Faguss Jul 1st, 2016 132 Never
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  3. 1. "the core"
  5. star wars.
  7. Those two words can elicit entire worlds of thought. Say them and it's not just a singular notion that comes to mind, instead an entire history begins rattling around in our brains. For many of us, it's been a part of our entire lives. Some of us saw it in 1977, perhaps on a date with our future spouse. Some of us saw it as young precocious kids who didn't know our lives and understanding of stories would forever be defined by it. Some came later. Some came slowly. Some came running. But everyone seemingly came to it. And because it's lasted 40 years, people have had entire arcs of experience with it. They've had initial jovial elation, suffered at stupendous disappointment, had sheer "growing up" moments with prequels. And as such, our relationship to star wars always seems... Both grandly universal and yet deeply personal.
  9. Hulk is no different. For hulk cannot explain the depths of fandom hulk has had for this universe. It of course started with the original trilogy then moved into outright obsession. Hulk legit wore the vhs tapes down to the nub. But it even went on from there. Hulk read every damn expanded universe book. Hulk played every video game (will it get better than the original dark forces?). Hulk read every diagram book. Hulk can tell you intimate details of slave i's design or the mechanics of bossk's concussion rifle (while regretfully, memorization of african capitals has fallen by the wayside). Hulk truly went through the depths of unpopularity for having such a relationship to star wars, then on to the popular hope of return to prominence and celebration, and then later on to the strange sense of disconnection with the world's celebration. It's weird watching "may the 4th be with you" parades now; watching something that was seemingly so personal become so saturated and hollow. But such is the way most pop culture experiences go. As we often learn, the specific is universal. And hulk's story is the story of many people's relationship with star wars. No other property is so undoubtedly at "the epicenter of media" for most people.
  11. And as such, there means there will always be "the core".
  13. Because it doesn't matter that hulk has gone through every iteration of this relationship with star wars imaginable. It doesn't matter if hulk grows to hate it. No matter what, there will be the simple, inescapable truth for many of us: that the original film does not only have great meaning for us, it actually defined "meaning" in the first place.
  15. And to hulk, this highlights the special power of that film's story.
  17. Make no mistake, star wars is about something. It gets so much attention for it's popularization of the hero's journey, but that reductive analysis undermines not only how fresh and inventive it was in terms of how it communicated those classic archetypes, but how powerful the film was too. Meaning there's been so much concentration on formula/structure and yet weirdly there's been so little attention paid to the "what" of the film and why it matters.
  19. The truth is that hulk is hard pressed to think of a film that better understands the importance of "the aspirational young figure" (a much better word than hero) than the original star wars. For it tapped so succinctly into the hopes and dreams of being young and feeling far away. Just as it both spoke to our desire and fear of responsibility. Or even how it had the courage to be ahead of its time and make leia one of the better examples of a dynamic female character in popular entertainment. And in the end, it was a film that accurately reflected the joy of being part of something bigger than yourself. And if we're going off pure impact alone, it is undeniable that star wars is one of the clearest and most compelling stories of youth on the planet. I.E. The story of how we shake off the fears that contain us, that make us our worst selves, and how we learn to enter new worlds with courage and an open heart (coincidentally, hulk has simultaneously argued that star trek has always been about how we enter new worlds with an open mind). And as such, it is a story that has resonated throughout time.
  21. Which just leaves hulk with a lingering question that will be critical as we dive into to this essay...
  23. What the heck is star wars: the force awakens actually about?
  25. 2. Cinematic lying
  27. enjoying cinema can be really easy. You can just sit there, get transported somewhere else for a couple hours and enjoy yourself. But getting to the heart of what makes cinema enjoyable and executing it on screen? That's really hard. Even when we can talk passionately about how we felt watching a movie, there's often a series of very complex reactions going on in terms of how we got there. And our ability to navigate and understand those reactions is often obfuscated by our own inability to understand why we think anything we do. So often it's a visceral thing for us. And it's a conversation that can become further obfuscated by the climate of "bad movie conversations" wherein it's easy to get lost amidst the noise of ugly contentiousness. The point of all of this, is that parsing out movies can be complex. Especially when it comes to certain filmmakers whose proclivities drive right into the complicated nexus of our experiences... So to try and slice through all that, hulk will be blunt...
  29. J.J. Abrams movies make hulk feel insane.
  31. Hulk feels like we go through the same sequence of events every time. One of his movies comes out. The movie is deemed fun, energetic, and pretty acceptable overall. Historically speaking, these films have a central mysterious question as the driving force of the action, or in the very least, an air of mysteriousness as to what the film will actually contain. This is thanks to the ted-talk-patented "mystery box" theory put forth by abrams himself. And even if the general consensus seems to be that these films arrive at unsatisfying conclusions, they at least have the dignity to be entertaining along the way.
  33. But it is also common knowledge that the slow reveal of time tends to make the effect of these movies fade away. People find they do not endear themselves to repeat viewings. People find that they often fall apart upon close examination. For the truth about these films is that our enjoyment of them is fleeting. Hulk talked about this reality with both super 8 and star trek into darkness. But in our neverending quest for cinematic understanding - the real question is why? What is it about j.J.'s specific modus operandi that encourages such a response? What makes a movie have this kind of effect time and time again? It actually goes right past a simple error to a core simplicity:
  35. the stories are literally designed to please in the moment... Not to last.
  37. Not even within the movies themselves.
  39. It sounds like one of those reductive conclusions that you arrive at after you already have the feeling, but it's really a ground-up realization. Because it's the direct effect of j.J.'s good filmmaking chops meeting the basic problems of poor arc-related storytelling. To wit, j.J.'s movies are often pleasing because he has a good handle on imbuing a scene with energy and gumption. He's really good with actors. Heck, he might be better at casting than any director hulk's ever seen (don't make light of this, for it is a huuuuuuuuge skill). And to the purpose of his work, he knows the end effect he wants a given scene to have. Like spielberg, he is really good at showing you his exact intention and making you feel it.
  41. But unlike spielberg, he has no idea how to construct a meaningful through line with any of it. No, it's not just the "bad plotting" aspect, because that's just the less important start of the problem. As hulk always espouses, logical nitpicks aren't that crucial. With his films, it's the deeply inconsistent character behavior that absolutely cripples them. It's how people's behavior every scene doesn't jive with a scene five minutes prior. J.J. Has been one of the most serial offenders in this regard. In star trek into darkness, carol markus can scream in agony over the death of her father and then the entire movie never references it again, let alone it having any kind of impact on her (which means no impact on us). Character's wants, needs, and goals are seemingly switched from scene to scene willy nilly. And that's because j.J. Is always working backwards from affectation. He knows how he wants the audience to feel and he'll sideline any character consistency to get there. This means we may like what they're doing, but we can't their track motivations.
