Thursday, August 11, 2016

How to not write a Star Wars movie

Relevant criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by IMDb user lindewell:

Have you noticed that the script was so poor, the only way JJ Abrams found to move forward the story is to call for an airstrike. The intro sequence, we don’t get to know Lor San Tekka, why he got the map, etc., the First Order burns the village to the ground so we can’t expect any answer. When Rey meets Finn, they don’t have a minute to talk, the market gets bombed immediately and they have to flee in the Falcon. When they go to Maz castle, she doesn’t explain how she got the lightsaber, why does she know the Force, why she seems to know everything about Rey, boom, the first order bombs the castle so they can move on to the next sequence.

It’s like JJ and Kasdan would sit and wonder what will be happening next, and boom, let’s call an airstrike, some stormtroopers blasting shot and voila, next scene!

Jjlando adds:

I brought that up as an example of how Abrams uses action (and well-placed nostalgia fuel) in a scene to cover up the complete stupidity of the plot and characters.

Naturally the whole plot is going to feel contrived (and thus stupid) because the people behind the movie are primarily focused on rehashing ANH’s plot beats to play upon people’s nostalgia. Of course, this new plot has to be different enough so people don’t get the impression they’re watching a remake. A la we got a soft reboot masquerading as a sequel with a stupid plot. The entire premise being stupid, you get a trickle down effect of stupidity that shows up in every scene.

Kylo Ren kills Lor San Tekka immediately not because it is logical to the movie’s plot, but because they needed to emulate that scene from ANH where Vader chokes the Rebel captain to death on the Tantive IV. Poe jumps out and gets captured not because it is logical to the plot, but to emulate Leia getting captured, etc.

I’ll add to this. When Finn breaks Poe out of custody on the battle cruiser, a trusting relationship is struck up on the fly and they escape the First Order together. The scene tries to mirror A New Hope, where Luke, Han, and Chewbacca rescue Leia on the Death Star. Aesthetically, it’s the same scene, a wink at knowing fans. But in terms of the plot it doesn’t work. Luke name-drops Obi-Wan Kenobi and Leia trusts him. But she doesn’t trust him at first. “Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” she says. For the scene to work in The Force Awakens, Finn basically tells Poe he’s defecting from the First Order and he’s saving Poe “because it’s the right thing to do,” and Poe is suddenly on his side. I can see Poe working with Finn until he’s safe from the First Order, then dumping him, but to entrust Finn with vital information about BB-8 as they’re making their getaway is a bit much.

Dig deeper and it gets worse. Why does Finn break Poe out of custody? Because he needs a pilot to escape the First Order. The logical place to look for a pilot would be among the First Order pilots whom he already knows, one that won’t be shot at the second he’s spotted. Finn could either find a First Order pilot who doesn’t like the First Order, like him, or he could lie to the pilot, baiting him with talk that he needs help on a secret mission. But Finn chooses someone who should be inclined to mistrust him and who will be impeded every step of the way by the First Order. In A New Hope, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca rescue Leia because she’s the one who sent the droids, which brought them together. There’s no such narrative justification in The Force Awakens for rescuing Poe, only meta-narrative rationalizations.

The problems with this sequence encapsulate many of The Force Awakens’s plot problems. Certain scenarios and character interactions intended to evoke original trilogy nostalgia are shoehorned into tight narrative corners where they don’t fit. The filmmakers try to compensate for the awkwardness with narrative speed. This just widens the disconnect between the story and the audience.

Another example of this is when Starkiller Base annihilates the Hosnian system, another narrative wink to A New Hope that makes no sense. Tarkin threatens to destroy Alderaan to get Leia to reveal the whereabouts of the rebel base. He knows her emotional connection to her defenseless home planet is strong. She tries to deceive him, but he sees through her lies and destroys Alderaan. In The Force Awakens, there’s no reason given for destroying the Hosnian system, or for having not destroyed it already. It’s simply “time” to do it, as if it’s some sort of Plan B in case Plan A, finding Luke Skywalker, fails, which it did, for about 10 minutes. Why don’t they just wait for the Resistance to lead them to Luke, then blow up the planet he’s on? Actually, why not blow up the planet that the map is on, preventing anyone from ever getting in touch with Luke? More fundamentally, why is finding Luke a priority at all, if you can wipe away a whole system in one broad stroke? In A New Hope, finding the Death Star plans had a mortal bearing on the bad guys’ chief motivations and interests. Why the bad guys’ search for Luke in The Force Awakens? Just because. That they realize this halfway through the movie is sloppy screenwriting.

There are more plot artifices to justify this turn in The Force Awakens’s second act to focus on Starkiller Base. R2-D2 is said to have the rest of the map that makes sense of the map that BB-8 carries, but it can’t be accessed because R2-D2 has been dormant or something since Luke disappeared. How R2-D2’s galactic map remains inaccessible is beyond explanation. As is R2-D2’s “waking up” after the main battle to provide the whole map that enables them to track down Luke. Great timing, R2!

