A Review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Photo of Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster. Used under Creative Commons.Permit me to set the stage.

I was just old enough to accompany my parents to the movie theatre when Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back made its debut. The sweeping, epic nature of that story…larger than anything that I had ever seen, more captivating in its imaginative scope than I anything of which I could have dreamed…made me forever a fan of Star Wars. I read a novelization of the first film then, of course, because I wanted to know what led up to it.

One of my first recollections of devouring a trailer for hints of the future was Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I had waited far, far too long to learn what had happened to Han Solo, to consider the revelations made by Darth Vader, and simply had to know what happened next to these characters.

While my mother was a Trekkie, I grew up a devoted Star Wars fan, and I always divided science fiction (really what we would later call the Space Opera flavor of science fiction) into two camps:  the ordered universe of Star Trek, and the swashbuckling adventures of Star Wars.

Nothing else was like Star Wars. Even years later, and despite the fact that Han did, indeed, shoot first, I eagerly awaited the re-releases of the original films.

I was hesitant, then, of the so-called prequels…episodes I, II, and III, respectively, because episodes IV, V, and VI told a complete story. Yes, the idea of seeing the history was intriguing, but I feared that the story would not be treated with respect, that artificial additions would be crafted in order to sell to an audience. Telling a different part of this epic story would be acceptable, but attempting to add onto it would not be. Certainly those three fell short, but I enjoyed seeing the Jedi in their prime, and I appreciated the fact that I felt sympathy for Vader in the end. As much criticism as these films drew, and despite the fact that they were in no way equivalent to the original, I found them generally acceptable because they were there to frame a story that had already been completely told, to add to our appreciation of it.

When a story is complete, when the story-teller has said all that needed said, then to attempt to add to that story is to cheapen it, to ultimately detract from it. The only greater insult to a grand story that I can think of is to re-purpose it, to attempt to spin the same tale again in order to attract viewers, to make it somehow more relevant to them, or to (and this would apparently always be the ultimate goal) make money.

A few days ago, I sat through the Force Awakens with the nagging feeling that I knew what would happen next, that I had seen this somewhere before. Of course, I had, because the best the film-makers seemed able to do was to recycle the original story arc with different characters, and without the epic scope. Not only did it completely disappoint in every way, it does violence to the original story with which we’ve all fallen in love by reducing it in scale to a few characters, stripping away its complexities and nuances (even, I would argue, its impactful themes of good vs.evil), and allowing a largely unbelievable story which is discontinuous of where we are left at the end of Return of the Jedi to rest on the strengths of some good casting and a strong female lead.

A female lead who, incidentally, is for some reason able to do things with a dormant Force that has taken every other Jedi significant training to accomplish. But, it’s awakened, I suppose.

This is a story with no pacing, with a single unique character amidst a sea of clever re-writes, struggling to piece together a map (the existence of which makes no sense), rolling with events that occur suddenly with no lead-in, and, oh, to make it compelling, a major character dies in the end. This is a rushed story, a predictable story, and story that relies on the staggered appearances of old characters delivering poor dialogue to carry the audience through. This is to be the next chapter in the Star Wars mythology. This is to be the beginning of the next part of the story. This is where Star Wars is now.

Which essentially means that its dead, the victim of unoriginal writing and a studio too interested in revenue to care about good art.

The Force Awakens is a tragic, tragic mistake. There have still only been three Star Wars films. I likely will never go see another.

Image attribution: wcm1111 under Creative Commons.

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