  43. And thus, everything feels "fine," but nothing feels earned.
  45. The worst part to hulk is that it seems like j.J. Abrams movies always know that something is wrong deep down. Not expressly, but there is this keen awareness that something is wrong with his narrative. He's not a bad movie watcher, after all. But the problem is it seems like they're constantly trying to solve it with "more." you can see them rushing every scene. You can see them actively verbalizing the lessons as much as they can. You can see them trying to pile on solution after solution and not realize the problem is that, narratively-speaking, they've already walked into quicksand and the more you move the more it will ultimately sink you. It doesn't matter how loud you make the moment, ultimately it's just a diversion from the reality. Again, carol markus screams as her father dies in one scene and is completely unaffected by it in the next. So if she's not affected, then why should we be?
  47. The truth is that this kind of filmmaking is a ruse. And not a ruse in the way that all films "lie" and play pretend. This goes much deeper. For its insincerity comes not from a place of intention, but a fundamental place of misunderstanding it's own ability to "commit" and "be consistent" or "patient." these moments are an attempt at charm, brought to life with verve, but all to no greater meaningful purpose. And whether intentional or not, the effect is all the same:
  49. it is a lie.
  51. And in the case of this man's work, we have a lot of perpetual lying. This matters deeply. And to help explain why, it is sometimes helpful to think of movies as having "personalities" in their own right. They all have wants and desire and hopes and modes of engagement with you, right? That's because you have a relationship with movies. And for a film to feel "real" it has to build on the validity of communication, much like any relationship. And to that end, we relate to that communication much the same way we look at humans. Which means as a part of this exercise, hulk feels comfortable looking at his films and making the following statements:
  53. j.J. Abrams' movies are liars.
  55. Like sweet-talking pick-up artists just trying to get you into bed, they don't keep their promises. They get the momentary effect that they want and then they're jumping out the window the next morning and hoping you don't remember all the lies they told, just that you had fun. And while there's nothing wrong with a romp in and of itself, it's the fact that these films often require being more substantial. And yet we throw ourselves in and fill in the gaps... Perhaps that's what makes hulk feel insane, or in the very least disheartened. Because hulk sees it happening, this chaotic relationship, and it's impossible to stop. We all listen to the lies, we all hope that a moment will have resounding truth. Because those lies are so very tempting to fall for. But when we pull back, we aren't left with love and affection in our heart. We're left with a "pretty good" night you end up barely being able to remember...
  57. Along with the realization that all the love we brought to it was our own.
  59. Perhaps this is a little cynical. And please understand that hulk isn't calling j.J. Abrams purposefully insincere (although there are many a star trek fan that feel that way). As a person, he's incredibly well-meaning and kind-hearted. And even when you think about the movies themselves, the "sweet talking pick up artist" doesn't quite fit, does it? Because what happens when the artist really believes it? That means these movies are weirdly earnest too. They want to connect and communicate. They don't want to manipulate anybody. They really want to have love and be loved. So perhaps there is another characterization we can go with:
  61. j.J. Abrams movies are desperate love seekers.
  63. They want to be loved and adored and will bend over backwards to try and get that effect. But they're never thinking of themselves or their own well-being, they're only thinking of you. Constantly reacting, anticipating, editing themselves to the point of incoherence, but it's all about you! It's all placating you. And of course, having everything cater to you feels nice but it is secretly the most unsatisfying thing in the world...
  65. But that doesn't feel quite right either, does it? Because these films more exist in this weird nexus between sincerity and insincerity, sometimes oversensitive, sometimes not sensitive enough. You know... Maybe the intention doesn't matter? Maybe they want to communicate, or in the very least just think they should be communicating... Maybe they just don't know how to connect and tell their stories with meaning and coherence, so it just makes it seem like they're being a pick up artist in one scene, or desperately craving genuine connection the next, which reveals instead a different characterization...
  67. J.J. Abrams movies are sociopaths.
  69. Not psychopath, but the broader term sociopath. And hulk doesn't even mean it in the clinical way either (as you won't find it in a therapist's lexicon) but more the etymological origin of the word as in "without path." meaning it's anti-social-ness is not so much being combative, but rooted in not knowing how to socialize, which makes it essentially rooted in imitation. The films don't understand how to be human so they effectively imitate it. Hulk knows this criticism is biting, but... Perhaps...
  71. Oh, perhaps this characterization is unfair too.
  73. The truth is the movies aren't pick-up artists, nor dependent love seekers, nor sociopaths. They are movies. And they are movies that unfortunately sometimes come of like a mixture of the three. And the problem is that j.J. Movies are so good at cinematic verve and the surface stuff that you barely notice it. Which makes talking about them so confusing and strange to experience. Even when people like them, hulk would argue that we all end up having such a strange relationship to his work. And this has been the story for some time now.
  75. So when j.J. Abrams was announced as the director of the new star wars movie...
  77. It's safe to say hulk was deeply afraid that these ongoing issues would infect the film. But still... This was star wars. And the news oddly proved to hulk that "the core" was intact. That hope still existed. And it was something further hardened when none other than rian johnson was revealed to be the director of episode viii. And so, hulk deeply hoped that j.J. Going into the star wars universe would unearth some kind of deep change. After all, he is so good at creating energy and cinematic verve that maybe a script without the mystery box cloaking would allow him to finally engage in a straight forward way! Maybe a traditional adventure with a solid script from the assistance of the great lawrence kasdan would inspire something lovely! Maybe the film would finally allow him to come back to the central pillars of story and he would make not just a good movie, but a great one!
  79. ... These are the things hulk hoped.
  81. But it turns out j.J. Without the draw of the mystery box is even less compelling than he is with it, and the hollowness at the core of his storytelling is infinitely more apparent.
  83. [audible sigh]
  85. this is where hulk says hulk didn't like star wars: the force awakens very much.
  87. ... So let's get into it.
  89. 3. The arc of an audience
  91. are we ready to talk about this movie now?
  93. It's been some months, but it's safe to say reactions have run the gamut. So many people hulk thought would love the film ended up hating it and vice versa. But when zooming in on some kind of definable overlap in our collective reaction, hulk thinks about the 24 hour response of that opening night and the day after, all of which can be defined "an arc of slow realization that it wasn't quite as good as people felt at first" (to varying levels, of course). It was as if so many people walked out feeling jazzed and then slowly problems started to dawn on them through discussion. Sometimes the problems felt like they could be shaken off. After all, it was a fun movie, right? But for others that was not the case. And by that next morning hulk's entire office was in a no-holds-barred rumble, arguing passionately as if realizing they had been all been poisoned and were trying to find the culprit. Some people felt like they were questioning their sanity, going so far as to say "wait, was that movie complete bullshit?"
