thoughts on The Big Space Movie

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Yeah, hi. So you know how I consistently do that thing where I say I’m going to write here more? And then I don’t? And then primarily I pop in to deliver news bits and I pop out again and I don’t reappear for a couple weeks at least?

Really not gonna do that anymore.

This used to be at least semi-personal as well as professional. Then for a variety of reasons I moved a lot of stuff onto Tumblr. But Tumblr is, uh, not a good place for me professionally. It’s my place where I get to be and pretty much always am at my least professional. I need to come back here a bit, and I think I might be able to do that by making this more personal than it’s been. Not everything needs to be about books or whatever short story I have out there this month.

(I HAVE A SHORT STORY IN STRANGE HORIZONS THIS MONTH. JUST BY THE WAY)

(THERE’S COOL ART IF YOU LIKE COOL ART. WHICH I DO)

Anyway, I saw Star Wars last Thursday night, like apparently literally everyone else I know except the people who already saw it. My spoiler-free review is that it’s good and you should see it (and if possible see it in laser-projected 3D IMAX, which we did because we’re fortunate to live near the Udvar-Hazy annex of the Air & Space Museum which you really must visit if you never have, they have an SR-71 and the Discovery space shuttle among like a hundred billion other things).

My spoilertastic thoughts are under the cut.

I should say that in some ways this was always going to be a tough sell for me, and the primary reason for that is that I went in with a preconceived idea of canon post-RotJ and it was – and as it turns out will continue to be – Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. As far as I’m concerned, that’s canon. That’s what happened. So TFA was going to have to offer something majorly majorly compelling and convincing to pave that over for me.

And it didn’t.

Which means I was in the slightly uncomfortable position of walking out of the theater feeling like I had seen what I have to call for lack of anything better (and if you know what my life has been like for the last year, you know how and why using this term in this way makes me even more uncomfortable) very good and very pretty fanfiction. Which is to say “that was really great but that’s not what actually happened.”

(I really do at some point need to get into why this is not representative of my feelings about fanfiction. And I will. I’m going with that analogy because I can’t at this moment come up with anything that’s a better fit.)

But I also really really liked it.

I guess it might be good to just take this point by point. I’m tired and I can’t do flow well right now anyway. Look at those paragraphs up there. Structurally, they’re a mess. They’re meandering and wordy and awful. Let’s just stick to bullet points.

THE GOOD

  • Holy Christ better than the prequels, oh my GOD oh my god oh my god better than the prequels, but that’s not a high bar to clear and honestly I went in with one prayer and it was that this thing not suck and be better than the prequels so CHECK THAT OFF THE LIST.
  • It looks like Star Wars. To me, anyway. One of my own personal peevy issues with the prequels was how visually goopy they were, in terms of CGI but also in terms of literally everything. Not the case here. It’s all stripped down, it’s crisp, it’s clean, and the Big Epic Shots are beautiful without trying too hard at all and are therefore even more beautiful than they would be anyway. Far as I’m concerned it nails the aesthetic. So huge points there.
  • REPRESENTATION. REPRESENTATION. REPRESENTATION. I just. It’s. Oh my God, this plus Mad Max? Oh my God. Can I teach Gender and Intersectionality next semester with this film? I might have to try to find a way.
  • New characters that I actually gave a shit about. More than that. Liked. Wanted to see more of. Really a lot. Characters I want to high five and snuggle. Characters I want to hang out with. Characters I despise for their actions but who break my heart. Characters I believe in. CHARACTERS.
  • Characters who actually had chemistry as opposed to just kind of happening to wander into the same shot and delivering closely timed lines and maybe emoting vaguely at each other before wandering out again accompanied by lens flare.
  • Minimal fan service. I would say just about the right amount of fan service. In fact it all felt way less like fan service and more like a big fan hug.
  • It’s just fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not trying to be a Serious Epic Space Opera, which was something else the prequels did (I am not saying anything insightful or new about the prequels, these are just what struck me as particular points of contrast). It’s just like hey, WE’RE IN SPACE WITH LASER SWORDS AND MAGIC AND SPACESHIP BATTLES, LET’S ALL HAVE SOME FUN. How can I possibly in any way, shape, or form not 100% support that.
  • No one at any point mentioned midichlorians. Holy shit, I just realized that. No one mentioned midichlorians. Holy shit.
  • Despite the main character coming from a planet with lots of sand, there were no monologues about how much she hated sand, even though to be frank she had a lot of reasons to hate sand.

