Monday, December 21, 2015


Gonna do some Q&A vs. myself to work out some inner Sith's advocate dialogue I've had running in my head since Thursday night. *SPOILERS* follow!

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SITH: I feel like the movie is having the audience do a lot of the lifting when it comes to building relationships between new characters. It's okay when a movie does that and does it well—I always think of the marines in ALIENS, how they're such instantly recognizable and known personalities—but I feel like in this movie, it's just passable and maybe too self-referential, counting on us to match up the new characters to old characters in the same universe. Or maybe it's just Finn and Poe. There's some very good development shorthand, jokey lines and looks and quick understandings, that certainly help things along, but if you think about it, it's pretty thin, isn't it?

JEDI: Well, they're both swept up in the rescue, escape, chase, and survival adrenaline. A connection made in that crucible, that's bound to start very strong.

S: I suppose. But there's something about it, about all the new characters (Finn > Rey is kind of easy, driven by a crush, but Rey > Finn, awe at a Resistance fighter? as if she cared about the Resistance?), that seems rushed. When we encounter them, we're supposed to be primed to believe they'll be lifelong friends, somehow skipping the getting-to-know-one-another phases.

J: That may be strategic storytelling. There's a lot going on and certainly a pace to it. These are friendships built in foxholes, under fire, and while some of these individuals may be reluctant to take help or give trust, once they find the others fighting the same enemy, if not for the same reasons, that help and trust is taken and given. And Rey being impressed by a Resistance fighter? That's not inconsistent. She knows of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, even if she considered him more myth than reality. *And* on a shelf in her AT-AT home, she's got a rag doll in a Rebel pilot's uniform! A reminder of a parent?

J: I like that she recognizes Han Solo as a smuggler before a Rebel general. I'm not sure what that's supposed to say about her, but I think it shows the company she's had to keep to survive on Jakku. She seems very much a natural do-gooder, so long as it doesn't take her away from waiting on her family.

S: Okay, new item. What about Finn and his lightsaber skills?

J: Well, of course I want to believe that there's something Force-y about that. But…

S: But there's nothing to back that up, really, right? He holds his own against some kind of electro-hammer expert for a good long while, and then vs. Kylo Ren (injured, but y'know, somewhat psychotically boosted by that injury). He's not victorious, but he does a lot better than someone who'd never picked up a saber before, right?

J: I'm still holding out hope that Finn's got some Force mojo, but let's say he does not. He's your average, non-Forcey, First Order Stormtrooper. Remember what he said about his life thus far. Abducted as a child and then trained and conditioned to be a trooper.

S: Yeah, that called to my mind the notion of child soldier.

J: But Jakku was apparently the first live fire that he experienced, so not quite that.

S: Right.

J: But, trained since childhood (you could see his baby pic on that screen when Phasma reveals that she was sending him for reconditioning when he chose to scarper). I don't think it's a stretch to believe that they are trained to be proficient in martial arts and weapons of all kinds. Blasters do run out of ammo. Well, I think they do. So, I'm telling you that as a trooper in training, Finn and the rest of the First Order minions learned to fight using swords of some kind.

S: Has there ever been mention of it being *difficult* for a non-Force-savvy person to use a lightsaber? It's not like Thor's hammer, but y'know, maybe the wielder needs to use the Force to hold the crystal in proper alignment for the blade to be stable? Like w Jedi Holocrons?

J: Yeah, that would be pretty cool. I don't have encyclopedic knowledge of any version of the SW universe, so can't say one way or the other, but I think based on the movies, we'd have to conclude no. Luke activated Vader's saber w no problem in Ben's place. Han used Luke's saber to cut open the tauntaun. Finn was able to light it up without there being any trick to it (and Han and Maz didn't give him any tips or expect any issues).

S: Okay, so, Finn's a well-trained Stormtrooper, proficient in the use of ground combat weapons (but apparently not trained to be a gunner or pilot, altho he picks it up pretty quickly), and those skills keep him alive when he's brandishing a lightsaber. I guess I'll allow that. All in all, the First Order's troopers certainly seem to perform better than those of the Empire 30 years ago. Still, I would've been pleased if some scenery-chewing by Hux and/or Ren could have happened against the backdrop of First Order troopers engaged in physical combat training. Staves, swords, hand-to-hand.

J: Let me jump back to something you said about Finn. That there's nothing to back up a Force-y pedigree for him. I'm not so sure about that. I think the fact that his conditioning breaks under fire is a tick in favor of Force-ness. True, no one would be surprised if the average galactic citizen panicked or froze when thrown into a deadly battle zone, but these are Stormtroopers. He's one trooper out of four transports who is shocked at the scene. And why? Because he can feel the pain and deaths of the troopers' victims.

S: But Phasma sent him for Reconditioning. That Reconditioning even exists means that this—a crack-up—happens sometimes, right?

J: Maybe, but what about when Kylo's gaze holds on Finn in the aftermath of the village massacre. What is it that he senses in/about Finn? Okay, maybe it's the beginning of a conscience, the cracking of conditioning, which might stand out in a sea of otherwise well-programmed troopers' psyches. But is that something that a Jedi notices in a passive way?

