Movie Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens
By Matthew Huntley
December 22, 2015
Well, here it is. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally arrived, and if it’s Star Wars you want, it’s Star Wars you got. The much-anticipated Episode VII will no doubt give fans of cinema’s most popular and unsinkable franchise what they’ve been yearning for ever since the last of the much-maligned prequels came out in 2005. Now, 10 years later, director J.J. Abrams and his filmmaking team have successfully rejuvenated the series by making this sequel with care, patience and sophistication. They not only give pre-existing fans a reason to celebrate but also make the Star Wars universe accessible to those not overly familiar with it. And if The Force Awakens is any newcomer’s first encounter with SW, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be hooked on it from here on out.
But, as lively, fun and entertaining as the movie is, it can’t escape the shadows of its predecessors, namely Episode IV, V and VI, and that’s a strategy that was likely deliberate. On a narrative level, the filmmakers play things safe and don’t exactly push the mythology of George Lucas’s original creation into uncharted territory, probably because they wanted this installment to re-open the door to a saga many feared had been permanently shut. They fall back on familiar SW characters, plot developments and stylized action, knowing it was these assets that made the originals so beloved.
In fact, Episode VII echoes Episode IV right down to the following details: a) a traditional good vs. evil plot that once again pits the insidious Galactic Empire, now operating under the banner “First Order,” against a band of Republic-backed Resistance fighters; b) a young, strong-willed protagonist who isn’t fully aware of her potential with the pervasive Force; c) a masked villain dressed head to toe in black who speaks with a deep, sinister voice; d) a scheme by the Empire to destroy its enemies with a massive, far-reaching weapon (this time, instead of the Death Star, the mechanism is simply known as “The Weapon”); e) a plan by the Resistance to destroy the Empire’s weapon with a strategic, “chain-reaction” attack; f) an open-ended conclusion that lets us know the battle for the galaxy is far from over.
I can understand why the filmmakers felt the need to simply retread familiar SW tropes - after all, they wanted to win back the masses and gain new followers. But just because I understand their motivations doesn’t absolve them from criticism or being deemed flaws. This was the same problem I had with Abrams’ updated Star Trek films, which I felt merely refurbished pre-existing material instead of trying to build something new from scratch. The filmmakers err on the side of caution and that’s perhaps why The Force Awakens will ultimately be remembered as “in-the-moment” entertainment instead of evolving into something truly indelible. Sometime down the road, I can see it being thought of as “a Star Wars movie” rather than a standalone experience, unlike, say, The Empire Strikes Back, which is a masterpiece in and of itself. If the story in The Force Awakens possessed the same kind of depth, it too might have become a classic.