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Which is Better? Star Wars: The Force Awakens vs. Rogue One

Comparisons between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have always been an inevitable result of these two movies releasing just 12 months apart. And though they’re two very different films (one is a franchise opener and the other a prequel standalone), TFA and RO are both representative of the future that is Star Wars, one of the most beloved mythologies in modern history.

Walking out of TFA, I felt a strange urge to lay some cynicism on the engaging and thrilling spectacle I had just witnessed (and I did ultimately grade it positive). And my criticism of the new trilogy’s opening chapter has been admittedly inconsistent, where at one point I heavily lamented the incomplete character design of Rey, and more recently, I praised the interesting set ups for her legacy. Let it not be said that Rey is a “simple” hero.

By comparison, my problems with RO were far more pronounced and have not budged in the slightest. Despite some great production design and third act action scenes that are anthology peaks, we were given blank slated characters I’ve all but forgotten about in just a few short months, and I’m certainly not alone.

The video above by Lessons from the Screenplay expertly lays out how my issues with both Star Wars films resulted from poor decisions via the writing. Jyn Erso is a passive character whose narrative is beholden to contrived circumstances and loose relationships with superficially interesting characters given little to do. Put simply, it’s a mess of a screenplay. And Michael Tucker manages to make better sense out of why TFA did a superior job making its characters so instantly intriguing and why it’s the better film overall, nostalgic remixing aside.

That said, I’m well aware of the many Star Wars fans who prefer RO in all of its perplexity and dark subject matter. It takes bold risks that provide a useful precedent for Star Wars films that can expand the lore in meaningful ways, not just for the sake of box office. But what makes RO unique can also be perceived as a limiting drawback, moving on from the childish wonder of this mythology (for better or worse) so that it can properly make a movie for adults. In my opinion, it overcorrected in some ways and somehow regressed in others, probably through its late reshoots.

Yes, I believe TFA is better than RO, and I’d even propose that history will remember it as the better film, as well. But I don’t believe this is what truly matters for fans of Star Wars. The takeaway is that diverse Star Wars films are being developed for differing tastes. While RO was not a film I particularly enjoyed, it is one that satisfied a group of fans yearning for something different and unusual. I don’t believe they were given the best product possible in that regard, but to be perfectly honest, neither was I with TFA.

Which is Better? Story and Plot

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the clear winner. As supported by Michael Tucker’s visual analysis, TFA  has a better structure with far fewer throwaway scenes that don’t advance the plot. Rogue One deserves some credit for its effort to be standalone and for its audacious risks, but it falters far too much when it comes to the narrative of Jyn Erso.

Action

Rogue One wins by a slim margin, here, only because it goes all the way with its willingness to depict new and exciting set pieces (Darth Vader’s infamous hallway scene and the Star Destroyer crash, for example). The Force Awakens also has incredible action sequences, of course, and the final lightsaber fight might have cinched this category if not for the simultaneously forgettable Rogue Squadron battle on Starkiller Base. If Rogue One had missed a step with its space battles, then Poe Dameron would have won this just on his one-shot alone.

Characters

The Force Awakens takes this category by a landslide, despite some interesting ideas set forth through characters like K-2SO and Chirrut. Despite seeing Rogue One more recently, I had to search engine those names, which probably speaks volumes.

Villains

The Force Awakens also wins this one for a few significant reasons. Yes, Darth Vader gets one great 30 second scene, but it’s countered by a frankly awful scene between him and another character (complete with a Force dad joke), as well as some shoddy CGI for Tarkin and a wildly complacent Krennic who gets almost zero payoff. Kylo Ren is ultimately the fresher and more compelling villain, balanced well with Snoke and Hux for good measure.

Score

This one’s a tie. The Force Awakens is mostly ho-hum save for Rey’s Theme and the Jedi Steps, but it’s about the same for Rogue One. Neither soundtrack truly stands out with their own Imperial March or Duel of the Fates.

Design (Cinematography, Special Effects, Production Design)

Another tie. Both movies had huge tasks ahead of them. Rogue One had to recapture an established aesthetic with the same amount of detail, while also dabbling in its own inventive ideas. It succeeded on all counts. The Force Awakens, by comparison, contributed a fresher take that reasonably jumped forward in time while also setting the standard for practical effects in a new era of Star Wars films. Neither film quite cracked the uncanny valley (Maz, Tarkin, Rathtars, Leia, etc.), but they made comparable strides.

Conclusion

The only category where Rogue One truly shines is in its action, and even then, it’s by a slim margin. Everything else it accomplishes is either in step with The Force Awakens or a bit worse, especially when it comes to its writing. This is why I firmly believe the subject matter is what truly counts for fans who differ on which film is “better.” For fans of darker material, it’s no contest, while others who prefer the campy mythology and operatic lightsaber battles will undoubtedly point to TFA as the better film.


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The Lost City of Z, Rey’s Parents, And American Gods — Cinemaholics

This week’s episode of Cinemaholics kicks off with some big movie news leading up to our main segment: Who are Rey’s parents in Star Wars? Then we do a featured review for The Lost City of Z, the latest film from director James Gray.