Back to Starkiller Base. Past experience shows that your superweapon is good for, at best, one calamitous shot before it’s attacked. At least in Return of the Jedi, the emperor uses subterfuge to lure the rebels into a risky two-pronged attack against a Death Star that is—surprise!—operational after all, and can turn its fire on spacecraft. Indeed, you could argue the second Death Star, anchored to its force field generator on Endor, is intentionally built to bait the rebels. The First Order show no such ingenuity. They incompetently alert the whole galaxy to Starkiller Base’s existence while giving the entity best equipped to hurt them—the Resistance—time to muster an attack. (There’s also no explanation for why the New Republic was unprepared for the attack, given their enemy’s track record with superweapons and their superior defenses, compared to Alderaan.)

The heavy hand of the filmmakers’ nostalgia binge weighs constantly on the characters actions, often contradicting their motivations. What’s worse is the overbearing nods to the original trilogy fail beyond a superficial level. The filmmakers copied and pasted specific plot elements into a new story with new characters, rejiggered the sequence and character motivations, and hoped it would make sense. It doesn’t.

Years ago I wrote a book called Murder On Mars. It took me 2 years to finish. However, the book I finished writing wasn’t the book I set out to write. Conceptually the end was completely different from the beginning. I had to redesign the setting, the characters, and their relationships. Whole scenes would have to be rewritten if not cut altogether. Problem was I loved those scenes I wrote earlier in the book and I wanted to find a way to leave them in. So I started adding layers to the plot, exceptions to the rules and exceptions to exceptions to the rules. Eventually I found myself juggling four different narratives in the course of one conversation between two people, just to preserve certain lines of dialogue and feelings they felt as they talked. I rewrote some scenes five times before they made sense—never mind whether they were enjoyable—then I would remember the whole setup of one such scene or sequence of scenes was an artifact from the plot I was supposed to have abandoned. It was terrible! I spent 4 years trying to make it work before giving up. Now I know: Don’t write a scene until you know how it fits in the story. If you do, it feels artificial and disjointed. A scene’s place in the story dictates how it should be written. The makers of The Force Awakens violated that rule over and over again.

(Not to mention the badly designed characters, bad dialogue, bad acting, and plot contrivances that marred this movie.)

Friday, August 5, 2016

“Pro-lifers” for Hillary

I have issues with Rachel Held Evans’s doctrineless brand of Christianity, which I think is a result of her unwillingness to present the hard parts of faith for fear she’ll be rejected, and of a fear of the truth that the Way is narrow (Matthew 7:14), meaning many will not have eternal life. So, she fashions a less “judgy” faith that doesn’t alienate the liberal zeitgeist. At her blog she argues that a pro-life person should vote for Hillary Clinton, pro-choice candidate for president, for “pragmatic” reasons. Here’s the crux of her argument:

In the eight years since we’ve had a pro-choice president, the abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest since 1973. I believe the best way to keep this trend going is not to simply make it harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies but to create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with. Data suggests progressive social policies that make healthcare and childcare more affordable, make contraception more accessible, alleviate poverty, and support a living wage do the most to create such a culture, while countries where abortion is simply illegal see no change in the abortion rate.

First, the good. Evans is right that there should be more to being pro-life than outlawing abortion. I pointed this out to Ezra Klein years ago. The pro-life movement is grounded in an overarching ethos that honors conservative sexual ethics and family life, views that sync with man’s fundamental nature. Extolling any means of reducing abortions without recognizing man’s fundamental nature, or that doesn’t address man’s fallenness, misses the point.

Now the bad. Evans’s use of the term “unwanted pregnancies” is telling. This is a term of our promiscuous culture that takes for granted that people will have sex heedless of the reproductive consequences. It’s hypocritical to call a pregnancy “unwanted” when the sex act that foreseeably led to it was very much wanted. The most direct cure for pregnancy is to not have sex. But the cool kids laugh at you when you say this, and Evans wants to be one of the cool kids.

Evans presents “progressive social policies” that the data presumably show practically reduces abortions. The problem is big government policies like Obamacare have made healthcare more costly, not less. Poverty-fighting programs like the Great Society wasted trillions of dollars and cultured a permanent disaffected, dislocated underclass. Minimum wage laws kill jobs. Big government makes families weaker, not stronger.

The worst part of her policy prescription is “making contraception more accessible.” Disregarding for a moment that contraceptives are cheap, how is incentivizing licentiousness a legitimate venture of government, especially in a society shared with abstinent people. Contraceptives proliferation furthers the fantasy of heedless sex, while at the same time leading to suicidally low reproductive rates. Evans’s pro-life views are unmoored from a procreative model couched in chastity and marriage. If she finds that model unrealistic, fine. But Jesus’ punishment for our sins is an enormous power that transforms lives. It would be a shame to undervalue it.

All of this ignores the fact that there were far fewer abortions before 1973, the year the Supreme Court struck down state abortion bans. If Evans was really interested in reducing the number of abortions, she’d call for less availability to abortion, like in the ’50s. But to the cool kids, the ’50s are irredeemable.

