Monday, 1 February 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - What Did Abrams Steal From Others And How Did He Ruin It?

Star Wars returned to the big screens in a storm of falsehoods. People proclaimed that this was a revival, people proclaimed that this was a return of a beloved franchise, and declared that this should have happened years ago. The sad thing is, it never went away. These same people are the kind who would have never picked up a book to save their lives, the kind who ignored the fact their universe had continued in another medium which wasn't force-feeding them all the information they needed, and actually required effort to continue. Perhaps that sounds a little harsh to many, but let's face it, the Expanded Universe wasn't that unknown to fans. It certainly should have been recognised well enough for people to realise when JJ Abrams was stealing wholesale from writers, trying to pass of their creations as his own work.

The last full article on Star Wars was, as said previously, supposed to be it. That was one final slam of the door before I turned my back on the films and any cinematic production following Star Wars VII. If people wanted to see those then fine but - like many a DC Comics fan - I had no interest in seeing the universe I loved thrown to the dogs to make room for stories which could easily be told in the existing one. Oh, but they found a way to pull me back in. Oh-ho-ho-ho did they find a way to pull be back in, when it was revealed Abrams was up to his old tricks again. Having already managed to get away scot free with the theft of Wrath of Khan's ending, he opted to do the same again with an entire film. Unsurprisingly, much of that came from the very novels he had just so happened to help erase from the canon and rendered meaningless.

I'm going to be completely frank with this article - It's not going to cover every single last flaw, failing or problem with the film masquerading as Star Wars. Doing so would take all day, ranging from the massive, truly staggering Revenge of the Fallen level plot holes littered throughout the film, to how it basically boiled down to a massive "best of" montage of things the director opted to pillage and recycle from the original trilogy. Instead we will be focusing upon the elements stolen outright from the Expanded Universe, how they were handled there, and how a cack-handed oaf with about as much skill as a first time Film Studies graduate managed to botch them all up. Though, if you don't see at least one of those points, here's a script to help reveal to you the exact failings of the story:

While it does skim over more than a few of the Expanded Universe elements openly plagarised from the books, you can still see from this alone that we're facing James Cameron's Avatar levels of theft. This is the kind of film-making which is based less upon the skill of the director than it is simply riding on the success of others. So, with that out of the way, let's get into the stolen ideas and how Abrams failed to replicate almost anything which made them work, shall we?

The Superweapon

Love them or hate them, superweapons are core to the Star Wars setting. With the Death Star being the early on, the Expanded Universe ended up with a long string of these throughout the books at one point, until readers were sick of them. The Sun Crusher, Eye of Palpatine and Darksaber are some of the more infamous ones, and it reached the point where the ongoing setting started trying to parody some of the more infamous tropes. Hell, the New Jedi Order took two jabs at the very idea of them, from a fake New Republic superweapon to redirect enemy spies to a truly hilarious retort by Han Solo about how the Empire would have screwed up the war.

Now, with that in mind however, consider the following:

A hidden superweapon, upon activation, annihilates all life on its surface. Having previously been habitable, capable of even sustaining life, it immediately burns away the ecosystem which has built up around it as it charges to open fire. Commanded and controlled by a group of dictatorial terrorists seeking to break the New Republic's power, the spherical war machine begins to turn upon inhabited star systems. Capable of firing beams of destructive energy across countless light years, the weapon wipes out countless worlds in single shots, threatening galactic civilisation itself. It is soon left only to a small force of New Republic aligned troops and vessels to stop it, no matter the cost.

Now, am I talking about Centerpoint Station or the Starkiller Base here? Both descriptions accurately fit the weapons in question almost to a tee, it's just that one actually had some thought and effort genuinely put into it.

Centerpoint Station

Unlike most superweapons, Centerpoint Station was hidden in plain sight. Made by an ancient force in the galaxy, it held a position of orbit between twin worlds within the Corellian System until it was found by colonists. Despite being wary of the giant artificial structure, thought to be millennia old, the colonists eventually began exploring the interior. While much of the technology within was alien beyond their comprehension, the central sphere housed a what seemed to be miniature artificial sun (nicknamed the Glowpoint) creating stable gravity and energy for the station. Despite some trepidation, the colonists eventually discovered that it was perfectly viable for life there, and founded the settlement of Hollowtown within the station's interior.

While initially regarded with interest, Centerpoint Station eventually died down in public awareness and was generally just accepted as one of the galaxy's strange mysteries. At least it was until the Corellian Insurrection. Seeking to break the hold of the New Republic on the Corellian worlds, a terrorist group known as the Sacorrian Triad attempted to use it to carve out their own empire. Lacking the military or scientific clout to match the Empire or the New Republic, they instead relied upon secrecy and a better understanding of just what Centerpoint Station was to attain power. Inciting multiple rebellions across the system, they began to track down and use ancient alien technology hidden across the system. First creating an interdiction field which blocked all hyperspace travel, they then began to use the rebellions to unearth control centers buried across multiple planets, each capable of controlling the Station.