Next, we spent some time digging into The Get Down Part 2 on Netflix and American Gods Season 1 on Starz. Enjoy the show!

EMAIL US YOUR FEEDBACK & QUESTIONS: cinemaholicspodcast [at] gmail.com 

Go on…The Lost City of Z, Rey’s Parents, And American Gods — Cinemaholics

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Isn’t Really A Remake Of A New Hope

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Every so often, a fan theory comes along to remind us how good fan theories can actually be when the work and time is put into them. Less than a year ago, EC Henry composed what I believe to be a masterful breakdown of The Force Awakens that (dare I say it) makes the movie just a little bit better.

Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a remake of the original Star Wars (A New Hope)? I’ve always considered the movie to borrow voraciously from that original film, while also lifting plenty from the other two parts of the trilogy. But many reviewers like myself have talked ourselves breathless about how TFA features yet another “droid on the run” story with Death Stars, cantinas, and a modest chosen one.

But in EC Henry’s video essay below, the case is made that TFA is really a “creative remix” of the original trilogy, and there’s a strikingly good reason for this that might shed light on the future of the entire franchise. I’ll unpack the theory below (with some of my own observations), but here’s the quick 3-minute breakdown.

As EC Henry points out, nearly all of the similarities between TFA and A New Hope occur in the first act of both movies. BB-8’s story is parallel to R2D2’s, and we’re on a barren planet that slowly reveals our hero, Rey, who is reminiscent of Luke in some ways.

The Millennium Falcon departing Jakku, followed by meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, is where the first act in TFA ends (roughly), which mirrors the end of the first act in A New Hope, when Luke meets Han and departs Tatooine aboard the same ship. Henry also implies that Greedo and Han’s antagonism is mirrored with Han’s confrontation with the mercenaries aboard the freighter.

At this point, TFA’s second act starts to mirror the second half of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a monster-in-space encounter (Rathtars in place of the asteroid worm) followed by Han deciding to visit an old friend (Maz Kanata as a fill-in for Lando Calrissian). We also see Kylo contacting Snoke in the same way Vader contacts Palpatine.

To save for time, TFA converges the Luke/Dagobah subplot with the Cloud City subplot. Rey goes to a mysterious planet and learns more about her origins and destiny with Maz pulling double duty as a fill-in for Yoda. And just like in Empire, the villains show up to wreck things. Rey is defeated by Kylo Ren (a la Luke and Vader’s first fight) and is captured, similar to how Han is taken away by Boba Fett.

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From here, TFA mirrors the third act of Return of the Jedi. The Rebels/Resistance meet to discuss their rescue plan and discover “another Deathstar.” The story breaks in two with ground forces on Starkiller Base trying to break down the shields and Rogue Squadron attacking from space, just as the Battle of Endor had two fronts. There’s an epic lightsaber battle happening as the space assault reaches its climax, with the Jedi using fury to overwhelm the Sith (Rey slicing Kylo is quite similar to Luke taking down Vader).

As Henry also points out, there are exceptions to this where small elements of the original trilogy are mirrored throughout (the catwalk scene, for example), but there certainly seems to be a primary structure in place that combines all of the movies in a coherent way. But what’s the point? Why would Lucasfilm do a creative remix like this at all?

The expectations for TFA were always going to be astronomically high, so the strategy here makes some sense. Add all of the nostalgic fan service to TFA as a tribute in order to gain credibility for this new trilogy, so the next two movies can unfold in more creatively bold ways that aren’t enslaved to the source material. Put more simply: they started with a look at the past and ended with a strong look toward the future.

And in one strange way, TFA is basically the movie George Lucas intended to make in the 1970s. Rather than a trilogy, he envisioned the entire arc of Star Wars to be told in a single movie. TFA essentially fulfills that vision and authorial intent, so as someone who had a lot of problems with the film, I’m finding myself appreciating it more for what it manages to accomplish in light of what couldn’t have been done 40 years ago.

Did I miss anything? Add some of your own observations below. And if you like this essay, be sure to subscribe to EC Henry’s channel, and consider supporting him on Patreon for more great videos.


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Review: ‘Rogue One’ Is About Half Of A Great Star Wars Movie

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Before Rogue One, which is aptly subtitled “A Star Wars Story,” even begins, it suffers from a remarkable weakness no other movie in this franchise has ever had. A real purpose.

It’s a standalone prequel to the original trilogy, filling the gap (and space) between Episodes III and IV, but it does nothing of note beyond that, except to elaborate on a minor plot point that sets up A New Hope, in the form of a ragtag suicide squad on a mission to retrieve the Death Star plans so Luke Skywalker can find them in a droid days later.

