Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Social Heroism and Moral Courage in Winter Soldier

By Travis Trombley - originally published in full on our new website:

In the third act of the film, when Cap’s rag-tag team assaults the Hellicariers to stop HYDRA’s launch of Project Insight, Cap hijacks the com system and delivers what has become known as the “Captain’s Orders” speech, during which he reveals the HYDRA conspiracy and calls to action any who defy their bid for "absolute control." 

Following this speech, Rumlow - who becomes Cap’s longtime nemesis in the comics called Crossbones - struts into the command room and orders one of the computer technicians to launch the Insight ships. Kline - the technician in question - is a pale, skinny fellow with curly hair. He lacks Steve’s classic handsome and superhero jaw, yet he refuses nonetheless. When he doesn’t immediately respond, Rumlow bellows, “Is there a problem?” The camera zips to the standers by, all waiting for the young man’s decision. “I’m not going to launch those ships,” he eventually says, raising his head in determination and - sure - gulping in understandable fear. “Captain’s orders.”

While many of us would like to believe we would do the same, social psychology suggests otherwise, positing instead the existence of social forces that pressure individuals towards compliance.

One such pressure would be the one to rationalize an action by displacing blame. This phenomenon was famously studied by Stanley Milgram in his famous 1963 “Shock Experiment” at Yale University. After the Nuremberg Trials, during which many Nazi officers like Adolf Eichmann justified their atrocities by claiming that they were only following orders, Milgram sought to study the actual influence authority played in decision making, especially of an ethical sort.

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HeroMonitor Presents: Dan Buehrer and Superheros as Mythology

By Travis Trombley - originally published on our new site: 

Per the premise of a coming-of-age adventure story, Dan first experienced superheroes by way of discovering his dad’s old collection tucked away in the attic of his childhood home. While as a nine year-old, Dan didn’t read so much as gawk at the illustrations, it was enough to spark a conversation with his father, who - Dan says - later fueled his addiction by taking the pre-beard Dan to comic book stores to spend his allowance on new books. 

As he aged, Dan’s tastes broadened. He grew more attentive to narrative. Before long he’d purchased many of the “Marvel Essentials” books in order to read up on his favorite characters: Iron Man, Ant Man and Hulk. When he wasn’t watching the Saturday morning adventures of Batman and Superman on their respective WB animated shows, he was reading, and it was all adding up. 

“Even as an adult, now, I feel like superheroes have shaped my sense of morality,” Dan said. “You read all these stories about these heroes with godlike abilities, who could do what they want, but they abide by man’s laws - don’t kill or steal or abuse their powers - and it makes you realize that we all have this moral obligation to be good to one another - to use what we have to help others. I feel like I’m a good person because I try to live by that, whether it’s a friend needing help with a move or assisting someone in danger, and I got that mentality from superheroes.” 

It’s an easy pill to swallow. Dan acknowledges the premise to the superhero is in many ways the imperative to do good unto others, which fits well within a prevalently Judeo-Christian framework. It makes sense that such beings could quickly ascend to the position of ideological paragons. 

But there’s more to the superhero mythos than just helping people. Dan said that as he matured and became cognizant of life’s nuances, he gleaned more complicated insights about the world and his perception thereof from his caped crusaders. 

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HeroMonitor Presents: Captain America Stature in Brooklyn

By Travis Trombley - originally published on

Statues and monuments aren’t about the people to whom they owe their likenesses. Not really. Such memorials immortalize the ideas, struggles and virtues of ages in the forms of figures who represented and distilled them. 

The bust of General George Custer in my hometown represents not the man - who, I gather, was kind of a dick - but the myth that surrounded him: roguish man of action who - by will and grit and skillful heroism - rose through the Union ranks during the Civil War to eventually help secure America’s westward expanse. 

Lincoln’s Monument is more a testament to resolve and righteous fortitude than the man himself. describes the purpose of the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument off the Tidal Basin in DC  as a “a lasting tribute to Dr. King’s legacy [that] will forever serve as a monument to the freedom, opportunity and justice for which he stood.” The monument inspires the sense of justice and willingness to fight for change that he represented - it is an attempt to replicate his effect on people as much as it is a way to honor the historical figure. 

