Categories
movies Uncategorized

Convenient coincidences in ‘The Force Awakens’

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot leaned too heavily on unlikely coincidences. Kirk just happens to get marooned on the same moon as elder Spock. Monsters just happen to chase him straight into Spock’s cave hideout. Scotty just happens to be stationed a few miles away.[4]

Abrams’ latest sci-fi epic, The Force Awakens, features several similar plot holes:

WARNING: spoilers below!

  • BB–8 somehow rolls its way to Rey. What are the chances that the droid who knows Luke Skywalker’s location runs into the Force-sensitive girl with apparent ties to the Skywalker clan?[1]
  • Finn stumbles onto Rey and BB–8. Improbably, the fugitive stormtrooper happens upon the fugitive droid and its new master. Jakku must be a very small planet.
  • The Millennium Falcon is rusting away on Jakku—of all the planets in the galaxy. I actually liked the Falcon’s reveal, but doesn’t it seem improbable that the same ship that ferried Luke from Tatooine has been waiting around to carry Rey away from Jakku?
  • Maz Kanata, this film’s Force-sensitive guru character, possesses Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber. That’s very convenient, since it triggers Rey’s Force awakening. Kanata brushes aside Han Solo’s question about how she acquired it. But… seriously, Maz, why’s this thing in your basement?
  • Finn knows too much about Starkiller Base—more than his low-level First Order position would explain. A stormtrooper peon knows the superweapon’s key weakness?[2]
  • R2-D2 reactivates at just the right time. Why did the trash-can droid pick that opportune moment to wake up? Talk about Deus ex Machina.[3]
  • In general, what are the chances that the events depicted in The Force Awakens would mirror the original trilogy so slavishly? A twenty-year-old orphan on a desert planet finds a droid sought by both the evil imperials and a noble resistance. The droid carries information that could sway the balance of power in the galaxy. Our hero teams up with a roguish outlaw and an older mentor aboard the Millenium Falcon. The mentor character tells stories about the Force and legendary Jedi. A short alien guru guides our hero toward the Light side of the Force. The insurgency destroys a gigantic space weapon just before it blasts them out of existence. Welcome to Deja Vu: the Movie.

    “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.”


Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed The Force Awakens. But these plot seams show where the filmmakers valued nostalgia over storytelling. The writers wanted Han Solo to find our young heroes, so they placed the Falcon (which Solo could track) on Jakku. They needed Luke Skywalker for the cliffhanger, so R2-D2 waits until the denouement to power up.

These twists may cater to aging fans’ sentimentality, but they make little sense in context.


  1. The movie doesn’t actually make Rey’s identify clear. It’s still theoretically possible that she’s just a random orphan, who’s not connected with the Skywalkers at all. But then why even mention the “family” she’s waiting for on Jakku? And why does Anakin’s old lightsaber trigger her Force vision?  ↩
  2. Or was Finn bluffing so that he could rescue Rey?  ↩
  3. One potential explanation: R2-D2 can use the Force. That’s an intriguing theory, but it’s never actually been confirmed by the movies.  ↩
  4. I’ve heard these happy accidents explained away as “fate”—i.e. the universe “course-corrects” and finds a way to bind these characters’ destinies together. Bullshit; that’s screenwriter-speak for “We couldn’t think of a good story reason.”
Categories
movies Uncategorized

Obi-Wan Kenobi himself warned against ‘Star Wars’ obsession

Alec Guinness (who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy), recalling a fan encounter:

A sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times… Looking into the boy’s eyes, I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form; I guessed that one day, they would explode… I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities.

In this excerpt from his memoir, Guinness instructs the young Star Wars enthusiast never to watch the films again. The actor feared that the boy would “mature” into a man-child, still obsessed with a shallow children’s movie.

Of course, millions of similar “lads” (and lasses), now in their “thirties” (and forties), will eagerly revisit this “fantasy-world of second-hand childish banalities” when The Force Awakens premieres tomorrow. Sir Alec would likely disapprove. Even before production wrapped on “A New Hope,” Guinness was deriding its “rubbish dialogue.” In the decades that followed, the late actor eventually grew to despise the franchise altogether.

And he had a point. Some extreme Star Wars fans do lose track of reality in their love for that “galaxy far, far away.” Check out this fake commercial from last week’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode; it ridicules grown men who collect kids’ action figures. Or recall another SNL sketch, in which William Shatner (Captain Kirk himself) tells obsessive Trekkies to “Get a life!” These parodies make us chuckle, but they also reflect the pathological fixations of some hardcore sci-fi devotees.

Of course, I probably shouldn’t cast stones here. I’ve written more blog posts on Star Wars and Star Trek than any other topics. “Second-hand childish banalities” are apparently my cup of tea.

Categories
movies TV Uncategorized

Huh. That doesn’t feel like ‘Star Trek’.

