On Friday the 18th Marzio and I went to see Star Wars Episode VII. As each of the trailers was released Marzio got more and more excited, while I held on to my reservations. Like Anakin Skywalker, and most of you, I was left terribly scarred by the prequels. After Lucas’ cinematic abominations, misa thought Star Wars was poo doo and best left in the trash compactor. Still, I’ll admit, that some small part of me held on to a glimmer of hope. Somewhere beneath the scars left behind by Lucas’ hubris there was in me–a Star Wars fan. I wanted to believe in JJ Abram’s promise even if I refused to drink the Disney Kool-Aid.

Strangely enough, as people were filing into the movie theater, my husband, coauthor and I, were debating art and economics. My husband was arguing that most artists, when forced to put food on the table, succumbed to mass market demands and true and tried formulas. I argued that some artists would rather starve than sell out–often taking menial jobs so they could continue to make their art on the side. True and tried formulas couldn’t always guarantee monetary gain, and in fact could backfire, resulting in total market saturation–a perfect example of this is superhero movies, vampire books and three-chord wonder bands.

What really got people’s attention, I countered, was innovation and originality. If all artists cared about was putting food on the table, movies like Star Wars would have never been made in the first place. At the time that Lucas made Star Wars he was hungry to succeed, but also passionate about film-making. The studios hated his idea and many times he almost got shut down. His funding faltered. No one got him. If Lucas wanted an easy buck, he could have tackled any number of easy-to-swallow movie projects which would have paid the bills, but if he had done that, an entire culture would have been deprived of the wondrous phenomenon that was Star Wars.

I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when I was six years old in a dilapidated movie theater in Havana, Cuba. By that time the film was four years old. It was sub-titled in Spanish, edited for Cuban politics and terribly grainy. In spite of these shortcomings, my dad and I both left the theater that day feeling as if we had seen something truly special.

I learned to read when I was four. By age six, I had already tackled Verne, Asimov and Bradbury and was intensely interested in space travel. Star Wars had changed my life in ways that wouldn’t be obvious until many years later when I went on to get a degree in film.

For many years I admired George Lucas and what he was able to accomplish within Hollywood. Same went for Coppola, Scott, Lynch, Spielberg, the list goes on. Then, I began to notice something strange. Opportunities for original ideas were being stifled by dollar signs. Sure, movie making has always been a business, but as more and more sequels, reboots, remakes, and “re-imaginings,” flooded theaters, I became disillusioned.

My brand new degree wasn’t going to usher me into an artistic field seeking innovation, but to a corporate machine seeking dollars. As if that was not bad enough, the corporate beast repudiated females. At the time of graduation, the only female directors making waves were Campion, Bigelow, and Dash. There were some others like Diane Keaton and Sally Potter, and out of the small handful, none were hispanic. An internet search now, hardly yields many more names. The deplorable lack of female directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers has not changed much in the thirteen years since I left college.

Back to Star Wars Episode VII. [SPOILERS AHEAD]


The latest installment of Star Wars is a disappointing money grab. I could have lived with the economics of it, if at its core, JJ Abrams had delivered a movie that was original. The Force Awakens is not a new movie. It’s a mix-tape of cool clips from a movie we’ve seen before and have since memorized. Tatooine is now Jakku, Hoth is now D’Qar. Yes, the Millenium Falcon flies again. Yes, Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie, R2-D2 and C-3PO are back. Yes, sadly there is a Death Star, it’s only bigger. Yes, we have X-wings and TIE fighters. Yes, we have patricide. Yes, the movie is filled with verbatim, regurgitated shots from the early, beloved films, geared to pull your heart-strings. Yes, there are lightsaber battles. Yes, there is an emperor-type being. Yes, there is a dark side and a man with a mask and a creepy voice. Yes, yes, yes, and it falls flat on its face.

Star Wars has reached the level of religion. The iconography is set in stone and dissenters will be crucified. I have spent some time reading the comments left on sites that gave The Force Awakens a bad review. Writers who disagree with the masses have been called trolls and a haters at best and assholes at worst. I’d like to preface my issues with this  movie by saying that I don’t give a rat’s ass about being called a troll or a hater.

Seth Abramson over at the Huffington Post did a great job outlining the plot holes in this movie in his two articles: 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and 20 More Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘, but I figured I’d let you in on the ones that really got my goat.

Here they are:

The force is amazingly easy to master

JJ Abrams promised us there would be no mention of midi-chlorians. This is true. What he didn’t tell us was that in his movie the force is the simplest thing in the world to understand and master. Abrams (and the fans) seem to have forgotten that Luke Skywalker labored in a swamp under the tutelage of Yoda for months just so he could draw his saber out of the muck. I was aghast when Rey, who is completely untrained in the ways of the force, divines that she can use the Jedi mind-trick. When or where would she even have a reference to this power being used in this way and how could she have suddenly mastered it without training? Then there is her piloting skill. She crashes the Millenium Falcon into debris as she fumbles around during take-off, then moments later is found zig-zagging a la Solo through the carcass of a star destroyer. Rey is a scavenger…living on a desert planet with no access to a ship. Where she learned to fly a starship (like that) is anyone’s guess. Oh….wait…must be the force–that mysterious wonder that answers for all the plot holes in this movie.

Anyone can use a lightsaber successfully

JJ Abrams promised us that the light saber battles were going to be “much more primitive, aggressive and rougher, a throwback to the kind of heart-stopping lightsaber fights [he] remembered as a kid.” Well, if by that he meant that any schmuck can pick up a light saber and wield it with some degree of competency, then he delivered on his promise. Finn picks up Luke’s lightsaber twice and, in spite of not being graceful, kicks ass with it. Assuming that a lightsaber can be wielded by a non-jedi (see Han Solo’s gutting of the tauntaun), sword fighting is still a learned skill. Just where a sanitation worker picked up such moves is anyone’s guess.

On the lightsaber…how is it that a run-of-the-mill storm trooper is armed with an anti-lightsaber weapon? First, I thought jedi were extinct and lightsabers were relegated to rare, mystical weapons. Why would troops carry something to counter them? Second, I thought a lightsaber could cut through just about everything. Guess not. Third, why doesn’t the storm trooper just shoot Finn as he is fumbling with the lightsaber instead of getting into a sword fight with him? Stupid.

Finally, what were the rest of the storm troopers doing while Finn was waving the lightsaber around? There must have been a run for free donuts somewhere off-screen.

The only way to fix this is for JJ Abrams to reveal that somehow Finn has the force. It might happen in a subsequent film…stay tuned…cha ching!

A black hole can be harnessed, but x-wings can’t be stopped

The Starkiller harnesses the sun to shoot beams that can destroy planets. Last I checked sucking an entire sun requires a black hole. Let me get this straight, you can contain a black hole but you lack the technology to shield the base from X-wings? Do they not remember the Alamo–I mean the Death Star? Guess not, cause if they did, that conveniently placed channel for X-Wings to glide through would have been armored and the Starkiller would have shot D’Qar FIRST. I mean, why wait?

What’s more, the Starkiller can’t detect you if you are flying at light speed. Uhm, doesn’t light speed travel require ample calculation? Was any thought given to the tech in this film?

The galaxy is an awfully small place

JJ Abrams is notorious for trying to tie everything in a neat, little digestible package. A glaring example of this in Star Trek is when Kirk gets jettisoned on the same planet where Spock happens to be stranded. The coincidences in Star Wars are just as unbelievable. Han Solo just happens to bump into the Millenium Falcon being flown by Rey and Finn. Then, Han suggests a trip to Takodana where Orange Yoda just happens to have Luke’s lightsaber hidden (but that’s a story for another time).

At the end of the movie, the Millenium Falcon arrives just in time to rescue Rey as the planet is imploding. How Chewie found a tiny human being in an icy forest and a cataclysm is beyond me.

Villains forget they are awesome when it counts

I can’t tell if Star Wars suffers from lazy storytelling or overzealousness when it constantly contradicts itself. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the villain of Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren’s first presence on-screen is intimidating. He appears to have force powers that are beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Ren stops a laser (shot at his back from a sniper position) without even looking, and keeps it hovering in the air while he mind reads someone. This act was scripted to demonstrate his incredible focus and elite training–for what I imagined was some later showdown. Mid way through the film we learn that he is an emo teenager who wants to be like his grandfather, Darth Vader, and has some serious daddy issues. The daddy issues didn’t bother me, as Star Wars has always been rife with patricide. What did bother me is the fact that during the final showdown, Ren the hard ass, has all but forgotten his skills! Why is he wounded by Chewie’s crossbow fire? Why didn’t he stop that bullet which he obviously saw coming with the force or with his saber? Why didn’t he immediately melt Finn’s brain when he picked up Luke’s saber? Or cut him in half? Or tossed him way out into the trees?

Why do directors and writers put people in situations from which there is no escape and give them a free pass? How does Finn survive a face-off with Kylo Ren? I would have almost preferred to see a LOTR eagle swoop down and rescue Finn rather than watch a nerfed-down Kylo Ren get all sentimental.

How Rey pulled the saber out of the snow is anyone’s guess. Just like it’s anyone’s guess how she mastered the jedi mind trick and the piloting. None of this is ever justified in the film. We are told, not shown, how all of these things are possible.

Assuming you bought all that was plausible, how then do you explain Rey not using her laser pistol to finish off Kylo Ren across the gap? She just saw Kylo Ren kill Han Solo and blow up five planets, yet she just turns and runs? Through the movie Rey showed zero remorse when shooting storm troopers. Why does she hesitate to kill the ultimate villain? Bad writing at its best. Either way, I can’t wait to see how JJ Abrams rescues Kylo Ren from the imploding planet. Maybe Ren used the same teleporting technique Poe Dameron used to survive the TIE fighter crash on Jakku.