Statues of fictional characters like Rocky Balboa and - only slightly less fictional - Paul Revere stand as tributes to their roles in the American zeitgeist. 

Similarly, superheroes often function as embodiments for ideas and ideals. In a sort of reverse fashion from those who earn monuments through notable deeds, the genre demands that superheroes execute acts of greatness (usually great violence), so what they do is less compelling to readers than why they do it. This is why the superhero origin story is such an important component of the mythos: we need to know the idea the hero represents while doing cartoonish battle. 

As such, it comes as no surprise that superheroes - like our historical myths - have for almost 80 years now represented our ideologies and anxieties in their flashy, pow-filled “conversations.” They’ve become a part of the way we interpret our culture and world, a sentiment now recognized by the erection of the world’s first public superhero statue. 

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HeroMonitor Presents: Wonder Woman Appointed UN Ambassador of Women's Rights

By Travis Trombley - full article on new site:

An oddly poignant representation: Wonder Woman tries to speak, but some UN representatives roll their eyes.

This appointment further indicates the cultural power of superheros and superhero iconography. To invoke Wonder Woman’s image is to invoke female power, simply by merit of her being a staple hero in the male-dominated DC lineup. Pragmatically, it’s a choice that maximizes recognizability across the globe. Ideologically, it’s a choice that clearly embodies the idea that the UN will actively struggle and fight for gender equality across the globe.

Or it’s all a brilliant marketing ploy by DC to promote the forthcoming Wonder Woman film. 

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman vs Superman Review

Like this here Bat-suit, Batman vs Superman is cool looking and ripe for symbolic communication, but ultimately empty.
I’m not sure how much I would have liked Zach Snyder’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC’s maiden voyage into the cinematic realm of a shared universes for people with capes, if I were a ten year-old eager to see my Saturday morning heroes come alive on the big screen. The action, only moderately impressive when it occurs, is far outweighed by attempts at ponderous brooding and political pontification.

As an adult, that’s exactly what I was hoping for from this movie: explorations of justice, acting outside the law, and man’s hero worshiping tendencies. Sadly, despite what are clearly some sincere attempts by all involved, neither the genre-demanded action nor the more cerebral themes (mythic and political alike) really pay off. With the exception of some visually striking storytelling beats, the film isn't able to hold up under it’s own weight.

An answer to the high casualty finale of 2013’s Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice jumps 18 months ahead to catalog the world’s varied reactions to having an alien savior inhabit their world. Some see him as a god, and others a threat. Enter Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, members of the latter group who propel the plot.

Wayne has it out for the Kryptonian after he witnesses a Wayne Enterprises building full of employees crumble as a result of the Metropolis Superman-Zod Showdown, a scene which evokes the imagery of 9/11 with striking effectiveness. Luthor’s antagonism is rooted in a sort of humanistic narcissism communicated through incessant references to the relationships between God and man or angels and demons: he wants Superman gone because, we are given no reason to suspect otherwise, such easy power invalidates his natural human superiority owed to intellect. He even laments that knowledge is no longer power during a speech at a library fundraiser.

Much of the film’s 2.5 hour run-time is spent unraveling a drawn out conspiracy plot which ends with the titular showoff. Luthor capitalizes on Wayne’s vendetta-prone personality to bait him along while simultaneously planting doubt in Kent’s mind by slowly turning public opinion against him. Meanwhile, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane follows clues to Washington (because we needed something for her to do), slowly sniffing out the conspiracy only to, ultimately, accomplish nothing but become a damsel in distress to summon the Man of Steel.

Superman stands before a Senate committee, ready to defend his actions. 
The character arcs of the primary protagonists Bruce Wayne and Superman (and those labels are intentional, given the screen time of these characters in and out of costume) start strong. Affleck's Bruce is neurotic, charming, obsessed, and violent in appropriate measure. An experienced Batman already, Bruce focuses his personal, quasi-fascist war on Superman, the alien threat who could “burn the whole place down.” He seems to even be past his “no killing” rule now. Cavill’s Superman remains largely unchanged from the preceding film. He wants so badly to do good, but like a presidential candidate, every move elicits polarized reactions, especially as he breaches into foreign policy and political sovereignty (a tragically underdeveloped element of the film - just as Superman is about the address a committee assembled to hold him accountable, stuff goes boom and the genre laughs at me once again). In the midst of all this, reporter Clark Kent finds himself appalled by the “Bat of Gotham,” whose “brand” of civil-rights-denying justice differs from his own.