Centerpoint Station's first shot destroyed a sparsely inhabited world beyond the interdiction field. Unfortunately, with so few believing the threat, the New Republic was only able to evacuate a few of the hundreds of thousands there. Worse still, the opening blast reduced Hollowtown to a charred cinder, the glowpoint briefly turning nova as it came online, killing most there. With communications crippled due to the interdiction field, the civilians were largely left to fend for themselves and, due to its great range, the attacks upon the New Republic seemingly came from nowhere. Unable to fully respond itself, a small fleet of Bakuran ships acting under Republic command were able to use experimental technology to break through the field.

Over the course of several engagements, the Bakurans were eventually able to shut down Centerpoint Station moments before it would have fired again. What's notable however, from a story perspective, is that the writers actually took a moment to parody the usual trope of destroying the super weapons. Upon just suggesting finding some weak spot and hitting it with torpedoes until it explodes, others pointed out that it was withstanding more amassed firepower than their fleet could ever produce from its own internal blasts.

This is admittedly skipping over a lot of information - and you can find out more on Wookieepedia - but the point is this: The author set up an event which meant most of the New Republic was reliant upon a small force akin to the old Rebellion. A new enemy was introduced fighting a shadow war, but used older equipment as they lacked the resources to create it themselves. It skipped the old trope of blowing up the war machine.

Now, shall we see how VII's writers did it?

Starkiller Base

A small force known as the First Order which is but isn't the Empire for no reason established by the film, opted to fight against the New Republic. The Republic in turn sent in its own obviously-us-but-not group known as the Resistance to combat them, for some reason opting to do this over actually using its own forces. The film takes no time to actually explain anything surrounding who these people are, or why they're not using their own armies, only that they're not as big as either galactic superpower.

Being a smaller, poorly equipped force which cannot call upon the vast resources the Empire had, the First Order is more reliant upon its ground troops. Without nearly as many Star Destroyers, fleets of TIE fighters or tanks at their disposal, they are nevertheless able to somehow build a giant planet sized superweapon known as the Starkiller Base. Despite being several times the size of the old Death Star, the costs of this or just how they made it are ignored entirely. The same goes for just how they managed to get enough personnel to fire the gun let alone just how in hell they actually hoped to scrape together forces defend it.

Along with the seemingly impossible ability to produce a superweapon which eclipsed either Death Star, the First Order then went the extra mile by having it built under a world. Why? Who knows, just so they could apparently even more stuff as it was brought online. The First Order then built it with an obvious weak spot which could be taken out via a single X-Wing (Like the Death Star) had a droid steal the plans (Like the Death Star) and was promptly blown up by a small squadron of fighters (Like the Death Star). On, but in fairness, it did require a small group of infiltrators to take down a shield and allow that final attack to be made (Like the Second Death Star).

The laziness just radiates right off of the script, doesn't it.

Passing of the Lightsaber

Something which came up in the Expanded Universe and films alike has always been Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. Having been carried by a hero prior to his fall, it was seen as a beacon of a lost age in more ways than one, and of the bright light the order had once been. Luke's loss of it was as much a part of his metaphorical death and change in The Empire Strikes Back as willingly plunging away from Vader rather than join him.

Now, both the Expanded Universe and VII alike have seen fit to bring it back, handing it over to a new hero. It's recovered and then passed on, as a kind of passing of the torch or true effort to cement someone joining the ranks of the heroes. The problem, as you would expect, lies in the film's ham-handed handling of this moment.

His Last Command - Mara Earns The Lightsaber From Skywalker

As the final chapter in the Thrawn Trilogy, His Last Command holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. It's where the Expanded Universe started to really pick up steam and also where many classic, entirely new, heroes were introduced into the setting. While more than a few have had their fair share of moments, easily one of the biggest fan favourites proved to be Mara Jade.

Serving as the Emperor's Hand, Jade was Palpatine's fiery haired personal assassin. Just as Vader was his iron fist she was his scalpel, working her way to new targets and quietly removing them at his command. The last of these was to kill Luke Skywalker, before he eventually changing his mind. Missing her chance to complete her mission more than once, she was still hunting Skywalker when the Battle of Endor occurred. With the Empire's main force gone and Palpatine dead, she felt no loyalty to the new regime and soon joined up with a band of smugglers led by with Talon Karrade. Events gradually led her to encountering Skywalker again years later, as enemies and eventually allies despite her bitterness. However, she retained a burning hatred for the Jedi, fueled by Palpatine's mental command that he die by her hand echoing within her subconscious.

Jade's history and this residual order led to friction between the groups even long after a supposed alliance had been formed with Karrade. Again and again she would hear Palpatine's voice clawing at her as it demanded he fall, until the final days of the campaign against Thrawn. Pitted against the insane clone Jedi Joruus C'baoth, she and Luke discovered to their horror that he had made a subservient clone of Skywalker. Armed with Anakin's recovered lightsaber, it engaged them in a grueling battle until Jade slew Luke's insane clone before the two finished C'Baoth himself. In that act, Palpatine's final order was silenced for good.

