Let's Watch: Stardust


Deus Ex Machina

Moving on, we get a scene of Septimus and his party confronting Shakespeare. This scene is played for laughs, naturally, as Septimus is initially wary of Shakespeare's fearsome reputation, while cutting to Shakespeare prancing about in his cabin in drag. Which is how Septimus finds him. They talk for a bit, but nothing comes of this, as Septimus's group is no match for the ship's crew and Septimus is forced to flee.

We then get a scene where Shakespeare is mortified that his reputation has gone to hell. His crew tries to console him by telling him that they always knew about his predilections, and they still stand behind him. This might be sweet and endearing if I could summon the will to give a rats ass anymore. But I passed that point around the time Tristan enslaved someone he just met.

It's funny how one scene can so utterly kill a movie, isn't it?

So Sal lets Tristan go, turning him back into a human. Victoria takes her leave of the carriage and the two book a room at the inn, saying they'll cross the wall tomorrow. Hey morons, did you forget that you have some guys following you trying to kill you? A little urgency would be nice.

But we can't have that, because then Tristan wouldn't have the chance to reveal that he was perfectly conscious and aware while he was a mouse. Which means that he heard Yvaine's confession. To spare her embarrassment, he confesses himself. They then have sex. I should point out that they're still going to see Victoria tomorrow.

We are now approaching the climax of the film. Our two main antagonists are nowhere to be seen; oh, they're on the trail of the heroes, but they're never shown to be particularly near them. By all rights, the couple should be able to get to the wall no problem. We can't have that, so there must be something to increase the dramatic tension suddenly. Naturally, the writers choose the obvious method: Tristan's towering idiocy.

He gets up before Yvaine, cuts off a lock of her hair (?), and then proceeds to leave. But not before asking the innkeeper to give Yvaine a message if she asks. Seeing that the innkeeper is barely awake and likely hungover, Tristan decides to make it a long, multisentence message instead of "I'll be back this afternoon." Naturally, the innkeeper flubs it, transposing key words that makes Yvaine think that he's in love with Victoria and has gone with her to stay.

So Tristan goes across the wall and sees Victoria, with Yvaine's hair. Meanwhile, Yvaine listlessly wanders through the town, heading for the break in the wall about as slowly as possible. Then Tristan's mom, named Una, finds out that Yvaine is trying to leave Stormhold. It turns out that certain things can't leave Stormhold, or they revert to their mundane components. Falling stars are people in Stormhold, but rocks in the real world.

So, if magical things turn into their mundane equivalents when brought into the real world, what about the flower of magical protection? Or the piece of cord? Or the Babylon candle? Clearly, magical things retain their magic in the real world, or else his mother's candle wouldn't have worked. Given this, what the hell is going on here? Can't this movie make rules and stick with them?

Tristan learns about this himself, when he goes to see Victoria. He tells her off and gives her Yvaine's hair wrapped in a cloth. Which begs a question: if he's here just to tell her off, why bother with Yvaine's hair at all? In any case, when Victoria opens it, only stardust falls out. So the stage is set.

Now, some might point out that, if it weren't for Tristan's towering idiocy about the message, they both would have crossed into the real world and she would have died. However, if he'd just told her to wait for him, she wouldn't have gone anywhere. So no, his idiocy doesn't help.

Una, upon learning about Tristan and Yvaine, locks Sal up in the carriage and charges off after Yvaine. What a powerful witch, being locked up by her own slave. Lamia is also riding hard after her. As is Tristan. These scenes desperately try to be engrossing, like a chase scene with quick cutting between the different people involved in the pursuit. But it fails miserably.

You have no idea how close or far anyone is to Yvaine, so no tension is created by this. And Yvaine is walking very, very slowly towards the wall, so the whole scene comes off as stupid.

Una reaches her first, and Sal finally gets free. Some not-comedy happens with Sal's inability to see Yvaine. Then Lamia shows up. Sal and Lamia have a little mage fight with Beams 'O War, which Lamia naturally wins. If you're wondering about the flower of magical protection, Una took it earlier.

In any case, Yvaine just stands there like an idiot while all this happens. She and Una are then taken captive. Lamia takes them off to her palace. Tristan shows up to the scene, picks up a horse, and follows.

At their palace, Lamia and her sisters have the slowest heart-cutting out ceremony possible. They tie her down, for no particular reason; she's not fighting back.

This gives Tristan and Septimus ample time to show up. Tristan and Septimus agree to team-up after a moment of not-tension between them. They mistake Una for one of the witches, though. This comes so close to creating tension, but nothing comes of it.