All the while, Rogue One presents side character archetypes as protagonists to a well-realized war movie, one without much of the Force or any stunning lightsaber duels to balance against the space battles. It’s exactly one-half of what we love about Star Wars, but lavishly treated with respect for fans who’ve always yearned for a shift in emphasis toward the “Wars” in “Star Wars.” Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty) managed to make this universe feel big again, and one of the film’s greatest strengths is its sense of location and a visual consistency begging for a better story to match it.

There’s no doubting this is the galaxy far far away, just taking place a bit earlier than what George Lucas and his team established aesthetically 40 years ago. The colors, technology, and overall atmosphere are masterfully recreated, less so however with the CGI-rendered actors we recognize from A New Hope as well, not that they’re the prime focus of what’s essentially an ensemble film. Less recreated, however, are any deep or enriching characters to serve as a compelling thread throughout this surprisingly complex (and fast) war drama.

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It seems at one point that Disney and Lucasfilm intended to give a weightier role to Jyn Erso, played rather straight here by Felicity Jones, once again one of about three women in a Rebellion consisting of hundreds of men onscreen, which is a noticeable step back from the more balanced Force Awakens.

Much of the material used in the trailers for Erso seem to have been shifted in those pesky reshoots, so that the rest of the “Rogue One” rebels too rebellious for the rebellion could have thematically interesting moments of their own. That was the intention, anyway. Instead, even the most creative characters are quite thin, falling short of what’s done so successfully in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a more cohesive and ultimately satisfying “misfit ensemble in space” movie.

Rogue One is a classic example of what happens when a beautiful and polished movie filled with colorful characters fails to come together by the third act, which is more bombastic and methodical than anything epic or narratively  fulfilling. The story builds to something far more grand in scope, while also personal in its individual characters’ struggles against the overwhelming Empire, but instead, everything simply fizzles out and fades to the distance to make way for New Hope matters, muting the questionable triumph for these rebels, instead of what the dialogue suggests we ought to feel for them.

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That said, Rogue One is an easy sell for fans of Star Wars, who will love it anyway for everything that does work—like the complexities rendered for a tougher, less forgiving Rebel Alliance and world-class sci-fi cinematography and sound mixing—and overlook what is sorely missing that would have made this good film actually great, or at least as memorable as something like The Force Awakens, a flawed movie that had a much easier time justifying itself.

Come for the snarky droid, stay for the blind Force monk, and prepare for one scene in particular toward the very end that will make you yearn to see a “real” Star Wars film.

Grade: B

Extra Credits:

  • Now I’m really worried about that Young Han Solo spinoff.
  • Better than the prequels, but that’s about it.
  • First Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams, which is pretty sad. But Michael Giacchino did a tremendous job, and this one has a main score I found much more memorable than in Force Awakens. Edit: I do wish, though, that the music matched the movie’s actual tone. I just don’t blame Giacchino.
  • Alan Tudyk as the aforementioned snark droid, K-2SO,  was easily the best character. Not just in terms of comic relief, but as the obvious heart of the team, similar to Tudyk’s “Wash” in Firefly.
  • Some of the cameos and Easter eggs are great. A handful are just pointless and completely unnecessary, similar to the prequels. Still, I won’t spoil any so you can view them as surprises. Not enough of this movie is a surprise, anyway.

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For Now, Rey From ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Is Not A Great Character

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No one can deny that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a huge win for Lucasfilm and Disney. It delivered on years of cautious hype with a solid movie that made an egregious amount of money for the studio.

Fans loved it. The critics loved it. Even the harshest criticisms lobbed at the movie (like a plot eerily similar to previous Star Wars films) are typically considered nitpicks, not deal breakers.

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A lot of this has to do with how TFA pleased both fans of the old movies and fans of what could happen next. Han Solo had a substantial role, along with Chewbacca and Princess Leia. And future movies promise to expand Luke’s story even further. But TFA also unveiled the next generation of Star Wars, and rightly so. Topped off with one character in particular who seems to be on everyone’s mind when talking about their favorite character in the movie: Rey.

Well, who is Rey?

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A lot of the discussion around TFA, which I’ve taken part in quite a bit myself, centers around who Rey really is within the context of the Star Wars mythology. Most people are convinced she just has to be connected to someone we know, whether it be the Skywalkers, Solos, or even Jyn Erso from the upcoming anthology movie, Rogue One. For a lot of fans, it isn’t enough to speculate that she could be wholly new, and that’s mostly because TFA suggests many times through dialogue and specific story moments that this might not be the case. Specifically, Rey touches Luke’s lightsaber and immediately envisions the past and future places connected to the Skywalker relic, even hearing Obi-Wan address her by name.

These secrets are likely to be uncovered in next year’s sequel and beyond, so I want to get away from all the theories (aside from how obvious it seems to me that Supreme Leader Snoke is Ezra from Star Wars Rebels) and settle on just one question about Rey: is she really a great character?

She’s likable, obviously, and we can list off plenty of traits that make her fun and entertaining to watch. But is she a well-written character…or a boring one?