And it’s in this contrast, despite its attempts to weave so many threads together in a thematically poignant epic, that the film missed a very simple but very rich opportunity only briefly explored. Our first exposures to the two heroes in the film illustrate their fundamental differences.

While Superman flies around the world saving girls from burning buildings and flood survivors waiting on roofs, Batman hunts, interrogates and brands sex traffickers. Superman protects the good. Batman pursues the evil - the threat.

"Bruce, please, we can just talk about our differences. We
don't have to resort to violence." 
Fundamentally, and this honors their comic book origins, too, these two men see the idea of justice differently. If Mr. Snyder wanted his pontifications to have the poignant payoff he so clearly sought, he would have been wise to focus on this simple difference of perspective and ideology rather than attempting to weave a number of character arcs and conspiracy plots which come up shallow and end in an ultimately disappointing slug fest.

And this leads us to the final act, which - as trailers have already spoiled - is composed of two rounds: Batman vs Superman, and later Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman vs Doomsday the CGI mess. The former of these two is slightly more exciting. Superman is strong and fast. Batman uses technology and tricks to even the playing field. Hans Zimmer scores crescendo. We get it. Aside from a sink being bashed over a hero’s head and a throwaway line about attributing meaning to tragedy, nothing too exciting happens. But at least it was interesting.

When Doomsday - a CGI giant reminiscent of one of Peter Jackson's uruk hai - is released, the screen becomes a dark, albeit kinetic, mishmash of flying punches, slashes, laser beams, and - of course - explosions. This is sad considering some of the more memorable fight scenes in Mr. Snyder’s resume from Watchmen and 300.

Humorously, a clear reaction to criticism of Man of Steel’s collateral damage, the film goes out of its way to assure viewers multiple times that there is nobody around who could get hurt in the fray. You can almost hear Warner Bros. P.R. squad in the background whispering into poor Mr. Snyder’s ear.

The highlight here is Batman’s little excursion to a crime hideout where he goes toe-to-toe with a room full of human combatants. This is the most “Batman-esque” scene in the film. He dominates the room with visual deception reminiscent of early scenes from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, which Mr. Snyder has acknowledged as a source of visual and thematic inspiration for the film, gadgets, and properly fierce melees. Unlike the reserved predecessor played by Bale, this Batman operates on screen more like the Batman from the Arkham video games: fast, maneuverable and undeniably powerful. One imagines this rendition of the Bat would have little difficulty dispatching Tom Hardy’s Bane or avoiding becoming the butt of “Hawkeye” jokes in the inevitable Justice League.

In addition to a chase scene with the new Batmobile (more dune buggy meets indycar than tank, now) earlier in the film, these Bat-scenes steal the show in terms of eye-candy. They are tense, well-shot, and relatively innovative, in contrast to the unimaginative, unmemorable brawls that mark the movie’s conclusion. Mr. Snyder clearly flourishes when he can manipulate one protagonist against a number of “real” combatants. Just as actors struggle with tennis-ball acting, Mr. Snyder seems to have difficulty with tennis-ball directing.

What I did enjoy was the film’s emphasis on one’s past as a means for making meaning. Without ever becoming pandering, Mr. Snyder spends some time on these characters’ pasts and their understandings thereof. In ethereal shots reminiscent of the same ilk seen in films like Aronofsky's Noah and Inarritu's The Revenant (as well as in the skull scene from Man of Steel), these characters confront their pasts. Bruce sees a giant bat burst from his mother’s tomb, and Kent listens to his deceased adoptive father tell a touching parable of zero-sum gain. And in the moment that matters, it is in fact these heroes’ pasts that bring them together.

