Never Have I Seen a Movie That Does Everything Right in All the Wrong Ways
Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens : **
Set 30 years after the events of the pervious (chronological) installment, The Force Awakens finds a batch of young blood to take on The First Order that rose from the dregs of the fallen Empire. Along the way, this scrappy set of new characters fall in league with old heroes, long believed mere myth to take down a planet destroying galactic menace. If this sounds familiar, it should. You have already seen this movie, but we’ll get to that later. Make no mistake, this is Star Wars as it should be. Exciting, fun, and featuring expertly crafted special effects.
As a lifelong fan of the series, the moment the opening scroll hit and John Williams’ music blared, the movie had taken an emotional hold on me. The scenes that followed offered much of what every Original Trilogy fan wants; practical effects set on live location shooting with dashes of humor sprinkled over archetypal heroes and villains. But the film simply goes through the motions until the arrival of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Once he turns up, the movie gels. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) knows how to write Solo better than anyone, and Solo’s moments shine in the picture.
The trio of new heroes are compelling. Daisy Ridley shows her budding star power in her excellent portrayal of Rey, the trilogy’s new lead. That is not to sell John Boyega and Oscar Isaac short. They both bring it and offer much of the film’s humor. Adam Driver also gives a solid performance as the film’s villain. He takes an easily one note character and offers some texture.
Truly, there is not much wrong with the movie. If one were to watch each scene on its own, what shows is strong filmmaking, solid performances, and old school fun. But, viewed as a whole, the film is a carbon copy of Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope. Seriously, every single scene from the original Star Wars film is represented! Want a scene where a little cute droid unit gets plans that the Empire/First Order want to acquire? You got it! A nice desert setting with an orphan imbued with the force? Got that, too. How about a wise mentor who lived through the previous war, or sand smugglers trying to steal the cute droid, or a cantina scene, or the person carrying the plans being captured by the bad guys and needing to be rescued but not before setting up the scenario wherein the good guys can escape and destroy the Death Star (or in this film, Strakiller Base) or how about familial ties between the heroes and villain or a confrontation between the wise mentor and the film’s big bad? It’s all here!
When one really sits down to assess the movie in the context of the franchise, The Force Awakens hasn’t a single ounce of originality or uniqueness. It is a direct rehash of the Hope, with some plot devices borrowed from Empire made complete with rehashed dialogue from Revenge of the Sith; “There is still good in him.”
Words cannot express my profound disappointment that this was nothing more than a ‘best of’ clip show of the franchise. For everything in this movie to be so good, it has no business being so tired. Are people so blinded by prequel hate not to see this is a retread of everything that came before? I mean, seriously, what did the movie accomplish? When Jedi ended, the Empire had been defeated, the jedi had arisen, and the start of the new republic was promised. When this film starts, it is as if that movie didn’t happen. The Empire got a mere name change, all the jedi are extinct (except Luke once again), and the republic is all but mentioned once. The film took a step backwards. Why? Also, why is it called The Force Awakens? Still not clear on that.
At the end of the day, J.J. Abrams made an excellent Star Wars FAN-film that featured the original cast. There are many moments of greatness (most of which you have seen before) and some really fun Easter eggs of fans of the original trilogy. But, J.J., sir, come on. The big criticism of Star Trek Into Darkness was that it was a tired retread of The Wrath of Khan, why do the same thing here? One would hope that, with Star Wars Episode VIII in the hands of a whole new creative team, we will get the sequel we deserve, one with the same aesthetic appeal and care for its characters that this film offers but without retreading what we have already seen.