Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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It’s Star Wars so it has open with the trademark slow text crawl. I’m okay with that even though I’m bored of it after six movies and innumerable videogames. Next comes a long, tracking shot of the familiar wedge shape of a Star Destroyer, except from a novel angle. Homage. I’m down with that. But when we see Max von Sydow wearing clothes that make him suspiciously resemble Alec Guinness and the McGuffin being hidden in this iteration’s version of the lovable droid, I start cringing. Long before it recreates the cantina scene, to seek transportation to boot, or show the shadowy, disfigured behind-the-scenes big bad via hologram, I’ve realized this isn’t so much a continuation of the original trilogy as a beat-for-beat remake.

This is obviously the biggest film of the year and it was always a given that it would be a massive success. I am however surprised that film critics have given it such unalloyed praise. At the time of writing it has a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Among the tiny minority who demur runs the common complaint that this is essentially the same movie as A New Hope. It’s actually kind of disgusting how slavishly The Force Awakens tries to replicate the original film down to the tiniest detail. There’s no other reason to have Rey grow up on a desert planet or to ensure that Kylo Ren has a rival that is a direct analogue of Grand Moff Tarkin. J.J. Abrams seems to be cynically saying, “Since you all liked the original so such and hated the prequels here’s the first movie all over again, except with updated characters and effects.”

It does have to be said that even if it’s a copy of the original, the execution is at least pitch perfect. Going back to using real physical sets and practical effects gives the action scenes the kind of heft that was lost in the CGI-infested sequels. I even appreciated how grounded the lightsaber duels looked. But far and away the best thing about this movie is that its updated characters are really quite good. None of the new cast members are great actors but they’re still better than anyone in the original barring Harrison Ford. Rey and Finn have real chemistry together, with the scene of them being deliriously exhilarated after their first fight on the Falcon being a great example. My wife didn’t think much of Kylo Ren but I found him to be a very interesting character. I loved that he really is supposed to be insecure, emo-ridden try-hard rather of just accidentally coming across as one as Anakin Skywalker did in the prequels.

This doesn’t change the fact that The Force Awakens is a remake with a recycled plot and is crammed full of callbacks. At some point, surely homage turns into farce. How many times do we see need to see a Death Star being blown up anyway? But after discussing it with the other posters at Broken Forum who almost uniformly loved it, I do acknowledge that they have a point. Star Wars was always a franchise that was mainly meant for children anyway and indeed the strongest emotional reaction among adults were those who watched this with their own children. For this audience at least, the fact that this is a remake doesn’t really matter and may even be a point in its favor as a emotional connection that crosses the generations. The kids today can hardly be expected to have watched a movie that is now over 35 years old. Another poster pointed out that updating a classic action movie with a more diverse cast, arguably better dialogue and unquestionably better effects may well be a worthy endeavor in its own right.

For my part however my enjoyment of this movie is severely curtailed by the fact that I can’t help but notice in almost every other scene that I’ve seen this before. There aren’t even any new starship or starfighter designs to ogle over and the new music doesn’t leave much of an impression. Worse, the film pretty much does what I expect each and every time, telegraphing everything so far in advance that there is zero sense of tension. On a more meta level, I really can’t condone such a cynical form of film-making and refuse to believe that it is impossible to make a new and good Star Wars film, updated to modern sensibilities, without completely copying the old ones. If Mad Max could do it, then Star Wars shouldn’t be held to any lower a standard. Plus I’m not forgetting that this film is riddled with the usual Abrams lack of respect for scientific and plot plausibility, such as near instantaneous hyperspace travel and how Han Solo knew to show up when he did.

It’s possible that to wash away the awfulness of the prequel trilogy, Disney felt that it was necessary to convince everyone once and for all that this is the old Star Wars that they knew and loved. As such they went out of their way to channel the originals as much as possible. Now that they’re successfully cleared the palate maybe they’ll have the creative room to make something truly new. That’s what I hope for but judging by how this one ends there’s a distinct possibility that the next one might yet be a transparent remake of The Empire Strikes Back.

6 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)”

  1. I enjoyed the movie, but I have the same feeling as you. So many elements are just like in the original trilogy. That big surprise was no surprise for me. I expected it to happen long before it did. I hope the filmmakers will be bolder and be more original in the next two movies. I will still watch the next two. Despite the nagging feeling I had when watching SW7, I can’t deny it was a lot of fun.

  2. Hi there Hiew. I don’t begrudge anyone for enjoying this movie. It’s a lot of fun! But I’m still puzzled about how many critics are seemingly giving it incredible scores despite its lack of creativity. Critics usually don’t take kindly to classics being remade. Just look at how much mockery was directed at the announcement that Christopher Nolan’s Memento is going to be remade. I guess that’s the power of the Star Wars brand.

  3. I went in the movie theatre with lots of doubts, i walked away entertained, but disappointed, like you said, basically it is “A new hope” decades later. Disappointed with Mr Abrams for not having the courage to do something great, but stick to the old plot that works.

    I am surprised that majority of the audience seems to love it without noticing the flaws.

  4. Hmm, I should probably note that the next Star Wars movie is the Rogue One standalone with a completely different director and cast including Chinese actors Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen. Since it takes place just before A New Hope, it can’t copy any previous movie and it should have no Force-users at all. It should be interesting to see how it turns out.

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