I suspect most people reading this believe the former. And that’s probably because it’s wrong to say Rey is boring. The film’s most thrilling moments certainly revolve around her and how she reacts to various problems around her. She starts off as an incredibly resourceful person and becomes increasingly competent over the course of the film, which is pretty common for a lot of exciting characters we like in all types of stories.

So before we go any further…

What makes a character “great” in the first place?

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Evaluating a character’s quality is definitely subjective, but we can choose acceptable criteria to make a case for why any given character is good or bad. The key is to weigh that criteria against the context of the movie. 007, for example, is supposed to be a character who undergoes very little character change (at least, before the Craig movies), even though we expect most of our protagonists to go on some sort of dramatic, life-changing journey, where the climax involves that character making a personal choice or discovery that wins the day.

For that reason, some people consider 007 to be a weak character who’s still pretty fun to watch, because the movie surrounding him focuses more on how thrilling it is to observe someone competent solving tough problems in an interesting way. Other prominent protagonists, like Bruce Wayne, are considered great characters because they do undergo great character change that connects with their backstory, the antagonist, and how it all comes together in the climax. It’s this cohesion in storytelling that makes for a compelling character, rather than a somewhat average one.

So it is for Rey, from TFA. She undergoes a character change, to be certain, but what holds her back from being a great character is the fact that her motivations, backstory, relationships, and climactic choice are scattered, poorly-defined, and often contradictory, as we’ll get into. Most of these problems are because of the storytelling, of course, not Ridley’s performance or, as it bears repeating:

Not being “boring” doesn’t make a character great.

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From the moment she’s introduced, it’s clear that Rey can take care of herself quite easily, and she’s naturally talented at a lot of relevant things that become natural obstacles as the movie goes on. It’s not boring because we enjoy watching a well-rounded character solve problems that reference their backstory, which TFA pulls off pretty early on. For example, she figures out how to fly the Millennium Falcon rather quickly and even fixes things Han Solo can’t, not just because the plot demands it, but because she’s spent her life scavenging old ships on Jakku and presumably knows how they work.

The same applies to a lot of skills Rey picks up over the movie. She becomes adept at using complicated Force moves without any training, and that includes the mind trick, resisting Kylo’s influence, and summoning the lightsaber out of the snow. In fact, there’s little reason to believe she’s actually observed anyone doing the things she learns how to do on her own. She’s just good at it because…she’s good at it.

And that’s not a bad thing. Not all by itself.

We can reason why she’s good at fighting, certainly, and how she manages to just barely defeat an injured Kylo Ren (even though she was losing for most of the fight). And like other movies with equally tough characters like Furiosa from Mad Max, the movie doesn’t spend time trying to explain why Rey is capable. You accept it because the main character of a movie should be unrealistically talented. It would be a bore, otherwise.

Why Rey is Rey.

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It’s probably safe to say that Rey is the way she is because Lawrence Kasdan wanted her to differ greatly from Luke Skywalker, a noticeably more whiny and doe-eyed character by comparison. In the original trilogy, Luke struggled a lot on his path to becoming a Jedi. In the first film, he only has one meaningful encounter with the Force, and it’s the climax of the movie. He famously turns off the targeting computer and finally trusts in the Force to destroy the Death Star. It’s a great moment because it’s the end result of a character journey that started with a simple fascination in something mysterious.

Kasdan went another route with Rey in order to shake things up, but I’m not sure if it’s quite as well thought out, as much as I appreciate the intent. Rey is an awesome role model for kids because she’s strong, bold, and unrestrained by outdated gender stereotypes (which the movie goes out of its way to address, perhaps for the sake of the audience).

She makes for a good audience surrogate, same as Luke, because she’s spent so much of her life away from the current events of the Star Wars universe, though the movie doesn’t treat her as a fish-out-of-water type who spends most of the movie discovering new things and asking questions.

Unfortunately, though, Rey is mostly a character of don’tsAs if the writers crafted her in a reactionary way, not a thoughtful one, obsessed with ensuring she wasn’t just another Luke, just another cliche, or just another helpless “chosen one” who relies on others until the very last moment. This isn’t a criticism, necessarily, but it can explain why some people walk away from her character feeling somewhat cold, even though they like the idea of Rey and what she truly represents for the future of Star Wars (someone different and full of potential).

But there’s another major problem.

Rey is too incomplete, and she shouldn’t be.

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It’s hard for me to admit this, but there’s not much substance to Rey’s journey as a scavenger turned would-be Padawan. Her character change amounts to the secrets of her past that prevent her from wanting to fully commit to adventure with newfound family. This would make for a great story if these secrets were at least somewhat teased to let us understand why Rey was abandoned, or why she’s so eager to reconnect with the people of her past, rather than feel the appropriate resentment for them.

Instead of these types of revelations, TFA relies on references from previous movies and hints of what’s to come in order to fill in the blanks, and Rey’s story gets somewhat lost in the shuffle of supporting characters and cameos, which is dangerous for your lead character. At no point do we understand why she has affection for her family because she never really talks about them, and the movie doesn’t either. It’s a hollow motivation, as a result, especially since Rey is supposed to be our eyes and ears throughout the movie, at least when Finn isn’t.

