Synopsis: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance. (From IMDB)
Review: My parents introduced me to the world of Star Wars when I was seven years old. We sat in bed, ate pumpkin pie, and watched A New Hope. Honestly, I cannot remember much about this particular experience. Except for the iconic scrolling yellow type in the beginning credits, the theme song, and the Millennium Falcon. Star Wars, while enjoyable, has always just been a movie in my world. I am not a diehard fan who religiously reads all the books and dissects every nuance. I have seen all the movies, some I regret watching more than others. And I enjoyed playing the Jedi Knight Academy PC game. After a while I could beat the whole game in under four hours. I read a lot of the books, more out of curiosity than anything else. My boyfriend and I went and saw The Force Awakens opening weekend. Disappointingly no one showed up in costume.
The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars film produced by the Walt Disney Company since its purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. An anthology film called Rebel One is due out in 2016. JJ Abrams has become the king of remakes and has the distinction of ushering both Star Trek and Star Wars into the 21st century. Abrams is an extremely competent director and can create incredibly realistic yet alien worlds. World building is definitely his strong suit when it comes to crafting narratives. However, his main weakness lies in sacrificing character development for action sequences. Now do not misunderstand me, The Force Awakens is a technically proficient movie with glorious visuals and perfectly executed action sequences. However, the narrative lacks in emotional depth and relatable characters. Quite simply, The Force Awakens is nearly a perfect reproduction of A New Hope with a few minor alterations.
At the most basic of levels, The Force Awakens is a few minutes of plots stretched out into several hours. Few things are explained and the narrative feels more like an excuse to maximize merchandising and less like a movie. The result is a narrative laden down with overly meta references, poor cast chemistry, and less than minimal character development. Despite these failings, it was still an enjoyable action film. However, Disney did not imbue any of its trademark magic into the franchise. While it was marvelous to catch up with Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, fan service definitely took priority over the neglected narrative. None of the new characters managed to spark a new imaginative fire and I doubt the film would have done so well without the original gang.
Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is my generation’s Luke Skywalker. She is abandoned by her parents on a desert planet, she encounters a droid on a mission, runs from some bad guys who are chasing her for no definable reason, and finds herself undertaking a fantastical adventure. There are some noticeable differences. Luke wanted to leave Tatooine, Rey wants to stay on Jakku for undefined reasons and she keeps attempting to return. This leads to some interesting narratives arcs since a thirst for adventure is quite different from longing to return home. Other similarities are Rey’s mysterious parentage, struggles with anger management, and, naturally, an untrained talent in the Force. Basically Rey is the female Luke Skywalker. Only Luke is more interesting and better developed.
John Boyega portrays Finn, the rogue Stormtrooper. Finn, unfortunately, suffers from the problem of overexcitement. Nearly all his dialogue is delivered in a rushed and enthusiastic tone. Normally this is not a problem. But some scenes call for a sense of horror or intensity and Boyega fails to capture the right tone. This results in most of his dialogue feeling unnatural and over acted. Also, Boyega does not have any sexual tension with Ridley. Even though they are being setup as the next set of star crossed lovers. And Finn’s acceptance by The Resistance is quite unbelievable. No self-respecting rebellion group would accept a former member of the First Order with so little fanfare. Furthermore, the narrative never explains why Finn just snapped one day and decided to desert.
Then there is the film’s highly hyped villain, Kylo Ren. Him of the mask, rasping voice, and primitive red light saber. He idolizes Darth Vader and walks around in a snit for most of the film. Once his backstory is revealed he comes across as a spoiled brat with anger issues rather than a menacing master of the Dark Side. Most tellingly, he seems to forget to use the force during the climatic final duel. If he really had so much power, then a few untrained upstarts should have not posed a problem. Adam Driver, of Girls fame, portrays Ren with an overload of angst and rebellion. The secondary villain, Supreme Leader Snoke, remains an unnecessary mystery. He appears, gives orders, sound threatening, and then disappears. What a villain. Domhnall Gleeson plays a much more interesting General Hux. Though his backstory is just as foggy as Snoke’s.
Perhaps the greatest weakness is the lack of explanation about the politics of this new era. Princess, now General, Leia runs The Resistance. Normally resistance fighters rise up to challenge the established order. The end of the original trilogy led the viewers to believe that the Rebels beat the Empire and established a new government. So where did The First Order come from? Did the Rebels fail to establish a workable government? Or did the Rebe’s government turn into The First Order? Who knows! The Force Awakens is a classic underdog tale, just minus the explanation on whom the underdogs are fighting against.
Oscar Isaac plays the part of The Resistance’s star pilot, Poe Dameron. His part is too underdeveloped to offer a decent critique. Max Von Sydow appears for a few seconds as a highly important character with no name or backstory. Lupita Nyong’o portrays the most interesting character in the whole movie, a 1,000 year old space pirate who also runs a cantina. The film would have been ten times more interesting is her character had more screen time. The cantina looks incredibly similar to the one in A New Hope. I think the same alien band appears in both films. If Abrams was trying to escape the shadow of the original trilogy, he failed rather dramatically. As terrible as Episodes I, II, & III were, at least the narratives are original.