Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt. Based on characters created by George Lucas.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
Watching the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga feels, in spite of the title, like we're watching the Force hit the snooze button as many times as it can before dragging it's sorry arse into the bathroom to drive away the hangover brought on by a night bar hoping through the more wretched and scummy hives of Mos Eisley.
Take scripts from previous episodes. Put in blender. Puree for three to five minutes. Make sure to use a lid to avoid being splattered with spoilers.
Detractors of the Star Wars saga on the whole have cynically claimed that the films were little more than marketing gimmicks to sell toys and licensed merchandise. Unfortunately, while I have been a fan of the series up until this point, The Force Awakens pretty much lives up the more cynical criticism the earlier installments received.
Watching The Force Awakens feels like watching a mid-season episode of a TV series during sweeps week (back when sweeps were a thing before everyone just binge watched on Netflix). Everything's dialed up to eleven, everything getting thrown at the audience, and boy you better pay attention or you're going to get lost.
Which pretty much is the main problem I had, the plot moves too fast. Outside of the opening sequences, there really isn't any time to absorb background detail or to really get to know any of the characters.
This is probably best illustrated with how space travel now appears to work in this universe. The earlier films implied that even using hyperdrive, it still took hours, or even days to travel between planets. Now space travel appears to work like long range transporters on Star Trek. You just get in a ship, push a few buttons and arrive instantly at your destination.
The problem this endears is that there is no significant downtime between the frenetic action scenes. Everyone just keeps jumping and yelling and running and swinging their lightsabers at each other. New characters like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Maz Kanata (Maz Kanata) are thrown against the wall in the hope that some part of them will stick in viewers mind. A whole village gets wiped out by the bad guys, a planet destroyed, and a major character killed off. But the constant rush to get to the next thing prevents any of these elements from having a significant impact beyond sheer exhaustion.
Remember the scenes on the Millenium Falcon in A New Hope where Obi Wan tries to teach Luke how to use a lightsaber? Remember the line, "it felt like a thousand voices cried out and were suddenly silenced"? Well there's nothing like that here. Turns out sometimes taking a breather is a good thing.
The strength of the Star Wars saga was always it's world building. In earlier episodes, the filmmakers were pretty adept at showing the audience a skeleton and allowing us to flesh out the details of this vast galaxy far away. That doesn't happen here and the lack of any kind of breathing room once the plot kicks into high gear, doesn't help. Why did Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turn to the dark side besides super vague daddy issues? What is the resistance? And if they're working for the legitimate government of the Republic, why are they called the resistance and not just the military?
Then there are the borderline plot holes: Why is Luke Skywalker in hiding if he wants to be found? Why does no one in La Resistance have a complete map of the galaxy? What's the strategic advantage of having a device that can destroy all of the planets in an entire system for the First Order (besides the fact that the writers hadn't quite ripped off enough elements from the original trilogy at this point)?
Admittedly, it's not all bad. There are a few elements I liked. BB-8 works very well as comic relief and as a substitute for R2-D2. Rey (Daisy Riddle) and Finn (John Boyega) make nice additions to the cast and help to up the diversity quotient. Some of the earlier scenes with Rey exploring (or rather scavenging) through a desert planet littered the remnants of a great battle, with crashed space ships and broken transports littering the landscape, work on their own and promise a more interesting story that never actually gets told. The cast generally acquits itself well during the brief moments when they're actually allowed to act. There's even a fairly obvious queer subtext between Finn and X-wing pilot Poe Dameron. Watch the trailer if you don't believe me. Here's hoping that it becomes text in Episode VIII and that we actually get a fully fleshed out story next time around.
I would recommend The Force Awakens about as strongly as I would allowing ones kids to play Jedi and Sith near a Sarlacc pitt.
Two Stars out of Four.
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