And all of this is hurt by the fact that we already have to make guesses for why Rey is a good person, too, because her circumstances suggest she shouldn’t be quite so righteous. The obvious answer seems to be that she does remember life before being dropped on Jakku, which is a life that might have been full of love and warmth that shaped her. We need that context to understand the character now, but it was set aside for franchise purposes, and we instead had to focus on the growing excellence of Rey in the present.

Again, it’s just fine for a lead character of any movie to be unrealistically exceptional. Harry Potter is a good example of this, but mostly because that story centers around Potter’s unwillingness to be noted as extraordinary, due to the pain of that fame being associated with the loss of his parents. Rey puts on a tough front, in comparison, and we never get that moment of vulnerability aside from flashbacks that briefly display a snapshot of how she was abandoned, with nothing close to an explanation or exploration of these ideas.

Back to Harry Potter, it was good for those books to not tell us everything all at once, but at least in that story, we understood the basics: Harry Potter is the boy who lived, famous for ending Voldemort’s rise to power. There’s nothing comparable to that in TFA, aside from the overt: the Force has awakened through Rey for unknown reasons.

Come on, not even short stories are that thin.

With Rey, we only know that she was abandoned as a child and is somehow a “Force” of nature. Characters briefly suggest that they know who she is or question who she is, but nothing is made of her place in the universe, which I think is a misguided plan. The filmmakers want us to endlessly speculate and come up with theories, but the end result is that none of these theories feel right. Because we have very little information to go on.

Rey will probably be a “great” character later. Maybe.

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This is probably enough for some fans, but not for me. I like Rey because of Daisy Ridley’s performance, her iconic look, and how different she seems. But I can’t say she’s a well-written character because there’s just too much lacking for the sake of teasing future movies. If it takes a sequel to change my mind on this, then that’s a tragedy of storytelling.

We didn’t need three movies to relate with Luke Skywalker or understand his motivations. Yes, he evolved over the trilogy, but in one movie, we were able to wrap our heads around his values and the stakes of this universe. There was already an ultimate antagonist tied to his journey, as well—a seemingly insurmountable danger that he needed to face one day. TFA holds back a lot of these details, like what the First Order really is and the relationship between Rey, the Resistance, the Republic, and so on.

The sad thing is that it only takes a basic shuffling of information to get Rey’s arc on the right track. Unlike Luke, Rey appears to have had a more isolated and less loving childhood, which is why she doesn’t trust easily in the first act, at least for a time. This entire character trait is eventually dropped as the movie brings her together with Finn, Han Solo, and Chewie, whom she forms quick bonds with (more on that, later).

Going even further, it’s strange that Kylo trying to probe her mind doesn’t seem to evoke true bitterness from her, even though it’s a clear violation of her independent personality. The movie instead sets up dramatic weight by killing off Han Solo right in front of her, which is undercut by her initial reaction to run away again (a smart move, nonetheless).

Rey is flawed, but the movie forgets that.

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I’m convinced that a movie can be great when the main character starts off capable and only gets better. But they need relevant character flaws to make the journey interesting and believable. Rey’s flaws are purely superficial and reactionary, saved only by a fluid performance from Ridley. She shows genuine fear during dangerous situations, and there’s clear self-doubt on her face as she gets to know the galaxy and eventually runs away from her destiny (the Force).

In short, she’s definitely reckless, and the odd thing is that movie rewards this flaw more often than it brings upon real consequences (like when she tries to help Han and accidentally frees the Rathtars, which ends up working better than her initial plan). When Rey acts before thinking, it almost always works out for her, save for when Kylo initially knocks her out in the ending forest scene, before she acts recklessly again and starts to fight him. And she uses this flaw to ultimately beat him, going after him without any meditation or introspection, just her own willingness to exude the Force.

The problem is that flaws like these only work when they run counter to a character’s key strengths. Otherwise, it feels like the character is unrealistically protected by the writers, when they should instead come off as vulnerable with room to grow. In the case of Rey’s recklessness, they’re one in the same because she benefits a lot from acting without thinking throughout the movie, so the climax doesn’t present any sort of personal challenge for her to grapple with. Fortunately, this isn’t the only major flaw we see with Rey. The other more prominent one is her loneliness.

Rey grew up alone and had to fight for everything she has, living day-to-day in a merciless existence. We like her because she’s still very human after all this, showing she has an innate righteousness, down to when she decides to help BB-8, rather than sell him off for food. But this pivotal moment (Rey choosing to help people) isn’t rounded out well by her flaw of feeling lonely and wanting to reconnect with her true family. It’s really only the beginning of an interesting character arc that the movie forgets about, or at the very least decides to put off until the sequel.

Specifically, she contradicts her flaw of loneliness constantly throughout the movie, because she’s quick to help others in lieu of remaining on Jakku to wait for her family. There’s a conflict, certainly, between the attachment she has for her new friends and the unseen family she sometimes references. There’s no “turning off the targeting computer” moment for Rey because she never really makes this choice in earnest. She’s captured and eventually tries to run away again, only to get hunted by Kylo before ultimately defeating him. There’s no personal challenge she has to overcome, aside from embracing the Force, which she had already done well before the battle with Kylo.

