Star Wars: The Force Awakens
directed by J. J. AbramsI try to avoid spoilers whenever I write reviews, and usually this is fairly easy. But sometimes the nature of a story makes it impossible to write critically without giving away at least some clues, especially when there's more to say than mere awestruck admiration. This isn't going to be a review gushing with praise, so there will be spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.
In one scene an older Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) step onto the Millennium Falcon, the ship and characters all a little worse for the years, and Han says "Chewie, we're home." It's a moment that speaks for the whole movie, which wallows in nostalgia at every opportunity. Sometimes this takes the form of appearances by original cast members, and at other times it's through the similarity of locations, characters, and plot points. The Force Awakens is desperately derivative of A New Hope. The desert planet of Jakku where we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley) might as well be Tatooine. The lush forest planet of Takodana brings to mind Endor, and there's even a Death Star clone. When Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) walked in, dressed in Darth Vader blacks with a cloak and forbidding face mask, my heart sank. Although the settings were very attractive the film looked far, far too familiar.
This episode is largely Rey's story. She's a desert scavenger scraping a living salvaging parts of old spaceships. She knows how to fix things and speaks the droid language, so when the round droid BB-8 turns up they join forces. BB-8 needs to take a secret map to the Resistance, avoiding trouble from the evil First Order and any other bounty hunters. We also meet Finn (John Boyega), a disillusioned stormtrooper who doesn't want to kill in the name of the First Order, so he defects at the first opportunity.
The First Order dress like Nazis and go in for huge rallies, saluting, standing in neat lines, and occasionally getting force-choked by their psychopathic leader. Now, where has that been done before? The Imperial uniforms from thirty years earlier have barely changed, and even their spacecraft look the same. Perhaps the galaxy was in the grip of a great depression that prevented anyone from investing in new technology?
As one of the main characters Rey can be seen as the hero, although she shares that space with Finn. It's really refreshing to have lots of prominent women in the movie, and also a black man in a leading role. There's also General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the pirate Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), so the movie easily passes the Bechdel test. It's fitting to have such diverse main characters, when the series' subtext is all about the struggle of all kinds of people against authoritarian white supremacist oppression.
Rey is an everywoman. She sheds tears when hurt and won't sell her robot friend, even when she's on the brink of starvation. She keeps on trying to defeat the First Order even when the odds are against her, so she's pretty likeable. I found her a bit bland, although the same could be said of Luke Skywalker in the earlier trilogy. Rey is a character with potential, so long as she steers clear of being too perfect. Finn is more interesting because he starts off in one role and keeps changing direction, and he begins by lying to his allies about who he is. But again, Finn has a lot of good guy blandness.
As for Kylo Ren, he's a Darth Vader wannabe who looks like he belongs in a goth band. The story doesn't go at all deeply into his motivations and conflicts, he's simply presented as a petulant and somewhat ineffective dark lord.
The dialogue lacked bite and laugh-out-loud lines, but it was believable and got the job done. There were all of the dogfights, lightsabre duels and shoot-outs that audiences have come to expect, punctuated by some great tear-jerk moments (I'm not saying whether they should be happy, sad or relieved tears.) My main problem with The Force Awakens was the sense that I'd seen it all before, give or take a few cosmetic changes and swapped names. But although I wasn't impressed by the movie, I think a lot of younger fans would be.
24th December 2015
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: theatrical version