As the Internet gushes over the The Force Awakens, I’m left cold by the film. The newest Star Wars film had potential in the hands of J.J. Abrams, but it falters as a mere rehash of A New Hope with flashier visuals and weaker characters. By the end of the movie, you’ll be wondering what role (if any) the other characters have, as Rey eclipses them with her Force-sensitive female empowerment.
The Force Awakens opens in the wake of Return of the Jedi. With the fall of the Empire, the New Republic governs peacefully, but all is not well. An organization of ne’er-do-wells seeking to overthrow the New Republic has arisen: the First Order, an evil military organization of Stormtroopers led by a dark Jedi and his Sith master. Their master weapon is the Starkiller Base, a spherical superweapon capable of destroying planets with an immense laser. The only hope lies in the Resistance, a ragtag group of freedom fighters. If you’re drawing parallels to the A New Hope, then you won’t be too surprised when the film opens on a desert planet with a droid carrying military intelligence that the antagonists are desperate to reclaim. While I suspect these parallels are deliberate, The Force Awakens does little to distinguish itself from A New Hope, leaving only its negative aspects standing out from the original films.
The derivative plot follows the adventures of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) as they find themselves entangled in the war between the Resistance and the First Order. Sadly, the latter two characters fade into the background as the scrap collector-turned-Resistance member “awakens” to the presence of the Force and systematically outperforms every other character. Whether she peaks at flying the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo despite never having flown before, or whether she peaks when she handily defeats Kylo Ren (Adam Diver) with a lightsaber and her budding Force powers is up for debate, and the film suffers from such lazy writing. There is a term for such characters: Mary Sue. As Finn is forced into the background, Poe is relegated cameo appearances, and Rey bests a trained Dark Jedi with her fledgling Force powers, you might question whether you’re watching a professional screenplay or a movie adaptation of a FanFiction.net submission.
This middling writing we’re expected to excuse because Rey is the “strong female character” archetype, but as usual, the focus on political correctness overshadows competent writing. In the original trilogy, Luke awakening to his destiny took two movies, and even then, he could not best Vader without losing a hand. The scene in the ice cave where Luke calls his lightsaber to him and defeats the wampa is iconic because it represents his development as a Jedi, something that he couldn’t manage in the first movie. The Force Awakens echoes that scene with Rey, except she wins a Force tug-of-war against the movie’s Darth Vader analog. (A symbolic triumph of female empowerment over the patriarchy.) Tellingly, not even Lucas’s abysmal prequels suffered such nonsense, even with the “Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One” arc.
Even without Abrams’s poor handling of characters, the movie’s writing stumbles. The Resistance is the movie’s analog to the Rebel Alliance, while the villainous First Order is just the Empire revisited, except they actually use the Bellamy salute in a clumsy reference to Nazi Germany–because what movie would be complete without a Hitler reference shoehorned into it? Completing this rehash is the existence of the Starkiller Base, which is like the Death Star except it’s bigger, badder, and more destructive, capable of wiping out an entire solar system by draining the power of their resident sun. Why, yes, that does seem ridiculous, almost as if J.J. Abrams is incapable of subtlety, instead relying on overstatement in a bid to make his films memorable (and failing in the process).
Altogether, it’s a shame that this is the new face of the Star Wars films. The Force Awakens‘s cinematography is often beautiful, like the panning shots across Jakku’s desert landscape with the Star Destroyer heap in the background. Likewise, the special effects are top-notch. Unfortunately, these brief moments can’t salvage the mediocre film, and the shopworn writing does no favors. It’s one thing to produce an imitation; it’s another thing to produce a poor imitation. The Force Awakens strives to reboot the Star Wars franchise, rescuing it from the misery of George Lucas’s prequels, but it flounders. It is, at its core, a marketing exercise: it exists to sell Disney merchandise, and thus it is soulless.
A competently directed action flick with all the makings of a Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens lacks the charm of the originals. As with his Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams’s talent lies in directing something entire adequate and thus entirely forgettable.