Unfortunately, the many other explorations didn’t fair as well. Like the many allusions to Christ in Man of Steel, themes, allusions and character arcs seem to left alone towards the end. The religious imagery and discussion from Lex never amounts to narrative influence. There’s no invocation of mercy or sacrifice. Though such acts occur, they seem disconnected from those discussions or unaffected by the audience's’ experience of that symbology. Maybe there’s something there to be discovered upon future viewings, but I feel like I’m simply doing too much work on my end with the film’s content that I can’t attribute my conclusions to the skill of the film’s creators.

Jeremy Irons' Alfred is as snarky as he is handy, finding
time to quip about Bruce's lack of love life while fine tuning
his employer's latest suit of armor. 
As for the acting, aside from Affleck, Cavill, and Eisenberg, there’s not much to say. And again, this is evident of the film’s over-confident aspirations, not a criticism of the all-too competent supporting cast. Affleck and Cavill do well in and out of costume (though there’s no difference between Cavill's Clark Kent and Superman here, unlike Reeve’s portrayal). Eisenberg is certainly the more polarizing. I actually preferred his manic, Silicon-Valley douche portrayal of Lex. His tics and eccentricities communicated well on screen and bolstered the character’s psychotic, narcissistic nature. Addams isn’t given nearly as much to do as she was in the last film, but what she does, she pulls off with a brassiness meritous of the Lois Lane brand. Gal Gadot is welcome surprise, lending an easy severity to the Dianna Prince/Wonder Woman character. Fishburne and Irons as Perry White and Alfred respectively are also given little to do, but they steal every scene they inhabit with gravitas (remember when Irons was watchable even in the Eragon movie?).


In end, the film’s sin - like that of the Satan character it evokes through Lex’s painting reminiscent of Paradise Lost - is Pride. It tries to do and be too much. There’s a lot to like here, don’t get me wrong. The story has potential. The characters’ struggles resonate (at first). The theological and mythic themes are awesome. But like a kid at a buffet, the film stuffs its pizza, sushi, chicken dumplings, and mini tacos on the same plate and learns that they simply don’t work as well together as they would separately.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Real life superheroes: from fiction to reality

