visually convey an internal monologue, it’s also possible that this moment wasn’t so much deliberate struck as overlooked for simplicity’s sake.

Rey’s battle with the dark side was more obvious in the novelization than the movie:

Rey’s triumph over Kylo in their lightsaber duel is widely considered one of the film’s greatest moments. But what you don’t fully see on-screen is that, standing over a defeated Kylo, Rey faces a final challenge. The novelization portrays it thusly:

Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick.
Instead of killing Kylo, Rey “recoil[s]” from the feeling, which the narration describes as the pull of the dark side.

This is a very significant moment. Every Force-strong Star Wars hero faces this kind of challenge. When the narration refers to “pure vengeful emotion,” it’s important to remember that part of what drove Rey was seeing Kylo brutally defeat her new friend Finn. She had just seen Kylo deal Finn what might have been a killing blow. She was no doubt furious in that moment—the perfect target for the lure of the dark side.

This is, in essence, the dark side’s modus operandi. It’s how Anakin Skywalker began his fall in Attack of the Clones, when he slaughtered a village full of Tusken Raiders after they kidnapped his mother, who died in his arms.

But Rey, like Luke, is stronger than Anakin. She resists the urge to deliver her own killing blow. In the movie, a chasm quickly opens up between her and her vanquished foe, appearing to foreclose the possibility of her killing him. In the novelization, she makes her choice before that happens. She runs to Finn, to her friend, instead of yielding to her rage. In refusing the dark side, she has just taken the biggest step of her life.

I will be looking forward to seeing where they go with the next installment. It might be difficult to top the Starkiller base, and I hope they are not tempted to come up with a more implausible threat.  The answer might be to concentrate more on the characters now that The Force Awakens has made them important to the viewers. Will Luke have a more significant role? Presumably we will learn more about Ren’s back story, and possibly more about Snoke, assuming he remains a factor.

Doctor Who Husbands of River Song

Christmas also meant the annual specials from British television. This year’s specials included Doctor Who, Call the Midwife, and Downton Abbey. The Downton Abbey special was also the series finale, and therefore I will not give any spoilers for those who are waiting for the US showing of the final season. I wills say that they ended the series quite well.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special, the Husbands of River Song, was a very fun episode. The actual story hardly mattered. What was important was that it set up the situation where the Doctor met River Song with a different face that she knew, with River not recognizing the Doctor at first. This provided the Doctor a chance to act like those who see the inside of the TARDIS for the first time, and Peter Capaldi really hammed it up:

River: Oh, before you come in, you’d better prepare yourself for a shock. It’s not as… snug as it looks.
The Doctor:Finally… It’s my go. Oh… my… God! It’s bigger!

River: Well, yes.

The Doctor: On the inside!
River: We need to concentrate.
The Doctor: Than it is!
River: I know where you’re going with this, but I need you to calm down.
The Doctor: On the outside!
River: You’ve certainly grasped the essentials.
The Doctor: My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed! Three-dimensional Euclidean geometry has been torn up, thrown in the air and snogged to death! My grasp of the universal constants of physical reality has been changed… forever. Sorry. I’ve always wanted to see that done properly.
River: Would you like a drink? Aldebaran brandy. Help yourself, but don’t tell Dad.
This also allowed River to describe her relationship with the Doctor, more than once. First, someone looking for the Doctor questioned River, having identified her as “the woman who loves the Doctor.”
River: Yes, I am. I’ve never denied it. But whoever said he loved me back? He’s the Doctor, he doesn’t go around falling in love with people. And if you think he’s anything that small or that ordinary, then you haven’t the first idea of what you’re dealing with.
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River discussed their relationship once again, when they were in danger, just before the Doctor revealed his identity:
River: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!
The Doctor: Hello, sweetie.
Another of my favorite exchanges between the two when in danger:
River: Does sarcasm help?
The Doctor: Wouldn’t it be a great universe if it did?
The dangers in this episode were handled, but we know there are other dangers ahead for River Song. She had a feeling for this when she saw how little room was left in her diary and noted, “The man who gave me this was the sort of man who would know exactly how long a diary you were going to need.”

The Singing Towers of Darillium was established as the location for their last night together when in 2008 in Forest of the Dead. However things were not as bad as they looked, even if this is truly their last night together before River met a younger Doctor in the library:

River: So… assuming tonight is all we have left…
The Doctor: I didn’t say that.
River: .. how long… is a night on Darillium?
The Doctor: 24 years.
River: ( gasps ) I hate you.
The Doctor: No, you don’t.

Doctor Who Extra videos can be seen here.

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