  95. hulk would argue this is not uncalled for. This is star wars after all. And it's not so much that it invites scrutiny as it invites attention and the hope of love. And ultimately, the problems with the film were all the problems hulk talked about above with regards to insincere storytelling, only they were turned up to 11.
  97. But let's start with the good.
  99. Not so coincidentally, the force awakens is exemplary of all the things that j.J. Is usually good at. Like the fact that the cast is fucking incredible. Hulk could talk all day about this. Johhn boyega can act the gamut of experience, radiating from fear and wide-eyed excitement. Daisy ridley? She can exhibit strength and vulnerability in equal measure. Even oscar issac takes a few lines and runs with a cock-sure and infectious energy that leaps off screen. Hulk once had a friend call j.J. "the best casting director in hollywood". And hulk cannot overstate what an amazing skill this is (and sadly, what many directors lack). Hulk is truly in awe of his understanding of casting. Seriously, he's practically batted 1.000 his entire fucking career, even going back to his t.V. Work... That is not an accident.
  101. As for the aspects of the film that aren't just casting/likable characterization but meat and potatoes of building an actual character, hulk would readily admit that kylo ren is pretty legit and hands down the most interesting new character in a star wars movie since 1980 (lando). Ignoring the structure of how his information is revealed, he's at least got a real psyche behind him. His expressions of anger and jealousy and impudence not only feel true from adam driver's great performance, they are true in terms of a written character coherence level. Even if you don't understand the why, you truly understand where his head is at and the expression of his petulance. As a result, the character not only surprised a lot of skeptical folks (it's the weird guy from girls!), but it handily does exactly what the prequels were trying to do with the expression of anakin and accurately characterizes "a confused youth turning to the dark side". And hulk thinks that's pretty awesome.
  103. There's more to like, too. As with j.J.'s other work, the force awakens understands cinematic verve and affectation, for it's filmed with such energy that you can ignore the fact that it often eschews that original trilogy's classic cinematic style in favor of gusto. For there are countless shots where the camera zooms in glowingly as our characters rush to center of frame, looking at incoming danger. There's a palpable sense of urgency that overhangs everything, manifesting in a real effect on the viewer. And there are even moments that become genuinely thrilling. When hulk thinks of a stand-out moment, hulk absolutely turns to the energy of the first falcon escape sequence.
  105. ... But that sequence also clues us in to everything that's a problem.
  107. Why is that? Well, when discussing the film j.J. Openly admitted that there was a popular mantra they used while crafting the force awakens, where they would stop frequently and ask themselves:
  109. "is this delightful?"
  111. which hulk can certainly understand, for there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be delightful, nor with an audience wanting to consume something delightful... But boy howdy did the filmmakers go full-tilt in that aim and that aim alone. To the point that it seems they looked at every moment and worked backwards from the intended result.
  113. ... And they never, ever cared if it was earned.
  115. 4. "quickly, now..."
  117. rey can fly the millennium falcon because... She can.
  119. Now, hulk agrees this is not a problem in an of itself. Movies need excuses sometimes and you can't stop to explain everything. She tells us she can fly it so she can fly it. Fine. But at the same time, skipping over every justification and just having people be capable of everything you want isn't the optimal choice either, right? After all, there should ideally be some kind of drama or conflict other than "oh no, bad guys are after me!" again, the energy of that scene is great, but can you imagine that same escape sequence if it was built off some kind of dramatic expectation? Or even some kind of establishment of doubt? Hulk knows there's a fun little fake-out going into it ("the garbage will do!") but drama is different thing than a joking fake-out.
  121. Think about how good empire strikes back was at fucking with your expectations. It's all because han solo's confidence actually had a dramatic point: his bravado was always misplaced, so it always put them in worse trouble, and in turn it's what made them getting out of things all the more exciting. To boot, all the conflicts were so regularly built on clarity: knowing where you were going and throwing you into something much worse. It's the old spielberg mantra of "out frying pan into the fire and then into the furnace and the into hell." meaning in any sequence, you want to pile up complications and wonder how the hero will ever get out of it. Think about the great plane scene in raiders of the lost ark where you have so many different spinning plates and competing elements of danger. When you put all this stuff together it's why those movies are so damn exciting. It doesn't matter how many times hulk watches it, hulk always gets caught up in the moment of those star wars/indy scenes.
  123. But the j.J. Method has a critical misunderstanding of approach: not only is rey confident and then just delivers on that confidence with no reversal/expectation, but on a structural level the storytelling doesn't escalate or pile on: they throw a complication at you, have the heroes get out of it (seemingly just because), then throw another complication before you have to time to think of whether the last overcoming was even satisfying. Which is not only boring in and of itself, but taps into a bigger problem...
  125. Literally every damn scene feels like this.
  127. Right from the start, there are all these back and forths in the first act that feel so strange to hulk. The opening battle erupts. It's full of mood, texture, and intense lighting. Then suddenly we get a human moment with a storm trooper and you think that this film will be different, maybe even offer the promise of something far more personable and thoughtful! Then we even get a great intro sequence with rey where you get a sense of her loneliness and isolation!
  129. But from there, unlike the careful character setup of the original star wars, where we have time for things to breathe and characters to truly gel and go through arcs of goal stating - we are instead immediately in a rush. The characters and action begins ping ponging. The bad guys capture poe and go back up to the ship. Only to come right back down again with finn. Then he "dies" for no real reason. Hulk understands this move was done to logically separate and get bb8 to rey while getting poe and finn together - but it's one of those things that's just soooo obvious. Plus hulk's first note would be like "you're solving one plot problem and creating two more," forget doing anything interesting or dramatic. It's in an immediate rush to get poe out of the way for literally no reason other than wanting to get him out of the way for a bit (there's no actual drama to either his loss or even his later reveal. They are "emotional moments" but with no real narrative purpose or impact on the story). It's all just delays and re-positioning characters for no narrative reason other than "we like the effect."
  131. and that's the good act. From there, the film begins to unravel so haphazardly that when the falcon got immediately picked up by han and chewy, the moment elicited an out-loud "oh no!" from hulk. Again, j.J. Knows where you want to be, but he's going to rush you there as soon as he can, regardless of whether or not it's cathartic. He's may have given up the mystery box, yet at every turn he wants to surprise you, often to just move it all along. Which just reveals that:
  133. to j.J., the optimal story choice is always the quickest.
  135. For a hulk that has long talked about the needs of story economy, it may sound like wanting to get from point a to point b quickly is a good thing. But this discussion isn't even about taking time for elegance. You need to be telling an actual story in the first place for the economy to actually matter. And literally nothing about the story in this film is dictated by character choices or demonstrative wants. Everyone is rushing around, getting herded somewhere, getting interrupted, running from something, and switching locales for no other larger goal than "no time to think, just run!."