Days later on Coruscant, free of any residual loyalty to the Emperor, Luke visited Jade and handed over Anakin's lightsaber as a gift. It served as a sign of trust, even friendship between the two and would serve as the spark which led her to joining his reformed Jedi Order. In the final chapters of the book is served as a symbol of her accomplishments and ultimate redemption.

The Force Awakens - Rey Is Given The Lightsaber By A Collector

... Yeah, the title speaks for itself. This massive plot point, this massive symbol which went through so much in the Expanded Universe, is just stumbled upon and picked up at random. There's nothing done here to show that Rey truly earned to carry it, nothing done to prove that she deserves to wield the weapon or that it's even truly Luke's will. Maz Kanata just somehow has it because the plot says so, and things go on from there. Hell, it doesn't even explain how she ran into the damn thing.

While it would be untrue to say that this had no impact upon Rey's character, as it did reveal to her events of the past, its presence is ultimately underwhelming to say the least. It's tossed back and forth between characters, and its history is barely factored into the plot. This is something which is of great importance to the universe, as much to the villain as the heroes if not more so, but even then it seems to have no impact upon the plot itself beyond one moment. If anything, it seems to only exist to help shoehorn a lightsaber duel into the film rather than go without one. It's one of these many moments within the film which is presented as something meaningful, some new event, but it really just equates to cheap fanservice. You are, ultimately, just left with something from the old trilogy which is nice to look but serves to only rob a character from a possibly entertaining personal arc. Even the moments of horror Rey sees momentarily are just up and forgotten in the next scene, with little impact actually left upon the plot.

This would be akin to a Marvel character stumbling upon Captain America's shield, picking it up and after going "oh hey, nice!" promptly just uses it to wack people over the head. You've seen nothing to show just why they deserve to use it or even that Cap would desire them to carry it into battle, but the writer just said they should have it in order to boost sales.

Ultimately, like so much here, this just serves as something stolen from the books and used to try and buff up the new characters. A pointless addition which is simply there to force Rey, Finn and the others to try and feel like they're a valued part of Star Wars without actually putting the effort into making them a part of it.

The MacGuffin/The Search

There's a couple of big ones here which seem to have gone unremarked upon despite their obvious popularity: The core plotlines. Now, this isn't referring to the actual main story arc which just recycles a massive amount of information from A New Hope with a few bits of Return of the Jedi added in. No, this is instead referring to another two famous works which have been copied and then slapped together to create some shambling monstrosity of a storyline.

Let's just think for a moment:

The Jedi Order has all but been destroyed by a mysterious force, with many of its number dead at the hands of a former apprentice. Those left have gone into hiding, sheltering away from this threat which can seemingly track and hunt down any last one of them. To this end, their leaders have been scattered to the winds, secluding themselves on the forgotten places of the galaxy, hiding and waiting there.

The only way for the heroes to follow their goal, tracking down and finding locations lost to time is by hunting down pieces of a map. Forgotten and hidden away elsewhere, these fragments have been left in a trail across a number of worlds, allowing the heroes to slowly piece together just where they need to head next.

Yeah, this sounds an awful lot like a certain famous Star Wars duology, doesn't it.

Knights of the Old Republic I & II

Being one of the most popular and famous entries outside of the films, KOTOR is regarded by many as being the game which ultimately put Bioware on the map. While the studio had seen successes before, it was a smash hit and Obsidian's own follow up with the second game furthered that. One reflected upon the best of Star Wars in a new age, allowing you to explore an entirely new era, while the other was a deconstruction of many core concepts behind the setting which, even in a rushed state, was so beloved fans rebuilt whole sections of the game left only partially done.

Now, plots mentioned above refer to separate games, with the maps referring to the first one while the hidden Master was a theme within the second. However, each reflected upon the core protagonist in some way and, ultimately, allowed the player to learn more about themselves. In the case of the maps, they sparked up images of a forgotten past. Along with showing more of the galaxy's history, revealing the history and fate of the Infinite Empire and how they had shaped whole worlds, but also of the game's protagonist. It built up hints of his lost history, that something was not truly right about his memories and that the Jedi were keeping something from him. This eventually led to one of Bioware's most famous plot twists, and one which still chills new fans to the core today.

The lost Jedi Masters however, are a more interesting theme to consider. While the maps linked to an older age and forgotten technology, the Masters linked to KOTOR II's protagonist on a personal level. Having originally stripped the Jedi of her powers and exiled her from their Order, they spoke at length of just why this had happened. You started to learn from them, hearing of an ominous threat lurking among the stars and the very fact that they were scared of the exile personally. Most interestingly yet, they showed that the Jedi were almost terrified of what she represented, and gave insights into how things had gone so very, very wrong in the galaxy. While they still fought to ensure justice was done in an increasingly hostile galaxy, they had been fragmented out of necessity. Most importantly however, like the Star Maps, they linked into a major plot twist once they were fully united once again.

You can probably guess that the film didn't perform such as stellar a job with these same elements.