The main point, though, is that despite the fact that Rey has interesting, even intriguing character flaws, the movie fails to serve up a story that actually puts them to the test against the things she’s good at. There’s a kernel of a rounded out character here, where her independence should clash with her decision to rely on others, including the Force, but we see too much of the opposite occurring as well.

The fact is, Rey’s character doesn’t make much sense.

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It’s these exact contradictions that makes Rey seem less compelling than she should. Ditching the base instead of getting revenge for Han’s death lines up nicely with the Rey we met in the first act, who looks out for herself first and foremost. But the entire middle of the movie sets her up as someone who wants to help and make sacrifices, especially against her own interests, until an encounter with the lightsaber convinces her to run off yet again, because all of a sudden she wants no part of what’s happening…even though right before that, she pleads with Finn to help the Resistance, rather than flee.

If the movie was following an intelligent trajectory, then this would mean Rey’s final test would be to stand up to Kylo instead of running way, which the movie almost does, but actually too late. She and Finn flee into the forest, until Kylo finds them. Then Rey stands up to him, calling him a murderer for killing his own father. She tries to fight with a blaster, but Kylo stops her easily. Then she stands up to him again to save Finn, only this time using the Force.

This is the problem. The movie wants Rey to have the same “turn off the trajectory computer” moment that Luke Skywalker has in A New Hope, even though this character development doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. The only moment she hesitates to use the Force is when she touches Luke’s lightsaber, but it’s not established why she’d be averse to using the Force at all (only speculation). Then it “awakens” in her, and she uses it with full confidence and without hesitation. So her grabbing the lightsaber in the forest falls completely flat as a dramatic moment (just a “cool” one), and it’s a result of intertextual plotting instead of meaningful character writing.

Her victory over Kylo should have been a battle of willpower, because that is how their characters were set up over the course of the film, with Kylo having the training, but none of the mental discipline, while Rey has the exact opposite. She should have won by outsmarting him, because that would have been surprising and developed from previous learning. There’s even an entire scene that shows just how much more competent she is than him mentally, but the movie tries to posit that she wins simply because of a stronger connection the Force, which is an unnecessary and yes, boring, path to victory.

And all of this can be so easily fixed that it’s painful to point any of it out. For example, when Rey performs the mind trick on the stormtrooper, it would be far more dramatic and compelling if she sensed it might be wrong for her to do this, as someone who detests being controlled and manipulated might hate the idea of using the Force. That would certainly set up why she would hesitate to use it as a weapon at all, until finally accepting who she is in order to save Finn and eventually seek out Luke.

Instead, Rey jumps at the chance to use the Force to get inside someone’s head so she can escape, and it makes for weak character development and a missed opportunity based on what’s already present in the script. In fact, it’s really just confusing because there’s no mention of this ability throughout the movie to create context for how Rey knows what the mind trick even is. The movie simply has her fail two times and then get it exactly right (a running theme in the movie), though to the film’s credit, they masked this well by subverting the scene into something humorous.

Wrapping Up

rey

I don’t hate this movie, and I certainly don’t hate any these characters (some of them being far worse than Rey for similar reasons). But Rey is too cool a character concept for such a lopsided script.

Abrams has always been great at concepting characters that people like and want to get behind, but he’s often struggled at setting up believable paths for them to go on (see Lost). I have to believe that the fascination we have for Rey—especially concerning those final moments between her and Luke—have more to do with empty cliffhanger teasing and less to do with a natural evolution of a truly great character.

Is she a good character? I certainly think there’s room to suggest that based on the various positives noted above. And it’s off-base to call her a bad character simply for not being close to perfect. But the incomplete nature of her arc leads me to believe she’s inconsistent and incomplete at the moment, which is a travesty. I believe she should be more than great. She should and hopefully will be revolutionary.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Snarcasm: The Director of Batman v Superman is Way Smarter Than Us

Zack Snyder idiots

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read.

Ever since the complete and utter disaster that is Sucker Punch, I’ve kept a watchful eye on Zack Snyder as a filmmaker. I found Watchmen to be a fantastic adaption of the comic, despite some minor flaws. 300 blew me away with how Snyder was able to stylize action scenes without resorting to cheap editing tricks. And who doesn’t love Dawn of the Dead?

But something strange happens when you hand a guy the keys to one of the most important film franchises of all time after he doesn’t do a stellar job the first time with Man of Steel. And we’re starting to see some of that piping bowl of crazy that occurs when people expect a human being to be…well, Superman.