  137. some people may point out "dude, that's what happens in the original star wars." but no, it's really not. In the original star wars, characters have actionable motivations and missions the entire damn movie, even better, the alliances are forged or thrown into conflict immediately. There's no real delay. As hulk likes to point out, the "refusal of the call" in the original star wars took literally 38 seconds of screen time.
  139. Now that delay is the entire "plot" of most movies.
  141. Just have a character doubt themselves and get dragged around by others right up until the moment they decide to do actual something (which they should have done on page 23, then gone on to face other challenges or whatever) and there, you've told a "story." again, this is basically what happens in the force awakens. And it's a critical misunderstanding of about just about everything. Because the result renders all the great moments of affectation utterly meaningless. When everything is "played at 11" with no real inversions or purposeful pacing, then your "conflict" is nothing more than a straight monotone line of extreme reactions. Pure sound and fury, signifying nothing.
  143. You'll notice this kind of plotting is essentially the old raymond chandler quote about writing "when it doubt, have a guy enter with a gun in his hand." and it looks as if this is the basic building principle of every single conflict in this movie. Seriously, think about the 5 major turns of conflict with the first order in this movie... They are all a group of people showing up out of nowhere with guns...
  145. Which tells you this story was riddled with nothing but doubt.
  147. Worse, even the thrill of certain moments are often muted by errors of basic sequencing. Again, j.J. Is so caught up in the "surprise" of a given moment that he absolutely refuses to build to anything. Forget "therefore" storytelling, it's endless stream of "and thens" and then some nonsensical "buts" where suddenly something comes out of nowhere.
  149. Hulk feels like hulk needs to shout from the rooftops. There is plenty of "danger" in the movie, but there isn't any drama or doubt or actual conflict being played. And he constantly finds himself in situation where characters have to waste time explaining what just happened. But j.J. Obviously realizes this information sucks to deliver so he tries to zap through everything with personality and pizzaz before distracting us with a new shiny element of "danger," which doesn't escalate, but just creates the law of diminishing returns. And it seems like j.J. Is even aware that this doesn't "work" so he's trying to streamline and move and fix as quick as possible. But it's all a problem with origin of intent. It goes to another old adage about storytelling from hitchcock:
  151. "what's scarier, a bomb going off out of nowhere, or when the audience knows the bomb is under the table?"
  153. the answer is of course the bomb under the table. It's the beating heart of drama. For an audience member can flinch from just about any surprising thing, but it's sooooooo much better when you can get them to hold their popcorn close to their mouth, frozen in terror. For drama/true blue story moments are built off expectation and understanding. Even the simplest ones.
  155. To wit, there's a little tiny moment that most people don't think of when it comes to the last sequence of the original star wars, but it's that little moment of reluctance where after luke confronts han about not joining the battle. Han just ends up brushing luke off. He then gets lip from chewy, and you see han say "what? I know what i'm doing." and even though that moment of doubt registers with the audience and gosh oh golly maybe "tips the hand," that he feels bad about it - it turns out that tipping is actually critical to the dramatic function. Because we are about to go into a long, thrilling sequence where the drama will make us completely forget about han solo anyway. And when at the last second, he comes rushing down, sun blazing behind him, it doesn't actually feel like deus ex machina, because it's been dramatically justified. We understand why he came back and better yet, we are thrilled that he did.
  157. In the moment of dramatic elation, you want the audience to exclaim:
  159. "of course!"
  161. you don't want them to yell "oh, that was out of nowhere, but ok!"
  163. and from a structural standpoint, hulk is sorry we now have constant evidence that j.J. Would get rid of that "tipping the hand" han scene in a second. And as a direct result to this kind of thinking, hulk mostly found hulk-self thinking "what the fuck?" with regards to every "surprise" in the movie.
  165. But here's the real ongoing question. All these deep, inexorable flaws are pretty damn obvious to hulk. But how does the film effectively "get around" these problems to make it work with a bunch of the audience?
  167. After all, this is a movie that literally has the chutzpah to have r2 sweep in with the rest of the map for no other reason than "it's time for the movie to be over!" so how is the movie able to eschew all these obvious problems and actually play well with people? There's a lot of answers to this. But almost all of them involve "get rich quick" thinking and operating off short-hand, basically taking a lot of pages out of the marvel modus oprandi.
  169. So first up, let's talk about:
  171. 5. Affectation: character vs. Personality
  173. hulk feels like we are at "peak affectation" with movies.
  175. That must sound silly or vague, but what it essentially means is that we are now in a space where filmmakers have gotten much better at controlling the tonal effect of their movies on an audience; to the point that we've seemingly changed movie-making itself to maximize this effect (hulk has talked about with regards to the marvel machine). We have gotten really good at answering questions like: will this make them laugh? Will this make them groan? Will this scene make them bored? And then rigorously testing/re-shooting so that they are good on these fronts.
  177. Now, there is a clear, discernible way in which this sounds like a good thing! Especially given that "tonal nightmare movies" will drive audiences crazy and are the main thing a studio hopes to avoid (sorry batman v superman). But hulk views this as one of those "one step forward, two steps back" scenarios. Because the equally-obvious problem is that this "affectation first" thinking often leads them to trying to do all the surface stuff right and the surface stuff alone. Which is why these films work so readily with factors like charm and likability, but like anyone that worships affectation on a personal level, it doesn't create a lasting meaningful relationship with an audience, and it certainly doesn't work well in terms of cohesive storytelling.
  179. As a primary counter-example you might say "but hulk, what about something like the nice guys? That was such a light and breezy romp!"
  181. yup, it sure was! But the key difference is shane black has such an adept sense at storytelling and dramatic mechanisms that he can ping pong you around without the slightest idea that he's playing you like a fiddle on a pure story level. The only thing "light and breezy" is the actual tone, while the story execution remains razor sharp. Which is why he can, like so many other adept filmmakers, turn to dramatic pathos on a dime. Which should just serve as a blatant reminder that in any movie, story and character affectation are not separate things with separate degrees of merit. They are inexorably linked, especially when trying to mine the deeper effects of dramatic loss and catharsis.
  183. So if the art of "characterization" is inexorably tied to story, then what "peak affectation" reveals is that so many movies now don't have characters...
  185. They have personality.
  187. The most clear example in the force awakens is finn. Now make no mistake, hulk loves john boyega. Loves loves loooooves him, for he's the real deal on every conceivable front. Seriously hulk wants to put him in all the movies. And he manages to do wonders with his character in this film and plays every beat with abject sincerity. And finn really does show off a whole range of emotions, right? We're talking fear, bravado, joy, confusion, humor, reluctance, and desire. It seems like everything you can hope for a rounded character...
