Monday, May 22, 2017

Heroes, Failures, and The Force Awakens

I wasn't planning on going on another tear against Star Wars NuCanon, but I think I figured out what bothered me the most about The Force Awakens.

Its not the uninspired soft reboot of A New Hope.

Its not the emotionless impact of major, even world-destroying, events or the abysmally small sense of scale of the film.

Its not even Rey's lack of character development and Mary Sue red flags.

Its the fact that it reduces the heroes of the original trilogy to failures in order to prop itself up.

Lando Calrissian goes from shady gambler to respectable business man to baron-administrator to treacherous coward to redemption seeking friend to noble general willing to risk his life for a greater cause. In old Canon he somewhat retires from his military rank to pursue grand financial adventures, but retains close ties to the New Republic. (Yes, I'll be using examples from Legends continuity, deal with it). He's nowhere to be seen in TFA, presumably off doing low-level gambling stuff and business ventures again.

Leia Organa goes from a driven diplomat, senator, warrior and leader, royalty times two: first to Alderaan and to Naboo (as goofy as its executive branch may be). She's a crack shot and a sharp wit who never gives up and would become instrumental in the formation of the New Republic. In Legends she became a mother of three powerful Jedi (hey, Jacen was an adult when he fell to the Dark Side) and was able to successfully juggle between spending time with them and with her duties as Chief of State of the New Republic, and having galaxy-spanning adventures AND training in the use of the Force and got her own lightsaber.

Here? She's in charge of a rag-tag military front called “The Resistance” using cast-off military hardware to not look like a New Republic operation. She's reduced to a crackpot former Senator trying to warn people Ron Paul style about how the Empire wasn't really finished yet, and yet her Resistance is unable to prevent a massive terrorist attack that destroys the solar system that the New Republic government is in. “But she's a General now! That's so much more badass than a Princess!” A) That's debatable, especially since by rights she should be a Queen and B) She failed to steer the New Republic in a better direction and she failed to protect it from an outside threat. Her life's work, the Alliance to Restore the Republic? Failure.

Luke Skywalker goes from a wide-eyed farm boy and bush pilot to military officer to brash Jedi trainee to moody mystic to becoming the big damn hero of the galaxy through his ability to forgive the sins of his father. From there he continues in a military capacity for a while before rediscovering Jedi documents and re-opening the Academy and training a new generation of Jedi Knights. He eventually finds love and starts his own family. Sure there were some bumps along the way, but the New Jedi Order endured as a shining beacon of light in a violent galaxy.

NuCanon? Less than thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star, one of his own students turned on the academy and wiped out the next generation of Jedi. In response, Luke goes off into seclusion, abandoning his friends, family, even droids after a single disaster. This is the man who stared down the Emperor and refused to kill him. This is the man who clung to the bottom of a floating city after having his worldview shattered by the revelation that his nemesis was his father. This is a hero of supreme willpower and perseverance who goes into hiding because wannabe Darth Vader and his Ginyu Force killed his students. His life's work, bringing balance to the Force and restoring the Jedi Knights? Nothing but ashes.

Han Solo probably gets the worst of it (if only because Luke has a grand total of seven seconds on-screen in TFA). He starts as a smuggler, gambler and rogue for hire. Courting danger and the next payday he looks out for himself and Chewbacca because that he has. Then he runs into a crazy old mystic and his apprentice, then a space princess, and then discovers something greater than just getting paid. He discovers friendship, loyalty, love. Good people worth fighting for. A woman worth sacrificing himself to risky carbon freezing for. An evil government worth overthrowing. Out of all the original trilogy characters, Han's easily the most likable thanks to Harrison Ford's raw charisma, but also because he has the strongest character growth out of anyone. There's never any doubt that Luke or Leia will succeed, but Han's always got that cloud of potential failure over him. In Legends, he stays a general longer than Luke. He's still running off on crazy adventures, only this time he's doing it for the New Republic and for his wife, the Chief of State. He's a loving father of three kids. All while still managing to step on the toes of authority whenever he can and rubbing elbows with his old smuggling buddies. He's reached a fulfillment to his life that he never thought possible.

NuCanon has Han regressing back to being a lowlife smuggler bumming around the galaxy as a deadbeat dad. Then he picks up some dumb young kids and gets caught up in their adventure, awakening his long-dormant heroism. He tries to pass some knowledge on, and then gets killed by the son he very obviously never connected with. An Everyman hero without Space Magic getting by on his wits and courage losing every good thing he ever attained (including the Falcon) before one last gasp at heroism and a pathetic death at the hands of his own failure of a son. His failure is the most depressing of all because its the most complete.

I'm sure there's something to be said about cultural mores and so on in regards to the difference between what the Expanded Universe did with the characters in the 90s-00s compared to now. There's also something to be said about how everybody wants to write about a plucky group of rebels overthrowing an evil government to replace it with a good government, but nobody ever seems to write about a plucky group of heroes fighting against incredible odds to protect the good government that the previous rebels installed.

This piece is already long enough, so I'll leave you with this: look at the last shot of Return of the Jedi. Now think about everything that these characters have achieved amounting to nothing.

Leaves a bad taste, doesn't it?


On the bright side, at least they didn't drop a moon on Chewie this time around.


John Boyle said...

And that is why I'll never rewatch that movie.

Thanks for putting that into words for me. You explained my reaction to that film better than I ever could.

K. Paul Kalvaitis said...

It took me a long time to process it, but once I did it just sticks in my craw something fierce. And its bad storytelling.