Thursday, January 07, 2016

The 40 Plot Holes That Weren't

Nena showed me an article called 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' by Seth Abramson of the University of New Hampshire. She agrees with me that most of them don't qualify as either. It looks to me like Seth wasn't paying attention half the time.

I can be an argumentative jerk, so I'm going to dissect his article item-by-item.

This is your spoiler warning.

1. To blow up the 120-km "Death Star" in Star Wars, the rebels needed detailed plans for the base and a full-scale invasion force -- as well as the supernatural targeting skills of the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy. To destroy the exponentially larger and better-protected "Starkiller Base" in The Force Awakens, all that was needed was a janitor with no special skills, a few run-of-the-mill handheld explosives, a couple not very difficult X-wing blaster strikes, and some moxie. It also helped that the Millennium Falcon was able to "fly low."

Finn said that his non-combat job was "sanitation"; it was Han who jumped to "janitor". On a planet-sized war machine, there's a lot more to sanitation than mopping floors.

The X-wing strikes were failing until those explosives, strategically placed inside the target on major structural supports, created an opening large enough for an X-wing to slip inside, where its firepower could do significant damage. Yes, it seems that a single-seat starfighter can do anything in Star Wars, but it wasn't as simplistic as Seth claims.

2. The wily Han Solo loses track of his most prized possession, the Millennium Falcon, for more than a dozen years. He has no idea where it is -- in the entire Galaxy. When you lose something in your house, that's bad; when you lose something on your planet, you kiss it goodbye but pray for a miracle; when you lose something in the entire Galaxy, you just get on with your life. And yet, less than a minute after Rey begins piloting the Millennium Falcon, Han looks out the window of his freighter and says, "Oh, there it is."

Seth clearly wasn't paying attention. Han said that once the Falcon was powered up and flying again, it was essentially broadcasting its location, allowing him to find it on his sensors. That's why he took them to Maz to get a "clean ship" to take them to the Resistance. Please pay attention to the plot points, Seth.

3. Kylo Ren, a powerful Force-user, fights a light saber duel with an ex-janitor who has never held a light saber and yet (a) never uses the Force on his opponent, though doing so would have ended the duel immediately, and (b) barely wins the fight, suggesting that he is simultaneously one of the least strategic wielders of the Force the Dark Side has ever seen and, despite his training, absolutely terrible with a light saber. None of this stops Kylo Ren from designing and building his own, completely impractical cross-barred lightsaber.

Finn is an ex-stormtrooper, not an ex-janitor, and Kylo Ren had taken what amounts to a 20mm cannon round to the abdomen. Even so, Finn does do much better against a fallen Jedi trainee than he has any right to. That said, it's not like we haven't seen Sith-types drag out a fight that they could have won quickly (for example, Darth Maul against Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace). What was ridiculous was that Finn managed to get in even one lucky hit, so Seth does have at least one good point so far.

As for the lightsaber, according to the fluff books that have been published (Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary), the "cross-guard" exists more to vent plasma from an unstable blade than to block anything.

4. Rey becomes nearly as effective a Force-user in a few hours as Luke Skywalker did in a few years.

Again, Seth makes a legitimate point. She certainly seemed to be far more adept than, for example, Anakin Skywalker with no real training (although she, like Luke, is also a good bit older when we first see her). With the power she's displaying untrained, she should easily surpass Anakin with training.

5. Just minutes before Starkiller Base explodes, Supreme Leader Snoke tells Hux to go get Kylo Ren and take him off the planet. Unfortunately, Ren had recently (unbeknownst to Hux) run into the woods like a lunatic, leaving no information about his whereabouts. It's no problem, though, because Hux apparently has special Kylo Ren GPS and (one assumes) goes right to the spot in the middle of the forest where Ren is bleeding to death; otherwise, Ren would have died on the planet along with everybody else from the First Order.

Score three for Seth, as it's not obvious how he expects Hux to find Kylo Ren so quickly (although small communication devices are commonplace in Star Wars, and Palpatine was able to tell that his apprentice was in trouble from light-years away in Revenge of the Sith).

On the other hand, I see no reason to assume that "everybody else from the First Order" died on the exploding base. I'm sure that many (although by no means all) personnel managed to evacuate. Furthermore, it's also obvious that this isn't the only First Order base. Snoke is obviously communicating from somewhere else, after all.

6. The reason Ren was slowly bleeding to death -- instead of being dead by Rey's hand -- is that a massive a chasm had just miraculously opened up in the several feet between the two of them. Such bad timing for Rey! (Damn you, deus-ex-geology!)

Indeed, that was a strange coincidence. Rule of Drama to the rescue!

