Monday, January 04, 2016

"The Force Awakens" Was Ruined Because Wedge Antilles Wasn't In It

The following is a work of self-parody. Even though I enjoyed "The Force Awakens," I basically believe what I'm writing below because Wedge Antilles is awesome. That said, I also know that my sentiment is abjectly ridiculous, so I'm deliberately writing it in as overblown fashion as possible.

The critics love the new Star Wars movie. Fans are ecstatic that something has washed away the wretched prequels. And I can't say that it didn't have its moments. But The Force Awakens comes with one unforgivable flaw: Wedge Antilles isn't in it.

Now you may be wondering, "David, why do you care so much about a character who got maybe a minute's worth of screen time in each of the original three movies?" First of all, notice the end of that sentence: "each of the original three movies." That's right: Wedge is in all three of the movies comprising the holy trilogy. You know who else makes that cut? Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Darth Vader. Oh, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you count his blue ghost form. You know who isn't on that list? Boba Fett (being photoshopped into A New Hope doesn't count). Jabba the Hutt. Admiral Ackbar. Yoda. The Emperor. This is an elite crew.

And what does Wedge do during his on-screen time? Well, he kicks things off by being one of three starfighter pilots to survive the first Death Star trench run, serving as a human shield for Luke Skywalker and taking fire for long enough so that Han Solo could bail his buddy out. Then he moves on to Hoth where he is the first snowspeeder pilot to take down an AT-AT using the "tie them up with tow cables" trick. Fancy flying! What was Luke doing? Getting shot down and having his gunner squished by a giant metal foot, that's what. Following that, Wedge leads Red Squadron in the Battle of Endor, surviving another Death Star trench run (the only pilot to have two on his ledger) and blowing the damn thing up from the inside out (Luke's contribution to the battle, by contrast, was to surrender to his daddy at the outset). And that doesn't even get into what he did post-Endor: commanding Rogue Squadron, leading the commando team that captured Coruscant, liberating Thyferra ... the list goes on (and for those of you crying "but that isn't canon anymore," shut it. I'm an Orthodox Star Wars fan. I don't accept the legitimacy of the Disney Reformation).

Wedge Antilles, in other words, has enough heroic deeds in the space of three minutes of screen time to match what any of the "real" stars did over six hours of film. And unlike said celebrities, Wedge does all of this without the benefit of a character shield. George Lucas isn't George R.R. Martin: we could be pretty confident that Han, Luke, and Leia were going to make it until at least the end of the final movie. But someone like Wedge is perfectly dispensable -- just ask Biggs Darklighter -- which makes his protagonist-level accomplishments all the more badass.

And yet, The Force Awakens proceeds with not a single Wedge Antilles sighting! Instead, we get a movie that begins with a lie: the title crawl informs us that "Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission...." only to find out that it's some dude named Poe Dameron. Poe Dameron? How many Death Stars does he have painted on his X-Wing? Here's a hint: less than two.

The real agony is that the actor who played Wedge, Denis Lawson, was actually offered a role in the new movie and turned it down. Apparently, the role was too small and would be "boring." Now look: like all decent human beings, I was obviously hoping that the new Star Wars movies would center entirely around Wedge and Rogue Squadron. But buck up, man! This is Star Wars, and you're a legend! Take your hundred grand and show these nerf-herders what a real X-Wing ace can do with a one minute cameo appearance.

Was The Force Awakens better than the Star Wards prequels? Yes, obviously -- they didn't have Wedge in them either. But no true successor to the original trilogy can justify ignoring that story's greatest hero. You can keep your Han Solos and your Poe Dameron and your MIA Luke Skywalkers. Wedge Antilles is the greatest starfighter pilot in the galaxy.

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