THE BAD or at least less good, there really isn’t much bad here even in the stuff I kind of disliked.

  • Okay, I can’t believe I’m saying this, I honestly can’t, but I frankly could have used a little more Trade Federation. By which I mean I have no idea what the fuck the deal was with the politics in this galaxy. So you have the Republic, which is maybe the New Republic? We’re not sure how powerful they are, or how cohesive they are or whether they’re able to provide any kind of political structure or law and order, or whether they’re succeeding at all as an interstellar government, but they’re there. And that matters for some reason. Plus you have the Resistance, but… Okay, if you have the Republic, what are they resisting? Why are they called that? Are they officially a military arm of the Republic? Are they paramilitary? Why? Might that not be kind of a problem? And the Empire isn’t the Empire anymore, except they are, sort of, and they seem really powerful and stunningly well-funded with an incredible command of resources given that they’ve built literally a planet-sized death machine that can wipe out entire star systems at one go. Which is something even the original Empire – which was actually an Empire – couldn’t do. Okay, yeah, it’s thirty years later. Maybe technology is better. Except it doesn’t seem like it is? Except it’s unclear?
  • Yeah, we need a second continuing bullet point. We may be past the utility of bullet points. Look, here’s why this matters and is not just me being a fucking nerd: Every war story is to some extent political, and if I don’t understand where we started, then I don’t understand where we’ve ended up. The First Order has suffered a major defeat; great, so what does that mean? What were the larger stakes, originally? What are they now? Is the Republic still there? Is the First Order now the dominant political force in the galaxy? If they’re political at all? Is the Resistance now actually resisting something? In terms of power dynamics, who truly came out on top at the end there? Because now I’m actually not 100% sure who won. And that’s kind of a problem.
  • Final bullet point that is really all one bullet point and then I’ll move on: you don’t need lengthy CGI scenes detailing Old Republic parliamentary procedure in order to get this stuff across. A New Hope actually does it very neatly in only a few lines of dialogue and it all happens offscreen. In two short conversations between Leia and Vader, and Vader and Tarkin, you get that there’s the Rebellion and the Empire but also the last remnants of a kind of democracy in the presence of the Imperial Senate, and then the Imperial Senate is dissolved – presumably because the military arm of the Empire is now so powerful that they can basically declare martial law forever simply because they want to and have the backing of the Emperor, and they arrest and torture a princess/senator’s daughter and blow up Alderaan with impunity and there you go. I understand the politics. Or at least I understand everything I need to understand in order to grasp the larger stakes, and we can get on with the spaceship fights and laser sword duels and I’m very happy. I wish there had been more of that. I was left feeling a little too much “but hey, wait a minute” without it. I dunno, I’m a huge nerd. I did a lot of political sociology in grad school. Ignore me.
  • It was sorta paint-by-numbers Star Wars. It was full of stuff from ANH – character who doesn’t realize their own talent for the Force on sandy planet, family issues, big dreams, rebellion, evil empire, doomsday weapon, space fights, father figure dies unexpectedly except everyone sees it coming, everything is saved at the very last minute, the end. Lots of differences, to be sure, but yes. I have to issue the caveat that I think this is all actually a plus depending on who’s watching it, and I can see why it was done. I won’t say that I think it was bad, or a mistake. It just didn’t totally work for me.
  • Because I went in so unspoiled, I initially thought Kylo Ren might be a woman. I just got the feeling that maybe he was. Then I heard stuff about “son” and I was like …Oh. Okay. We’re still doing the father-son thing. Which, fine, not a big deal, but please pause for a minute and imagine a female Kylo Ren and tell me that wouldn’t be the best fucking thing in a movie which is already rocking the representation.

But yes. Overall lots and lots of love. I’m in for the next one.

I’m just so fucking glad it didn’t suck, you guys. So. Fucking. Glad.

3 responses to “thoughts on The Big Space Movie

  1. had so many of the same thoughts!

    not knowing the political stakes of anything bothered me maybe a bit more. made me think of Top Gun, where showing people fighting seemed more important than knowing why.

    that they recycled the death-star-with-a-weak-point-but-first deactivate-the-shields made me cringe.

    also, the cgi still isnt working for me, especially when main characters are so video-game-y, but maybe that’s just my hangup i need a way to get over 🙂

  2. Sunny, thank you for pointing me to that story. That is just gorgeous.

  3. So interesting! A female Kylo Ren. Wow! Cool thought. Really enjoyed your post

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