Movie Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens
By Ben Gruchow
December 23, 2015
And so, 10 years after the most recent installment, three years after acquisition and development by modern-day cinema’s pioneering rock star of sensible IP commodification, a year after a brilliantly pervasive marketing campaign, the new Star Wars film is here, and it’s every bit as strong and as weak in every one of the ways I expected it since that first teaser in 2014 showcased the Millennium Falcon doing a backflip in an elaborate computer-created shot.
Basically, The Force Awakens is a fan-made Star Wars movie that lives and breathes like a fan-made Star Wars movie; it’s as clear an example of using the mechanics of story (and the emotional back door of nostalgia) to give a fan community exactly what they want - as opposed to what they might not know they need - as any major franchise film of the last several years. It stands to reason, then, that it’s opened to utterly ridiculous amounts of money with no immediate sign of slowing down.
All of which sounds like tremendously venomous assessment when we’re talking about a film that is mostly pretty good, in the sense that its predecessors were mostly pretty good and this is more of the same. It’s silly and shallow and amiable in its adoption of a 30-year-old space opera with a storyline that really had concluded. Then it reaches the third act and begins to fall apart with some alacrity, but I’ll come back to that in just a bit.
In the main, The Force Awakens faithfully recreates the arc and themes of the original three films: we start out on a desert planet called Jakku, which is different from Tatooine mainly in that it has more sand dunes and three fewer letters. A little droid has been deposited on the planet with a crucial set of instructions, and ends up in a fateful meeting with a native. This one is Rey, played by newcomer Daisy Ridley.
A more interesting character (at least initially) is Finn (John Boyega), as a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience and defects. You see, the Empire is still around; for reasons unknown, they’ve taken to calling themselves the First Order instead. Kind of like how a faltering company will disappear for a bit and reappear with a new name and a new slogan, I guess, except everyone in the movie already seems to know it’s still the same people committing the same shenanigans.
Anyway, Finn and Rey find themselves gradually drawn into a resistance (formerly a rebellion), and educated in the ways of the Force, heretofore thought of as a myth. You would think that in a world with lightsaber technology and droids capable of understanding a thumbs-up, the history archives would be more comprehensive, but no: this is still a society where myths and legends are passed along from person to person. This is loyal to the mythic structure of the original films, though. I haven’t mentioned little things, like the way Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is introduced as the film’s primary antagonist: stepping off of a spaceship, he parallels the 1977 film’s Darth Vader not just in looks and movement - but, I believe, in the same two shot setups.