Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This past Monday, I published an article entitled "40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens." I wrote that while I loved the film, I'd found in it so many plot holes that I'd felt compelled to do something I'd only ever done one other time -- for the second film in the Hobbit series -- which is compile a list of plot holes. Perhaps predictably, much of the debate the article started concerned the definition of a "plot hole." (In fiction and screenwriting, a "plot hole" is simply a logical inconsistency; if you believe it to be something else, I'd respectfully ask you to re-check your sources. That said, one person's "logical inconsistency" is often another's mere "coincidence.")
For instance, it's not a plot hole that Rey can speak Wookiee; it's a plot hole that Han and Chewie aren't surprised by it. It's not a plot hole that Captain Phasma's character is lame; it's a plot hole -- a logical inconsistency -- that she swings wildly between being hardcore and pathetic for no reason whatsoever other than to advance the plot. It's not a plot hole that Finn has a crisis of conscience during his first military operation; it's a plot hole that Phasma makes clear Finn has been 100% compliant for more than two decades, despite knowing what the First Order is and does, and that a single instant then brings him 100% online (not even just 95%) morally. It's not a plot hole that R2D2 doesn't offer the Resistance Luke's whereabouts; it's a plot hole -- in a film world in which we know R2D2 can be forcibly made to reveal his stored data by human owners -- for the Resistance to never have tried (or, not been successful at) accessing data they knew from past experience R2D2 almost certainly had. And so on.
Logical inconsistencies in films can be produced by in-film data-dumps, characters' behaviors and personalities, the trajectory of longer plot arcs -- really, anything that touches upon the structure or content of the story and the world in which it's set. And of course logical inconsistencies can plague sci-fi films as easily as any other genre, as such inconsistencies are measured against the world of the film, not real-world data.
That said, my last article did have some brain farts, for instance #11 (not a plot hole); #16 (explained in-film); #34 (explained in-film); #38 (see The Empire Strikes Back); and a few others. But in several other cases, the disagreement that I had with readers came down to the difference between a "logical inconsistency" and a "coincidence," which is sometimes a difference of degree rather than kind. For instance, I find Han's attempt to convert his son, under the circumstances in which it occurred, to be inconsistent with Han's character at the level of a logical inconsistency with the character's prior behavior. Others might say, and I can't blame them, that while it's poor writing, it's not beyond the bounds of plausibility for the character. Fair enough.
A lot of people reading "40 Unforgivable Plot Holes" wondered how one could love a film and also see its glaring deficiencies. And yet, to compare apples and oranges, just as being willing to see how America could improve is a prerequisite for living here intelligently, loving a movie means seeing it for what it is and it isn't. And when the movie at issue is set to be the most successful movie in the history of cinema, some good old-fashioned reflection is in order. Reflection is even more urgent when we have high-brow publications like The New Yorker writing of Abrams' poorly plotted film, "It's so adroitly wrought that lovers of the original may not even notice the skill."
I'm also a writer, and I think writers are especially hard on other writers. So if you're reading this piece, please know that the complaints made here are more on the order of "Capitalism owes us better story-writing than this!" than "There are too many grip-notches on Luke's light saber!" It's also true that pointing out plot holes in a film you love can be cathartic. I think that, as movie-goers, it helps us process our movie-watching experience. That's been especially true for me with this article series. A few of the 40 "plot holes" I proposed in my last article were subsequently explained by shrewd commenters, for which I'm enormously grateful. And yet, as some of these explanations raised new questions, and as some of the commenters mentioned issues I hadn't previously noticed, here's a new list of plot holes from The Force Awakens.
1. Starkiller Base has been constructed to allow it to suck all the energy out of a star thousands of times its size. Do the math on that. Or, if you like, do the science-fictional math. Neither is anything but ludicrous; neither shows writing effort.