The Map To Luke Skywalker

So, we have a storyline which mashes both of these together. As the title says, the maps are just lone long link to where Luke Skywalker is hiding and that's that. They find them one at a time until reaching him at the very end. This already presents a big problem as it means a lot of the meaning and importance behind both are already gone. The protagonists have no personal connection, no link, with the Master they are searching for and the maps reveal nothing more about the galaxy. There is no nuance here, no moments which are offered to help expand upon their personalities or even learn more about their heroes. It really is just a MacGuffin which says "Go here to continue plot" without ever actually building upon the story on a much more personal or grander level. The ironic thing is that, in this regard, it's more of a video game storyline than the actual video games.

The maps themselves could have linked into any number of things, even without deviating from their intended destination. Okay, perhaps they couldn't have done much more to work with Rey or Finn personally, let's just accept that, but what about everything else? The maps could have been used to, like with Revan, show more of Luke's path and what had befallen him. It could have left more reflections upon just how badly the Jedi Order had lost its war, showing just how they had been so badly routed or even why Skywalker was in hiding in the first place. The locations they led to might have also helped to fill in the blanks about galactic history, showing what had happened between the films or why there was a First Order at all. They could have even been used to show more about the villain, revealing more and more about why Kylo Ren had turned towards the Dark side. Lord knows all of these underdeveloped elements could have used it.

Let's consider Luke's role in all of this however and just what he was doing. We barely see him in the film, and he doesn't even offer all that much for the audience to work with. Instead all we know is that he lost his entire Order, then ran away and hid in shame. That's it, there's nothing else to this. Like some much here, it's a stump of a storyline, far too short to be of any real value and failing to live up to even half of its potential. There could have been something here added to help emphasise the loss of the Order. Perhaps Luke could have been defending the last cache of Jedi knowledge or even awaiting something on the world which could help him bring balance to the force once again. Hell, it could even be that he actively was awaiting Kylo Ren to find him, perhaps leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for him to follow alone, hoping to slay his wayward apprentice. Instead, he's just dejected and broken. That's it, he's off in a corner of the galaxy and mourning everything lost.

Some will argue it works given all that Luke lost to Ren, seeing the Order he was rebuilding utterly annihilated once again. Fine, but consider this: The Order has risked annihilation time and time again, fighting to uphold the values of peace. Luke should have known he couldn't afford just to roll over and die, or even give up. In the Expanded Universe, Masters were so attuned to the galaxy that they could sense massive changes underway at a time. The very idea that Luke could sense every death, feel every loss and did nothing about it just seems so very wrong. Yoda at least had the excuse of being centuries old and close to death, and no match for Vader, and Kenobi was sworn to watch over Luke. What the hell was Luke's excuse here? This is really the reintroduction Abrams wanted to give of an old hero, showing him having given up and rotting away on some planet while the galaxy burned around him. Sorry, that's a bad attempt to push him into a Yoda role at best and quite frankly insulting to the character at worst.

The Villain

This is going to take a little longer than the previous entries as, in all honesty Kylo Ren isn't just copied and pasted from a single book with a few film elements tacked on. No, instead he's a shambling, ineffectual monster stitched together from from the stolen parts of at least a dozen authors, with Disney slapping on an "ORIGINAL CHARACTER, DO NOT STEAL!" sticker of approval. As such, it's going to need to be broken down into multiple parts to show just where it all went tits up. Even some of the things attributed to Vader, in fact, belong to another character entirely. The problem is that there's so many minor and secondary ones that it really needs its own article, so this is going to focus upon the two truly massive ones which stand out above all others and how Abrams botched them.

Core Character

The villain is a child of Han Solo and Leis Organa, with a very strong connection to the Force and was trained as a member of the rebuilt Jedi Order. After a long career in service to the Order, circumstances slowly drove him to turn towards the Dark Side, gradually allowing him to become the leader of a reborn Empire under a new name. Taken on as the apprentice of an older practitioner of the Dark Side, he serves as the military head and almost overall leader of the dictatorship's established forces. Slowly turning more and more towards the Dark Side, he eventually kills someone he once considered practically a member of his family, before engaging someone closely tied to them in combat. Despite being shot and maimed repeatedly, he still puts up a fight.

This is the most obvious of the two, and even if you're not a fan you'll have heard of the complaints several times over. So, let's look into the guy he was all but a colour-swap of.

Jacen Solo

Kylo Ren basically displaced Jacen Solo entirely, stealing everything but his name. Yeah, normally this would be a basic list at this point but you have to understand that, this is basically all that happened here. The problem is that Solo's turn was gradual, more believable and ultimately better handled, which is saying something given just how much I personally despise the Legacy of the Force books.

Solo's turn towards the Dark Side was sprung from a number of factors, one of which was thought to be his captivity under the Yuuzhan Vong, Tortured, beaten and ridiculed, Jacen was nevertheless able to overcome his failings in that series and emerge stronger, but Legacy would reveal that was leading him down a darker path. This was thanks largely to Vergere, a member of the old Order who had seemingly allied herself with the species and used questionable teaching methods to shape him into her new apprentice. However, Vergere herself proved to be far from truly evil and turned upon the Vong when the time was right, helping Jacen escape and even sacrificing herself to stop them during the war. However, Jacen's teachings stayed with him and - combined with factors later revealed during another series - slowly corrupted him from within.