  189. The only problem is that you can't track those emotions because there's no actual coherence among them.
  191. "tracking" emotions is always a little tricky to explain, but it basically amounts to "we have been previously given a reason to understand why this character is acting like they are at that moment." the clearest example hulk can think of would be 1993's falling down (a pretty racist movie that is reflective of the failures of '80s brand conservative politics). But in order for the film to accomplish its goals wherein a character has to very quickly go from doing something they would never do to doing that very thing, you have to build up the reasons for that character to change. And you have to do it in a way where the character's "psyche" makes sense to the audience. An even more recent example of this would of course be breaking bad, wherein the audience watched walter white empower the darker part of his psyche inch by inch, week after week, ultimately allowing himself to do some very bad things. Now it may be clear that this is important for these big arc-ing main characters in dramas, but it is just as critical in popular movies. It's just like tony's arc in the original iron man, where he has to go from the playboy to a person who feels responsible for the devastation he caused. And this is even true of supporting characters and ensembles. It all comes down to a simple rule:
  193. they have to make demonstrative sense as a person.
  195. And as much as hulk loves him, hulk has no idea why finn is behaving the way he does in this movie. In an earlier scene he plays the pathos of being a slave whose never been allowed to be a person before. A few scenes later, he's smoothly-yet-goofily asking if someone's got a boyfriend. Again, it's a funny moment, but it's not "coming from anywhere" we understand (other than us liking daisy ridley, too). This is exactly what hulk means by "effect first" thinking. We're never mining the depths of finn's characterization for anything more than a momentary effect, and it's an effect that will likely be bulldozed just a moment later (usually when bad guys show up with guns). Case in point, finn's big "moment of doubt" and reluctance where he thinks about running doesn't hold all that much dramatic meaning to us because we've already seen him alternating between moments of buying in / running away many times already, nor does it play against any kind of drama. It comes off just feeling haphazard: "the character needs to doubt himself for the illusion of conflict"; a needless bit of drama before the movie just pushes us somewhere else all willy-nilly. Again, there's no consequences to that pause because it just becomes side-swiped with an attack a moment later. Like everything in this film, it's a decision that just geographically puts people in different places for a hot minute for the only purpose of playing the "tension" of them being alone for the next random attack.
  197. Ultimately, who is finn? The truth is hulk has no idea. Hulk can't pin his psyche down. If we were to take that famous test from red letter media's episode 1 review and "describe this character" hulk would not be able to sum him up coherently like we can do with the original cast. With finn, hulk just knows hulk "liked" all the things he did, but that's not even close to coherent characterization. It's just a in-the-moment pleasing one.
  199. Rey has a similar problem, in that she's not so much a character as she is a list of positive attributes. The whole discussion of her being a mary sue is tangential to the fact she just doesn't have a real psyche being played. Her character can totally be an awesome whiz kid whose great at stuff, but what's her true want? What's stopping her from adventure? What is she failing at? What's her flaw? What does that failure or realization allow her to do at the end of the movie that she could never do at the beginning? All learning comes from failure, after all. But don't say she learns how to "use the force" because she doesn't really fail in that pursuit. She just discovers she can use it step-by-step "just because." to compare, think about the way luke fails with the blaster and the way that mirrors the great drama with the final trench run. But with j.J.? She fails at being able to do a mind control and then immediately just tries again and succeeds. Like, um, what did she learn in between those two efforts? What was dramatically demonstrated? Did she just try harder with her brain? Did she just gain ability immediately? How is hulk supposed to accept any of this? It's so symbolic of j.J.'s worst habits...
  201. Just move them along because it's where the audience wants them to be.
  203. The worst part is that the filmmakers know she needs a motivation, but the best of that texture they can give her is "she wants her family back" and doesn't want to leave because of abandonment issues. But forget the fact that this is so muddled and clouded in mystery that it doesn't play as a clear motivation at all (thanks reveal-happy-vs-demonstrative filmmmakers!), it's the obvious truth that being homesick or feeling abandoned is not a damn weakness.
  205. It should be more like you're not trusting people or having a bad temper because you feel abandoned... That's a weakness.
  207. Do you see the crucial difference?
  209. That's the thing about character traits: they have to be dramatized and come out in conflict in order to be meaningful or even really work. But with this entire movie, character traits are merely presented through exhibitions of personality. Again, what is dramatized about her situation? Who is her family? Why do they mean something to her other than "family is important"? We are left to assume what they could mean. It's a placeholder motivation like "end of the world" or "they killed my wife." it's like, duh we know that "family" is important to people as a concept, which makes us understand, but the reason we care about uncle owen and aunt beru dying is because we got to actually see their relationship with luke. And it doesn't matter that they were old farts holding him back, you could see them wrestling with the fact that they were holding him back. Which means they were flesh-and-blood human beings with real flaws, and it's the reason you feel awful when they die. But with rey it's all *wink wink nudge nudge* "see, she totally has a motivation or something! We just can't tell you what it is yet, so we'll hint at it!"
  211. do we see the magnanimous difference? Can we see the same difference in that moment she "refuses the call" of luke's lightsaber because she gets an in-the-moment weird as fuck jedi vision that has precisely fuck all to do with anything? And certainly not an actual character reason that's been previous established?
  213. The differences keep piling up. You have the incredible lupita nyong'o and she's reduced to little more than the old wise sage dispensing wisdom. It's like people don't realize how much of the obi wan and yoda stuff was grounded with solid character work before they got to it (yoda is a fun loving weirdo for a good long while before he lets up on the gas). But all of maz's personality traits are quick throwaways or more allusions. Again, the common trait of the force awakens is that it just rushes through all that stuff because they have the affectation they want and have zero interest in doing the work.
  215. Just like with your favorite new character, captain phasma!
  217. Seriously. You cast gwendoline christie as the voice and then you do... That??!?! She is barely in this movie in any kind of way and they want her half-assed off-screen comeuppance to mean something?!?!?! Jeezey petes. They must have built that cool armor and been like "good job, everyone we did it! No need to do anything more with this!"
  219. again, the only new character who even makes sense as person is kylo ren. We keep getting revealing shades of him throughout the film (told oddly, with poor sequencing), but those shades at least add up to something coherent. That sequencing is critical because it not only ties into this whole marriage of characterization and plot, it all leads up to the most damning question hulk can ask of this movie...
  221. Why is han solo's death so underwhelming in the force awakens?
  223. It's all there "on paper," right? The most beloved character of a series. His son being the one to kill him. It echoes the grim, meaningful moment in the first movie. It should play like gangbusters, right? Well, when it happened in hulk's theater the audience did not gasp. They did not get sad. They mostly looked around at each other confused (this was one of the opening screenings with a die hard fan base, btw). The moment just really fails spectacularly.