On first watch, this trailer bummed me out. Star Trek Beyond feels like “Fast & Furious in Space.” Maybe fans should have expected this—director Justin Lin also helmed four Furious movies. But J.J. Abrams’ Trek reboot already felt too action-heavy for the staid franchise; this trailer doubles down on that approach.

The more I watch the teaser, however, the less its pace bothers me. Remember that the classic Trek films hail from a different filmmaking era—slower, smaller, quieter. Modern, mainstream audiences wouldn’t endure Trek’s glacially-paced naval battles or interminable static effects shots. Replicating that outdated feel could tank the franchise (again). If overemphasizing adventure helps keep Star Trek alive, that’s fine by me.

Plus, even if Trekkies wrinkle their noses at its tone, the trailer offers some encouraging signs. Beyond seems to take place during the Enterprise’s legendary five-year mission. The crew has ventured far from home and finds itself stranded amidst a hostile alien culture. That set-up harkens back to Trek’s episodic TV roots. If the plot is handled well—yes, that’s a big “if”—this movie could be fun.

I do have one beef, though. The trailer shows swarming robots (?) disintegrate the Enterprise; Captain Kirk then laments, “We have no ship!” That could be a red herring—maybe the Enterprise survives the attack. But if it doesn’t, that reveal feels like an unnecessary spoiler. In Star Trek, the ship itself is a character, and you don’t telegraph a character’s demise seven months before the film premieres. By all means, go ahead and wreck the Enterprise, but save that sad plot twist for the theaters.


EDIT: Here’s a Wrath of Khan trailer set to the Beyond trailer’s music (the Beastie Boys).

Categories
movies TV Uncategorized

How the new ‘Star Trek’ recast Kirk

Fun DVD extra from the 2009 Star Trek reboot, exploring how J.J. Abrams’s team cast the Enterprise’s crew.

How do you recast Captain Kirk—a performance so inextricably linked to its originator, William Shatner? By 2009, Shat-as-Kirk had seeped into our cultural consciousness: the stilted, rambling delivery, the bemused smirk, the paunchy physique.

Fortunately, Abrams and Co. didn’t go down the imitation route. After four decades of Kirk parodies, asking a young actor to do his best Shatner impression wouldn’t have gone over well.

As the new Kirk, Chris Pine, explains,

I talked to J.J. [Abrams, the director] about it at the beginning of the process, and we kind of made a mutual decision that it would be a mistake to try to recreate what Mr. Shatner had done…. There are certain qualities of Kirk that you can’t ignore…, but to try to mimic Mr. Shatner would be a mistake.

Boiling Kirk down to his essential qualities could have proved dangerous, too. Make the Enterprise’s captain too cocky, and the audience might dislike him. Pine makes it work; he captures Kirk’s headstrong charm without turning us off—yet he somehow avoids merely imitating his predecessor.


But there is at least one moment in the film where Pine unapologetically channels William Shatner. In the 2009 film’s final scene, Pine’s delivery of Dr. McCoy’s nickname (“Bones!”) sounds unmistakably Shatneresque. Compare the clip above to some classic Kirk-McCoy banter from Star Trek: The Motion Picture:

It’s a fitting homage. At the end of 2009’s Star Trek, Kirk finally slides into the captain’s chair, so Pine slips into Shatner, too.

Categories
movies Uncategorized

Killing Kirk

J.J. Abrams’ sequel to the 2009 Star Trek reboot fell flat. Into Darkness’ story was ridiculous; never before has a film taken the phrase “Man the torpedoes” literally. The movie also wasted Trek’s best villain, inexplicably transmogrifying Khan from a sly, brown-skinned Indian to a mopey, pale-faced Brit. Finally, a jarring bra-and-panties scene felt like a cynical attempt to make the film’s trailer appeal to over-hormonal teenagers.

All that considered, there’s no easy fix for Star Trek: Into Darkness’s many flaws. But I would argue that a single, key change would have proven that the filmmakers at least took Trek seriously: Kirk should have stayed dead.

In the film’s climax, Captain Kirk climbs into a lethally radioactive chamber, fixes some key machinery, and saves the U.S.S. Enterprise from certain doom. The scene echoes a similar moment in Star Trek II, in which Spock sacrifices himself on the crew’s behalf. This time, it’s Kirk who succumbs to radiation poisoning. He dies with Spock by his side—the ultimate end to their space bromance.

Or… not. Just in time, Dr. McCoy discovers that Khan’s blood can (magically!) raise the dead. A quick blood transfusion, and Kirk is resurrected!

Faux-killing Kirk leverages fans’ Wrath of Khan nostalgia without actually risking the franchise’s future. And, as with Spock’s death, it was a mistake.