By the time the galaxy was on the verge of a Second Galactic Civil War thanks to post Vong War pressures, Jacen's mind was slowly being bent towards the Dark Side. Thinking he was acting out of a greater good, he sided with the Galactic Alliance (previously known as the New Republic) and things slowly spiraled out of control from there. Along with listening to the teachings of and then siding with Lumiya, an old enemy of his parents who had been manipulating events from behind the scenes, he started to become truly corrupt. Eventually taking on the name of Darth Caedus, he began performing atrocities in the name of ending the war and restoring order. He would even go so far as to eventually kill Mara Jade Skywalker in single combat, someone who had fought time and time again to protect his life and married to his old Master, Luke. This would be the final push and turn him towards hunting the Jedi themselves, attempting to wipe them out once more.

Caedus eventually met his fate at the hands of his sister Jaina in battle, worn down by multiple engagements and even hamstrung after fighting a band of Mandalorians. His death would lead to a dramatic change among the galaxy and weigh heavily upon his old friends and family for years to come. 

So, ultimately you have a man who was slowly worn down inwardly over years of corrupting teachings, torture and events pushing him bit by bit towards the Dark Side. It was not some sudden turn but, much like his grandfather before him, something which pushed him into becoming a monster seemingly out of necessity.

Kylo Ren

Ren developed an unhealthy obsession with Anakin Skywalker, and was inspired by his exploits as Darth Vader. He then decided from this that he needed to uphold Vader's legacy and become the next Dark Lord. This allowed him to turn towards the Dark Side, somehow he then disappeared from the newly established Jedi Academy, found a Sith at the arse end of the galaxy, and then came back and killed everyone. Luke, feeling guilty about the whole thing, then went into exile.

Normally I would try to add a smidgen more information to this, but this is quite literally all we are given. The plot treats his turn as if someone basically flipped his switch from good to evil and there's no push to try and show him turning for good reasons or even gradually falling to temptation. There is no depth here, no character, not even a hint of what might have really pushed him over the edge, and it's basically just saying that he was predestined to turn evil. When you ultimately botch things so badly that Revenge of the Sith does a better job of showing a turn towards the Dark Side, you need to go back and re-write the whole bloody thing.

Worst of all however, the link to Han and Leia is basically just a gimmick. Think for a second, what did it actually add to the plot in question? In the original trilogy, Vader's reveal was a major twist as it showed the man Luke had never known but had venerated had become a monster. It established he could follow the same path, that he could easily fall in that same manner and that his overconfidence was just as much a failing. It was hinted, developed and built-up through suggestion, allowing that reveal to have meaning. In VII, what we get is this:

"I'm Han's son!"
"You are?"
"Yes, now watch me kill him!"

There's no depth to this moment, no weight, no actual meaning or impact he has upon the story as Ren ultimately has no connection with the protagonists themselves. Instead, he's just the son of Han and Leia in order to have a cheap connection to the old trilogy and kill a beloved character for reasons for cheap drama. The same can be said about Caedus and the murder of Mara Jade, and I would even agree to that up to a point. However, the difference there was that it was a fracture point. Cheap and bad as it was, it at least showed that this character people had known for decades, seen grow up and fight monsters and tyrants alike, had passed well beyond the point of redemption.

Perhaps worst of all was the final fight however. Now, both were bad and i'll freely admit that I hated how Jacen's end was ultimately handled, being struck down by someone who would at least be on equal terms with him in good health (if not his superior, Jaina was known as Sword of the Jedi for good reason) and the fact that it was a truly pathetic death. Here's the problem though: That was the end to Jacen's story. This is the beginning of Ren's one. Our first introduction to the new villain is someone who repeatedly gets his arse kicked, is shot and is driven into retreat by people who ultimately have less than half his experience or training. So, he can't even inspire the same terror as Vader nor inspire the same sort of power we saw in Jacen. Rather than being a villain we can take as a true threat, this moment just makes him look like a pathetic bully; as someone who can crush those weaker than him but gets reamed upon facing anyone with even a vague degree of skill.

The problem is that, oddly enough, this could have been close to genius in a few ways, as discussed in the following section.

Smoke and Mirrors

The villain is someone who has built their image based upon the Sith of old, working from their knowledge and relying upon their reputation to carve out his own legacy. Choosing an image which inspires elements of the galactic community's worst nightmares and even memories of Vader himself, he takes on an appearance of a chilling figure. Wearing a mask specifically intended to inspire that same fear, he begins using what tools he has on hand to create the image of an unstoppable galactic force capable of crippling all who oppose him. When his true identity is uncovered, he loses the mask and we see behind it the nonthreatening and almost laughable figure who was trying to become the next Dark Lord.