7. Rey, who has never left her home planet since she was a child, can speak Wookie. Nobody can speak Wookie -- it's a running joke in the Star Wars universe. But Rey being able to speak Wookie surprises neither her, Han Solo, nor Chewbacca himself.

To be nit-picky, Rey does not speak Wookiee: she understands Wookiee. She and Han Solo are not the only ones, either. Yoda understood Wookiee (he commanded the Wookiee army in Revenge of the Sith), and Lando Calrissian also understood Chewbacca in The Empire Strikes Back. It's a bit rare, but hardly unheard of. Rey also understands the beep-language of astromech droids. Apparently she liked to spend her free time on Jakku picking up languages.

8. It's okay that Poe survived a Tie Fighter crash; after all, so did Finn. But has any film ever cared less about (a) giving the false impression a character has died, and then (b) having that character show up later with no one being surprised by it? Even Finn doesn't seem to care very much what the explanation is.

TIE fighters have ejection seats. Poe survived exactly the same way that Finn did! Who could have guessed?

9. What is all this nonsense about the First Order only wanting to destroy the Republic because the Republic is supporting the Resistance? First of all, isn't the Resistance part of the Republic, not a separate operation? And if it is separate, why has the First Order only just now discovered the not-very-well-hidden fact that the Republic is supporting the Resistance? And if the Resistance is in fact a part of the Republic, why didn't Starkiller Base destroy the Republic's planets and moons much, much earlier? In other words, what is the status of the war between the Republic and the First Order at the beginning of The Force Awakens, such that this precise moment is when General Hux decides to simply press a button and destroy the Republic?

I must admit, I was rather perplexed myself at the existence of a Resistance against the First Order that was separate from the Republic. Lacking any explanation at this point, I would have to speculate that there was some political reason that the Republic could not attack the First Order directly, so the Resistance acted as a proxy for them. It's silly, but modern politics is silly plenty of the time.

10. For that matter, why is it made to seem like the entire Republic is centered in just one star system? Let alone one whose planets and moons are all visible to one another with the naked eye? Isn't the Republic intergalactic? And why did the First Order choose to destroy all the planets and moons visible from Maz Kanata's home-world, but then initiate a conventional invasion of the latter planet? Why not just fire one more planet-killing beam and destroy Kanata's planet too? Because not doing that leads to a significant military defeat for the First Order that was totally avoidable. And another thing: if the Republic is in power, why is the Resistance the "Resistance"? What are they resisting? Isn't the First Order the "Resistance," as they're resisting the hegemony of the Republic? It's like someone on-set said "the Rebels need a new name," without realizing that the political situation in the Galaxy had totally changed since the events of the previous films.

The Old Republic had a capital. The Empire had a capital. It makes sense that the New Republic also had a capital. Presumably the First Order blew away Coruscant and every other planet in that system, taking out the Republic government and creating galactic chaos.

It is, however, absolutely ridiculous that people in other star systems would be able to observe that event in real time with their naked eyes. That is the Rule of Drama being taken to ludicrous extremes.

11. Kylo Ren is the head of the Knights of Ren, but there are no other Knights of Ren in the movie.

Seth must not have been paying attention during the dream sequence when Rey first picked up the lightsaber. It looks like there are at least a half-dozen more Knights of Ren.

12. Captain Phasma is supposed to be a big-deal character in The Force Awakens, if the merchandising and casting are any indication, and yet (a) how bad of a commanding officer do you have to be, how thoroughly inept in military tactics and strategy, to command the worst-trained fighting force in the Galaxy (the Stormtroopers hit even less with their blasters in The Force Awakens than in any preceding Star Wars film); (b) she's only in three scenes, in one of which she relays an order from Kylo Ren to initiate a massacre of innocents (hardcore!) and in another of which she immediately surrenders to Han, Rey, and Finn as soon as they encounter her and then does exactly everything they ask of her (pathetic!), making her character incomprehensible; and (c) in her third scene she effectively reveals that Finn's character is incomprehensible, as she notes that he has in fact been trained since birth to obey all orders, and has never in his life disobeyed even a single order until the day he decides to act like he's never been trained, indoctrinated, or dehumanized at all.

Captain Phasma was very disappointing as a villain.

As to Stormtrooper accuracy, they did fine in this movie, unless they were shooting at one of the lead characters. I guess Stormtroopers, Klingons, Romulans, and all other villainous minions go to the same marksmanship school.

13. Really? Was there no previous order Finn had ever refused to execute? Was the slaughter on Jakku actually the first naughty thing the First Order had ever required of him?