In any case, Tristan intercepts Una while Septimus goes after the other three. He is able to kill one of them, but Lamia is able to kill him with a Voodoo doll. Thus rendering every scene Septimus, Primus, and any of the brothers were in completely pointless.

Una is able to convince Tristan that she's his mother, and she gives him the flower of magical protection. When he confronts the other two witches, he is able to kill the other nameless witch by releasing random animals. See, they use animal sacrifices to do much of their spellwork, so the animals want revenge. This scene is as stupid as possible; seeing a witch swarmed by squirrel-like animals and killed really drags down the tension level of the scene.

This leaves Lamia alone. Why the animals don't go after her is not explained. Nor is it explained how in the hell it is that she has not cut out Yvaine's heart by now. She's had plenty of time to do so. Indeed, there's a shot of her specifically delaying to do so. We'll come back to that in a bit.

Lamia tries to Avada Kedavra Tristan, but unfortunately he has his mother's love in the form of the flower of magical protection. So she settles for animating Septimus's corpse. This slows Tristan down for a while, but he eventually makes it past the corpse. When he finally reaches Lamia, the evil witch and last real antagonist of the film... lets them go.

No, I'm not kidding. She releases Yvaine and tells them that eternal life wouldn't matter without her sisters. So the pair slowly leave, reconciling their earlier failure of communication. Wow, that's really interesting and unexpected. Having the villain give up at the moment of climax because she cares about her family? This says so much about Lamia; that she does have the capacity for love and really cares-

Psyche! Lamia seals the room and starts blowing up random mirrors. OK movie, WTF? Seriously, WTF is this shit? Did she gain any tactical advantage by pulling this stunt? No; Yvaine was literally right next to her when she let them go, and now she's on the other side of the room.

Lamia slowly approaches the pair. Yvaine tells Tristan to embrace her. And then... Yvaine glows really, really brightly, annihilating Lamia in a big ball of light.

Seriously fuck this movie!

I'm a sucker for a good mystery, and I absolutely love Chekhov's Gun. I love when an ending proceeds directly and inexorably from things that have been shown to the viewer/reader/player. Because of that, one of the things I hate the most is Deus Ex Machina, and this is a prime example why.

Let's be totally fair; the fact that she could glow was set up earlier on. The fact that this glowing could be destructive was not. Even if it's just a witch-annihilation ability, the witches were not presented as having any particular aversion to light. Indeed, the witches were trying to get the star to glow as brightly as possible before killing her. This was an explicit plot point; the reason why Lamia didn't kill her immediately at the inn. At no time did this movie present Yvaine's glowing as dangerous to anything.

This is bullshit, plain and simple. And quite frankly it is stupider than most Deus Ex Machina.

In modern works, this trope tends to happen due to writing oneself into a corner and not wanting to take the time (or not having the time) to rewrite things to get yourself out of that corner. It's deeply unfortunate and almost always bad, but it's understandable.

I'm pretty sure that was not the case for Stardust. This was almost certainly the plan from the beginning. The "What do stars do best?" line she uttered before breaking the movie's causality was a repeated line throughout the film. The writer specifically planned to use Deus Ex Machina, the most hackney and cliché of plot devices.

It also opens up innumerable plot holes. Why didn't she do that earlier? Oh, she tries to justify that by saying that she had a broken heart. OK, I'm willing to buy that; her glowing is part and parcel of her emotional state. So, why didn't she do it at the inn when Lamia was using her magic fire? You remember, when Tristan was nobody to her and her heart was perfectly fine? Hell, why didn't she turn it on Tristan when he enslaved her?

Lastly, it wasn't even necessary. Her glowing is already an established ability. It could simply have blinded Lamia, either to allow Tristan to finish her off or to provide cover for them to escape. But no; it has to do the thing that makes the least sense possible.

This isn't merely lazy writing; it's flat-out stupid.

Anyway, you know where it goes from here. Tristan gets the necklace, turns it back into a Ruby, thus allowing him to become King. They get married and Yvaine becomes his Queen. And when they're old, they use a Babylon candle to both become stars in the sky and live forever.

He gets to live forever because he has her heart.

This film is horseshit.


...it wasn't that bad
RobbieRotten 14th Apr 11
I enjoyed this movie despite the too obvious use of Deus Ex Machina. Although now you've explained all the other plot holes, I feel really stupid for not noticing them. 17th Jul 11
Yes, I agree with—now I feel silly for having liked it a good bit, even on several viewings. Makes me wonder if I'm prewired for fantasy setup and give movies an undeserved free pass on the details. 25th Nov 11