Oh, and they were also both also trained in the Jedi Academy, specifically under Luke, before fate turned them towards the Dark Side.

Kueller (Dolph)

Once a student at the Academy, Dolph was an unassuming Jedi apprentice. Hailing from the world of Almania, he was undergoing his training, but abruptly left within a year of arriving on Yavin IV. Having heard of his parents' deaths, he returned home only to discover their corpses impaled upon spikes in front of the planet's governmental headquarters. Seeking to secure their power, the ruling caste known as the Je'har had begun wiping out any and all possible dissidents who might resist their rule. With corpses of countless innocents piling high in the streets, Dolph's sheer horror and rage quickly drove him to the Dark Side. Fueled as much by the Je'har's crimes as the New Republic's ignorance of their plight, and apparent refusal to listen to any pleas for help, he took it upon himself to enact revenge.

Disappearing into the shadows Dolph took the name of one of his world's famous generals, Kueller, and donning a skull faced Hendanyn death mask, he began a war of vengeance. Flocking to banners of this terrifying figure of retribution, the population rose up in arms against the Je'har and the caste were butchered in a house by house war. However, Kueller's retribution quickly turned into wholesale slaughter, and he massacred any who might have sympathised with the old regime. Under his orders, Kueller's new government enacted atrocities which utterly eclipsed the Je'har's own acts, including killing every last person on the moon of Pydyr as a simple test. Then, with his power secure, he turned his attention towards the New Republic.

While Kueller lacked the sheer might of the Galactic Empire or even the Imperial Remnant, no one knew of his existence or growing power. Secretly taking control of the moon of Telti, a giant droid production factory, he began producing wave upon wave of protocol, astromech and maintenance droids rigged with hidden explosives. As they were distributed throughout the galaxy, he ensured that many would find their way into the hands of New Republic senators. As they were slowly introduced to planet after planet, Kueller was even able to capture a small fleet of Star Destroyers, rigging them with droid control systems to make up for his lack of any trained or even experience military personnel.

The first the galaxy knew of Kueller was when he detonated a multitude of droids throughout the Senate, badly wounding Leia Organa Solo and killing countless senators. The attack had seemingly come from nowhere, and when Master Skywalker himself went to investigate the source his ship was destroyed in a similar manner, badly wounding the Jedi and allowing him to be captured. Repeatedly Luke tried to talk his former student back to the light, only to be beaten down and thrown to his apparent death at the hands of Kueller's pet monster.

However, as the days wore on, things soon began to spiral out of Kueller's control. While introducing himself to the Republic and presenting himself as all but the reincarnation of Vader at the head of a resurgent Empire, others were following in Luke's wake. Han was uncovering his links to various smuggling organisations, C-3P0 and R2-D2 located the droid facility and Leia herself followed Luke. Worse still, General Wedge Antilles emerged to directly combat his forces, avoiding the loss of his fleet via suicide droids and engaged his small navy. Most surprisingly though, Luke had survived the encounter with his pet monster, even turning the seemingly vicious thernbee to his side before joining up with Leia. Bit by bit, the paper tiger Kueller established and the paranoia he hoped would secure his rule was whittled away.

Kueller met his end facing Luke in lightsaber combat. Despite Luke's greater skill and experience, Kueller's sheer rage was enough for him to keep pace with his old Master. However, at the moment of victory it was snatched from his grasp. Having followed his wife and managed to break away from the battle, Han arrived carrying a pair of Force-nullifying ysalamiri lizards, robbing Kueller of his one advantage. Effectively deaf, dumb and blind, Kueller's facade finally broke down in panic before Leia ended his reign with a pair of blaster bolts.

Removing the chilling mask from his corpse Leia found beneath it a young, almost chubby and comical, boyish face no one could have ever been terrified of.

Kylo Ren

As mentioned in the prior bit, Ren ultimately venerated was utterly obsessed with Anakin Skywalker, particularly his Sith years. However, there's little reason for him to do so and his actual reasons for emulating him are not for any obvious psychological meaning. It could certainly be like Kueller that, ultimately, he was seeking to use Vader's image and persona to his advantage, but things sadly start to go far, far beyond that. Wearing a mask which is very reminiscent of Darth Revan and even stealing the ancient Sith Lord's lightsaber crystal (the same Darth Revan retconned from existence, just to make things more confusing) Ren starts surrounding himself with all sorts of Sith memorabilia and iconography. Abrams himself had this to add onto the subject: "He idolises what Vader represents and what Vader was trying to do. And the idea that Vader didn't succeed, if you look at it from Ren's point of view, he was seduced by the enemy and failed because of that seduction.."

Kueller ultimately opted to emulate the Sith as an intelligent grab for power an to use fear to his advantage. Ren does it because he's a fanboy. Really, there's little else to this, he's doing this because he's the kind of raging fan obsessed and demented enough to try and go around killing people while effectively cosplaying as a Sith Lord out of personal glee. I am honestly not sure if there was any way to deflate any sense of threat behind a villain faster than this, short of having him beaten by small children. Like his link to Han, this emulation is something the director stole from another writer but clearly had no idea what actually made it work. So, the end result is something which utterly destroys the respect, mystery and looming fear that Ren himself might have been able to inspire.