  225. Why is that?
  227. Well a lot of reasons. Some of it is the awkward lighting / staging (seriously, what gives?), then comes all these odd visual and pacing cues to let us know it's totally coming. But that's just textural stuff: why does it not even work on a basic dramatic level?
  229. It's because we don't give a fuck about han and kylo's relationship.
  231. We may come to understand a little about it over the course of the movie, but we don't care about it. And when it comes to dramatic death, you have to care.
  233. Think about why the obi-wan death works in the original movie. Think about how we got to see luke and obi-wan come together for the entire running time. Think about the nature of obi-wan's sacrifice. Think about luke's angry reaction to the moment and firing of the blaster. Think about how he contemplates on the loss after he's gone. Think about everything that makes that meaningful to him, and more importantly, to us. We actually cared deeply for their relationship, as this was the first empowering father figure luke has really had.
  235. But with han and his son ben, we just get actors telling us why it matters in the moment, instead of seeing anything more. Ugh, it's almost as if we have this whole idiom in storytelling about showing not telling. Instead, we just get some allusions to their past relationship. Mere lip service that we haven't experienced as an audience. We haven't gotten to see their relationship get torn apart. We haven't even seen any real build up to this moment either. Even the movie's relying on our love of han is mostly rushed through. His scenes settle on this winking affectation that showcases no real pathos or as hulk constantly is saying "doing the work." and unlike obi-wan, there's no real conscious sacrifice being played in the scene. He's putting himself out on a limb to talk to his son, with no dramatic set up to his loss other than a dull feeling that it's about to happen.
  237. Thus, you have the death of one of the most beloved characters in cinematic history and it feels like it "just happens."
  239. the moment is exemplary of everything problematic in this movie. "it just happens." and the film's obsession with affectation and the "is this delightful?" mantra is precisely why this critical affectation falls flat. Non-delightful moments of sadness or catharsis have to be earned through dramatic storytelling.
  241. To boot, sometimes the film will step into some of the most stunningly tone deaf scenes where they don't actually realize the emotion of what they're playing. For instance, there's that pleasant scene where and han and leia have reunited and talk about the state of their lives with a wistful, loving, flirty gaze. And you like it because you like them! But if you stop for one second to think about what they're actually talking about in that scene, well, hulk's friend put it best:
  243. "uh, excuse me, your son shot up a school."
  245. make no mistake, this is the thing being played with the tragedy of ben solo. We realize this, correct? Good granola, at least the "killing younglings" scenes of the prequels understood the gravitas of what they're taking on. But like everything here, the force awakens doesn't give any kind of emotional validity or integrity to anything. It's too busy glossing over in the name of delightful placation. So this is precisely what hulk talks about when hulk talks about sociopathic tendencies in movies.
  247. To hulk, it just makes you realize a key difference: the prequels were terribly directed movies, flat and lifeless, clunky beyond belief... But they at least had some kind of weird functional foundation that made sense. Meanwhile, the force awakens is "good direction," but on a story function level, it's as tone deaf to hulk as "now, this is pod racing!"
  249. 6. "sure you can destroy worlds, but can you build them?"
  251. during the events of force awakens, hulk literally doesn't understand the basic logic of where the star wars universe is at.
  253. ... Hulk feels like this is kind of important.
  255. This isn't a logical nitpick, mind you. This is just flat out circumstantial confusion over everyone's relationship. You start the movie and think everything will be okay as the opening title crawl presents the idea plainly enough: luke's gone. First order has risen from ashes. Republic and resistance fighting them together. Much like the initial title scroll of the first movie, it's enough to be like "okay, cool let's do this!"
  257. but unlike the original movie, where you immediately get these little guys on the run from the great and powerful empire (brilliantly shown through scale of the two ships and ensuing battle), we get something much different here. Because every further articulation of plot from the title scroll onward just makes hulk more confused about what's happening, not less. Everything in terms of information is just so guarded, half-hearted, or teased out in cryptic allusion. The movie is literally afraid to be clear for fear that doing so would be... Boring? And even the information which is presented doesn't make a lick of damn sense. These are simple questions: who is in power? Why does the first order seem just like the empire again and the resistance just like the rebels? What makes them different from the last iterations? What are they after besides fighting each other? What does the republic think of this? Why does it take 2/3 of the movie to even get a sense of the resistance? How does the world feel about the war? What's with this big laser planet and what exactly does the world think of it? (one friend immediately texted: "darth planet was dumb as fuck.")
  259. now, when hulk voiced concern some people got very upset and said hulk wasn't giving enough credit and every single one of these questions could be answered! But not by referencing the movie. Instead hulk was instead directed to... An article that explains the answer. Let hulk say that again: not a sequence in the movie. But an article that explains it (and not well either because what is explained on the page still doesn't account for what we see onscreen)... So here's hulk's question:
  261. is this how we are going to watch movies now?
  263. Yes, hulk understands the allure of an extended universe. Please remember that hulk read every article and book about the star wars universe ever, just as hulk understands the merits of rabid fandom. But understand a crucial freakin' difference. Hulk never had to read those books in order to understand what happens in the original trilogy. It was just a chance to go deeper. But it's almost as if the filmmakers worked backwards and understood people would be digging in, so they just decided to skip it and "be delightful." was it a kind of "eh, fuck plot, they can just look it up." kind of thing? Or something more accidental? Sorry, but this is all basically insane to hulk. And hulk just realized, devin even had to write about all this.
  265. But hulk's question is more simple: why did this happen?
  267. Was exposition simply not "delightful" enough? Does exposition stop them from rushing through every scene to get to the desired effect? Hulk sorry, but effective exposition is actually really important to movies (everyone makes fun of inception, but the first half of that movie is what allows the second half to work without stopping to explain anything). So it's time to talk about one of the most important scenes in the original star wars.
  269. That would be the conference room scene. You know the one:
  271. this scene, like many other great exposition scenes, works by understanding that, yes, exposition is boring in and of itself. But that's why you bend over backwards to find ways to make it interesting/full of conflict. Like the famous snake plissken negotiation, there's stakes and an art of grounding it in real chutzpah. And in this famous scene, there's that awesome framing choice with two people arguing so it feels like just an intense conversation between them. Then the sweeping way grand moff tarkin comes into the room. And then of course, there's the way vader takes charge of the situation (with a guy who fearlessly takes him on by the way, an important humanizing feature for vader) and then issues one of the most iconic lines of the entire series. All in all, the scene is flipping fantastic.