Imagine an Into Darkness that definitively kills Kirk—the franchise’s iconic character. The reboot could then veer into uncharted territory; as the Enterprise visited its “strange new worlds,” the audience could also enjoy a new Trek universe, free of Shatner/Nimoy baggage. What happens to Spock after Kirk’s death? Does grief overwhelm his Vulcan commitment to cold logic? Or does he banish emotion altogether to avoid the pain? Even re-hashed plot lines from the original series could prove interesting; what happens without Kirk in the captain’s chair.

Alas, as with Spock’s return in Star Trek III, Kirk’s resurrection siphons dramatic tension from the rebooted franchise. The creators apparently lack the guts (or the authority) to take big risks or make big bets.

Even worse, they’ve invented Khan’s Magic Blood—a silly plot device that can rejuvenate any key character who inconveniently croaks.

Categories
movies TV Uncategorized

‘Star Trek: TNG’: a misnomer?

Captain Kirk retired from Starfleet in the year 2293. Jean-Luc Picard assumed command of the Enterprise-D in 2364. That’s a gap of 70+ years. Even in an era when lifespans have lengthened dramatically,[1] it’s a stretch to call Picard’s crew “The Next Generation.”[2]

Then again, “Star Trek: A Subsequent Generation” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


  1. Memory Alpha suggests that the average human lifespan had lengthened to 120 years by the TNG era. A 137-year-old McCoy visits the Enterprise-D in the newer series’ pilot episode.  ↩

  2. Technically, the “next generation” was already serving in Starfleet at the tail end of the Kirk era.  ↩

Categories
TV Uncategorized

Picard’s final mission

Actor Michael Dorn, who played Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, is currently spearheading a movement to bring his character back to television.

With all respect to Dorn, Star Trek’s eventual return to TV shouldn’t be a vehicle for Worf; that character has already appeared in more episodes than any other in Trek’s history.

And the new show shouldn’t further J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, either. That shiny, whiz-bang world is best-suited to the big screen.

No, the next Star Trek TV series should follow the final days of Jean-Luc Picard in Starfleet. Give us just a few hours’ worth of story, explaining how the beloved Next Gen captain finishes his career.

Here’s why a Picard-centric miniseries is the way to go:
1. Patrick Stewart is pushing 75. While other key TNG actors could reprise their characters in another decade or two, the window is closing on Stewart’s ability to swashbuckle. Let Geordi or Riker (or Worf) have their moments in the sun when they turn 75.
2. The last Next Gen movie, Nemesis, failed to bring closure to the TNG narrative. Its weak-sauce villain and clumsy plot left the audience with a bad taste in its mouth. Picard—and Patrick Stewart—deserve better.
3. Plus, a miniseries is a perfect format for dipping our toes back into *Trek* on TV. It would demand only a short-term commitment for Stewart, whose busy acting schedule might make a multi-season run unappealing.
4. Focusing on Picard would allow the show to up the dramatic stakes. Stewart is likely the best actor to ever play a major Star Trek role. Leveraging his talent, Trekcould find its place in TV’s “New Golden Age” of recent years—think Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and *House of Cards*. I’m not saying Picard should become a murderous misanthrope, but Trek needs a new, darker tone in today’s television era.

What story would the series tell? I’d like to see something more character-focused, at a very small scale. No galaxy-wide war. No Deux-ex-machina meddling from Q. No fan-service appearances from other TNG characters. Just Picard. Maybe he spends his final years commanding an archaeological vessel, and his well-intentioned exploration draws him into some unexpected conflict?

Honestly, the actual plot device isn’t that important. Just give us clever writing, quality production values—and a fitting send-off for a favorite captain.


UPDATE: In August of 2015, Patrick Stewart was asked whether we might see Picard again. He seemed pessimistic:

It’s possible. I think it’s unlikely. But it’s possible. The series wrapped over 25 years ago and we’ve got a rather elderly Captain Picard now. So I don’t know. It would be… it could be entertaining.

Categories
movies Uncategorized

Un-killing Spock

People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Steve Jobs

A few years ago, V’ger answered my prayers; my wife learned to love Star Trek.

This was a Very Good Thing™; I’ve loved the franchise for at least twenty years. I couldn’t wait to watch Trek with her—to see her fawn over each entry in the series. But as we progressed through these films, one uncomfortable fact became clear: as with other movies I loved as an 80s kid, most of Trek isn’t great.

The Star Trek films, at their worst, demonstrate the dangers of “fan service.” Studio suits want to protect a money-making franchise, so they steer the creatives toward audience-pleasing plots. But fans “don’t know what they want”—not really. They think they crave more of the same: more Spock. More Kirk. More Enterprise. But rehashing familiar tropes inevitable wears your storytelling thin. It strangles compelling drama. It forbids risky twists.