The very nature of Ren's force, and how the writers failed spectacularly to actually account for its limited numbers and the fact it's supposed to be largely deprived of resources, is something we've already covered above. However, in this reinforced further here when you compare the actual execution with Kueller's own end. Kueller was ultimately intelligent about how he used his forces and careful only to show his hand as he needed, at least before things went wrong. Ren on the other hand, just utterly lost it. We see him throwing wave after wave of his own troops into suicide missions, losing them en mass to the heroes in fights that they can ill afford to be bogged down in. This only reinforces the idea that he's a maniac without any clear idea how to fight this war or truly what he's doing despite the obviously similar set-up. Hell, the fact that he helps built a giant Uber-Killy Star is as much a monument to this as his rampant fanboying for the Sith hitting critical mass.

Perhaps the most prominent moment, however, is when we see Ren's face. Like everything else, you can see remnants, elements of what worked previously so mangled and utterly ruined that you're left shaking your head and wondering how they could have so badly screwed it up. While I will say nothing against Adam Driver's talent as an actor, there's no denying that he just doesn't look very threatening. His face lacks the intensity of other characters and Abrams' decision to have him screaming about, all but throwing a tantrum, destroys the character entirely. The moment itself could have worked, but the problem is that this is our first real look at him. In Kueller's case this was at the end of his personal arc and the villain's final moment of breaking down, showing him as the joke he truly was. For Ren though, we now need to go through two films, after seeing him as this same joke. If there was any hope for this villain to stand out or be anything but a temperamental psychotic manchild, it's well and truly dead now.

So, there's the short list of stolen stuff. The long list would be a good six or seven times this long, but this should really give you an impression of the film's disturbing lack of substance. What Abrams produced here was the equivalent of a student presenting a Wikipedia page to a tutor and calling it his essay. It would be like a man photo-shopping the light on another photographer's creation and calling it his own, or even just looking at a script, scribbling out a few names and calling it his own creation. Once you stop and actually take away everything pillaged, everything plagarised and everything openly stolen from authors, you are left with little more than a few vague, extremely generic ideas.

Time and time again, expectant fans of the films defended the murder of the Expanded Universe with "well, they need a fresh start in order to tell their new story!" Each and every damn time that would crop up, arguing that Abrams didn't need to be constrained by the established ideas of the setting. Now look at what we have. A cinematic abomination, built from the stolen stories of writers he helped push into being irrelevant and forced out of the setting. Yet, once it was revealed that this film did not have a single new idea to its name, supposed fans of Star Wars bent over backwards to justify it.

Here's just a few general titles from articles which did take the time to comment upon these odd quirks within the script:

Star Wars 7: 10 Things From The Force Awakens That Were Inspired By The Expanded Universe

How The Force Awakens Remixes the Star Wars Expanded Universe

3 Ways Star Wars 7: Force Awakens Borrows From Knights of the Old Republic

What The Force Awakens Borrowed From the Old Star Wars Expanded Universe

There are dozens like this using words like "remix" "borrow" "inspire" "rework" "save" "salvage" or even "redeem". How about being and actually use the correct word for this sort of thing: Theft. There's no advertisement of this being some kind of adaptation, no mention of any of the stories or even the authors they are taking ideas from. Instead, they muscled them out of the picture and now refused to even acknowledge their work as relevant.

When you steal wholesale from someone and then try to pass off their creativity as your own work, you shouldn't get a free pass for any reason. Certainly not because a bunch of jackasses didn't want to flick through pages and instead wanted to put a lot of flashy lights on the big screen. Yeah, i'm sorry if you're one of those people who did enjoy this film, but I have to see hypocrites day after day, bending over backwards to defend the death of the EU, just so they don't have to pick up a book. Quite frankly, I don't see why I should have had to give up everything I loved about a setting, purely to satisfy someone who needed it to be stolen by a film before they would pay attention to it.

The Force Awakens is, ultimately, a failure of a film. It marks the beginning of Star Wars being whored out by Disney and milked until it's a shriveled, barren husk of its former self. Say what you will about past owners, but most tried damn hard to ensure that great and new stories were produced over and over again. So far, under Disney, we have had one good book out of almost a dozen which were rushed out the door and barely finished. The company cares more about cash than intellectual theft or maintaining actual quality. If this is what the supposed new golden age of science fiction will bring I want no part of it.


  1. I had figured that you'd do something like this after I watched the movie, so right away I think I'll get my biggest criticism of this list out of the way: You did it too early.

    Episode VII is very focused on setting up the other two episodes, without those, a lot of plot points in VII would have no purpose. If those episodes change quite a lot, for example if kylo ren grows into being an intimidating villain, or if they explain his backstory some more, then a number of points on your list won't have relevance any more.

