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Jack Graham

Jack Graham writes and podcasts about culture and politics from a Gothic Marxist-Humanist perspective. He co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper. Support Jack on Patreon.


  1. halcoromosone
    January 21, 2016 @ 11:35 am

    I suppose Rey’s hyper-competence is a problem for me drama-wise because it’s not obviously a part of her character prior to the scenes where she displays it. While I expect Doctor Who to have used his genius to be five steps ahead of other characters in any given moment, there’s nothing in Rey’s character to let me make that same assumption. To take one example, the bit where she force persuades the stormtrooper to set her free from the torture table comes out of nowhere – we haven’t seen her learning that skill or even ever seen her exposed to someone else using it, so to me it feels entirely arbitrary and dull that she is suddenly a master of it.


    • halcoromosone
      January 21, 2016 @ 11:42 am

      Whoops, double post. Read the one below, which I revised slightly.


    • Goodluck
      January 21, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

      Her “Mary Sue”-esque abilities are inevitable in the circumstances, due to inherent expectations of escalation for a sequel.

      The Starkiller Base has to be the size of a planet instead of a moon. Kylo Ren has to have unprecedented new Force powers. Odds are that Snoke is going to be an ancient mastermind infinitely more powerful and evil than the Emperor ever was.

      The prequels had some insanely well choreographed lightsaber fights, and I don’t really hate that they felt they needed to end the film on one. Finn’s ability with a lightsaber’s a bit more questionable, really.

      The Force Persuasion isn’t much of a barrier either, if you’re willing to accept Ren’s ability to stop time (which pretty much everyone has already).


      • halcoromosone
        January 21, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

        I think you’ve misunderstood me. I’m not saying I would never believe Rey could do a Jedi mind-trick, I’m just saying it wasn’t dramatically set up. Nothing to do with questioning the ‘rules’ of this universe, which your time-stopping niggle fits into.


        • James
          January 21, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

          I’d agree that Rey’s mind trick wasn’t set up within the context of The Force Awakens as a stand alone film and that it would have come out of nowhere for anyone watching their first Star Wars film, but I was certainly waiting for her to use the mind trick to escape as I sat in the cinema. I think that is because Rey’s use of the mind trick was set up by her ability to resist Kylo’s force mind probe thingy and our having seen the mind trick in the earlier films.


          • halcoromosone
            January 21, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

            And that’s where the fan-fiction complaint is sourced from I think – it feels like Rey has seen those films as well.

          • James
            January 21, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

            I guess I’ve always assumed that the force “guides” users as to what they can/should do. For example, I always wondered how Luke knows he can use the force to pull his lightsaber to him at the beginning of Empire … from memory it’s not an ability we’d seen or even had hinted at prior to that point.

            Also, Luke knows about force-choking at the beginning of Jedi – but he hadn’t seen Vader do it, and it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Yoda would have given lessons on.

          • halcoromosone
            January 21, 2016 @ 4:35 pm

            I mean sure, the force might do that, but I’d argue it’s pretty bad storytelling if an audience has to make that leap late on in a film.

            The two examples you give from the original films don’t have that problem because those moments come very early on – in any film, even a sequel, that’s when we are learning the nature of this world, how things are positioned going into the meat of the story. (I worry that it seems like I’m just arguing whatever suits my position, but I do genuinely think all of this.)

          • SpaceSquid
            January 22, 2016 @ 10:21 am

            Aside from any clever arguments one might want to make about how Rey knows what Jedi can do because she’s heard the legends of Luke etc. (so essentially she has seen the original trilogy) I think it’s worth noting that Luke’s ability to move things using the Force comes entirely out of nowhere in Empire... There’s nothing at all in the first film to suggest he knows the Force can do that, and in fact as far as I can remember it’s pure retcon that Vader’s force-choking represents him Forcibly (sorry) closing that dude’s windpipe, as oppose to him straight out magically making him unable to breathe.

            The Force has ALWAYS just been “some thing that lets you do some stuff when some stuff is what you want to do”.

          • halcoromosone
            January 22, 2016 @ 6:04 pm

            You’ve just restated James’s point, which I talked about in the comment you just replied to.

          • SpaceSquid
            January 23, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

            Yes, whoops! Not quite sure how I missed that. My apologies.

          • David Anderson
            January 21, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

            If one needs a rationalisation for how she learns about it, she’s just read the mind of a Jedi who was trying to read her mind; Jedi mind tricks in general were plausibly something near the surface of Kylo Ren’s mind at the time.
            Alternatively, it was something she took in from the force vision when she touched the lightsaber.

  2. halcoromosone
    January 21, 2016 @ 11:39 am

    I suppose Rey’s hyper-competence is a problem for me drama-wise because it’s not obviously a part of her character prior to the scenes where she displays it. While I’m not surprised to see The Doctor pull out some as-yet undisclosed talent or piece of knowledge in any given moment, there’s much less in Rey’s character to let me make that same assumption. To take one example, the bit where she mind-tricks the stormtrooper to set her free from the torture table comes out of nowhere – we haven’t seen her learning that skill or even ever seen her exposed to someone else using it, so to me it feels entirely arbitrary and dull that she is suddenly a master of it.


