In my reviews of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I complained about how the speed of communications and hyperspace travel seems to have shrunk the Star Wars universe. I asserted that the writers seem to have no appreciation for the size and scale of this universe, or for galactic conflict. And that observation severely hurt my enjoyment of both films. Star Wars has always flown lose with its science, but even though the original trilogy got a lot of details wrong, there at least seemed to be an effort to respect some scientific limitations. Even the prequels stayed fairly respectful to the size and scale of the universe and conflict. The new movies, by comparison, seem to be completely (and deliberately) scientifically illiterate.
Keep in mind that the following analysis is coming from someone with only minimal knowledge of the extended universe. I'm more of a Trekker than a Star Wars fan. I have tech manuals of the Enterprise and the star charts of the Federation, but no Star Destroyer tech manuals or Imeprial star charts. So my opinions come from the films alone. Besides, all those novels, video games, and comic books have been de-canonized by Disney anyway. If anyone more knowledgeable of the Star Wars extended universe wants to chip in with corroborating or conflicting information, feel free to do so in the comments. Thanks to Disney's meddling, such knowledge may now be moot.
And oh, by the way, it drives me nuts when Star Trek movies make these sorts of mistakes as well!
Hyperspace originally analogous to contemporary air travel
Let's start by looking at a frame of reference: the trip in the Millenium Falcon in the first Star Wars movie. While the Millennium Falcon is in transit from Tatooine to Alderan, Luke has time to receive some rudimentary Jedi training from Obi Wan, Han calmly relaxes and socializes in the lounge, and Chewbacca has time for at least one game of space-chess against the droids. This hyperspace trip is presented as being analogous to cross-continental (or intercontinental) plane flight: at least enough time for passengers to unfasten their safety belts and wander around the cabin.
A hyperspace trip in the Millennium Falcon offers at least enough time for everyone to lounge about.
But an estimate of hours is on the low end of the spectrum of possibilities. As far as I can tell, there's nothing in the movie that negates the possibility of this trip to Alderaan taking days. That would certainly be plenty of time for Obi Wan to teach Luke enough of the basics of Force-sensitivity to enable his "lucky shot" in the climactic Death Star trench run. It would also give the characters enough time to socialize, converse and develop some sense of camaraderie with one another. It's also enough time for Leia to undergo at least a couple rounds of interrogation aboard the Death Star... [More]
I don't think that Disney's writers take Star Wars' universe very seriously. I'm not talking about story or continuity; I'm talking about the actual, physical space in which the stories take place. They've created a major problem. It's the same problem that frustrated me about The Force Awakens: there is no sense of scale to this universe anymore. I was really hoping that it was just J.J. Abrams and his writing crew being lazy in Force Awakens because his Star Trek movies suffered from the same problem. I had hoped that a new writing crew would improve the material (just like Star Trek Beyond fixed another of my biggest complaints about the reboots of that franchise after J.J. left the helm). But that laziness seems to not only be contagious, but has actually gotten worse in Rogue One. This movie takes something that was only a nagging annoyance in Force Awakens, and blows it up to almost movie-breaking proportions.
In the original Star Wars movies, the time-frames for hyperspace travel was always ambiguous. There were cuts between scenes, and the amount of time that it took for ships to travel was left to the individual viewer's imagination. But now, we see interstellar travel and communications happen instantaneously, in real time! It happens when the fighter crashes on Eado, and the rebel base on Yavin immediately loses contact and sends a squad of fighters to assault the base. It happens again when Rogue One infiltrates the Imperial data warehouse on Scarif, a transmission is intercepted, and a rebel fleet immediately gets rerouted to the planet.
This isn't just bad science; it's also bad writing. The hyperdrive has become a narrative crutch. For the entire second half of the movie, I felt no tension at all because I knew that if the heroes ever got in a jam, a rebel fleet (or reinforcements) could just appear out of nowhere to save the day. This is a prequel, so I already knew how it was going to end. This lazy script contrivance (and all-around dull characters) also made the journey to get there completely uninteresting.
But it goes deeper. How far apart are these places? Is the entire galaxy that accessible?