2. If Starkiller Base is a weaponized, orbit-locked planet that can't be flown, it's the worst weapon ever and not one the First Order would ever have constructed. Why construct such an object directly under the nose of the very Republic it aims to destroy? Are we to assume the Republic doesn't even do the most cursory "check-ins" on nearby planets and moons to see if they are, I don't know, being turned into anything fairly denominated a "starkiller"? And if Starkiller Base is a planet-sized object that can fly on its own, why is it anywhere near Republic-held territory when it fires its killing blow at the Republic? There's no reason for that risk. More simply: how is this orbit-locked planet any improvement on the maneuverable Death Star?
3. Why does Maz Kanata keep her most prized and valuable possession in an unlocked chest in a publicly accessible basement? If her bar is as dangerous as Han says, wouldn't she have at least one or two or a hundred safeguards in place to ensure that no one steals Luke Skywalker's light saber? To those thinking this sort of thing isn't a plot hole, realize that it's a logical inconsistency that serves to contradict everything else said about (a) the shrewdness of Maz Kanata, (b) the value of Luke's light saber, (c) the dangerousness of Kanata's cantina, and (d) Kanata's commitment to the Resistance. If these things don't matter to you as a movie-goer, that's cool. But they do -- and should -- matter to the sort of writers who get paid mid-six figures (or more) to produce scripts for billion dollar-earning film franchises.
4. Speaking of Maz Kanata's cantina, before the heroes enter it, Han (who sure as heck knows from "dangerous") makes it sound incredibly dodgy -- so much so that he tells Rey and Finn not to even look at anything once they're inside; however, the patrons they encounter couldn't be friendlier. Kanata offers them lunch; a couple dudes in a corner offer Finn a ride to the Outer Rim even though he has no money; Rey is allowed to just wander around the building's basement; and like a concerned parent, Kanata reads Finn's past and fortune. So what the heck was supposed to be scary about that place? The CGI?
5. When Rey lands on Takodana, she says that she never imagined so much green could exist in the entire galaxy. The problem here is that we also know that every single night Rey dreams of an oceanic world dotted with idyllic and gorgeously lush islands. So maybe she can imagine it, and in fact does so every night? The point here is that Abrams and his writers can't decide if Rey is a hick or someone who knows, deep down, that not only is she special but the world is waiting for her to prove it. In Star Wars, Luke's certainty that the world was vastly larger than even his imagination was critical to his character from the jump; here, it seems unclear what type of person Rey is supposed to be, or even thinks herself to be. And yet at many points in the film she's clearly portrayed as self-assured. It's a logical inconsistency.
6. Has any film, in any genre, ever allowed a sketchy, background-unknown defector from the Bad Guy camp (Finn) such quick in-person access to the Supreme Commander of the Good Guys (Leia) as we see here, and with so few questions asked?
7. Rey remembers quite clearly that she's been told not to leave Jakku, in fact that memory is so imprinted on her psyche that it's effectively her Prime Directive, and yet she has no memory whatsoever of the face of the person (or any of the people) who communicated to her that life-defining piece of information. There's coincidence, and then there's logical inconsistency. This is the latter.
8. Why are there Stormtroopers using giant tasers in this film? In what possible way does a taser (let alone a taser shaped like a less-handy light saber) improve on a blaster, especially if the user has no access to the Force? This is another plot point clearly driven by toy merchandising, and yes, it is a logical inconsistency. The technological superiority of the First Order is kind of the entire point of the film -- think Starkiller Base -- so why is it okay to send Stormtroopers into the field with laughably inept (and inapt) weaponry? It undercuts the movie's core contention: that the First Order is an existential threat to the entire galaxy.
9. Sticking with the "Second-Rate First Order" theme, let's just say it: "Flametroopers" are (a) cool-looking, and (b) have absolutely no place in the Star Wars universe. The Star Wars universe is a place in which just a couple blaster strikes can cause anything to combust; the only reason for The Force Awakens to feature WW2-era weaponry like a flamethrower is because you want to sell toys and "Stormtroopers" with slightly updated helmets won't cut it. Enter "Flametroopers," who smack way too much of the bottom-of-the-barrel G.I. Joe characters of the 1980s. Maybe this is why Flametroopers only make one (very brief) appearance in the film. On the other hand, the Flametrooper division helps make the case for a stand-alone Star Wars film from the perspective of one of the First Order's silliest military contingents: an idea the several clerks of Clerks, but also many others, would love.
