Seven Head-Scratchers in Star Wars Episode Seven


Wait? What?

Star Wars Episode VII was released for home viewing earlier this month, and I had to watch it again, having seen it only once in the theater. This second viewing revealed a few head-scratchers that I hadn’t noticed the first time, distracted as I was with the 3-D projection, my rumbling seat, and my multiple nerdgasms.

To be clear: I LOVED The Force Awakens on the big screen, and I loved it again on the small screen. And I usually try not to be the guy who points out all of a movie’s flaws, whether they take the form of improbable action or impossible physics. I swear, I’m not the guy who’s always saying, “Well, that could never happen.”

However, I recently finished writing a short story that required the most research I’ve ever done. (The story is currently out gathering rejections from sci-fi publications, and I’ll probably have it up on Amazon within a month.) So I returned to Episode VII with the mindset of a writer who’d spent a week dissecting maps of the moon’s south pole and trying to plot realistic action in one-sixth gravity.

And yes, I’m aware that no one turns to the Star Wars series for a glimpse into the actual future. The movies are supposed to be fun, and they are fun. So what follows are merely the questions of someone unwinding after too much time imagining the logistics of helium-3 mining:

  1. How does everyone in the Star Wars universe speak beep-boop? Every time BB-8 or R2D2 lets out a string of incomprehensible tones and chirps, everyone understands them. Is beep-boop a required class in grade school for them? And how are they so good at understanding this language if they can’t speak it? You never hear Rey bwoop back at BB-8, do you?
  1. How come the robots can only speak beep-boop? BB-8 and R2D2 can understand everything everyone around them is saying. So we know they know multiple languages. Yet they can’t speak any of them. What idiot made these hyperintelligent machines without thinking to upload a bwoop-to-speech program and bolting a speaker to their bodies. Maybe the hologram generators consume too much computing power, and the secret-map storage compartments use all their spare space.
  1. What’s with the inconsistent quality of the Resistance’s espionage operations? First, the Resistance spies are totally unaware that the First Order has an enormous Starkiller base. Moments later, their agents provide Resistance command with intelligence that their hideout is the next target and the Starkiller is firing in 15 minutes and the Stormtroopers will be eating lasagna in the cafeteria for lunch tomorrow. How does that work?
  1. Why is everyone always abandoning their kids? I understand that a clump of people strong in the Force puts them at risk for being sensed by the bad guys. But since this Force radar is influenced by physical location (“He’s here. I can feel it.”), and faster-than-light travel is available, why not just move all together to a galaxy farther farther awayer?
  1. Why did Captain Phasma crack so easily? When Finn and Han Solo stick up Captain Phasma and tell her to disable the shields, does she resist? Does she say they’ll have to kill her before she’ll betray the First Order? Nope. She resists about as much as an overqualified executive assistant forced to fetch her boss’s coffee order.
  1. Why did the Unkar Plutt, the junk trader on Jakku, just leave the keys in the ignition on the Millennium Falcon? And then why is he surprised and pissed off when someone steals it?
  1. How is there no al fresco seating at Maz Kanata’s place? This planet is gorgeous. You’re telling me a bar overlooking a lake in what appears to be this galaxy’s Pacific Northwest doesn’t even have windows? I’m not buying it. Maz Kanata seems super smart, too smart to miss that obvious business opportunity.

What do you think? These are odd oversights, right? Or am I overthinking things?

Nah. That could never happen.

Why sci-fi may never get funnier than Hitchhiker’s Guide

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" H2G2

douglas adams inspired “Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy” H2G2

Science fiction can be pretty grim.

Between the dystopian epics, cyberpunk sagas, and military adventures that dominate the genre these days, there aren’t a lot of laughs to be had.

Sure, these stories often have a witty character to crack wise about the protagonists’ predicaments, and some writers can maintain a smirk while tackling even the darkest themes. But these devices only serve to set off the gloom in sharper relief.

This isn’t a criticism. Dystopias make great settings. Mortal peril keeps readers turning the page. Dread is a perfectly reasonable reaction to our society’s rapid technological development and painfully slow moral evolution.

Still, I wish I could find sci-fi with more levity, more playfulness. I wish someone had topped The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To be sure, there are some writers out there trying. The Unidentified Funny Objects collections contain a lot of solid silliness. And yours truly is doing his part. Earlier this week, I published Splunking on Kepler 42, a romantic comedy set in space. That followed last year’s attempt at humor: The Berserker Scenario, about a robot that finds its way into the world long before it’s ready.

But at least in my fledgling study of sci-fi literature, humor seems to account for only a small fraction of what’s out there.

I attribute that relative absence to three factors:

Humor is hard

For a story to be funny, every sentence has to elicit a smile or a giggle. Even lines setting up some larger joke have to have something comical about them, some quirky turn of phrase or unique observation.

Humor is personal

We’ve all had the experience of retelling a joke that we found hilarious only to have it met with a blank stare. Humor comes in so many different flavors, all of which appeal to different people. The Three Stooges never made me laugh, and I don’t get what’s supposed to be funny about Benny Hill. Yet I have a close friend who loves them both. And I have another friend who can’t stand the cringe humor that’s so popular today, most notably from shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, two of my all-time favorite shows.

The broad, enduring appeal of Hitchhiker’s Guide is probably the most amazing thing about Douglas Adams’ work. How did a British guy working in the late 1970s create a story that made a 23-year-old Chicagoan shoot coffee out of his nose three decades later? It’s nothing short of a miracle.

Writing sci-fi is difficult enough on its own without attempting humor

Good sci-fi is tough to craft, even without the added challenge of trying to be funny. Jamming in jokes and gags is incredibly difficult when you’re already trying to build a universe, explore complex scientific concepts, grapple with ethical dilemmas, render likeable, realistic characters, all while tempting readers along with an irresistible plot.

With these obstacles in mind, is it any wonder that there are no recent funny, sci-fi magnum opuses like Hitchhiker’s Guide? Then again, I’m relatively new to sci-fi, so maybe I’m missing something.

Any recommendations?