  273. And it manages to get in two solid pages of straight exposition.
  275. Exposition that is critical to understanding the politics, the dynamics, and the goals of our bad guys. But meanwhile, you have j.J. And company who are basically like "those scenes are why people didn't like the prequels! Let's get rid of all the senate room kind of scenes! They're too hard, anyway!"
  277. in fact, that's literally what happened. There was not only a proposed scene in which leia talked to the republic which didn't happen, there's a delete scene from the movie where leia discusses the attack on jakku and gets into the politics of the resistance's relationship to the republic (rather than talk to them she says "be smarter than that."), i.E. Addressing in some small way the things needed to make sense of this (even though it's not enough or even close to understanding the skill of the conference scene above, at least it's something). But again, the whole scene falls flat because they're not trying to make it entertaining. They're just telling the same info the audience already knows. They're just trying to rush it. So like everything in the film, something secretly important is sacrificed for the sake of energy and affectation.
  279. And thus, leia shows up with the resistance out of nowhere... Just because.
  281. Hulk can see the movie itself pleading with us: "but isn't that exciting! It's leia! From that movie you love! She saved the day!" the truth is that when she showed up, hulk had a random thought: what would someone think who had never seen this film series before? Don't shoo off that question either, because it's kind of important. Wouldn't they think "who the hell is that lady?" and "why are all these people related?" and "what does this have to do with those main kid characters i actually kind of like?" which reveals the obvious truth that pretty much every big plot point in this film is dependent on the fact that it is a reference... This is one of those things hulk wants to say over and over and over again until it sinks in.
  283. The entire film is a reference.
  285. Not only is that problematic, that can't be the way to make anything good and self-sustaining. And what's worse, so many of the issues and plot points introduced are hand-waved away with an "oh, we'll get to that in the next movie." hulk will happily argue that this is worse than the tv show episodic model marvel uses. This is something that doesn't work without what comes before, nor works without what comes later. And every argument as to that function makes hulk wants to scream, "but what about this movie? What about its needs? What about making this film work better? What about story satisfaction within the narrative?!?" because everything good outside of these questions is nothing more than a trick. A way not to do the actual work. A way to rush to an effect. Hulk always argues: you should only have the movie in front of you. Nothing more. Nothing less.
  287. But in all the ways the filmmakers asked those questions: "is this delightful?" the thing they were really asking was "is this delightful for a star wars fan?" and it's backed up by the fact that this film is 100% designed to only really work and make sense for them.
  289. To state again: the force awakens was for star wars fans.
  291. Which prompts hulk with a question:
  293. wasn't the original star wars for everybody?
  295. 7. The nostalgia button
  297. there's a rhetorical question people ask a lot these days: "what if george lucas got to make flash gordon instead of creating star wars?"
  299. make no mistake, lucas wanted to go back and remake the 1930's serials he loved as a kid, but he couldn't get the rights. So instead he created this beloved franchise in their spirit. This anecdote should tell you a lot of obvious things about how to forge ahead with the creative spirit of inspiration, but it really does highlight the powerful and human instinct to look backwards to our influences, doesn't it? If even george lucas wanted to go back to the retread the old inspiration, should we not agree that it is a human and understandable inclination? Of course it is. But why do we do it? Why is that allure so powerful? And in the end, what good and bad things do we get out of the desire to tell stories like this?
  301. The answers tap in this ongoing (and admittedly broad) theory that, emotionally speaking, people are usually looking for one of three things:
  303. 1) they are either searching for something they don't have yet.
  305. 2) trying to keep things they do have.
  307. Or 3) trying to get back something they feel they've lost.
  309. It's one of those obvious, all-encompassing ways of expressing something, but hulk finds it's also pretty true. You can see the way that something tangible like "money" demonstrates all three clearly, but there's a deeper emotional aspect to it that's even more important. It's sort of how we look for answers of happiness in the general world and as such, it dictates a lot about our worldview of how we go about getting them (it's no accident those three outlooks obviously tap into politics and election thinking). And when it comes to cinema, you can see evidence of all three. You have a lot of adventurous people looking for something new. Just as you have people looking for movies that fit in their rigidly-defined view of what is acceptable. But with disproportionate alarm, hulk can't tell you how many movie fans seem to approach cinema with that conservative mindset:
  311. they are in continual search for something they have lost.
  313. It all goes back to trying to capture that kid-like enthusiasm, right? That unthinking joy and elation, free from adult cynicism. No wonder so man movie fans are desperately looking for the magic of how they felt watching movies when they were younger. But in this weird climate where the "remake/reboot/soft sequel/rebootquel" has gone from a dirty word to an obvious business choice, we effectively look toward this "new version of the old thing." we happily look forward to the notion of getting the gang back together, so long as it is communicated and anticipated with the notion of love. In other words, rather than update something old, we now nakedly communicate that these projects will "press the nostalgia button." that it will fill you with that warm glow of remembrance. That it will strip away your worries. That it will make you feel like you felt when you were ten. And regardless of it's success at doing so, let's be honest with ourselves...
  315. People press the nostalgia button because it works.
  317. To a point.
  319. As far as hollywood is concerned, it matters in that it seems to be what gets people to show up to theaters these days. To the point that it's certainly become one of hollywood's biggest businesses. Please know it wasn't always like this. Hulk feels like the movie business used to be a bit more like the tech industry is now. They'll certainly ride the wave of successful formulas, but everyone was looking for the next big thing. The trend that would set the world on fire. There was a kind of old school balls approach to it and sequels were considered cheap and disposable. But now? Now the nostalgia dollar has become the safest dollar. Why bother with the potential failure of those looking for the new? They can find "the new" somewhere else. After all, movies are where people go when they want to see the thing they already love "made real."
  321. this sounds like a disheartening realization, but it actually points out the obvious power of cinema. It's what feels real to people. It's what defines iconography and our vision (case in point: who do you picture if you re-read the harry potters? What was in your head before, or the actors now?). We love cinema because the absorption factor is so high (to wit, video games better occupy and demand senses/attention, but it's actually harder to get lost in a game for so many reasons. In other words, it's easier to get distracted watching a movie but it's also easier to forget you're watching a movie when you're into it, certainly more than it is to forget you're playing a game). But the problem is that cinema only works when it works. It's dependent on those pesky things like story/characterization to give life to the cinematic realities. Good cinema is dependent on everything we've talked about in this essay, everything we've talked about ever. And that means you can get in real storytelling trouble when you aim to look back/retread instead of forging ahead.