10. One more toy-related gripe: certain toys licensed for the movie appear to not be in the movie -- suggesting another egregious money-grab. Anyone see that battle involving Resistance speeder bikes and open-air First Order snowspeeders? Me neither. Is this a plot hole? Maybe, maybe not. The case for "not": it's something left out of the movie, not something wrongly put into it. The case "for": a film franchise like Star Wars has always been not just the films but also the canon surrounding it, and for The Force Awakens, an already confusing movie, a lot of "preemptive canon" was released that only underscores logical inconsistencies in the film. For instance, why didn't the Resistance have more of a presence (e.g. speeder bikes) on Takodana? Why didn't the Resistance ever contemplate a ground invasion (e.g., one that would force them to confront First Order snowspeeders) in the many years the Starkiller Base was being created? To send a handful of X-wings in the final minutes of the Republic just makes Leia look inept, which she isn't. Look at it this way: when Star Wars fans wonder openly about the absence of Constable Zuvio from The Force Awakens, on the one hand it's pretty derpy, on the other it probably means they've picked up on (a) something that was cut from the film for non-artistic reasons, and (b) something that, once cut, created a plot hole.
11. Since when, in the history of space films, have spacecraft in a well-guarded spaceship hangar needed to be tethered? This is just silly on so many levels. But it elongates a cool escape scene by thirty seconds, so hooray!
12. Han Solo and Chewbacca have spent nearly every day together for forty years, often fighting off baddies in small skirmishes and giant battles, but Han has never before tried Chewbacca's bowcaster? The scene in which he does so is a little cringe-worthy, as it's clearly just a sight-gag and a poor excuse for a one-liner. Yet is also undermines the central premise of the Han-Chewie relationship, which is that these two know everything about one another. The gag wasn't worth it.
13. Returning to the "Tasertrooper": the only reason Finn doesn't die in this movie is that a Stormtrooper on Takodana inexplicably chose to fight him with a taser rather than shooting him with a blaster. This is "Indiana Jones fighting a guy with a whip"-level ridiculous -- by which I mean, it's as ridiculous as it would have been had Harrison Ford taken out a whip to fight that whip-wielding assassin rather than just shooting him in the chest with the gun already in his hand. Anyway, it's a good thing for the saber-armed but saber-untrained Finn that he's the only one who ever gets to (er, has to) fight these Tasertrooper toys (er, soldiers).
14. For folks trying to hide BB-8 from the First Order, BB-8's friends sure make some inexplicable, unnecessary decisions to trot him out in public.
15. When Finn, a First Order defector who no one knows very well, reveals to Han and Chewie that he's lied to them about his knowledge of Starkiller Base, and that he's really only there to rescue his prospective girlfriend, who's also a big unknown to Han and Chewie, why doesn't Han let Leia know that they've been had? Exactly as Han expected, the lack of a credible assault plan subsequently leads to many needless deaths among the members of the Resistance. So did Han's "Oh, you scamp!"-type reaction really make any sense at all?
16. Why can't Starkiller Base be used until it's dark, as Poe (oddly) insists? Seems like it can be used whenever it's taken in enough energy, which would be, well, whenever it's taken in enough energy. Time of day should have nothing to do with it.