S: Sure, why not? Especially if he's keen on trying to find a Resistance fighter, right?

J: Maybe, maybe. But I think it's at least just as likely that his attention would be drawn by someone who is stronger than average w the Force, or Force-sensitive.

S: And don't forget how enraged Kylo is when he catches up to Finn. He screams at him—Traitor! I'd say that it's that element that Ren senses in Finn on Jakku. Call it whatever you want, conscience, independent thought, whatever, it's betrayal in Kylo's mind, and he sensed the seed of it. When some First Order underling mentions that a trooper helped the Resistance pilot escape, he knew who it was: FN-2187. Not because he's strong w/the Force, but because that seed had sprouted.

J: For a guy who turned on his master, Kylo's pretty ticked off about disloyalty.

S: Ah, but in Kylo's head, he struggles to be loyal—to Darth Vader.

J: Right, right. Okay, before we leave Jakku, I have a theory about weapons technology in the universe of TFA. I think that since ROTJ, modern weapons and ammo have shifted from energy-based to particle-based. Remember anyone (not in some kind of armor) who got hit by a blaster in the original trilogy? I can actually only think of Leia, once with a blaster set on stun in STAR WARS, and once by a random shot on Endor in ROTJ. The stun left no mark. The other shot seemed to leave a burn mark. Oh! And Greedo, of course! There's no splatter in the booth or wall to clean up, just a smoking corpse, right? Smoked, sizzled. Don't know what a stun setting would really be, more microwaves than laser? Something that makes you feel sick? Well, whatever it is, I'm pretty sure the First Order doesn't have that setting on their weapons. So, what kind of effect *does* the First Order's weaponry have? Well, this is the first time since the Mos Eisley cantina that I remember seeing blood drawn in the SW universe.

J: Hrm… Y'know, I wanted to say that it was the First Order's weapons specifically and exclusively that went particle and flesh-tearing, but the only battle bloodshed I can remember now is trooper blood and Kylo Ren's, inflicted by Resistance and Wookiee weapons. Chewie got hit, and ended up being bandaged, but I don't remember seeing blood. In any case, I think this is a sign that most of the ammo in TFA is some kind of charged slug/particulate. Rail guns. Maybe Chewie's bowcaster has always been one, but without some updated recoil buffering tech, so it takes a physically strong individual to use one without falling down.

S: So, Chewie updated his bowcaster at some point and that's why we get to see Han use it without knocking himself on his backside?

J: Sure, why not? That works. Maybe this change in weapons tech happens on several scales. I mean, what the heck is the beam that StarKiller base fires? Some kind of supercharged plasma? Programmable plasma? It's described by the Resistance as a "hyperspace weapon." It's definitely slower than light and a superlaser, right? But Hux crows about how the Republic homeworld is, like, super distant from StarKiller base, so… Huh? In any case, it's got to be physical matter. And what was up with the beam splitting and hitting multiple targets at the end? First I thought it destroyed a single planet and its moons, but given what characters say about it after the fact, it apparntly takes out all the planets in the Hosnian system. Was the tip of the beam actually some kind of charged capsule with multiple warheads?

S: "Magic Missile? Y'know, for attacking the darkness?" Yeah, I got nothing.

J: And how the heck can everyone on Maz Kanada's smuggler's bar planet see the StarKiller beam and the burninating Hosnian system in their sky? They must've been super-close.

S: Well, soon after that, the First Order and the Resistance both show up, so maybe it just works out that every planet we're concerned about happens to be jammed together in the same sector or something?

J: Don't forget Hux's boast about how distant Hosnia is from the technological terror the First Order has constructed.

S: Right. Right. Hey, aren't YOU supposed to be defending the movie?

J: Supposed to. I guess this isn't defensible. Umm… Gravity lensing? Bleah. Someone ask Neil deGrasse Tyson about it.

S: Not sure he's got the cred for it, really. I mean, if we were talking strict science fiction, sure, but I've always thought of the STAR WARS universe as fantasy. It's several leaps removed from a "what if" that you extrapolate from science and history as we know it, right? Not that that's a hard and fast definition of science fiction, but, well, knights, monsters, magic? Fantasy, right?

J: Yeah, but Neil's weighed in on some fantastic stuff, if only to offer a scientist's view-slash-rationalization, consistent w the conceits of the fantastic and the rules of the real.

J: Or something. Anyhow…

S: Right. I suppose "hyperspace weapon," or whatever they called it are the magic words that sort of explain it away. What would be great about a "hyperspace" weapon? It might travel great distances in a short/shorter time, by leaving real space for hyperspace for part of its journey. It might, on contact, send matter it encounters into hyperspace, ripping it apart and scattering it. Maybe the warhead is a hyperspatial bomb, and the beam we see is the energy needed to get the warhead beneath the surface of a target so that when it opens a hyperspace gate, it implodes the planet's core?

J: Sure, why not?

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More later…

Keep on keepin' on~

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