    • encyclops
      January 22, 2016 @ 5:26 pm

      Given that this film takes place within Luke’s lifetime, and that just prior to his birth there were Jedi policing the galaxy, I find it less weird that Rey has heard of Jedi mind tricks than that she or anyone else would need to be told by Han Solo that the Force isn’t a legend.

      Also, she at least has one failed attempt before her successful one. I wouldn’t say she’s a master so much as a quick study. Though I think it would have been more fun to see a film where a character (maybe not Rey) keeps trying and failing to pull off Jedi mind tricks until they finally nail it. Though I’d hate to make Finn too bumbling for a variety of reasons, John Boyega has solid comic timing and it would be a great running gag for him.


      • halcoromosone
        January 22, 2016 @ 6:21 pm

        Your first point just seems to point out a contradiction which makes Rey’s mind-trick usage all the more odd. Anyhow, the larger point I’m trying to make is that although, yes, it probably is possible to justify that moment in the story and other similar bits after some thought, it is only ever after some thought. To me, that’s a problem in a fast-moving popcorn adventure movie.

        It is maybe the case that that sort of thing – dramatic cleanness, satisfying set-ups and pay-offs etc. – just aren’t such a big deal to some people, which is fine. Indeed, I suspect Jack doesn’t put them that high up the list of things he’s looking for in a story. I was listening to his Oi Spaceman podcast appearance the other day where he talks about ‘Planet Of The Ood’ and how much he likes the fact that The Doctor and Donna don’t do much in the episode aside from observe the uprising. For me, I also like the fact that they stand on the sidelines, but not the way it’s dramatised – we never see a moment where they actively choose not to get involved. So yes, I’m sure different people value different things in stories.

        But, it does explain why some people are bothered by the writing of Rey for entirely valid, if likely non-universal reasons.

        To your second point, I guess I don’t see much of a difference between easy mastery and being a quick study.


        • encyclops
          January 23, 2016 @ 4:57 am

          it probably is possible to justify that moment in the story and other similar bits after some thought, it is only ever after some thought.

          The stuff you need to justify, of course, varies from person to person. This particular point didn’t really bother me when I was watching the film (both times). Nor did a whole slew of other supposed “unforgivable plot holes” people have been wringing their hands about. “The Starkiller should have been slightly harder to destroy” wasn’t a big deal to me. I was more caught up in stuff like “why are people not even remotely suspicious of Finn, and so eager to help him shore up his lies?” (I still don’t know, unless it’s that they find him as adorable and endearing as we do) and “why is Snoke such an uninspired Big Bad?” (like Jack, I’m betting he’s a Wizard of Oz). “Why isn’t it slightly harder for Rey to learn Jedi mind tricks?” was in the first category to me: if you accept that she’s going to be able to do it during the runtime of the film, I can accept the shorthand we see so that the film is not 3 and a half hours long.

          I’m not saying it shouldn’t bother you, or that your objections aren’t valid; I’m just suggesting that “dramatic cleanness” and whether the set-ups and pay-offs are “satisfying” are a matter of opinion.


          • halcoromosone
            January 23, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

            Well sure, and it’s never a great look to argue against someone’s subjective experience of something. All I’ll say there is that the whole reason I went down this route of argument was in response to Jack’s assertion that there’s not that much wrong with hyper-competence as a character trait. My argument is that it’s something that needs to be explicitly set up as an individual trait, otherwise the drama is flat. Now, if you don’t see Rey as hyper-competent, merely competent, then I think we’re talking about different things.

            Secondly, to what you say here: “If you accept that she’s going to be able to do it during the runtime of the film, I can accept the shorthand we see so that the film is not 3 and a half hours long.”

            When I say dramatic cleanness, I’m talking about how writers earn this kind of moment with very economical writing – i.e. exactly the kind of stuff that keeps the runtime low. For example, in the first Star Wars film, Luke asks Han to stay and help fight in the Death Star battle, Han says no, then – wonderful surprise – Han changes his mind and turns up at a crucial moment. It’s simple, brief and yet very effective. I think Kasdan and Abrams obviously have the talent to do a similar thing with Rey’s story and yet don’t, both in that moment and lots of others.

  3. Aberrant Eyes
    January 21, 2016 @ 3:17 pm

    As for Nixon, I suspect he’s part of a political context which makes its way into the first film…

    If memory serves me right, Lucas said as much in interviews, that the Empire was the US and the Rebellion were the Vietcong, demonstrating (to paraphrase a song by a musician who worked on TFA) how a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower defeats a global, or a galactic, superpower.