Now, I’m not here to review Batman v Superman, as I haven’t seen it yet and don’t have an opinion. But analyzing some of the conversation and buzz surrounding this film, you’d think that the Marvel Civil War was already happening, but between fans and critics, with Jon Negroni swooping in Snarcasm style whispering,

snarcasm

First, let’s take a look at Snyder’s first…decision. Sadie Gennis reported this story on TV Guide:

Zack Snyder Explains Why Grant Gustin Isn’t The Flash in Batman v Superman

That’s…an interesting topic to bring up during the marketing of your prequel to what you hope to be an Avengers-level success. But fine, let’s discuss this because it’s been bothering huge Grant Gustin fans like me since episode one.

Snyder: I just don’t think it was a good fit. I’m very strict with this universe and I just don’t see a version where [Gustin’s The Flash would work]… that [tone is] not our world.

Really? The main character of an extremely successful TV show doesn’t “fit” in a universe where you’re repeatedly striking out with feature films? Gee, maybe Gustin isn’t a good fit for Snyder?

To be fair, the main consensus from critics and fans alike (so far) is that Ben Affleck makes a great Batman, so that casting decision is at least solid. Same goes for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. But what strikes me as insane is how one of the comic relief characters of this DC team has to fit a darker, more serious tone.

zack snyder
“Look! He smirked! NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH.”

I think most people who’ve actually watched The Flash would agree that Gustin has plenty of talent, CW resume notwithstanding. He’s certainly capable enough to contend with the writing of David Goyer, who managed to warp Ma and Pa Kent into nihilistic psychopaths.

Snyder: Even if Grant Gustin is my favorite guy in the world and he’s very good, we made a commitment to the multi-verse [idea], so it’s just not a thing that’s possible.

It’s this kind of tone-deaf logic that continuously turns me off to Snyder has a director. He has no sense of momentum or build up, because if he did, he’d understand that the payoff of connecting a well-established and successful TV series with a movie that extends the scope of these characters would more than surpass the milestones set by The Avengers.

It’s not possible? Neither is making a Justice League movie feel earned when we know absolutely nothing about these individual characters going in. And if Batman v Superman is as mediocre as the critics claim, then maybe Gustin is better off.

Sadly, that’s not all, folks. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Snyder commented on the bizarre collateral damage of Man of Steel:

Snyder was mystified when someone told him that they couldn’t think of a movie in recent memory that’s had as much collateral damage as “Man of Steel.” “I went, really? And I said, well, what about [‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’]?” the director says. “In ‘Star Wars’ they destroy five planets with billions of people on them. That’s gotta be one of the highest death toll movies in history, the new ‘Star Wars’ movie, if you just do the math.”

There’s more to this than I think a lot of people are grasping. Because at first glance, it may seem that Snyder is completely off his rocker, considering the damage done in Force Awakens was inflicted by the villain, so the analogy makes no sense.

People aren’t put off by collateral damage because there’s a lot of it. They were annoyed that it was mostly caused by Superman, and he spent more time punching Zod through presumably filled skyscrapers without stopping to consider his actions or show any restraint. He doesn’t even attempt to move the fight away from the populated area.

zack snyder
“Eh, I’m sure no one was in there.”

But something else is even more irritating, and that’s the context of his answer. Snyder is simply playing a math game, assuming the person making the comment was merely saying that the damage done in Man of Steel is comical because of its size, and Snyder’s first reaction is to correct him, not try to understand the criticism.

This gets to the heart of Snyder’s bizarre personality as a filmmaker who seems to have zero self-awareness. He makes the same mistakes in every movie because his apparent arrogance keeps convincing him that everyone else is wrong, and he’s right. It’s this kind of confidence that probably keeps him employed, but how long can this hold up?

In this same interview, Snyder admits that he crafted this superhero universe as an intended continuation of themes he explored in Watchmen. And here’s what he thinks about the obvious criticism that comes with this weird mixing of two polar-opposite franchises:

“I was surprised with the fervency of the defense of the concept of Superman,” Snyder says of his detractors. “I feel like they were taking it personally that I was trying to grow up their character.”

snarcasm
“33 years old to be exact. Not like Jesus, though.”

Look, Superman has changed plenty of times over the years, and very few people are against taking some creative liberties with the character. But when you warp the identity and motivations of the most popular superhero of all time in order to balance it nicely with the purposefully grim superhero movie you made seven years ago, then don’t get offended when the obvious backlash comes.

In other words, take your own advice.

People aren’t taking it personally that you’re “growing up their character.” They’re taking it personally that you don’t even seem to care about what they think.

That said, I still hope I enjoy Batman v Superman. I may not like Snyder at all right now, but I’d much rather have a great time watching two of my favorite characters on the big screen than shake my head in disappointment. Unfortunately, nothing about any of his decisions so far have lead me to get my hopes up.


Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

 

Unopinionated: There’s a Reason You Think ‘Avatar’ Is Generic

avatar opinion

Unopinionated is a brand new editorial series where I explore “unpopular opinions” and why they’re unpopular in the first place. This week: loving Avatar is a hard thing to do now more than ever. 