Authored by MHS student Ivin Mckinney
As a child, if there was one thing I loved doing, it was pretending to be a superhero. I would pretend I could fly, use super strength, run at super speed, or even shoot lasers out of my eyes. I would pretend that I could save the world.
However, for some people it is not pretend. They may not be saving the world from evil villains, but they are surely gifted. The U.S. military is building super suits to use in war. A man named Daniel Kish is able to see despite his blindness. A contortionist made the best of his disorder by joining a circus and later became a celebrity.
In the Marvel Comics universe, Tony Stark, the owner of a huge weapon industry called “Stark Industries,” is Iron Man. He wears a metal suit that allows the wearer to fly, shoot rockets, shoot lasers, and gives the wearer superhuman strength. While this suit started off as fiction, it is now becoming a reality.
The TALOS suit in action.
According to Jeremy Bender, Iron Man’s suit and the ‘Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit’, built by the U.S. military, have a lot in common. While wearing this exoskeleton, humans can lift over 400 pounds (the strength of 2-3 people), and It allows the wearers to sprint at speeds of 10mph with little input by the wearer. These suits also have built in sensors that monitor the wearer's heart rate and body temperature. Other models of the TALOS have a liquid armor that solidifies when hit by bullets.
Additionally, the superhero Daredevil from the Marvel Comics universe had his eyes burnt by acid as a child.  He then discovered that he possessed the ability to see with sound and later becomes a crime fighter of Hell’s Kitchen. And as was the case with the Iron man suit, while most people wouldn't expect it, the ability to see sound is actually possible.
According to Michael Finkel, Daniel Kish was born in 1966 with a very aggressive form of cancer called retinoblastoma, a fatal disease that attacks the retinas. When he was 13 months old, he had to have both of his eyes removed. Yet Kish, now in his 40s with prosthetic eyeballs, is able to get around just like any normal guy. He is able to climb mountains, climb trees, swim, and ride his bike through traffic filled streets. As a blind man, he can do all these activities because at a young age he realized he can see sound waves.
Daniel uses a form of echolocation to see with a clicking sound he makes with his tongue. As a kid, he would stand on his porch and visualize each tone and what they mean. Echolocation is the technique that bats and dolphins commonly use.
A diagram of echolocation from ASU School of Life Science
When Daniel clicks his tongue, the noise sends sound waves to bounce to and from himself, and objects around him. Once he hears the sound waves he is able to determine where the objects are. He named this technique Flash Sonar.
Daniel is passing on his gift by teaching other blind people the technique of ‘Flash Sonar’. Additionally,
Lutz Wiegrebe, a neurobiologist at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, found that with three weeks of training, anyone - blind or otherwise - can learn Flash Sonar.
Also from the Marvel universe, Mr Fantastic, while in space, was hit by a “cosmic ray,” according to the original comic by Stan Lee. Everyone on the ship developed superhuman abilities; Mr. Fantastic gained the power to stretch himself like rubber. He can, for example, ball himself up, twist his body, and fit inside of objects much smaller than himself. In Fantastic Four issue #28 by Stan Lee, Mr. Fantastic turns himself into a ball and hurls himself at the X-Man Cyclops to tackle him. While this may seem like a stretch, his powers are more possible than you may imagine.
Fantastic Four issue #28
Daniel Browning, a contortionist, can stretch his body like rubber, twisting himself into a variety of weird shapes. According to Jon Meyersohn and Kimberly Launier, he can dislocate his legs and arms, and his ribs can poke out of his chest. He can also turn his torso to 180 degrees without pain.
Daniel can perform these acts because he has a very rare disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). EDS is a disorder that causes extreme elasticity of the skin, joints, and blood vessels. Only one in every 1,000 people have EDS (Meyersohn). However, he is not suffering. He doesn’t usually feel any pain except for some rare, minor muscle pains. Daniel is actually making the best of this condition.
Daniel Browning... in a ball
At the age of 17, he ran off and joined a circus team. He also has performed at many concerts, trade shows, and colleges, doing tricks like twisting himself and fitting into areas twice as small as himself. Daniel has mastered all these tricks so well that people began calling him ‘Rubberboy.’
His superhero-like ability has been responsible for him traveling around the globe and seeing very amazing people and places. He is currently the host of the show “Superhuman” owned by Marvel founder Stan Lee.
There is a fine line between fiction and reality. These people have brought both of those worlds together and made something amazing. They may not be saving the world, but all have something special. It almost makes you wonder: could there be real life caped crusaders in the future?

Works Cited
Bender, Jeremy. "The Military Is Closing In On Powerful Exoskeleton Technology." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.
Finkle, Michael. "The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See." Mens Journal, 6 Mar. 2011. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.
Meyerhson, Jon. "Rare Medical Condition." ABC News. ABC News Network, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Force Awakens: Sequel or Reboot?

If you’re reading this article, posted several weeks after the hype of the film’s launch, then I’m assuming you’ve seen The Force Awakens. This is good, for here there be spoilers. I’ll go one step further, even, and assume your acquiescence to the following statement: Force Awakens was pretty dang sweet.

But it’s far from original.  

J.J. Abrams’ addition to the much beloved franchise proves itself a visually and narratively compelling installment in the goofy, kinetic, pop mythology that is Star Wars. But is it too familiar, even for a sequel?

The film begins with a protagonist secreting a valuable item away into a droid before glossy, white storm troopers arrive, a laser fight ensues, and as the troopers secure dominance of the battlefield, a dark-cloth-clad villain arrives on seeking the shuttled away information, killing one of the resistance fighters to intimidate his way into our minds as the resident baddy.

Sound familiar?

What about an orphaned, Force-sensitive ace pilot escaping from a desert planet to help a resistance movement on the Millennium Falcon? A plot that revolves around the retrieval of a droid containing information desired by a resistance group and an undeniably Nazi-esque force? A panning cantina scene showcasing a number of alien species hanging out in a bar to jazzy music? What about a giant, habitable, planet-destroying superweapon that can be destroyed by . . . well, you know.  
From the opening scene to the final, flashy showdown, Force Awakens mirrors many plot points and themes of 1977’s A New Hope. At some point you stop wondering if they were making references for the nostalgic fun and start thinking they have a quota to meet. Perhaps, after the bloated fiasco that was the prequel trilogy, the new mouse-eared owners wanted to ensure audiences of their return to the tried and true?