Basic elements of the overarching Star Wars storyline just completely break down when travel and communication is instantaneous. There's no distinction between the tightly-controlled "core", and the supposedly-lawless "outter rim" planets if a whole fleet of Star Destroyers can literally FTL to any planet in a matter of seconds. There's no need for anyone to make a hard-copy of the Death Star plans to physically transport it if they can transmit the data instantly. And there's no point in pursuing or intercepting ships (such as Leia's Blockade Runner) if hyperspace travel takes the ship to its destination in a mere moment. The empire's holdings become completely indefensible if entire rebel fleets can appear out of nowhere with no warning. Their installations are publicly visible, but the rebels are hidden. The rebels know where all the imperial bases are, and there's nothing stopping them from just jumping to random bases and blowing them up with no recourse from the empire. This universe has lost the believable, lived-in quality and sense of breadth and variety that the original trilogy so expertly executed. The Star Wars universe is broken.
Rogue One shows us instantaneous communication and travel between planets in real time.
"Just turn off your brain and enjoy it", people tell me.
No. I won't turn off my brain. There is no reason why our movies can't be both entertaining and smartly-written. Why aren't we holding our movies to that standard anymore? It's not a tall bar. "Not as bad as the prequels" is not good enough, and I'm not going to pretend that it is when dealing with entries of a series that contains - not one - but two - landmark cinematic masterpieces.
Even if every new movie were as likable as The Force Awakens, these little missteps add up. Each new movie that comes out chips away at the integrity of the franchise (and universe) in which all the movies (including the good ones) exist. We can hand-wave away our complaints about the prequels, or we can ignore them entirely, but we're now at the point at which the original Star Wars trilogy is a minority of the Star Wars film franchise, and it's only getting more diluted. [More]
There's a bit in X-Men: Apocalypse in which Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Jubilee are walking out of a theater after seeing Return of the Jedi. Cyclops and Jubilee are arguing about whether Empire was better than Star Wars, and Jean remarks that "we can all agree that the third one is always the worst". This, of course is a jab at X-Men 3: the Last Stand, which I'm sure we can all agree is still the worst of the X-Men movies. It's also the first one that Bryan Singer didn't direct. But what might - or might not - be lost on Singer and his writers is the little bit of irony that Apocalypse is also the third movie in a series: the prequel series that started with X-Men: First Class.
X-2 and Days of Future Past remain the standout excellent films in this particular franchise. I don't think that Apocalypse ever degrades quite to the train wreck that was The Last Stand - not even close. But it does fall victim to some of the same traps that The Last Stand fell into: namely that it perhaps tried to fit too many stories into one, and doesn't tell any one of them particularly well. Much like The Last Stand, this one even starts to fall on its face when it goes into "Dark Pheonix" territory. Thankfully, they avoided turning that into a major plot thread though...
Perhaps the clumsiest storyline here was the Four Horsemen themselves. As per the comics, Apocalypse must recruit four powerful mutants, amplify their powers, and then use them as his own personal bodyguards. Other than Magneto, these characters' introductions and development all had to be rushed through. It seems a bit ironic that in these movies, it always seems to be the characters that we're most familiar with who get the most set-up and exposition; while the new characters receive little-or-no explanation or development. I never really bought into these horsemen though, or why they would be willing to help this obvious villain. I get that he tricked some of them with promises that he would "save humanity from itself", and he earned some loyalty with others by healing them and making them stronger, and that he used Magneto's grief and anger to his advantage, but the moment his plans started shifting away from "destroying corrupt systems and governments" towards outright "destroy the world", I just couldn't believe that none of the others batted an eye! Was there some kind of mind control going on as well? But he doesn't have mind control powers; that's why he wants Professor X.
Aside from Magneto, The Four Horsemen felt undeveloped and lacking in motivation.
Maybe if the movie could have established that Apocalypse had somehow brainwashed them, then I'd be more willing to accept it... [More]
So where do I start ...?
... With the Mary Sue protagonist?
... Or the McGuffin plot device?
... Or the uncomfortably rushed pacing?
... Or that the uncomfortably-rushed plot was a complete rehash of the first movie's plot, starting with hiding a secret document inside a droid and culminating in a trench run to blow up yet another Death Star?
... Or how about the other fan-service?
... Or the shallow character arcs?
... Or the completely throw-away characters like Phasma?
... How about the weak, forgettable original score?
... Or even how the lack of the 20th Century Fox fanfare made the title crawl feel weird?