  323. It's why there is a central hypocrisy to nostalgia entertainment in that it never works in the way in the way people hope. Hulk talked about it a great deal in hulk's column on why comedy sequels are so hard. It's because the feeling we get when we press the nostalgia button is not one of dramatic catharsis. It's a warm sunbeam. A dreamy placation. But the biggest problem is that nostalgia itself is inherently fleeting. You can get caught up in the adoration of memory, but there is always that inevitable sobering moment you realize you are in the present. That those glory days have gone by and you only left with what is ahead of you (as a certain springsteen song will back up). Tony soprano said it himself, that there's no sadder game than that of "remember when..." it all speaks to a truth that we so readily accept in storytelling, but so rarely accept for ourselves as an audience: you can never really go back.
  325. And thus, nostalgia movies always end up being that sobering moment.
  327. Whether it's something that dawns on us as we are watching 70-year-old harrison ford amble around in indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull, or something that crosses us the next day when we feel that particular brand of emptiness, and it's all because the kind of good that comes from 'remember when" nostalgia is not the same itch that is scratched with the elation of something dramatic and seemingly new. It's not that thing that sets our hair on fire and gets us talking for weeks.
  329. Hulk would argue that we implicitly know nostalgia can't sustain us and that we must forge ahead with the fresh and new, but we constantly fail at dealing with the negotiation of this very thing. We seem to not be able to help ourselves and slather on the nostalgic moments with reckless abandon. We seem to try and throw in the notion of "the passing of the torch' to the new without trying to earn it.
  331. We also try to mix the nostalgia and the new by going for the "re-scramble". Hulk thinks about a perfect example with j.J.'s star trek series which manages to succeed when it's concentrating on good character centric storytelling with the four leads, but goes belly up the second it starts getting into the mumbo jumbo of the re-scramble. A movie like star trek into darkness fails so spectacularly (for many reasons), but most of all because it heavily-relies on you knowing wrath of kahn while trying to not straight re-do the moments, resulting in one of the most insane re-mixes of the movie imaginable. It's so confused about who it's trying to please that it ends up pleasing no one.
  333. The lesson is that nostalgia is powerful, and it can work to its own end, but its own end is a remarkably limited thing to pursue. Like all abram's projects, it's a kind of mystery box in that it has the remarkable ability to draw people in (this time with the promise of giving people back something they lost), but very little to do with giving them satisfaction. We have to constantly remember that nostalgia actually has nothing to do with storytelling, just meta-storytelling. And if you confuse the two, heck, if you ever put the meta level of your story first, the you're fucked.
  335. Because the flame within "the core" is not fed by previous adoration, nor remembrance, nor the benefit of the doubt. Just like real flames that are fed by oxegyn, fuel, and a spark, "the core" is fed by the tangible qualities of good of storytelling that fed us in the first place. It's the reason a film like mad max: fury road can succeed. It's a movie made by a 70-year-old returning to his own beloved franchise after years laying dormant, the story core even remains the same - a loner, only with the impetus to survive, learns to live for something more. And instead he exploded the film into a new identity. There is no moment to look back and play remember when, there is only a propulsive freshness, all built off perfect understanding of storytelling and cinematic function, made for a modern age, with modern concerns. It is a film at once familiar as it is completely new. A film so concerned with its function on hulk's heart and mind, that when it ended, hulk wasn't running home to go watch the road warrior, hulk was ready to talk about and "live" in the new world that had been created, desperately excited for all the places it could go.
  337. On paper, the force awakens is a movie that knows it has to be the first entry of a new trilogy. And you have the new characters all ready to do that. But this goal was not tied into the movie's identity. It cared far, far too much about pressing the nostalgia button, when the goal should've have been to get people to forget they were watching a star wars movie all together. It's no accident that the film's most successful moments are when they find the ways to truly do that, but everything else feels steeped in an old reverence. Yes, it loves star wars. But in 1977 there was no star wars that people were drawing on. They were not forced to look backward, nor to start playing connect the dots, nor to simply wait for characters to show up. And thus this film misses every chance to tell a real story because it is indebted to pressing the nostalgia button as directly, quickly, and "effectively" as possible... And it may make people smile...
  339. But it will never feed them in the core.
  341. This specific nostalgia-based failure of the film, comes together with the whole set of failures previously mentioned: the lying. The pacing. The affectation. The poor world building. To make one of the most strange cinema-going experiences that hulk can think of. Because again, pressing the nostalgia button works in a way. Just as cinematic lying works in a way. Just as moving at a brisk pace works in a way. And just as being charming definitely works in a way, to the point that the film can so effectively just wash right over you. To the point that j.J. Seems to be slowly mastering this kind of thing. You can take it all in with a contented smile, but only if you just don't think about any of it for a damn second. Perhaps put best by a friend of hulk's:
  343. "i like the force awakens, but only when it's right in front of me."
  345. which could be the most damning thing we can say about it? It's the sound and fury theory writ large. A movie so alluring and eye catching, but in the end symbolizing nothing and meaning nothing... Only it somehow does mean something to people, to the point that they can like it as they watch it. So what the hell is happening here?
  347. It all finally leads us back to that original question hulk asked at the beginning: "what is the force awakens about?"
  349. it's about star wars.
  351. It's about you loving star wars. It's about you wanting more star wars. It's about knowing you have "the core" within you and trying to access that. But it's not trying to build anything new on a non-surface level. It's not really trying to add to the core. It's not trying to usher in a new spirit. It's simply trying to reach back and showcase the things that made up the core. But it doesn't work the same on us. Not by a long shot, because it's not designed to be meaningful, nor about life in its own right. Rey isn't the aspirational figure. She's a stand-in for most base star-wars related desires. The notion that you too can be a part of star wars! You too can fight a sith or fly the falcon! You too can get everything you want! But it's so dramatically and thematically incoherent that hulk has no fucking idea what else it's about. Everything that makes the star wars universe special, even the force itself, is not dramatized.
  353. It's alluded to.
  355. And nothing more.
  357. To hulk, the saddest truth of the force awakens is that it is a film that is actually defined by the last moment. You have rey, reaching out to the past, handing luke his light saber. In an incontrovertible way, it reads like a symbolic passing of the baton to the next filmmaker. And look closer still, there's rey, tears her eyes, unsure of herself, unsure of how she even got here, or what she's even doing, just as the film is so unsure of itself. And she's hoping that luke, this symbol of the series' height, the aspirational figure himself, can take the reigns and fix all this... The moment is actually quite a strange ending; an abrupt scene that truly makes no sense as the culmination of this particular story other than the basic arc of "we're looking for luke!/oh there he is!" but the baton handing is the only deeply true characterization of the movie.
  359. Which is a sadness hulk can barely contemplate. Because the original star wars was so good at "the meaningful stuff" that it became the most universal movie of the modern age. To the point that it became "our core."
  361. but the force awakens is just about star wars.
  363. Which means it isn't really about anything.
  365. <3 hulk.
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