Star Trek III offers the quintessential example. Its predecessor, Wrath of Khan, featured one of the gutsiest plot twists in cinematic history: killing off Mr. Spock. But outraged fans protested the death of their favorite character.[1] The studio flinched, and per its direction, Search for Spock resurrects the beloved science officer.[2] The film’s denouement, in which Vulcan gurus reunite Spock’s soul with his body, serves up a feel-good ending for the fan base.

Star Trek III cheapens the genuine heartache of Spock’s death. More problematically, it also eliminates any trace of dramatic tension from the franchise. From that moment on, any tragic event could simply be undone. When the starship Enterprise blows up, we know it can’t really be gone forever. Star Trek IV wastes that bold move by introducing an entirely identical, replacement Enterprise. Or consider J.J. Abrams’ latest Trek entry, Into Darkness. That film echoes Wrath of Khan by killing off Captain Kirk. But Kirk stays dead just twenty minutes.

What if the franchise hadn’t lost its nerve? What if Spock had stayed dead? Looking back, this would’ve been a cleverer, bolder, more rewarding approach than surrendering to fan service. Make the audience feel the loss of Spock. Show us how a grief-stricken Kirk spirals out of control. Tell how his recklessness, untempered by Spock’s cold logic, eventually derails his Starfleet career. In other words, let Trek take risks.[3]

If it had, I might have shared Star Trek III with my wife less apologetically.


  1. As Khan director Nicholas Meyer recalls, “We had been getting letters from a lot of people who were very alarmed at the prospect of Spock dying. I remember I got one that said ‘If Spock dies, you die.’”  ↩

  2. Technically, the seeds for Spock’s return were planted in Wrath of Khan. But that was a late alteration to the script, resented by the film’s director, Nicholas Meyer. As he explains, “I just thought this was so unfair to an audience of people who really care about this shit, and then saying, ‘You know, oh, it was just a dry hustle.’ No, I didn’t think that was right…. At the time, I just thought that my vision of the thing was being insensitively overruled. But that’s when they made that insert, about ‘Remember’ and put him on the planet in his torpedo.”  ↩

  3. Admittedly, ST3 deserves some credit for blowing up the original Enterprise. It’s the best scene in the entire picture.  ↩

Categories
TV Uncategorized

Ship of fools: Star Trek TNG’s (socially awkward) Enterprise.

If Star Trek: The Next Generation accurately depicts humanity’s future, get ready for some very awkward conversations. The show’s main characters all struggle socially. Consider:

  • Worf would rather eat you than meet you.
  • LaForge’s best friend is a robot, he intimidates his employees, and he makes out with holograms.
  • Picard can’t relate to the crew unless he’s bossing them around. He only deigns to cavort with his underlings at the series’ very end.
  • Data’s whole M.O. is making social faux pas.
  • Dr. Crusher’s bland bedside manner only reminds us how much we miss Pulaski.
  • Wesley’s a gangly, self-conscious teenager. And those sweaters!
  • Even Riker (supposedly the Enterprise’s smooth operator) can’t sit or stand like a normal person.

I can’t wait for our Star Trek future! Impossibly powerful technology. The eradication of poverty. And… unbearably uncomfortable dinner parties.

Categories
movies TV

Sell-out

If American pop culture has a High Holy Day, it must be Superbowl Sunday. Not only does the big game venerate our favorite sport’s glorious brutality, but it also showcases our highest art form: the television advertisement.

This year’s commercial cavalcade features this Kia spot:

Here, Laurence Fishburne reprises his most familiar role: Morpheus from The Matrix. The ad parodies the film’s most iconic imagery: the ‘red pill / blue pill’ choice, black-tied Agents, and Morpheus’ improbably reflective sunglasses. The ad concludes oddly; Fishburne bombastically belts out Nessun Dorma, completely subverting the original character’s too-serious aura.

Fishburne joins a long list of actors who have leveraged cult-classic roles into a cheap commercial payday. One example: William Shatner donned the Starfleet uniform to hawk DirecTV? Christopher Lloyd reprised Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown to shill for the same company. Pitching Honda SUVs in 2012, Matthew Broderick reenacted the most famous scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—-only this time, Ferris was middle-aged, all alone, and kind of sad.

And “kind of sad” pretty well sums up this trend—-this undead resurrection of beloved characters. The audience chuckles, but they also notice Kirk’s peculiar paunch, Doc’s now-gaunt frame, and Ferris’ pot belly. Actors line their pockets, but they can’t feel good about cheapening their legacy or about banking on fans’ goodwill.


  1. Both Shatner and Lloyd are perennial offenders here. There was the British power company commercial that combined Star Trek, a Shatner/woman body swap, and German hip-hop group Snap. And it doesn’t take much to get Christopher Lloyd to don the Einstein wig and hop into a Delorean. Check out the shameless intro video for Microsoft’s 2007 Tech-Ed meeting.