17. I know that in sci-fi, people survive crazy crashes all the time -- but at some point it gets ridiculous. Usually, a film utilizing the vehicle edition of the "narrow escape" trope shows us the final moments before a big crash happens -- for instance, a shot in which a crack pilot somehow manages to get his craft just enough under control to keep the crash from being fatal. Here, Poe and Finn seem to lose all navigation control over their Tie Fighter and crash head-on into a planet from an unimaginable (literally hyper-atmospheric) height. And yet both survive unharmed. Poe, in particular, is so unharmed that he's already walked miles away, entirely out of sight, by the time Finn awakes. So maybe we did need a shot of some extraordinary, last-second piloting? Especially if no one's going to be hurt at all in a fiery crash? Hell, as it turns out, quicksand is way more dangerous than freefalling into a planet at an unimaginable rate of speed from a height of hundreds of miles.
18. Kylo Ren can read Rey's mind from a distance, which is why he tells his subordinates that she's going to steal a plane from the hanger to escape -- so why didn't he know exactly where she was on Starkiller Base? And if he wasn't reading her mind, and was instead just speculating, where was that foresight when he left a single lightly armed Stormtrooper/James Bond to guard her -- despite already knowing she was a Force-user as powerful (or even more powerful) than him?
19. A little petty, but still irksome: since when do blaster wounds cause massive bleeding? Maybe I'm wrong, but is this the first Star Wars film ever in which a non-decapitated Stormtrooper who's still wearing his armor somehow bleeds through that armor profusely? A buddy of Finn's, as he's dying, smears blood all over Finn's helmet. It struck a dissonant note for me at the time, and I couldn't figure out why. Maybe it's because it's a significant change in the visual rhetoric of the combat of the Star Wars universe? I don't mean that it's gory, but that it's actually a significant change in what we're supposed to understand is happening when there's a blaster battle. I assumed it was electrocution, blunt-force trauma, maybe neural damage; now it appears that blasters are lacerating people all over the place. So shouldn't every Star Wars battle be bloody now? Unless -- ah -- the whole shot was just an attempt to tug at the audience's heart-strings with respect to Finn's character. Now don't get me wrong, Finn's my favorite character, but is that single shot worth changing the "visual canon" of the series so dramatically? Especially if, as I suspect, virtually no future scenes in the series will double down on this change? It's kind of like the way the bad guys' landing crafts have gotten smaller and smaller as the series has worn on, when it seems like things would go in the other direction. What I mean is, I'm certain the reason each First Order troop transport only carries a handful of Stormtroopers -- whereas the Empire's held scores -- is a one-off explanation: toy merchandising. The price-point for First Order troop transports needs to be low enough for it to be one of the less expensive Force Awakens toys, hence the transports' smaller size. As a writer, I hate scripts calling for a sea change just to score emotional points or sell tchotchkes. In this instance, Abrams and Kasdan knew Finn's conversation narrative was weak, so they threw in some random, implausible, and non-canonical gore to make it stick.
20. Even accepting that Jakku was Finn's first military assignment of any kind, as many readers of my first article on the film clearly did, are we to assume that he was entirely in the dark about the giant, racist, homicidal, Galaxy-spanning terrorist organization he was mopping floors for? Again, I think Finn is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars universe in basically forever. But if you're not acknowledging that at this point his "conversion" narrative makes no sense, or that (see above) virtually nothing about Rey's character makes any sense, you're on some level giving Abrams a pass, I feel. While I realize that a trilogy is a trilogy, and some things do get explained over time, a "logical inconsistency" in a script that won't be cleared up for two years is only okay if it doesn't dent our enjoyment of the current film more than a scintilla. As I've tooled around the Internet the past few days, I've seen many people saying, like me, that they enjoyed the film and will see it several times -- but very few who are desperately excited for the next installment. I think the reason for this is not that people didn't like the film, as clearly most people did, but rather that there are so many unexplained questions in this new trilogy -- a great many of which will simply turn out to have been gaping plot holes -- that there's as much trepidation for the next film as there is excitement. In any case, somewhere in the world Peter Jackson is seething, as his first installment of The Hobbit got nothing like the total pass legions of Star Wars fans are giving SW: TFA.
Seth Abramson is Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing and an Assistant Professor of English at University of New Hampshire. His most recent book is Metamericana (BlazeVOX, 2015).