Star Wars has always exceeded at bringing droids to life
through nonverbal communication, and BB-8 is no exception.
But the many callbacks have been deemed weak and distracting by some critics. David Roberts of Vox says the film’s reliance on the original trilogy for its plot quickly departs from cozy nostalgia and ventures into narrative laziness.

“But where A New Hope's pastiche drew from a dizzying array of sources, The Force Awakens' draws mostly from Star Wars itself,” Roberts writes. “There's comfort in that familiarity, a powerful nostalgic satisfaction, but it makes for a closed loop — a cloistered, self-referential product.” The parallels are so numerous and blatant that the film borders parody at times, he adds.

According to Todd VanDerWerff, “the most consistent criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been that it's a baldfaced rip-off of the original Star Wars.”

They’re right. But Force Awakens is not a bad film. As Roberts admits, the film follows some great characters with admirable economy - it copied a good film, after all. It’s just a very familiar movie that skirts the line between a sequel and another type of film with which cinema-goers today are quite familiar: the reboot.

The current owner of all things “my childhood,” Disney seems to have applied the lessons learned making Marvel films to the galaxy far far away. Unlike adaptations of novels, adaptations of comic book characters allow for much more freedom in the exploration of their stories, including continual retellings. This is due in part to the nature of comics themselves.

Batman has been around since 1939, though his origins and adventures have been reimagined countless times in comics themselves, TV shows, movies and video games. With some core elements in tact like the death of his parents and his rule against killing, Batman can take the form of whatever kind of story the culture and generation of the time demands. Just think of the difference between the Adam West camp and the dark realism of Nolan’s trilogy.

Even outside the superhero genre, the remake is becoming a theater regular. Creed is both a Rocky sequel and a remake of the original (a damn good one, though). 2016 will see a remake of Ghostbusters wherein the team roster will be completely female. For some reason, Point Break got a remake...

Given the climate, it’s not unreasonable to think Disney may have snuck us a reboot disguised as a sequel. They have good cause to do so: plans to create a single, media-spanning “universe” akin to the MCU are already underway, so it seems right that they ground it all with a quasi-remake of the phenomenon that started it all. So rather than disparaging the film as a sequel with intentional callbacks, let’s evaluate it as a revision.

Reboots are opportunities for revision, and in many ways (even after we adjust for the improvement of special effects over 40 years), the revisions made for Force Awakens work very well.

It’s in the casting that we have our first revision. Like the trilogy before it, Force Awakens boasts a trinity of protagonists, but this time, they aren’t all white. It’s certainly not inconsequential that Disney put their box office breaking franchise in the hands of people who aren’t primarily white males (here’s looking at you, Marvel), but rather reflect a truly diverse audience. While an artifact of the age, it’s an appreciated alteration.

More importantly, these new characters seem to have more agency than in A New Hope. Rather than spend time on backstory, Abrams makes the intelligent decision of letting character actions tell us about these people with whom we’re spending two hours.

Whereas Luke left Tatooine only after his family was killed leaving him with no tethers to a place he already wanted to leave, Rey struggles with leaving Jakku. She gets involved out of an act of selflessness (protecting BB-8 from the scrapper and later refusing to sell him to Plutt), in contrast to Luke’s obligation and adolescent curiosity. In the midst of the adventure she’s offered a job by a man she considered myth, yet she wishes to return home in the hope that her family will return for her. She rejects the lightsaber in Maz’s basement, and with it the Force’s call to responsibility. She’s a reluctant hero who must eventually accept the reality of her past and choose to move forward. It took Luke three films to achieve the same degree of development.

Han’s analog is more direct. Fin’s moral awakening realizes itself in his refusal to commit acts of violence for the First Order and later desert the only lifestyle he’s ever known. Like Han, he spends much of the film running. Fin wants to escape the reach of the First Order, and Han needs to outrun his debt collectors. And like Han, he eventually chooses to run towards something good, so to speak, rather than away (mind you, a beautiful woman influenced both decisions).