Yes, really! He said, clear as a bell, that the attack on Jakku was his first real combat action. He had never seen a fellow Stormtrooper die before. He had never been ordered to fire on a defenseless civilian before. It was the first time!

14. Finn is an ex-janitor who goes AWOL from a Stormtrooper force numbering in the tens of thousands. Yet he is absolutely convinced, despite being someone of no importance whatsoever to the First Order, that he will be chased across the galaxy for having defected. Apparently, there's a premium on janitors in this quadrant of the Galaxy. Sure, Finn killed some people during his escape, but doesn't the First Order emphasize with every tactical decision it makes that it considers its soldiers thoroughly expendable, and don't they quite obviously have much bigger fish to fry during the events of The Force Awakens than to worry about Finn? Why wouldn't this be obvious to him?

Finn is an ex-Stormtrooper. Stormtroopers are not allowed to go AWOL. He may be more paranoid than necessary (I don't think that the First Order would go out of their way hunting across the galaxy to kill him), but any Stormtrooper who sees him will try to kill him or at least report his location. He wants to get away from the First Order, but people keep telling him to head toward the danger.

15. Let's be clear: Han's son joins the First Order, and Luke's attempts to train new Jedis goes horribly wrong, and both men respond to these setbacks by, well, abandoning the Resistance to be utterly slaughtered by the First Order. Luke chills on an island, and Han on a smuggler's freighter, while untold thousands or millions of innocents are killed by the Order. Can we even comprehend how pissed Leia would be at both of them, and how cowardly Leia (at least the Leia we see in the first three films) would consider them both? And yet she seems only mildly peeved at Luke, and, despite Han implying otherwise, is almost entirely happy to see him when he turns up at the Resistance stronghold.

Luke left to find the first Jedi temple an unspecified period of time ago, possibly before the First Order emerged as a significant threat. As far as we know, he has no communications gear with him, so it's quite possible that he is unaware of the problem.

Han is Han; his behavior is not atypical for him.

Also, it is perfectly possible to be angry at someone you love and still be happy to see them after a long absence.

16. By the end of the movie, the impression is left that every single First Order soldier is dead besides Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux, and Kylo Ren. That probably won't turn out to be the case, but the fact that we're given this impression makes the climactic discovery of Luke on an isolated island entirely irrelevant. After all, what need does the Resistance have of Luke now? Why should anyone care, at this point, if he's found? Because there are two bad dudes left in the entire Galaxy, one of whom only shows up anywhere as a hologram? And okay, let's say, for the sake of argument, that there are millions more First Order soldiers elsewhere in the Galaxy; isn't it strange that the film gives absolutely no indication whatsoever that this is the case?

No. That is not the impression that was left. The First Order lost their superweapon and an unspecified number of personnel and other assets, but they are clearly far from eliminated.

17. Why does General Hux need to gather all of his troops just to tell them he's about to press a button and destroy the entire Republic? Can't he do that without a cattle-call of his entire army? Because it really ends badly for him, putting his entire army on the very planet he's about to make Resistance Target #1. No chance anybody saw that coming?

Seth, what makes you think that was all of his troops? He ordered the troops that were close to his command center to turn out for a speech and to witness the first use of the superweapon. It was obviously intended to be a very Hitler-esque display.

18. How pissy is it of Luke to (a) abandon the Resistance, and then (b) leave an obnoxiously coy trail of bread-crumbs to sort of (but not really) help people find him (at some unspecified time)? Why did he leave multiple maps out there in the ether, anyway, given that him having done so allows the First Order to find one of them?

How do you know that Luke "abandoned the Resistance"? For all you know, there was no First Order or Resistance at the time Luke went on his sabbatical. Also, for all you know, those are the maps that Luke had to put together in order to find the Jedi Temple that he was seeking.

19. Why wasn't the Resistance able to access R2D2's data archives at any point over the course of the many years Luke was gone? Why did they, instead, simply prop him up in a corner, when they had to know that he knew Luke's whereabouts -- as he always has in the past?

They did not "have to know" that R2-D2 knew where to find Luke (in fact, he didn't -- R2's map was not complete). Also, they may have tried to get information from him and failed; security measures like encryption can prevent that sort of thing.

20. When the Resistance finally figures out where Luke is, after looking for him for many years, why do they send only Chewbacca and a random girl who Leia just met to collect him?

A large search party wasn't needed at that point. They sent a droid that Luke trusts, a Wookiee that Luke trusts, and a new member with a vested interest in finding Luke. All three are people that are well-suited to the job, motivated, and not crucial to operations at the Resistance base.

That's half of the article. This has already gotten long, so I'll do a follow up article for the other twenty "unforgivable plot holes".

Continue to Part Two

No comments: