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Star Wars VII and the Ultra-Real

The cinematic rather than merely narrative objective of Star Wars VII is to persuade by being overwhelmingly Star Wars VII.

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains general Star Wars VII plot, theme, and content spoilers, with only the most specific details blacked out (text revealed when highlighted). For the sake of the two or three remaining people in this galaxy who still hope for the freshest possible experience of the film, the OT Editors encourage commenters to use the “spoiler” button in their comment editing boxes also to black out details of the movie’s story.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

Bad

Did any of the Ordinary first responders to Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens go to an IMAX 3-D theater?

Not to imply that seeing it in some other format was aesthetic treason, but the IMAX emphasis on “experience” seems more appropriate to the intentions, methods, and skills of the film makers.1 Predictably, most of the negative commentary on the film seems to focus on other elements – especially narrative realism, coherence, and originality – that were apparently very far down on the list of its producers’ priorities, artistic and otherwise.

To me, as I was making my decision to venture out into the traffic and the night and the crowds to see the movie, my reason for doing so was mainly to locate myself socially or culturally, in other words to be able to participate in the Star Wars conversation. I did also, however, look forward to escaping, as we say, into an immersive cinematic spectacle. At the next stage the two motivations ought to come together: One escapes in order to return: Every movie-goer’s own “heroic journey.”

The Implausible Conversation

Much of that social conversation turns on peculiarly bracketed questions of “plausibility”: How believable or logical we find this, that, or the other narrative contrivance.

We all understand that the conversation is conducted under a distinction, as popularized long ago by screenwriting guru Syd Field, between believability in general and what he called “credibility,” meaning believability within the implicit rules of the fictional universe. We want to discuss the latter. All the same, too much incredulity – regarding the disposition and design of a super-weapon, or the appearance of a character or object extremely improbably just where it has to be, and so on – is itself implausible, considering the constant violations of believability in both senses, often at once, that anyone who has seen a Star Wars movie before (or all six of them, repeatedly) has already encountered.

So, for example, recalling one highly consequential Star-Warsian violation of all known physical laws, we are traveling through a universe in which, spaceships of every size 1) are somehow accelerated to the speed of light – or “c” in the classic equation – 2) are launched or launch themselves into “hyperspace,” and 3) carry their occupants across unimaginable if never precisely specified interstellar distances. On occasion, as we see or are informed at one crucial point in Star Wars VII, these ships may even, if so desired, emerge moving at c within the atmospheres of Earth-like planets.

So, one suspends one’s disbelief. Yet one may still wish at some point to account for what one has suspended.

As any reasonably sentient adult viewer of the films knows, or should know, entry by a meteor, spacecraft, or other object into the atmosphere of the Earth at mere 1000s of miles per hour (rather than nearly 200,000 miles per second or at c), produces infernal heat due to collision with the gaseous particles of the atmosphere, under the danger of “burning up on re-entry.”

Star-Wars-Burning-Millennium-Falcon

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If it were possible – though it is not even conceivable – to propel an object like the Millennium Falcon to or near to relative c, and to inject it instantly into a planetary atmosphere, the result would be catastrophic, first of all for the ship itself.2

Alternatively, if some divine force somehow protected the ship from destruction, no merely human observer would be aware of it: It would be gone for all intents and purposes as soon as it arrived (for the pilot as well).

Among the further questions raised in this exercise is what power source in combination with what other technologies is accelerating any of these objects in the first place. Though I have little doubt that some pseudo-explanation exists somewhere in the “expanded universe,” and probably in more places than one, as to how all of this machinery does what it does, and is manufactured in the first place, I am confident that it is nonsense. The simple truth is that all of these spaceships fly by the same principles that allow Peter Pan and Tinkerbell to fly, or for that matter allow “Heisenberg” to make his way back home to New Mexico and slaughter his enemies, or that allow Santa Claus to make it down your chimney with a Star Wars Lego set or, in my case, a lump of coal.

Excellent

Awesome!

So, yes, again, one suspends disbelief – or refrains from the application of reason and knowledge – as required, yet there still seems to be a struggle among Star Wars aficionados, including many of the participants in the Ordinary Star Wars-apalooza, over where to draw the line between believability and credibility, or between reasonable and unreasonable suspensions of reason.

We might suppose, for instance, that the line for most 10-year-olds would be in a different place than for many 40-year-olds, but such formulations are not very dependable, since many 40-year-olds may see little point to drawing any such line at all, or may, indeed, be pleased by every violation, as in: “You say the plot depends upon too many coincidences? Why is that a problem? Why should a Star Wars movie not pile one coincidence on top of another, the more the amazinger?”

After all, in this universe, everything and -one is surrounded by The Force, which can be defined as “whatever we need it to be for the sake of delivering a simple quasi-mythical or epic narrative understandable by children and childlike adults, adjusted for present widely approved or approvable social, cultural, political, and economic purposes.”

Though injecting this unreasonable construct of light and sound into a personal atmosphere of reason serves the needs of generally reasonable people – seeking to make whatever story their own – to presume that anyone’s reasons or reason in general is or could ever have been a main point of the plot seems unreasonable. An interest in getting to the next panel on the storyboard sooner rather than later seems at least as reasonable as a priority, as long as the primary narrative objective – emotionally involving progress over two hours or so, during this segment of the “hero’s journey” – remains mostly secure for most of the audience.3

40 Years in 135 Minutes

A different, more instructive, complaint comes from those who have attacked Star Wars VII for having merely repeated key plot elements from the earlier films, especially the original Star Wars, or Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. To the extent, however, that VII replicates IV (or IVV) on the level of fictional plot, the effect is to mark the actual (as in real) elements of difference, or progress, between the galaxy of the late ’70s and early ’80s and the galaxy of 2015.

On the level of social-cultural evolution, change was already evident in the advance publicity, as discussed both at Ordinary Times and at my own site – elsewhere treated as of discussable significance mainly among proponents of a racialized and patriarchal, retrograde and self-consciously reactionary social-political perspective, in other words the very perspective that this evolution points beyond. For everyone else, the replacement by a female and a non-white male of the earlier film’s white and male heroes has been a cause for celebration if mentionable at all. On the other hand, believers in white supremacy might be comforted to know that, in this galaxy far, far away, white men are still at the center of the action on both sides. Indeed, the fate of this galaxy still turns on the same blond-haired hero we met in 1977. No film, however fantastical, progressive, and progressively fantastical, ever jumps over its own historical shadow, in this or any other universe.

the first order

Bad

As for enacted ideology otherwise, such nearly pre-literate mass entertainment permits only broad strokes. Below the level of Campbellian “monomyth,” Abrams and collaborators have re-packaged globalized Americanism for maximum distribution. Since the subject is “war,” the package includes a precis on international law after the UN Charter, the Nuremberg Tribunal, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, as neatly encapsulated in a series of key plot points mainly concerning the character “Finn,” defector from the Nazi-like “First Order”: We are reminded that prosecution of aggressive war and other war crimes or crimes against humanity4 do not merely justify but require opposition, and in this connection, “only following orders” is no excuse.5

This structure of human rights and responsibilities holds a primary place for rights and responsibilities of the individual. Star Wars ideology is in this sense a classical liberal ideology or bourgeois ideology. It has this feature in common with the vast majority of movies because it is still the ideology of this world-historical era in its American phase.6 The realization in Star Wars is characteristically American: We are encouraged to identify not just with the collective good of the galaxy, but with the individual’s personal preferences. Or, we can say, his or her self-preference, inevitably a preference as well for his or her virtual family, is privileged. So, in the traditional manner, the story must and will finally confirm for us that the option for oneself and one’s loved ones or one’s personal code will, by the Force or by the will of God or by the workings of destiny, coincide with the greater good. As an ethical concept, this matter to be taken on faith suits a capitalist-consumerist economy, a theory of limited government, and the culture for which they stand and which stands for them.

No one, at least no self-respecting and socially-politically eligible member of the culture-state that produces Star Wars VII and other “mass entertainments” of its general type, all telling this same story, much wishes to deny these propositions: We hold their truths to be self-evident – that all beings are created equal, that they are endowed by The Force with certain unalienable rights, and so on – but they produce contradictions, dilemmas, and uncertainties. They both compel and encourage us to act on intuition and emotion, or faith as such – to “trust the Force” – but, because they defy reason or certain forms of reason, to which we are also committed as a matter of finally unreasoning faith, we also find them in need of constant repetition and reinforcement.7

The Ultra-Real, or Third Type of Realism

finalizer

Also Bad

Perhaps, if not necessarily provably, the message could be conveyed worldwide, and more effectively and adequately profitably, in a more “plausible” or “believable” narrative format – that is, in some manner better conforming to narrative and scientific realism.

Yet part of the message is that the message itself is to be taken on faith – or under suspension of disbelief. More important aesthetically and functionally is that the major burden regarding believability, or the political-ideological objective of persuasion, is carried by realism of a third type, not based on narrative or scientific realism, but rather on some cognate of “common sense” or immediate inescapability: on the evidence, in other words, right before one’s eyes, on the other side of one’s 3-D glasses.

The movie may be flimsy and ludicrous in numerous ways, but, as an experience of the auditory and visual senses it is just what it aims to be: an immersively intimate spectacle, “realer than real”8 – ultra-real: the shock cut to the seemingly immense, exquisitely detailed “Finalizer” spaceship whose prow narrowly misses your shoulder; or the transfixing depiction of a populated landscape wondrously disrupted by concatenating sub-surface explosions; or the young woman reduced to the size of an insect by a backdrop of sand and immense wreckage; or her rescuing hand, within your reach; or the middle-aged man surrounded by a perfect projected holographic star map, like a chandelier with him at the center, its arms extending to your stadium seat with the pull-down armrest and drink holder, to a point right above the emptied $10 bag of popcorn in your lap.

image_e54ceb90

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This latest cycle of development in motion picture arts and sciences, begun with Avatar some six years ago, may be at or near its peak – all the more reason to see Star Wars VII 3-D IMAXimized. The technical achievement of the movie and the entire industry it represents is the second of those two elements of progress made more visible by otherwise mostly replicating key elements of the original Star Wars narrative.

Cinema is Gesamtkunstwerk, an objective synthesis of all of the arts, in which simple narrative realism and allied logics are only subordinate elements. The cinematic rather than merely narrative objective of Star Wars VII, facilitated by JJ Abrams and an army of collaborators, finally including all of us, is to persuade by being overwhelmingly Star Wars VII, to advance or “project” as an awe-inspiringly undeniable experience a story that we know is flagrantly unlikely, impossible, false, and derivative, but whose truths we know or believe we know are and must be true.

(All images except Lego Set (by LEGO): Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Film Frame, © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.)

  1. Our foreign correspondent notes the availability of a so-called 4D experience in some locales, but I am… skeptical. []
  2. Since I am not a physicist, I cannot speculate informatively as to whether the results would be atmosphere-incinerating or otherwise planet-killing. I feel more confident, however, about asserting that, even at velocities well below c but at any significant fraction of it, each of those little “fighter” vehicles would be immensely more destructive used as a missile than any of the directed energy weapons or munitions with which they seem to be equipped. []
  3. There can be no doubt that the three credited screenwriters – whose resumes include one Oscar (Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine) and four Oscar nominations (Lawrence Kasdan) – were fully conscious of, speaking plainly, the utter inanity of the material on the level of narrative as well as scientific realism. Asking for the former and occasionally the latter seems to be a passion for some number of plaintiffs in the suit Geeks vs. JJ Abrams et al, but we can observe that the real-existing jury is (as of this writing) laughing the case out of court with a 9.5 out of possible 10 users rating on IMDb, 4.5 out of 5 on Fandango, and a fast $1 Billion worldwide box office take – and that those complaining the hardest now will likely again be among those turning out for Stars Wars VIII‘s and IX’s first weeks as well. []
  4. The last term must, of course, be interpreted capaciously in the Star Wars universe. []
  5. It was on this level that the most confounding failure of the film both on its own terms as a film and also within the moral economy of the larger tale arises, since the destruction of planets full of innocents is rendered relatively briefly and somewhat uncomprehensibly, their passing hardly seeming even to register on the survivors. The pattern is repeated after the successful but extremely costly final victory of the Resistance – involving the loss, apparently, of the large majority of its combat pilots – and cannot be attributed solely to the expressive limitations of the actors. Within the realer than real aesthetic, the attempt to express these inexpressibles demands overstatement. []
  6. …of which The Movies are arguably its central and unique cultural expression []
  7. We therefore need not look too unkindly on those whose reactions to perceived unfair attacks on the epic, which is our epic, take an emotional and incidentally unacceptable form. []
  8. The phrase is associated with theories of the Simulacrum, and has been specifically applied to Steven Spielberg’s films; it has been used to define the aesthetic aspirations of “Hollywood” film-making in our time. []

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65 thoughts on “Star Wars VII and the Ultra-Real

  1. In one of Hercules’ journeys, Hercules holds up the sky for a brief period, until he outwits Atlas. Nobody complains that this is implausible. Bifrost is a rainbow turned into a bridge. Nobody says, “this defies physics”. It’s defiance of ordinary experience is the point.

    I wholeheartedly agree with point 5. I suspect that, in the next film, the Resistance, and Leia, are in for a dark time.

    I have no idea why you would put the word ‘monomyth’ in scare quotes. Maybe I’m just not getting the point you’re making? Star Wars is all about the monomyth, self-consciously so. If the explanation for why something is where it is turns out to be “that’s where it needs to be for the monomyth”, no further explanation is needed. The elements of the monomyth arrange themselves, and this mirrors our subjective experience of life – it doesn’t have any meaning, but we give it meaning. Coincidences become messages from God.

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        • That it’s a quoted term doesn’t imply that the author is suggesting it’s odd or questionable. It’s just a n indication by the referrer that the particular sense of the term that the referrer is alluding to has a very particular source, and likely a rich or involved backstory associated with that source. He’s just saying, ‘This is a term coined or used by a particular person at a particular time for a particular reason, and there’s a lot more that has been and could be said about it if a person wanted to investigate further or review said discussions.’

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    • “In one of Hercules’ journeys, Hercules holds up the sky for a brief period, until he outwits Atlas. Nobody complains that this is implausible. Bifrost is a rainbow turned into a bridge. Nobody says, “this defies physics”. It’s defiance of ordinary experience is the point.”

      Right, and if the Millenium Falcon were a winged horse, it’d be a Pegasus and not a spaceship.

      It’s not entirely fans’ fault that Star Wars chose to hybridize two forms of fiction, fantasy and sci-fi, that have inherent and fundamental differences in the way they normally work.

      In other words, Space Wizards.

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      • Space Wizards is basically spot on. The formula “long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away” sets the expectation that this is not futurism, it’s myth. But it’s myth made of the stuff our our lives today, rather than the stuff of the lives of Greeks living 2500 years ago.

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        • You might not like the stuff of which Greek myths were made. That is a different culture than our own.

          Oedipus sincerely does not know that he has killed his own father and married his own mother. But at the end, the Furies rip him to shreds for the crimes of parricide and incest. Classical Greek audiences would have found this a just and appropriate end to his story. We do not, for intent matters to our morality in a way it did not matter to them.

          Also, who is the bad guy in the Trojan war? Agamemnon? He’s the aggressor, yes, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the moralwrong. Seems like he had something of a point what with Paris stealing his wife and all — especially when you realize that she wasn’t just a wife, but a noblewoman whose marriage to Agammemon had political implications. Was Hector the Trojan or Achilles the Greek the guy to root for in their fateful duel? Hard to say, isn’t it? The classical world was comfortable with finding honor in the enemy and ambiguity within ones own group.

          If there is a side upon which moral blame for the bloodshed and genicide might be placed, by our standards the culpable parties are the Olympians. But to a Greek, that would never, never do.

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        • But it’s myth made of the stuff our our lives today, rather than the stuff of the lives of Greeks living 2500 years ago.

          Is it? The trappings are different, sure, but the story remains the same. Per lots of comments below, the physics in Star Wars is so different than what we understand about how the universe works that “magic” is a better description. Jedi and Sith powers are not that much different in scale than those exhibited by the Greek gods when they’re on Earth. Or the powers elves and Norse gods had on Earth in the stories that Tolkien based his work on. Greek heroes sailed between ports in days/weeks/perhaps months. In the Norse stories, they sailed between ports in days/weeks/perhaps months. In Star Wars, they “sail” between ports in… days/weeks/perhaps months. The opening lines may say galaxy, but for practical purposes the scope is the Mediterranean or the North Sea.

          There seems to be a rather timeless scale for the stories that most people love.

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          • Elves were just high functioning sociopaths. The fact that their stories only occur in England strongly suggests that you have the myth-ization of an actual society, rather than something like “changelings” which are near-worldwide, and mostly explain illegitimate children.

            Amazons have a similar “actual society” basis… and what you get from that society is hilariously “anti-feminist”

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        • Well, but I’m not totally agreeing with you here. Not only does stuff that appears to be sci-fi need to be a little plausible, based on what we know – that is, it can be handwavey, but if it directly contradicts current common knowledge, it’s going to be a problem for many – but even in the fantasy genre, if enough real-world physics are magicked away, that can sap dramatic tension, “plausibility” be damned. And when dramatic tension deflates, the seams start to show.

          If, instead of a long and arduous journey to Mount Doom, Gandalf had simply cast a Spell of Teleportation on Frodo so that he got there instantaneously, it’d be a very different story, and one with lower stakes.

          I’m not saying that journeys have to take place in real-time, that’s not how stories usually work anyway, and it would be especially problematic for stories that take place across interstellar distances*; but the scale/plausibility issues people are referring to do exist for many people, and if you want their disbelief to remain suspended, you may have to make some allowances for it.

          *Though it occurs to me that you could make a pretty cool sci-fi horror movie where a intergalactic traveler has to keep entering/leaving a state of suspended animation, with increasing disorientation each time they wake and the monster/threat is still there. Like the Battlestar Galactica episode “33”, but stretched over hundreds or thousands of “real” years.

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  2. Star Wars promises and delivers a universe full of magic and wonder. It is a joy to behold.

    Finn and Rey inspire hope and sympathy. Han and Leia and Chewie inspire confidence and trust. Kylo Ren and General Hux (?) inspire fear and dread.

    Joy, fear, hope, confidence, trust, dread, sympathy, and wonder are emotions.

    Emotions are what make art work.

    Whatever other criticisms of narrative unoriginaly, dizzyingly fast editing, and ultimate unplanned incoherence one might level at Abrams and Kasdan, they have made a work of art which fulfills the massive promise of emotional resonance made by the generation of pre-release hype. Is it high art or low art or a recapitulation of a questionable academic risk or an opiate to the masses? It is all of these?

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  3. Well said CK. As I left the theater, and after ruminating on things a bit, I came to pretty much the same critique you’ve written up here, even tho I was incapably of clearly articulating it. So thanks for that. I agree that there were serious credibility issues in the movie – the internal logic never added up, so to speak – as well as the over-arching appeal to a particularly American version of the relationship between political liberalism and force (not The Force). I found it a bit grating actually. I also think that the critique you provide here wouldn’t be so devastating if Kasden (he shoulda knew better) and Abrams (he prolly couldn’t have) had developed or at least grounded our Heroes and anti-Heroes motivations, struggles, etc with something personal rather than a bare appeal to a predetermined (??) conception of good and evil and so on. At the end of it I just wasn’t attached to any of the characters in any significant way (except Rey who I thought they did a good job with) and so I don’t really have any personal concern or care about how things turn out for them. Any of them. They’re all just impersonal (not even archetypal) presentations of well-established types of characters without subtlety, nuance or personality (except Rey), and who’s only substance derives from what a theoretically well-trained audience is expected to project onto them. I found that annoying actually. Not a fatal flaw, but a cheesy one.

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    • Thank you, Stillwater, but I’ll mark two reservations or two versions of the same reservation: I didn’t find the thematic development grating, I just found it – as I expected to, more or less; I don’t think my critique was devastating, or anyway it wasn’t meant that way.

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        • A physicist won’t be able to give you an answer for a ship entering atmosphere at light speed because real-world physics says an object moving at light speed will have infinite mass, which is why in the real world only things with no mass can travel at light speed. If anything like hyperspace travel is in fact possible it will rely on principles that are not currently known to physics, which would make it impossible to make sensible predictions as to how it would behave.

          Randall Monroe did run the numbers on how much damage a baseball would do travelling at near-light speed though.

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          • I’ve heard that about infinite mass, which is why, though I don’t claim to understand it, I was a little more careful with my language in the post than in the comment.

            Thanks for the link on the baseball traveling at 0.9c – outlines the problem very nicely, though it’s not clear just how careful the author was being in trying to interpret the size of the explosion based on speed, mass, atmosphere. I think we’d need someone to figure out what would happen if an object the apparent size of the MF was somehow accelerated to to various fractions c, and, to answer the question about the practical weaponization of remote control TIE fighters, at what level of acceleration they would produce thermonuclear explosions upon colliding with… whatever… Also what kind of other effects accelerations in that general range impose upon the accelerated object and items (from dust and debris, to other spaceships, up to planet-sized objects if relevant) in the vicinity.

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          • The Lonely Assassins are an obvious counterexample to this principle.
            Who the hell needs hyperspace when you have quantum mechanics?
            (and because those creatures were made by “the guy who writes insanely too much backstory” there’s an entire world of creatures backing them up… including the necessary ecology).

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            • Rey: But you can’t emerge from hyperspace at lightspeed – objects traveling at lightspeed would have infinite mass – which is inconceivable!
              Solo: Well, I meant sorta-lightspeed – like… real, real fast!
              Rey: So you’re saying the First Order’s defenses are programmed only to handle objects going real fast, but not real, real fast?
              Han: Yeah, that’s the ticket.
              Rey: OK. I guess…

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          • Sorry, forgot about this.

            First off, let’s remember that it has been clearly demonstrated that both Lucas, and Abrams, and apparently their writing teams, don’t know a parsec from a pineapple and apparently can’t be bothered to call up an physicist to get a little bit clarity.

            Second, despite being a hotshot pilot, Han Solo has never struck me as a technical flyer, he’s more “seat of the pants”. The fact that he hadn’t met his end in a rapidly expanding cloud of gas and flaming wreckage has convinced me it is less talent & skill and probably more to do with a good amount of Force sensitivity on his part, or Chewie is doing a hell of a lot more to cover for Han than we ever see. So, take anything Han says with a big grain of salt.

            Now, hyperspace is not something you necessarily have to enter or leave at speeds near c (sources vary). As many have pointed out, doing so would demand you spend a great deal of time building up or bleeding off kinetic energy (speed). If you watch the Star Wars movies, the ships look like they are accelerating, but I contend that is merely an optical illusion as they transition to hyperspace, where either the value of c is not the same, or the equation E=mc^2 doesn’t hold (or both). Thus, once in hyperspace, a ship may accelerate and decelerate as needed with much higher speed limits & more achievable energy requirements.

            Of course, one can not navigate easily through n-space while in hyperspace, which is why you need very precise jump coordinates. You have to know where & when you entered, your acceleration profile, and where you intend to exit, plus any course corrections to avoid large stellar bodies, so you can plot precisely when you need to exit hyperspace.

            So when Han jumped out of hyperspace, he had probably already decelerated to somewhat safe speeds, but he was making the transition inside the planetary defenses, which left very little margin for error on the timing.

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            • Would be less worth discussing if the point hadn’t been made very explicitly, in what passes for “technical detail” even, in this context, and wasn’t crucial to the finale, that the MF would emerge from hyperspace at SOL, and do so because the First Order defenses were programmed only to deal with sub-SOL objects. The whole thing is quite ludicrous, of course, though the SOL is mentioned in other contexts from time to time.

              Maybe there’s some redeeming social value to the whole thing if a curious kid from time to time is inspired to look up the speed of light and enter the wondrous world of relativity. We do hear stories all of the time about honest-to-Force scientists who say they were first inspired by sci-fi.

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            • Now, hyperspace is not something you necessarily have to enter or leave at speeds near c (sources vary).

              I was thinking about this, and the classic “Accelerate to light-speed to enter hyperspace” books is Starman Jones, one of Heinlein’s best juveniles. It’s a perfect Heinlein being Heinlein idea; he gets all the engineering right, but ignores the fact that it’s not possible to accelerate an object with mass to c. He’s making up the rules, so he could easily enough have said “accelerate to .9999c”.

              Another amusing thing about the book is that the crew members have to convert from decimal (the data in the star charts) to binary (which the ship computers understand) in their heads. RAH knew that scientific computers use binary, but apparently not that converting between bases is will within their abilities.

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        • The energy required to accelerate a macroscopic object to the speed of light is infinite. This means that the atmosphere of the planet would need to absorb the blow of an infinite amount of energy to slow down a Millennium Falcon entering at the speed of light. This would simply mean instant and utter destruction of that planet, or indeed of any other finite object in the universe on which the good guys tried to land.

          So according to The Force Awakens, the Millennium Falcon is essentially the universe’s most powerful Death Star.

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    • Finn is motivated by empathy, in every significant act he does. I find this remarkable for a male character, and very well grounded.

      Han is motivated by a sense of uselessness and despair – he keeps this at arms length, but it is shown in several different ways. I understand less of Leia. The behavior of Kylo Ren is still a mystery, but I feel I have been promised to be told more of him. (He wants to destroy the Jedi, but why? What happened?) Were it the case that JJ Abrams at the helm for future films, I would doubt that this promise would be kept. (He’s great at setting a hook, but not so great at delivering on it.) But he’s not.

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  4. It’s funny, but recently I have been pondering this very problem, but from the opposite direction.

    I am reminded of back in the 1980s, when it became a common conservative criticism of liberal academic culture that academics had the audacity to think and write about non-Canon culture. I remember one essay in particular (likely from the Atlantic?) that pointed to a PhD student from some college somewhere that had done his dissertation on the history of propaganda in comic books during WWI & WWII, instead of doing one on Milton or Homer, they way God intended academics to do their dissertations. It’s easy to forget this now, but the willingness to look seriously and critically at non-Dead White Men Cannon™ art and literature is a pretty new thing in our culture. And, I would argue, it’s a good trend overall, and it has bled into other disciplines as well, and made them better for it.

    But I wonder sometimes if there are some things that weren’t really made for this kind of hyper-detailed analysis.

    An obvious example is MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. It would be easy to go through and pick apart that movie apart in the same way people pick apart any of the Star Wars movies, and find them lacking in the exact same fashions:

    We’re just told that the motivation for the Tin Man is wanting a heart, and we’re expected to believe it? A tornado rips a house out of it’s foundation and send it spiraling and yet somehow no one in the house gets hurt? We’re supposed to believe that a bucket of water just happened to be sitting right where Dorothy was standing when all hope seemed lost, and they she just happened to think to throw it at the witch, and that it just happened to make the witch melt, and that the monkeys would just happen to let everyone go then?

    For that matter, you can make pretty much the same criticisms for Horse Feathers, or Some Like it Hot, or The African Queen, or (because it’s that time of year) It’s a Wonderful Life. But we don’t tend to do that, because that’s not really what those movies are made for. And the fact that you can find narrative holes, telegraphed motivations, and Deus ex Machina plot twists in those works don’t make them any less wonderful for what they are.

    The more I read people analyzing Star Wars as if it’s a work of Shakespeare or Marlowe, the more I think everyone’s kind of missing the point of it.

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    • I think we mostly agree, but there’s a peculiar aspect of the believability problem in relation to “techno-fantasy” in our “Age of Technology”: Star Wars re-mythologizes the scientifically disenchanted world, and I’m sure that’s also central to the cultural phenomenon – which, to complete the irony or send it on another circle round. is a heavily technology-intensive cultural phenomenon…

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    • Personally, I don’t object to very serious consideration of works such as these per se. It’s just the lack of understanding of what the work was intended to do, and how it was intended to work, that’s annoying.

      Borges wrote magical realism. There is such a thing as heroic realism, and certain trends in comic books push that direction. But Star Wars is not heroic realism, it’s heroic mythology. I think it’s completely legitimate to point to elements and say, “this didn’t have any emotional impact”, or “this served no purpose”. And character motivations are absolutely fair game.

      But a lot of the complaints make me think, “you just don’t like this kind of thing, do you? There’s no movie that could have been made that you would like, it seems”

      There’s also a sort of complaint where I think, “Weren’t you paying attention?” But to some extent, if the audience missed an important detail, it’s on the filmmakers, not the audience.

      SPOILER – SPOILER – SPOILER

      As an example, there are many complaints out there in the wild that Rey should not have been able to beat Kylo. This ignores the fact that Kylo took a hit from Chewie’s bowcaster, which we’ve been shown repeatedly hits like Mike Tyson. Most people wouldn’t even be standing. But the idea of a villain who also seems vulnerable is a very tough sell, and a huge risk. It also ignores the fact that Rey had a moment of revelation which turned the tide of battle (and at that moment of revelation, we here the music that is generally known as “Luke’s Theme”, so what does that mean?)

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  5. Well the starkiller weapon crossing half the galaxy in moment, also Han doesn’t care about setting coordinated for the jump, crashing into stars a calculated risk.

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    • (Must be a very small galaxy, or sector of it, for the light generated by the starkiller thing to reach viewers on other planets pretty much immediately. Is this somehow “explained’ somewhere?) (Should I be spoilerizing such details – or have we ventured so deeply into hyperspoil that it’s pointless?)

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      • It’s simply a blunder, the galaxy really is that small because it’s an Abrams galaxy. Abrams has proven in pretty much every work of SF he’s done that he has no sense of scale, in earthly dimensions but especially in spatial scope. Planets will be in visual distance of each other, even across interstellar space. The homeworlds of massive interstallar empires will be less than a month’s travel apart at normal cruising speeds. To Abrams, the Milky Way is effectively smaller than the Earth was in 1900.

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  6. Well Shakespeare was allegory disguised as popular entertainment, concerned with the acquisition of power, the meaning of truth , human passion, Marlowe likewise.

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  7. Re han’s morivations, he think his noble phase only for him so far, getting back into his old craft, only gets him so far, luckily there’s no jabba who rules the underworld, the mob scene is decentralized.

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  8. Every criticism of episode 7,seems like it could equally well apply to Episode 4 as they deploy similar story structure, similar character archetypes, similar lack of realism and/or narrative “credibility,” similar reliance on big action set pieces, and are primarily Campbellian myths.

    Episodes 1-3 failed because they moved away from the simple hero-myth story line and towards some kind of tragic story about the fall of Anakin that Lucas had no idea how to tell. And they were made worse because Lucas tried to introduce too many elements that didn’t fit with a tragic story: children’s characters like Jar-Jar, a child protagonist engaged in racing games, political intrigue, detective like plotlines (e.g. Obi-Wan trying to discover where the clone army came from), and possibly one of cinema’s most badly executed romances.

    I suppose the one criticism that applies to episode 7 that doesn’t apply to episode 4 is that the latter was original and the former is intentionally following a very parralell story.

    But the value of the original for most of us isn’t its originality. It’s that it honestly tells a Campbellian hero myth story in a fantasy world that has some futuristic elements. And honestly episode 4 really wasn’t that original, except as a new collage of old cinema tropes and set pieces. The jedi are from samurai movies. The droids are comic relief. The Empire is just from WWII movies. The attack on the death star is a clear remake of a number of WWII fighter plane/bomber movies. The effects were borrowed from 2001.

    Is episode 4 better because of its originality. A bit, I guess, but the execution was worse: Hamil’s acting -the lead- is horrid. Some of the scenes run on too long. The movement from one crisis to another is sometimes forced and not well paced. Etc.

    Could episode 7 have had fewer references and parralells to episode 7? I suppose so. Would the movie have been better as a result? I don’t really see how it would be more enjoyable for most. The enjoyment of the movie -for most- is that it resonates as a Campellian hero-myth, which it would do as well -not worse or better- with as few references and similarities to episode 4. And the other way the movie is enjoying is as an action movie with likeable young characters, and reducing references to the old movie would not have made the fun action aspects of the new movie any more or less fun.

    I propose that those whose enjoyment of the movie was thrown by the references to past movies approached the movie with a -perhaps subtle and subconscious- cynicism that this movie was going to be bad and their mind was looking for anything to criticize. It reminds me of some old fart -like me- watching the original episode 4 and saying, “Oh, this isn’t any good because it is just a copy and mishmash of old samurai and WWII movies, simplified for little kids, with some hammy acting.” If that is too cynical, then the criticisms of episode 7 are, too, no?

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    • Please note, I mean the above as a defense of episodes 4 and 7. I think they are both wonderfully good movies. And I can see that some people wouldn’t like either of they don’t enjoy hero myths, action ser-pieces, fairy tales, fantasy, etc. But I find it hard to see why those who would like the kind of movie that episode 4 is -call it the “Fantasy Hero-Myth, Action Genre”- wouldn’t also love episode 7 (maybe not quite as much or maybe a little more or roughly the same) as episode 7.

      Please explain in simple, simple terms as I am a simple, simple man,

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    • Well Hamill was just a wild eyed farm boy, as the film began, looking forward to finding a way off this dustball of a planet, we discover later, he had a different destiny, Rey is similar, but she shows greater ability, and demonstrates possibly greater peril, seeing how quick she is to show anger, Kylo Ren as a parody of Vader, akin to Mel Brooks in Spaceballs is something else entirely,

      Also Poe Dameron, from the hints from the prequel to TFA, also probably has ties to another prominent character in the saga, who appeared in all three films,

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    • Episode one could have been all “racing games” and fun and joy, with just enough “I’m a loser kid who kicks puppies occasionally” to set the stage for the future.

      Arya in the first book of Game Of Thrones manages this… you can tell a tragic tale without having it all be dark and gloom from day one.

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  9. Well said . I have only seen the film once and am now just reading the various reviews/analysis/criticism of the piece now that I am back in the states. All I know is that my popcorn didn’t cost 10 bucks in Mexico. Much closer to 2 dollars.

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  10. possibly, besides light speed, is obviously something multiple greater than c, involving tachyons, of course that does not excuse being so cavalier employing the hyperdrive,

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  11. I enjoyed Finn’s story. He was taught from birth not to think for himself and just serve his side’s interests, and always thought the Republic (or whatever they call themselves) as the enemy. But then he starts thinking for himself and flees the only party he’s ever known, changing sides and of course be denounced and hunted as a traitor and sell-out. To his amazement, he finds that he’s valued as an individual and that his insights, knowledge, and courage are finally appreciated. I think any black conservative can appreciate it.

    The other part I like is how they use Rey to revisit the central theme of all the Star Wars movies, recycling. When we first met Luke he was buying re-used/recycled droids from the Jawas to help with the moisture vaporators that recycle water. Later that day he finds himself about to be recycled in a trash chute, and his first concern after destroying the Death Star was whether R2 could be repaired or whether he’d have to be recycled. That theme continues through the first three, culminating in the Emperor’s attempt to re-use and re-purpose an existing Skywalker instead of having Darth Vader crank out a litter of new ones. And then of coures the prequels open with Luke’s young father working in a recycling center, where he builds everything from droids to podracers out of scrap. He ends up fighting and defeating the Trade Federation, who are the villains probably because they produce new products instead of sorting through the garbage like everyone else.

    So it’s fitting that Rey also works in the recycling industry, which is rightfully portrayed, as it is throughout the series, as a hellish and pointless existence that people dream of escaping from. And her mission is to get Luke’s father’s lightsaber back to Luke, even though Luke already knows how to build lightsabers (it was part of his training) and probably has a couple crates of them gathering dust in his garage. As episode VII closes you can see it in her eyes. “Here. I brought you a forty year old lightsaber that was found as a lamp in an antique store before ending up in a box in a basement – because I’m a scrap dealer like your father. Re-use. Recycle.”

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  12. I haven’t seen the movie – in fact only saw the first 2 when they came out, so this is a question more than anything else. You write:

    After all, in this universe, everything and -one is surrounded by The Force, which can be defined as “whatever we need it to be for the sake of delivering a simple quasi-mythical or epic narrative understandable by children and childlike adults, adjusted for present widely approved or approvable social, cultural, political, and economic purposes.”

    Would a plausible interpretation of The Force be simply, that it is human subjectivity? That is that the entire cinematic cycle of SW is a defense of subjectivity, an assertion of its paraphysical powers in the face of empiricism? In which case the question of hyperspeed etc is simply a question of such things being imagined.

    This occurred to me while reading the discussion at the current Market Failure post and making my comments on human agency, irrationalism et al. The rational actor is before all else the subjective actor.

    BTW, when the second SW came out, Karen and I were taking karate with Hidy Ochiai who asserted, with some plausibility, that he was the model for Yoda. Certainly a ready at hand interpretation of The Force is some Orientalist fantasy based on chi or ki.

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    • Atomic Geography: Would a plausible interpretation of The Force be simply, that it is human subjectivity? That is that the entire cinematic cycle of SW is a defense of subjectivity, an assertion of its paraphysical powers in the face of empiricism? In which case the question of hyperspeed etc is simply a question of such things being imagined.

      I think on some level that is a part of the appeal of SW, and also part of what in the exchange above with Tod Kelly I referred to as the “re-mythologization of the scientifically disenchanted world.” In other words, SW (and maybe a lot of our entertainment) as a response to the technological annihilation of being. If I were of a mind to take the SW discussion further, or re-do this one, it’s a theme I’d want to expand on. Fortunately, I have no such intention…

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