The movie is emotionally shallow

Han Solo and his death, let’s talk about that. Personally, I think he died like a chump. Han Solo has always been roguish and resourceful. The last place he would have chosen to face off with his evil son would be a bridge suspended over an abyss, but I digress. The death of Solo could have been an epic moment, but instead it was a non event. I didn’t feel his death or mourn it, because no one in the context of the movie seemed to care. We got a sad face from Rey, a sad face from Leia, and then, we were done and on to the next thing.

The glossing over of death is classic Disney. In the beginning, Max von Sydow’s characters has just been cut down and the pilot cracks a joke with Ren about who should talk first.  I found this disturbing. How much more cartoony can you get? Well, let’s see. Five planets are destroyed with no emotional consequence. We are told there is some kind of romance between Rey and Finn that we can’t really justify by their experiences together. And the crumbling relationship between Leia and Han feels emotionally shallow.

Abrams’ spastic pacing makes it impossible to feel the characters’ despair, joy or motivations.

The plot is schizophrenic

The movie opens with the premise that Luke has gone missing and must be found. We are told it’s a big deal, though we never really understand why. The guy is a recluse-washout who rage quit after training a sith and is busy wanking it on a private island. Yeah, real threat.

Half way through the film, we forget about Luke and are suddenly racing against time (and the sun) to destroy Starkiller base. What? Why? I can’t imagine that they built that base overnight! Why not have blown it up or attacked it while it was being constructed? How can the Starkiller base be such a huge emergency and why is no one on Leia’s base evacuating. Hmm…let’s see…cause the movie lacks any and all sense of danger? We know the base will be destroyed as soon as its introduced. What’s worse is that we also know how. Very sad.

Deus ex-machina map

The droid is carrying a map which is incomplete, which happens to match a map stored in R2-D2. R2-D2, however, has been in low-power mode since Luke disappeared. Miraculously, R2 starts chirping right after the Starkiller is destroyed and joins his map with BB-8’s as if to say… hey remember that plot line, the one about Luke that we said was important, let’s get back to that. Why didn’t R2-D2 reveal the map earlier? Oh, and did I mention that the map contained in BB pointed to no “known star system” but was immediately understood as soon as it merged into the larger whole? Why? How?

Finn the test tube baby, garbage man, who is not believable

Finn, we are told, was born and raised to be a First Order janitor. Somehow, he gets recruited into an elite, armed escort that goes down to a planet to wipe out civilians. Doesn’t surprise me that this mistake is made, considering that his commanding officer–the chrome female storm trooper is a useless pushover. Faced with having to kill innocent civilians, Finn has a change of heart. He stands idle in the middle of the battle field garnering the attention of Kylo Ren while the rest of his squad mows down women and children. So far so good. Back on the ship, Finn (ex-sanitation worker) is still acting weird, but no one does anything about it. Coincidentally, Finn also happens to have top-tier security clearance. He gets his hands on Poe Dameron and manages to get him away from the security detail and escape on a TIE fighter bound for Jakku.

During their interaction, Finn seems extremely comfortable and chummy. I would have never guessed that he was a repentant super soldier/ex garbage man who, prior to the escape, was privy only to killing people and the insides of a trash compactor. He is too well-rounded a human being for that. When I look at the brain washing that goes on at just boot camp, I can’t justify Finn’s instant charm. It doesn’t fit.

I keep going back to the way the soldier psychology was treated in movies like Soldier, Blade Runner, Robocop, Serenity, Dredd, etc. and can’t find a shred of test-tube soldier in Finn. He hits the ground running (no pun intended) and just fits right in.

Lastly, Finn couldn’t bring himself to kill civilians, but had no problem killing off his bosom buddies (the storm troopers) and relegating his commanding officer to certain death in a trash compactor. Why not just shoot the captain in the head? Oh, right, Disney…

What I liked about the movie

I liked the BB-8 droid. I was hoping that he would be the one to fly the Millenium Falcon since he’s a flight droid, but he was mostly relegated to comic relief. Still, very cute.

I liked the fact that we have a female heroine, a black man and a latino in leading roles. It’s about time to see some diversity. Hope this trend continues in Hollywood.

The effects were polished and grand. There is no question that the production value of this movie was fantastic.

I liked the cantina, and some of the iconic homages.

It was fun to see Chewie again.

Lastly, I hope that all the dollars vote in a resurgence of space opera and we can finally put down our superheroes.

Last, but not least….

It’s time for those of us who are passionate about films make our voices known. For too long American audiences have suffered dumbed-down conflicts, lifeless characters and cliche, recycled plots. How many cookie-cutter, super hero movies or YA adventures can we take? I encourage you to raise the standards and demand better, more original content for your buck. Don’t just shrug and say, oh well. Vote with your wallet–apparently it’s the only thing Hollywood listens to.

Check out The Expanse on SyFy channel. It’s really great.