  4. Boscalyn
    January 22, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

    “You see, with The Force Awakens, they’ve cracked – at least in principle and outline – how to make a right-on Hollywood blockbuster that thrills the lefties and liberals and feminists, etc, while also managing not to alienate any of the masses of moviegoers who don’t give a wet fart about diversity or positive depictions of gender and sexuality.”

    I really, really don’t buy into this idea. Partially because, as you note, Disney clearly figured the white boy was going to be the breakout star of the film and made their merch accordingly. More to the point, though: is there any configuration of actors that wouldn’t guarantee a record-breaking profit? If they’d gone the safe route and had an all-white cast with Benedict Cumberbatch as the Darth Vader analogue, Disney would be making billions. If the shocking twist in the film was that Kylo Ren was Jar Jar Binks in a trench coat… the film would still make billions, because it’s Star Wars Episode VII.

    I mean, I would make similar complaints about Frozen, a film that seems tailor-made to appease feminists who love Disney films but are (rightfully) concerned with the disgustingness of the Disney princess myth. But I have a hard time saying that Frozen is the highest-grossing film of all time because of all the feminist thinkpieces it inspired.


    • Max Curtis
      January 22, 2016 @ 7:17 pm

      It’s likely that different branches of Disney had different opinions on the film and its merchandise. Clearly JJ Abrams believes that Rey is the primary protagonist of Force Awakens, even if others in the company thought Finn and Poe would be everyone’s focus.

      Also, if I recall correctly, the film was completely recut as late as September. John Williams even had to rescore most of it. So it’s entirely possible that Rey wasn’t quite so obviously the film’s focus at the time Disney was working on merchandise agreements.

      And sure, the film is commercially successful and culturally significant because it’s Star Wars, not because of its feminism. But I think it’s resonating for millions of people, especially children, for the same reason that it’s inspiring feminist thinkpieces.


    • David Anderson
      January 22, 2016 @ 7:50 pm

      Frozen is successful because it perfectly hooks onto a piece of the brain in girls aged between roughly three and ten in our culture. That’s not the same as inspiring feminist think pieces. But it’s still related to the ability to inspire feminist think pieces. Feminist think pieces do bear some relation to the lived experience of women and girls (and human beings generally).


  5. Roderick T. Long
    January 23, 2016 @ 2:16 am

    I suspect the reason we see the victims this time but not in 1977 is budgetary more than anything else.


  6. Hypo-Calvinist
    January 24, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

    I also thought Snoke must be tiny, and in speaking to my nine year old son about it, we’ve decided he’s probably about an inch and a half tall.

    As for the sentience of droids, I don’t see how the new movies can work themselves out of the corner the previous films painted them into. I agree that they are trying a bit harder this time around, having important characters relate to droids as something other than objects. But even the scene you mention with Rey refusing to sell BB-8, replace BB with a child. Then the impact isn’t “wow, she did the right thing, even though she was tempted”; it’s “Holy fuck, Rey was just about to sell that kid!” Even if you don’t dig that deep into it, the admirable way the new characters treat droids just emphasizes how much of a dick pretty much every one else in the galaxy is (including all of the characters from the first 3 movies).


  7. Aylwin
    February 15, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

    The last section seems to imply that there is some kind of incongruity between capitalism and diversity politics. Surely if anything it’s the reverse – there is a natural convergence between the impulses of capitalism and, say, feminism, whereas there is frequently a contradiction between the impulses of capitalism and conservative social attitudes. Not only is endorsement of the progressive social causes of the moment a potential selling-point in itself, these are often causes which capitalist interests have every reason to want to see succeed.

    With regard to gender, capitalist interests benefited greatly from bringing women fully into the labour market. Likewise, from the capitalist point of view there is every reason to attack the kind of cultural distinctions that restrict what you can sell to whom. Just as it makes sense to bring men more fully into the market for lotions and potions, so it makes sense to bring more female consumers into the market for the special-effects blockbuster (already the most bankable branch of the film business, so an especially desirable area for expanding the market).

    The feminism of films like The Force Awakens or Mad Max: Fury Road serves that marketing purpose directly, but it also makes sense for capitalism more generally to promote such a cause as an end in itself, leading towards a logical end-point where the kind of attitudes that make it harder to sell a certain product to one group than to another effectively disappear. Fundamentally, gender distinctions make no more capitalist sense than sumptuary laws. It’s just a matter of having the cultural power of persuasion to make sure the distinctions break down in the right direction, so that everyone ends up susceptible to the full set of commercially-exploitable aspirations and insecurities – let them all want to be strong and pretty.

    So there is no need for pretence, no need for capitalist institutions, their organisers, or the capitalist “system” in general to strike a pose of being “on our side” in terms of diversity, because in that regard, in so far as they are capitalist, they already are. The fact that actual behaviour so often seems at variance with this is partly down to inertia, partly to the very considerable practical difficulties, delays and risks involved in finding ways to sell to new customers without losing the old ones, and partly to the fact that people are not merely the avatars of economic drives, but have other ideas in their heads.


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