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.)

No comments:

Post a Comment