The revision here is Fin’s obsession about his fear. Whereas Han played the cool “means to an end” scoundrel, Fin isn’t willing to run towards the danger at all. He chooses to leave Rey when she refuses his offer to run away with him. And later, when he does choose to face his fear, he does so directly - Han never sought a confrontation with Jabba and the bounty hunters after him, but expected solace from his pursuers among the rebels. This quibble doesn’t necessarily make Fin “better” than, Han, for Han’s behavior rang completely coherent with his character, but Fin’s choice does seem immediately more heroic.

Even Kylo Ren’s actions seem weightier than his respirative counterpart. This tantrum-prone, half-baked villain's inner conflict allows for choice, the outcome of which furthers his tragedy. In order for him to truly commit to the Dark Side, he had to do something so awful that he could never be pulled back by the light - never be forgiven. He had to kill the voice of authority in his head: his father.

It’s a more nuanced situation, and regardless of your feelings about the emo nature of the new antagonist, the added room for character development allows audiences the opportunity to explore the subtleties of the Force as they relate to mindsets and spiritual-emotional states.

And let’s not forget the Force as a character here, because it is in fact more of a character than ever before. The film’s title refers to more than the fact that after a hiatus, the franchise has returned. In this film, the Force plays a role of fate or Providence, almost, orchestrating events and operating in those sensitive to its pull. How else would a boy raised from early childhood come to find the acts for which he’s been programmed his entire life disgusting? How serendipitous that Rey - the new Luke - happens upon BB-8, which leads her to the Millennium Falcon, which brings her to Maz and Luke’s lightsaber. Coincidence isn’t new to the franchise, but here they seem more prevalent, and being the universe that it is, we get to attribute them to a ubiquitous, “binding” force rather than lazy writing.

One standout departure from established (cinematic) mythology is the official introduction of what was for many the other half of an assumed dichotomy: the “light side” of the Force. Never before was this a defined element of the universe as established by the films; always it was just the Force and the Dark Side of the Force, each with their acolytes, Jedi and Sith respectively.

This is no small matter. The introduction of the “light side” significantly alters the theology of the Force, if you will. The franchise has always balanced eastern and western traditions, the nature of the Force ringing decidedly more western with the Force being inherently good as the natural state of the world, and the Dark Side being a perversion of that natural state - a falling from grace, if you will. Giving a name to the Light Side legitimizes Dark Side of the Force as a natural component of the universe - more of an eastern, Yin Yang relationship. This is neither good nor bad, really, but it is different.

Finally, we would be remiss to not discuss a revision to one of the most infamous elements of the franchise: stormtrooper aim. Whereas in the original these dudes didn’t come off as terribly frightening by the end of the film due to their comical accuracy with a blaster, Abrams’ stormtroopers don’t miss nearly as often. The shots are quick, deliberate and deadly, a trio of adjectives that significantly increase the tension established by their presence, despite the fact that we all know they probably won’t cause any real harm to our hero trio.

As a revision, the largest failing of the film is the handling of the First Order. Whereas the other aspects of the film can be accepted as reboot and sequel simultaneously, the en medias res approach to a geopolitical struggle in a world in which viewers are, for the most part, already significantly interested cheats them of the resolutions from the previous installments.

It worked in A New Hope because we knew nothing of the world beyond the story of a young pilot who wanted to save a princess. Now we know that the Empire, established upon Palpatine’s machinations within the old Republic, fell after great effort, but all the sudden a terrorist organization somehow in possession of the Empire’s resources has risen to power, and the Republic supports a resistance movement (which is separate from the official “fleet”) headed by Leia to confront the First Order. What?! What are the First Order’s goals? How did they secure so much power? Not explaining these elements cheapens the experience rooted in the preceding films.

But mostly, as a reboot - as revision - the film works. It reestablishes what we love about Star Wars by taking us back to basics while setting up a universe ripe for exploration through other films, TV shows, books and videogames. As a reboot, Force Awakens honors the franchise, admitting a need to start over, but seeing no better place to start than its own origin. Yet, as a sequel, by involving the original trinity of heroes, it connects itself to and legitimizes the events that preceded it (mostly).

Unless Disney makes the mistake of duplicating Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi for the next two films in this series, fans will more than likely look back on this installment rather fondly, even if it just polished an old starship rather than build us a new one from scrap.