Finally, if you’re genuinely pro-life, how can you reconcile with a candidate whose philosophy enshrines the pregnant woman as the arbiter of life? This has always been the two movements’ irreconcilable difference. One believes in the universality and sanctity of life, the other in the universality and sanctity of choice. To one side, choice is illegitimate; to the other, it is primary. If abortions spiked to 3 million per year, pro-choicers like Clinton who believe their own arguments wouldn’t bat an eye.

Evans believes in “sacred personhood” but it doesn’t translate into a coherent argument about why choice is illegitimate. Evans is saying abortion is a choice dictated by the mother’s circumstances, so let’s improve the circumstances. But, if a woman, no matter her circumstances, wants to kill her unborn child, what will Evans say? Rather, what will her vote for pro-choice candidates say?

Related: “Christian writer Rachel Held Evans falsely claims Christians should vote for Hillary Clinton,” Michael New.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Transgender madness comes to Texas

Who could have predicted the downfall of Western Civilization would be post-human à la carte identity? “Lawsuit against UIL threatened over traditional gender team rules,” 1200 WOAI. I say post-human because progressivism has denuded the flesh of worldly attachments, as C. S. Lewis predicted in The Abolition of Man, leaving man only his self-centeredness to ground him to reality. Therefore every student’s personal fantasy must be accommodated. The ego-debasing melting pot has gone cold. Title IX as an instrument of transgender lunacy is a menace for this and other reasons. It foists an imaginary equality on the sexes, and it also mandates politically correct college administrators prosecute rape allegations, violating the accused’s civil rights.

LGBT perverts impose their Nietzschean will on Texas, and the cost-benefit analyzers join them: “Texas business group to fight legislative efforts to restrict LGBT rights,” 1200 WOAI. I’ve said for years this fight is about property rights, doing with my property what I want, not a limited right to abstain from someone else’s commercial tyranny because of beliefs that the state can adjudicate as genuinely held and recognized as religion. (See “SB1062” and “Casual subjugation.”) Don’t worry, though. Paypal’s Peter Thiel, the LGBT reactionary who led the commercial exodus from North Carolina, says it’s okay. Rod Dreher says it’s not okay.

Related: “Identitarian.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Odds and ends 7/23/2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

God and country

My flesh calls out to Gingrich’s common sense. When in the past has America been better off not fighting its enemies? America prosecuted Nazis and Communists when it was at war with Nazis and Communists. America interned Japanese after Pearl Harbor because it was believed they would stay loyal to their ancestral homeland. Is it outlandish to believe Japanese would stay loyal to Japan? The assumption was they would; that’s why the naturalization oath of allegiance says “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.” If you believe Japanese are loyal to Japan, to do nothing when enemy agents are operating within your borders is suicidal.

It’s as C. S. Lewis noted about witch burning: If you believe in witches, it’s a given that you kill them. They are the devil’s agents on earth! The only uncertainty is how to best find them.

Liberalism has done much to erase the ordinariness of the illiberal past, and has only permitted its remembrance in the form of cautionary tales like anti-Communist hero/liberal bogeyman Joseph McCarthy. In McCarthy’s time fundamental differences of nationality and religion were less tolerated because multiculturalism was seen as a preface to disunion and civil war. This intolerance, a dirty word now, was the scorching fire of the once effective melting pot.

Now the post-war liberal consensus is unraveling, as ISIS sympathizers overstretch the credibility of the diversity project, eroding the preconditions for social trust, and as liberalism’s former proponents suppress the truth in pursuit of blatant falsehoods. The times increasingly call for the enemies of truth and peace in the Lord to be fought and defeated—peacefully, insofar as it can be.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Eye for an eye

Another way the spectacularly politically relevant movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes resonates is how it shows groups in an uneasy peace policing their own ranks. The peace is worth preserving because of the death and maiming that would result from war. Either war is inevitable, and you fight to win, or peace is possible, and you police your side to keep it.

The opening scene of the movie shows Caesar letting a rogue human off the hook for killing his tribesman in cold blood. Caesar knows that a swift reprisal would be construed as an act of war against the humans. Therefore the responsibility for punishing the killer is the humans’. Likewise it’s Caesar’s responsibility to check his warlike tribesman Koba, who would relish a war with the humans, whether started by the humans or themselves.

The facts may very well exonerate the police in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, but I doubt it. Police are fallible, but sometimes they’re treated as infallible, as entitled to homicidal mistakes. Sometimes they don’t own up to them, as in Eric Garner’s case and other cases I’ve observed. So when one group fails to punish its own members who breach the peace, it doesn’t surprise that the aggrieved group seeks revenge, short of war.

But what about Jesus’ command to not retaliate, to “not resist the evildoer” (Matthew 5:38-39)? Would those ancient words be heeded by all! Jesus’ teaching is the tonic for a soul torn from God, but unfortunately it is not a predictive model of human nature. Not even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great Christians of the 20th century, fully obeyed what he properly understood to be Jesus’ teaching. That’s not an excuse to not try, just a reasonable template to base your expectations from.

It goes without saying the murders and attempted murders of police in Dallas are atrocious. It goes without saying the truth often runs counter to beholden grievance narratives always angling for political currency. Years of pointing this out has done little to convince anyone of their errors. The situation isn’t about justice and righteousness so much as political appeasement.