Yeah, I came out of the movie with a very sunken, disappointed feeling. Heck, at first, I wasn't even sure if what I had just seen was even better than the prequels. But I'll give The Force Awakens some credit and say that it is better than the prequels. Despite Rey coming off as a Mary Sue, and despite that all the other characters have arcs that are completed within the first ten minutes of the movie (if an arc exists at all), the characters and performances are much better than what we got in the prequels. I thought that the friendliness and camaraderie between the heroes felt a bit forced, but that was partly the result of the rapid pacing of the movie. The Millenium Falcon seems to warp back and forth across the galaxy three times over the course of the movie, and hyperspace seems to allow virtually instantaneous transit now (another problem that Abrams carried over from Star Trek). Is travel instantaneous, or did these characters spend days or weeks bunking on the Falcon?
Rey feels like a Mary Sue character who fulfills a multi-film development arc in the span of a few minutes.
Rey is a Mary Sue character whose entire development occurs in the couple minutes that she's strapped into an interrogation chair; although I loved the witty subversion of the "damsel in distress" trope in the beginning of the film: "Stop holding my hand, I know how to run!". LoL. Fin's arc is basically complete within the first ten minutes of the movie. Kylo Ren has a shallow arc that is left unresolved so that it can be further explored in the subsequent films (I'm assuming he's probably going to have a redemption arc similar to Vader's in Return of the Jedi). Han and Leia don't have arcs, as they just have backstory. All their character development happened off-screen in the thirty intervening years. And I'm OK with that. I didn't expect Han and Leia's relationship to work out anyway. They had nothing in common except the fight against the empire. Once that was over, Leia was likely to go back to being a diplomat or politician, and Han would have to turn his back on the life of crime and mercenary work that he's good at in order to find a respectable job and avoid being a source of scandal and controversy. That wasn't going to happen!
So all the backstory made sense to me, and was all pretty much what I expected. That is, until the political situation came up... So there's another republic now (makes sense), and that republic is the dominant governing power in the galaxy, right? And then there's this small, Cult of Darth Vader that calls itself the First Order. The First Order isn't the empire (or even the remnants of the empire), but they use the empire's stormtrooper armor, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers out of reverence for Vader. And they hold no actual power or influence, right? They don't even recruit soldiers from the general galactic population. They either kidnap children, or grow them in test tubes to be raised to fight as stormtroopers (and maybe even as officers, as suggested by the youthful General Hux). The only sympathy or cooperation that they receive is from fear and intimidation, which for some reason, the republic is either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about?
And then there's this resistance that Leia is supposedly in charge of, and that everyone in the galaxy seems to know about. What are they resisting? They're not resisting the republic. They seem to be resisting the First Order, and that they are sanctioned by the republic but not an official part of the republic. Well why not? Why are they still a small, ragtag group of former rebels that are apparently hiding away in secret bases? Why isn't the "resistance" just the republic's army or some sort of special operations unit? I'm sure that this sort of stuff will be explained (and hopefully make more sense) in the follow-up movies (or maybe it's already been explained in official books or whatever), but that doesn't change the fact that it made no sense in this movie. It's just another example of J.J. Abrams seeming to have no comprehension of the size and scale of the universes that he's working in.
The political situation is very poorly explained. Who are the "Resistance",
what are they resisting, and why aren't they part of the new republic's official military?
The overall plot works well enough for the first two-thirds of the movie. [More]
I'm really not sure if I should be cringing at the news that Disney is buying Lucasfilm. Apparently, they have already started planning for "Episode 7" to be released in 2015, and for a new Star Wars film to be released every 2 or 3 years after (probably indefinitely, until they stop making money).
George Lucas is being retained as a "creative consultant", but it is yet to be revealed just how involved he will be.
This could be very good news or very bad news for Star Wars fans. On the one hand, Disney seems to be intent to milk the franchise for all its worth and could very likely drive it into the ground with the inevitable straight-to-dvd released (see Bambi, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast). This could be good news for the more feeble-minded fans who happily eat up anything with the words "Star" and "Wars" and the Lucasfilm logo on the box.
But can we really say for sure that Disney will further tarnish the franchise any more than Lucasfilm has already done with the prequel movies? After all, Disney has a track record of making pretty good movies. Their handling of the Marvel film licenses has been respectful at the very least. Sure Captain America and Thor didn't blow critics away, and Iron Man 2 received mixed opinions. But considering that all those movies were really just feature-length teasers for the exceptionally-well-executed Avengers movie, they turned out pretty well. [More]
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