Warning: Spoilers abound.
Years ago, in my accidental classical education, I was among the few in my university who read both Homer and Virgil. When the two are seen side by side, it becomes very obvious that Virgil was copying Homer very closely. But more sensitive readers, however, would see that it was copying with a difference. Virgil used Homer heavily but he transformed it from a Greek Epic into a Roman one, which was indeed a very great difference.
I thought about this when I saw the new Star Wars movie. There was much that I liked about this movie. I loved being back in the world of Star Wars again. But at the same time, the world was a little too familiar. It rehashed it all over again.
This was a problem back to the original series. The first movie was about a band of plucky rebels who needed to destroy a Death Star. The second movie, which was among the rarest of rare things in that it was a sequel that was superior to the original, moved beyond that. The plot driver of that film was a moral one: will Luke learn the ways of the Jedi, or will his hotheadedness lead him to the darkness? The third movie returned to the same McGuffin as the first- another death star. It was almost like the second movie never happened. The only lingering problem of the second movie- the Hansicle- was cleared up in about fifteen minutes. After that, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training. This is important, because when he left Dagobah the last time both Yoda and Obi wan warned him that his training was incomplete and that flying off to meet Vader was a Very Bad Idea and could quite possibly Ruin Everything. Now, Yoda tells him that, without any further training, mind, that his training is complete and the only left is for Luke to meet Vader. Oh, and a sister, who happens to be the only female in the franchise. And so the plucky band of rebels goes off to blow up another Death Star which is supposed to mean the end of the Empire.
So, this is a new movie and a new experience, right? Not so much. This movie contains 1. an orphan on 2. a desert planet who finds 3. a droid who is carrying 4. a secret message that 5. must get to the base of the rebels and at all cost must not 6. fall into the hands of the evil villain who 7. wears a mask that 8. alters his voice and who was 9. trained as a Jedi but 10. turned evil and who talks to 11. a holograph of his lord and master and who 12. blows up a planet using a 13. big planet smashing gun that 14. will fire next on the rebel base so 15. the rebels must destroy it by 16.shooting its only weak spot but only after 17. Han and Chewie blow up the shield generator. At the same time, said orphan is 18. strong in the force without 19. knowing it and gets off the desert planet on the 19. Millenium Falcon which is 20. tracked by the new empire to another planet where the orphan is given a 21. lightsabre that 22 belonged to another powerful Jedi and ultimately travels to 23 another planet where she will train with the 24. last living Jedi master. And, oh, by the way, along the way, they stop off at 25. a bar filled with weird aliens and 26. a band. Does any of that sound familiar?
This is not like Virgil copying Homer for the Romans. This is incredibly lazy screenwriting. The rebels- sorry, resistance- sound almost bored planning the attack on the new Death Star or whatever it was. Of course it has a weakness. Of course they will kill it. No Bothans died to get these plans, the resistance has a janitor on its side. He knows all the secret weaknesses of the new base.
But worst of all is the new main character, Rey. With her the writes have saddled themselves with the invincible character. With absolutely no training she can fly ships, use jedi mind tricks, levitate lightsabers. She wins her first light sabre duel against a trained opponent. She is a Mary Sue of the first order.
Worse than that, Ray Sue has no desire. This is critical. Stories are fueled by desires and goals. The frustration of desire prolongs the story, the achievement of desire ends it. Luke wanted to go off, get off his homeworld, see the galaxy, have adventures, learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, and save his father. Rey wanted to merely stay on her planet and wait for her family to return. Half way through the movie, she is told that her family will never return, and that she already knew that. So she is without goals or desires. She nowhere states that she wants to be a Jedi, or wants to learn about the Force, or wants to aid with the Resistance- nothing. The scene that comes closest to it is when she finds a lightsaber in the basement of a bar. It was calling out to her- the lightsaber, that is. It's the same lightsaber that Obiwan gave Luke, the one that had belonged to his father- you know, the one that disappeared along with Luke's hand down the shaft of the cloud city at the end of Empire? That one. When the bar owner is asked how she got it, she merely says it is a long story, and I bet it was.
At any rate, the lightsaber gives Rey-Sue a series of visions which scares her, and she runs off, and is then captured and then she starts using the Force without training, because...? That is the closest we get to any kind of emotion or motivation for this character. If the writers had given her nightmares, say, of dead Jedi speaking to her in her dreams, coaching her, speaking to her, guiding her, or if she had some trouble with the fact that she could do things others could not- if she had grabbed another character just once and shouted in their face "WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?" she would have been a far more interesting character. Perhaps the writers have plans for her arc and development. But for this movie, she was a barren, featureless blank.
At any rate, the writers will be given ample opportunity to improve. There are many more movies in the works, I am sure. Hopefully we will not be treated to an endless parade of even bigger death stars and holographic baddies and guys with fram filters on their face. But, on the other hand, who am I kidding? I'll be standing in line with the rest of them, insisting they shut up and take my money.
Oh, and happy new year.