Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Last chance to turn away. Here come spoilers!
Going into any film, whether it be Star Wars or something entirely different, I only carry into the theater one expectation: That I at least feel compelled to watch it again. This eliminates a lot of things for me as a viewer. I don’t have to worry about if Han Solo dies (he does), I don’t have to concern myself with whether or not Luke shows up until the end of the film (he does), and I sure as hell won’t be staying up at night obsessing over whether my own race and gender politics are properly represented in a movie (Thank God none of this is real, eh?). So…does Star Wars: The Force Awakens make me want to rewatch it? The answer is no.
Story: Star Wars: The Force Awakens starts off strong. After authenticating itself with the mandatory opening crawl, we’re introduced to Poe Dameron (Oscar Issacs), a Resistance pilot who comes under the fire of The First Order. During a struggle for a mysterious map, The First Order (a remnant of The Empire) guns down Dameron’s camp. Fortunately, Poe hid said map inside BB-8, a droid who is subsequently bounced around from planet to planet in an effort to escape its pursuers. In the process, the robot befriends scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and, ultimately, Han Solo and Chewbacca.
At first, all of this plays out smoothly thanks to director J.J. Abrams’ sense of pacing. We are quickly introduced to Poe, Finn, and Rey, and their potential seems bright. However, it is also at this point that you start to realize that Abrams and company are just rearranging the plot and archetypes of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope.
The People Who Get Paid to Talk:
Let’s start with Adam Driver, this movie’s Darth Vader archetype. As Kylo Ren, Driver strikes a great balance between angsty and menacing. It turns out that his character was consumed by The Dark Side of The Force and was abandoned by his parents — Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher). While Leia falls victim to numerous “cutaways” and is tasked with a few meaningful squints, Ford really does manage to shine all the way up to his death. As Han Solo, he is every bit the character he was when we last saw him in Return of The Jedi (1983). The rest of the original cast gets significantly less screen time while Ford teaches the new kids the ropes. But actor John Boyega is the only one who matches Ford’s energy scene for scene. Both actors get the audience through familiar plot mechanics by approaching it all as if it is new and exciting. Meanwhile, actress Daisy Ridley kicks, punches, and lightsabers her way through everything. Which sounds cool but is really the film’s way of dangling the carrot in front of audiences for the purpose of sequels. Basically, Rey’s mysterious backstory points her in the direction of becoming a Jedi…just not soon and without much character development.
What’s Action A Go Go:
The first quarter of SWTFA is familiar but still very fun. Screenwriters Michael Arnt, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams hit the ground running early and it totally works in an overly-excitable kind of way.
Also, for film geeks, it has to be pointed out that Abrams delivers on the visual language. There is a great gag early in the film involving the iconic Millennium Falcon that actually made me laugh out loud in the theater. Even earlier, Abrams finds a clever way to differentiate Finn from the other Stormtroopers in his squad. Both instances are vivid and memorable. They are also unique to Force Awakens, which is unfortunate because not much else is.
What’s Action A No No:
Abrams leans too heavily on the charm and enthusiasm of his actors to get through it all, and it kind of becomes uninteresting by the time we hit the third act. Genuine excitement turns into fan service and actors start behaving less and less like characters and more and more like people who just found out they are in a Star Wars movie. Rey seems especially familiar with the mythos, channeling The Force without tutelage or much explanation. By the time Rey meets Luke at the film’s conclusion, even composer John Williams seems to be overly-familiar with his role in all this.
Hollywood has often been accused of being incapable of developing anything new, but 2015 seems to be owning that criticism. Like Terminator: Genisys, Spectre, and Jurassic World just earlier this year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is way too comfortable with giving audiences more of what they loved decades earlier. Even further, the fact that the filmmakers decided to go in this direction is kind of embarrassing when you consider that Force Awakens is a remake of A New Hope…which is a remake of 1958’s The Hidden Fortress.
In recent interviews, Star Wars creator George Lucas has made it pretty clear that Disney boxed him out of the creative process for Episode VII. Initially, Lucas’ lack of involvement was met with thunderous applause from the same fandom that he birthed into existence. This, of course, was fueled by resentment from fans towards ol’ George because of his execution of the Prequel Trilogy. In retrospect however — after experiencing Disney’s first foray into Star Wars — you can say what you will about Lucas, but at least he wasn’t so enamored with his creation that he was content with regurgitation.