The Force Entertains, but Does it Awaken Anything New?

Spoilers Ahead

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s fun, well-produced, and has great visual effects and action scenes. Tonally, it feels reminiscent of the original trilogy but technologically compatible with today’s standards. It touts itself as a Star Wars for a new generation, and in that respect, it delivers admirably.

But underneath its flashy veneer, does the movie have much in the way of substance? Its plot and themes are essentially a retread of those in the original trilogy. Like Lucas infamously said in one of his interviews about the prequels, “it’s like poetry, it rhymes.” No longer is Lucas in the picture, but the mark of the original trilogy is everywhere. Scenes visually and narratively echo scenes from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

The villains are echoes of Vader and his crew, down to lead villain, Kylo Ren, and his penchant for force-choking incompetent underlings. The heroes are, once again, rebels against an evil empire. And yes, I kid you not, the final climactic action sequence involves the destruction of yet another Death Star.

Many of the settings echo the settings of the original trilogy: desert planet Jakku looks so much like Tattooine that I sometimes forgot it wasn’t Tattooine. I swear I even saw a jawa pop up at one point. The new Death Star is built within a wintery planet somewhat reminiscent of Hoth. Another planet recalls the forested worlds of Endor and Yavin 4.

The names of the players are changed around a bit. Instead of the Rebel Alliance, we now have the Resistance. Instead of the Empire, we now have the First Order.

Protagonist Rey is a young hero who doesn’t yet know her full potential, just like Luke in A New Hope (who is implied to be her father, according to one of the trailers, a fact which the film never addresses), but aside from that trait she feels underdeveloped. The other protagonist, Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned into a Resistance fighter, also feels somewhat underdeveloped. The most interesting new character by far is the villainous Kylo Ren, but he is hardly given enough screen-time, and his motivations could have been explored in more depth. Most of the film’s best character moments involve the holdover-characters from the original trilogy.

Critics giving this film rave reviews seem to be exaggerating in many regards. It delivers, but it doesn’t really take the franchise in any new directions. And while its action sequences are stunning, none are quite as memorable as the garbage compactor sequence or the final Death Star trench-run in A New Hope, or the Hoth battle or Luke’s duel with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

The story was finished with Return of the Jedi. All the loose ends of the Skywalker saga were tied up. This film was obviously made for financial reasons, rather than any kind of narrative necessity. Judging from the film’s first weekend box office grosses, however, and its encroaching on Avatar’s box office record, the financial motive was more than understandable.

What are the film’s strongest points? It has a lot of great moments, in terms of humour and well-timed “awesome” bits. A few memorable instances include a blaster beam held in mid-air by the force, a well-timed gag involving the reintroduction of the Millennium Falcon, a couple of Stormtroopers fearfully turning around upon hearing Kylo Ren having a wrathful fit, a funny quip by Han Solo about how “that’s not how the force works,” resistance fighter Poe Dameron mocking the masked Kylo Ren for having an incomprehensibly muffled voice, and a climactic moment involving two rival characters simultaneously trying to use the force to move a lightsaber through mid-air.

Did this film need to be made, from a storytelling perspective? No. Does it entertain? Absolutely.


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James is an avid lover of cinema, travel, novel writing, and pseudo-intellectual discussions about random obscure topics. He is a copy editor at OTD. When he’s not traveling across Europe or the Americas he is usually reading or writing something. He enjoys fiction and non-fiction in equal measures.

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