In October, I made a friendly bet with a fellow movie buff who was convinced Star Wars: The Force Awakens would dethrone Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s now February and my friend has conceded, seeing as how Star Wars is still roughly $800 million short of the 2009 3D epic and hasn’t even surpassed the #2 spot, Titanic.

Not even adjusting for inflation.

How did I know The Force Awakens would fall short? It wasn’t with all the confidence in the world, just a simple memory of how Avatar took the entire world (namely China) by storm with the introduction of 3D to the mainstream. It was the movie that spurred the release of worldwide theaters just to house the IMAX technology necessary to watch it. For that reason, this was a global movie in which people saw 3D and IMAX for the very first time, hence all of the rereleases that would drive Avatar to an impressive box office take of well over $2.7 billion.

It was obvious to many people like myself that The Force Awakens wouldn’t draw in those same numbers worldwide, but I find it hard to blame anyone for believing a movie as hyped up as the new Star Wars film deserves to perform better than one of the most generic science fiction films in recent memory. Who wouldn’t want such a fun movie starring Han Solo again to do better than a dated rehash of Dances with Wolves?

avatar opinion

That said, an “unpopular opinion” held by many is that Avatar isn’t just an average movie. It’s a terrible film that doesn’t deserve its box office throne. This unpopular opinion was brought to me by fans of The Force Awakens who are simply frustrated with how the numbers turned out, but for my first Unopinionated, I’ve decided to address the fact that Avatar is an average movie, not a bad one.

And to do that, I’ll be addressing three key aspects of the film: the Good, the Bad, and the Meh.

The Good

On a visual level, Avatar truly was a remarkable film when most of us saw it in late 2009/early 2010. What the movie does with color depth and digital effects is something 3D movies are still imitating today (and poorly most of the time). While you can’t judge a movie solely on how it looks, you can certainly credit effort where it’s due, and Director James Cameron offered something truly beautiful that pushed the needle forward for how CGI can transcend the “uncanny valley.”

The movie also boasts a wacky creativity for its  fantasy sci-fi setting. The character designs are inspired, the environments are as vibrant as they are subtle, and every application of CGI fits naturally, from the action scenes to the computer animated characters.

This fusion of live-action with computer animation is nothing to scoff at, and for many moviegoers, a by-the-numbers plot is all the film really needed to impress. What Avatar excels at is scope, in that it uses its effects for an impressive feat of world-building that makes its plot far more accessible than it deserves to be.

The Meh

It’s telling that Sam Worthington (the lead actor) has less animation than the characters made by a computer. He’s meant to be a straight man to the wonders of Pandora, but he’s severely lacking of any charisma that compels our interest.

avatar opinion

He’s not terrible, but he’s also not very good. And the same can be said for most of the characters meandering Pandora with their simplistic motivations that don’t boil down to much more than anti-war propaganda even our college professors would fine overbearing.

Which brings us to the main complaint lobbied at Avatar: its plot is too familiar and undemanding when you hold it against the beauty of the movie itself. Like one of the early IMAX offerings that felt more like a test run of what the technology could do, Avatar comes across as if it was purposefully written by amateurs, which is a startling contrast to the detail put into pretty much everything else this movie has to offer.

Cameron remixes many techniques from his previous films in Avatar, such as the forbidden love dynamic of Titanic, the droll narration from Terminator, the space marine aesthetic from Alien, and so on. Any other director would get a pass for this, but because Cameron’s work is so iconic, this mixing and matching is too obvious to be appreciated.

And of course there’s no avoiding how reminiscent Avatar is to Dances with WolvesPocahontas, and pretty much any other film featuring the story of a white man learning the ways of an indigenous tribe.

When it comes to plot and interesting ideas, Avatar doesn’t try anything new, but to the film’s credit, it doesn’t fail outright. We just hated it more at the time because we were disappointed at how close Avatar stuck to a formula, rather than provide the sort of genre twist worthy of such an ambitious film.

The Bad

Honestly, there isn’t much. You can complain that the dialogue and cartoonishly evil villain are draining, but they aren’t atrocious qualities. Avatar mostly plays it safe as a predictable romp on an alien planet, which makes it regrettably average, not bad.

avatar opinion

Yes, the film has its share of haters, and their criticisms are usually valid. But analyzing Avatar as a piece of film requires an honest look at everything it offers, not just the parts that distracted you. Pandora is a well-made paradise of science fiction. The 3D is expertly used to create a sense of immersion that no other movie had yet accomplished in the same way. The entirety of the film’s experience created a sense of awe for its many viewers…dragged down by some unfortunate compromises.

When this movie came out, many people likened it to the first Star Wars, convinced it would capture the imagination of the next generation. I think it’s safe to say that never fully came to pass, mostly because Avatar‘s story was too formulaic to grab viewers at every level. While Star Wars was also a bit cheesy, its rich and interesting characters managed to make up for it. Avatar, on the other hand, only has what will soon be dated visuals and an accompanying footnote to hold itself up as an accomplishment.

Grade: C 

Is there an unpopular opinion you think deserves the Unopinionated treatment? Shoot me your suggestion in the comments.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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