    Now onto the main list (this will be in two parts):

    Starkiller base was hidden? How? The Rebels find it almost immediately when they learned it exists even though it moved location, and I don't think not showing off what a weapon is capable of counts as hiding it, otherwise the Deathstar was hidden. Personally I'd have preferred it better if the base was just crippled rather than blown up, and was a plot point for the later movies. I'd also like to see the later movies looking at how there's essentially no galactic governing body any more, though the second's more of my earlier point in that we haven't seen where these movies are going to go yet. Also it wasn't taken down by an X-wing, it had a heavily armoured section that resisted every single attack thrown at it until it was breached from the inside, completely unlike the Deathstar.

    Now for the lightsaber exchange, I'd agree with you, if she didn't reject it. You're acting as if she took and used it from that point forwards, whereas the only time she actually used it was to protect a friend of hers from being killed and before that she went on and on about how she didn't want it and didn't want to use it.

    Now for the map bit, you're treating it as if it was way more important than it actually is. They already have the entire map except for one piece, and as soon as they leave Jakku, the map loses most of its relevance to the plot. When Starkiller base fires, the map is pushed to the back-burner in favour of dealing with the base. Personally I like that it didn't turn into a macguffin hunt, though likewise I have no clue why Luke's just hiding out somewhere. Maybe that'll be answered in the later movies, maybe it won't, we don't know yet.

  2. Now for the villain bit, frankly I'd argue that the general and Snoke are just as much the main villains, if not more villainous than Ren, who I'd say just gets more screentime than they do. He does not control any major part of the First Order, and most of the time just does his own thing. Even the firing of Starkiller base didn't really have anything to do with him, since the general was the one who oversaw that and Snoke was the one who ordered it.
    Now that aside, we don't know how he fell, or what his relationship with Snoke is aside from the standard master-apprentice deal, and you call him a colour swap of Jacen, but I've read a good number of books with Jacen in them, as far as I can see, the only things they have in common are their parents. They don't look the same, they don't act the same, they don't have the same motivations, or outlooks on things, and even in the section where you call him a colour swap, you point out the differences between the two.
    Don't get me wrong, the twist in Episode V is great, however I found the confrontation between Luke and Vader in VI to be even more interesting when I knew that they were family, and here I liked it because I thought it did a pretty good job at setting up an emotional confrontation between them.
    Snoke also does tell him he'll need to kill Han to finish his training, and you're acting as if the scene was five seconds long, saying there's no depth to the moment is a little dishonest. Also Harrison Ford wanted out, I'm not too sure how much that had to do with the characters' death, but there's that to consider too.
    I don't think it's a bad idea to introduce one villain by showing him not to be the super-awesome force user he wants you to think he is, so long as he grows into being a more powerful villain in the later films (once again, this comes around to my first point).

    Now for Smoke and Mirrors, I actually can see why Ren wants to "finish what Vader started" since the galaxy ruled over by a senate is usually ineffectual at best and tied up with bureaucracy. I get wanting to unite the galaxy behind one banner, especially if you consider it a necessary evil, however I'm not sure why exactly he turned to the Dark Side, this is probably going to be covered in the later films.
    Why Ren wears that stuff is answered in the films though, he's trying to emulate Vader, and I don't think that's a plot point they took from kueller, since a major part to his character is he WANTS to be like Vader so bad, and yet he knows he ISN'T like Vader, and likely will never live up to him. Rey even comments on this in the film.
    All of the negatives you point out with Rey, I don't really consider negatives, I more consider them character flaws. Why's he not like Vader and why is he not in charge of the First Order's military? Because he does exactly what you say, he loses control and makes terrible strategic moves, and this ends up biting him. Yes he's not very threatening without the mask, that's the exact reason he wears it! I don't need a villain to be the greatest at everything to find the conflict interesting, if anything that makes me less invested, I'm more interested in seeing how they'll change over time, especially since we know that him and every other major villain are going to be around in the next two movies. Who knows, maybe the next movie will focus a lot more on the general (I doubt it) and have Ren as a background character, just as an example.

    As for things "borrowed" from the EU, to be fair to the film, what could they possibly have done that couldn't be linked to the EU? A lot of those points in the links are extremely tangential to another, Ren wears a mask and so did Revan? Clearly they took that element! Because nobody in the entire series wore a mask before right?

  3. For Starkiller Base check out the illustration: Stranded, by Dylan Cole. I am not sure when this was made, but my guess would be pre-2015.

    1. Oh I did check that, and double checked the dates before making that accusation. Here's the thing though, Centerpoint Station was drawn and written up all the way back in 1995, over a decade before that thing was thought up.

  4. The Force Awakens is a pile of crap. The only reason it did so well is because it was marketed as a Star Wars movie, although it doesn't deserve to be considered part of the franchise. If it wasn't marketed as Star Wars, it would have bombed as it should have. Thank god the Chinese didn't fall for JJ Abrams' shit. Over the last year, many people have come to the realization that it's a bad movie. JJ Abrams is an arrogant scumbag and a terrible director. Whenever I see Abrams, I want to punch him.