Star Wars movies are so mythic and overexposed it’s hard to find a nice, quiet, sober critical analysis of them—away from the hubbub of their release spectacles or the weight of the vast lore bearing down on them. Lessons From The Screenplay attempts to do just that in a new video, applying classic screenwriting principles to Rogue One and The Force Awakens in order to determine what works and what doesn’t in the franchise’s latest installments. The answer is: a little bit of both.
The narrator makes clear that he’s a huge fan of Star Wars movies in general, almost as if setting up a firewall against trolls before moving onto the ensuing gentle criticism of both films. He applies storytelling principles from Syd Field, among others, to explain the muddled first half of Rogue One. Jyn Erso’s a passive protagonist, with things just sort of happening to her, and all of her backstory is listed off with little fanfare. On the other hand, some of the best filmmaking in The Force Awakens is the six minutes in which we see Rey’s everyday life before the adventure begins—scavenging for parts, befriending BB-8, and dreaming of her family’s return. It’s a classic case of showing versus telling, with the more active backstory making a more active protagonist and so a more memorable film.
The video judges both films qualified successes: Rogue One’s confused set-up leads to a thrilling climax, and The Force Awakens’ overreach nevertheless introduces a host of likable new protagonists. Mission accomplished in both cases, in other words—and they didn’t even have to include a Gungan. It all begs the question of what Syd Field would’ve said about midichlorians.